Communities and Online Gaming

The Royal Game 2.0: Interaction and Community in the World of Online Chess


The purpose of this paper is to examine the world of online chess to see how this world re-inforces or challenges existing academic theory surrounding digital community. I argue that online chess supports a positive view of digital community in which thickly-bonded relationships can grow and develop around a shared, passion-centric community. My perspective is guided by the academic literature cited in the paper, which tends towards a sociological perspective. Specifically, I look at the Twitch streaming channels of chess professionals Alexandra Botez and Eric Hansen to examine this topic. I conclude that online chess re-inforces and extends an ancient offline tradition and works to effectively stitch together a global community of people who congregate around a shared passion, offering a positive example of digital community in the 21st century.

In this essay I will argue that the world of online chess, and specifically the competitive world of chess streaming through Twitch, a popular online gaming website, affirms a positive view of digital community which suggests that the advent of virtual communities mediated through internet technology does not degrade the strength of community in the 21st century but in certain circumstances can expand and deepen it. To begin, I will examine academic literature surrounding digital communication and social networks and see how the world of online chess fits into or challenges these theories. Then, I will argue that chess has not been distorted or altered in the internet age because the core aesthetic of chess, a game that has existed for centuries, is the same in the online world as it is in the offline world. The surface-level aesthetics of online chess, represented by the Twitch streaming channels Chessbrah and Alexandra Botez, is radically different from the conservative world of traditional offline chess, but the core beauty of the game is identical in both domains because the rules applied and intelligence required to succeed in the game are the same. The online world features techno music, dancing, linguistic vulgarity and playful banter, forms of expression not usually associated with the Royal Game, but the Chessbrah grandmasters and Alexandra Botez are playing the same game that has been played for centuries. It is not an act of creation but rather an expression of love and devotion to a tradition that spans the globe. In this sense, the core of chess is not altered or distorted by the internet. Online chess, then, reinforces and expands a pre-existing community, one rooted into reality, rather than creating or generating a virtual world disconnected from the real such as games like World of Warcraft. 

To begin with, this field is broadly demarcated into the study of two similar but quite distinct forms of online engagement. Namely, between social networking sites and the general plethora of communities and groups that proliferate across the internet. Boyd and Ellison note that social networking sites are organised primarily around people as opposed to interests or passions (Boyd and Ellison, 2007, pp. 219). Gaming is a form of online engagement that revolves primarily around particular interests as opposed to identity. This distinction, however, blurs in the online gaming world, as we will see with chess. Furthermore, most academics and theorists working in the field of digital communication and technology seem to organise their thinking around the split between whether the advent of the Internet age heralds a degradation to traditional community and the human condition or whether this new era has caused a shift in relations that is not necessarily negative or corrosive. Delanty claims that virtual communities are ‘no less real than traditional or other kinds of community, and that their distinctive nature consists in their ability to make communication the essential feature of belonging.’ (Delanty, 2018, pp. 202). Referencing Benedict Anderson, Delanty notes that traditional communities in the modern age have always been ‘imagined’ because the space and disruption of modernity necessitated links between people that were based on esoteric concepts such as nationhood or value ethics as opposed to the a more grounded, localised conception of community common in the agricultural era. (Delanty, 2018, pp. 204). From this base, Delanty claims that the digital revolution has not introduced fantasy or imagination into the notion of community. (Delanty, 2018, pp. 207). The world of online chess mediated through Twitch supports Delanty’s position. This world remains rooted within the same basic contours that have existed since the game’s conception. Two players sit before a board of chess pieces and engage in abstract warfare until the eventual victory or defeat. The platform and surface-level aesthetics upon which this takes place is radically different, but the essential interaction, or sense of imagined belonging, is the same. The online chess world, then, has not created some new or radically different interaction, but has simply extended a pre-existing form of interaction to millions of people disconnected from one another by geography, but connected through a shared passion. 

Porter, in her chapter Virtual Communities and Social Networks, notes that digital community organises itself most effectively around shared interests and passions. In order for a social network to flourish, ‘the sponsors of such sites need to ensure that they understand how to foster and sustain engagement among members who are at least as passionate about interacting around a shared interest with other like-minded individuals as they are about self-presentation and consumption of the profiles of members of their own and others’ networks. In sum, wherever people come together, passions emerge and engagement about a shared interest will seed and sustain a virtual community’. (Porter, 2015, pp. 167). Far from eliminating or corroding community, the digital world can, in certain respects, open up the possibility for deep and flourishing communities of like-minded individuals. The world of online chess is an example of a passion-centric community sustaining itself through shared interests and one that seems to flourish in the digital landscape. I expand on this point later on in the essay by looking at the BotezLive and Chessbrah streaming channels. 

