Friday, 30 April 2021

被青梅竹馬抓來當教魔法的我想要教出最強學生(仮)(1):感覺進了火坑但擅長的不是水屬性可以怎辦

"Wizard in the magic sunset" 
Character design: @kuonyuu, Illust: @mihayuuno commissioned by forretrio. Pixiv
Editing and re-posting are prohibited // 無断転載・自作発言禁止


帝都,國立魔法學園。

這裡是國家直屬培養人材的地方,進來就讀的不是貴族就是經過嚴格挑選的有能者。雖然傳授的內容以魔法為主,但也有培養冒險者、士官或者商人的課程。對於貴族來說,魔法是權力階級的一部分,因此學習魔法是必要的;這個學園聚集了同齡層中最頂尖的人物,因此也是絕佳的社交舞台。

學生進入學園以後會被分配到不同的班級,每個班級都各自有特化的教學內容。當中最特別的是魔法科:擅長魔法的人多出身於貴族世家,因此大家都搶著希望進入這個班級,慢慢地魔法科成了每一屆最強學生聚集的地方。

與學生的來源正好相反,這邊的教師幾乎都憑自己的實力取得教席。他們有成名已久的學者、也有離開前線的冒險者;就算偶有一兩個貴族成為教師,他們多半也是名聲在外,只因各種原因不得已回到王都而選擇在此工作。

這個差異造就了一個有趣的傳統:新來的教師必須與他所執教的第一個班級進行對戰。班級可以派出一位領袖應戰,亦可以派出數人甚至整班一起上也是允許的。按常理說教師們要擊敗學生們應該不會太難,但單純打贏是不夠的,只有展示自己的看家本領才會讓學生們心服口服。沒法降服學生們的新人教師雖然不至於被立刻辭退,但教師學生的上下關係逆轉以後想好好教書根本是不可能的事,這些教師多半不到一兩年就會主動離去。

教師所面對的班級也是有講究的。新人教師剛進來教的大多都是低年級的班級,與學生對戰也相對較易。有些倒楣鬼一進來就要面對高年級的學生,他們被刁難的機會就大得多了。在此之上要挑戰魔法科的難度就更大了。那些學生當中不少已有相當的實戰經驗,一起上的話即使是教師也不太好對付。當然執教魔法科可以近水樓台更方便接觸到未來的大人物,這個肥差幾乎肯定輪不到新人教師的。上一次出現新人教師執教魔法科已是快十五年前的事,而那位老師只待了兩個月便連夜逃了出去,連私人物品都沒有帶走。

過去幾年,這個職位都由某位前宮庭首席魔法師擔任。也只有他可以壓得住那些擁有極強魔力的貴族學生。沒想到今年這位魔法師身體不適教下去了,校方只好找一個替代人選。但是指定一位新人教師來教這個決定,讓大部分人吃了一驚,也有人暗中開賭盤來賭這位可憐蟲到底可以撐多久。

*

此時此刻,這位新人教師正在競技場裡履行學園的傳統。作為多年來第一個挑戰魔法科的新人,前來觀戰的人填滿了大半個看台。

預期中的刀光劍影或者火球亂飛並沒有出現。只見一個巨型的龍捲風將整個賽場覆蓋起來,甚至連觀眾席上都能感受到強風。龍捲風將場上的塵土都捲起來,所以大家除了一兩道閃光以外甚麼也沒看到。

過了好一會暴風終於散去,大家看到的只有倒滿一地的學生們。仍然站立在場上的只有一男一女。少女是跟隨公主入學的貼身侍衛,她本人也是劍術大家的名門之後。只見她身上的校服被強風割出了一堆口子,雖然看起來並沒有受到甚麼傷害,實際上她光是站著就用盡全力了。

在她不遠處的是一位白髮青年,正一臉輕鬆地看著她。青年穿的不是校服而是整齊的襯衫外加一件長披風,身上半個傷口也沒有,顯然他就是這次新來的教師。不過他看起來也只比學生們年長個六七歲,光是以這個年紀進入學園成為教師已經是不得了的成就。更讓人驚嘆的是他看起來要創下成功挑戰魔法科的紀錄了。

場邊的學生都沒看過他,畢竟他已經消失在王都好一段時間了。只有在這所學園裡混了好一段時間的教師才記得,眼前青年的戰鬥風格與多年前一位同樣是白髮的學生非常相似。那時他在同一地方同樣以壓倒性的風魔法將一整個貴族集團吹飛,那一役使他得到了「青色惡魔」的外號。其實說青色不太準確,青年所使的風魔法特別之處正是不帶任何顏色,就這麼隱藏在空氣之中隨時發動致命一擊。不過在那場戰鬥以後第二天他就從學園裡消失了,多年來再沒有在王都出現過。

「為甚麼要把我留在場上?」少女擺出生氣的樣子問道。一方面她在風暴裡目睹了青年出手的瞬間,她很清楚如果青年在那個時候朝她攻擊的話她是肯定會像其他同學們那樣倒下的。另一方面,她雙腿似乎還不怎樣聽使喚,拖一下時間她才有反攻的希望。

青年完全沒有要攻上來的意思,他悠悠說道:「唔……雖然是來教魔法的但是我比較喜歡近戰呢。雖然有點抱歉但是我沒信心單靠近戰打你們全班,所以我只好先解決一部分學生囉。」

這算是甚麼借口啊!還說一部分,明明都只剩我一個了!少女揉了一下自的大腿,麻痺的感覺正在消退:「那為甚麼是我留下來?」

「因為你劍術很強吧?沒記住學生們的資料可是教師失格的呢。家中劍術流派第四代傳人、十三歲時隨行魔物討伐隊擔任前衛、一年前成為公主殿下的貼身侍衛。我沒說錯吧?伊.雅.娜.同.學?」青年一字一字將少女的名字唸出來,似乎從少女閃過驚訝的眼神中獲得了一絲愉悅。

「……」少女也沒有回應他。既然自己被盯上了肯定要跟他打一場,那還是等自己多恢復一點比較好。

先前倒下的學生一些已經爬了起來,他們剛才只是在地上動彈不得而已。看到少女與青年一對一的架勢也不好參與其中,他們彼此攙扶著退到場邊。不論是場上的其他同學還是場外的觀眾都屏息靜待二人的對決。

少女感覺自己的腿恢復得差不多了,便深呼吸了一下道:「這樣的話我要上了--」說罷便衝了上去,連影子都看不到便在青年面前揮出一劍。她家的流派強調唯快不破,不論是對上人還是魔物也可以將趁對手不備而攻其弱點。

