TechGraphs News Roundup: 4/8/2016

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Greetings, fair TechGraphs readers. It’s a good weekend for sports fans — what with the beginning of the baseball season, the winding down of the NHL regular season, and yet another edition of The Masters. In case you were too busy getting your DFS lineups ready (void where prohibited), here are the news stories that we found interesting this week.

Speaking of The Masters; they released a new app for iOS that will let you stream the whole tournament. The streaming capability is obviously cool, but the whole app itself looks like a really well done production.

If audio is more of your thing, you can catch full Masters coverage courtesy of TuneIn. Golf of the radio?! How will we contain our excitement?! What a time to be alive.

If you’re anything like me, VR makes you a bit motion sick. However, it might be willing to stomach it (pun 94% intended) if it means I can use StubHub’s new tech to see the exact view from my perspective seat.

If VR doesn’t make you queasy (and you play professional baseball), you can now use VR for batting practice.

Wrestlemania was this past Sunday, and it appears that some WiFi outages at AT&T Stadium had some wouldbe attendees stuck at the entrance gates.

Apple and MLB have always been pretty tight when it comes to product integration, and now it seems that Apple is turning Siri into some kind of baseball trivia guru. Full disclosure: I asked her/it a bunch of questions and she did not perform well. She didn’t even know the Astros record in 2005!

The NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament is over now, so you can stop checking your brackets online. Many articles have been written about how much companies lose due to people making/checking brackets at work. However, Techcrunch has an interesting look at the possible security implications of all those people visiting sports web sites on their work machines.

We already covered it here, but in case you missed it, you’ll be able to watch some NFL games on Twitter this season. That still feels weird to type.

We’ll have more on this in the future, but it’s a pretty big deal that MLB is now allowing (some) wearable tech on the field this season.

This could be big news for Zepp’s new, very cool bat sensors, though they haven’t been approved as of yet.

ESPN Radio (along with some more music services) can now be streamed on your T-Mobile phone without hits to your data cap, thanks to their Bing On plan.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and be excellent to each other.


With Twitter/NFL Deal, It’s All About Execution

It was recently announced that Twitter will begin streaming NFL games on Thursday nights. In yet another attempt to bring more users into the fold, Twitter has made a sizable investment in bringing the country’s biggest sport to its platform. The details are fuzzy at this point, so we don’t know the exact way this thing is going to shake out. But the devil is in the details, in this case. What this whole thing will actually look like will have a great deal to do with its success. To ride the rails of a fairly-tired cliche; We know the who, what, where, when, and (mostly) why. The biggest question mark revolves around how.

A while back, I heard Ben Thompson — tech analyst and host of the Exponent podcast — describe Twitter and its problems in a way that stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing, but he essentially said that issue is that Twitter is that its dealing with two groups of people — people who tried their platform and didn’t like it, and people who love it and never want it to change. Somehow, they have to placate both crowds. They have the tech. They certainly have the brand recognition. They just need more people. With the NFL deal, they’re going after new audiences. But trying to solve the problem of gaining new users might run them headfirst into their second problem — those who don’t want it to change.

For people (especially sports fans) who use the platform, Twitter makes and excellent companion to watching something on TV. You hear about companies looking to expand the “second screen experience.” That all started with Twitter. It was a way to share and interact around a centralized event — the Super Bowl, the Oscars, a big news story. You watch on your TV, and you follow along with others’ views (and share your own) on your phone. But Twitter is trying to make your second screen your first screen in this case. Which is all fine and good, but it opens the situation up to a paradox. How can one share their feelings about an event on social media when the social media platform is how they’re watching said event?

Twitter is a large company that employs a whole lot of people smarter than I, so I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt at this point. But if they want to keep the people they’re bringing in with the NFL offering and avoid ridicule from their current user base, they’re going to have to tread lightly. The experience is almost certainly going to have two elements. There will be the actual video stream, of course, and there will need to be a way for people to still read and share on the Twitter service. UI is key here. There are a lot of options for something like a laptop screen.

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But how does this work on phones and smaller tablets? Will there be enough real estate for everything?

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Let us not forget the fact that seemingly every time Twitter makes a change, people lose their minds. Most recently it was (probably rightfully so) algorithmic feeds, but there are countless other UI changes and other tweaks that drive the Twitter faithful crazy. Twitter is no doubt going to use its product to advertise the crap out of their NFL offering when the time comes. If that experience is lackluster, there will be noise about it.

If Twitter doesn’t nail this, NFL fans are going to happily return to watching on TV. CBS itself is even offering a stream of the games on their own platform, so it’s not as if Twitter has a monopoly here. There are other avenues fans can travel. Twitter is making a push — taking chances and working hard to bring their product to forefront of social media while trying desperately to take a bite out of Facebook’s current dominance. You can’t fault them for trying. But if history is any indication, they’re really going to need to nail this. They need to impress new customers while trying not to piss off the current ones. It’s an unenviable position. But a ten-year-old company that is still struggling to post profits needs to put themselves in that kind of position every now and again. They’re partnering with a very recognizable brand. If I were a lesser man, I would advise them not to fumble the opportunity.


This is the Way Daily Fantasy Ends — Not With a Bang, but With a Whimper

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This is the Way Daily Fantasy Ends — Not With a Bang, but With a Whimper

Last night, I was at a fantasy draft party (12-team auction, for those who care). The television was on in the background as people were preparing their spreadsheets and whatnot, when an ad for a daily fantasy sight came on. I’m not being coy be neglecting to mention which one, I honestly don’t remember. Those ads are so ubiquitous, that they rarely seem to grab anyone’s attention, but when it came on the TV at the party, a guest looked up and said “do people still do that?” He was being a bit facetious, of course, as people certainly still do, but we might be honestly getting to the point where scandal and legal hassles the constant state of flux of the industry might be enough to lay daily fantasy — or at least the behemoth it has shown to be not terribly long ago — to rest.

The most recent cut-down of daily fantasy comes in the form of an announcement that DraftKings and FanDuel will cease offering contests that include NCAA games. Reading between the lines, it appears as if the NCAA was giving DraftKings and FanDuel the business, and since college sports were a minor part of the business and the two companies already have enough legal stuff to deal with, they threw in the towel.

It’s those legal troubles that would most likely spell doom for the two companies, should that come to pass. The bottom line is that many states are now looking into whether daily fantasy should be considered gambling. If it is, then it can’t be allowed to occur on the Internet thanks to the Federal Wire Act that, although its reach has been questioned, states that bets cannot be placed over communication channels like phone or Internet lines. As of this writing the commonwealth of Virginia has allowed daily fantasy to take place on its soil, so long as certain restrictions and regulations are in place. New York State originally filed an injunction to stop daily fantasy operations, then was overruled, but in the end FanDuel and Draftkings stood down on the issue, hoping that legislation will be passed allowing their sites to continue operating in the state. Yahoo! Daily Fantasy volunteered to do so as well, seemingly to remind the general public that they exist.

The legal back and forth will be a very interesting one to watch, with many ramifications involved. The things is, if litigation and appeals and everything else involved in the process goes on as long as it looks like they will, none of this might even matter. If daily fantasy doesn’t burn out, it might just fade away.

FanDuel and DraftKings will always have their loyal customers — those who spend lots of time and money on these sites and who will be watching in earnest as the rulings and laws come down state by state. These people aren’t who daily fantasy sites should worry about. They need to worry about the casual player, the person who gets the wild idea to drop $10 or $20 or $50 on a random contest one Sunday to try their luck. The common person. The square. This is who these sites need.

Remember, none of these sites actually care about how any one player does. They don’t lose money if Andrew McCutchen has a better night than Mike Trout. They just let the players duke it out while they take their 10% off the top. The model is pretty much the same for sports betting at casinos. The casinos want an even amount of bets on either side. The losers pay the winners and the house gets the juice. DraftKings and FanDuel acutally have a better model. The casino can still get hosed on a one-in-million bet cashing in. Daily fantasy doesn’t give a crap. It just needs players. It needs bodies that are willing to pay a fee (and forget that the odds are stacked against them) so that it can take its share. But without Joe Sixpack kicking in his money, there is less of a pot to skim from.

The big hitters and the sharps will still have their high-stakes games. If they live in a state where the contests are banned, they’ll find shady workarounds to keep playing. But your coworker or next-door neighbor won’t. If they can’t play, they’ll … just stop playing. And even if the laws are changed or massaged enough where they could theoretically start again, most won’t, or at least not as much. The thrill will be gone. Daily fantasy’s biggest enemy isn’t the law, it’s attrition.

FanDuel and DraftKings aren’t just interested in a positive decision, they need a fast positive decision. Time is of the essence here, as they need to both counter rulings and legislation against them in some states while regaining the right to do business in other states all in a timely enough fashion that the public doesn’t forget about them. So far, it’s not looking good. Layoffs are happening. Funding and partnerships are being pulled. All this effort may end up being just some rearranging of deck chairs.

This is not to say that these companies can’t make a comeback. If they laws fall in their favor, and cloud of doubt is blown away from the industry, the investment money and partnership deals will come rolling in right quick — no hard feelings, right? And maybe they can gain a second wind and intice people into coming back (now 100% legal!) And we may once again be carpet bombed with ad after ad regaling us with stories of average people becoming millionaires overnight. But some serious legal kung fu has to happen first. Luckily for these companies, they have the scratch to spend on top-notch lawyers.


TechGraphs News Roundup: 3/25/2016

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According to the solar calendar, spring arrived in the northern hemisphere this week. According to that regular calendar on your desk with the new Jeopardy! answer to tear off every morning, it’s just another Friday, which means it’s time for the weekly TechGraphs News Roundup, wherein we bring you the sports-tech stories from the past week that we found interesting.

March Madness has been pretty wild this year, with the first two rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament featuring a number of shocking upsets. The Sweet Sixteen tipped off last night, and the Maryland Terrapins, who advanced to that round for the first time since they left the ACC to join the Big Ten conference, lost a tight game to the favored Kansas Jayhawks. A disappointing on-court result for Maryland, to be sure, but not for a lack of technology-driven training off the court, where the Terps have been employing an array of biometric monitoring tools. Much of their technological application surrounds team practices, which begin with readings from the OmegaWave system’s monitoring of central nervous system activity. During practice, they incorporate the Zephyr system for heart-rate and G-force tracking. Coaches keep an eye on all of the data these systems collect in real time and adjust training regimens accordingly. Sure, we’re just talking about practice, man, but, at least in College Park, basketball practice in 2016 looks like it has a lot more A.I. in attendance than it did in Philadelphia in 2002.

