Payleagues and Freeleagues


Disclaimer: this is my (bugcat's) coining. It may have limited circulation.


A "payleague" is a commercial online league.

The entrant purchases one or two months' entry into the league, which is operated by an online school. The league is packaged with one or multiple of:

  • reviews by professional or high dan amateurs
  • teaching games
  • lessons
  • lectures
  • access to other players' games, reviews and lessons
  • access to a Discord server
  • access to private sections of the company site

Access to a payleague costs at leasts $50 / month. Higher bands can cost over $100 / month.

This form of Go company originated, at least in the English speaking world, in the early 2010s.

The pioneer of the payleague model seems to have been Alexander Dinerchtein's Korean-style insei league, founded at the start of 2010, which eventually collapsed. There followed in 2012 the Nordic Go Dojo, formerly the Nordic Go Academy, and first the American and then European Yunguseng Dojang.

When the 2020-21 Coronavirus pandemic lockdown disrupted face-to-face Go clubs, tournaments and lessons, a number of new payleagues emerged to cater to the expanding market of online Go students. These are detailed in the list of online leagues.


Payleagues have always coexisted with the non-commercial "freeleagues", which do not charge for entry.

Being free, a freeleague cannot offer all of the services of a payleague, and do not employ paid staff.

However, a modern freeleague will employ volunteers in various roles. It will be associated with a Discord server, and often with either its own site or a page.

High dans and professionals are not seen on a regular basis in freeleague communities. However, they are often hired to give lectures and teaching games. The funding for these purchases is attained through voluntary donations, eg. via Patreon.

Both payleagues and freeleagues will usually have a Youtube channel and, these days, often a Twitch channel as well.

Many KGS leagues were active in the 2000s and early 2010s, most notably the Advanced Study Room, which no longer exists. The Nova league? was a short-lived league of the mid 2010s which had strong integration into the OGS community.

In 2017 the Open Study Room was formed, beginning on KGS and developing into a multiserver league in which games could be played on OGS as well. In early 2021 the league was abandoned following declining activity.

The most active freeleague in late 2021 is BeginnerGo?, which is characterised by a monthly mentorship system.


Feature Payleague Freeleague
Price -150 / m. Free, donations accepted
Website always usually
Discord usually always
Staff & teachers paid, often pros volunteers
Number of games restricted restricted or unrestricted
Reviews by paid teachers by students, mentors or volunteer teachers
Paid lessons & teaching games common uncommon
Lectures private or public public
Rank range up to mid- / high dan up to low- / mid-dan


It's possible, even likely that the payleague / freeleague dual structure will persist for decades to come, albeit with a coming and going of the leagues themselves.

The freeleagues cater for students without enough disposable income for the payleagues, and with lecture and teaching game purchases support payleague teachers. Payleague members are often active in the freeleagues and on free sites like GoKibitz, using those platforms to transmit knowledge they learnt from their commercial teaching. Both the freeleagues and several payleagues release public lectures.

Strong players in freeleagues have a tendency to become more involved with payleagues, but most relatively new players who are league members are in freeleagues (eg. note how the Osaka Go School does not accept students below 15k).

The emergence of Youtube, Twitch, Discord, Patreon and have made the administration of both payleagues and freeleagues cheaper and easier, especially making the freeleague model more sustainable.

We will see how these organisation types fare over the course of the 2020s.

Payleagues and Freeleagues last edited by Dieter on October 14, 2021 - 11:57
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