青年身上沒有帶武器,只見他輕輕往旁邊閃便躲過了第一劍。他踏著輕逸的步伐一直閃躲著,少女的攻擊不是落空了就是落在最後一刻出現的魔力盾上。「唔。每一擊都簡潔有力也瞄準了要害,這樣可以在討伐隊當隨行也不奇怪呢。這樣下去在十年內就會成為家主了吧,到時你還會一直待在公主殿下身邊嗎?」

少女的心情有點複雜。他給予自己的評價十分高,但自己的攻擊完全沒有命中對方。觀眾們或許看不出來,但少女很清楚眼前的青年並不是單靠速度閃過她的劍。她感覺到自己身邊的空氣並沒有依遁正常的空氣力學而流動,也不是單純變得黏滯,而是在關鍵的地方妨礙著她施力。手臂每一次揮動都會出現一點點的偏差,對追求精度的她來說是個大麻煩。她知道自己這樣下去早晚會力盡而敗,不如現在賭一把。空氣流動被干擾了嗎?只要減少旋轉而沿著肢體的軸向攻擊就好。

「吃我這招!--」少女改揮為刺,手臂直直地向前刺去。之前一直沒用魔法的她此刻將雷電魔法附在劍上,雷電到最後一刻都可以改變攻擊的目標,如果說她有辦法對青年造成傷害的話應該就是這招了吧。附魔的一劍比之前的攻勢都更快更狠。

青年露出讚賞的眼神:「這劍不錯,可惜還是差了一點--」

沒人看得清發生了甚麼事。

少女雷霆萬鈞的一劍落在了青年的右側。就像格檔了她那一劍一樣,青年的戴著手套的右手貼著少女持劍的右手指著她的咽喉。在外人看來青年的劍指直取少女要害是不失武德而勝,但實際上少女感到自己脖子正被甚麼鋒利的東西抵著,要讓她血濺當場只在青年的一念之間。

她苦笑了一下,隨即丟下佩劍高舉雙手投降:「我輸了……」

青年把右手收回來道:「這一剌的氣勢是很不錯,但是蓄魔力的動作有點太顯眼了。減少魔力輸出取個平衡會比較好喔。」

他環視一周後放大聲音向全場喊話,平靜而不容反駁:「這裡應該很多人都不認識我,所以請容我再次自我介紹一次。我的名字是庫里斯,算是你們的學長,直到上星期都在外面當冒險者。

我將會擔任魔法科的導師一職。只要你們想學的話不論是格鬥、魔法還是冒險技巧也好,我身上所有的都可以傳授你們。

前提是--你們跟得上的話。」

學生們此時隱約有一種預感,眼前這位老師比以前他們所遇過的都要鬼畜。

*

學園教師宿舍。

為了安置來自來自五湖四海的教師們,學園設置了教師專用的宿舍。教師宿舍位置甚至比學生宿舍更接近校園,設計上更豪華也配置了學生宿舍沒有的管家與女僕,這些一切都是為了讓教師們更方便在校園裡做事。

庫里斯在競技場大展拳腳後便回到了宿舍,在路上不論是學生還是其他人都對他投以奇異的目光。他雖然感覺到了但也沒有想太多,與自己相關的流言在開學以後就會消停了吧,他這樣想著。

他在自己房間前正想開門,卻感覺到有人已經在裡面了。這個時間不可能是來清潔的女僕,那就只能是她了吧?

輕輕地推門進去,只見一名女性坐在落地窗邊正在品著茶。夕陽打在她的金色長髮上更顯出她高貴的氣場。

「我說啊……大小姐你不要擅自闖進來喝我的茶好嗎?這些茶都是我找遍全國收回來的珍品,有錢都買不到耶。」

金髮女性也沒有轉過來望他,只是輕啜了一口茶道:「……這個品牌的茶以香氣見長,不過只要存放超過九個月就會變得與一般紅茶無異。我看現在你這罐已經放半年了吧?」

庫里斯看了一眼桌面上的茶罐,的確是他半年前順手買下的。那是經煙熏的鳥龍茶,喝下去會有像花香般的回甘。他感嘆了一下,自己算是十分好茶,但是眼光還是遠不如眼前這位受過嚴格貴族教育的大小姐毒辣。女性彷彿知道他心中所想,輕輕說道:「沒甚麼大不了的,這個品牌雖然不在王都,但王都一直都有商人在進貨。以我所知有賣這個品牌的茶的店舖就有三家,我家裡也進了一些。」

他把椅子搬到女性所坐沙發的對面道:「嗯……所以呢?你過來就只是為了消耗我所剩無幾的茶葉嗎?」

「我只是來看一下你有沒有辦法搞定那幫學生而已,看過試煉之後我就安心了。」

「難道你覺得我打不過他們嗎?還在讀書時我就能單挑一整班了,現在要贏根本毫無難度吧。」

「立場不同,要採取的打法也不同。你這次做得很好,在他們心中留下了強大的形象又不至於讓他們害怕或厭惡你。要是你下狠手打傷他們的話麻煩才大呢。」

「雖然我是冒險者,但出手輕重我還是懂的。我過來是真的希望可以好好教書,不但因為是妳讓我過來,也是為了給別人還一個人情。」

「你的意思是說,我的邀請份量不夠嗎?」女性把茶杯放下,俏冷的臉龐露出了戲虐的笑容。

他連忙擺手否認:「不敢不敢……您一句話我就得人頭落地了吧。大小姐您還有別的事儘管吩附,我押上我冒險者的名聲也必定為你赴湯蹈火的。」

「呵呵,你這幾年也混得不錯嘛。幾個在邊疆活躍的大公會都搶著指名要你,不知道如果我把你的使用權賣給他們的話可以值多少錢呢。」

「……還請您高抬貴手,我一定會安份地在這裡教書的。」

「嗯,你明白就好。雖然你有點鬼畜,但我相信你不會隨便坑學生的。我只是來提醒你一下,這一屆學生的實力和身份非比尋常,除了我以外還有很多人在背後關注你。萬一出了甚麼事的話,我可沒有百分百的信心可以把你保住。」

「那我現在辭職還來得及嗎?」原來是屎缺啊。

「你可以像以前的教師那樣落跑啊,不過我保証以後不會有半個公會雇用你而已,最差的狀況是冒險者的身份被註銷吧?」她平淡地描述著可怕的後果。當初把庫里斯弄出王都當冒險者的人是她,他毫不懷疑只要她一聲令下,自己所累積的一切瞬間就會灰飛煙滅。