The latest chapter in the daily fantasy sports legal saga finds FanDuel and DraftKings shutting down all of their paid contests in New York pursuant to the terms of a settlement agreement with the New York Attorney General’s office. We’ve called Yahoo! the “third wheel” in the daily fantasy marketplace, but it was not a party to that settlement agreement and therefore appeared to be the big winner in the Empire State, at least temporarily. The New York Daily News reported that Yahoo! still was taking paid bets in New York on Monday after FanDuel and DraftKings had ceased such operations, but, on Tuesday, Yahoo! agreed to join its DFS competitors in ceasing paid contests. The legal battle will continue in New York, with further court arguments set for later this year, but, for now, the New York Attorney General’s office appears to have won a substantial victory.

PITCHf/x, the baseball pitch-tracking and mapping technology, has been a major boon to the study and analysis of America’s pastime, and it’s a foundational pillar of much of the crack baseball analysis you’ll find in the pages of FanGraphs. The recently introduced StatCast technology expands beyond PITCHf/x to track batted balls, defensive positioning and movement, and baserunner movement. “But what about cricket?”, you might have wondered. That worldly mixture of baseball, bocce, lawn darts, and fraternity-style hazing now has PitchVision, a camera-driven technology that tracks ball and player movement and can compile and analyze the collected data. PitchVision is designed to be portable and relatively cheap (kits start at around $52,000, if my Rupee-to-Dollar conversion was accurate), and the manufacturer, miSport, is marketing them to cricket training schools and teams.

Even in its offseason, the NFL is never far from the daily news cycle, is it? The league’s owners’ meeting wrapped up this week in Florida, and, among the various rule tweaks and other minutiae announced came word that data from the RFID chips embedded in each player’s shoulder pads last season (which we told you about back in September) will be available to teams beginning in May. What they’ll do with it is anybody’s guess, but you can be sure that Bill Belichick won’t reveal any clues.

Australian researchers have created a prototype of a concussion-monitoring headband athletes can wear to allow coaches and game officials to receive brain-trauma information in real time. The goal with the brainBAND technology is to both facilitate in-the-moment concussion diagnoses that should preclude players from returning to game action and measure the smaller hits that, cumulatively, can contribute to a substantial effect on the brain. So far, the brainBAND has been tested on amateur rugby players in Australia, but it would seem to have obvious applications for other sports, including (American) football as well.

Before Oscar Pistorius became controversial for decidedly wrong reasons, his use of prosthetic legs in conventional running competitions raised deep ethical and competitive questions with which many continue to grapple. Research and development in the area of prosthetic technology, continues, of course, and a new research paper from a university in the United Kingdom proposes guidelines for avoiding competitive advantage where prosthetic leg technology is used in sporting events. The paper’s central proposal is to apply a set of practical testing guidelines, including the use of the “dynamic drop technique,” designed to generate objective data on competitive advantages that can better inform future rules and regulations.

In the moments leading up to a sporting event, athletes commonly don headphones and listen to music as part of a preparatory routine designed to aid focus, eliminate distractions, and, for those of us who really loved Jock Jams, get pumped up to come off the bench in a middle school B-league basketball game. When it comes to headphone technology, most of us just want to make sure we’re getting enough volume to our ears. Now, a Bay-Area startup called Halo Neuroscience actually wants to turn up the electricity in athletes’ headphones in order to improve their athletic performance. Halo’s headphones, which look suspiciously like Beats headphones with scalp massagers attached, actually contain neurostimulating electrodes designed to improve motor function through electrical interactivity with the brain’s motor cortex. The company’s own research suggests that their “transcranial direct current stimulation” can improve physical outcomes, but some neuroscientists are skeptical, and the company’s research has not yet been published in peer-reviewed publications. Still, the possibilities Halo Neuroscience’s headphones present have been enough to draw $9 million in venture capital funding.

That’s all for this week. Whether you plan to spend the weekend hunting for Easter eggs or just watching your team hunt for a spot in the Final Four, please remember to be excellent to each other.


Major Changes For Valve’s Major

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On Tuesday we will see a major sporting event kick off in Ohio, with hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people watching online. No, it’s not MLB opening day or the Columbus Crew (but has a soccer fan, I would love to see a crowd of that size for a domestic game). No, I’m talking about the first ever Valve-sponsored Major for Counter-Strike:Global Offensive here in the United States, Major League Gaming’s Championship: Columbus.

While not the first Major, it’s the first one held in the States — all previous Majors have been held in Europe. The location isn’t the only notable change to the Major, as this also represents a record of four teams from the North American region qualifying, though a team from Europe — in particular, Fnatic — seem likely to take the championship. In addition to the solid North American representation in Columbus, Brazil is represented in team Luminosity Gaming, and if any team could challenge the EU region heavyweights, it might be LG. On top of the diverse lineup, the prize pool has been quadrupled from a notable $250,000 in previous Majors to an impressive $1,000,000 up for grabs, with $500,000 going to the first place team. Beyond the massive increase in the cash, Valve has also made changes to the gameplay, specifically the clock, and it is something that could play a role — for better or worse — in the upcoming matches.

While the nature of CS:GO is quite different than any traditional sport, the teams of five simultaneously playing offense and defense lend at least a quick comparison to basketball. Rather than outscoring the enemy team when the game clock reads 0:00, CS:GO instead is a race to be the first side to win 16 rounds. A maximum of 15 rounds per half will be played, so one could consider it a best of 30, in a manner of speaking. The first half consists of the Counter-Terrorists (CT) side defending two bomb sites while the Terrorists (T) attacks and attempts to plant a bomb. CTs can win by

A. Holding both sites for the full 1:55 each round (an uncommon way to win)
B. Eliminating the T’s before they can plant the bomb at one of the sites
C. Defusing the bomb once it has been planted

While that’s the quick and dirty comparison, Valve — developers and sponsors of this Major — have decided to toy with what effectively is the “shot clock” in CS:GO. For years and years, heck, even since I played Counter-Strike 1.5 and 1.6, the universal standard* for each individual round was 1:45, or if the bomb was planted, a 35 second timer would begin. Last December, Valve implemented a significant change, shifting to the longer, previously mentioned 1:55 round and increasing the bomb detonation timer from 35 to 40 seconds. The key thing is that neither planting the bomb nor defusing is instantaneous. It takes approximately three seconds for the T side to plant the bomb, and for the CT side, defusing it varies based on whether or not the CT purchases a defuse kit. Without the kit, it’s a full 10-second defuse but with the kit it’s cut in half to five seconds.

*Valve had a 45-second bomb timer in their official matchmaking until the December change, however this article is aiming to address competitive play.

While leagues such as ESL/ESEA Pro League have adopted the longer round time and 40-second bomb detonation time as have DreamHack tournaments, the change could absolutely affect rounds and thus matches. For example, imagine if the NBA changed a similar 10-percent increase in the shot clock, rather than 24 seconds it would get bumped to 26.4 seconds. Or overall game length from four 12-minute quarters to four 13:15 quarters. It isn’t hard to see just how drastically this would change things like player substitutions, shot selection, timeout usage and team fouls. Just like basketball, CS:GO is heavily reliant on the clock to force action. By changing what forces the action, I would argue the game has been changed as well.

Rather than worry about player substitutions or shot selection like in basketball, the thing being juggled — especially on the CT side of things — in CS:GO is the in-game economy. Instead of needing to purchase a defuse kit, now the CTs can opt to spend that cash elsewhere, be it an upgraded weapon, grenade, body armor etc., and still have what almost equals the same amount of time. By choosing to not purchase a kit, there is no real difference between a full 10-second defuse on the 40-second bomb timer versus buying a kit to cut the time in half to five seconds on a 35-second timer. The kit itself a relatively small price to pay, just $400 in-game dollars, yet that same amount of currency is the same as two flash bangs, one smoke or one high explosive grenade (with $100 left over). As one would suspect, this type of equipment can absolutely have a huge affect on how a round plays out as the longer bomb time opens up the CT arsenal considerably.

On top of the in-game currency falling under scrutiny, the million dollar prize pool is something to cover in detail as well. To be honest, the $1 million is technically correct for the tournament itself, but it fails to account for one thing: stickers. No, not actual, real life stickers, instead these stickers allow the purchaser to place the stickers on weapons if they so desire. The stickers cost just $0.99 with the money being split 50/50, half going to Valve and the other half to the teams.

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For a glimpse of an older Cloud9 sticker, here is a screenshot of C9’s Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert in action in the MLG Columbus Qualifiers. The full highlight video can be found on Cloud9’s YouTube page.

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Count on yours truly among those watching the streams as 16 teams representing 18 countries decide who will take home the title.

(Header image via MLG)

Building a Retrosheet Database for the 2016 Season, Part 2

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Hi, folks. Below you will find Part 2 of our video series involving building a Retrosheet database. If you haven’t, make sure to check out Part 1 before digging into this.

*The video explains this, but you’ll need to re-download the files from our GitHub page. I found a couple of small errors there. No harm done, just make sure you have the updated files before continuing. The video explains how to do this.

Enjoy! Let me know in the comments or on Twitter if you have any questions or problems.


ALERT: T-Mobile Customers Can Get MLB.tv for Free This Season

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T-Mobile is still pushing hard on its “Un-carrier” campaign, and their newest venture is a huge boon to baseball fans. T-Mobile and MLB have extended their partnership another three years. This means a lot of T-Mobile branding will be seen on various MLB properties — including things like the All Star Game — but the “celebration” of the partnership brings some big-time savings.

Any T-Mobile customer on the Simple Choice plan will have the opportunity to sign up for a free year of MLB.tv. And from what I’m reading, that doesn’t really include a lot of red tape or hoops to jump through. There is one slight catch, however. The deal isn’t available until April 3rd. This is all well and good for the start of the season, but not so much if one is interested in streaming Spring Training games. To counteract that slight bummer, T-Mobile and MLB are sweetening the pot a little.

The free subscription also comes with complimentary access to the MLB At Bat Premium so that users can get all the additional features of At Bat on their smartphones and tablets. The inclusion of the app usually comes with MLB.tv regardless, but it’s nice to know that there won’t be any sneaky gotchas after signing up.

Also, MLB.tv qualifies for T-Mobile’s (somewhat controversial) Bing On program, wherein customers can stream MLB.tv (along with many other video services) via their cellular connections without it counting toward their plan’s data allotment. T-Mobile customers are free to watch games on the bus, in church, during work, or anywhere else they don’t have access to WiFi without worry of data overages.

The kicker to the deal is that a user’s MLB.tv subscription will be valid for any device, not just their T-Mobile phone. This means fans can still watch on their smart TVs, gaming consoles, or other connected devices using their MLB account. This is a nice pivot from other offerings like Verizon’s NFL package, which allows fans to watch certain NFL content (mainly Red Zone) for free, but only via their Verizon device. T-Mobile’s deal will let people watch via their PlayStation or Roku with no extra strings and, theoretically, they’ll never have to even watch on their phones if they don’t want to.

