Hi, VGC scene! My name is Kevin “monk” Dong and I’ve been a member of the general eSports community for about 3-4 years, working in multiple capacities throughout this time including Writer, Editor, Player, Coach, Commentator, Translator, Website Admin, Player Manager, and Tournament Organizer. It’s a lot of hats, but I would say it’s fairly typical of an eSports career for someone who started when I did, back when “first generation eSports” were in their infancy. As of now, my role can best be summed up as a Project Manager for Team Liquid, meaning I mostly manage accounts for the prominent eSports team, with a focus on running tournaments and leagues, especially for StarCraft and Hearthstone.
Over the past year or so, I’ve become more and more interested in VGC and I feel I’m in a position to add something of value to the scene. Some of you may know me from my previous blog entry on NB before its unfortunate demise last month titled “On Entry Fees and eSports” in which I talked about how entry fees work in the general eSports scene. Since then, I’ve been searching for a place to air my thoughts and take on hot topics in VGC and I’m glad I’ve finally found a sounding board. Though I will insert my own opinion in this and future articles, I will also do my best to always express the general consensus of the eSports community at large.
The Swiss Format & Tiebreaker Scores
For my first piece, I want to talk about one of the hottest topics I see getting traction on Twitter within the VGC community; the Swiss format. From my understanding, the two main complaints about the Swiss system include:
- “Resistance” or tiebreaker score is not an accurate representation of how well players did at the event.
- All players who finish X-2 or X-3 should advance, not just the top 8, 16, or 32.
Before I dissect these issues, let’s talk about the presence of Swiss in eSports, at least the eSports that I’m most familiar with. In StarCraft, Swiss has never been used in a major event. The standard tournament format for StarCraft has always been either group stages into a bracket stage or a double elimination bracket stage. Swiss has, however, been recently adopted by all grassroots events in NA in the past year with top cut being determined by resistance or tiebreaker score. Since the inception of this format, the feedback has been mostly positive by all tournament attendees. When I asked Joe “NSGJoe” LoGuidice, the TO of Cheesedelphia, the most prominent tournament that uses this system, whether anyone has ever complained about tiebreaker scores, his reply was “literally no one did”. I also asked Nick “Pokebunny” Taber, a prominent NA player and attendee of the tournament, about his experience with the format and he resonated Joe’s response:
“The two biggest problems:
- The logistical annoyance of having to wait for every match to complete before starting the next round so a single long match holds things up a lot. Also, it’s not good for a broadcast, because everyone is playing at once.
- Tiebreakers are pretty much an inevitability and I think it does tend to be very fair. In my experience, the tiebreakers have always made sense, but it often doesn’t feel fair to see someone go through with the same record. In a big event, that might be more heavily scrutinised.”
Moving on to Hearthstone, the game with the most similarities to VGC and also the game that employs Swiss the most. When I talk with anyone in the eSports community about VGC, there are always comparisons drawn to Hearthstone. Not only do both have large aspects of RNG involved, they are both relatively short games with low setup required: the perfect games for Swiss. The 2016 format for the official tournament circuit of Hearthstone (called the Hearthstone Championship Tour) was Double Elimination. This is mostly due to logistical reasons as the official circuit involves players playing concurrently each other at ~10 different venues across the continent. Players would often complain about this format, but for the most part, they would accept it as a necessary evil given the circumstances. (Can you imagine the outrage if VGC LAN events were hosted in a double elimination format?)
The most prominent Hearthstone tournaments that currently employ the Swiss format are those run by Dreamhack. Dreamhack currently uses tiebreaker scores that feed into a top 16 bracket. It was also recently announced that HCT circuit for 2017 will be run with a Swiss format using tiebreaker scores to feed into the top 8. I asked Keaton “Chakki” Gill; the winner of Dreamhack Austin 2016 on his thoughts on the manner:
“We talked about it a bit in a Skype chat. Most people don’t seem to really care, but people gonna be mad salty when they 5-2 and miss. For prelims, I think you basically go in thinking you need to 6-1 to make it. If you 5-2 and get in, you’re lucky. It’s still slightly better than it used to be. I think Blizzard could make a better number of rounds for a better cut though.”
I also talked to the lead Tournament Organizer of the Dreamhack Hearthstone tournaments that featured Swiss, Robert “SuedeDH” Suede. Robert will also be the head TO of the Pokémon VGC event at Dreamhack Leipzig.
What feedback (either positive or negative) do you get about the Swiss format that is used in Hearthstone tournaments hosted by Dreamhack?
Back in 2015, we hosted two Grand Prix swiss events at DreamHack Summer and Winter. Initially, we set out with having tiebreaker matches for any potential match score ties for advancement to the single elimination stage of the tournament (top 16). The process can be very simple or very complicated depending on how many players are involved in such a tiebreaker process and can easily add on a few extra hours to an already packed tournament schedule. When managing the project on-site, it became clear that a simpler cut with added tiebreakers was the better solution, both from an administrative and viewing standpoint.
Do you think the Hearthstone players playing in your tournaments would prefer having tiebreaker matches or tiebreaker scores determine top cut? Why do you think this is?
The Hearthstone scene as a whole is full of players with different backgrounds in other competitive CCG/TCGs where tiebreakers have been used for a long time, it makes sense for them to think of them as status quo. If the format is explained in a clear and simplified way, then most players will see that the advantages it brings to the table.
