The Sport of Presidents

Date:1,995,266 A.D. (Gregorian), P.W. 21,436 (Shango), N.A. 2153 (Qareen)
Location:Spaceplane 554,091

Putting on a Storm: The Recent NKLPC Controversy
Whilst still relatively obscure here in the Intersection Zone, the sport of Kaizener has never been more popular in the centre of the Confederacy. But there is troubling brewing in the wake of recent events; Reto6/877,091 reports on the controversial game that started it all.

Sections: Sport/Kaizener, Society
74th New Kaizener League Pangalactic Cup
Coalition Reason Season from 1,909 (Winner) v. Coalition Workable Alchemy 554,091
Final Score: 1,426 – 1,425

Unlike the Fauxwar matches common in the Intersection Zone, where strategy is merely as complex as the contestants choose it to be, and even then ultimately break down at some point, the sport of Kaizener always demands tactics at every opportunity. Soft flooring and a soft ball conspire to produce slow serves, and whilst this can be compensated for with technique, it ultimately results in long and tense games.

No game in this recent NKLPC, however, has been as tense as this, the Last 256 match between Coalition Reason Season, from Spaceplane 1,909, and young upstarts Coalition Workable Alchemy, from Spaceplane 554,091, who were notable for knocking out the last planet-based team in the previous and 12th round. Reason Season risked this match by field just three players, arguing that such a move would result in a tactically tighter unit. It didn’t, or if it did, it didn’t significantly, and it was a decision they almost regretted. Workable Alchemy, however, were fielding the full four players as regulations permitted, and cycled them very effectively between main play roles, catching and resting. They also took a relative risk by introducing the android Drummer Girl into proceedings; unused throughout the actual matches, they argue that she is in fact capable of playing equally well to the rest of the team. The match itself seemed to support this, although the announcement of the team for their next match in the QKL suggests otherwise.

In the end, though, a close match resulted: one that was too close, in fact, and has resulted in many questioning the nature of the game. Some argue that the game should not have been as close as it was, and they are currently calling for a re-think of the rules. Others argue that the eventual winners were effectively given a reprieve, and argue likewise for that different reason.

Day One

Reason Season began by fielding Ranyt7, and Workable Alchemy fielded Tor9 as their initial player. Both were fairly representative of the styles of their respective coalitions; Ranyt7 favouring the “prizefighter” method of play, an attacking form that involves (relatively) fast play, low, high or otherwise extreme serves, and a willingness to move forward towards the wall. Tor9, on the other hand, was a “politician”, preferring a slower method that emphasised subtle moves and the application of topspin. Such a method resulted in a number of individually interesting moves – one shot achieved so much spin and turn that Ranyt found himself staggering into the right-hand side wall to compensate for it, losing a point and looking somewhat foolish at the same time – but overall, it only worked on these sporadic occasions and proved largely ineffective.

These competing methods with a new ball soon saw their effectiveness demonstrated, albeit highly unscientifically. Ranyt’s ability for precision jump serves – those which hit the point between floor and wall, causing the ball to leap back strangely at the opponent – caused issues, although Tor managed occasional flashes of brilliance, often forcing Ranyt to initiate and concede serves in subgames that would rack up later on.

After the midday break, the RS coalition switched Ranyt for Kalo1, but the WA team persisted with Tor. Although Tor made initial gains, Kalo1 taking some time to ease into his game, the gamble did not ultimately pay off. By the end of the day, Workable Alchemy found themselves over a hundred points down. Even the team themselves could not disguise the fact that they were now outsiders after just one day’s play, although they insisted that this now freed them from the pressure of needing to win, instead of ramping it up.

Curiously enough, the team defended Tor9’s performance, and argued that they, collectively, had made a strategic error, rather than witnessed bad play. This might well have been true, but Tor9’s rate of service faults – something not dependent on the condition of the ball – was noticeably down compared to both of the rivals he played against. Many of the pundits and commentators gathered were not slow to noticing this.

Day Two

The second day of play began with Reason Season bringing out their third player, Sarp2, and most notably, Workable Alchemy playing Drummer Girl. Whilst not a first for a Kaizener game, this was perhaps the most important match that an android had ever played in. Adopting a “philosopher” style, one that emphasised long rallies and various shots that suggested a labyrinth of directions, it proved reasonably effective, and at the very least, it stopped the increasingly embarrassing slide that occurred towards the end of the first day. Sarp2 found herself matched all too easily, and her jump serves were countered far more often than not.