MLB has seen some big changes recently in terms of their MLB.tv offering. It’s hard to say whether this T-Mobile partnership is an extension of that or not, but it’s certainly a nice added bonus. There are some lingering questions, however. If I purchased MLB.tv already, can I cancel and sign on via T-Mobile? If I cancel my T-Mobile account, does my MLB.tv go away? Details on this are fuzzy right now, so it might be best to stop into a store or call T-Mobile yourself to get the best answers.

Wireless providers are pulling out all the stops these days to convince customers to switch, and if a baseball fan were shopping around for a new carrier, this might be the very thing that puts them over. I doubt the offer will be good next year, but for current T-Mobile customers or people who were already looking to switch, saving over $100 is always a good way to start the season.


TechGraphs News Roundup: 3/11/2016

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The volatile month of March is upon us, and in comes this TechGraphs News Roundup, surely the lion of the sporting blogosphere and the FG family (check out our colors!), to deliver the sports-tech stories from the past week that we found interesting, along with just the right amount of bluster.

The baseball countdown clock‘s still ticking, measuring our ever-closing temporal gap between the now and the start of the baseball season. One thing that might happen in the 2016 season is that Mike Trout, extremely good hitter, becomes Mike Trout, even-better-than-before hitter. If that thing happens, it might be due, in part, to his use of a new “smart bat” he helped develop. Our own Bryan Cole has some of the details over at Beyond the Box Score, where he reports that Trout, together with sports sensor manufacturer Zepp and Old Hickory Bats, the company that makes Trout’s in-game bats, have created a bat that houses a Zepp sensor– comprised of gyroscopes and accelerometers– right inside the handle of the bat itself. The idea behind this bat, which will be available for sale to the public this summer, is that increased measuring and monitoring of a player’s swing from the 1,000 data points the bat collects, can be used to help improve a player’s swing. Zepp is seeking approval for in-game use of these smart bats.

Baseball bats are getting smarter, and so too is the way MLB teams are using social media to interact with their fans. For at least a few teams, including the Tigers, Dodgers, and Giants, this digital interaction has expanded to encompass live video streaming during spring training activities. We have covered the live-streaming capabilities of video apps such as Periscope and Meerkat here before, but the MLB teams moving in this direction seem to be favoring Facebook Live, the Facebook-integrated live video app. While Periscope’s ready integration with Twitter means it probably will remain a strong player in the live video streaming space, it also makes sense for teams to bring their content to where most of their fans already exist. For now, that appears to be good old Facebook.com.

Baseball fans aren’t the only ones who are into live video streaming, and with less than a month remaining in the regular season, the NHL playoff race is in full swing, making this an especially timely moment for the news that Yahoo’s new partnership with the NHL will include free live streams of real NHL games. Yahoo plans to stream four games each week, and they will make the streams available on sports.yahoo.com and on the Yahoo Sports Tumblr page (which I just had to Google) to out-of-market viewers at no cost. The first such game is tonight’s Flyers-Lightning matchup.

Did you know that the twenty-first season of Major League Soccer just kicked off? It’s true: MLS finally can share a beers with its fans. In addition to a new drinking buddy in the form of an anthropomorphic sporting league, MLS fans also can look forward to implementation of the Audi Player Index, player-tracking technology designed by an automotive company to collect near-real-time movement and secondary statistical data for every player on the pitch. The goal of the Index appears to be to boil all of this data down to a single number for each player that represents the degree to which the player contributed to or detracted from the player’s team’s win or loss. According to MLS, a top individual game Index score could fall between 500 and 1600 Index points, with the highest individual game score awarded to date being 3330 for a player who scored five goals in the game. At the end of the season, MLS will recognize the player with the highest per-game Play Index average. Fans of new and advanced baseball statistics are likely to recognize some principles of WAR and win-probability added at work here, and, depending upon how effective MLS and its broadcasters are at disseminating this information, the Audi Player Index could offer an engaging entry point for new fans.

For the NBA, player tracking is mere surface-level stuff, with player biometric monitoring continually advancing in that sport. While such monitoring soon may push up against ethical boundaries, if it hasn’t already, the teams do not appear to be slowing down in this department. According to a press release issued Monday, Kinduct, a Halifax-based company, has registered the Indiana Pacers as a new client and will be providing the team its “athlete management software . . . to collect  performance and health data for smoother visualization and analysis within a centralized location.” Does Paul George sleep well at night? Team President Larry Bird soon may be able to answer that question with a quick glance at his tablet device.

In case the sudden absence of advertising made you forget, daily fantasy sports remains a thing that exists, and, in a surprising move in light of the nationwide legal landscape, Virginia recently became the first state to legalize DFS via the Fantasy Contest Act. DFS operators badly needed a legal victory, but, like most legal victories, this one comes at a price. DFS may be expressly permitted in Virginia, but it’s not unregulated, and the regulatory costs, which include a $50,000 operating fee and an annual auditing requirement, may be enough to sink some smaller providers. On the other hand, this sort of regime is exactly what larger providers, like FanDuel and Draft Kings, want, because it shields them from both legal challenges (in the Old Dominion, anyway) and upstart competitors that can’t afford to comply with the regulations.

The annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference runs today and tomorrow in Boston, where a number of potentially interesting topics are on tap. The SXSW conference also begins today in Austin, and the conference has its own sports segment, with many events and panel discussions scheduled over the coming days. For those who won’t be on the ground in Boston or Austin this year, check next week’s roundup for any pertinent highlights that emerge from these hip gatherings.

Whether you’re spending this weekend at a sports-tech conference or just trying to enjoy some springtime weather, please do remember to be excellent to each other.


Building a Retrosheet Database for the 2016 Season, Part 1

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Baseball season is almost upon us. Soon, people will flood to ballparks in cities all over our great nation in search of entertainment and meaning, while baseball bloggers will continue their search for relevance and the mysterious Full Time Gig. If you fall into the latter camp (or if you just like having this kind of data handy), then it’s time to get your Retrosheet database installed/updated.

For those not in the know, Retrosheet is a magnificent project that essentially looks to turn box scores into computer records. And they’ve done a great job of it. They have all box scores from games since 1914, and play-by-play data since around 1940. What we’ll want to do is convert their records into an easily-searchable database that we can query for fun and profit.

Below is a video walking you through how to get your machine set up. We won’t actually be loading the data yet — that will come in Part 2 — but we’ll make sure your computer is prepped and has all the files and utilities is needs.

If you already installed a Retrosheet database using our instructions from last year, most of this won’t apply to you, but feel free to follow along. You’ll certainly need the links to the new packages that are now up on our GitHub page, but most of what you’ll need is in Part 2.

(Mac people: as I mentioned in the video, your instructions are coming)

Links mentioned in the video:

TechGraphs GitHub: https://github.com/techgraphs/2016Ret…

MySQL Server: https://dev.mysql.com/downloads/mysql/

Wget: http://gnuwin32.sourceforge.net/packa…

7-Zip: http://www.7-zip.org/

SQLyog: https://github.com/webyog/sqlyog-comm…


How To Use R For Sports Stats: Visualizing Projections

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If you’re reading TechGraphs right now, there’s a good chance you’re prepping for fantasy baseball, and if you’re doing that, there’s a good chance you’re making use of projection systems like Steamer or ZiPS. In this post, we’ll explore some basic tools that might help you look at these projections in a new way — and brush up on those R skills that you probably haven’t touched since last fall.

(From a skills perspective, this post will assume that you’ve previously read through the “How To Use R For Sports Stats” series. Even if you haven’t, the insights below will hopefully still be worth your while. I’d also be terribly remiss if I didn’t point you towards Bill Petti’s recent THT post unveiling his baseballr R package.)

We’ll use Steamer projections for this post, though the methods we’ll look at can be used with ZiPS, FG Depth Charts, or, for that matter, actual by-season data. Download Steamer’s 2016 batting projections from FanGraphs, rename the file to “steamer16.csv”, and load it up in R. We’ll remove players projected for fewer than 100 AB to clean up the data a bit:

steamer = read.csv("steamer16.csv")
steamer = subset(steamer, PA > 100)

Visualizing Tiers

As fantasy baseball managers, we all have an innate ability to estimate a player’s value from their stats, judging how good a 30/10/.285 player is vs. a 15/15/.280. We get pretty good at this if we want to do well in our leagues — but we can still develop blind spots in our assessments, or hold on to an outdated idea of quality as MLB trends change. (For example, the average AVG in MLB has dropped from the high .260s 10 years ago to the low .250s today; if you’re still thinking a .255 hitter is below average, you might want to reconsider.)

The point, then, is that if you’re getting a sense of how good a player will be by looking at their projections, it can be helpful to step back and recalibrate your thinking from time to time by looking at the broader trends in an image or two.

Let’s look at Steamer’s projections for stolen bases, for example. We’ll draw on what we learned back in part 2 to make a quick-and-hasty histogram counting the number of MLB players who are projected for different SB totals:

hist(steamer$SB, breaks = 30)

Basic histograph of SB projections

Most of these players are projected for fewer than 10 SB. This is sort of interesting, but their huge counts are keeping us from seeing the trends on the right side. Let’s zoom in a bit:

hist(subset(steamer, SB > 10)$SB, breaks=30)

Histograph of SB projections for > 10 SB

Even among this crowd of speedsters, it’s uncommon to see someone projected for more than 20 SB, and incredibly rare to have more than 30.

You probably didn’t need to be reminded that the two folks on the far right (spoiler alert: Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon) would stand out, though it’s useful to see just how distant they are from everyone else. But if you were thinking that players like Jarrod Dyson (35 projected SB) or Billy Burns (32) are solid, but not elite, on the basepaths, it may be time to reassess. (Did I mention that SB totals in MLB dropped 25% between 2011 and 2015?)

If you’re the kind of person who prefers boxplots instead, R’s got just the thing:

boxplot(steamer$SB)

Boxplot of SB projectionsThis makes it as plain as possible that any player projected for more than about 15 SB is, quite literally, a statistical outlier.

