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  • Writer's pictureCody Ojeda

Gridal: How the A-Leagues fan favourite came to be

It’s the online game taking A-Leagues fans on social media by storm. Gridal has helped to plug a hole in the off-season blues, providing fans with a fun and simple game that tests their knowledge. The game, powered by Ultimate A-League, involves selecting current or former A-League players in one of nine squares matching criteria for a cell’s row and column, which is either a club or a statistic relating to them.

It sounds simple enough. But shortly after the game's release on X (formerly known as Twitter), A-Leagues social media circles were flooded with fan's attempts to complete the challenges set out each day, being either proud of achieving it, given it doesn’t allow a second chance should you get one wrong, or frustrated at sometimes missing obvious answers.

Gridal took social media by storm, with 30,000 games played in the first week of its release. (X/Twitter: @ultimatealeague)

Whether it has allowed you to flex your A-League knowledge to mates or exposed a lack of knowledge, those who have played Gridal have likely found some form of enjoyment from it.

Justin Tickner, Ultimate A-League founder and the man behind creating the game, spoke to Front Page Football recently to discuss Gridal, how it came to life, and how he manages it and the Ultimate A-League website.

The inspiration for the game came from a baseball version run by Immaculate Grid.

“I was playing a baseball version of the game, and I found I was pretty good, but my knowledge of baseball is limited, and it just sort of hit me at one point, [when] one day I was playing it, and I thought, 'Man, I wish there was an A-League version of this,” Tickner told FPF.

“And then I thought, I have the data with Ultimate A-League; I’m a programmer; I could just build it myself. It just happened to be that I had a cold the next weekend and was home, so I thought I would build it.”

Soon enough, the new game was ready to be shared to the public. However, the plan initially was to release it straight after the Women's World Cup before circumstances forced Tickner to bring this date forward.

“My plan was to release it after the Women's World Cup; the focus was on that and rightfully so. But one day on my Twitter feed, someone posted ‘Gridley’, the AFL version of the game, based on the same baseball game Gridal is,” Tickner said.

“If I wait, it’s either going to slip under the radar, and no one will care, or it’s going to be looked at as a copy of the AFL game. So I released it to friends and family that night to give me some feedback, and a few days later, it went live.”

Fans and other figures in Australian football headed to the website to complete the challenge set out each day.

Gridal's popularity spread and the game became a viral hit. Fans were sharing their results on Twitter, journalists were showing off their knowledge of the sport, and even content creators were jumping on the hype, making videos of themselves playing the game.

Content creators were posting their Gridal attempts shortly after its release. (Instagram: @coastwatchfootball)

It quickly became a hit within the A-Leagues and Australian football community, even taking Tickner by surprise.

“The feedback has been universally positive. I think I was the one that had the most doubts when I released it; I even tweeted at the time that I had a lot of fun building this, and if no one likes it, so be it. If they like it, they like it. If they don’t, they don’t,” he said.

“I don’t think in my wildest dreams I ever foresaw [that] the reception would be so positive.”

Tickner announcing the game on X/Twitter. (X/Twitter: @justintickner)

While the game is based on the baseball version, an added aspect introduced to Gridal since its release was the obscurity score, which awards a score based on the likelihood of a player being guessed for a particular square. The more obscure the player, the more points you get.

It is an extra challenge for fans whose knowledge surpasses the difficulty the game provides without turning off less knowledgeable fans, incentivising players to think about an answer rather than take the easy option.

“I try with each day's game to make it suit as many people as possible; you don’t want to make it too easy because the hardcore fans will hate it, and you don’t want to make it too hard, or the casual fans will hate it. Obscurity scores add an extra element for the hardcore fans and make them think deeper about their answers,” Tickner said.

The obscurity score made selecting Leigh Broxham for almost anything Melbourne Victory-related much less impressive. (Herald Sun)

For Tickner, the game is an extension of the work he has already done with the Ultimate A-League website. Founded in 2005 as the then-new A-League competition was about to begin, the website started as a university assignment before Tickner's lecturer, coincidentally a football fan too, suggested he continue and add to it. It officially went live in 2007.

The website has since evolved from a list of players and their positions, nationality, and numbers to one of the league's most reliable sources for statistics.

“Over the years, I always expected an official data source from the FA or APL that would supersede it. But that’s never happened, and so this site run by just me is now this credible source for statistics," Tickner said.

“Journalists use it, data journalists and researchers connect into it to run reports; we even have A-League clubs that use it for analysis and recruiting.”

Tickner hasn’t been afraid to try different things with the platform previously, which alone tells a story about how Gridal came to be.

Through Ultimate A-League, an app for the website was developed, and a podcast was launched. This initiation of new ideas all came from Tickner trying different projects to boost the website.

“I’ve always treated Ultimate A-League as if it were a big sandbox; it’s a chance for me to try things out,” Tickner said.

While other previous projects have had to shut down because of the time needed to maintain them, Gridal has been far easier to manage, with Tickner able to do a month’s worth of games at a time, taking him roughly 45 minutes to one hour.

However, how the game and the website move forward remains to be seen, Tickner hasn’t decided what either will look like in the future, though he does have a vision in mind for the website.

“The logical progression would be for it to become an official part of the A-Leagues, encompassing the A-League Men's, A-League Women's, and National Youth leagues; it would make sense to have all that as one entity and for Ultimate A-League to be a part of that,” he said.

Tickner also suggested the idea of a ‘Who am I’ style A-League game was looked into, but it is not feasible for him now.

Roughly four months since Gridal's release, thousands of fans are still playing the game and posting their results. The game recently ticked over 200,000 games played, and Tickner suggested this figure should reach over 250,000 soon.



Liam Reddy was quickly dubbed a 'Gridal legend' as he could be used as the answer to most club combinations. (MyFootball)

It's difficult to point to a particular reason why the game has become as popular as it has, and it almost seems like the result of a perfect storm. While it may not have been the original intention, releasing the game during the World Cup helped build the hype for Australian football and the yearning for its domestic competitions to return.

Gridal has allowed the league's diehard fans to engage with the competition so close to their hearts while waiting for the new season to begin, adding a competitive aspect.

Or, the popularity could be down to the game's simplicity. It is an easy game to learn, and once understood, fans can be so sucked into the task they are racking their brains for a random A-League player who made one substitute appearance for Gold Coast United in 2012.

But no matter the reason, it's safe to say the game has been a hit. Fans have taken to it like a moth to a flame. It’s too early to see whether this interest can be maintained or will slowly fade. But whatever may happen in the future, right now, you cannot take away the game's success with A-League fans.

Click here to read more of FPF's coverage of the A-Leagues!


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