Theory: Better Spectating Through Strategic Understanding

The New York Times has a superb article on basketball’s “Triangle offense.” It’s interesting for its exploration of basketball strategy and personalities. What I really found gripping as a designer, though, is its discussion of how much people who understand the Triangle enjoy watching it used.

Other articles have pointed toward the idea that the way to have the most fun as a spectator of a game is to really get its inner workings. The classic example, in my mind, is an article written years ago about a Street Fighter match between Justin Wong and Umehara Daigo. Unfortunately the original seems to have been lost to time, but in brief summary, Umehara knows that Wong wants to win with chip damage. He therefore puts himself at the precise distance to get Wong to use a specific move–and then counters all the parts of that move, one after another in rapid succession, before counter-attacking for the win. As the article pointed out, without an understanding of Umehara’s strategy the match video (found in the summary above) looks like a feat of dexterity, neat but something anyone who’s spent time in practice mode could do; with the necessary understanding, it becomes a one-in-a-million combination of physical and mental achievement that marks out a true master.

Both basketball and Street Fighter are complex games whose strategy is not obvious to the casual observer. Announcers and commentators help bridge that gap, but they can only go as far as they themselves understand; the New York Times article notes that even most basketball professionals can’t explain how the Triangle works, much less pass the knowledge along. I’m left to wonder: what can we do, in-game, to help spectators see what great players know?

3 thoughts on “Theory: Better Spectating Through Strategic Understanding

  1. Though I enjoy playing different sports, from what little I have heard of sports commentary (for example Football commentary on TV) it has turned me off. In some ways it reminds me of financial market news – in both cases the commentators mix factual statistics with their interpretation on why a certain strategy worked, or what strategy wight have worked better instead.

    In both cases this frustrates and annoys me because there is very little validation going on, just alot of speculation using supposed fundamentals and principles of strategy. In both domains I think there is clearly strategies and principles that can be validated and have a logical backing, but announcers/reporters will add additional things which are much less scientific.

    In any case, I feel that in both cases the announcement/reporting serves as a good form of entertainment (to some people) at least (:

    1. I’m curious: what validation would you consider sufficient/appropriate? The networks generally rely on experience; the announcers are former coaches and players. It sounds like you would prefer a more data-driven approach, with stats on how often a play has succeeded or the like?

      1. Thats a tough question. I haven’t seen much recent sports commentary but I assume they already use statistics on past games and tactics pretty frequently. But reducing things to only data would probably be pretty dry and boaring. If entertainment is a primary objective then things may be fine how they are.

        I think part of me is just annoyed by a certain attitude some sports commentators take, like they know everything or are very sure about something which is only a speculation. I some ways I feel they are more valued for their ability to talk fast and smart, much like a politician.

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