「呃……」

「不想死的話,我建議你盡快跟學生們混熟。這樣你才有辦法駕馭那堆小怪物。」

「謝謝你的好意,我會用自己的辦法把跟他們打好關係的。先從公主殿下的侍衛入手也是我事先計劃好的。」

「好吧,你加油。那麼我也差不多該回去了,晚上我還要回去宰相府接見其他客人。」

「啊……」似乎自己與她的距離變得更遙遠了:「現在做到甚麼位置了?」

「算是副手吧。每天都從早忙到晚,至少當冒險者可以給自己放假呢。」

「我們的進行任務的時候的生活也不是大小姐能忍受的,算是彼此彼此吧。」

金髮女性沒有把話題接下去,而是站起來告別:「順帶一提,這裡不少茶都放好一段時間了,我建議你盡快把庫存清掉。實在喝不完的話可以邀請同學過來進行茶會,你的品味要得到他們的認可不是太大的問題。大部分你的收藏我認識的商會都有,你有需要的話寫信過來我可以幫你訂購。不過事先聲明,透過我買茶是沒有折扣的。」

「嗯,我到時會聯絡你的。還有--」他頓了一下問道:「改天我可以約你出來吃頓飯嗎?」

她報以淡淡的微笑:「可以。不過先等你安頓下來,把學生們搞定再說吧。另外你最好先複習一下王都有甚麼好吃的,畢竟你已經好久沒在王都尋找美食了呢。」說罷她便轉身離去,在外面已經等候多時的傭人適時為她打開了門。

啊……奇怪?庫里斯明明記得自己回宿舍的時候沒看到有人守在外面的。

「嘛,算了」他伸了個懶腰,心念一轉一股風便把門關上。與她的重逢來得比自己預料中來得早,不過至少她接受了自己的邀請,那麼以後再相處的時間肯定不會少吧。把目光投向辦公桌上那疊厚厚的資料,他自言自語說道:「現在該想想怎樣料理我可愛的學生們了--」

=============

諸君,我熱愛教學。

我喜歡讓別人感受到解題的樂趣,我喜歡看著自己的學生在考試取得好成績並走出自己的道路。

那感覺就像……勇者育成一樣。

只是這世界上不只有勇者,也有那些萬年F級天天泡在酒館裡做一天混三天的冒險者。教學也是一樣,世界上有會自動讀書的勤奮學生,天天上課混日子的不良學生也不是沒有。

所謂不良學生不一定代表他們學習能能力不好。他們有些只是沒找到適合他們的學習方法,有些是成長環境問題,有些則是沒有得到合適的資源。以這類背景為題材的作品其實不少,比如暗殺教室、高分少女DASH和一年A班的怪物都在此列。

當中暗殺教室對我的影響很深,先不說這部作品劇情完整、音樂好聽、人際互動豐滿之類的好處,殺老師應該是作為老師的完美模範了吧?我對那種聖母裝到底的老師並沒有太大興趣,與其要用裝的不如將自己真實的一面融入到教學中。當然現實要在實體學校這樣做畢竟會有社會壓力,這點從補習名師的風格中就能看出來。

所以老師一定要「拯救」學生才能成就有趣的作品嗎?那也未必。只要合適的老師遇上合適的學生就能擦出火花:像東大特訓班那幾個學生就遠不能稱得上笨,帶他們考進東大同樣是一段勵志的故事(至於後來我也把學生送進了東大又是另一段故事了)。

至於我呢?要感受到解題的樂趣並不限於甚麼高深題目,就算是讓小孩發現可以從1+1=2變成10+10=20也是十分有趣的事情。不過我也喜歡用更高角度去理解整個理論的脈絡。這個方法在大學比較常用,中學的話對學生的要求難免會比較高。

我經常掛在嘴邊的一句:中學程度的考試,你只要把30年試卷做好做透要拿A根本不是難事(除了某幾個特別難的考試,比如香港高考……)。但是對於讀書能力出色的學生,真的會甘於背課本和背試題嗎?其實別的學生可以找不到讀書方法和找不到良師,難道好學生就不會發生這個問題嗎?如果給他們配上好的導師加上任性的資源不就能帶他們一起飛了嗎?

--以上,就是我想寫的故事。

當初這是我一時興起做人設時產生的角色,上面也沒打算續寫下去,怎料開了個頭就停不下來了。我對魔幻世界的想象有一大部分源自於科學角度的理解,簡單說就是熱力學定律消失不見,但牛頓不會從棺材裡爬出來的世界。在這種前提下社會會怎樣發展,又或者冷兵器和魔法之間又會怎樣取捨之類的問題,我說不定能在寫作中找到答案。

這部真的不保証會填坑就是,沒填就當是短篇。

喔對了,最後我還是要安利一下我的茶。文中提到的茶是Mariage Freres的Roi Soleil--實際上不是鳥龍而是中國茶種,但那種香氣與中式濃茶的回甘有相輔相成的效果,絕對值得一試。不過話說回來,如果異世界沒中國,那我要怎樣形容中國茶呢?異世界也沒大吉嶺,那大吉嶺茶也不能叫了吧?我又不想一直捏造地名,總不能叫C國茶或者甚麼比比魯茶吧?

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

TWEWY the Animation: Shiki week impression

Probably the most iconic shot of the week.

Anime this season are exceptionally good in general. There are so much that I want to talk about, but if I have to talk about one particular of them then it must be The World Ends With You the Animation.

The animation is a successful reiteration of the 2008 game with some modern twists, but it also keeps  features from the original game like the character's postures and of course the music. I do not intend to analyze in detail the difference between the game and the anime. Instead, this is a collection of my live reaction based on my game experience.

Probably not spoiler alert because I mainly refer to the game content of the same progress, but I will refer a lot to game data like pin code, pin evolution, droppings and so on -- check the wiki pages if you are not sure.

Let us start from Episode 1-3 aka the Shiki week.

Pins

That's something that I concern the most since I remember the pins too well and that's the unique system in the game. I wished that the game uses pins in the order of gameplay -- some pins are much more accessible in the early game, so they should be introduced earlier. 

Neku started with the 6 basic pins, but it was the Pyrokinesis pin that was used mainly. That's a natural choice but it appeared for too many times. They used Thunderbolt as well, but I feel like it'll be more impressive to use the other 4 as well. Shockwave might clash visually with Shiki's psych, but Force Rounds and Psychokinesis would be cool to display. Cure Drink as an immediate potion also expand the versatility of the pins (to whom never played the game).

In early days, players are almost guaranteed to come across to D+B pins and probably D+B pins only. It's unfortunate that they decided to display the pins in a random order. Changing Murasame into a jumping psych is ok, but one only obtains the pin from 33N (Hard Corehog) on Shiki day 5 -- so you can't have that on day 1!