20/20 Vision

The same idea goes for getting a grasp on multi-category players. Most of us are looking for players who can bring in both HR and SB, but how many of those are really available? Let’s do a quick 2D plot:

plot(steamer$SB, steamer$HR)

Basic plot of HR vs. SB projectionsThis isn’t bad, but unfortunately it doesn’t give us a good sense of how many players fall into each category, since there’s only one dot for all of the 5 HR/3 SB players, one dot for all the 2 HR/4 SB players, etc. A quick workaround for this is the jitter() command, which moves the points around by tiny increments to get rid of some of the overlap:

plot(jitter(steamer$SB), jitter(steamer$HR))

And, for good measure, let’s add a grid on top:

grid()

Your plot should now look something like (but not exactly like) this:

Detailed plot of HR vs. SB projections

From the chart, we can see that it’s not impossible to find players projected for 30/10 or 10/30, but it looks like there’s only one 20/20 guy in Steamer’s projections:

subset(steamer, (SB >= 20 & HR >= 20))

            Name   Team  PA  AB   H X2B X3B HR  R RBI BB  SO HBP SB CS X.1   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
40 Carlos Correa Astros 636 571 157  33   3 22 80  82 54 110   4 20 11  NA 0.275 0.339 0.458 0.797

Of course. As if being a 21-year-old SS with plus average wasn’t enough.

Fun With Subsets

Let’s close this out by doing a bit more with subset() — possibly one of R’s most useful tools for our purposes because it’s just so much quicker and more customizable than online tools or Excel.

Say you want to find the prospective “five-category players”; you may have a sense of who some of the candidates are, but you might be surprised by what the numbers actually suggest. How many players, for example, are projected to do better than 10/80/80/10/.275?

subset(steamer, (HR > 10 & SB > 10 & R > 80 & RBI > 80 
 & AVG > .275))

               Name         Team  PA  AB   H X2B X3B HR   R RBI  BB  SO HBP SB CS X.1   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
1        Mike Trout       Angels 647 542 166  32   5 36 104 104  90 138   8 15  6  NA 0.307 0.410 0.585 0.995
5  Paul Goldschmidt Diamondbacks 652 543 158  36   2 30  93  93 100 142   3 14  7  NA 0.290 0.401 0.531 0.931
7  Andrew McCutchen      Pirates 653 554 165  34   3 23  88  87  84 123   9 12  6  NA 0.297 0.395 0.496 0.891
25    Manny Machado      Orioles 663 597 170  35   2 27  91  87  53  99   4 14  8  NA 0.285 0.345 0.484 0.829

Fewer than you may expect–which could well make them all the more valuable.

Conclusion

Projections, of course, are just projections, and you shouldn’t take one set — or even a combination of sets — to be a true predictor of what will happen this season. But if you typically look up projections player-by-player, or if you’re disinclined to take in a huge wall of stats at a single glance, looking at the broader trends in individual visualizations can help keep you on the right track as you prep for this fantasy season.

Here*, as always, is the code used for this post. If you have anything else you’d like to see us do with R as the new season comes near — or any suggestions with what you’ve used R for — let us know in the comments!

*download the ZIP and extract the R file.

TechGraphs News Roundup: 2/26/2016

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The countdown to the 2016 baseball season is on, and Friday brings us one day closer do the action. Before you crow hop into your weekend, catch up on these sports-tech stories from the past week that we found interesting.

Contrary to the wishes of some of our more outspoken readers, it looks like expanded safety netting will be a reality in both MLB and MiLB parks this year. In what should be more universally well-received news, the league released information on this year’s MLB.TV package this week. We’ll cover it in greater detail here soon, but, for now, know that the regular package is available for $109.99 (a reported $20 discount over last year’s rate) or $24.99 per month. The bigger news, resulting from MLB’s settlement of the Garber litigation, is that, for the first time, the league will offer single-team packages. The single-team annual subscription price, $84.99, is not a significant discount from the newly reduced full package price (and one wonders whether the league reduced the full package price in order to deter purchases of single-team subscriptions in a marketplace in which individual team allegiance, rather than broader interest in the sport, may be the driving factor for fan attention), and the single-team offering, like the full package, is restricted to out-of-market games. For real junkies, spring training coverage also is available.

Speaking of baseball spring training and, a popular topic here, biometric tracking, the Yankees may have found the new inefficiency: sleeping in. Recognizing that most actual baseball games occur in the afternoon or at night, the Bombers are looking to sync their players’ biological clocks with regular-season patterns by starting daily spring training activities closer to noon, rather than adhering to the near-dawn-patrol regimens to which the sport historically has been accustomed. This could be bad news for the rest of the AL East, whose batters the New York bullpen already was effectively putting to sleep last year. (Yes, you can hit me with your pillow for that one.)

February, with the Super Bowl and arrival of books like the Baseball Prospectus and Hardball Times Annuals, ostensibly signals the yearly end of football and beginning of baseball. We know that, like rust, the NFL is a probably corrosive force that never sleeps, however, a reality to which inane tweets and sports-talk-radio discussions this week about the NFL combine likely have alerted you. Something of interest for our readers, though? The emergence of virtual reality in professional football scouting. STRIVR Labs is bringing its VR technology to the combine in order to test quarterbacks’ adeptness at reading defensive schemes. Overkill? Maybe, but it definitely seems more on-point than the latest combine subject du jour: QB hand size measurement.

As for that other brand of football, fans of Italian soccer can look forward to the results of a newly announced partnership between STATS, LLC and European Broadcast Development that promises to deliver “advanced performance data to the clubs and media partners of Serie A TIM, the highest tier of Italian football.” This will reportedly include use of the SportVU tracking technology that has been revolutionary in advancing NBA analytics, among other tools.

Technology indeed has been a boon for better analysis and understanding of the dynamics at play in professional basketball, but you may not be surprised to learn that one NBA player, Steph Curry, is breaking the computer: “The Golden State Warriors guard has gotten so good at draining shots that historically have been statistically improbable that the NBA 2K [videogame] team hasn’t found a way to virtualize his skill set without compromising the realism of the game as a whole. ‘To be completely honest, we are still looking for ways to better translate his game into NBA 2K,’ gameplay director Mike Wang told Forbes.”

On the home front, advancements in exoskeleton technology are allowing those suffering from spinal injuries a chance to walk and run again. One such person — Charleston, South Carolina resident Adam Gorlitzky — had been a competitive runner and basketball player before he lost the ability to use his legs in a motor vehicle crash. His goal now that he’s acquired a ReWalk Exoskeleton: complete the 10k Cooper River Bridge Run.

Our goal is to keep you appraised of the latest and greatest in sports-tech news. In order to complete that goal, we provided you with the content above. As you now contemplate weekending, please remember to be excellent to each other.


To Fill A Mocking Board

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Spring training is happening in Florida and Arizona and as baseball players shake the rust of the off-season from themselves, so do fantasy baseball players. Fantasy drafts — be it snake or auction — will be happening soon (hopefully yours didn’t already occur!) and as such, some level of preparation would be expected. Believe it or not, there is more to fantasy baseball than mere spreadsheets, and I say that knowing full well it could cost me my job here!

The truth is perception, hype, momentum or whatever you’d like to call it can play a huge factor in determining where or for how much any given player goes for. One way of getting a firmer grip on the fantasy baseball community’s collective value on a player is to conduct a mock draft. There is no shortage of mock draft platforms around, but for the purposes of exposure to a great crowd, I’ll be overlooking the ESPN, Yahoo! and CBS mock draft capabilities. Instead we’ll be looking at some premium (read: paid membership required) websites, specifically Mock Draft Central, Couch Managers and RT Sports. And just to get in front of this, no, this isn’t a sponsored post, I promise! Now with any of these three websites you don’t need a paid membership to join a draft, but you may need one to create a custom draft.

Contestant No. 1
Mock Draft Central
Premium Options: $4.99 monthly (auto renew) OR $24.99 annually

If nothing else, MDC has an incredible pre-purchase walk-through and example of options. For example, if one opts to go for the annual package, you’re given just about any level of access that a commissioner would have in a real draft. That is to say moving picks, editing or fixing picks, etc. A full breakdown of the differences are listed in this helpful chart from MDC, though it should be noted the highlighted areas were my doing.
Note: Click to embiggen any picture in this piece.

MDC

The ability to join unlimited mock drafts is great, however one per day (for a maximum of three in a week) seems like more than enough, even for the most addicted fantasy baseball player around. MDC’s “Coach Karma” is basically a way of the site protecting their users from one another. For example if you join a mock draft, but fail to show up, leaving the other mock drafters to wait while your slot gets auto picked, you’ll lose Karma. Similarly, rudeness and other poor behavior can lower your Karma as more and more users report you. There is a threshold of low Karma that if reached, will not allow you to participate in a mock draft. So basically, just follow Wheaton’s Law and you won’t have to worry about your Coach Karma. I really like the user interface at MDC, something that can’t be overstated enough as it’s intuitive and straightforward. Mock Draft Central’s ADP is currently limited to the top-255 picks, though that number can float depending on the recent qualifying mocks.

Contestant No. 2
Couch Managers
Premium Options: $2.99 monthly (auto renew) OR $9.99 annually (auto renew)

My enthusiasm for the MDC user interface doesn’t carry over to CM here. Couch Managers, despite also color coordinating things similarly to MDC, just doesn’t have the same level of eye candy.

CM1

The notes section is helpful when typing on the fly, but for me, I have my spreadsheets open during the draft and can make notes or highlight things there. One thing I really enjoyed was the Good Pick/Bad Pick voting system on CM. Unfortunately during the draft you can’t see who voted for which pick, however after the draft is wrapped up there is a section to see the full break down with Good Pick votes on the left and Bad Pick votes in the right column. The ADP is limited to the top 265 picks at CM, similar to MDC where deep leagues or 14-teamers could be left out in the cold a bit.

CM2

For example, the picture above shows three Good Picks casted on the Marcus Stroman pick at 7.76 pick.

Contestant No. 3
RT Sports
Premium Options: N/A, it’s free, though regular season (non-mock draft) packages are available

Given I picked nits with the draft lobby from Couch Managers, I’ll do the same thing to RT Sports. I’d say that RT is even more boring and less visually appealing as it’s all white board with no color coded positions. The drafting itself is nice and safe in that you have to click the blue “+” sign either in your player queue or from the primary board, then click the blue draft button. Think of the “+” sign as a way to take a closer look at a player before immediately drafting them, and RT even calls the preview window.

RT

Unfortunately, along with their minimal design, RealTime Fantasy Sports also limits you to the standard 5×5 categories with no customization. That said, one of my favorite features RT Sports offers is probably the post-draft analysis. I drafted (first overall, of course) against a slate of bots and somehow didn’t manage to project to win the hitting categories, though the system loves my pitching staff.

RT1

There is a FAQ section for the numbers their projection system spits out, and I encourage you to check it out. I’ll leave the selling points of RT Sports to those lovely folks, but know that you can create mock drafts with a free, basic account, albeit only standard 5×5 format. For custom league settings, you will be required to upgrade. Really the biggest drawback to RT is probably their top-300 ADP is shown in PDF form, a sub-optimal viewing format if you’re attempting to export and compare ADP’s across different websites.