However, while the digital realm has expanded the ability of people to connect with one another across networks and across the world, there is considerable debate about whether these connections are ‘thin’ ties, or ‘thick’. Thin or weak communities, as Delanty notes, ‘are not based on strong ties and are often fragile communities of strangers. The Internet brings together strangers in a sociality often based on anonymity and where a ‘new intimacy’, in which politics and subjectivity are intertwined, is found.’ (Delanty, 2018, pp. 205). Thick communities, by contrast, are characterised by relationships that are rooted into a particular place, where people interact face-to-face in a fixed geographical space, or by deeply intertwined bonds and relationships such as families, who grow up and live together and communicate in a way that in some respects precludes other members. Theorists tend to place communities enmeshed in traditional rural life as thick, and digital communities enmeshed into the internet as thin. However, this dichotomy is less persuasive than it might initially appear. There is a compelling body of evidence drawn from research into gamers that online communities can straddle the thick/thin divide, and generate relationships and bonds which have some genuine thickness to them, as opposed to being merely ephemeral and transactional. For example, Domahidi, Festl and Quandt, in their research into online gamers and the friendships built through gaming, shows that ‘no significant differences between the number of general friends of social online gamers, non-social online gamers, and non-gamers. This contradicts the fears that gaming in general and social online gaming in particular have a negative impact on gamers’ general social embeddedness’ (Domahidi, Festl and Quandt, 2014, pp. 113). The general fear that a shift to the online world degrades real-world relationships, is not supported by empirical research, or at the very least, there is no consensus on whether online gaming has broadly positive or detrimental effects on relationships (Williams and Steinkuehler, 2006, pp. 885). Indeed, Domahidi, Festl and Quandt find that online games that require collaboration and teamwork among gamers, ones that necessitate communication between players, can actually ‘help build strong relationships.’ (Domahidi, Festl and Quandt, 2014, pp. 108). Though chess is a two-person game, collaboration and teamwork are embedded in the online world of chess., the world’s most visited chess website, offers new players a vast collection of lessons and the opportunity to connect with professional chess players for educational purposes. (See Collaborative education to help up-skill newcomers is a core feature of the website. Furthermore, each day posts links to the Twitch streaming channels of professional chess players, including Chessbrah and BotezLive, who in turn interact with their fans and viewers by commenting on chess games, commenting on one another’s games, hosting chess-viewing parties, and inviting their viewers to play with them. All of this occurs alongside a chat stream in which viewers can directly participate in and contribute to the conversation and experience of the channel. (See BotezLive). Interaction, then, is the engine of the online chess world. And from watching the Chessbrah and BotezLive streaming channels, thick bonds between the participants appear to be the end result. 

This finding is re-inforced by Williams and Steinkuehler’s investigation into ‘massively multiplayer online gaming’, which finds that this form of collaborative gaming can develop thick bonds across nations (Williams and Steinkuehler, 2006, pp. 903). The social interaction that characterises this kind of online gaming is, according to Williams and Steinkuehler, a kind of bridging capital, typical of large, weak networks (Williams and Steinkuehler, 2006, pp. 901) as opposed by thickly bonded communities. Nevertheless, the equality of status that predominates in the online world, in contrast to the hierarchical realities of the offline world, and the fact that a multitude of people from different backgrounds bond together through online gaming suggests that this world is not a purely thin, transactional enterprise, without affection or ethics, but rather has some of the characteristics of thick, deeply-rooted communities. 

Twitch is an ‘e-sports’ streaming service with some 140 million monthly users. (Khad, 2019, para 9). Gamers stream themselves playing games and fans can watch them playing in real time. The streaming channels of chess master Alexandra Botez and Chessbrah, led by chess grandmasters Eric Hansen and Aman Hambleton, illustrate that online chess is a collaborative enterprise and one that seems to build digital communities that are thickly bonded, or at least offers the possibility for such communities. Indeed, the chess players who stream themselves online via Twitch appear to have deep and affectionate relationships with one another, built from a shared love of the game. 

