Taken from a blog, regarding Scrabble:

(Title: A Vision for the Future)

“It’s been a long-standing question of our game and our community, why is it not more popular. We play a game that pretty much everyone has heard of, that millions play at home, and take it to various levels, from the social player rated 750 who likes to get out of the house and throw some tiles, to those of us going through equal parts Quackle and Maalox trying to figure out the secrets of the universe through the medium of seven shiny tiles.

My question, that I want to address, is — how do we build the community into a vibrant community of people at all skill levels, at all levels of dedication, into a interactive, entertaining whole? How do we create hooks for people who are not tournament players, who may never been tournament players, to get involved and follow serious Scrabble. Essentially, how do we build a fan base for the game? Once we have a fan base, we’ll have word-of-mouth advertising — our biggest problem is that people don’t realize there’s a tournament scene — and we’ll have a group of people who will be tempted to try participating.

The idea then, is to use the collaborative power of the Internet in such a way to make the game and the tournament scene entertaining and interactive.

Go to espn.com right now. Open it in another tab or another window, and think about what you see. As I look right now, I see a scoreboard
with rolling scores. I see some embedded video clips, a list of news stories, a headline about Barry Bonds in training camp, and some op-ed pieces by sportswriters who are wrong 95% of the time but who are engaging and entertaining writers, with a love of what they blather about. There’s an online poll. If I navigate in farther, there might be some online forums and perhaps a flash game or something.

So imagine it, then. A scrolling scoreboard with results and new ratings from the Phoenix tournament last weekend. An opinion piece where someone speculates — can Joel Sherman make it four in a row this weekend in Saratoga? A series of pieces previewing Dayton, giving odds and pontificating about possible contenders for the Championship. A video clip from Ira’s tournament, hosted by YouTube. A flash game — find the best play, where it presents six or eight positions and asks for the best play, and then grades the user on a scale from ‘Dummy’ to ‘Expert’. Some user forums — maybe even self-moderating, like Slashdot. A schedule of upcoming events. A brash columnist or two who likes to talk trash about players he could never play a decent game against. Entertainment. Stuff that’s well-written, not written by experts, and not written for experts, but for the layman. Maybe even a fantasy Scrabble league, or online rotos (and not necessarily for money.)

This is a huge vision. It would be difficult, but very cool. We have web developers, we have writers, we have sports fans, we have all kinds of talent in our ranks to do this, if enough people will help out. I don’t know where to start. But I’m an ideas guy, and this is certainly one of those.”

Which makes me wonder. If I were to list out what Singapore is doing with regards to publicizing Scrabble as a board game (or even unintended measures), I’d be able to think of these things:

(1) Toucanet
(2) Irregular SA school tournaments for primary and secondary school students
(3) Weekly training sessions at JGCC
(4) Annual (wait, that’s even more irregular) Mattel Interschool Scrabble tournament (Run by Scrabble Academy)
(5) Actions done by Scrabble Academy and players of the Scrabble Association (e.g. I hear Mr. Suhaimi’s in charge of some Scrabble Club at St. Hilda’s Primary School) to promote Scrabble

Pardon me if I’ve left out some stuff here. I look back at the article, and then back again at the list of things Singapore is doing. Is it actually enough to ensure that there is new blood coming into the scene? Granted, there are a few factors that would possibly inhibit this:

(1) Attitudes towards Scrabble
Many youths do not want to try playing Scrabble as they view it as a “mugging” game – they are unwilling to learn things they don’t even know the meaning of (a salient example being the two letter words – how many of our players actually started off learning the MEANINGS of the two letter words?). Obviously the term “mugging” has many negative connotations – under such pressures, few people are actually tempted to take up Scrabble.
(2) Possible selfishness of our own players
In reality, there is much competition in Scrabble. Although players are usually extremely sociable, when it gets down to the words, the score, the time, and ultimately winning the game, EVERYONE wants to win. This may precisely be a reason for players’ reluctance to introduce more people into the game – if there are more people playing, there is undoubtedly more competition, and competition (arguably) makes winning more difficult. (Of course, many players also do not realise that increased competition can work for them – there’s more prize money!)
(3) Busy lives of local players
Having talked to many of the top players in Singapore before, I realise quite a number of them have a hectic schedule. Some of them only play in tournaments occasionally due to work commitments. Even if they are able to take time off to play this game, it is very unlikely that they have time to (even consider) publicizing Scrabble to the apathetic audience.

