“When you analyze the viewing habits of darts fans, approximately one-third of their time is spent actually watching the darts,” PDC chairman Barry Hearn said to The Ringer in 2019. “Two-thirds is spent socializing, drinking, gambling.”
Adding to the good vibes, the athletes also don’t take themselves too seriously. Although the athletes are generally the expected size and shape of guys who’ve devoted their lives to a pub game, they’ve all assumed WWE-esque personas, complete with their own nickname (“The Dream Maker,” “The Ferret,” “SuperChin”) and signature entrance music. For the finals, Wright (aka “Snakebite”) rocked a Troll Doll-ish neon red mohawk, with a sparkly picture of a snake painted onto one side of his head and a snakeskin pattern lacquered onto the other; in comparison, Smith (aka “Bully Boy”) looked downright mellow with his tattoo sleeve and gel-spiked faux-hawk.
Despite the revelry and their wacky outfits, Wright and Smith seemed to be the only two people not having any fun. Together on stage, they hid their nervousness behind forced stoicism. With their serious frowns (and portliness and general essence), they more closely resembled two Limp Bizkit roadies with the Sunday scaries than they did pro athletes..
After the two of them tore through the bracket over the last three weeks to make the finals, both Wright and Smith succumbed to the enormity of the moment to start the match; in the first set, the pair stumbled through an agonizing 28 dart leg, one of the longest in PDC history. Granted, both dartists found their bearings after a ragged start, but they each shot far less accurately than they had in the tournament’s earlier rounds.
Over the course of their 12 sets, Snakebite and Bully Boy revealed that, underneath all the pageantry, darts is an isolating, anxious sport, especially at this galactically-high level of competition. Sure, Wright and Smith had to tune out blaring music and indecipherable chants about English and Scottish geopolitics, but they otherwise played in static, empty space—there’s no defense or contact or variability. Outside of the fact that one guy was given a big trophy and a bigger check at the end, Wright and Smith parallel played games that were almost entirely independent from each other. While soccer or basketball are essentially excuses to run around with you friends, darts is a solo war against imperfection. The only opponent is your own capacity to fail.
Having secured his second PDC Championship in the last three years, Wright, a 51 year-old former tyre fitter (British for “car mechanic”) did more than fully slough off his previous reputation as a chronic bottler (British for “choker”): he cemented his status as one of the greatest tungsten tossers of all time. By becoming just the sixth man ever to win the tournament twice, Wright absolved his previous losses.