Similar problem occurred on episode 2: Fiery Spirit, Spirited Fire is a pretty powerful pin and it's only obtainable from 13NU (Alterna Wolf) that is not around before week 2. 

Then on episode 3 Neku activated Ice Risers but it was visually showed as Blizzard Cool. Both of them are available by the end of week 1 so they should really display Blizzard Cool instead. 

D+B pins is really one of the best brand of pins to use against the first GM fight because they are mostly psychs that works regardless of distance. 001/002 (Ice Blow/Risers) surely works with a simply flick, but 003/004 (Frozen/Blizzard Cool) is even better: when the icicles are halfway out the enemy is dealt with constant damage. Even better the boss can't move so it's free damage and combo all the way. The Sexy- pins (006-8) are also effective against the boss. These are all the pins that I used when I first played the game.

Oh they also used Sweet Talk Tether, another wonderful pin against static opponents. Although obtaining the pin is less obvious in game: it's either from 35E that does not appear during week 1 in the original game, only on W1D7 in the final remix (so the pin choice for the anime was decided when they made final remix? Though that's kind of hard to believe), or to evolve from Love Me Tether which is a pig drop on day 6.

Impressions

- Calling as an OP substitute is a natural choice. All fans would love that. Aaaaand we just get another remix of Twister.

- A-East was renamed probably because it was purchased by Tsutaya after the original game.

- The 1-3 bat boss was defeated by a 4-man collab, which is of course different from the original game. But relating to what we saw from the Neo trailer, I guess this will be the norm in Neo?

- They simplified the imprint system. I wish I could do the same instead of hissing around for the meme keywords.

- New fish noises?

- They mentioned that the noises will grow stronger over time. This wasn't in the original game. Instead it's closer to the mechanics in the 3 new days. Maybe something similar in Neo?

And that's all. Stay tuned for my impression on week 2 contents!

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Two problems on cubic functions

Problem 1. Find the number of integer solutions to the equation 
$m^3+n^3+30mn = 10^3$ with $mn \geq 0$.

I was given the above question today which is a pity because I've been drafting questions for some other contests. Questions like the above is definitely something I would consider.

At first glance recall the identity $(m+n)^3 = m^3 + n^3 + 3mn(m+n)$, so if $m+n = 10$ then the equation becomes $(m+n)^3 = 10^3$, and that gives 11 solutions $(10,0),...,(1,9), (0,10)$. This is however not all the solutions -- and that's why the question is not an easy one.

Now consider a more general factorization where $m+n = k$. Then the equation becomes
$k^3 + (30-3k)mn = 10^3$
$10^3 - k^3 = (10-k)(10^2+10k+k^2) = 3(10-k)mn$.

If $k\neq 10$ then we expand $k$ to obtain
$10^2 + 10(m+n) + (m+n)^2 = 3mn$
$m^2-mn+n^2-10m-10n+10^2 = 0$
$(m+10)^2+(n+10)^2-(m+10)(n+10) = 0$.

Since $LHS \geq 0$ we have the only extra solution $m = n = -10$, and there are 12 solutions in total.

*

When we see cubic equations in contests we know it's going to be nasty. Here is another one, from an university entrance exam in the late seventies or early eighties.

Problem 2. Sketch the graph of $x^3+y^3-3xy = 0$.

I recommend you to plot the graph using Wolframalpha because otherwise who in the world could sketch this by mathematically analyzing the function $x^3+y^3-3xy$?



Notice that the curve has an asymptote $y=-1-x$ (notice that $x^3+y^3-3xy = -1$ when $x+y=-1$, like what we did in problem 1, but mathematically showing the asymptote falls to the category of algebraic geometry, where you calculate the tangent at infinity. See this post for example). So we start with a change in coordinates $(x,y) = ((X+Y)/2, (X-Y)/2)$ (by the way why a multiple of 2 not $\sqrt{2}$ which gives an orthogonal transformation? Well 2 is easier to calculate with but more importantly, it cancels the coefficient of $X^3$) which rotates the asymptote into a vertical line. The new transformed equation is then $X^3-3X^2+3XY^2+3Y^2 = X^2(X-3)+3Y^2(1+X)=0$, so the graph becomes the plot of 
$Y = \pm \sqrt{ \frac{-X^2(X-3)}{3(1+X)}}$ ,     (1)
which has domain (-1,3] and a vertical asymptote at $X = -1$ as expected. The roots of the function are of course $X = 0,3$, and the extrema (of the positive bit) is $\sqrt{2\sqrt{3}-3}$ at $X = \sqrt{3}$ (high school calculus by looking at the function $\frac{-X^2(X-3)}{3(1+X)}$). Finally, since the curve is smooth everywhere, you know that the cross at the origin are actually two smooth and symmetric curves and that should be enough to sketch the graph. (Even better, using implicit differentiation and (1) you know that 
$(\frac{dY}{dX})^2 = \frac{X^2(2-X)^2}{4Y^2(1+X)^2} = \frac{3(2-X)^2(1+X)}{4(1+X)^2(3-X)} = 1$ at the origin. Therefore the two tangents at the origin are of slope $\pm 1$.)


This curve is pretty famous in fact -- its name is the Folium of Descartes. This is just another example that people always get their ideas for exam questions from the old stuffs regardless of the time.

This is the beauty of the old entrance exams: you get questions too analytic and too open-ended for high school or college Olympiad but too hard under modern high school or college curriculum. These are questions that we do not meet everyday, but I guarantee that a large portion of them are fun to play with.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Thoughts on ESL (3): the future and other observations

That was 2016, the first year of the Yokohama era. Torres was long gone. I had many other possible choices especially Ivanovic and Hazard, but I chose Torres without any hesitation. The reason is simple: Champions League is the highest platform and the CL semi-final is the best tie in the world. Torres scored the critical goal in the best tie in the world, in 2012. 

*

The ESL did not appear just because of American capitals. UEFA and their cups have to take a big part of the blame. In fact, this is not the first time that the big clubs came together and tried to form a group out of the FIFA/UEFA framework and that was the G14 scandal 20 years ago. Only this time they came together in the form of a new football league overriding CL, hence a much sharper conflict.

UEFA has been known to be fully corrupted. Platini's attempt to "promote beautiful football" by suppressing Barca's opponents is by far the most iconic scandal. Their Nations League and the expanded CL were made to raise more money without bear the responsibility of taking care of those really exhausted players. They are unfair on the matter of financial fair play (FFP) and they never make clear about their financial situation. Perez made a good quote out of that: "I know the salary of LeBron James, but I have no idea about the salary of the UEFA president."

