AI Sportsball: Release the Kraken!

One or both of my readers my remember my long time fondness for the work of Dr. Janelle Shane, an optical physicist who delights in exploring the capabilities and limitations of neural networks – computer systems that attempt to identify what certain words or images have in common and then generate novel members of the inferred set. While she has used neural networks for many delightful things, this week she has literally used it to release the Kraken!

Apparently there is some discussion online about the new/renewed sports ball league the XFL. The XFL is something like US or Canadian football, with a few changes to prevent injury and showcase big play capabilities, and is meant to serve as an intermediate league between elite college football and the NFL. The idea is that many pro prospects don’t pan out for one reason or another, but not all of these reasons are (at least entirely) the fault of the player. With an intermediate league, players that went undrafted by the NFL or who played a short time but were then cut can attempt to use the lesser pro-league to pay their rent while they try to keep up their skills and convince another, better paying team in the CFL or NFL to give them a shot. The XFL has already played one season, gone bust, and reformed with new teams and new team names.

It is the team names more than the corporate organizational follies that have attracted attention this week. Apparently they are too conventional, predictable, even boring for some fans’ tastes, and certainly more so than was expected for a league that is, I kid you not, run by the head of the wrestling-spectacle company WWE. This unexpected turn to the bland inspired someone at Adweek to commission Shane to see if the neural network GPT-2 could have generated names better suited to the supposed-excitement the XFL league is attempting to create with their tailored-for-athleticism-drama-and-scoring rules. As it turns out, GPT-2 did what I think was quite a good job with this set of names and logos:

The teams, from left to right, then top to bottom: Bubbles, Wombatz, Tiny Destroyers, Kraken Guard, Nimbus Knights, Warp Ravens, Forsaken, Dawnbreakers, and Withershards

XFL Team names and logos generated by GPT-2.

While we might anticipate the favorite name of PZ, “Kraken Guard” only ranked #2 for me. “tiny DESTROYERS” hit my #1, with the combination of name and teacup logo being entirely irresistible. Even #2 was in doubt for some time, as I found the Wombatz to be spilling over with charm.

There were more, of course. Names that didn’t reach the cutoff for Shane’s main article (but published in her bonus material) included the Yaks, the Kittens, the Tiggers, and I’m Fine, And You? on the cuter side and the HawkHawks, Fangry Jackals, Mantis Shrikes, and Spider-Eaters on the more ferocious side.

As always, you should give Shane’s blog itself a visit and see what you’ve missed since the last time I featured her work, and if you feel inspired subscribe to her e-mail list to get special linkies to the bonus material.


  1. Owlmirror says

    I tried “The XFL sportsball team is called”, as an input to talktotransformer, and this is what I got:

    The XFL sportsball team is called _____________. And no, it doesn’t work anymore; it never worked in the first place, and it’s not working any more.

    As of this coming Monday, there never was a ‘XFL,’ only a ‘protest.’ And on February 5, it’s no longer that.

    The league will no longer exist. A few hundred fans will gather at the Georgia Dome. The XFL’s fans will no longer exist.

    So, what has changed?

    It all started with this announcement from ESPN’s Brett Okamoto:

    “They call this their protest. Their protest is the league.”

    Yep. The ‘protest’ isn’t a protest anymore; it’s a “protest,” if that’s what you want to call it.

    But, you know what?

    There really was just one ‘protest’ in the first place. All the others were just “protestors.” (And, of course, all of these others were “protesters,” just not by name)

  2. Owlmirror says

    Take 2-7:

    The XFL sportsball team is called the Cleveland Rams.

    The XFL sportsball team is called “The New York Furies,”

    The XFL sportsball team is called “The Flinstones”

    The XFL sportsball team is called the Kansas City Chiefs

    The XFL sportsball team is called the “Redskins.” (oh look, real world racism drives algorithmic racism, part whatever)

    The XFL sportsball team is called the Miami Dolphins


    The XFL sportsball team is called the L.A. Outlaws, because as a team they don’t play in “L.A.” at all. They play a modified version of the L.A. Rams of the NFL. It’s in a Los Angeles suburb. In real life, the team is called the L.A. Rams. Their mascot is the giant flying eagle. But it’s a giant eagle that actually flies. So there’s a new bird that really is flying, if you will.

    The outlaws play their games against other teams in suburban Los Angeles. Every city they play in has a stadium. They don’t want people to tell them how many they play in there. They want people to know that in L.A. the outlaws are the best football team in the world. It’s a small venue, but for L.A., the size is pretty important to them. In a city where the NFL owns at least three stadiums, L.A. has been able to keep the outlaws.

  3. invivoMark says

    Callinectes @5,

    I was thinking the same thing! Although I think the Warp Ravens have likely been swayed by the influences of chaos.

  4. efogoto says

    Simply on reading the name, I have become a die-hard fan of the Withershards. Never have I so desired to scream myself hoarse from the stands in support of a sportsball franchise, with my face painted in the team colors, and every bit of my apparel being officially licensed and trademarked.

    Go Withershards!

  5. seachange says

    I will have you know I had a chapter of D Flat Celestas, female space marines painted pink with a wash of orange to make them look padparascha. They had musical notes on their shoulderchunk-thingies, and their off-white bolt guns were coated with a very fine purple iridescent see-through glitter.

    Most of my army was eldar. So the Bubbles well, they’d fit right in.

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