What Drummer Girl had in tactical ability and stamina, however, she lost in terms of accuracy, notable by the fact that just one point was added to Workable Alchemy’s Fazi Score all day. The FAvoured Zone Impact Score calls for ten hits for every point scored on the coalition’s Favoured Zone, a small area of the wall chosen by them. Reason Season had judged this to be a distraction, and placed the zone near the top right corner; Workable Alchemy, on the other hand, placed it relatively centrally, sometimes scoring hits apparently by accident.

Incidentally, two points were added to Reason Season’s Fazi Score, and this proved to be all they would score for the whole game.

In the afternoon, the game started to shift, albeit at the rate usually associated with planet-based geology. Dragging the game closer by two dozen points, Drummer Girl managed to demonstrate an increased understanding of the game, playing with greater nuance; at 67.89.33, local time, there came a brilliant shot which presented the first genuine catch opportunity – a slicing shot in which the spin just beat a newly-rejoined Ranyt, clipping the racquet-bat and providing exactly enough of a deflection to land in then-catcher Tor9’s hands.

That, right there and then, could have been the end of the match, but with a ninety-seven point deficit and a mere sixty-four subgames under their serve, it unfortunately made no sense for the catch to be made. The graceful, brilliant move had to be squandered with a vague fumble and drop. The disappointment from the crowd, who were sensing an interesting but ultimately one-side game, was palpable, but there was far more to come.

At 71.04.11 another opportunity arose, this time the ball simply beating a fast-charging Ranyt, but he reached the wall, and hence safety, long before the thrown ball could run him out. As it was, another alert piece of play was let down by perverse incentives. Still, the game was about to ramp up severely in the next two days.

Of course, it didn’t look that way. Workable Alchemy had made progress, but an eighty-eight point gap still looked insurmountable. Workable Alchemy continued to insist at the end of the day that they were the outsiders, and that the pressure to win was purely on Reason Season.

Day Three

Workable Alchemy surprised many a punter in what had already been a match of some surprises, by announcing their desire to play one subgame – served by Reason Season – before the main game resumed. More surprisingly, Reason Season agreed, clearly seeing that retaining serve would potentially give them momentum and push the game beyond doubt. Such a gambit seemed bizarre for both teams – arbitrary for WA, and unnecessary for RS, but the logic paid off for WA when Perj3 (WA still operating on a player-per-day approach) grasped a tensely-fought 3-2 victory over Sarp2 and dropped the gap down to eighty-seven points. It proved to be a crucial moment, and the morning of day three saw a steady slide in one direction, as the gap fell from the opening eighty-eight points down to fifty-seven. As the prospect of actual competition arose, it was reported that audience figures for this previously insignificant match doubled.

All of this suggested that Sarp2 was incapable of brilliant moments, which was untrue, and every statistic, indicated that she had actually improved over her second stint compared to the first. Her serves showed astonishing accuracy, and the rates of jump serves and, especially, rolling serves were more than doubled. These serves proved tricky for Perj3, but they could only slow down his seemingly relentless march onwards. Sarp2 played excellently;  the problem for her was that she was facing an opponent even more on top of their game.

In the afternoon, Kalo1 managed to slow down the advance, although this was arguably due to Perj3’s fatigue than anything else; close analysis of the game reveals that the closest it got – thirty-six points – occurred some 10 MaU before the end of the day, and after that, some three points were dropped. Furthermore, serve percentages on the Workable Alchemy side steadily reduced throughout the afternoon.

Post-session, WA were undeniably still behind, and perhaps still not truly competitve, although neither Style Points nor Fazi Scores were released at the time. It was Reason Season, however, who found themselves on the back foot, having to justify how they had not finished the game once and for all. All the team could do was selectively pick at the facts, citing percentages and the late run of form.

They also cited their first major catching opportunity. With subgames still mounting, and the gap closing, it was becoming ever more realistically possible for Workable Alchemy to win – something that was a mere mathematic possibility at the end of day one. A catch then, ending the main game and forcing a run through all the subgames, would have been critical; unfortunately, as Perj3’s outside edge deflected sharply to catcher Sarp2’s right, and the ball further deflected off the tips of her fingers as she dived for it, sending both herself and the ball crashing into the side wall. Whilst a spectacular moment for spectators, it confirmed a fourth day of play.

Day Four

The audience figure for the fourth day were confirmed early on as being the third highest peak audience for any last 256 game in the history of the NKLPC, but this impressive achievement was about to rise even higher. As Lod9, Workable Alchemy’s final, ‘unused’ player, took up his racquet-bat and readied himself for the first serve, there was in the arena a distinct feeling of tension, of feeling that this extraordinary comeback could just occur, and that an otherwise routine tournament could yet throw up a truly classic match, or at least a classic ending to one.

