As 2020 began, I made the decision to help form a new team, a Contender (see article #5) of like-minded players seeking new roles, higher levels of play, and beneficial emotional contagion. We had gotten together to practice and congeal. The New York Dart League was one week into its new season when the season was postponed and subsequently cancelled. Guess whose team had the unfortunate luck of having a bye on their schedule in week#1. (Sigh)
I resigned myself to cancelling private lessons and retreating into the pandemic-imposed exile, waiting (hopefully) for dart players to commune again for competition and revelry. Players started reaching out about engaging in online darts. Conceptually I understood their pleas. There was a void to fill. I had heard the overtures through the years, for either soft-tip machines that allow you to play someone somewhere else, or webcam steel-tip darts. It just never scratched the itch for me and I’ve generally been quite tech averse. With different environments and not being physically present with your opponent, the community of game (that I really love) was removed. I was content enough getting in small practice sessions on my own at home. After a few weeks, even some of my more unique practice routines became mundane without something to practice for.
My family and I decided to retreat farther, to a remote home, away from the populous of the concrete jungle; a home with no dartboard. After a couple of weeks of solitude I started to get the itch. I could feel dart atrophy setting in and I didn’t like it one bit. My wife saw my restlessness and told me to order everything I needed. She didn’t need to say it twice. A week later I had new equipment (as if any of us need a pandemic to order new supplies). I decided to take on virtual darts as a personal challenge to my technophobic tendencies and as a sociological case study for our community. Based on the dire nature that our (dart) world is in, I had to be willing to change my mind to adapt, learn and overcome. Here are the basics, for those who haven’t gotten involved yet, and observations, for those looking to enhance their experience.
Know Your Roots:
First and foremost, we need to know where we came from to know how we got here. I never saw the need for remote darts with the ability to play darts in person with great ease living in New York City. It seemed unnecessary… until it was, and then I realized, not everyone lives within a realistic distance to their local bar leagues to play in person during normal worldly circumstances. I had taken for granted the ease at which I was able to play in the pubs without the worry of driving too far (or at all). It has been nice to learn that there is a solid swath of the community who love the game (soft or steel) but didn’t realistically have the ability to play socially even before quarantine. A lot of respect should go to those in the remote corners of the technological darts world who have been given more of a platform to meet more of the community and show their stuff. There is unaccounted for interest and unknown talent whose latency is only now being felt. Thank you for welcoming technological newbies (like me) to your world.
I can’t thank the remote-only players without acknowledging the innovations that have allowed such connections. Whether or not you have ever played remote soft-tip, or webcam darts, the innovators and players deserve our thanks for trailblazing the technology.
What Is Needed:
The important gear hasn’t changed, but for anyone who has been procrastinating on upgrading the lighting for their dartboard, there is no better time. I had been content for years just having the room lighting to illuminate the board. Do yourself the favor of upgrading your lighting setup if you haven’t already. I thought it was apropos to get the Target “Corona” Vision in light of our current station in life.
Good lighting has taken on new meaning. In the pub, you and your opponent are dealing with the same light and shadows. You are also present at the same board. Now, a level of consideration needs to be given to the camera and to your opponent (or viewers) watching remotely. As we have seen from the outset in articles and videos there have been darts questioned amongst pros and amateurs alike. It is much better to upgrade your lighting then to have someone question your integrity to themselves or to the community at-large. It is also awesome to have the light you need. Proper lighting helps you assess the lie of your dart, the angle, the depth of the point, and most importantly exactly where the dart landed, all without needing to step in to see if you are on target. This is crucial. You don’t want to have to come off the oche, and have to reset your feet/balance when you are in a groove.
You will need internet service and WIFI capabilities. During a match you will need at least two devices connected at the same time: one for your camera/phone and one for your scoring application.
At a minimum you need one camera facing your board. Many of our devices these days have one. The easiest way as many have discovered is using your phone in a phone holder that can mount or clamp somewhere close to the board. There are many versions of adjustable gooseneck clamp phone holders that are suitable. This is not an area to skimp on.
