Excel Outside the Classroom

Associate Professor of Finance David Brown from the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona

Esports continues to grow at an exponential rate, and Excel is one of the most highly sought after skills for recent college graduates. But how did these two worlds come together? And who are the people behind this new movement? The MECC Chronicles will tell the stories of the people – the Excel all-stars, the professors, the career counselors, the sponsors, the club leaders, and most importantly, the students – making Excel esports a reality and spreading gamified Excel training around the world.


So where to start? Naturally, with the origins of the Microsoft Excel Collegiate Challenge. The story literally begins from two sides of the world. In Tucson, Arizona, USA, Associate Professor of Finance David Brown had students clamoring for more Excel training, and training earlier in their education. David usually met students in their last year of college in his financial modeling class. But the students wanted skills to take to their summer internships and needed experiences to talk about in competitive interviews. 


Meanwhile, in Riga, Latvia, Andrew Grigolyunovich sought to turn working in Excel into a game that could educate and entertain the masses. Andrew led a financial modeling firm, consulting on projects across the corporate finance spectrum, but his passion lay in puzzles and games of all kinds, like Sudoku or Snooker. 


In 2016, David and Andrew met and competed at the now defunct financial modeling competition, the ModelOff World Championships. For Andrew, ModelOff’s closure in 2019 opened the door to a new opportunity – he founded the Financial Modeling World Cup (FMWC). The FMWC replaced ModelOff and became the go-to competition for professional financial modelers. For David, ModelOff presented a new way to teach. By turning assignments into games, and giving instant feedback, students engaged with the material and learned more. 


In 2021, David and Andrew reunited and the MECC was born. Well, not quite. The first iteration of the MECC was the Financial Modeling University Championships. While the competition was exciting, the pair learned two things. First, students outside of finance wanted to get involved. Second, the idea of competition scared off many students. After all, why compete if you don’t think you can win? As a result, and this time we mean it, the MECC was born.


The Microsoft Excel Collegiate Challenge welcomes all college students, regardless of their background or field of study. In today’s data-driven world, developing data literacy skills is crucial for all graduates. It’s important to note that the MECC is a challenge, not a competition or championship. Its mission is to help students learn and develop essential skills such as data analysis, problem-solving, and critical thinking.


The MECC consists of two types of tasks: online challenges with provided video walk-throughs to facilitate learning, and online competitions. These activities culminate in in-person Finals (scheduled for December 2 – 4, 2024 in Las Vegas), providing an opportunity to showcase skills in a competitive environment and to compare abilities with students worldwide.


The MECC Chronicles will provide insight into the individuals behind the scenes. Get to know the sponsors eager to recruit MECC students (including Microsoft, Siemens, BDO, New York Life, Alvarez & Marsal, and Equity Methods), the professors and schools organizing regional competitions (like Eric Kelley at the University of Tennessee), past finalists and local Excel clubs, and even high school students aspiring for the 2028 finals. Stay tuned and always Excel!