ovechkin-robot-brain

Last month the Washington Capitals announced the launch of a new chatbot for Facebook Messenger. Now that Facebook is allowing brands to build their own chatbots, chances are you have had a chance to interact with at least one. These bots are a unique way to create meaningful customer interactions on a widely used platform, so it makes sense that sports teams are jumping on the bandwagon.

When any new technology launches there are early adopters – eager to get their hands on the technology – who build something just to test the platform, and I applaud that approach. But for a new digital platform to stick and get traction with the fanbase it’s important to add substantial value to fans. It has to be useful and there must be a compelling reason for fans to engage with the bot or they simply won’t use it.

The Caps’ bot has been live for about a month now, so I decided to put it through a series of tests and questions to see just how useful the bot can be using Apple’s latest version of Siri as a benchmark. Here’s how it went…

1. How many wins did the Capitals have last season?

how-many-wins-last-season

Huh, tough start. Neither Capsbot (yes, I just made that up) nor Siri could give me historic information from the previous season. Disappointing, because this really seemed like a softball.

2. What place are the Capitals in?

what-place-capitals-in

This one is a little bit more complex, but Siri is the clear winner. Capsbot displays just a link to overall NHL standings, while Siri provides a much richer experience including a readout of the current team record and points standing.

3. When do the Capitals play the Penguins?

when-caps-penguins-play-eachother

Capsbot has a response here, but again just provides a generic link to NHL.com, while Siri provides detailed information about the upcoming game. This would be a great opportunity for Capsbot to provide details about the next game versus Pittsburgh with ticket pricing and, if there are any available, a chance to buy them.

4. How many goals has Ovechkin scored?

how-many-goals-ovechkin

A clear win here for Siri as Capsbot provided a relatively useless link to NHL team scores and Siri came in with the right answer and a bunch of other Ovechkin stats for good measure. To take things a step further, I asked both bots a followup question.

5. How many games has he played?

how-many-games-ovechkin-played

While Siri didn’t nail this one, it at least understood that I was still looking for information related to Ovi, the topic of my previous question. Capsbot was completely confused and basically prompted me to start over.

Now, had Capsbot gotten this one right I would have been impressed. Scratch that, I would have been completely shocked because this type of complex query is something that engineers at Apple (and Google) have committed significant resources to, and even they are only recently starting to get it right.

6. What can I eat at the Verizon Center?

what-can-eat-at-verizon-center

This is a tricky one, as both bots provided useful answers, but neither provided exactly what I was looking for. My goal here was to find a list of items available at the stadium and the Capsbot provided a generic list of all food and beverage categories in its database. Swiping left or right on those response buttons uncovers additional categories, and selecting one returns all vendors with matching products. That could be pretty handy for fans attending a game, but I wish it had shown food categories first considering that my query was focused on eating.

Although Siri returned a list of guides and reviews to eating at the Verizon Center instead of a menu of available food items, this might actually be more useful than what I was initially looking for.

7. Why do the Capitals suck?

why-do-the-caps-suck

I have to admit, I did this more for my own humor than anything else, and I was certainly pleased with the responses by both bots. In this case Siri knew what I was saying and returned the current division standings while Capsbot really stepped it up, demonstrating an area where it will beat Siri on every occasion; fandom.

Yes, Siri is known to be sassy on occasion if prodded appropriately, but it would never antagonize the way that Capsbot did here, which is a better fan experience. This leads me to a really important conclusion.

Capsbot is A Fan Engagement Tool

While Siri may be a touch smarter and have better tools at it’s disposal, it simply can’t relate to the fans on an emotional level the way a team-oriented chabot can. Capsbot is designed to elevate the fan experience, and it certainly does that with a relatable approach and other built-in features. Check some of these out:

other-features-in-messenger

Above are screenshots of a trivia game that includes laughable gifs, a FAQ section to help fans find their way around a Caps game, and tools to buy tickets to upcoming games. In addition to the features you see above, the Caps have already announced that they will be adding in-game polls, media distribution, and other new ways for fans to interact with the team during the game.

So while the Caps’ chatbot may not be as smart as Siri, or be as good at bringing up unique information, it’s important to view the chatbot as a fan engagement tool and not a personal assistant. The goal of the chatbot is to contribute to the unique experience of being a Capitals fan and watching a game, which it most certainly accomplishes.

Have you used a sports related chatbot? What did you think? Hit me up on Twitter @MathewBernstein and let me know.