I have seen people do some amazingly creative things with their cameras to participate, but they are not user friendly and require too much setup and breakdown every time you play. If you so choose, you can patch the feed of your opponent’s board to a larger screen to be able to watch.
If you are technologically savvy and interested you can have separate camera(s) facing you to capture your form and action. It is something I ask of players looking for remote darts instruction. (Reach out through A-Z Darts or through my Facebook link for details)
I have always been a late adopter to all things technological. I had used DartConnect at tournaments and in league on occasion, but I never had a scoring application on a device. I never saw the need. I decided it was time to level-up. Certain jobs require specific tools. Never before had there been such a need for such a specific tool. If you are also a late adopter like myself, and haven’t gotten with the times, the time is now so you will be able to score a match interactively. It has a ton of intuitive functionality and gets updated routinely to adapt to the changing landscape and player feedback. It also keeps a bunch of data. If you can’t take my word for it, just see what the PDC has done with it.
Opportunity For Players And Producers:
Back in the day it was a struggle to find darts “televised” in the United States. Now, even when our favorite pros aren’t being brought directly to a device, there are many enterprising people out there who, with a little effort, a few how-to videos, and a small investment, are carving out their own path in our community. Companies like USA Darts Production have been enabling players of all skill levels to meet virtually, compete and strut their stuff. Many of us have spoken about the exposure our sport so badly needs. Without such live streams we wouldn’t have seen the first Championship Darts Circuit 9-darter.
We all owe gratitude to L. David Irete, the pioneer of all American dart productions and the CDC Chief Marketing and Production Officer. He paved the way for those learning streaming production on the fly. They are giving all of us exposure and opportunity.
Like any player who has goals, those who focus on producing and production quality do too. You can’t be afraid to make a mistake. You can’t be afraid to fail. This is a time of great opportunity for all in our community. Take the first step.
“The journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step.”– Lao Tzu
Observations and Insights:
Some have embraced online play, and some want to partake in this newer way to interface and compete. Lets dissect it and approach it with a better level of understanding.
Acknowledge the reality but Find The Positives:
The truth of the matter is we want it to be the same, but it is not. That doesn’t mean we should discount it. On the contrary, we need to take it for the tool it is. It is the available tool to stay mindfully practiced.
That being said, we are in our own space. There is no venue energy. There is no jukebox. There is no bartender to beckon in the middle of a leg while waiting behind the oche. We are now alone, in our homes, garages, basements or the like. Our evenings of escape, of refuge, of revelry are truly what have been put on the shelf, not the game itself. We are all doing our best to stay engaged with the game we love. Some players are finding they are stronger players without the peripheral distractions of a bar environment, while others are struggling to keep interest and focus. Either way, there are no fist bumps from teammates, and no one is buying you a shot at the end of the match. When the match is done, and the call ends we are by ourselves. The silver lining is we don’t have to get home. There is no, “one more drink” that last three hours while unnecessarily analyzing every dart thrown. For this we can be thankful.
There is so much to consider here. Under normal competitive circumstances metering your steps to stride effortlessly to the oche and lean in is key. It is an often overlooked step in keeping in rhythm after your opponent retrieves their darts. Now our opponent is elsewhere. It is worth standing behind the line (as you would) and approaching it as you would in person. It is too easy to retreat right back to your line and wait. Avoid the urge for expediency. Take your time. You should approach it as if you were right there with your opponent, scoring your own turn. You would likely be giving them room to clear the oche before you approached it yourself.
Not everyone has their scoring tablet on the wall next to their board so the pacing of your turn against each opponent with be different. Ideally my recommendation when playing someone online is to have your setup situated so that you can: CALL, MARK, (WIGGLE) and PULL.That is, call out your score audibly, mark your score on your device, wiggle and pull your darts one by one, to give your opponent the extra seconds of consideration if they want to see what you have scored.
