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Over the weekend, ESPN broadcast a replay of a recent esports event that saw the world’s most advanced Microsoft Excel users go head-to-head in a knockout tournament.

Organized by the people behind the Financial Modeling World Cup, the Excel “All-Star Battle” took place back in May. It began with eight competitors, who went up against one another in a series of spreadsheet-based challenges until eventually a champion was crowned.

The action might have been difficult to follow for mere mortals, if not for the live commentary, player interviews and post-tournament analysis, all of which were delivered with an enthusiasm to rival any other sports coverage. The internet loved it.

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The next big esport?

ESPN has a long-standing reputation for embracing non-traditional sporting events, including esports. The network launched its coverage back in 2015, before becoming the first to broadcast an esports event in a prime time slot three years later.

It hasn’t all been plain-sailing for ESPN – the company had to call time on its daily esports coverage for cost-cutting reasons at the height of the pandemic – but the continued willingness to embrace events like the Excel Esports All-Star Battle show the broadcaster plans to stay the course.

It might come as a surprise to some that there is an appetite for a spreadsheet-based esports tournament, but the rise of streaming culture has proven there’s a market for pretty much anything.

The comments section of the live YouTube broadcast of the All-Star Battle was full of people proposing strategies, cheering on the competitors and generally expressing their delight at the contest.

“If you’d told me 20 years ago that we would all be watching Excel competitions, I’d have thought you were crazy,” said Bill Jelen, one of the commentators, as the event was coming to a close.

“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.”

Microsoft Excel competitions might not rise to the top of the Twitch rankings any time soon, but you might just find they capture your imagination in a way you didn’t expect. The next event in the calendar: the FMWC Open (opens in new tab) in early October.