So Lod9 went to work, and found himself continuing the work of the previous two days, and sure enough, after ten MaU in the morning, around 45.32.09, the lead started to come down. By midday, in fact, it was just twenty points. With each of Reason Season’s change of players, and with each change of strategy, however, that cutting of the lead slowed drastically.

Even so, Reason Season needed a breakthrough, and through the afternoon, it kept threatening to happen. At 66.44.98, Lod9’s flailing attempt at a return provided an opportunity; his similarly poor attempt to reach the Safe Zone offered a second chance. Incredibly, both of them were missed by catcher Ranyt, whose ridiculous throw missed the Safe Zone by a metre.

At 75.43.89, though, the breakthrough for RS came. Once again, Lod9 missed a return, the ball passing more than a racquet-bat’s length to his left, and Ranyt did not waste a second chance, the ball landing square in the middle of the Safe Zone before Lod could begin to respond, proving the advantage of a prizefighter’s fast play. With that, the main game was over, and the game would now shift to the 228 subgames that needed to be decided. With only 101 of those with RS’s serve, however, the game was suddenly against them: the main game had ended 1,302 to 1,291.

Another shock was to come, when the Judging Panel decided to release the Fazi Scores for both sides. With a mere two points to Workable Alchemy’s seventeen, Reason Season found the score to suddenly be, including the subgame played earlier, 1,304 to 1,309 against them. Having had a first-day lead of one hundred and twelve points, Reason Season now found themselves behind after just three days of play, with the subgame serves against them and the main game over.

Fans on one side of the contest expressed outrage, arguing that the team would not have made the catch if they knew they were behind; some pundits, however, argued that Reason Season had actually made four key mistakes: firstly, that they had squandered a sizeable lead; secondly, that they had made the catch whilst complacently assuming they were ahead, even whilst knowing some scores were off the table; thirdly, that they had actually ignored the Fazi Scores as part of their strategy; finally, that even now, the number of Style Points both sides had scored had not been released, and that fact was being ignored.

But the score stood, and it was under a storm of controversy that day four ended and day five began.

Day Five

The final day’s events were inevitably clouded by the revelations of the previous night, but Reason Season themselves, in either the conference the previous evening or in the morning pre-match, had not complained. With 228 subgames ahead of them, they were perhaps more focused on the increasingly uphill task of winning, and with the game’s audience figures now the highest any last 256 game had ever seen, and the eleventh highest for any NKLPC match in history, the eyes of the Confederacy – or at least, a large swathe of it – were watching. As the ones in the lead, Workable Alchemy had the advantage of choosing which subgames to play, and promptly decided to repeat their strategy from day three on a larger scale, allowing Reason Season to serve all of their 101 subgames first.

This was a risky gambit, and whilst RS faltered on occasion, most notably at the start of each of the three players’ stints, they nonetheless took most of those subgames, dropping a mere twelve, to give them a lead of eighty-four points. Whilst Workable Alchemy found themselves with a useful advantage – they would now never lose serve for the rest of the game – they were nonetheless otherwise in a similar scenario to the one they had been in at the close of day two.

After the break, 127 subgames lay ahead. The players in the court, now without catchers, and with the alleyways blocked off with sidewall extensions, looked very alone as they battled for a victory that, in the end, would not even necessarily put them in the top 100 coalitions in the galaxy. It was now that Workable Alchemy changed their strategy; having deployed Tor9 – much improved from her first stint on the first day – for many of the subgames earlier on, they now switched regularly between themselves. Perhaps it was this that overcomplicated their strategy; perhaps it was instead RS’s sense of momentum, but either way, the lead extended, topping out at a hundred points precisely, before shakily reducing. Even as WA gathered an unstoppable momentum, it became clear that, at best, they would win narrowly, even as their rolling serves scurried across the court floor and eluded RS’s players with increasing frequency, and almost perfectly timed drop shots hit the wall just inches above the floor.

That afternoon saw what was perhaps Workable Alchemy’s best collective performance in the tournament so far, but it was proving to be only just enough, and in a penultimate twist to the game, the scores were nominally level for the final subgame, at 1,420 apiece.

Perj3 was the man who found himself serving to win or lose the match, against Sarp2. Said subgame, far from being a complex, epic showdown, proved to be a simple matter for Perj3; a rolling serve hit with maximum force ripped across the floor, straight past Sarp2 – 2-0. A follow-up serve simply spun away, misleading Sarp right as it jinked left on the bounce – 3-0. The score was now 1,421 for Workable Alchemy to Reason Season’s 1,420.

There was, however, one final set of statistics to be released by the Style Board, and if the controversy on the fourth day was a fierce one, then the maelstrom unleashed by this was something of a supernova of contention. As the Style Board released the points allocated – four for Workable Alchemy, six for Reason Season, making the final score 1,425 to 1,426 respectively, the anger throughout the galaxy became immediately obvious through the various networked ansible forums.

