Feature

Armageddon: Chess Makes Prime-Time TV Debut

On June 10, the world’s top grandmasters stepped into probably the most unusual playing area. There was a chess set placed on a table made out of concrete. But there was nothing else around but the walls and the floor painted green.

But spectators who watched the chess tournament live on television, saw something entirely different: intense chess games inside a magnificent hall with columns, dark patinated walls and giant halogen score boards.

The Tournament in question is called “Armageddon. The Beginning”. Organized by World Chess, the commercial partner of the World Chess Federation, “Armageddon’ is chess’s new attempt to find its home on television, and it turns out to be a success: it was picked up by Match TV, Russia’s top sports network and given a prime-time slot, from 8PM to 10PM.

Participants of Armageddon

Vladimir Kramnik (Russia)

Sergey Karjakin (Russia)

Daniil Dubov (Russia)

Teimur Rajabov (Azerbaijan)

Ian Nepomniastchy (Russia)

Boris Gelfand (Israel)

Ernesto Inarkeiv (Russia)

Wei Yi (China)

What makes it different from your typical chess broadcast is that the format is very dramatic — the grandmasters play ultra-fast chess, the blitz, and the Armageddon tie-breaks, the setting is visually captivating, and the spectators are able to see who is winning in real-time and even follow the players heart rates (Vladimir Kramnik’s heart rate went up to 140 during an especially tense moment).

The tournament lasts a week, with two hours per day. It includes a series of Matches in a double-elimination format, typical for e-sports. If a player loses two matches, he is eliminated from the Series.

Players (and the arbiter, who is not visible to the public) are located in the custom-built pavilion and are filmed with virtual reality technology. Walls and part of the decor are designed to display advantage, time trouble and other information for spectators, but this information is not visible to the players and will not interfere with their play.

Studio

The Armageddon studio is a virtual reality studio custom-designed for the event. It features the chess table, columns which display players advantage during the game, countdown during the games, the names of the players and the score. There is a separate commentators room.

Chess is one of the most-played sports in the world. Its popularity grew in parallel with that of smartphones, and now over a billion devices have a chess app. However, chess is rarely seen on television because there was no TV-friendly format until Armageddon.

Ilya Merenzon, World Chess CEO, the company behind Armageddon, says that the next installment will be broadcast on multiple sports networks in the US, Europe and China: “We found a way to show chess in a spectacular fashion, in line with the top-level sports broadcasts. I think that this is the way chess and other sports will be broadcast from now on!”

Armageddon is running from June 10 to June 16. It’s being broadcast by Match TV (in Russian) as well as on Social Media. In French, it’s available on Twitch

You can make your own broadcast on Twitch. Please write to media@worldchess.com to request a sound-free feed onto which you will be able to add your commentary.