Friday, December 10, 2004

Reaching a New Low

From the Akron Beacon Journal...not sure if you need to subscribe or not so I posted below.

Rock, Paper, Scissors Comes to TV

FSN Ohio has old game in its grasp

By R.D. Heldenfels

A new show on FSN Ohio has everything you need for a modern sports event.

There's a controversial call, and a slow-motion replay to see if it was right.

The crowd often boos one of the best players because of his questionable tactics.

There's plenty of jargon.

You can bet on the game.

You can drink -- a lot -- while watching. Probably while playing, too.

And there's a fat, loud guy screaming a lot.

OK, that guy is Tom Arnold, who is co-hosting the telecast.

But as you can see, it's now possible to make anything look sort of like a major sport. Even a Rock Paper Scissors competition.

Yes, Rock Paper Scissors -- that game you played as a kid -- has come to television. At 8 tonight (with a replay at 11), FSN Ohio will carry an hour of highlights from the five-hour, 600-player, 2004 RPS International World Championships. The tournament took place in Toronto in October, with a top prize of 10,000 Canadian dollars (about $8,100). You can find out more about it, including the winners, at

You might think it's impossible to turn two people waving their arms into compelling television.

You would be right.

FSN coverage of the tournament walks the tightrope between straight presentation of matches and mockery. Arnold is crucial to the latter, although the show is pretty much self-mocking.

Some players wore the cheesiest hand-made costumes to be found outside a Star Trek convention, and the quality of the video is almost as high as what you see on public-access programs.

Making this a bit sad is RPS's determination to be seen as a legitimate sport. Players sport colorful names (Bonecrusher, Bloody Knuckles, Supergirl). RPS has its own terminology -- like ``prime,'' referring to a pump of the fist before you throw your rock, paper or scissors -- and strategies like the ``toolbox,'' when you repeatedly throw scissors.

One of the longer segments in the telecast involves a player's repeatedly engaging in an ``illegal prime,'' which antagonizes the crowd but also disorients his opponent.

But I'm sure the people behind RPS think they deserve to be in the big leagues -- to have contract disputes, drug scandals, lockouts and brawls leading to felony charges.

No doubt they looked at the TV poker phenomenon and thought, ``Hey, at least our guys have to stand up when they play!''

So the FSN telecast is less of a test of the people who play the game than of the people who might actually watch it.

I flunked the test. Even knowing who won -- since I had checked out the results on the Internet -- I managed to get through the entire hour of RPS without dozing off or running away.

Of course, I also went through a bad period when I more than once watched an infomercial promising to teach me how to play the piano in a few easy lessons.

Never bought the lessons. Still can't play the piano. But I watched the show. The TV was on, and there it was.

And the people behind RPS can find plenty of evidence that people will watch -- and like -- any sport, no matter how odd.

Poker has indeed become a phenomenon through television, with local stores peddling lots of chips, cards and other gear to holiday shoppers. (Yes, I watch poker, too.)

Before ESPN got rights to major sports, it tried to woo viewers with tractor pulls and darts. ``Ever do replays on darts?'' ESPN's Chris Berman once lamented. ``Ooh, nice wrist action.''

There are still nostalgic tributes to the short-lived XFL on the Internet.

So RPS has scored a hands-down victory just by getting on TV. No matter how long or short its video run, years from now, someone will have a Web site celebrating it.

Somebody please tell me this isn't real.

Also, a small write up coming about my play with the blogger community on Party Poker earlier this week. Most of them are in Vegas this weekend. Glad they could have a little of my money.

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