Hey Scrabble lovers! My name is Josh Sokol, and as one of the Content Creators for Scopely’s new Scrabble Web. It’s my pleasure to share a brief history of how our game has grown through live streaming and what to expect in the months and years to come in the Scrabble Streaming World.

My first experience in the Scrabble Streaming World with a Scrabble live stream was in late 2014. The California Open Scrabble tournament in San Francisco. Through a Facebook post, prospective spectators were given a link to a website called “jplaoingotomeeting.com,” to join a room and watch live. The concept was new and daunting to me. But it sounded awesome to experience a little bit of what this tournament was like. The next year, at the same tournament, it was my turn to get up close and personal with the cameras and live audience for the first time!

Playing at the live-streamed Board 1 2019 Nationals

Live streaming was a very novel concept in the Scrabble community at that time. Our tournaments have always been niche, insular, and best described by the passionate word game players themselves. Sure, some games were annotated and updated in real-time for people at home to follow, but to actually see us play, with our mannerisms, maneuvers, and mastery of our favorite board game, well…

One would think you would have had to be there so that we could shoo and shush you away from our precious game! But despite all this, in San Francisco, Edward de Guzman and company devised a setup with 3 cameras, one for each player’s tiles and another for the board, and it required odd angles and tile racks immobilized on the playing table. In addition, the live stream was set up for the top table, which means only players who were doing reasonably well in the event were given the opportunity to be filmed and the option to opt-out.

The first year the North American Scrabble Championships included a live stream was 2015. Rashad Miller had been broadcasting Magic The Gathering tournaments on his YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/c/ggslive) since 2009 and was hired to provide the same sort of setup for Scrabble in Reno, NV. Rashad and his team became a mainstay for the yearly Championship Event, which featured an expensive rig with multiple camera angles. The coverage was complemented with live commentary from a booth not far from the action.

In 2015, I traveled to play in the California Open to see what the fuss was about. I was doing well in the event, and as a result, I was shown to center stage and told that I would be playing on the live stream! Nerves wracking, heart racing, adrenaline pumping, I played one of the best Scrabble games of my entire life. And so did my opponent, who bested me in the endgame to win by 3 points. In the end, my opponent finished in 2nd place overall, and myself in 6th. Nevertheless, I flew home with a box of Ghirardelli chocolates and a huge boost of confidence. I knew live streaming would become more and more popular at these events, and I had proven to myself and to everyone else that I could thrive in that world.

My next live-streamed Scrabble experience at a tournament was the polar opposite. The year had just turned 2017 at a New Year’s Scrabble event. I was really excited all tournament to play on stream. My opponent was Ben Schoenbrun, who had been live streaming on his own Twitch channel for a large part of that year. I played badly, missing plays left and right, and lost by 150 points. I was embarrassed and angry at myself. Questioning whether I was fit to be broadcast to any audience if I was to play like that. Looking back, I value the experiences I had on camera. And I knew that each time, it wouldn’t be my first or last time under the spotlight!

In truth, Ben had introduced Twitch to online Scrabble in North America. Before Ben, the only other competitive player streaming Scrabble on Twitch was Jessica Pratesi (also known as Qwizical). Jessica was really the first person to do this and introduced the concept to the British and international Scrabble community in 2015. Ben and Jessica are the pioneers of live Scrabble broadcasts and were virtually the only people to live stream online Scrabble until 2020. 

On the other hand, streaming Championship Scrabble events had become the norm. Many organizers received great praise for their work to allow people who didn’t attend a tournament to witness the scene from the comfort of their own homes. Josh Greenway, a Canadian player and North American social media committee member started his own weekly live show. Despite not featuring any live Scrabble, he gave an entertaining report on what was happening in the Scrabble world in North America. He set up streams during the National Championships and had similar visions of bringing the game of Scrabble to a bigger audience.

The New Age of Scrabble on Twitch

Besides the notable exceptions of Ben Schoenbrun and Jessica Pratesi, the only Scrabble content on Twitch before the year 2020 was either from large in-person tournaments or gamers playing a casual match of Scrabble when they were bored with their main sources of content. On the other hand, Chess was experiencing a gigantic boom on Twitch and YouTube just as the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the world in its tracks. Even before COVID, playing chess on stream had been proven to be a potential full-time job. The Chessbrahs, a Canadian-based channel, had a full-blown brand, with merchandise and thousands of subscription-based supporters funding multiple streaming locations and a handful of employees.

In 2018, I had a vision of creating something similar to Scrabble. However, it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that these dreams became more than just dreams. Despite doing live commentary on a host of live broadcasts on Twitch, I needed tools of my own if I wanted to start streaming myself.

Jack Norman turns the board towards himself at the livestream table of the 2019 California Open

Will Anderson’s first live stream on Twitch was on January 30th, 2020. After over 3 years of being a pioneer, Ben Schoenbrun finally had another North American live-streaming counterpart! Will came in very well-prepared, creating his own layouts, trying out new ideas, and demonstrating top-class Scrabble play and entertainment twice a week. His Twitch channel (http://twitch.tv/wanderer15) and YouTube channel grew quickly to put him in a league of his own as a driven Scrabble content creator. Riding on the ever-growing chess boom, Will thought (correctly) that he could snatch a few people away from chess for a moment to show them another beautiful board game with uncharted potential in the world of mind sports. Using his charm, notoriety, and top-tier skills, Will managed to get a lot of chess lovers to enjoy Scrabble as well.

