American Ninja Warrior Obstacles -- An R Data Package

There are few truer tests of unmitigated might, athleticism, and endurance than NBC’s reality competition show American Ninja Warrior. Started in 2010 as a spin-off of the Japanese television series Sasuke, American Ninja Warrior sees contestants from around the country tackle a series of crazy and challenging obstacles as they compete to become the next American Ninja champion. As of this writing, the series has aired for ten complete seasons, with the obstacles growing increasingly complex and varied with each coming year.

Our package, anwObstacles, includes data on every obstacle in the history of American Ninja Warrior. For each episode, the production team meticulously designs and builds a series of obstacles a whole five months before initial taping. Needless to say, a great deal of creativity and thought is put into every obstacle. In addition to the name of each individual obstacle, our data package also includes data for the season, location, round/stage of the competition, and order in which the obstacle appeared. Overall, our package comprises 889 observations of the aforementioned five variables (‘season’, ‘location’, ‘round_stage’, ‘obstacle_name’, ‘obstacle_order’). Credit is owed to Matt Laesig, who scraped the original data set from Sasukepedia (a wiki of the original Japanese series and its many derivatives).

One example of a data story told by our package can be found in the first stage of the national finals of the most recent season (season ten). The obstacles used in this stage can be identified by matching the season (‘season’ = 10) to the round and stage (‘round_stage’ = “National Finals - Stage 1”). Here, we see that the national finals for season ten took place in Las Vegas, and the first stage featured a total of nine obstacles. In order, the obstacles included in stage one of the season ten national finals were as follows: “Archer Alley”, “Propeller Bar”, “Double Dipper”, “Jumping Spider”, “Jeep Run”, “Warped Wall”, “Razor Beams”, “Twist & Fly”, and “Rope Ladder”. Clearly, prospective ninja champions had quite the difficult set of obstacles to conquer.

The “anwObstacles” data package also allows for a number of interesting summaries and visualizations. When analyzing the data, we see that, in the history of American Ninja Warrior, the show has visited 30 different locations and has featured 225 unique obstacles. Of these obstacles, the “Warped Wall” is the most recurring, appearing on the show a total of 86 times. Finally, we found that the greatest amount of obstacles used in a single stage is 10. Talk about an endurance test!

Another fun avenue of exploration is analyzing the vast number of locations where the show has filmed. While the series has travelled across the globe (including episodes in Italy and Japan), we created a visualization that specifically focuses on cities in the United States. In this visualization, the position of the point is mapped to the geographic location of the cities where American Ninja Warrior has travelled. Additionally, the size of the point is mapped to the total number of obstacles used at each location.

While sports and data science have always gone hand in hand, there has been a noticeable lack of data for the enormously-popular American Ninja Warrior. Hopefully our data set will begin the necessary and urgent process of filling this hole.