Thursday, January 1, 2015

Building a Better Tournament

I have been to many 40k tournaments throughout the years.  Most of them have been small but I did attend a grand tournament (bugeater) a few years back.  If you have never been to a grand tournament I would recommend it, as it was an enlightening experience.

As many 40k tournaments I have been to, I have actually been to more debate tournaments.  Over the past few years I have been inducted (suckered) into judging debate for the high school team my wife coaches.  While most of it is completely unrelated to 40k, the format of most debate tournaments are very similar to the format of most 40k tournaments.

*Disclaimer: I have never been in charge of running any kind of tournament.  If someone who has run a tournament notices any glaring errors in what I am suggesting please feel free to call me out.*

The similarities:

Most 40k tournaments I have been to use power matching or delayed power matching.  Power matching takes the result after the first round and matches the people who did similarly for the next round.  For instance two people who win their first game and score all secondary objectives will be matched together for the second game.

Delayed power matching is very similar, but the first two rounds (instead of just the first) are predetermined.  The results from round one are calculated during round two, but are not applied until round three.  The results from round two will affect who you play round four, and so on and so forth.  The reason that some tournaments do this is because it minimizes the time between rounds.

This is identical to how a debate tournament is run.  In fact Bugeater is a fundraiser for a school's debate program, and is run by the debate coach.  This system is self correcting; meaning that the more rounds you play the closer you should be to your opponents' skill level.  It also means that you always have a good idea who is winning the tournament because they are at the head table.

The Differences:

Just like most sports there are different levels of competition in debate.  At most tournaments there are two or more smaller tournaments for Varsity, Novice, and Open.  I like this idea of different levels of competition, but how can this apply to 40k?  What is to stop a really competitive person from dominating some of less competitive tournaments?

The solution comes from the way my friendly local gaming store (FLGS) runs their tournaments.  Currently they randomize who gets prize money.  Medals are given for the people in the top places, but prize money is drawn as door prizes.

Years ago they awarded prizes for the top places, like most tournaments, and as a result the majority of the players were competitive.  Their competitiveness was rewarded with the prize money.  This wasn't necessarily bad, but it became difficult for new players to get involved.

The Solution:

Rather than having one large tournament it might be better to run two parallel tournaments.

Have the 'Varsity' tournament give prize money for the top places.  This will encourage the competitive people to be competitive together.  With fewer casual players in the 'Varsity' tournament it will also increase the level of competition.  Going off of the old notion, "You can only get better by playing someone better than yourself."; this would be a good thing for competitive players.

At the same time have an 'Open' tournament where prize money is given as door prizes.  The open tournament is encouraging for people who wouldn't normally have a chance of winning any prize money.  This less competitive environment can help draw newer people into the hobby without being completely destroyed by the competition.  Years ago I tried to get into fantasy and lost all six games of a tournament.  I haven't played a game since, and this is mostly because of the lack of players, but the six consecutive losses as my first games didn't help either.

Possible Issues:

The biggest issue I can foresee would be simply getting enough people to sign up.  There is a minimum number of people required in order to make a tournament work.  Having two tournaments would basically double the minimum number of people required.  This style of tournament would most likely be best situated where there are traditionally a lot of players.

Balance between the two tournaments could be a problem if one had dramatically more people than the other.  Once again the limiting factor is simply the number of players; however, I suspect that prize money on both sides could self correct this issue.  If one side only has a few people, where the other side has many, it could encourage more players to join the side with fewer people.  More likely the varsity side is going to have fewer people (at least in my area).  Now lets say you want to join the tournament and there are five people on the varsity side and fifteen on the open side.  If the top three players on the varsity side and three random players on the open side get prize money then semi-competitive players might be more inclined to join the varsity side.  On the open side you have a 20% chance of getting some prize money*, but you only have to be in the top half of players on the varsity side to get money.

*(1/15)+(14/15)(1/14)+(14/15)(13/14)(1/13)=1/5=0.2  This assumes that the same person cannot get prize money more than once.

It is nearly impossible to cater to everyones needs and wants especially where competition is involved.  This idea does not try to do that, but simply work in that direction.  Even though high levels of competition are never my personal goal I understand why this is important for other players  as well as the hobby in general.  If we don't have the people whining to GW about balance then casual players can be hurt by imbalance as well.  At the same time this can be a very intimidating hobby to start; there need to be more events to draw newer players into the hobby.  I played this game for over ten years before I played anyone outside my core group of friends.  Getting more players involved helps everyone by bringing new faces and ideas to the table (zing!).

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