- Jonas Eriksson
- May 16, 2019 | 4 min
Eye Tracking as a Potential Game-Changer for PRO Chess
Fabiano Caruana, right, in his final-round win over Georg Meier. Notice the Tobii Eye Tracker 4C on the bottom of the monitors. Photo: Eric Rosen/PRO Chess League.
“I could hear gasps in the audience the first time we showed them our scenes that included eye tracking.”
We interviewed Aran Graham, Esports Producer for Chess.com, and asked him to tell us more about their decision to use eye tracking in the PRO Chess League.
Can you tell us more about the PRO Chess League?
The PRO Chess League (PCL) is an international league consisting of 32 professional chess teams from 5 continents. There is a 10-week regular season, followed by two weeks of playoffs, all culminating in an on-location Esports event. All of the games are played on Chess.com and are all streamed to twitch.tv/chess with live commentary.
The PCL Finals is a unique event in the world of competitive chess, because it’s the only tournament in the world where the players are facing off against each other in person but playing through a chess website, Chess.com, instead of using a physical board and pieces.
This results in a true Esports atmosphere and allows our production team to incorporate technology like Tobii Eye Tracking, increasing the production value for our viewers both on-location and at home watching on Twitch.
How easy or difficult was it to set up eye tracking?
Initially, I figured this would be difficult to pull off. Once I installed the Tobii Eye Tracker 4C at home to test it and work out how to incorporate it for streaming chess, I was pleasantly surprised. The configuration process was very simple, and I was immediately impressed by how accurate it was. When I looked at specific squares on the chessboard, the icon rested right where it needed to. Accuracy is critical when using such a tool to gain insights in a game like chess, and this device passed that test easily.
The companion Tobii Ghost software allowed me to customize the appearance of the icon, as that was also a major concern for us. Our branding is something we care about deeply, and we were able to customize the appearance to have synergy with our unique look and feel without much fuss.
What were the players’ and the audience’s reactions?
I could hear gasps in the audience the first time we showed them our scenes that included eye tracking. Chess is an ancient game, so any time we can do something new with it, we know people will react strongly. Chess players and enthusiasts are always hunting for insights on how to improve their competitive edge, reading hundreds of books written by master chess players imparting their own strategic thought process.
This is a potential game-changer because our viewers can go “into the mind” of master players in real time, seeing where they place their attention with each move on the board. As I made my way through the room, checking in with friends in the audience, the first thing people said was about how awesome the tracking was.
Saint Louis Arch Bishops captain Mike Kummer agonizes over the final moments of his team’s championship run. Photo: Eric Rosen/PRO Chess League.
Did you get any interesting insights from eye tracking?
Our commentators were able to approach certain moments in the coverage with a kind of targeted analysis that they’ve never been capable of providing in the past. Typically, our commentators look at the current position on the chess board, and some of the most recent moves, and make assumptions about what possible variations should be causing the players concern.
With our incorporation of the eye tracker, however, they noticed some “disagreement” between what the commentators would imagine the players should be considering based on the current position versus where the players were actually looking. This allowed the commentary to take on more nuance, because the commentators were able to also discuss where the players were actually focused, and even found themselves surprised at the decisions they were considering in real time. It’s a tool that has never before been available in chess commentary.
Would you use eye tracking for another competition?
Chess.com is already planning more Esports events, and the scale of those events will only increase. Tobii Eye Tracking proved that these kinds of events bring value to the chess community, and has allowed Chess.com to really step up its game from a production perspective.
Follow @PROChessLeague on Twitter to stay tuned on future events.