An all-star game is an exhibition game that purports to showcase the best players (the "stars") of a sports league. The exhibition is between two teams organized solely for the event, usually representing the league's teams based on region or division, but sometimes dividing the players by an attribute such as nationality. Selection of the players may be done by a vote of the coaches and/or news media; in professional leagues, fans may vote on some or all of the roster. An all-star game usually occurs at the midpoint of the regular season. An exception is American football's NFL Pro Bowl, which occurs at the end of the season.
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All-star games are usually organized like regular games, but are often played with less emphasis on victory. Competing goals are to give many players time in the game and to avoid injury. In ice hockey, for example, there is no serious checking, while in American football no blitzing is allowed. In basketball, there is virtually no defense played until the final quarter. However, the Australian State of Origin series does involve physicality that often leads to on-field scuffles.
The current format of the NHL All-Star Game differs significantly from that of normal league games. Instead of a single game, the event is organized as a four-team knockout tournament, with each team representing one of the league's divisions. Additionally, each game within the event is contested as a single 20-minute period, making the playing time of the All-Star Game identical to that of a regulation NHL game. The most radical difference is the on-ice team composition—instead of five skaters and one goaltender at full strength, each team has three skaters and a goaltender. Due to the reduced team sizes, penalties that normally cause the penalized team to lose a skater instead give the non-penalized team an extra skater.
The term "all-star" is mainly used in North America. All-star games are rare in international sports (such as association football) where games between national teams are more popular than all-star games would be. In the United Kingdom, all-star teams are usually denoted with the Roman numeral corresponding to the number of players allowed on the field – for example, a soccer or cricket XI, a rugby league XIII and a rugby union XV.
Major League Baseball organized the first professional league all-star game as part of the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago. It was the brainchild of Arch Ward, then sports editor for the Chicago Tribune. Initially intended to be a one-time event, its great success resulted in playing the game annually. Ward's contribution was recognized by Major League Baseball in 1962 with the creation of the "Arch Ward Trophy", given to the All-Star Game's most valuable player each year.