- Hikaru Nakamura is a 32-year-old esports athlete based in Los Angeles, California.
- He is the first chess player to join the esports team TSM (formerly Team SoloMid). According to Esports Earnings, Nakamura has made over $US281,000 in winnings from online chess tournaments in 2020.
- At 15, Nakamura became the youngest American to win the title of chess Grandmaster, and competed worldwide as a professional chess player before transitioning to esports. He’s currently the highest-ranked blitz player worldwide.
- When he’s not prepping for a competition, Nakamura streams on Twitch for four to seven hours a day to an audience of 570,000 followers.
- Here’s what his job is like, as told to freelance writer Claire Turrell.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Some people know me as Hikaru Nakamura, while others may know me as GMHikaru. I’m an esport athlete and chess grandmaster. I’ve been playing computer games since I was eight years old, and I was just signed by USA esport giant TSM as its first esport chess player.
My stepfather and brother are both chess players and my interest started when I followed them to tournaments. In 2003, I became the youngest American to earn the title of grandmaster at the age of 15 years and 79 days.
I realised chess could be more than a hobby for me when I dropped out of Dickinson College in 2006 and decided to pursue a career as a professional chess player, competing around the world.
I was first introduced to console games at the age of 6.
It was 1994, and I was in Japan with my mum and brother visiting my biological father. I played games like Mario Kart with the old cartridges, but it wasn’t until 1998 that I had my first real introduction to PC games, with StarCraft: Brood War. I also played chess online, but I didn’t start playing it seriously until much later.
In 2018, I started streaming on the gaming platform Twitch, where people also broadcast themselves playing games like Fortnite and Call of Duty. Currently, my Twitch channel GMHikaru has over 570,000 followers.
In August 2020, I signed with esports organisation TSM as its first esports chess player.
TSM is one of the world’s largest esports organisations with teams playing games such as League of Legends, Fortnite, and Valorant. It’s about to open a huge gaming facility in Playa Vista, California, which will have a theatre, scrim rooms, academy coaching rooms, a gym, float tank, and nap pods. However, at the moment, like everyone else, I’m working from home.
The one big change to my life during COVID-19 is my transition from a professional chess player to a full-time streamer. Ironically, I cut down on my traditional over the board competitions in the beginning of 2020, as I was a little burned out and wanted to refocus on defending my US Championship Title.
I only played in a few events from October 2019 through March 2020 when everything got shut down. Lockdown has allowed me to focus full time on streaming and share the game of chess with the Twitch audience.
The biggest misconception about chess in esports is that it’s less prestigious than the board game.
People might not realise that online chess has been around since 1993, which predates almost all other esports. While traditional games can take up to five hours, online chess games move at a blistering pace and can be completed in as quickly as 10 minutes.
Fans are now becoming aware of the expertise that’s needed, such as mouse skills, which are extremely important when players have only seconds left on the clock.
Other elements that you get in the esports game, which you don’t get with the board game, is the ability to pre-move and make moves in 0.1 seconds. This makes it a big pull for fans as it’s very viewer friendly.
On an average day when I’m not competing, I’ll stream for four to seven hours.
I wake up around 6 a.m., boot up my stream around 8 a.m., and stream sometimes until 3 p.m. I play chess, give analysis, and invite some of my subscribers to play against me to make my streams interactive.
After that, I usually take an hour or two to clear my head while uploading VODs (videos on demand) so that my video editing team can work on the content and upload it to YouTube.
From there, I usually try to discuss content ideas or what the plans are for the next couple of streams before zoning out and reading a book or watching Netflix and going to sleep around 10 p.m.
If it’s a competition day, my schedule is more rigorous.
I’ll wake up around 5 a.m., as most competitions start at 7 a.m. I spend two hours working on chess preparation and my opening strategy, and then I’ll compete online for four to five hours. Once I’ve finished, I’ll do a couple of hours of streaming to discuss my games and review the moves that I made. After that, I’ll head to bed around 9 p.m.
I’ve played in six major online competitions so far in 2020, and I’ll play at least two more before the end of the year.
I generally try to eat an energy-packed meal like pasta before a stream, since it can go on for hours without a break. If I’m behind schedule, I’ll usually eat a couple of breakfast bars and survive on coffee. I’ve never been overly superstitious when it comes to competitions, but from time to time, I will wear the same shirt multiple days if I had a great game.
As a streamer, the days tend to blur together, so I very rarely pay attention to whether it’s a weekday or the weekend.
Since I tend to stream six or even seven days of the week, it makes no difference to me. I try to take one day off a week and go hiking in Topanga National Park in California.
As of right now, there are no meet-and-greet with fans, although I hope to hold one after we get through this trying period of time. Still, I enjoy connecting with people when I’m streaming or through social media. I post about upcoming streams on Twitter or share shots on Instagram when I’m hiking.
My wildest esports experience was when I was the No. 1 most watched channel on the streaming platform Twitch, and I wasn’t even playing. It was when I was a commentator on a match in May 2020 between XQC (Felix Lengyel) and the late Reckful (Byron Bernstein) who was a good friend of mine.
Since the pandemic, the popularity of chess esports has rocketed and this growing fan base on Twitch helps tremendously. I don’t really use any mental tricks in terms of staying level headed before competitions, but I do find that knowing that I have such a large audience of fans who will support me whether I win or lose makes a world of difference.