The ancient game of Go came to the West in the form of a description by Thomas Hyde in the latter parts of the 16th Century. Firstly, in the form of a letter and then a publication called, De Ludis Orientalibus. However, the game has taken a very long time to develop and spread around the Western world and indeed Europe.
It was not until the late 1800’s that the game was described with detail by Oskar Korschelt, a man who tried to popularise the game in Europe, Austria.
But in this, the modern day, and after hundreds of years of the game being around in the Western world, is it finally getting the push it needs to be a game that is as commonly known as other Asian games such as chess?
Just last week I was one of over six and a half thousand people to tune in on Twitch (a popular online streaming platform), to watch the 2019 European championship at Jena, Germany. A few years before that I was there for the Alphago versus Lee Sedol live games, watching as one of many thousands of people, to a game being played live online, with Youtube becoming a streaming platform.
Go streaming, and indeed online content for Go has been around for a long time. But it was not until the likes of Nick Sibicky (AGA 4 dan), that Go became something that was easily accessible to both watch and learn online.
Then came others, such as BattsGo or Dwyrin (5 dan), Lee Ha-jin (4 dan pro), and finally Xhu98 or Stephen HU (EGF 5 dan); who worked to produce English speaking go content. Not just on Twitch, but also Youtube. Between these people and the Alphago craze in 2016, they have had millions of views on Youtube and indeed on Twitch combined.
With so much online content being produced, and with Nick Sibicky alone producing over three hundred videos teaching Go, has the Go community been affected in the western world? Has the go community grown because of these resources online and the ability to watch high level games with English commentary?
The simple answer to that question is yes. The more complicated answer is yes, but not as much as you would think.
Having logged on to a couple of forums, viewing live streams and on each talking to people and Go players, the answer becomes a little more complex.
Live streams and online content that is being produced in the English language has indeed brought new players to the game. With quick access to these resources a new player can really begin to feel that they are beginning to understand what is one of, if not, the most complicated games in human existence. I can also personally add that I have seen completely new people coming on to the streams, asking questions about what Go is, and how to play it.
However, the more people I talk to, the more evident that it becomes that such online resources, while pulling in these essential new players are not pulling in as many as they perhaps could. More than one person has responded to my questions on forums and said that they use Twitch and Youtube to watch Go, but they themselves were introduced to Go in other ways. Many of the people who I have talked to were indeed older. But those who were younger, typically said that either a friend had introduced them to the game or it was a popular anime called “Hikaru no GO”, that introduced them to the game of Go.
Many of the people that responded use Twitch and other online resources as a way to stay involved with Go, keep updated, or simply watch new content that is being produced in these streams. This isn't something to be undervalued. Even with Twitch streamers such as BattsGo and Xhu98, the Go community is small to grow. But it is these streamers that are producing this new content that are helping to retain the people who are already involved in the Go community.
I was introduced to Go by watching Hikaru no GO. As soon as I saw the anime I was hooked on the game. But it was not long until I fell out of love with the game, and for some years the game was forgotten to me, until once again I stumbled on the manga/comic of Hikaru no GO, and my interest was rekindled in Go.
With the help of a friend I found my first ever Go playing Server, Flyordie.com. But again, I fell out of love with the game because I could not find anything or anyone to teach me the game or indeed any good servers to play on that were not Flyordie. A year or so later, I stumble on OGS and to this day I have been playing Go and learning more about Go. As soon as I found OGS, I began to find other such resources when people began to point them out to me. These wonderful people in the Go community shared with me, Nick Sibicky, and then websites that I could do Go problems on, apps for my phone that I could also practice Go problems on, and then so much more as I began to dive in to the world of Go.
But, it is through streams and Youtube videos that I have been able to really learn the most about the game, and also allowed me to be able to keep up with what is going on in the Go world. Consequently, this has made me feel part of a community, even though that community is far smaller than it seems.
This leads to the ultimate question… What, if any, is the future of go in the West?
That question can be answered simply by talking to a few people online and asking them what they would like to see happen in the Go world. This is an easy task to complete as indeed most Go players in the west have many requests, that can be boiled down to a simple answer. More content and more variety of content.
They also want to be able to be a bigger part of the Go world. They want more tournaments with live coverage with English speaking presenters. They want to be kept updated and informed about the Asian Go scene, and to have their tournaments also be covered and commentated by English speaking presenters. They want to be a part of a global Go community as opposed to only being part of a Western Go community.
All of these wants and needs of the Western Go community point out some crucial flaws in streaming and the content currently available. One of these flaws is accessibility to live streams, while the content remains on the channels that they are on for weeks at a time, people want to see more live streams at times when they are able to watch. Understandably, this is a very big ask considering that typically most Go streamers are in time zones that make watching a stream difficult considering the time differences from place to place. I have personally stayed up until gone two in the morning to watch a stream; and I have stayed awake until six in the morning to watch all of the Alphago games.
The only way to resolve this issue is to promote more independent people to produce this kind of content. However, this may be difficult considering the lack of money that is available for doing so. Camera equipment, time and indeed expertise are not easy things to simply come by. Though one positive I have seen happening in the last year or so is the number of Go streams going through the proverbial roof that was there before. However the longevity of these channels seems short lived. I believe this to be a combination of lack of in game knowledge, lack of viewers, and indeed lack of time in the streamers lives.
But it's not all doom and gloom. As I mentioned earlier in this article, I was watching a stream presented by Stephen HU and the EGF (European Go Federation), that had over six and a half thousand viewers, which is a very large number for a single stream. This shows that indeed the Go community is not only growing, but is hungry for this kind of high level content.
Without trying to be a forecaster of future events, I believe streams and events such as the one hosted on Twitch by the EGF that shows that such events can indeed be successful, and can also reach a wide number of people. It also shows that there is a future in this kind of content online, especially as the European Go Professionals begin to really break through in to the Go scene in Asia and the world.
I believe that it is still early days yet in terms of streaming online and the go world, but these early days have been hugely successful in providing things that the Go community needs and wants.