WPI Alumnus Brings Home the Bronze from Beijing
While the XXIX Olympiad dominated the world stage, one WPI alumnus was in Beijing, giving his all at the inaugural Bud/Bud Light International Rock Paper Scissors Federation Championship competition held on Aug. 23. Sean “Wicked Fingers” Sears of the Class of 2007 squared off against champions from around the world, placing third against finalists Ireland, Canada, and Guam. Sears, the reigning U.S. champion, had already toppled more than 300 competitors at the 2008 USA Rock Paper Scissors (USARPS) League tournament held in Las Vegas in June.
A refresher for those who don’t remember the childhood game: Players try to best each other with hand signals representing rock, paper, or scissor. Rock crushes scissors, paper covers rock, and scissors cut paper. Sears states that he had never played RPS competitively before he stumbled upon a qualifier during a night out with friends in his hometown of Chicopee, Mass. WPI caught up with Sears, a systems analyst at Mass Mutual, just after he returned from China, with the $50,000 prize from his U.S. championship already in the bank.
So, Sean, number one question: Why are you still working?
Well, $50,000 is a great prize, but most of it will go toward loans and car payments. It has been a bit of a life-changer, with all the attention from the media, plus the cultural experience of visiting Vegas and China.
Your league nickname is “Wicked Fingers.” Is there a story behind that?
As a systems analyst, I use my hands a lot, typing rapidly, working with a mouse, that kind of thing. And apparently, during my interviews I said “wicked” a lot—which is very Massachusetts. I guess the Budweiser people thought wicked fingers sounded cool.
You majored in management information systems here. Was your WPI education a sound preparation for this kind of challenge?
At WPI, you learn a lot of different ways to work out problems. I think having a strong math background and being able to figure out probabilities and predict patterns gave me an edge in the competition. You’ve got to understand the type of player you’re up against. For example, amateur players, who don’t really understand the concept of the game, tend to never throw the same thing twice. Other players, every time they lose, will throw what they would have won with. It’s a quick format, so you have to pick up on their strategy within the first few throws.
What’s going on in your mind during a competition?
You really have focus in on your opponent. Don’t let the outside distract you, or your opponent’s going to catch onto that and pick you off. While you’re reading them, they’re also reading you. So you’ve got to manipulate their mind a little bit.
Before a match begins, you can usually catch me sitting in a chair, head down, trying to get into the zone. During a match, I try to drown out everything that’s around me—except for the ref—and just focus on my opponent’s hand, trying to catch the slightest hint of anything I can. It’s a mentally draining game, especially if you get into a long, long match.
What about the physical aspect. Are there RPS injuries?
In an intense match, you might hurt your hand, because you’re pounding on your fist so hard before you throw. There was one guy in Vegas who got a little overexcited and ended up pulling a muscle in his knee. The celebrations can get pretty intense, too. That’s when you start seeing the injuries.
What’s life like for you now? Do you have to defend your standing?
I get challenged all the time, by people who have seen me in the news, sometimes even by people doing the interviews! Everyone wants to see if they can beat the U.S. champ. So far, I think I have more wins than losses. I’ve also been doing some Bud Light promotion with area distributors, taking the trophy around to different bars.
The USARPS League is campaigning to make RPS an Olympic sport. How do you respond to those who argue that it’s just a game of chance?
It’s more than just luck. Look at the people who’ve made it back to the championships in Vegas three years straight. It’s true, you can play just for fun, but if you work on strategy, that’s where the game is taken to a whole other level.
I often compare RPS to poker. People recognize that there are big-name poker players, who have been there throughout the years, playing at the highest level possible. They don’t laugh at them, or say it’s just in the cards. Although there is a bit of luck involved, it takes the skill to stay consistent with it. It took the World Series of Poker several decades to get big. RPS has only been in the national spotlight for three years. As USARPS Commissioner Matti Leshem says, "Why not the Olympics? If women running around with ribbons and hula hoops can go to the Olympics, so can we."
Watch Sean’s USA Championship victory on Fox Sports Network, Oct. 6, 2008
USARPS media coverage: http://www.usarps.com/news/
September 4, 2008