For owners of the big clubs though, whether players were forced to play 70 games per season or were treated unfairly on the pitch is of secondary concern. Their ultimate goal is to squeeze more money out of the club, and this is a common goal among the 12 clubs joining ESL -- and this is their only common goal.

The big clubs of course do have different considerations. United, Arsenals, Liverpool and Milan who are owned by American capitals together with Perez's Real Madrid, is trying to introduce the American model into football (just listen to FP's talk about shortening match duration and so on). Clubs like Barca, Juventus, Chelsea (and City) takes it as a leverage against UEFA. Clubs like Atletico, Spurs and Arsenal are not the best among the big names, so they feared to miss out the chance to earn big in ESL. With different motivation behind, it's hard to expect them to unite strongly against the expected pressure around the globe.

When we say that everyone involved in football (except the owners) opposed the idea of ESL, we also have to admit that sometimes the opposition of football fans (plus pundits and coaches and players...) does not mean much to the higher ups. Arsenal, United and Newcastle  fans have been shouting Kroenke, Glazer and Ashley out for years and oh they are still leeching the club. They are not leaving because fans wanted them to leave (probably not this time though). 

Just look at big6's reaction against FA, EPL, ECA and UEFA's condemnation. It was expected that ESL will not be liked by most people. What they did not expect is that the fan's violent reaction triggered strong responses from the governments: Tories and Labours united in UK and Macaron standing for PSG's decision. City's legal team might be better than UEFA's, but they are nothing against government's policy. Once Boris Johnson mentioned working visa everything is over -- that is out of legal action's reach. Considering how hard is getting a working visa for a footballer in UK after Brexit, there are so many ways to stop foreign players to play for ESL in UK. For those who shorted United shares when BJ stood out and talked about ESL congratulations you know football (and stocks market) really well (that should have been 10% profits in two days!).

And the future. What is good for the industry and the teams? Clearly the CL expansion is a big no and that should be retreated. This is however technically hard as it just went through as a response to ESL. I think there are alternatives even if we have to adopt 36 teams in CL -- for example just put them into 9 groups of 4, and 4 worst runner-ups will have to compete for the two final seats in the last 16. They really need to control number of matches played by the teams strictly.

UEFA already promised to increase the CL bonus. Some even says they paid the English clubs secretly to lure them to withdraw from the ESL. This is great to the teams, but it also implies that UEFA actually hid their profit from the participating clubs. They need to be more transparent financially.

And 50+1? I know many agreed with the idea and praised the German League especially Bayern, but honestly I don't agree. Competitively it is not so great inside the league and all other teams are like served Bayern to be the giant representative. They are not even close to their successes in Europe like back in 2012-15. Teams other than Bayern failed to do well in both the domestic league and the European cups. Even with EPL's commercial success I heavily doubt if the League is good enough to breed 6 big teams under the 50+1 system. Implementation of the system is technically hard too. 50+1 means fans need to buy the shares from the current owners -- and that would be billions of dollars under current market value. The league must go on without interruption -- you can't really stop City or other teams from playing the just because she's not turning into 50+1 quick enough. There are also comments on Reddit suggesting the use of shares of different classes (with different voting rights) but bare in mind that it still costs unrealistic amount of money and, shares of different classes is still not a thing in Europe (soon in London, but whether or not that applies to unlisted company is another thing).

*

Finally below are some random observations. It is always interesting to read the event from other perspectives.

- UK government's reaction is certainly a consequence of reaction from fans plus the rest of football industry, but it is also the tradition of Britain protecting their soft power seriously. Football is one of the most important icon of England, and it would be a shame if that turns into the American style. It is an easy decision for the government to take.

- Some suggested that the EPL teams withdrew too early. They could have waited for negotiation with UEFA before and look for concession -- because this is what some teams wanted in the first hand -- if possible. I actually agree but the immediate reaction all over the world made that impossible. Look at the protests at Stamford Bridge: if the big6 didn't retreat that night, without any doubt we will see violent protests in front of (inside) the Spurs' stadium on Wednesday.

- Conspiracy theory: what we saw is American capitals entering football market trying to turn that into the American way for more profit. But what about American capitals trying to ruin football so that they can promote their American sports?

- When you look into online forums, the reaction from English based communities and Chinese based communities are completely different. Watching people grudging against UEFA so much that they wanted ESL anyhow even to the point of associating UEFA with supremacy theories is...just funny.

- FP did make a correct point of teenagers having more diversified entertainment and less are watching football. That is correct but can be salvaged by different means. Football in the past 30 or 50 years was promoted in the traditional way: local communities and traditional media like radio and TV. These are pretty much past tense and clubs/FAs/UEFAs need other ways to promote football in 2021. On reddit people gave a great example: chess. Being such an ancient and complicated game, chess received much better attention in recent years via streaming and also Netflix's movie. On the traditional sports side F1 is also doing great by promoting their sport online. I wonder why can't they do the same for football -- or that they are not willing to invest for greater good?

- There are comparisons between the ESL scandal (which survived for 2 days flat) and the hundred days revolution in China (~1910). Of course they are not totally the same (for example the difference in stakeholders that opposes the changes), but this is quite insightful actually. One lesson for FP: stop talking so idealistically and anger more people. 

And...that's about it. I never thought I would rant that much (5000 words) but that's possibly because I never write about football other than the matches themselves. Thanks for reading and I hope to write about football again when Chelsea lifts the CL this year, if that ever happens...

Thoughts on ESL (2): consequences and why we shouldn't

Perhaps it's not a bad idea to adopt a new business model of football after all, so the question is, why is ESL bad for football? My answer has been partially covered in the first part, that it breaks down the pyramid model and shrinks the industry scale massively, but let us go into the details.

First of all we need to make clear of what games they will be playing with ESL. Currently top division leagues are playing 38 games a season. In England the two cups would be another 2 to 12 games, and European cups would be 6 to 15 more games (most will get 8 in extra). That means top teams are currently playing up to 65 games a year. That is a tremendous amount and people are complaining about injury problems with frequent and intensive games. What if we take ESL into consideration?

According to the news, the 20 teams are divided into two group with round-robin inside the group then some extra play-offs. That would be 20 games in minimum which is damn lot! If they are playing domestic leagues and cups as well then they must play at least 70 games, about 10 more than average. Considering how condensed the fixtures are in the second half of a season, fitting 70 games means they are already playing 2 games per week since early season. That is absolutely impractical and excessive injuries will consume the top players fast.

While the rest of the teams are certainly opposing EPL all together with the attitude of the FA, the fans, the coaches and the government, it is unlikely that the big teams will still play in their original leagues. Assuming that the big teams will now play the ESL and perhaps some domestic cups, what do we expect from here?

