A baseball season is long enough that any successful team will invariably slump, break out of it, and with hindsight be able to point to the year's largely symbolic turning point. For the Royals' narrative, that turning point was the clubhouse valiantly overcoming its crippling addiction to mobile gaming.
This Kansas City Star piece portrays the Royals' obsession with MMO strategy game Clash of Clans as, if not the cause, at least a symptom of the team's mid-summer struggles.
One day early in the season, reserve Jarrod Dyson introduced Lorenzo Cain to "Clash of Clans." Cain indulges in video games throughout the offseason. When he was drafted in the 17th round of the 2004 draft, he barely paused his game of "Madden NFL" to take a call from the Brewers. In "Clash of Clans," he found a new channel for his interest.
The game resembles the classic PC version of "Warcraft," as gamers build a community and wage animated war. During the summer, the iPad activity became part of the daily routine for Royals such as Cain, Dyson and Danny Valencia. Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer also took part on occasion. The game's verbiage entered the clubhouse lexicon, as players debated the relative merits of their clans and beseeched each other for orders of goblins and witches.
It was around that time that the Royals swooned, losing 10 of 13 on either side of the All-Star break and falling below .500. Now, first-base coach Rusty Kuntz isn't saying that the Royals were losing because they were spending all their time training their troops, but he's totally implying it. Or, as the Star dramatically puts it, "As the season burned, Clash of Clans acted as the fiddle."
After one particularly bad loss:
When Kuntz walked inside the room, he saw a scene that had become all too familiar in recent weeks: a collection of Royals with their heads down, eyes locked on their iPads. The game was called "Clash of Clans," and for a period of time this summer, its excessive usage by members of this club exasperated the coaching staff.
"At that time, in that situation, it's really disappointing," said Kuntz, the team's first-base coach. He added, "You just got to a point where you go, 'What's the priority here? Is this just three hours out of your time, spent away from what you're actually being interested in?"
That same day, manager Ned Yost held a closed-door meeting, and the next afternoon, Kuntz pleaded with his outfielders cut out the video games. Bench coach Dale Sveum suggested watching tape instead.
And maybe it was a totally coincidence, but once they started doing that instead of planning raids, Kansas City started winning. (It's almost assuredly a coincidence. But shut up.)
In the days after the meeting, the Royals won 16 of their next 19 games. The iPad usage became less conspicuous. Dyson insisted he planned on deleting the game all together.
"It's ending," he said. "I'm ending it. I'm winding it down. I'm toning it down. I'm trying to tone it down. It's going to be hard, but I'm trying to tone it down."
Making the World Series really is just that easy.