A very well-known chess personality, Eric Rosen (http://twitch.tv/imrosen), who streams Scrabble on rare occasions and is quite naturally skilled at the game, proposed sharing those of his viewers who enjoy Scrabble by collaborating with Will in a Scrabble and Chess live stream. Other Scrabble-focused streamers emerged. Myself (http://twitch.tv/axcertypo), César del Solar (http://twitch.tv/14domino), Aaron Bader (http://twitch.tv/fizzix_is_fun) and others began streaming Scrabble regularly, a few months into lockdown. The Collins Coalition (CoCo), a North American non-profit Scrabble association, has their own channel on Twitch where they run tournaments, such as BlitzChamps, which was the biggest ever Speed Scrabble tournament put together. Many participants in this tournament took to Twitch to live stream their games in this electrifying tournament. Interestingly, many Polish Scrabble players have taken to Twitch to play their version of the game in their language!

By mid-2021, there were over 20 competitive Scrabble players who had streamed on Twitch, many of whom continue to stream despite the end of stay-at-home orders in their respective countries, demonstrating that this new way of sharing the love of Scrabble is not strictly a lockdown-related phenomenon and is here to stay.  Several chess-focused streamers have also delved into the world of Scrabble, many of whom are now avid consumers of Scrabble content on Twitch.

The emergence of Woogles (http://woogles.io/) as a modernized place to play Scrabble online has definitely helped propel Scrabble into a place where the game can thrive online and gain significant viewership. Before 2020, the only place to play online in real-time was on the Internet Scrabble Club (ISC). Despite being very functional, it has an archaic command-based User Experience that hasn’t been upgraded since the early 2000s. Its interface is quite difficult to navigate for new players, and despite being used to how it looks, it still brings back memories of dial-up Internet and earlier versions of Windows. 

In conclusion, it appears that the game of Scrabble is on its way to take Twitch by storm in the coming months and years if I and many others can have any say in the matter. In the ever-growing chess world, many people have either already watched Scrabble content on Twitch or heard of us at the very least! Bridging the gaps between our games will not only show our communities shared beauty and appreciation, but will create friendships and camaraderie that will extend through the live streaming world across our fields of expertise. 

What is Happening on Twitch?

Will Anderson and I are continuing to stream regularly. Newer Scrabble streamers are doing so as well, but only time will tell if they will continue to grind their way to where they want to be. Of course, not everyone wants to become a Twitch superstar, but having a minimum amount of viewership and interaction is a necessary step to continuing to share the game that we love. And for some, using their stream as a source of income is a very strong motivation to put more and more work in to provide viewers with a space where they are entertained and where they can learn a thing or two. 

Simultaneous exhibitions, blindfolded Scrabble, viewer challenges, speed games, educational sessions, International play, North American play, interactive anagramming sessions, commentary, online events… All of these are what you should expect to see more of in the future on Twitch. The Scrabble community is especially open to anyone who wishes to learn about our game. The end goal is for the game we are passionate about to grow. Dozens of people from around the world have given their time and their creativity to try and bring more people into the competitive world. If you want to watch, we want you! If you want to learn, ask us anything! 

With Jackson Smylie playing on Board 1 at the 2019 Crescent City Cup

As many areas of the world are beginning to emerge from the pandemic, live tournaments will certainly feature more live streams than ever before. And now, with new online tools emerging, many tournaments will be held online, which saves a ton of cost from organizers and participants. In addition, many of these online events will feature prizes, which means that there will be strict anti-cheating measures in place to ensure fair play. All of this means more opportunities for anybody who loves the game to participate in competitions or casual play from the comfort of their own homes! 

In my experience, it would seem like the key to growing the game of Scrabble is quite obviously through the means of online tools, and live streams are becoming more and more essential to the growth of games such as ours. Having an array of free and easy-to-use online tools to play and improve at the game is essential. Subscription-based benefits can also target certain audiences who want special and targeted tools. Still, voluntary contributions are the best way to mutually benefit the community and the content creators who are putting in the work to broadcast their passion to the public. Next in line is having the opportunity for financial gain through Scrabble. For years, Scrabble Ambassadors have been providing their time and expertise often free of charge, and there is finally a golden opportunity for the most passionate among us to get something in return! And finally, appealing to possible audiences through the means of cross-marketing.

If someone who is passionate about Scrabble also loves watching chess content, there must be people who are passionate about chess that would love watching Scrabble! It’s essential to our community to branch out and show their support for similar passion and competitive mastery sources. In my opinion, getting people from other communities to watch some Scrabble (or just talk about Scrabble!) is the single best way to get more people involved and wanting to learn more.

Big things are happening in the Scrabble streaming world, and this is only the beginning! I’ll see you guys on Twitch!

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