It is clear that the top domestic leagues take the greatest impact since the big teams are the icon of the leagues. The commercial value could drop vastly without them. On the other hand the leagues may have to promote extra teams from the lower divisions and that may temporally lower the match quality.

A slight unexpected drop in TV revenue could cause great trouble to some teams in the top flight, especially in La Liga (Spain) and Serie A (Italy). They are struggling financially in general even before 2019 to the point of having difficulty of paying the salary weekly on time. In 2020 they took another heavy hit and some of them had to negotiate with the players for plans to cut the salary so that the club wouldn't go bankrupt straightaway. It is foreseeable that these clubs with even less revenue received will not be as competitive as of now. They may cut cost, sell their profitable players and reduce investment on the youths. That is detrimental to the whole industry. The worst case scenario would be simultaneous financial problems from multiple teams in the league to the point that games cannot be held properly. The league will be severely dragged at the point as huge compensation may need to be made. Imagine what happens with Leeds and many other teams with financial troubles -- to dive into third divisions or lower -- happening on multiple top division teams? That's would be the middle layer of the pyramid crumbling.

And what happens to the bottom of the pyramid? With top flight clubs now restricted to 12, 15 or 20 clubs only it will be much harder to become a "top flight player" as opposed to nearly 100 teams in the top 5 domestic leagues in Europe. It will be much less profitable to play in the domestic leagues even if you play for the new top teams in those leagues. As a result the industry receives less new blood in general lowering the quality of players in the long term. 

The ESL clubs are also cutting their connection with their local fans, and that ruins the local football culture. Sometimes it's even hard to find a substitute. 
Doing that in London is easy: Crystal Palace, West Ham, Fulham or even QPR (not for Chelsea fans) are some alternatives, but what about fans in Manchester? Which team are they going to support other than the Manchester duos? Like FC United? For people that enjoyed football and share the history with their club for 20, 40 years or multiple generations, clubs joining ESL would be the heartbreaking moment for them and they will never come back again, so as their children. 10 or 20 years later, where are you going to obtain good players like now? Smaller clubs certainly won't become minor clubs because they have their own history and local fans. Not way that they can get enough funding like the NCAA model. That is the bottom of the pyramid turning into sand. By the time when we raise our eyes and look at the top, ESL is no more than a castle in the sky, if not already sunk.

I am also skeptical about the expected sales of ESL. Remember the four American leagues are making so much money not only because they are commercially successful, but also because they are from America, one of the wealthiest countries that invests so heavily on entertainment. The 12 clubs are promised 3.5 billion euros "welcome bonus" from the ESL, when distributed could be as much as what they can earn by winning CL. That is however not free money -- this is by pawning the broadcasting rights. The sales revenue will be in theory promising but one never knows. How much can you sell it for when people are opposing the idea so much? For example if you look at the EPL, a big portion of EPL revenue comes from local broadcasting and not overseas: the ridiculous pricing from Skysports or iTV has been complained years over years but that was withstood by the people because it is their local teams. Overseas permits over America and Asia worth less comparing to Europe and the same phenomenon holds for CL. Whoever broadcasts the games are also under the pressure from the people -- in fact, DANZ and Amazon, declined the rumor/deal very early on. What happens if you failed to create enough revenue to pay back the "welcome bonus"? Well, good luck dealing with American capitals.

Some people say that the financial situation of the big clubs (Barca and the Italian trio) are bad enough and they urgently need a source of funds right now, so they had no choice but joined ESL. In theory the welcome bonus could have helped them to survive this pandemic crisis and after that they can rely on the great success of ESL, but is it worth to bet on something that may not return well but will absolutely ruin the industry in long term? Having financial problems is not the end of the club -- at the worst case they will take a dive, but they are backed by the fans who will support them till they return into glory.

When the ESL teams cut off their association with domestic leagues, their connection with domestic cups are also much weaker. Cups play an important role in the football ecosystem and it is bad to have teams that plays even more negatively on the cup matches. Cup matches is magical in the world of football because it is so unpredictable. It is the stage of smaller teams doing their best to knock out the giants. The unpredictability comes from the fact that these matchups are rare and tactical prediction works less often. If Chelsea plays against Luton town 3 times in a row, I can tell for sure starting from the fourth time and so on Chelsea will beat the shit out of Luton Town every single time (no offence to Luton Town). But the first encounter? Luton Town has a small but realistic chance to pull something out there. 

I always say that the CL semi-final is the most entertaining games in the world, and that is again due to rare encounter but also this is the highest stage before the final with only the strong teams around. It would be boring to see Bayern vs PSG many times in the League, but having that in a quarter-final knockout is another level of thriller. Strategies for knockout ties are completely different from league encounters as they bare a greater consequence. Without CL this may not happen again.

Domestic cup games is an important part of the ecosystem. For the FA Cup, TV revenues and ticket sales are split between the two teams in every leg. Whenever a small team gets to play against a giant team (in an away game) then they get to sell thousands of tickets in a big stadium. The extra one million or so  may not help the top teams a lot, but it could be more than the yearly income of some third division teams. The extra money could be used to acquire better players and improve the infrastructures. Despite the dream of playing against the big names, money is also a big motivation for smaller teams to play the best in cup games. It would be a disgrace if the ESL teams still decide to participate these cups but to play even more negatively with more benched players starting the game (and still win), what is then the point for smaller teams to do their best? They may just surrender right away since they have already pocketed the money and they will lose anyway. The lost in competitiveness is the last thing we want to see in football.

As of now ESL is basically dead, but its impact is far from over. The potential punishments from the leagues and UEFA are still pending, and the ESL does indeed signal an alert about the football industry. In the last part I want to talk about some possible aftermath as well as all sorts of random observations.

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Thoughts on ESL (1): the European football model

It was 6:30 a.m. and I was preparing for a late sleep. I know it will be Chelsea vs Brighton in 30 minutes, but I don't really care. Semi-final in 7 years? It's nothing comparing with what Chelsea, along with 11 other clubs, planning for something that could potentially destroy football as the most popular sport in the world. I rolled on the bed scrolling over Reddit, Skysports, BBC and all other new sources and forums and simply failed to sleep. I have so much to talk about the European Super League (ESL) --- I failed to squeeze out the time to talk about that, but maybe it is a good time right now.

As I am writing we have received some good news -- Chelsea and City are leaving. Ed Woodward resigned. Altetico and Barca are there to leave. We will see more in the coming days, but I will try to cover my thoughts about ESL in general.

The American sport model is something that I never appreciate with because competitiveness has to give way to entertainment and commercial consideration. When we say sport we mean competition. Entertainment comes from players doing the best to win, not by placing cheerleading girls or MC warming up the games. Wrestling, boxing and MMA is merely a comical joke trying to make up stories among players. 

