“All-Stars” go head-to-head in the World Excel Championship, and people are surprisingly hooked

A crowd of people in red and yellow clothes are cheering something, presumably Excel.

My reaction when someone does a particularly difficult function. Image credit: Master1305/shutterstock.com

If you didn’t know that Excel eSports is a thing, we imagine you’re far from alone, given that the tagline of its most prominent organizer is “Excel Esports. Yes. It’s a Thing.”

The Financial Modeling World Cup (FMWC) hosts the events, including a recent “all-star match”, the highlights of which were broadcast on CNN.

The competition sees the all-stars (who are champions of previous competitions) compete on various complex spreadsheet-related tasks created by the organizers, while the commentators describe events as if they were watching the Super Bowl.

Tasks given to the participants included a yacht racing game created in Excel, where players had to negotiate water and wind (as represented by excel cells), lose points for going off course and for taking extra moves to complete the course.

Another saw participants attempt to calculate a player’s score in a fictitious Excel-based game, just by looking at the levels, game rules and a list of the players’ moves.

The tasks are something you hardly want to do in Excel (let’s face it, if you can make a column turn yellow when a certain value is reached, you can convince most colleagues that you’re some kind of wizard). But that’s kind of the point; to give the competition a challenge. Nevertheless, the competition divided opinion somewhat among those who saw it for the first time.

“These guys really just need to learn how to code,” a Twitter user wrote. “This is like watching an abacus finger competition”.

“It’s like watching the Kentucky Derby and saying ‘Why don’t they just run?'” replied another.

Most were just impressed by the creativity of the features used in the competition and the various tactics used by the competitors.

As you’d expect if you’ve ever used any kind of spreadsheet over the years, several competitors were held back by mistakes as simple as plugging an equation into the wrong sheet or cell, only noticing later what had gone wrong. There was also a trade-off between trying to process data quickly, or taking extra time early on to come up with functions to do it for you, and risking your opponent racking up the points in the meantime.

In the end, it was the latter who performed better in the challenge, and probably who you want on your organization’s spreadsheet.

“The competitors who clean the metal first, they end up with good knives in the end,” as the commentator put it, “and the ones who don’t, they get up early, but then they wind up with a cracked blade or something.”

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