Winning formulae

11th September 2015 at 01:00

Is gaming a sport? That was the argument on the radio recently. I am in no doubt. Whether you have caught the highlights of the finest League of Legends cyber-athletes competing for the world title in South Korea or been hammered 12-0 by your son at Fifa 12, the only conclusion to draw is that gaming is definitely a sport. If you lack speed, dexterity and stamina you are blown away, trust me.

The real question is why gamers are the only members of the keyboard and console community to earn such sporting celebrity. When are the true sporting giants of the computer-screen arena – the colour-coding conditional spreadsheet formatters – going to be given similar exposure? These formula-fuelled powerhouses have got the lot. They are bright yet brutal. They are capable, with a mere flick of an electronic paint-brush, of exposing pupil, teacher and school underperformance without even breaking into a sweat.

The sport is growing fast at all levels. At the grass roots, we tend to see plucky formatters earnestly learning how to get to grips with the most basic formulae. This eventually leads to a traffic light red, yellow and green spreadsheet depicting strong, middling or useless performance. In the early years this always used to wow audiences, but the game has moved on in more recent times.

Formatting at the highest level now requires a deeper and more nuanced range of formulae and colour-coded combinations. We might even see a few orange cells, for instance, perhaps used to identify those of us whose work at school is not completely “red-hopeless” but not worth “yellow-adequate” status.

The trick, however, is not to overdo it. The greatest practitioners know that a florid and textured display must still make sense. Many an aspiring formatter (myself included) has come unstuck. We discover on our imperious “reveal” to an Inset audience that nobody has the faintest idea what our elaborate creation is supposed to be showing.

The time is surely ripe for a tournament to find the finest formatter in the land. Imagine the battles that would ensue. I’m picturing some suave head of history from Newcastle (“The Gentle Geordie”) surprising everyone with his low-key formatting. He gets as far as the semi-finals, when his spreadsheet analysis is taken apart by a deputy head from Exeter – “The Devonshire Skinhead”.

Nicky Morgan would obviously be able to throw some strong contenders into the hat from her RaiseOnline team. We may see some bitterly fought clashes here as I know many a deputy head with strong issues over some of the Raise data.

We might also expect someone from the Fischer Family Trust to reach the final stages, although I fear the A-level “Alps” data team wouldn’t even qualify. These ignorant people actually use red to mean excellent! Have they not read the rules?

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams’s School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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