Agon Screws Up World Chess Championship Broadcast Again

Not even the great and beautiful Judith Polgar can save Agon this time in what’s, in my opinion, the worst World Chess Championship broadcast delivered by Ilya Merenzon’s company so far. Perhaps, the future of chess is the pay-per-view format (this is quite debatable I know), but such a low-class coverage won’t convince many to invest precious dollars on it so easily.

This could sound illogical but it’s the third time I pay to watch an official World Chess Championship broadcast. I really enjoy the details beyond the chessboard which are only available through the official transmission. You see the players arrive, the special guest playing the first move, interviews with politicians and artists, the press conference, etc.

Even more, you have first-class analyst Judith Polgar on the show. Her vast knowledge and humble simplicity make you believe you really understand what’s going on at the board —you don’t. OK, It seems like a great deal for twenty bucks. But no. And here it comes the big but.

If I’m not mistaken, Agon has covered four WCC matches and their respective Candidates tournaments. Enough time to come up with a flawless product for the chess community. Instead, their platform is full of bugs —as usual. So surely those were my last bucks burned on Agon.

The first day the extra cameras which you paid for show you just a blurred unintelligible image, far away from the 360 cam they had offered in the last match which was probably their best effort. The main broadcast video wouldn’t load. Chessboard and counters didn’t work. You had to refresh the page a couple of times until it finally ran as an old diesel engine.

By then, you had missed the initial move and the first five minutes of the game. Sad. And it doesn’t end there. Every now and then you are disconnected from the site so you have to reload the page again, log in and then continue enjoying the event.

This time our host is IM Anna Rudolf, ‘some blonde’ in Rex Sinquefield’s words. Ms Rudolph is doing an acceptable job whether we take into account —and only if we take this into account— the fact that Agon is set to reach out a specific target: amateurs. Not a crazy idea considering Merenzon’s claim that 600 million human beings play chess. Otherwise, Rudolph constantly asking the audience to raise their hands to vote for a winner or what the next move of the game will be is just intolerable.

Agon could well have hired a higher rated player to accompany Mrs Polgar, but it’s just logical that the presenter should have a combination of both, host and chess skills. That being said, Rudolph’s overreacted emotions in some moments don’t conciliate well with what you would expect from an experienced chess player. For example, when Caruana was low on time in the first game I thought she was just about to pass out. If that’s the drama for the amateurs watching around the globe then it’s all right.

The interviews mark the highest point of the coverage so far. Both Polgar and Rudolph ask interesting questions making the guests feel comfortable and forget for a moment they are on the screen. On the other side, the production makes a big omission here. The online audience never know who we are listening to because the name of the person fails to show at the bottom.

Definitely, not the only issue concerning the production staff. Many times, the main camera (the one showing the players over the chessboard) goes full screen not allowing the audience around the globe follow Polgar’s analysis. This is really irritating because there you understand that the people running this is so out of the chess world.

The press conference is under Mr Daniel King’s baton now, replacing Ms Anastasya Karlovich. A good decision I must say. Not that Karlovich hasn’t done a good job but it looked to me as if she was too much into FIDE’s camp. As a result, sometimes she wouldn’t ask some inevitable questions which could directly damage the organization. On the contrary, King appears quite independent and always in charge of the situation. He denotes security and a strong character.

A bit further from the World Chess Championship broadcast. journalist FM Mike Klein suggested on Twitter that Agon is selling tickets to attend the auditorium where the players are battling the title out, but without clearly stating that they are allowed no more than 30-minutes to watch the action in situ. Indeed, this post on Reddit seems to confirm that situation.

In conclusion, Agon has failed once again to deliver the magnificent product they had been claiming and the one the public was expecting. Although, I’m not so sure chess players still expect good news from Ilya Merenzon’s company. One can only wonder how it is possible that some people become millionaire managing businesses this way.

Whether the future of chess is a pay-per-view sports then there must be a wild curve along the way still out of sight. Everyday you hear that a new chess expert freelancer is going online for free, and they are collecting fans by the thousands. Even more, the strongest chess sites have their own broadcasts. There you hear some heavy names as Seirawan, Svidler, Grischuk and others. All for free.

The official World Chess Championship broadcast has had its opportunities. Many people have trusted on it. This was the last battle for Agon. No tactics remain. Next step is to simply resign.

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