The Pick
It should be clear there are more mock draft platforms out there — many more — but I only felt comfortable discussing the ones I use semi-regularly to frequently. If I had to pick one, I like RT Sports the most, even accounting for their lack of customization. Second place would be Couch Managers, with Mock Draft Central coming in with the bronze placing.

Now, who’s up for a mock draft?

(Header image via my RT Sports post-draft board. Bots are mostly easy to pick against!)

Expanded Safety Netting: Coming to MLB and MiLB Stadiums Near You

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Last summer, Oakland A’s fan Gail Payne filed a class-action lawsuit against Major League Baseball in an effort to compel the league to provide more protective netting at all ballparks, including minor-league parks, seeking class-action treatment for her lawsuit and, among other remedies, “a rule requiring all existing major league and minor league indoor and outdoor ballparks to be retrofitted to extend protective netting from foul pole to foul pole [sic] by the beginning of the 2016-2017 [sic] MLB season.” In October, MLB responded by moving to dismiss the case in its entirety.

Little has changed in the case since last fall. Payne has amended her complaint to add two other named plaintiffs: Robert Gorman, a Charlotte Knights (White Sox AAA affiliate) season-ticket holder who alleges that he and his wife have been hit by foul balls at games and is the author of Death at the Ballpark: A Comprehensive Study of Game-Related Fatalities of Players, Other Personnel and Spectators in Amateur and Professional Baseball, 1862-2007, and Stephanie Smith, a fan who alleges she was hit by a foul ball at a Dodgers game last summer. The Amended Complaint also names each MLB team as a defendant and adds a state-law claim targeting the liability-waiver provisions of MLB game tickets, as well as a simple personal-injury claim by Smith, individually, against the Dodgers. In addition, the revised pleading contains citations to more articles on baseball fan injuries; more (often graphic) photographs of injured fans; more allegations of fan injuries at games in 2015; quotations from current and former players and managers (including Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander, Nick Castellanos and Anthony Gose, former Atlanta Brave Chipper Jones, Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez, and Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon) calling for the expansion of safety netting or attesting to the dangers of sitting in unprotected areas; and an expanded section asserting that MLB failed in unspecified ways to utilize the technology at its disposal– i.e., Statcast– to protect fans, primarily citing Statcast’s ability to determine batted-ball speeds.

The defendants (with the initial exception of the Blue Jays, who later joined the motion once the plaintiffs complied with international service-of-process procedures) again moved to dismiss the case in its entirety, essentially on the same grounds on which they moved to dismiss the original Complaint.

The court was supposed to hold a hearing on the defendants’ motion to dismiss last week, but it has postponed that hearing until late March due to a scheduling conflict with the plaintiffs’ lead attorney’s family vacation plans. At a minimum, that delay offers you plenty of time to read Nathaniel Grow’s analysis of the possible application of the “Baseball Rule” in this case, and why that legal precedent strongly favors the position of MLB and its teams.

While the Payne case is stagnating (surely a relative description in the judicial context) in court, actual developments in safety netting expansion are occurring. When we last checked in on this story, there was some indication that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred would be discussing the issue at the then-upcoming owners’ meeting. Following that November 2015 meeting, Manfred said it was “absolutely clear” that changes in safety netting would be coming, but he declined to discuss specifics at that time.

Specifics still seem to be lacking, but MLB’s recommendation, issued in December, appears to be that teams provide safety netting for all seats within seventy feet of home plate, beginning with the upcoming season. A report on a minor-league team said to be complying with the new safety directive indicated that the team would extend netting “to the end of each dugout,” referring to the end farther from home plate. (For scale, another minor-league team, the West Michigan Whitecaps, is following suit, with the distance from the center of the backstop to the far end of a dugout reportedly constituting seventy-eight feet.)  That’s what the Royals are doing as well, and that report, which states that the Phillies, Cubs, and Rays also planned to extend safety netting in response to the league’s recommendation, quoted a Royals’ executive, who said that Kansas City’s netting expansion “exceeds all of [the league’s] recommendations.” The Twins are doing the same thing, and the Rangers may be going even farther, with one report claiming that safety netting in Arlington will extend “beyond the team dugouts” (although another report has the netting extending only to the end of the dugouts).

All of the teams installing more nets in advance of the 2016 season look to be doing so to the same extent, lengthwise, but some variance remains with respect to the height of the nets, though no team yet is extending them so high as to offer protection to fans seated in upper decks — which is where Gorman, one of the new named plaintiffs in the Payne case, says he was seated when he alleges a foul ball hit him in the face.

The plaintiffs in the Payne case want the league to mandate netting expansion “from foul pole to foul pole” (presumably they actually mean two lines of nets extending outward from home plate to each foul pole, not across the outfield wall), so the new recommendation doesn’t provide them all of what they’re seeking in that regard, but it’s clear the league is trying to meet them somewhere in the middle, which is where most litigants end up.

The impetus for covering this story at this site was that the coming collision of the new safety regulations, driven at least indirectly by the Payne suit, and the interest of those fans who, unlike the Payne plaintiffs, oppose expanded netting because they believe it will significantly obstruct their view of the game (a number of whom expressed those views in the comments to our initial post on this subject) created a seemingly fruitful opportunity and incentive for innovation in safety netting technology that could increase safety while decreasing visual obstruction.

Preliminary inquiries to netting companies last year and reviews of the minimal technical specifics that made it into news stories on the subject largely were non-revelatory, but now, with expanded netting imminent at a number of MLB and MiLB parks, at least one team is taking steps to address both safety and sightline concerns through the type of netting they’re installing. From the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press report on the new nets at the Twins’ Target Field:

Despite the fact they were safely within industry guidelines set forth this winter, the Twins will replace the traditional netting behind home plate with knotless Dyneema material. They will use a thinner version of that same netting to span the remaining distance to the end of each dugout.

The dugout netting, which will be 7 feet high and require its own system of cables, is 1.2 millimeters thick as opposed to 1.8 mm behind the plate. It will be affixed to the front of the dugout roof, making it “less invasive to sightlines,” according to Hoy, and preventing fans in the front row from brushing against it.

C&H Baseball of Bradenton, Fla., the same company that installed the original netting at Target Field, will handle this project as well. Installation is scheduled for mid-March, well in advance of the Twins’ home opener on April 11, and the Twins say the cost is relatively nominal.

A 2016 C&H Baseball sales brochure describes Dyneema as an “Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene” fiber manufactured by a Dutch company of the same name, whose website describes the material as “the world’s strongest and lightest fiber.” Given C&H’s position in the industry– their customer list touts relationships with many MLB, MiLB, and major college teams, and a competitor has described them as “really the last word on the subject” of baseball netting– and the indication from the Twins organization that the cost of this newer netting is “relatively minimal,” it seems reasonable to expect that more teams will be moving to knotless Dyneema, or something similar, in the near future, in the hopes of satisfying both the entertainment and safety interests at stake.

(At the time this post was published, C&H Baseball had not responded to multiple requests from TechGraphs for comment.)

With Opening Day less than two months out, let us know what changes you’re seeing at your local ballparks, and if you’re reading and commenting on TechGraphs at the game (not not recommended), be sure to keep one eye on the action too.

(Header image via Elvert Barnes)

How to Quickly Search Your Favorite Baseball (and Other Sports) Sites with Launchy

(Header image via Leo Leung)

If one were brave enough to scour the Internet, one could find a myriad of articles explaining how to optimize their workflow. Our workflow is super screwed up, it seems, and only optimization will help us become the well-oiled, hyper-productive sacks of meat we were always meant to be. You can eat better, you can spend your money more wisely, you can take a more efficient way to work, and you can certainly manage your time better — again, according to the Internet. My friends and loved ones point out my shortcoming often enough that I don’t worry myself too much with my workflow. I have, however, found a few tips and/or tricks which make the act of sitting at the computer a little less terrible. One such tip is using the application Launchy to help me perform searches faster. And by tweaking the program a little bit, you can make Launchy get you your desired content from your favorite sports sites without using your mouse to dig around for those little search boxes.

Launchy can actually do a whole lot more than what I’m going to explain here. It markets itself as a “keystroke launcher,” which basically means it’s a little applet that helps you perform tasks with just a few keystrokes. You can open other programs, search for files, or play music through Launchy without ever having to touch your mouse. If you’re a Mac user, you’ve probably heard of a similar program called Alfred. Alfred has plenty of its own perks, but we’ll be focusing on Launchy since it does what we need, is free, and is cross-platform (Windows, Mac, Linux).

Download and install Launchy. By default, it should open by itself. If it doesn’t hold down the Alt key and press the Space bar.

Now that Launchy is open, let’s test some things out. Type in Google and hit tab. Then type techgraphs and hit enter. A new browser tab should open with a Google search. Now open Launchy again (Alt+Space) and simply type techgraphs.com and hit enter. It should bring you right to our home page. You can even do math in Launchy. Open it and type 4+2 and hit Enter. You should get a result. This is just a sliver of what Launchy can do, but now you know the general mechanics of the program. Now that we have that, we can start customizing.

The first thing you will want to look at is the keyboard shortcut for displaying Launchy. If you click the little gear icon you’ll be presented with the Launchy settings page. On the left-hand side, you’ll see a section to select the hotkey for Launchy. By default (as we’ve seen), it’s set to Alt+Space (on Windows), but you may want to change it to something that feels better to your fingers. It’s not necessary, but if you do feel like changing it, now you know where to do that.

(Apologies for the slightly-off screenshots. I can’t get my screen-cap software to pick up the Launch pop-up window.)

launchysettings

That same settings window is where we’re going to add our custom sports searches. At the top of the window, click Plugins, then click Weby from the list of plugins on the left.

webysettings

In this list you’ll see all the sites that Launchy can help you search, including some of the ones we tested earlier. These are very handy to have, but we want to add our own sites, which Launchy allows us to do. But first, we need the proper syntax. Launchy needs to know the search URL that we want in order to work properly. Let’s track one down together, like old friends. Click Cancel for now and close out of Launchy by pressing ESC.

Let’s start with FanGraphs, which my boss tells me is a fantastic baseball site. We’ll want to use Launchy to quickly search on a player, so we’ll need to start with the proper search URL. Go to FanGraphs and do a search for “Stanton.” Don’t click anything, just type “Stanton” in the search box and press Enter. In the next page, note the URL in the address bar. It should say http://www.fangraphs.com/players.aspx?lastname=stanton. Notice the last bit. The string “stanton” is passed along with the search URL. The address up to the equal sign is what we want: http://www.fangraphs.com/players.aspx?lastname=. Copy that and go back to your Launchy settings.

