How a Chess Teacher got 1M subscribers in a year
GothamChess (aka Levy) makes chess fast, fun and entertaining
I just recently moved after a few week long process, but now I’m set for at least the next month. Anyway, onto to today’s newsletter!
Welcome to Creator’s Digest! If you haven’t yet, subscribe below!
Today’s creator is Levy Rozman, a 26 year old chess International Master (IM), commentator, streamer and teacher with 1.2M subscribers on YouTube & 515K followers on Twitch.
Levy was born in 1995 and grew up in the New Jersey/New York area, often jumping between the two. He began playing chess at age 6 as an extracurricular activity and entered his first tournament at age 7.
Now a bit of background, in elementary school chess, there are divisions so you’re not outright playing people who are vastly older and more experienced than you. For folks ages 5-10, there’s the Kindergarten-3rd grade division (K-3) where the oldest people are in 3rd grade. Then there’s the 4th grade to 6th (4-6) division where the oldest are 6th graders, etc. Playing your first tournament at age 7 isn’t that crazy as sometimes kids start playing tournaments at age 5. In fact, that’s the age I played my first chess tournament at.
Fun Fact: outside of writing this newsletter, I used to play competitive chess for 20+ years from age 5 to age 25. Anyway, back to Levy.
He rose thru the scholastic ranks by winning local tournaments and started slowly shifting his focus to state and national tournaments where he’d eventually start gaining a name for himself. The next 10 years flew by as Levy grew up and eventually reached the title of National Master (NM) at age 16 in 2011. In chess, you’re given a rating and it goes up after wins and typically goes down after losses. The higher the rating, the better or more experienced you are.
If you’re wondering what that means exactly, here’s a quick graphic. A NM and CM are pretty close to each other.
From Master to Streamer
Rozman continued playing but found the world of commentating in 2017. He’d work with chess.com to commentate some of the biggest games from the World Chess Championships to PogChamps (a tournament of internet stars playing chess).
In 2018, he’d start his channel, GothamChess, named after the city he grew up in, New York City (often referred to as Gotham in Batman or sometimes even colloquially.)
He’d also start streaming to twitch, often doing live gameplay, playing people in his chat or even streaming games with friends. Sometimes he’d involve his girlfriend, Lucy as well for a streaming and chat session. He started developing his own personality and humor that made people want to watch him more. And he started developing a keen understanding of how to keep a viewers attention while reviewing a game regardless of what level of chess you’re at.
The goal was simple: make chess entertaining. But the nuts and bolts behind that goal require a lot of forethought, experience and trial and tribulation. The audience needs to be able to understand what’s going on positionally and the strategy behind each move but you also don’t want to alienate folks who might be starting out. It’s a tricky line to traverse, but Levy does it beautifully on his channel.
Astronomical growth in 2021
In late 2020, the show The Queen’s Gambit, came out on Netflix and took the world by storm. Chess became a trending topic worldwide, Amazon started selling chess sets like hotcakes. People wanted to play the game and more people wanted to learn and play with others.
Enter chess.com and chess personalities like Levy, the Botez Twins, Hikaru Nakamura and more. All of these folks saw an uptick in their audience growth, subscribers and general interest after the show was released as many started searching YouTube for chess-related content and as staples in the YouTube Chess community, their content was served to new audiences.
See the dramatic uptick right after September and into the later half of the year? Queen’s Gambit was released on Netflix on October 23rd, 2020 and in the next month, chess interest was at an all-time high and Levy (amongst others) benefited greatly. In fact, he even reviewed the games in the show.
With Queen’s Gambit content at an all-time high, chess.com released a bot that let people play Beth Harmon (the lead) at different ages. So you could play her at age 7 when she was just starting out or when she took over the world at age 24, etc. Levy played the bot many times and to this day, it’s his most viewed video at 3M+ views.
Giving Back - the $100K fund
A creator is nothing without an audience. And thus as one grows in numbers, it’s only natural to give back to the people who have supported you over the days, months, years. Now that can be thru exclusive access, playing chess games with them, monetary compensation or collaborations.
For Rozman, he decided in October 2021, he was going to make a $100K scholarship fund to help schools with competitive chess programs. He announced the 12 winners in November 2021 and teamed up with ChessKid.com to select the winners amongst the many applicants.
Just another reminder to do good as you’re building an audience and find ways to help others get more involved with the game.
World Chess Championship 2021 Commentating
Levy Rozman, or GothamChess, has been commentating for years and as an IM himself, he’s uniquely qualified to talk about elite games and break them down.
For those that don’t know, the FIDE World Chess Championship is going on right now in Dubai, it started on November 24th and will conclude in just ten days on December 16th. This is classical chess which can last a minimum of 5 hours for each player, sometimes going even longer. The longest was an 8 hour match just a few days ago.
In terms of skill level, these are the two best players in the world at the moment. Magnus Carlsen of Norway is the defending champion, he’s held the #1 spot for 8 years taking the title in 2013 from former champion Viswanathan Anand of India.
Obviously watching 8 hours of gameplay is boring to the average viewer and most of the time, there is little to no actual sound in the room of the game as both players are concentrating. So, commentary is crucial and taking the 8 hours and condensing it to 15 minutes or a 30 minute video is the best way for getting more people interested in chess.
That’s exactly what GothamChess has done over the last 8 games of the World Chess Championships 2021. He goes over every game, what happened, why, the strategy behind moves and keeps the audience’s attention by adding some humor. It’s a masterclass in time to upload (it’s almost an hour after the match ends), retention and engagement, and just sheer mastery of a topic.
His commentary in Game 6 which was a decisive game for many reasons has the most views right now as it shows the tide turning toward Carlsen. It was Carlsen’s first win in the 14 game match and the first time there has been a decisive win for almost 5 years along with being the longest game in chess history with over 125 moves.
Consistency is King. Rozman has only been on YouTube for a year but he uploads at least 3 videos a week from commentary to games to streams.
Capitalize on attention. GothamChess doubled down on the attention the chess world was getting after Queen’s Gambit was released.
Simplify a complex topic. Levy’s commentary is fantastic. Watch the 35 minute video above and tell me you don’t know what’s going on. It’s approachable, simple and brilliant.
Levy Rozman is not only a great commentator but one to watch as chess gets bigger and bigger, he’s taken a sport that he plays and started making content around it. In about a year, he’s gained 1M subscribers and he’s a living reminder that if you want to teach more people something, teach in public.
After all, when one person teaches, two people learn.
That’s it! Thanks for reading. Subscribe below if you haven’t already and go with Levy a happy birthday!
Thanks so much and I’ll see you next time!