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Financial modelling world cup screenshot of participants
FMWC

Spreadsheet supremos Excel in world championships

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The breakthrough of the Excel world championships into ESPN’s e-sports coverage has once again proved the enduring popularity of accountancy’s favourite software tool.

11th Aug 2022
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When Microsoft Excel hits the news, it’s generally not for good reasons. Whether it’s bothering buskers, losing Covid tests or delaying the opening of a children’s hospital, the humble spreadsheet gets blamed for all manner of ills where really the fault lies somewhere between the chair and the computer.

However, when this week five unconnected people sent me a link to the same story, which then appeared in the “And finally…” section of the evening news, your favourite accounting technology journalist had to sit up and take notice.

Yes dear reader, it’s the Microsoft Excel world championship, otherwise known as the Excel “All-Star Battle”, pitting eight spreadsheet supremos against each other in a series of challenges until a champion is crowned.

Put together by the organisation behind the Financial Modeling World Cup (FMWC), the competition features magnificently over-the-top commentary from Excel MVP and wearer of fine hats Oz du Soleil and the original Mr Excel Bill Jelen. The pair switch from screen to screen analysing player performance and serving up classic nuggets such as “I wouldn’t want to meet someone in a dark alley wielding SUMPRODUCT” and “The contestants that clean their metal first, they wind up with good knives in the end, and the ones that don’t, they get up ahead of time but then they wind with a cracked blade.”

Pushing the boundaries of nerdiness

So compelling is the action that the sports broadcaster ESPN ran a replay of the latest battle last week under its e-sports umbrella. The contest featured three rounds. In the first, players vied to calculate how many points different spins of a slot-machine-style game would generate for players, while the second saw contestants tackle a yachting regatta simulation. The final task pushed the boundaries of nerdiness to new levels as the two finalists navigated a bespoke Excel-based platform game featuring the main character Modelario, an Excel guru and financial modeller.

For the record, Irish 2021 winner Diarmuid Early and Australian actuary Andrew Ngai made it through to the final, where Ngai took home the prize of $10,000 and a trip to Tucson, Arizona for the FMWC finals.

You can watch full coverage below and, if it’s not too much of a busman’s holiday, download all three of the tasks to test your mettle against the best.

The action on ESPN kicked off a flurry of online interest about the championships, with social media flooded with excitement, appearances on the evening news and, of course, emails, WhatsApps and Twitter DMs to yours truly.

Good news story

So why has this struck a chord with so many people? August silly season? Maybe. Or perhaps with household bills soaring, political ineptitude rife and the world literally burning, people were just looking for a good news story.

Whether people love or hate the humble spreadsheet, there’s plenty for them to relate to, as it’s as ubiquitous now as when I entered the world of work in the mid-90s. Friend of the site David Lyford-Tilley once described Excel to me as “the mortar that fits into the bricks of dedicated software”, but often a complete absence of workplace training on such a key tool leaves people scrabbling around for learning materials – making unexpected stars of Excel trainers able to deliver the right information in the right format. 

As for Excel world championship participants and commentators, while they seem to have enjoyed their foray into the mainstream, the majority seem to still have their feet firmly planted on the tabs ribbon.

“If you’d told me 20 years ago we would all be watching Excel competitions, I’d have thought you were crazy,” commented Jelen towards the end of the broadcast, “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.”

With all this in mind, the world of accountancy waits with bated breath for the next great crossover hit. The Auditing Olympics? Le Mans 24-hour journal race? A remake of King Kong vs Godzilla with Xero and QuickBooks taking the lead roles? 

Until we get a breakout star from the world of accountancy, the next event in the Financial Modelling World Cup diary starts 8 October with the FMWC Open.

 

Replies (14)

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By Justin Bryant
11th Aug 2022 17:00

There was I recall a story about some computer game being hidden in one of the Excel spreadsheet cells (by a rogue Excel programmer) that you could play (if you knew the folklore of where it was).

Assuming that was just a myth, fact has now become stranger than fiction.

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Replying to Justin Bryant:
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By Hugo Fair
11th Aug 2022 18:10

Weird! Or, judging by the film, wired?

Makes as much sense as it would do if Dali constructed an abacus from spaghetti and meatballs.

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By Ruddles
12th Aug 2022 09:03

I don’t remember a game but I do remember the flight simulator. Which was about as close to the real thing as was the original Pong video tennis game.

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Replying to Justin Bryant:
Richard Sergeant
By Richard Sergeant
12th Aug 2022 10:29

The classic flight simulator was one of a number little treasures hidden away.

Not sure it will work in the new version of Excel but this is the video that can take you back in time (even the damn microsoft paperclip makes an appearance...)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gYb5GUs0dM

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Replying to rsergeant:
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By Justin Bryant
12th Aug 2022 13:20

So it wasn't an urban myth after all!

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Replying to rsergeant:
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By Springfield
12th Aug 2022 14:05

Moving slightly off-topic, I can recommend the Netflix documentary - The FYRE Festival - a classic modern social media financial scam that begins as "fake it until you make it" before morphing into "living the high life on other peoples money."

But the reason I mention is that early on, a local Bahamian pilot who turns out to be the only sensible person (initially) involved cheerfully admits that he learnt to fly purely by studying with Microsoft Flight Simulator.

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
11th Aug 2022 19:23

Top nerding.

I quite like watching other people use excel as everyone seems to use it differently. You usually learn a trick or two.

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
Richard Sergeant
By Richard Sergeant
12th Aug 2022 10:31

So true. In fact it's a joy to behold watching another accountant watching their colleague use Excel. The initial face twtich, the slight wrinkling of the nose, and the final 'why did you do it like that for?'

Glorious.

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By Ammie
12th Aug 2022 10:20

...........and I thought I needed more fresh air!

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By SakibHK
12th Aug 2022 10:35

These lot need to go outside and touch grass

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Replying to SakibHK:
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By Hugo Fair
12th Aug 2022 11:06

Think you'll find the stimulants needed to keep going were stronger than that!

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By Beef curtains
13th Aug 2022 11:06

How sad, how very sad.

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Pile of Stones
By Beach Accountancy
15th Aug 2022 16:37

How about retro gaming: Lotus 1-2-3

I can still remember some of the keyboard shortcuts...

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Replying to Beach Accountancy:
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By Hugo Fair
15th Aug 2022 17:27

Let's hear it for VisiCalc ... otherwise it will be time for a duel of the quills!

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