Have you ever had a player come up to you and complain about tiebreaker scores being unfair?
It’s only natural for a player who did not “make it” to be upset and they complain about not making the cut, but they rarely point the finger directly at tiebreakers. It’s not complaining about the tiebreakers being unfair, it’s about them being unlucky with the tiebreakers they ended up with. In a world where you have 11 tournaments in a dozen that run double elimination brackets, I think most players are just happy to play a format that does not auto-eliminate you after one or two unfortunate results. Swiss deals with that in an exceptional way. “
Though it’s only a few opinions, I believe these opinions are fairly representative of the Hearthstone community. The vast majority of the scene accepts Swiss with tiebreaker scores as a fair format. And there has never been anything close to outrage in the Hearthstone community regarding the Swiss format or tiebreaker scores.
The main takeaway from all of this is that Swiss with tiebreaker scores is widely accepted in the general eSports community as it is in more mainstream competitions such as Chess or Bridge. When I first heard about the outcry in the VGC community, I was immensely surprised that:
- This was even a debate.
- One side had seemingly universal support.
- That side goes against what the general eSports community would support.
The Differences Between Games
To try to reconcile the differences between the communities, I’ll try to look at the differences between these communities and their respective games.
Starting with StarCraft, I acknowledge that StarCraft is a much different game than Pokémon VGC, especially because StarCraft is an extremely skill-intensive game mostly without RNG aspects. The general thought process with StarCraft players is that if you have to rely on tiebreaker scores to make top cut, you probably had no chance to win the event anyway and relied on luck to get to the top cut. Because you finished a low seed, you’ll probably face a top seed player and get immediately eliminated. Though Swiss isn’t really used in most Esports due to time constraints, logistical constraints, and broadcast delays, I believe this to be the opinion that would be held in all other Esports if the topic were brought up.
Hearthstone is a bit trickier. It’s a much different beast than StarCraft, but at the same time, a much more similar beast to VGC. I personally believe Hearthstone has more RNG than VGC. As a general ballpark, the best-of-the-best pros typically have about a 60% win rate over the average pro. Since Hearthstone is typically played in a bo5 format, this translates to approximately a 70% win rate in tournament matches. I can’t speak to the winrates of players in VGC, but I can imagine that the top players manage over 60% per game. So why is it that even though Hearthstone has similar RNG to VGC, players from the two communities have such differing opinions?
First, Hearthstone is a much more developed scene. There are more tournaments. Players are sponsored by teams with travel budgets. And the playerbase in general tends to be a bit older, with adults who can more easily afford to pay for their own way to events. Each event is not as meaningful for these players, because, in their minds, there will always be a next one. Thus, losing a top cut spot due to tiebreaker scores is not as big of a blow for them as it would be for VGC players.
Another aspect to look at in Hearthstone is that throughout the years, Hearthstone players have also developed a culture of embracing RNG and getting screwed over by it. Though Hearthstone isn’t necessary more RNG-based than other card games, because it is a digital card game, there are cards and effects that often make it seem so. (Look up “Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End”, or watch this for the best demonstration) Everyone has lost to dumb RNG in Hearthstone and after a certain point, you have to laugh in order not to cry. For this reason, I believe the general Hearthstone community sees tiebreaker scores as a bit random, but certainly more fair and structured than most truly random effects that exist in Hearthstone. They generally have the more optimistic view that “If you 5-2 and get in, you’re lucky.” as opposed to “If you finish 5-2, you deserve to be top cut”.
Finally, the Pokémon VGC scene is a lot smaller than the Hearthstone community. With a smaller group, it’s more likely that the group is swayed by a vocal few who have soapboxes to stand on (Twitter and YouTube followings). This leads to much more groupthink, especially when you’re not hearing opposing views from outside the group, the VGC community. The reason I bring this up is that as with the Entry Fee topic I wrote about last year, there doesn’t seem to be much of a healthy debate on the topic, with one side completely dominating the discussion and no one within the community even playing devil’s advocate. Unlike other eSports, there is no active Reddit for VGC nor are there any active sites that are hubs for VGC discussion. There is also very little cross-pollination between Pokémon VGC and other eSports so very rarely does the community hear feedback from outside the VGC biosphere.
Before I end off, I think it’s important for everyone in the community to truly understand Swiss and resistance. Many of the arguments I see on social media are quite shallow, though I’m completely willing to attribute that to factors such as character limits on Twitter. For those of you arguing to completely get rid of tiebreakers, here’s a simple thought experiment to try. What if instead of forcing tiebreaker matches between all X-2 or X-3 players, we add an additional round of Swiss, improving the accuracy of tiebreaker scores and reducing the number of players who are “bubbled out”? Is it possible to improve the system without scraping it all together? I’ll leave this one to you guys.
Hopefully, I’ve done a decent job of informing the VGC community about views regarding Swiss in the general eSports scene. As with my Entry Fee blog, I encourage this community to engage in more open discussion on this topic. What are some things I might have missed in my analysis? What makes the VGC community different from other eSports communities that accounts for this wide difference in opinion? I’m excited to hear your thoughts.
On a final note regarding this topic, you may have noticed that I tried to avoid using the term “resistance” whenever I could throughout the article, instead replacing it with “tiebreaker score”. This is because no one in Esports I talked to has ever heard of this term and a quick Google search leads me to almost exclusively Pokémon sites. So I ask the community: where on earth did the term “resistance” come from?