Aftermath

How, various fans asked – even those supporting Reason Season – could such a match, a tournament match – be decided by style? Whilst style points had always been an intrinsic part of Kaizener, this was the first time that they had ever actually affected the result of match. The New Kaizener League suddenly found itself having to defend rules it had not seen challenged in centuries, and both coalitions that had played could only meekly state that they accepted the result, even if it was not ideal.

The resulting debate spread far and wide, consuming almost every feed in the local news coalitions in the galactic centre, although naturally, the interest has only, thus far, leaked mildly into our region, were it was met more with disdain and contempt by pundits rather than analysis.

Put simply, those of us in the Intersection Zone have perhaps wondered quite what the fuss was about; with recent rises in terrorism, an increasingly loud campaign for “scarcity politics” and Qareen-Shango tensions on the rise, along with increasingly disturbing revelations from the Bhoot regime, did this represent a dire lack of priorities among some in the Confederacy?

Perhaps, I would like to suggest, it represents the excess passions of, for one, a sport with massive interests across thousands of Spaceplanes and planets across the galaxy, and two, the simple tendency towards soft vacuousness that can occur in what is, let us be honest, a highly advanced civilisation that rarely encounters truly serious threats.

In truth, however, I find it odd that pundits have chosen to focus on this. If nothing else – and I suspect it did indeed offer nothing else – the game did offer a strong degree of spectacle, and several days of entertainment. The highly technical nature of the game meant that it was not intellectually lacking, either; the same, however, cannot be said for the rise in scarcity politics.

And with this, the article you currently read manages to finally wheel itself round to the point: perhaps it has been a struggle to convey both the excitement and complexity of Kaizener to an audience I know to be unfamiliar with it, but as a sport, it has come under attack recently from many quarters – politicians, the media, its own fans – and I feel it is a sport, and a piece of our culture, that is worth defending. Those who attack it pay no heed to the aforementioned campaign for scarcity which, though sporadic and disorganised though it is, continues to growth in strength and threatens, unlike Kaizener, to undermine all that the Confederacy has aimed for. Its quasi-religious implications are, or should be, insulting to any Qareen, although thousands continue to join the movement each day. Kaizener continues to embellish and embolden Qareen values: expertise, perfectionism, rational and strategic thought, and an unwillingness to flinch from the complex or the difficult. The NKL’s thorough and borderline unbeatable testing and scanning for drug use or extraordinary genetic or biological enhancement is rooted in a Qareen sense of fairness and justice.

These are the values that built a galaxy-spanning civilisation; the values that Ios8/p102,355 and his Pangalactic Limits Campaign espouse are the inverse, dragging us backwards, not to a simpler time, but to a worse one. The appalling conditions of the Bhoot people under their RPDSR should be not a model, but a warning to us all of the atrocities that can occur when power concentrated in the hands of elites destroys opportunities and priveliges for all but the few.

So if we’re to come together, let it be for vacuous purpose if need be, if only so we avoid overthinking ourselves into needless – and cruel – revolution. Let’s do it for friendly, honest competition, instead of brutal domination. Yes, we in the Intersection Zone could perhaps learn plenty from Kaizener.

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3 responses to “The Sport of Presidents

  1. That was beautiful.

  2. To elaborate:

    The overall feeling is a mixture of alienness inherent in dealing with a society unlike any human one, and the familiarity of the overall pattern of sports and politics.

    Kaizener itself, particularly in the overly-complex rules that a modern-day human would associate strongly with a parody sport, is the idea of something we wouldn’t do, but it’s a sport, something for which we have a mental category, we can approximate the idea of what it can mean for those that understand and find the rules sensible, (and also those that don’t).

    Particularly the last comments of what it means for Qareen society, and the remarks on political events, put it all within a greater context which repeats the pattern above. Alienness in the specifics but a measure of familiarity in the big picture, sort of a paradox between being unable to completely make sense of what’s happening but also having the general mental circuitry that allows us to see what the writer is trying to tell us.

    On another level, the competitive aspects of Kaizener make a good story by themselves, once again one we can’t fully understand but we can recognise the general tropes of, say, making a recovery from long odds, a close finish, different styles of play, tactics and strategy, etc.

  3. Thanks, although I’ll admit that Kaizener wasn’t necessarily meant to be a parody, even if it is taken too seriously. It’s more that the Qareen consider themselves fairly intellectual types, so slow, complex, nigh-impossible-to-end sports ensue, either out of said intellect or out of pretension.

    I’ve got another one of these epistolary pieces awaiting, so it’ll be interesting how that goes.

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