There are things we can control and things we can not. We all need to put our best foot forward to be considerate when playing. Things that we can control are music and televisions in the background. These phone mics seem to pick up everything. To be considerate, for opponents less familiar with me, I let them know that I throw long points. My darts sit farther off of the board and I want them knowing that, if it doesn’t look normal/right/in.Things we can’t control.There are tech hiccups, connectivity issues, ambient background noises, kids, spouses, pets etc. If we have carved out time for ourselves to play, we hope that it is uninterrupted, but that is not always realistic when we are home. Everyone’s setup at home is different, with different levels of privacy and distraction.
We need to be considerate and compassionate with ourselves and our opponents. Life happens, and it happens to everyone at the most random of times. Under normal circumstances I would be at the bar playing when my daughter was getting put to bed. With remote darts she would come into the garage to say goodnight while I was playing. I would always tell my opponent (on my turn) that I needed a moment. I would take two minutes to hug my daughter, and have a moment of daily gratitude with my family, before my wife took her to bed. These are moments in life you don’t get back. Your opponent can wait, and with the same amount of respect and consideration, you can too. (Ironically they are moments that we have taken back in not being at the bar during a child’s bedtime.)
Creating A Reason:
Never before have I found it so challenging to find a reason to focus. I imagine many of us are struggling with this now. There should always be a goal to achieve (you NEED goals to improve). It is imperative that when you practice, you practice for a reason. Without a reason you MUST create one or practice gets mundane and unfocused quickly. Playing in a remote darts tournament or league is that reason. Once my remote setup was in place, I committed to participate in a league before I was practiced and prepared to compete. It jump-started my desire to practice.
Pay it Forward:
Online play is a perfect platform to play legs with players in different divisions, in different leagues in different states. A parameter to help guide you is to try to engage players in the same time zone or shiftwork hours for the sake of syncing up schedules. Reach out to the people you like, even if they are not on the level you are on. After all you are inviting your opponents into some part of your home with a video call. The experience is more pleasurable if you are simpatico with those you are playing. If you can shoot the breeze and have a laugh after the match, but before your phone dies, it makes the experience all the more worthwhile.
A Word of Caution:
I generally don’t recommend playing people for money. In fact I often try to talk people out of it even when they talk out of turn. When it comes to online play I highly recommend against it. There are too many unknowns, too many shadows, too much skepticism and too many averages that don’t pass the smell test. Money can often take the fun and integrity out of the game, especially online. If you have a few friends that you enjoy engaging this way, so be it, but think twice before you enter a tournament with a bunch of people you do not know. The people I have chosen to play with would often ask before a match, “Can you see my board well enough?” The answer was generally, “Yes, but I won’t be looking.” It is a much healthier experience to play with people whose word you can trust. Needing to peek in on your camera/phone to verify an opponent’s play is cumbersome, can take you out of rhythm, and makes the whole experience unproductive. An interesting question to ask all opponents individually in a league is: “If someone in this group were to cheat, who do you think it would it be?” You will be surprised at how many players have the same answer. Cheaters exist in all walks of life and the dart community is sadly not immune. It is important to have integrity. Those who cheat, eventually get exposed and then they will find themselves on the outside of their communities looking in.
Now is not the time to put the darts on the shelf. On Christmas in the past I have posted on Facebook, “The best in the world are practicing today. Are you?” We should look at this quarantine in the same way. Rest assured the best in the world, your country, your region, and your league are practicing now. Do you know why? It’s because when we are back playing in person they still want to be the best in their domain. It is too easy to sit back now thinking everyone is doing the same. Don’t be ill-prepared.
“It is better to be a warrior in a garden,
than a gardener in a war.”
For so many reasons virtual darts is worth engaging in and likely has a larger, lasting role for us moving forward. I can only imagine that as the technology gets better, it will take on more space in our world and attract more attention. If, like me, you had been apprehensive of the technology, or didn’t think it would scratch your dart itch, recognize it as the tool it is: A user-friendly, tech driven way to stay connected and practiced for the time when we can all comfortably play in person again.
“If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever.” Thomas Aquinas So, you think you