A compilation example of the kind of friendship and bonds that have emerged in the realm of online chess comes from a video of the streaming highlights from the Chessbrah channel for the month of March of this year. (see Top 10 Chessbrah Clips and Moments March 2020 The video shows the players playing high-stakes games and celebrating wildly when they pull of a difficult win, dancing to techno music together, including Pitbull’s pop hit ‘Timber’, and praising one another for excellently orchestrated moves. There is also a considerable amount of profanity and the sartorial aesthetic is relaxed and youthful. The general sentiment and style on display in the Twitch stream is one of youthful exuberance propped up by what appears to be genuine friendship. One specific example is the famous Botez-Tari match-up, featuring a a series of blitz games between Alexandra Botez and her sister Andrea Botez, and chess grandmaster Aryan Tari. Tari’s chess rating is substantially higher than that of the Botez sisters. The challenge, then, was to play a series of games together with Tari handicapped against the Botez sisters. Tari plays the matches with less time than the Botez sisters, and agrees to a ‘double-shot’ of alcohol before the beginning of the games, presumably to handicap his ability to think and react quickly. It is also agreed that the loser cracks a pair of eggs on his or her head, on camera, after the completion of the games. Finally, Tari must win all matches to avoid the eggs, whereas the Botez sisters require only a single win to force the eggs on Tari. On the sixth game, the Botez sisters win on timeout, and shortly thereafter Tari duly smashes a pair of eggs on his head, much to the amusement of the Botez sisters. (see Botez Sisters Odds Match VS GM Aryan Tari 

This particular world seems to straddle and combine all elements of the theories adumbrated earlier. It is a social network that is built around a shared passion but also one that is ego-centric in the sense that it is the personalities and playing abilities of Botez and the Chessbrahs which make the Twitch stream popular. It is a hybrid, then, of passion-based social networks and ego-centric social networks. The Botez channel also features links to her personal Instagram account, offering viewers a swift transition from a passion-centric form of digital community to the more ego-centric form. (See BotezLive) It is also a community that seems to possess both thin and thick bonds. Thin in the sense that the players are gaming online and connecting with others around the world in often brief, ephemeral games of chess. The relationships are built around a game as opposed to any localised commitments or face-to-face interaction. But they are also thick in the sense that Botez and the Chessbrahs meet face-to-face to game and stream online together, even though they come from different parts of Canada, and indeed, some of their associates, like Yasser Seirawan and Aryan Tari, come from different parts of the world, offering an example of how an online community can generate and stitch together thickly-bonded offline relationships. Furthermore, because the bonds are built around professional chess and the business of streaming, the community taps into a larger chess network that existed before the advent of the internet. Botez and the Chessbrahs utilise the internet to expand on and extend a pre-existing tradition. 

Finally, their network is not one of pure imaginative creation. In one sense they are not fantasists losing themselves in artificial worlds, wholly separate from this one. The online chess network is an add-on to the offline world of chess. The online world complements and broadens the offline world, but is not in any sense a replacement for the traditional world of chess. The game is the same online as it is offline. The aesthetic core of the game is preserved online because the game remains the same. The addition of curse language, banter and techno music may appear to herald a radical break from the reserved, elegant aesthetic of the Royal Game, but this is a chimera. The skill-level of a grandmaster retains its beauty through the moves he or she executes on the chess board, despite whatever music might be playing in the background, or the kind of internet banter that permeates through the streaming account. 

Online gaming is sometimes associated with fantasy literature (Frostling-Henningsson, 2009, pp. 559). An ideal of online gaming is to inhabit a fantastical world that is in some respects superior to the existing one; one in which players can lose themselves completely in an escapist fantasy and transcend their offline identity. (Frostling-Henningsson, 2009, pp. 557). The world of online chess suggests another kind of online escapism. Chess is a fantasy in its own right, much like the World of Warcraft. It is a game invented by human beings and serves no utilitarian end. However, it is also anti-fantasy in the sense that it is rooted in the real world and continues a tradition that has existed for centuries. Much as online chess straddles and incorporates different strands of theory posited in academic literature on social networks and digital communities, it also straddles the divide between the new fantasies created and ushered in by the Internet age, and the old, traditional fantasies that have occupied human beings for centuries. 


BotezLive. Botez, A. Twitch Streaming Channel. [] accessed 10 March, 2020.

BotezLive. ‘Botez Sisters Odds Match VS GM Aryan Tari’. [] accessed 18 April 2020

 Boyd, D. Ellison, N. ‘Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship’. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. Vol 13, 2007.

