Date posted: 08/12/2023 5 min read

Excel esports: Gladiators, choose your formulae!

The Microsoft Excel World Championship has turned a humble database tool into the platform for a high-octane, global esports franchise.

Quick take

  • Financial Modeling World Cup (FMWC) is the organiser of a global Excel esport competition that draws upon the critical thinking, analysis and software that many accountants, actuaries, financial modellers and data analysts use every day.
  • The competition runs throughout the year and provides the opportunity for participants to greatly improve their skills and, in some cases, advance their careers.
  • The grand final of the 2023 competition takes place in Las Vegas on 7–9 December and is available to watch on ESPN and the FMWC YouTube channel.

Competitors from around the globe enter the HyperX Esports Arena in Las Vegas through the Corridor of Fame, to a choreographed pattern of music and lights. As they enter battle, their each-and-every move is broadcast in the arena across a 50ft LED video wall, as well as to a live viewing audience via ESPN and to hundreds of thousands of viewers on YouTube.

Media of the world gather, breathlessly reporting on the gladiators, their training regimens and the epic encounters. The excitement of the spectators in the arena amplifies the tension as the skirmishes ultimately leave two competitors facing off for the final showdown. All the while, sponsors proudly splash their logos.

The winner will not just take home several thousands of dollars of prize money, but also the bragging rights of being the Microsoft Excel World Champion for 2023, having won the competition organised by Financial Modeling World Cup (FMWC).

Defending two-time world champion Andrew Ngai, an actuary with Taylor Fry in Sydney, has been here before, but he says it never gets easier.

“My preparation mainly involves doing past cases, like how students sitting for an exam do past papers,” Ngai says. “This helps me to get used to the type of questions that typically get asked, and therefore also have the required Excel functions fresh in my mind.”

What types of cases might they be?

Typically, FMWC challenges tell a story through data. One focused on getting across a city as quickly as possible by using various rideshare cars. Another was about being trapped on an island with bears wanting to steal the competitors’ picnic baskets. In a third match, competitors had to solve puzzles related to a fictional nation transitioning from dictatorship to democracy.

Competitors must process multiple levels of information within Excel to solve the challenge and win sudden-death battles in a specific time frame. In Las Vegas, about 100 superstars of the Excel world begin the final championship until only one is left standing, the ultimate Excel Master.

“My most memorable case in terms of how I solved it was in the Quarter Finals in 2021,” Ngai says. Like other competitors, Ngai was just one of 600 hopefuls who began the online qualification rounds two months earlier.

“The cases usually involve building a universal solution that can solve the given problem in general – it will work even if you vary the inputs. You can then score all the points for a whole set of questions very easily by running all the inputs through the same model.

“However, in this instance when I saw the case, I was certain I couldn’t create a proper universal solution within the 40-minute period, so I spent most of the time solving each individual question manually. All my opponents eventually came to the same conclusion towards the end, but because I had a massive head start in doing the manual work, I ended up winning by a significant margin.”

Building the Excel esports empire

FMWC’s founder and CEO Andrew Grigolyunovich sees Excel esports and the FMWC as a growing business that complements his other company. The chartered financial analyst is also the founder and CEO of AG Capital, a provider of outsourced CFO services based in Riga, Latvia.

“It gives a unique selling proposition for our financial modelling consulting practice,” Grigolyunovich says.

In 2020, Grigolyunovich launched FMWC as a refresh of an earlier competition called ModelOff. FMWC now employs about seven people full-time and is growing fast.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in everything: the number of viewers, number of players and, most importantly, the number of returning players,” he says.

“The number of participants in the ‘Road to Las Vegas’ stages doubled from January to September. We have added several new sponsors this year – SoftwareOne,, Financial Modeling Institute and Vertex42, just to name a few. Their financial support has helped us to organise the live event in Las Vegas.”

With growth comes more growth, Grigolyunovich says. It’s something he has anticipated.

“Eventually, I envision this as a huge event, gathering the largest arenas in the world and paying out millions in prize money,” he says.

“On the way to that we will gradually create local chapters across the world, so that people can compete and communicate locally with their peers.”

Can Excel esports boost your career?

Most athletes experience some sort of financial or career benefit from their sporting success. Do those who excel at Excel enjoy similar benefits?

Dan Mayoh is the founder of Fintega, a boutique financial modelling consultancy based in Australia. He says these competitions offer a way for people to greatly improve their skills, either by practice, studying others or finding a community to collaborate and learn with.

“Then, it’s having that improvement of skills that will help people in their careers,” he says. “On the other hand, I’m aware of several examples where a top result achieved by someone in one of these competitions at a global level has made their employer suddenly more aware of just how skilful a talent that person is, and they have been offered more opportunities by the employer as a result.”

A long-time designer of challenges for Excel esports events, Mayoh once introduced a side competition called Excel Golf, so named because the fewest keystrokes won.

“We would set a problem that would need to be solved by using just a single unique formula in a cell or block of cells,” he says. “There would be many ways to do it, and the goal was to write the shortest formula you could in terms of character length that would successfully solve the task.”

As an actuarial consultant, Ngai says his clients sometimes have urgent requests that require analysis in a very limited time.

“In these situations, it’s important to work efficiently and accurately, just like in the games,” he says. “Like the games, it is also important to assess the situation and plan what to do. For example, given the limited time, how complex can I afford to make my model? And what approximations must I use to get an answer that is close enough?”

Even viewers can take something out of the experience, Grigolyunovich says.

“People love to watch due to two things,” he says. “They like to see how the pros do it and they also learn new techniques. When I was a junior analyst back in the days, my boss brought in a couple of people just to watch me working in Excel, to show what is possible and what could be learned. This is similar, but on a completely different level.

“The best thing about Excel esports is that you can’t fail. Even if a person doesn’t win – and so far, only Andrew Ngai has been the winner – your Excel and modelling skills go through the roof. These skills are very hot, and are expected to stay hot on the job market for the foreseeable future.”

Watch it live!

The grand final of the Microsoft Excel World Championship takes place on 7–9 December 2023, in the US. It is broadcast on ESPN and the FMWC YouTube channel.