The four American leagues -- are closed on their own with all the smaller leagues withering. Recently we observe a reform of the baseball minor leagues (MiLB) shutting down a number of teams. They were down so easily because minor teams are simply not sustainable in the American model. They hang on the poor little money from the Major and squeeze the most out of their players -- overnight bus trips to the field, salary lower than most normal office workers, and of course no pay during the off-season. Taking a step back the NCAA model is not even sustainable without the help of the colleges and the government. All we see is a greedy league sucking the blood from the youth ladders for their money and glory. There is no need to doubt the players' professionalism, but what can you do when those sports are designed to entertain in ways other than pure competition? (There is no room for cheating and violent plays though -- they shouldn't be part of the game and should not be counted into competitiveness.)

Close leagues and the drafting system making things even worse because team can benefit from intentionally play bad/not playing the their best. We have seen that happening in MLB over and over again: Rays, Cardinals, Marlins...and even the Cubs team that broke the curse and won WS! Why is it possible for a team to benefit from being bad? There are similar operations in the world of football as well. Arsenal with her owner Kronke is one of the best example: the investment is calculated to be just enough to keep their commercial value while making consultant company that "gives advices" about the players' market (which doesn't seem to be helpful after all). But the borderline is they must perform up to a certain level (top 4 and CL spot, or top 6 with EL spot) -- that's why EPL is always fun to watch on teams around such ranks. 

Of course I watch baseball, but that is more of a substitution when football's off-season. I enjoy the number and science behind baseball, and I appreciate how off-speed pitches work. But at the end of the day I never feel the same passion from baseball as from football. Football is the culture, identity and religion of those who love it. (Another reason I prefer football than baseball is that baseball is discrete in nature and too easy to quantify -- sports lose part of their sacred or romantic mask with numbers, but that's a topic for another day).

Football in Europe takes the pyramid model instead. The pyramid means that lower teams provide variety and base numbers, while the top teams provide attractiveness and money which part of those will be transferred down the pyramid.

For example lower teams are not under the upper teams (slightly different in Spain but that does not happen in the top division so we will overlook that), but they are still motivated to breed good players. For the sake of their team result for sure, but good players also bring important revenues by selling them to higher teams. Often there are clauses that the original team gets a small portion of the transfer fee if the player is sold again -- which is often to an even bigger team -- which brings more money to the lower teams.

Instead of a single closed league, there are multiple divisions of leagues within a country, divided just like a pyramid. That pushes teams to do well to be rewarded, and at the bottom-line fight to survive. There are also continental and domestic cups that reward teams who performed well over a short period of time. Top leagues like the Premier League (EPL) sells the most because it is quite famous even overseas but not the lower leagues, but they have been funding and supporting the lower leagues significantly (although that's part of the agreement on 1991). Lower leagues even without the money from EPL are also live with esteem: ticket sales, broadcasting revenue (especially they do well in cup matches) are already good enough for them. 

It's just a free market with some protection, and it is way healthier than the American model. The whole industry is sustainable and everyone's happy by getting their bit out of it. The difference in sports model perfectly reflects the difference between American capitalism and European capitalism. It may be hard to tell which capitalism is better, but in the world of Football or sports industry, the European way is much preferred.

To be continued --- I shall cover the football aspect of ESL in the second half, after having some good sleep. That's 10 a.m. here after the 0-0 game against Brighton...

Friday, 9 April 2021

08/04/2021: Neo The World Ends with You revealed


There aren't many things that could catch my attention immediately and motivates me to address on my blog that is three entries in four days, but the following is one of them: the true remake of the best RPG game in the DS era, The World Ends With You (TWEWY) is finally getting a true remake this summer! The game that I have awaited for finally is finally here 13 years after the debut, along with the animation that will be on air in the coming 24 hours.

Final remix works as a memory freshener but merely amazes players simply because Switch is not DS, and many features tailored for DS were gone. This is just a porting attempt that wasn't very successful.

I am not fully prepared to write something about TWEWY in full length, at least not before we are a few episodes into the animation. But there are sooooooo many things that I would be hyped for the game:

- Story: The original 3 weeks + another days + secret report wasn't complete. And neither did the extra days from the final remix. But it is a good time to let go and enter a new chapter, and we can leave the details to the animation or novels if necessary. I look forward to a completely new story but also with reference to the old world.

- Artwork: TWEWY perfected their art expression (some complained the skinny skeleton but I don't mind really). The characters, the items and the pins all reflected the taste of Shibuya in 2008. I know Shibuya so well that I can surf freely there without getting lost on my first arrival to Tokyo. The caption in fashion with extreme variation is the key element of TWEWY that is uncontested in the DS era, and I would say it even trumps the Persona series.

In the Neo trailer Rindo and other characters are clearly dressed in the 2021 fashion. We also see a revamped Shibuya yet familiar. I look forward to the art elements in the game very much.

- Combat system: historically unique is what I would describe the original combat system. Two screen sharing the same HP bar with a completely separate input system that is controlled by a single player. Without the help of game breaking items, beating the post-game contents is a supreme but very interesting challenge. Final remix is a pain to play not just because this is stupidly ported into switch, and even all the stylus related psych's are not working as smooth as in the original version. 

In the Neo trailer, we saw a completely redesigned system so hypes are there. We also observe multiple characters on the screen so there might be another form of multi-controls. There are also discussions on Reddit finding that it is possible for the characters to be binded to a few pins. It makes sense just to consider Neku was the only one who mastered so many pins in the original game, but I still regard the variety of pins to be a great selling point of the game. We will see how that works out.

And, the 3D fighting scene. Who doesn't love Genshin-like fights?

Music: No more words are needed I guess, TWEWY contains some of the best game soundtracks around. Twister, Someday, Calling or not -- just bring it on. That is the part that I never worried about.

Misc: there are many features in the original game that was not even properly handled in the Switch version. Tin Pin is one of them. We need more multiplayer content, as it fits the current trend anyway.

...and yes, what about more Radian and So Zetta Slow noises?

*

Update after the second trailer: 


It's been a thrilling day. Having hundreds of TWEWY fans hyping the same trailer in the same chatroom is simply unreal. Everyone is shouting about what they found in the trailer with the slightest references to the original game. Pin style, Tsugumi references, Minimimoto....and of course Neku.

WELCOME BACK, Neku. We look forward to your performance.

I really like the deluxe package but all I want is Mr. Mew plushie and the artbook. It is a bit unfortunate that the artbook is not included in the NA version but we will see. It is also good to know that they are releasing all regional versions on the same day so that I won't need to buy the Japanese version first before going back to the English version. But maybe I will again, because it's TWEWY...

