Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Large Video Game Tournaments – Bracket Theory

This post is horribly out of date. The world has come a long way since 2010, and so has my experience running tournaments. Ignore this post, grab challonge if you have a net connection or TIO if you don't and just go to town. Gamers are a friendly bunch, they'll forgive you!

In the preparation for AVCon, which I have mistakenly put my hand up to be on staff for, I can’t stop thinking about the best models for running large tournaments. In an attempt to straighten out various thoughts running through my head, here’s a quick run down of various tournament systems, culminating in my proposed structure for AVCon’s large (128 and 256 person) tournaments in Street Fighter and Smash Bros. Brawl. Anyone not intimately interested in the nuances of running efficient tournaments, look away now, I have the feeling that it’s going to be pretty dry.

For the purposes of this demonstration we’re using a 32 person single elimination tournament, but the principles involved can be easily scaled up to larger tournaments or to double elimination, I’m just not showing them because the picture files would be huge.


Basic Tournament
The diagrams we’ll be using show a series of matches, each horizontal line represents a player, and each vertical line represents a match, the numbers in circles represent the order of games, so game 1 is first, then 2, etc. This is a regular single elimination tournament, it’s what they use at Grand Slam Tennis events and pub darts tournaments, and it’s great for season-long regular weekly or daily games, but it’s not so useful in a video game (or any other short game) situation simply because the participants are waiting around forever for their next turn.


Pooled Tournament
To deal with the long wait times, someone clever invented the idea of pools, in which groups of people play off against each other, and then the next pool plays, resulting in a much smaller number of people having to wait around for their turn. This shows a 32-person tourney with 4 pools, in which only the winner of each group of 8 people has to wait around until the finals. Pools are great for improving efficiency, as people needn’t turn up for the bits of the competition that they’re not involved in. Unfortunately, doing all this on only one station (a court for tennis, a console for video games) is still taking far too long, given the time constraints, so let’s add in some more stations.


Multi-Station Tournament
Here’s the same pooled 32 player tournament shared out between 8 different stations, each represented on the diagram by their own colour. Not surprisingly, the tournament is now running heaps faster. This is the epitome of efficiency and class when running a 32 player tournament, and is widely used even for bigger tournaments. Unfortunately, we’re running a 128 person one on a tight schedule here, effectively the pictured players are the first pool out of four, so the stations with nothing happening on them after the second round are causing us to run much longer than if we were using them all at once.

Consolidated Pools Tournament
This system still uses pools, but not all of the pool is played out before we move on to the next pool. Instead of whittling the participants down to one who plays in the finals, we let eight through to the preliminary rounds by playing out only the first two rounds of the tournament. This way, the participants that are waiting are fewer in number, and the overall time that they have to wait is drastically reduced. Assuming 5 minutes for a round (which is too short a time to expect for many games, but that’s a topic for another post), this system saves 25 minutes over the last one, a dramatic saving, and I haven't done the maths, but I think savings would be around 3 times that in a double elimination tournament. Unfortunately, it requires players to be absolutely on the ball, as they need to be able to win a match and move immediately to another station for their next match, which is a difficult enough task even if you don’t have a head full of memorized combos and strategies. This system is workable if you’re insanely organised, but it causes a hell of a lot of confusion.


Concurrent Pools Tournament
This system departs from the idea of pools all playing at the same time, and instead assigns everyone in the same pool to play at the same station, effectively turning our 128 person tournament into 8 16 person tournaments running at the same time. This system runs as quickly as the consolidated pools, but it means each game (at least up until the finals (which at AVCon are played on a big stage, not the tournament TVs)) is at the same station, which allows players to identify and watch all their competitors, saves losing them by moving around, and makes administration of the tournament a load easier.


Using this type of system, players can easily keep track of their competitors and the tournament as a whole, and everybody is happy. The best thing is we can still give a group times to appear so that they don’t have to wait forever, it’s just that these groups are independent of the playing pools, rather than being parallel with the pools as they are in traditional tournament formats. We can also easily expand or reduce this system for larger groups, less stations or double-elimination tournaments with ease.

If you can see a problem with the new system (I tend to miss major factors when brainstorming), can think of a better name for it (Concurrent sounds kinda…geeky) or just want to ask questions, let me know, that’s what the comment button is for, after all.

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