9 May 2022 | By Matt Miller, Sr. Copywriter
Alexandra and Andrea Botez have more than 1 million followers on their Twitch channel BotezLive.
It’s a cold March day in Las Vegas and sisters Alexandra and Andrea Botez are playing chess against random opponents on Fremont Street, offering anyone who beats them $100. After three-and-a-half hours of games against a few worthy opponents, they haven’t lost a single match. A crowd has gathered around their table. Fans have stopped by for photos with the so-called “Queens of Chess”, who have 1 million followers on their Twitch channel BotezLive. The sisters have doled out friendly tips to the newer players they’ve beaten and handshakes to the confident, seasoned players who have challenged them and gone down.
Then finally, the president of the UNLV chess club, who had been waiting in the wings, sits down for the final match against Andrea. The 20-year-old is confident, casually conversing with her sister and the Chat watching live on Twitch through the opening moves. But, two minutes into the timed five-minute speed chess match, Andrea’s opponent starts putting on pressure.
“This is a little scary,” Alexandra commentates as she watches her sister, between thanking viewers for new subscriptions. “This is the climactic final battle.”
Unbothered by her sister’s light heckling, Andrea opens up in the centre of the board, and pushes back the pressure quickly, gaining a slight time edge.
“I’m relaxed, I’m so relaxed,” Andrea says as her opponent’s clock runs out.
When chess is a family business
Of course Andrea is relaxed. Winning chess in front of crowds is nothing new for the Botez sisters. They’ve been doing it their entire lives.
Twenty-six-year-old Alexandra started playing chess when she was six years old.
“My dad taught me how to play chess, and he had learned from his grandmother because chess is really popular in Romania, which is where our family is from,” Alexandra says during an interview ahead of the Las Vegas trip. “It was actually something I really enjoyed doing with my dad.”
Alexandra had some early success in competitions and it became apparent fast that she had real talent. Andrea, who is six-and-a-half years younger, remembers tagging along with her dad and sister, who, by this time, was competing in prestigious tournaments like the World Youth Chess Championship and the Canadian Youth Chess Nationals. Inspired by seeing her sister in these tournaments, Andrea started playing seriously when she was six years old.
Their entire childhoods were spent playing chess – long weekends at tournaments, studying and preparation, all between school. They loved it. And they really liked winning, too.
“One of my first memories was the last round of nationals, and I had to win first place. I remember swindling a draw into a win,” Andrea says. “I remember all the times I cried when I lost as well, but the thrill was being in the seat, when you’re getting that win after a long game – even when you’re really little.”
That early success also brought a lot of pressure. Alexandra remembers winning nationals when she was eight and her coach telling her, “It’s easy to make it to the top; It’s hard to stay on top.” From then on, she was the target at every competition. It didn’t stop her. Alexandra became a five-time Canadian National Girls Champion and won the U.S. Girls Nationals at 15. And in 2013, at 18 years old, she reached the Woman FIDE Master title norm.
As Alexandra moved on to college, Andrea was playing chess in Oregon, where she was going to high school. She kept her chess life (she won the U8 Girls Canadian Youth Chess Championship in 2010 and became the 2015 Women British Columbia Chess Champion) separate from her high school life.
“I was the only girl in the only chess club in Oregon, and every guy was 40 or older and I was going back to high school and no other kids were doing that,” Andrea says.
Though chess has been historically considered a male-dominated game, that perception has shifted in recent years as it has become more popular thanks to its resurgence in pop culture, and its accessibility on livestreaming services like Twitch.
“I think the growing popularity has definitely helped build representation for women,” Andrea says. “For me what was really important was having a community like me. Before, there were really no girls. And now, with Twitch, some of the most popular chess streamers are girls.”
As their stardom has grown, the Botez sisters now have the luxury of choosing which brand deals are right for their channel.
The chess livestream explosion
Botez sisters’ games aren’t always as calm and collected as they were while streaming live on Fremont Street. Between trips to big cities around the world, where they stream their in-person matches on the Botez Travel Show, the Botez sisters are more often playing chess at home online, and streaming it on Twitch. That’s when things get a little rowdier – which is a departure from the concentrated game most people imagine chess to be. Alexandra and Andrea will scream, they’ll crack jokes, they’ll taunt each other. Often, they’ll play dizzyingly fast Blitz games on Chess.com, where each player has only five (or as low as one) total minutes to play in the game. The clock is brutal. But time seems suspended when the Botez sisters are playing. They’ll casually check social media, discuss pop culture, crack jokes, and annoy each other while playing against top 1% of Chess.com players.
It’s not only chess, nowadays. Their channel has grown to include a host of different passions and hobbies. Sometimes they’ll play poker, they’ll take circus lessons, they’ll cook, they’ll play Jenga with their roommates (the Botez sisters recently moved into a new house in Los Angeles with fellow Twitch streamers JustaMinx and Code Miko). They’ve also launched the Botez Travel show, where they explore cities around the world (Paris, London, Oslo, Dubai) to meet players, attend competitions and learn strategies from the best in the game of chess.