Back in the Weby plugin window, we’ll want to click the + sign. This will create a new entry. The name field is up to you, make it something you can remember. I use the boring but explanitory “fangraphs” (no quotes). In the address field, paste the URL you copied, and add %1 to the end (the %1 just means that we want Launchy to ask for a variable). The whole thing should look like http://www.fangraphs.com/players.aspx?lastname=%1. Press the + button again to save. Now press the OK button, which should bring you back to the main Launchy window.

webysettings2

Let’s test. In the Launchy box, type fangraphs (or the name you chose) and hit Tab. You should see the name, followed by a right-facing arrow. Now type Stanton and hit Enter. A new web browser tab should open up and bring you to the same page we saw when we grabbed the search URL. Pretty cool, right? Now, open Launchy again. Type fangraphs and hit Tab, but this time enter Giancarlo Stanton after the arrow and hit Enter. Boom, you’re brought right to the corresponding page. Pretty cool, yeah?

This only works with unique names, so searching for Alex Gonzalez by full name will still bring you to a search page where you’ll have to choose the right person.

This will work for all kinds of sites, so long as you know the search URL. Here are a few examples:

  • Baseball-Reference: http://www.baseball-reference.com/search/search.fcgi?results=&search=%1 (You can also search for specfic teams by using syntax like 2015 Royals)
  • Baseball Prospectus: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/player_search.php?search_name=%1
  • Pro-Football-Reference: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/search/search.fcgi?search=%1
  • ESPN: http://espn.go.com/search/results?q=%1

You can plug all of those into Launchy to create your own custom searches. Of course, feel free to search out your own. Just search for something on your favorite site and pay attention to the URL of the corresponding page. Copy out everything that isn’t your search term, and you should be able to plop that right into Launchy.

This is a great tool for writers, fans, or even fantasy owners during a draft. It might not save you hours off your workflow, but it will at least limit the amount of time you need to spend at your computer — an exercise that is probably killing you. Happy searching!

(Header image via Leo Leung)

TechGraphs News Roundup: 2/12/2016

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Salutations, dear TechGraphs readers. Those “X Days Until Pitchers and Catchers Report” tweets are actually starting to get relevant again, as baseball season is actually on the horizon. Stay tuned to TechGraphs for additions to our Retrosheet series, plus some other fun things. In the meantime, here are the news stories we found interesting this week.

If you haven’t heard already, MLB.tv is cutting its price by $20. It’s all part of a class-action lawsuit regarding blackout restrictions that was settled earlier this year. Click the link to learn more about how to watch your favorite out-of-market team even when they are in your neck of the woods (spoiler: it will still cost more money).

Speaking of; now that MLBAM has purchased the rights to stream NHL games, the folks at Puck Daddy wonder if the same restrictions will be enforced.

We’ll have more about the daily fantasy landscape next week, but between divisions being shut down, partnerships being dissolved, and investments getting devalued, it’s not been a great few weeks for the big hitters in the market.

The Super Bowl was streamed live, and CBS claims that the venture broke a bunch of records. That doesn’t mean the rollout went flawlessly, however.

How much data does a stadium in an already-tech-savvy town offer up to fans during the Super Bowl? Somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 TB.

The Raptors are teaming up with IBM’s Watson platform for a computational approach to talent analysis, and presumably to get better at Jeopardy!

A bionic knee brace is being brought to market and holy crap does it look equal parts awesome and terrifying.

Helmet company Riddell is in hot water after claims that their equipment help prevent concussions turned out to be false.

Jealous of the fact that your iOS-using friends were the only ones who could design and buy Nikes on their phones? Well, fear not, Android user, your wishes have been granted.

That’s all for this week. Have a great weekend, and be excellent to each other.


Super Options For Super Bowl Watching

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Super Bowl L50 is nigh. While the NFL missed the opportunity to treat the world to Super Bowl Large, they’re keeping it simple with Arabic numerals, and CBS, which has the broadcast, is following suit: there will be no Megacast on Sunday night, and, really, nothing outside of what has become the ordinary. Truly a Jim Nantz production. Kickoff is set for 6:30 pm Eastern, and your broadcast options are as follows:

  • Traditional television broadcast: CBS
  • Spanish-language traditional television broadcast: ESPN Deportes; can’t keep La Nave Nodriza down
  • Online stream: CBS is streaming the Super Bowl for free through their online player; Roku, Chromecast, and Apple TV users will have access to this feed through their respective CBS Sports apps; USA Today reports that CBS “is working with” Amazon to provide service to Amazon Fire TV users; Windows 10 and Xbox One users reportedly will have access to additional camera angles
  • Mobile stream: the NFL Mobile app, available only to Verizon subscribers with Windows phones, iPhones,  Android phones, or similarly-connected tablets; outside of the usual data charges, there appears to be no additional cost for streaming live NFL games through the NFL Mobile app
  • Radio: CBS-owned Westwood One (find your local affiliated station here) has the terrestrial radio broadcast; the satellite broadcast on SiriusXM will be on the NFL Radio channel; the Panthers’ local radio broadcast will be available only on the Carolina Panther Radio Network’s flagship station, WBT out of Charlotte; the Broncos’ local radio broadcast will be available across the entire Denver Broncos Radio Network
  • Las Vegas-area television broadcast: As of yesterday, CBS; on Thursday, cable provider Cox Communications and area CBS affiliate KLAS-TV resolved an “impasse” that threatened to black out the Super Bowl broadcast to approximately forty percent of area viewers

If you’re more of a Puppy Bowl person, Puppy Bowl XII airs at 3:00 Eastern on Animal Planet. While there is a beta-quality stream of the channel, Animal Planet Live!, reports indicate that it will not be carrying the Puppy Bowl, so you likely will need to find a cable subscriber with a television to catch those little mutts in action.

Finally, if media overload is about to make you crack, I suggest Key & Peele’s completely unauthorized live Super Bowl commentary video feed, which starts a half hour before kickoff and is available online here.

(Header image via NFLRT)

A Case for Open Source Concussion Research

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The Case for Open Source Concussion Research

Not so long ago, the divide between hardware and software was fairly distinct. Certain companies made hardware and others made software. Or, to be more precise, companies made software and others scrambled like hell to make hardware that would run it. This was the time of the 80s and 90s PC market — Microsoft was king and others fought each other to build the machines that would run Microsoft’s software. But as time went by and the silicon got smaller and more diverse, it made sense for the manufacturers to also implement their own software. They knew how the hardware was supposed to function, after all. We see this now with smartphones and tablets. Apple makes their own hardware and software. Samsung makes the phones and and the heavily-modded Android OS that run them. And, of course, we see it with the wearable market. If you want to see the data from your FitBit, you need the FitBit app. The same goes for Misfit and Jawbone and the Microsoft Band. Truth be told, this is usually a perfectly workable system. But the boom of the wearable market has brought with it the proliferation of devices that do more than just track steps. Multiple companies now produce products that measure force and damage done to the head in efforts to try and reduce or at least understand concussions — a now-important issue in sports that we should have paid attention to years ago. But if individual companies are making their own hardware and software to collect this data, the collaboration disappears. Important sharing of knowledge goes by the wayside. Everything gets segmented and compartmentalized. With the threat of head injuries looming so large, should we not strive to pool our collective research? Can we not create products for both good and profit?

The term “open source” brings with it some confusion. Open source was spawned out of the Free Software movement, and in the name lies the first problem. When many people read the term “free software,” they think of those handy programs one can download for free off of SourceForge. It is true that many developers offer their products free of charge, but that’s not what free software or open source is about.

In the 1990s, Linus Torvalds — in either one of the most important acts in the history of computer science or one of the stupidest moves in the world of business, depending on who you ask — created his own variation on the Unix operating system and released it, for free, to anyone who wanted to try it out. It was released under the GNU Public License. The GPL basically* states that anything released under said license is free to be tested, used, and modified. Those who make modifications are even free to sell their product for profit, so long as they pay the GPL forward and release their code for the same testing and modification.

*I know I’m giving a very high overview of this. My apologies to the hardcore free software people out there.

Torvalds’ flavor of Unix was named Linux, and if you haven’t heard of it, your nerdiest friends sure have. It runs almost every web server, ATM, smart tv, and super computer, and can be found on around 50% of the world’s smartphones. This article is being written on a laptop running Linux. Company after company took Torvalds’ work and improved upon it, personalized it, and commoditized it. All they had to do was show their work.

This is how open source works. Google doesn’t technically make money off of Android, which is based on Linux. They do make money off the Android Store and the data the OS collects about users’ habits. Companies like Ubuntu and Red Hat make a killing selling their special flavor of Linux for servers, and/or by selling support for that software. Sure, some organizations do it just to do it — to work toward a common goal of creating something great and exciting — and for the mere challenge of it. But do not be fooled, there’s big money to be found in open source, in one way or another. Device manufacturers need not be afraid, especially when their work goes toward the greater good.

Imagine a company that makes sensors for football helmets. We have covered quite of few of them at this site. The sensors are meant to measure impacts and forces that could lead to brain injuries. The company packages their devices with their special software and sells it to professional, collegiate, and even high school teams. Meanwhile, another company is doing the exact same thing and selling their wares to other such teams. Who’s right? Who has the best data? Each system is self-contained so there’s no opportunity for this type of data to be compared, contrasted, and improved upon.

This is where innovation and collaboration stops. Sure, each company gets their share of the pie, but they’re not necessarily making athletes safer. This data is somewhat useful in the hands of coaches and parents, but imagine if it were open to research groups — if doctors and scientists could pick apart the code to find exactly what was being measured and submit improvements to the software. We might actually have a chance at learning something.

In a recent article about CTE, Deadspin‘s Barry Petchesky wrote:

We don’t know a lot. We don’t know the rate at which CTE develops, or the mechanism. We don’t know the correlation with playing football as compared to other contact sports. We don’t know if some people are predisposed to developing it. We don’t know how its symptoms manifest in the living. (We don’t know if it has symptoms—correlation is not causation.) We don’t know if there’s treatment. Each announcement of another CTE-riddled NFL brain amounts to, basically, cataloguing.

Petchesky is exactly right. We’re at a stalemate with this issue. If a company were truly passionate about this, they would release their software under the GPL. They could still make and sell their hardware, but others would be able to sift through the mechanisms for measuring head injuries and submit advancements to make it better. Other companies could edit and enhance this code and implement it into their own sensors. Another company could come along and do the same. Meanwhile, everyone competing in this space would constantly be working to make better systems for tracking these types of things. Researchers, now armed with the code that powers these systems, could implement it into their own experiments and research. The conversation might still take a while, but at least everyone would be speaking the same language.