This logic works in the other sense too – many people are unwilling to start playing Scrabble seriously because they find little time to do so. Many friends of mine would prefer playing Mahjong, chatting on MSN Messenger or going out to playing Scrabble. If it is social convention to participate in such activities, why play Scrabble?

Well, of course, NOT ALL IS LOST (or all is not lost, whatever). In my opinion, there is simply not enough being done to infuse new blood into the scene. I mean, how many people really know about Toucanet? I’d really doubt every school player knows about it. Alvin (Seo) didn’t even know the difference between Scrabble Association and Scrabble Academy the last time. The same case for items (2)-(5), there is simply not enough publicity being done on these (except probably the Interschool Scrabble tournament, which is notorious for its 3 point challenges and intolerance of vulgarities in the Scrabble dictionary).

Maybe there is something we can pick up from the Scrabble Academy. It has reached out to the youthful audience, although without much effect – I feel that approaching the young is not a bad idea, but the Scrabble Academy is doing it the wrong way. I’d suppose youths nowadays are fascinated by fashionable, exciting, “cool” ideas – things like the trend of -NT being the adjective and -NCE or -NCY being the noun (e.g. RESIANT – RESIANCE, SEQUENT – SEQUENCE/ SEQUENCY) – things that they might not have known before. They’d probably then scramble to a word verifier to check if words like TENDENT is good – unfortunately not! Certainly, they’d not be drawn to concepts like “Scrabble improves your spelling” (as advertised by the Academy, an especially poor maneuver especially in my secondary school)! Anagrams, perhaps, may draw their attention – I’d bet few of them know FUNFAIR and RUFFIAN consist of the same letters!

Besides an outreach to school, maybe our communications with the world could be spruced up. Reading the blog entry above, I find some ideas very feasible (of course since I am a youth I am not worldly enough hence I don’t actually KNOW how feasible these things are and you may have noticed how quickly I jump to this conclusion) – for instance, quizzes on games, columns by Scrabble players (I wouldn’t mind having a weekly one, actually), a Word of the Day section and online rotos that may not involve cold hard cash. Well, I’d certainly be much more interested in Toucanet (not to say I’m not interested in it) if it had these four items featured in! All we have now is SA News (which is coming today or tomorrow) which is only given to SA Members quarterly – how would that encourage more people to start playing?

Of course, one question that beginners always ask is – How do I get good? This is indeed a pertinent question – we’ve all asked it at some point in our playing time. Maybe you were independent enough to find out what Lexpert was and print out word lists from there – maybe you sought help from friends, more experienced players? Every decent player needs to get through this stage – and for now, there’s no readily available answer to this question for soon-to-be-enthusiasts with no support from friends. Most of the newcomers think that studying words is the only way to get good at this game, and perhaps this makes them lose their motivation to continue playing seriously (maybe this accounts for the disparity in standards between Division A and B). With regards to this problem, we could possibly create a set of strategy guides on Toucanet (there was one for the Scrabble Sabbatical in our school last year but it was quite hastily done) or even “How to get good” guides (I’d need one hehe)?

About tournaments, maybe we could do a hugely publicized purely-school tournament? Something which wouldn’t require much funding (just lots of emails, some admin work, a venue and prize money/ trophies from registration fees), it might even get a sponsorship in the future. Perhaps this is a better alternative than panicking when WYSC sets in?

Similarly, I conclude with the acknowledgement that NOT all these are possible (especially the game quiz thing, I doubt people would be so free especially in Singapore to construct puzzles daily or weekly)

Comments please!

One for all, All for one, Venturez’ 06

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