Chessbrah. Hansen, E. Hambleton, A. Twitch Streaming Channel. [] accessed 2 April 2020. []

Delanty, D. Community, 3rd. Edition. Routledge, London, 2018. 

Domahidi, E. Festl, R. Quandt, T. ‘To Dwell Among Gamers: Investigating the Relationship Between Social Online Game Use and Gaming-Related Friendships.’ Computers in Human Behaviour. Vol 35, 2014. 

Frostling-Henningsson, M. ‘First-Person Shooter Games as a Way of Connecting to People: “Brothers in Blood”’, Cyber Behaviour and Psychology. Vol. 12, Number 5, 2009. 

Khad, I. ‘Why Twitch Is Still the King of Live Game Streaming’. New York Times, 15 December 2019. Para 9. 

Porter, C.E. ‘Virtual Communities and Social Networks’. Communication and Technology. Ed. Cantoni, L. Danowski, J. De Gruyter, 2015. 

‘Top 10 Chessbrah Clips & Moments/March 2020’. [] accessed 2 April 2020

Williams, D. Steinkuehler, C. ‘Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name: Online Games as “Third Places”’. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. Vol 11, 2006.

11 replies on “The Royal Game 2.0: Interaction and Community in the World of Online Chess”

Hello duncan! Luke here.
Great read, well written 🙂
I was particularly interested where you said:

“Chess is a fantasy in its own right, much like the World of Warcraft. It is a game invented by human beings and serves no utilitarian end.”

I read another conference paper here which talked about potential offline benefits of MMOs like World of Warcraft, and I commented that I felt learning to raid in WoW had improved my teamwork skills, showing up later in group programming assignments.
Might things like overall personal development be considered utilitarian ends?

Here’s that conference paper-

– Luke

Hey Duncan,

Great read on the premises of Online Chess, which i learned a bit about chess continuing online. The thick and thin relationship compelled the online community in my opinion to that sort of stasis. I myself play chess here and there on the iphone with other players online, and i can synthesise the argument from this conference. The social interaction with other players or playing against the AI does reveal the blurring of this game, though iphone interface would be a lot simpler than the online desktop dedicated for professional players. Chess is a game that is enjoyed online and offline, and i think that offline players would play the same as online players since the rules are the same, thus has the potential to increase players.


Hi Duncan,

Before reading your paper, the image I had of chess was one of very quiet rooms and very serious attitudes. Reading that online chess can involve techno music and swearing really surprised me! But your point that the original beauty of the game continues to shine through regardless of the circumstances surrounding the playing of the game comes through strongly.

Your paper describes a complex community with both strong and weak ties. It seems like Web 2.0 really has supported the growth of the chess community around the world. Do you have any figures for how many people are playing chess online, watching matches on Twitch or taking part in online forums?

I thought the example of providing educational tools and training to new players was a really strong demonstration of this community’s supportive and welcoming attitude. It also sounds like professional players interact freely with non-professional players, which I could imagine really adds to the strength of the community.

I’m curious to know how do the traditionalists feel about online chess? Can they appreciate the community that has sprung up online, which has no doubt contributed to an increase in popularity of the game, or is it too far from the traditional world of chess for them to support?

Thanks again for introducing me to the world of online chess!

Hi Duncan

Your paper was very interesting. I have enjoyed playing chess offline and online, but have only ever played against a computer. I can recall chess tournaments that have been shown on TV (not necessarily here) and it is great to see that the game still as popular as ever and it is being played and watched on Twitch! The way that it has evolved into an immersive and interactive game with the video, music, dancing and chat to bring people together takes it to new exciting heights. As Anna mentioned, what do the traditionalists think of this version?

I should go and visit the website to pick up some pointers and start playing again! It sounds like they would have some great tutorials on how to play the game and I know I’d be quite rusty. I’m guessing you chose to write this paper because you love to play the game? How long have you been playing?


Hi Duncan,
I found your paper to be an interesting read, and a new take on the relationship between online gaming and virtual communities. You touch on what I think is one of the most valuable affordances of online communities, the creation of centralised, easy to access resources for niche interests. Your example focuses on, imagine how hard it would be for people to access the lessons and connections with professional players in the offline world? For these sorts of online communities to thrive, they do require management to moderate and keep the community engaged; and you did mention this too. It’s incredible to think this game has survived, and done so relatively unchanged for some 1500 or so years. And as you note the internet has not altered the game mechanics, yet the social interaction around it has clearly evolved, to cracking eggs on heads, have people evolved for the better? I’m not sure.
If you would like to read another paper from the same stream, mine can be found at:

Hi Duncan!