I understand that the point of all these systems is to make money. They give coaches and parents peace of mind knowing that steps are being taken to protect player safety. But there’s an untapped market here of contributing to the greater good. There’s still money to be made, it just comes with a little extra peace of mind that when a company uses this hypothetical open source system, they are putting their work out there for all to see. They are daring others to create a better system. These dares only lead to other dares, and sooner or later, people might actually learn something definitive about this subject. Players get better and companies still make money — imagine that.


TechGraphs News Roundup: 1/29/2016

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Hello, fair TechGraphs readers. I tried to come up with something witty for the intro, but this is already a little bit late, so I’ll cut right to the news stories from the sports-tech world that we found interesting this week.

A late-comer, but probably the biggest news of the week: the payment processor for DraftKings and FanDuel is cutting ties at the end of February. If you’re a halfway-decent coder with some experience in API work, it might not be a bad idea to float them your resume.

The Super Bowl is a little more than a week away, and Wired has a nice look at all the crazy cameras we’ll be experiencing on TV.

If you are going to see the big game in person, check out this primer on the wireless tech employed by Levi’s Stadium.

Also in time for the Super Bowl, EA is releasing Madden 16 for free on EA Access on February 2nd.

On the subject of Madden, Polygon looks at how the game deals with teams changing cities.

My friend and former FanGraphs contributor Jack Moore looks at how how the MLB media streaming landscape might change (or not) in upcoming years.

They’re going to put esports on real, actual television this year, and David Wiers is ecstatic about it.

In the vain of Periscope and Meerkat, Facebook is giving live-streaming access to everyone (with and iPhone). Now, when you can’t make it to a game, just make sure to befriend someone who can. Watching from the stands on your cellphone is just as good, right?

Periscope countered this news with an announcement that you’ll be able to stream on its service using a GoPro.

I don’t think I’ll ever get too deep into esports, but I can very much see myself plopping down on the couch to watch some drone racing.

Apparently the whole snafu with Surface tablets at the AFC championship game is being blamed on some bad cabling.

And finally, details are starting to come out about MLB The Show 16. I’m going to buy it either way, but the improvements mentioned are certainly welcome.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend. Be excellent to each other.


MLB and Match.com Team Up

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Listen, I am not — even for a minute — saying that I possess even a modicum of business acumen. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that pretty much everything I know about business comes from 30 Rock‘s Jack Donaghy. I do not possess an MBA, and I have a fairly weak handshake. With that all said, the announced partnership between MLB and Match.com could make a lot of sense. However, this does not negate the fact that it all seems very silly.

People give the dating app Tinder a good deal of guff due to the perception that it is a platform merely for people looking to rub against each other in some sort of way. And while that facet of the service certainly exists, Tinder leverages an easily-trackable and simple trait for every user — proximity. When you match up with someone, you know, for a fact, that you already have something in common. This may seem oversimplified — and maybe it is — but it’s part of Tinder’s core appeal.*

*–yes, there are also photos involved, but that is included in nearly all dating services.

Services like Match and OKCupid also leverage common interests, no doubt, but they are not as instantaneous. Match is now looking to tap into that instant-match process by using baseball fandom as a variable. Using the new “Singles” (can you hear my eye rolls through the Internet?) platform, fans can combine their Match.com profiles with their team allegiances. People can search Match for others who have also designated a favorite MLB team, and, 29 team-specific portals will also be available for people to match themselves with others who also root for the same team. I really want to know which MLB team was the holdout.

Is this platform totally pointless? Probably not. Will it make these businesses money? I have no idea — see paragraph one. However, it points to a continuing trend from MLB that shows a disconnect between what MLB thinks women want and, well, reality. Hey guys! Tired of meeting women who *gasp* don’t like baseball?! Do we have the site for you! Ladies! Wanna show all the dudes out there that you are totally down to hang in a ballpark and might even eat a hot dog? Sign up below! From Match’s web site:

With over a quarter of Match members identifying as baseball fans, now’s the time to make a connection with another single fan online. Connecting over a shared passion like America’s favorite pastime is the best way to break the ice, so visit www.match.com/mlb to start your search today!

In the interest of fairness, I haven’t dated in a while. And based on what I hear from single friends, it can indeed be rough out there. But predicating a relationship based on the fact that two people like the same baseball team seems shaky at best. Plus (and I hate writing this as much as you hat reading it), sports are different. There are varying degrees of fandom, to put it lightly. A guy can check a box because he likes going to a game every now and then, where a woman who watches every game and can recite the rosters of every historic team might check that same box. There’s no sliding scale here, it’s a binary response. This can happen with other subjects as well, certainly, but there are no Match.com portals for fans of Hemingway or the movie Top Gun. Match and MLB are trying to pair people together with the help of one variable that can fluctuate immensely. It probably isn’t a recipe for disaster, but it most likely isn’t one for success either.

Who knows? Maybe this will lead to some deep and meaningful relationships. Who am I to tell people how they should look for love? But on the surface, the whole situation seems pretty phony. I mostly am worried about St. Louis fans living in Chicago and vice versa. I don’t see a whole lot of room for romance there, but it might give @BestFansStLouis some good fodder.


Learn from a Nerd: David Wiers Explains esports (Part 2)

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Editor’s note: The esports landscape has really expanded over the past year or so, and, for the longest time, we’ve given all the esports stories to David Wiers (an avid gamer and former esports competitor himself) since nobody else here really understands it. Contributor Patrick Dubuque looked to remedy this by digging deep with Wiers to get a better understanding of how this whole world works. Part 1 can be found here. Part 2 is below.)

Patrick: Player movement in itself doesn’t seem like a big deal – it happens in every sport, and it gives fans a metasport to talk about during the offseason. But that’s another point, and one of the reasons I have a hard time getting into, say, soccer, let alone the tourney-based sports: is there even an offseason? Sure, seasons are techinically arbitrary endpoints, but having a standings page that automatically resets gives fans a chance to reset expectations, but also gives new fans a convenient entry point. Do esports have such a thing, or do we all have to just jump into it in media res?

David: This about the perfect time to pick an esport, actually. The Dota 2 Star Ladder Series is just now starting the playoffs, League of Legends North America, European and Korean Spring Split is yet to begin or is only one week in and in CS:GO, a number of leagues and tournaments are set to kick off in the coming weeks. Given the number of titles that have reached or attempting to reach esports status, there really isn’t an offseason if you wanted to follow every single one. Even if you just picked LoL, Dota, or CS:GO (again, arguably the three biggest esports titles) then following all three would still leave you very little time to do watch any other esport or any traditional sport. For me, my level of dedication is pretty split between soccer, baseball and select esports titles.

One thing esports does have going for it is near constant action. As you mentioned earlier from your time in Korea, they had (and now have multiple) channels dedicated to esports. Where I have to wake up early to watch Tottenham play, I can probably tune into Twitch/Azubu/MLB/etc. at anytime and get some solid esports viewing in. In that regard, a lack of a formal, unified season (for titles other than the mostly rigid LoL schedule) is great.

P: Near-constant action is great, but I really feel like there’s something to be said for an offseason, especially after the culmination of a single championship. With different games and different tournaments competing for attention, especially with wildly different gameplay and viewing experiences, it seems like there’s a real danger of fracturing the market, if it hasn’t been fractured already. Other sports like chess (it’s a sport, damn it) and even football during the USFL era suffer when there’s no one real champion to hold up at the end of the day.

Do you think that the future of esports is a general unification, some level of organization above the corporate/tournament level? I envision something where a “season” requires mastery of five or so different games, each requiring different skillsets and thus requiring different skilled team members (almost requiring the specialization of position players) to attain the best overall record. Is this possible? Or will the unique reality of shifting games and cultures prevent anything that codified from ever taking place?

D: I worry about oversaturation and players being exhausted and overstretched, absolutely. I think we saw that this year in CS:GO. There were times where domestic league games were played at a level I think most would call subpar, possibly because both teams just finished traveling to Europe.

As for different cups, leagues, and tournament organizations, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I love Dota 2’s main event, The International, which has broken the prize pool records for an esports tournament I think three years running. On the other hand, teams focus almost entirely on qualifying and seeding for that one tournament, with not much else top level competition happening throughout the year. It’s a topic that clearly cuts both ways, and while both LoL and Dota 2 crown World Champions, as does StarCraft II, CS:GO doesn’t. I’d like to see a World Champion of Counter-Strike like back in the days of WCG, but even then the WCG winner had to contend with the summer and winter CPL winters. Personally, I’m all for the leagues uniting to offer a world series of CS:GO, but due to sponsorship needs and contracts, I don’t know if we’ll see that for awhile, at least until the developer steps in.

And my concerns aren’t just about gameplay quality either, but content delivery. With MLG being sold to Activision Blizzard recently and ESL purchasing ESEA late last year, and now the SSL being live casted only on Dingit I’m concerned about esports fans consumption, and no, not just the stereotypical Mountain Dew and Doritos. Twitch.tv is the undisputed king of streaming platforms, but it’s gotten to the point where the numerous flaws in Twitch are being recognized and then quickly forgotten, almost as if esports fan don’t want to give MLG TV, YouTube, or any other competitor a real chance. That said, some Twitch competitors such as Dingit is pretty awful, as is Azubu and Afreeca, but I’ve personally had the exact same problems on Twitch as I have with MLG. Heck, if more people used YouTube to live-stream, I think that could be the best among them given the Google backing it has.

I guess my dream scenario, at least for CS:GO (as they lack a World Champ) would be for a World Series-type event, probably in the form of the top eight teams in terms of tournament and league placings (not fan vote) meet in a December showdown to crown a champ. The event could be broadcasted by CS:GO itself (Spectating in-game rather than in-browser) that way no tournament or league could complain about ad revenue, viewership, sponsors and subscriptions…basically, like almost all things, esports is about the bottom line.

P: So the question that will have to be asked over and over: are esports a sport? What makes a sport a sport?

D: I can’t get there and call it a sport. It can be physically demanding, mentally exhausting and injuries (RSI, carpal tunnel etc.) but I still can’t call it a sport,. To me, and I could be way off base here as I equate professional sports with pro-gamers, a professional athlete has some sort of natural athletic gift. It could be throwing a fastball, running a route, kicking a ball, whatever, but some physical aspect shines through. While there is aiming, reflexes hand-eye coordination and the other physical things a part of esports to be sure, it is not on the same plane as soccer, baseball or even golf.

Again, not to minimize the physical aspects of esports, but they’re light compared to any other sport. I’d liken esports to that of darts or pool There is skill that separates the top from the average Joes, as well as a certain physical demand, but the physical side is secondary to the mental. As for your mention of chess earlier, well, I’m not sure that’s a sport…

P: I’m finding that in my old age, I’m growing increasingly indifferent to the physical aspect of all sports. As a participant, sure, physical exertion and execution if a major part of playing a sport; as an observer, staring at the action on a television screen, the images are already devoid of physicality. Whether those images represent actual people sweating, or are representations of people sweating controlled by people in office chairs with gamepads, has no real effect on my experience.

