(Photo: Microsoft)Esports has an exciting new genre, and it’s probably miles from what you think it is. The Financial Modeling World Cup (FMWC), a competition that bases games on financial case studies and spreadsheet-based design, hosted a Microsoft Excel All-Star Battle earlier this year. The replay was included in ESPN’s “The Ocho” last week, offering viewers a peek into similarly unusual sports, such as rock-paper-scissors, juggling dodgeball, and corgi racing.

Eight players from around the world participated in the Excel All-Star Battle. The entire competition consisted of three half-hour rounds, each featuring a different case study; the top four players from the first round moved on to the second, and the top two from the second round moved on to the third. The commentary was courtesy of Bill Jelen (AKA “Mr. Excel”), who’s written dozens of Excel books, and Oz Du Soleil, who runs a YouTube channel called Excel on Fire.

May’s Excel All-Star Battle required players to complete a number of odd challenges with only spreadsheets at their disposal. The first round asked players to create a slot machine game involving emoji and a points system, while the second required remaining participants to build a yacht regatta game complete with wind-speed and directional factors. Australia’s Andrew Ngai and New York City’s Diarmuid Early went face-to-face for the third round, which involved the creation of a six-level platform game. (If you didn’t know such Excel concoctions were even possible, you’re not alone.) Ngai is a former FMWC champion, while Early is the five-time finalist of the original Excel tournament, ModelOff.

While I won’t spoil who took home the crown, I will say that it came with a pretty prize: $10,000, plus an automatic qualification for Tucson, Arizona’s FMWC finals.

The competition challenges how many of us think about esports as a category. While the term “esports” often brings games like Overwatch, Counter-Strike, and the endlessly memeable Fortnite to mind, this relatively new form of spectator sport is far more inclusive than typically thought. These days, people skilled at Geoguessr and Wikipedia Speedruns can compete against one another in front of rapt fans, often with the promise of a financial prize for whoever reigns supreme. Virtually anything that can be done on-screen can be done for sport, spreadsheet-wrangling included.

Jelen argues the skills involved in these seemingly absurd competitions are actually far more useful than they look. “If you’d told me 20 years ago that we would all be watching Excel competitions, I’d have thought you were crazy,” Jelen said toward the end of the Excel All-Star Battle. “But it’s actually fascinating to watch these people come up with different ways to solve problems, and solve them really quickly. And these same formulas and logic could be used to solve everyday business problems.”

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