A few weeks ago, you very likely missed what were very likely the most thrilling moments in the history of Microsoft Excel. Allow me to set the scene: The semifinal of the Excel World Championship was streaming live on YouTube and ESPN3. Defending champion Andrew Ngai had steamrolled his previous three opponents, but he now trailed the unseeded newcomer Brittany Deaton 316–390—not an insignificant margin, but by no means insurmountable. “Andrew is lost,” GolferMike1 commented in the YouTube chat. “He’s shaken.” The game clock ticked under four minutes.
To be crystal clear: Yes, we are talking about people competing in Microsoft Excel, the famous (and famously boring) spreadsheet software that you may have used in school or at work or to track your finances. In competitive Excel, players square off in test-taking showdowns, earning points each time they answer a question correctly. Players’ screens are a whirlwind of columns and keystrokes and formulae; if the terms XLOOKUP, RANDBETWEEN, and dynamic array don’t mean anything to you, you are unlikely to understand what’s going on. The commentators help, but only to a point. Even so, you can always follow the scoreboard, which tends to change suddenly and drastically. With just over three minutes to play, Ngai nailed a set of questions and jumped out to a 416–390 lead. GolferMike1 began to rethink his earlier assessment: “Uh oh. We got a game.”
Wow. I can’t believe I missed it.
Looks like a new season is starting in a few weeks.
I have to admit that I’m tempted…