Execution is great and all, but I don’t watch basketball for the free throws or football for the extra points. It’s the strategy, either on the larger scale or the split-second reactionary one, that makes sports interesting to me, and that translates perfectly to esports, or chess, or even an episode of Jeopardy!. At some point, maybe it’s no longer sports, but I don’t know where that line is and I can’t really make myself care.

Let’s take a hypothetical situation where two people are playing RBI Baseball against each other on Twitch. How is that different, to a viewer, from a recording of a high school baseball game?

D: It probably goes back to reaction times and then level of play. An 16-year-old center fielder might take a bad route or a hitter could be late to a fastball. Sure, those types of issues or errors can be coded into a game as well, but that difference — at least to me — is very huge.  As for the level of play, I wouldn’t want to watch low level baseball just like I wouldn’t want to watch low level esports. Watching a Bronze StarCraft II player or Silver CS:GO player is similar to coach-pitch baseball and softball. It’s the same game as the pros are playing, but the difference in skill is the impressive part.

Maybe that’s one of the things still holding eports back: an inability to convert the level of difficulty to the general public. When someone gets a pentakill in LoL or Dota 2 or a clutch ace in CS:GO, it’s usually an extremely rare and difficult feat to accomplish. Without a basis of comparison, the average non-esports enthusiast might interpret nothing but a bunch of characters, colors and effects on the screen. Just about everyone can recognize the brilliance of a walk-off home run versus very few people recognizing the brilliance and game sense in a 1v5 clutch situation.

P: That’s true. But from the perspective of the person watching on the couch, what’s the difference between watching athletes on a television screen and watching digital representations of athletes on a television screen? What makes one sports and the other not quite sports?

D: As far as spectating goes, it’s an increasingly small difference, but I’d wager the difference is the element of, I guess for lack of a better word, risk. Reaction times are critical in both sports and esports, but when I’m playing MLB 2K16, the fastball aren’t actually humming by me, etc. Not to understate the injuries in esports, but the risk and danger to the players is very different. I highly doubt anyone watches baseball for the beanings or football for the helmet-to-helmet hits, but with physical stakes considerably higher on the field than on the screen, I suppose that would be the difference to the viewer.

P: Is the physical risk to the athlete actually exciting to you? I honestly never even consider it.

D: I don’t think “exciting” is the word, but it’s certainly something I’m aware of. Here’s a video of me facing 50 mph and 70 mph in the batting cage. The highway speed pitches aren’t even close to a major league fastball and I was flailing helplessly. Of course, batting cages aren’t consistent, no seams, etc., but really, I was never going to stand a chance against 70 mph. On the other hand, I’ve played against top tier talent in CS (Hell, Stuard Holden, former Bolton Wanderer and USMNT player and his team steamrolled my team and me several times) back in the 1.5 and 1.6 days, and while we didn’t fare well, my team and I certainly did better against them than I would against an MLB pitcher. Sure, this is just one example and perhaps time has colored my memory a rosy tint — I wish I still had the demos, sadly that computer is long gone — but even semi-pro CS teams can take a map off of pro teams. I can’t see an Indy ball team winning a game against an MLB squad.

To come back to your question, I’m more impressed with the physical ability of pro athletes than I am of the reaction time/aim of esports. The risk involved is secondary, maybe tertiary to what I’m watching, but it is a factor for me. If tension equals compelling story lines (and reality TV would make it seem so), then the physical stakes of sports is much higher than esports, and thus I’m more impressed with sports over esports, and I’m a massive esports fan. I mean, I’m watching DreamHack Leipzig (SCII and CS:GO) as I’m writing this!

P: College baseball teams win occasionally against major league teams! That’s one of the great things about baseball, I think.

Okay, so let’s move on. We’ve talked about how difficult it is to become a sport, all the logistics that go into creating the sport itself and what can make people a fan of it. People quote the viewership and the dollars that go into the industry, and these are all very important things.

But esports have a strange cousin that receives next to no money or attention, except for a couple charities a year. The scene is also nearly completely opposite: individual-focused rather than team, supportive, almost non-competitive. While tournaments take place in giant arenas, speed running takes place in people’s homes, or at most in hotel banquet rooms. And yet the product, the actual gaming, is at least to me as compelling, if not more, to the head-to-head gaming scene.

Is speed running a sport, in your mind, and what makes it fall into such a different realm than the DOTA/LoL sphere?

D: I don’t think speed running is an esport. I adore guys like siglemic et al who do the N64 speed runs of Super Mario 64, but I can’t get there as an esport. The level of competition is certainly there, yet so many speed runs depend on glitches, bugs, etc. that would never fly in a league or organized format. For example, Halo 2 speed running is actually done an older patch of the game, because Bungie opted to remove the sword flying/rocket canceling exploit. It’s a high level of competition, but I can’t get there as an esport.

I guess the counter-point to glitches is things like bunny hopping. It’s used in just about every Half-Life or Half-Life 2 game to speed run, and it is allowed in competitive formats, though the old CAL system did ban bhopping for a spell. Now that I think of it, I think either CEVO or CAL had a limit on crouch-hopping (continuously and rhythmically tapping the crouch button while running to change the sound of the footsteps as well as the player’s hitbox) in CS 1.6 to two consecutive “crouch hops.”

I’m torn now. I don’t see speed running as an esport right now, but I reserve the right to change my answer. If that’s flip flopping, well, so be it.

P:  I just find it compelling as a viewing experience. GDQ just wrapped up their winter charity marathon, and while I missed most of it, there’s just so much spectacle: two players playing Super Metroid on a single controller, a guy getting all the way to Tyson on Punch-Out! while wearing a blindfold, listening to audio cues and timing dodges. It’s really fun to watch, and it’s fun to watch in exactly the way that sports are to a lot of people: seeing the same games played by average people, done to an incredible degree. There’s just so much joy to the experience, a level of sportsmanship and collective pleasure in Beating a Thing, that you don’t see in directly competitive sports that often. It’s Bautista’s bat flip without a pitcher to embarrass. It’s great.

What do you see as the immediate future of the sport? What does it need to do to gain popularity/acceptance with the potential fan?

D: I’m going to sound like a candidate running for office here, but I have a three point plan on how I think it will happen. We’ll soon find out, given the first, big step, is already all but wrapped up.

  1. Television Deal
    1. The Turner Esports League will hopefully bring a boon to CS:GO, and thus esports as a whole. It’s set to kick off this summer and I’m optimistic it will catch enough positive attention to really gain traction in the general population.
  2. Higher accountability
    1. I’m taking for both teams and organizations as well as players. It’s a mix of maturity, penalties, restrictions and binding contracts is something desperately needed. Teams drop rosters, churn or cut players, while different players quit on their teams, leave games while a match is live, etc. I know some organizations do have legal contracts, but other orgs appear shady at best.
  3. Corporate sponsorship
    1. Already various esports related companies sponsor teams. For example. Intel, Hyper X, Razor, Nvidia and many others are involved, but few non-esports related sponsors are involved. There is Samsung, Korea Telecom, CJ Group, but most are in South Korea. I remember Stride Gum had a personal sponsorship with Tyler “Nony” Wasieleski, but those types of deals are far too infrequent. I like to imagine a day where it’s like soccer, with various airline companies or banks sponsoring teams.

P: So this is how the sport will become successful as a business model. But how will it become loved? How will it reach out to people who hate millenials or think blood is a necessary part of entertainment? How will it win my heart, Wiers?

D: I’d argue that it is already loved, haha, but I get your larger point. The on-screen action is still the primary form of entertainment, but to circle back to an earlier point, the interviews, ceremonies, celebrations, basically the *style* in which the esport is played will help capture people’s hearts rather than just their fleeting attention. Without sounding too much like Office Space, it’s about the flair and the drama. I’m generalizing here, but for me, a compelling story in esports is infinitely more interesting than in the traditional sporting world. I didn’t particularly care when Jon Lester pitched against the Red Sox as an Oakland A, but please believe I was glued to my screen when Spencer “Hiko” Martin played his first match for Team Liquid against Cloud9 after he left C9. Esports drama is basically a reality TV show for me: it’s a never ending source of entertainment, though still secondary to the in-game action.

I could be off here, but given how much esports figures interact with the general public (meaning, via Twitter, vlogs, blogs, etc.) versus traditional athletes, the big difference seems to be just how unfiltered the esports competitors are. There is no HR department to screen bad tweets, and few repercussions for them in the first place. I wouldn’t call the esports world transparent in the least bit, but definitely unfiltered. Some esports figures, not just the competitors, but commentators, writers and hosts as well, often jump in with the banter. Sometimes it feels like they’re just baiting the fans to post reactions on Reddit or Twitter, but the interaction, at least to me specifically, is at least refreshing. Imagine David Price jumping into a random thread on r/baseball. Now shrink that down about 1000 times and you’ll have a close comparison to when an esports figure pops up in a thread on r/dota2 or r/globaloffensive and the like.

I feel like fans of anything desire interaction with the stars in their respective fields. The level of interaction in the esports realm far outpaces — for better or worse — that of traditional sports. Get people to pay attention to your esport for a game, have a sharp interview, be personable on social media and bam, you have a likeable (and marketable) esports figure. That’s how people will get drawn in.

P: I hope so. It’s interesting to watch any sport in its relative infancy, creating the foundations for its own future heritage. I’m not sure that this iteration of esports is for me, or even meant to be for me; I prefer a more methodical, chess-match style of battle, one where the audience can scheme along with the participants. I guess what I prefer is actual chess, which is just never going to happen. Or a blend of poker and esport in which two players sit across a table and play Twilight Struggle with their cards exposed to the camera.

D: Instead of Chess or esports, what about streaming a game of Risk or Settlers on Twitch? I think I would watch a streamed Euchre tournament, but that could be my inner Michigander coming out.

As far as watching esports grow from a nerd niche to a wider audience (and hopefully mainstream in the coming years), it is amazing to view the progression. Will I one day say I watched Olof “Olofmeister” Kajbjer in a similar way I’ll talk about Mike Trout? Maybe, maybe not, but we’re certainly closer to that happening than we were even two years ago. And that’s enough progress for me.

P: Me, too. Thanks for answering all these questions, David. It was fun.

D: Thank you, Patrick! Hopefully my rambling words (that may have flirted with a rant from time to time) can help bring a wider audience to the outstanding realm of esports.

Also, I’m not sure exactly where this would fit, but this link (posted today) has some awesome charts/graphics on the rising money in the esports industry, with a projection for it to reach over $1 billion in 2019.