If you didn't know that Excel eSports are a thing, we'd imagine you are far from alone, given that the slogan of the 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 battle", the highlights of which aired on CNN.
The competition sees the all-stars (who are champions of earlier competitions) compete at various complex spreadsheet-related tasks created by the organizers, while the commentators describe events like they're watching the Super Bowl.
Tasks given to the contestants included a yacht race game created in Excel, which the players had to negotiate waters and winds (as represented by excel cells), losing points for straying off course and for taking extra moves to complete the course.
Another saw the contestants attempt to calculate a player's score in a fictional Excel-based game, only by looking at the levels, the rules of the game, and a list of the players' moves.
The tasks are something you'd be unlikely 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 you're some kind of wizard). But that's sort of the point; to give the competitors a challenge. Nevertheless, the competition split opinion somewhat among those who were seeing it for the first time.
"These guys really just need to learn to code," one Twitter user wrote. "This is like watching an abacus-fingering competition".
"That’s like watching the Kentucky Derby and saying 'Why don’t they just drive?'," another replied.
Most were just impressed with the creativity of functions used in the contest, and the various tactics used by the competitors.
As you'd expect if you have ever used any kind of spreadsheet over the years, several competitors were held back by errors as simple as linking an equation to the wrong sheet or cell, only noticing later on what had gone wrong. There was also a trade-off between trying to speedily process data, or taking extra time out early on to come up with functions to do that bit for you, and risking your opponent racking up the points in the meantime.
In the end, it was the latter that performed better in their challenge, and probably who you'd want working your organization's spreadsheets.
“The contestants that clean their metal first, they wind up with good knives in the end," as the commentator put it, "and the ones that don’t, they get up ahead of time but then they wind with a cracked blade or something.”