Brain meets brawn: How London Chessboxing is using Twitch to grow

By Rhys Noye-Allen
April 7 2020, 08.30

Wacky sports have become a constant in our lives thanks to the internet.

Videos of people doing strange things in the name of sport go viral and get thousands of views all around the world.

The novelty draws people in but fails to capture a regular audience.

Chessboxing is another weird sport that will grab the attention of most people.

It began in London in the 1970s but became more well-known after the release of the Wu-Tang Clan song Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ in 1993.

The sport sees players alternate between three-minute rounds of chess and two-minute rounds of boxing, a sight which must be seen to be believed!

While many would be content with a fleeting audience of intrigued spectators, the organisers of London Chessboxing are determined to grow beyond their novelty appeal.

Finance director and chessboxer Gavin Paterson said: “The biggest thing that we come up against is making the transition from a joke sport that is part of the newsreel to a sport that people take seriously in itself.

“I think making that transition is probably the most difficult thing we face, and I am not sure we ever will.

“We get great PR but it is all around the novelty element of what we are doing.

“We are trying to use the novelty of the sport to reel people in, but hope they stay because they enjoy it.

“Eventually it may be a serious Olympic sport, but we certainly aren’t there yet. What we need is exposure, which is what we are trying to do.”

London Chessboxing took the innovative decision to start streaming on Twitch two years ago to reach a wider audience.

Twitch is a live streaming platform largely used by gamers, and London Chessboxing has more than 25,000 views on their channel.

“We have viewers from all around the world,” founder Tim Woolgar explained.

“It’s funny, we can see that people living in far flung places, like rural Mexico, are buying tickets. And not just once, they’re regulars!”

He continued: “Streaming on Twitch is about setting out our stall to the bigger broadcasters.

“We have upped our game, improved our graphics, bought more cameras and microphones and tried to really get a high-quality production which would be at home on any platform.”

The fighters are also coached on public speaking and acting to entertain spectators who aren’t chess or boxing fans.

“We employ a professional actress,” Matt ‘Crazy Arms’ Read said.

“She works with us to improve our interview techniques for media, because chess players aren’t always the most charismatic.

“We gave the boxers media training and drama lessons to help them interact with the crowd during their ring entrances.

“Working with her helps chessboxers to allay some nerves because actually, a lot of people are more nervous about their ring walk or having to do the post-fight interview than they are about the sport itself.

“We want more energy and more personality than you get in traditional post-match interviews to get better engagement.”

Image credit: Pawel Gawronski

A self-confessed adrenaline junkie, Read explained that nothing compares to the thrill of chessboxing.

The professional landlord has competed in 30 fights and won an impressive 20 bouts.

He said: “I’m addicted to the sport, I find it absolutely amazing.

“As a man that has run a marathon, jumped out of a plane and done a bungee jump, none of that compares to being stripped down to your shorts and going out, bare chested, in front of a thousand people and hearing them scream your name.

“It just doesn’t happen in any other walk of life. I have never signed an autograph or had a selfie taken with me outside of chessboxing.”

Featured image courtesy of James Bartosik , with thanks

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