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

07/04/2021: 約稿相關

 Pixiv跟Skeb的約稿功能太爛了吧,完全沒有方法找到特定繪師。

Pixiv拿著一大個數據庫能做的事情很多:最簡單就是讓繪師在約稿系統中幫自己上tag,然後有一個按繪師發表過的作品中過濾合適的tag自動加上去。tag功能是最基本的,畫畫的領域太廣,沒法篩選繪師的話想找到合適的繪師只能碰運氣。

Skeb的話有相關的回答效率/交稿效率的統計也可用作過濾之用。

比較有爭議的應該是對希望金額的過濾吧?對用家來說十分方便,卻有一點不尊重繪師+促進壓價之嫌。

嘛,最近發了一堆委託,新的作品很快會登場(?)。夢十夜還需要一些靈感就是。

Monday, 5 April 2021

r/second: the Reddit April Fool 2021

Every year on the first of April, Reddit hosts a "social experiment" which is nothing more than a time limited inspiring minigame. One of the greatest example is the r/place which is truly impactful as a precious snapshot of the Internet on April 2017.

Many abandoned the tradition of making something funny for the day on 2020, but fortunately Reddit held on and again delivering something simple but funny this year. Introducing the r/second


This is a simple game: each round consists of three pictures sampled online including memes, vintage games, among us mates or even simple words. People would vote for one of the three, but only the one ranked the second would be considered victorious. 

There are 3 phases in total. Mid-term results are revealed during the two transitions, giving hints on which one to vote for. That of course comes with a penalty. 

Those who voted in the first phase gets +9 for a correct answer and -3 for an incorrect answer.
Those who voted in the second phase gets +6/-2.
Those who voted in the third phase gets +3/-1.

Unlike those redditors who eat chalks and murmur about tendies (you pretend that you don't but actually you do, especially those with diamond hands), you actually smelled a way to score effectively. What would you do?

The correct answer is: you should find a time machine and travel back to 96 hours ago, because the event has already ended. But let's assume that it hasn't, how can we perform well in this event?

Assume the following. 

1) The three images are indistinguishable. 
2) The population's strategy remains constant.

The first one is actually reasonable even to those who knows memes well because of the dynamics. Even if you can tell which is more popular, comparing the three is a completely different story.

A quick glance at the leaderboard reveals that top players score around 4.7 points per win. Points gained per game is actually a hidden stat, but assuming that he only goes for phase two then he has been correct for about 80% of the times. That says, his average point per game participated is around 3.7. Can we get close to this number?

Attempt 1: Blind guessing

Well if you decided to vote every time on phase 1, then according to the assumption the only thing you can do is to guess blindly. That gives a 33% correct rate and an average of 1 per game. Not bad, but we can definitely do better.

Attempt 2: Blind guessing, no middle

Someone took record of the first 500 games and found that the middle come second at only 20% of the times in contrast to 40% for left and right. If we guess blindly without middle the correct rate is raised to 40% and the average point per game would be 1.8, still far away from optimal.

Don't forget that skipping a particular round is actually a viable option, but only when you are not guessing on phase one because guessing on phase one this round or next round are indifferent according to our assumption. But what if we start to take mid-term results into consideration?

We shall note that the target average score implies that guessing on phase three is inefficient, so we now consider strategy on phase two.

We observe that when mid-term are released, people vote for both the first and second. They vote for second of course for free win, but they also vote for the first in hope that the second would overshoot. One certain thing is that no one is voting the third unless the three are close.

Attempt 3: Guessing first or second randomly

That gives a correct rate of almost 50% and an average of 2 per game. Can we do even better?

We assumed that the population's reaction to mid-terms is consistent. This is actually in line with the observation. We may therefore apply kernel estimates to create a map $f(x_1,x_2) = p$ meaning that when the mid-term reveals that the first has $x_1$ of the votes and the second has $x_2$ of votes then there is a chance $p$ for the first to win (i.e. for the first to come second at the end). 

Note that it is the percentage difference that matters: dynamics from a 45%-40%-15% distribution should be almost the same as a 40%-35%-25% distribution. So we may compress the data into a single parameter distribution: $f(x_1-x_2) = p$ when the percentage difference is $x_1-x_2$ then there is a chance $p$ for the first to win. 

Attempt 4: KDE prediction + skips

Although I never traced the numbers seriously, it can be observed that when the first leads by a large margin (say 10%), the second is almost certain to win despite everyone voting for it after mid-term. We expect the function about is quite close to 0 or 1 at the tails. We can then maximize the integral

$R(I) = \left ( \int_I g_X(x) \right )^{-1}\int _I g_X(x)(6\max(f(x), (1-f(x)))-2\min (f(x), (1-f(x))))dx $

by choosing the interval $I$ properly. The above may simplify into 

$R(I) = 2 + 4 \left ( \int_I g_X(x) \right )^{-1}\int _I g_X(x) |1-2f(x)| dx = 2+4E(|1-2X| \mid X\in I) \geq 2$, 

where $g_X$ is the probability density for the parameter $x_1-x_2$. Since $R(I)\geq 2$, this strategy is strictly better than attempt 3, and this is a strong indicator that the mid-term results are extremely useful. If we smoothen $f$ and $g_X$ so that it is differentiable (in the computational sense) then this is just a simple exercise of calculus.

There is a problem though. If we take $I$ a very slim set then we win almost every time but voting may only happen for every 5 or 10 games, but top players win 55% out of all games! That means they probably have voted for at least 75% of the available games (not taking sleeping time into account even). 

Instead one may want to maximize the score gained per game, whether you skipped or not. This is simply the maximization of score! Since the expectation is always positive for any approaches mentioned above, what you should do in this case is to participate all games and always vote in phase two. When $f(x)$ is close to 1 or 0, vote for the indicated one, and otherwise vote randomly between first and second. (Or if you trust your function $f$, always follow the indicator, since your correct rate should always be above 50%.) 

Unfortunately I never collected the mid-terms and I don't notice anyone else who did. All that was left is the final result of the rounds, which do not help too much. Yet I believe this approach will be good enough for us to match the top rankers.

One last note: the mid-terms are not fixed snapshots. You actually get to see the votes in live for a few seconds. I do not think that helps much however as the dynamics largely depend on percentage difference of the round, hence nothing significant can be extracted out there. 

*

Let's be honest -- there are many more valuable things we may do if we had the chance to travel back to 1/4. r/second is no match against r/place after all. This is merely a little game that expires so fast. One better thing to do on 1/4 would be watching Your lie in April in my opinion. Yes?