I really enjoyed your paper! It was very clear, concise and easy to follow. The topic was also one I found quite interesting! My own paper was on MMOs, so reading about the social community in a different type of game setting such as online chess was quite refreshing. It even kind of made me want to check online chess out for myself.
Prior to reading your paper, I didn’t actually consider chess much of a social game 🙂 when I thought of chess, I thought of two people in total silence and concentration as they played out their moves, so it’s nice to learn there’s more to it than that!
Due to chess’s still largely competitive nature, do you think it’s as effective as facilitating bonds as something more collaborative perhaps? And do you play much online chess yourself? Have you personally found it an effective tool in forming social connections with others? 🙂

Really well done, Duncan. Thank you for the great read!

Kind regards,


Hello Duncan!
Really fascinating topic – I had never thought of community in regards to online chess before! I liked how deeply you delved into it. I could tell how much you liked the subject matter as well! It was great that you picked two different examples to showcase your information.
I liked how you gave us evidence of the case studies doing the actions. It was especially interesting to read about the real life consequences of losing an online game with the Botez-Tari matches. With the theme of community, it could have been good to discuss the communities of both streamers and their reactions to this, or clear examples of the streamers directly interacting with their fans.
I would have enjoyed it more if you talked more about how the community interacted with each other – such as if the interaction on Twitch then led to followers talking amongst each other on other medias like Reddit or Facebook groups. It would have also been interesting to see the mental benefits of watching a chess game online: does it help how you play chess after viewing this content? You could argue that watching a chess game would be more calming compared to watching a war game. Would you agree with this/Have you personally experienced this?
It was interesting to read about how online gaming was an escape – it would have been great to read about this in the context of the online community interacting with each other. I liked how you talked about online chess in this paper, as it is a physical game and an online game. It was a great topic to explore!


Hi Duncan, excellent paper, very well written and good use of a very professional, academic voice. I feel like you covered a lot of the same territory as my paper, although yours was much more focused, though I found plenty of ideas in yours to challenge. I feel like chess does not perfectly translate to online spaces, it may not be a core part of the game but trying to read someone’s strategy from their face, like in poker, can certainly come into play offline but not online. I am also not sure communities form naturally when people come together, I feel there needs to be conscious choices made to act on the shared interests, but on reflection I am a part of my geographic community not by chance and not choice, whether or not I support the same sports team. Collaboration is certainly a part of chess in offline spaces too, in training new players and organizing tournaments, and in my experience it’s often done as a team sport, in chess club in highschool we would have six players from our school against six from another. Though I suppose this was not really a team sport as in the end we only recorded our victories as individuals, not as a school. I think you bring up a really good point about how the communities surrounding chess is a peaceful and respectful one, and not a toxic one. Why do you think that is? My best guess would be because it is an existing artifact from pre-internet days. If I was right my question then becomes what is it about the internet that can making gaming communities toxic? What gives MMO’s the “get good” mentality that online chess fortunately does not have? – James

Hi Duncan, apologies for the late response I did not realise the had conference ended so soon! I just wanted to comment on your paper as it’s content closely relates to my own research on Twitch. Much of my Twitch viewing has focused more on the LOL and TFT communities due to my own interests. It is fascinating that even non-gaming communities have been able to embrace the technology and bring together interested individuals, I did not even think that games such as chess would have had such a streaming presence, and certainly I did not come across it either.
I think it is amazing that Chess has been able to develop its own shared interest community through the platform, it would be interesting to see if the chess based streamers are able to market their influence in much the same way as the games streamers have been able to – is this something that you have come across when looking through chess streaming or do you think that this is a possibility in the future for this genre of streaming?

Hey Duncan,

Interesting take on the stream! I tend to think of “gaming” as blood-and-guts shooters or dungeon-crawl RPGs. Your examination in to the world of online chess was thoroughly enjoyable as it is not a world I have explored myself.

A great read with wonderful spin on the conference stream.


Hi Duncan.

The paper is great to read because it has such a different focus than so many others that are written. I don’t have much experience in Chess, or Online Chess so it was fascinating to read how you linked it back to community. Also a great use of evidence and supporting articles throughout the paper.

Cheers, Lleyton.

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