When she got into college (first University of Texas on a full-ride chess scholarship, then to Stanford University), Alexandra learned some realities of professional chess.
“If you’re not a top 10 player in the world, nobody makes a good living off chess,” she says. “I’d rather use these chess achievements to help me get into my dream school, which was Stanford.”
She focused on school, but she stayed involved with chess as a hobby, finding communities online and creating content for chess.com. After learning about Twitch through some chess friends, Alexandra started streaming regularly in 2017.
“I would just go online, and I’d play against people who are my level in really fast Blitz games, talk about it, listen to music and also interact with people,” Alexandra says. “It was honestly just a fun hobby.”
Out of college, Alexandra helped launch a tech start-up before leaving Silicon Valley to “stream chess from my computer, which was something that I got a lot of push-back on at the time,” she says. “Chess was this game that felt really well positioned to explode.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Though it had been gaining in popularity over the years online, chess saw an incredible boom at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.
“That was when our average viewership grew 10X,” Alexandra says. “I think that was one of the few times in my life that I had tears of joy. I was just shaking with excitement.”
Though she’d always been a fixture on her sister’s streams, Andrea became the second star of the show as the pandemic cut her senior year of high school short. “I got really lucky because Alex was doing this for years, and I came in right at the perfect time, just a couple of months before chess got really hot and the numbers rose,” Andrea says.
Putting college on pause, Andrea moved to New York (where Alexandra was at the time), and that was the start of their brand.
In the early days, the BotezLive streams may have only had a couple of hundred concurrent viewers. Now, they average at nearly 10 thousand viewers on any given stream, peaking at more than 30,000 at once.
Chess and brands in the Twitch era
Neither of the Botez sisters expected to have a full-time career playing chess.
“I remember doing private chess lessons and making, at most, $20 an hour, and I never thought I’d go further,” Andrea says. “We really didn’t think there was any way to make a living off chess. Now there are other young girls who are chess streamers like me who are 19 and bought their own apartment because of their Twitch channel.”
In the early days of her stream, Alexandra says she had a few dedicated sponsors and members of her community who financially supported her life as a full-time chess content creator. Her first collaboration with a brand was with the mattress company Helix Sleep, which she sought out because she didn’t have a bed when she moved to New York.
Though they are best known as chess stars, the Botez sisters have started experimenting with other content on their channel, like cooking, travel, poker and more.
Now, working with brands has created some of their favourite moments while streaming. The sisters took part in an Uno tournament in LA, hosted by Cash App, where they got to hang out with other Twitch streamers in person and play games. One of Andrea’s favourites was a stream sponsored by a make-up brand, where the sisters did each other’s make-up.
Chess.com has also been a major supporter because of the creative freedom they gave to the sisters. “A lot of traditional brands come in with a script or things like that. But on Twitch, that doesn’t work and it’s not authentic. Brands who understand Twitch and let their creators have control tend to do a lot better,” Alexandra said.
As their stardom has grown, the Botez sisters say they now have the luxury of choosing which brand deals are the right for them. “We have a bigger audience and a responsibility to do our due diligence and make sure that brands are socially responsible, that they’ve treated their customers and other streamers well,” Andrea says.
Now, the Botez sisters are able to invest a lot of the money from these brand sponsorships back into their own channel.
These sponsorships, Alexandra says, are also great for brands, too, who can run flexible campaigns that can be adjusted for their business needs.
“[Our sponsors] usually want to go for brand awareness, or they get some creative out of it, or they’re going for direct clicks. There are a lot of different things that brands can optimise for,” Alexandra says. “Brands are always looking for a way to grow. You could do it through traditional marketing or on TV or social media ads. But influencer marketing is a really big category. The cool thing about Twitch is the audience tends to be a lot more engaged than other [services], and has loyal viewers. So, you need to think about how much more viewers are dedicated to the fact that it’s live. So, when you do brand sponsorships on a stream, if people are there for you, they’re not going to skip through your content.”
This also benefits their viewers, too, because the Botez sisters are able to find brands that are relevant to their community. For creators starting out, Alexandra stresses the importance of getting that first sponsorship to show off to other potential brands. These smaller creators can also be beneficial for brands to work with because, “Micro-influencers actually have really high engagement rates because engagement rates don’t scale linearly,” she says.
The Botez sisters say that it’s important for new Twitch creators to get their first initial sponsorship to show their potential to other brands.
Meanwhile, the Botez brand itself continues to grow. They’re launching their own line of chess boards (made out of recycled aluminium, and they plant a tree for each purchase) and other merchandise. They also want to continue expanding their own content, ranging from casual and competitive chess to other non-chess interests. Recently, though, in-person chess streams, like the one on Fremont Street, have been hugely popular in the chess community. The Botez sisters are excited to find new ways to explore in-person chess events and moments.
Maybe someone will finally beat them and win that $100.