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What are you smoking? (Tournament Rules Changes)


FFG releases some truly great games with high quality components. But when it comes to product logisitics, public relations, and organized play - they have some real head scratchers. Yesterday, they gave us one of their finest examples: these tournament rules.

But before we even tackle the actual changes, let's look at the driving reasons behind the change - which they were kind enough to explain here.





Part I: The "Justification" (Istaril)

Apparently the problem they're trying to fix is in the incompatibility of the swiss system with games where there are outcomes other than wins and losses. Which is interesting, because the swiss system is practically designed for Chess, which allows for other results (draws). If it seems like I'm picking nits, it's because I'm in one of those moods.

First and foremost, we want to stress that the tables for number of Swiss rounds and the ensuing cut to single-elimination that you see in a game’s tournament rules are only required for official competitive-level tournaments, like the upcoming Store Championships.

Right, except that's at odds with the document itself, which says "The suggested number of swiss rounds". Sure, that's not really a fair gripe, because I actually wholly support the idea of standardizing their "official" tournaments (round length/tournament structure) because it helps keep the experience consistent as you move upwards to Worlds. But as I'm going to get snarky soon, might as well start now.

After talking with competitive players, consulting the game developers, and running simulations and trial runs, we found that we could meet that goal while creating a better experience for all tournament participants.

Is there a single Thrones "competitive" player that'll step forward and admit to being consulted? I bet there isn't!

At tournaments with moderate attendance levels, the number of Swiss rounds and the ensuing cut to single-elimination places a greater emphasis on tiebreakers for players without the maximum amount of tournament points.

WHAT? This is for all of you that said "You know what I love most about tournaments? Having my entry to the cut being determined by SoS as a tiebreaker". Which is no one. There are arguments for eliminating the cut, for expanding it, but none for making tie-breakers more important. At least not in thrones (In netrunner/SW, where you have functionally twice as many swiss rounds, or X-wing, where the tie-breaker is based on your margin of victory and therefore affected by your performance, there might be a case, but if that's their justification for applying it to thrones, they deserve to be called out).

With large tournaments, we are complimenting a reduced dependance on Swiss rounds with an increased size of cut to single-elimination.

Hey, this one might even make sense (I have arguments against it, but there *are* arguments for it), except that 1) it contradicts the point above, and 2) they did not actually do this. They did exactly the opposite.


Part II: The "Improvements" (Istaril)

The "improvements" can be summed up with this little image:
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Let's start with what's changed: Officially, nothing really. We didn't have official tournament guidelines in the 1.0 tournament rules (although there were some that shipped out with tournament kits). Functionally, though, a set number of swiss rounds was used to "guarantee" no more than 1 undefeated player - which meant 3 rounds for 5-8, 4 for 9-16, 5 for 17-32, 6 for 33-64... and so on.

This means that for any tournament between 17-24 or 32-44, or 65-128 attendees, we're losing a round of swiss. That may not sound like much, but those are very common ranges for store, regional and national championships, respectively. They also mean that there are a number of situations where several undefeated (as many as 3, without counting the effects of byes which could boost that) players enter the cut - rather odd indeed, and somewhat counter to the purpose of doing swiss rounds. Here's where I'd normally stop and ask the question "why?", but I can't interrupt this. I have to move on to the next, even more baffling change; the size of the cut.

In first edition, the goal was "roughly" to have no more than 25% of the field make the cut. It was often fudged (by FFG too), but that would mean top 2 from 8-15, 4 from 16-31, top 8 from 32-63, top 16 from 64-127, and so on. Now we lose a cut entirely until we hit 17 players, and half the cut size from 32-40 and 64-76.

People like the cut - it's a goal to aim for, but that's not the absurdity I'm going to highlight here. At a 40 person tournament, more than half the players with a single loss will fail to make the cut on SoS. The whole point of a cut (as opposed to swiss or true single elimination) is to be more forgiving to variance, but here we've actually 'increased it' for most players, boiling the question down to "did you lose that 1 match in your first 2 rounds? - if so, goodbye".

Mathematically, these two things combine to bring us closer to true swiss tournament, without the advantages of actually crowning an swiss champion. It's baffling. The only "advantage" I can possibly see is shortening tournaments, and, who wants to play fewer games?




Part III: The effects (wwdrakey & JCwamma)


Variance: The new structure actually increases the impact of variance on Tourneys.


In an all-swiss Tourney, one unluckily bad unrecoverable setup, or simply arriving a bit too late to the venue and thus being given a loss, means you have no chance of winning the Tourney anymore. The current changes expand the amount of Tourneys where these situations can occur significantly for both small (more swiss-only events) and medium-sized Tourneys (luck-based tiebreakers at 4-1).

It should be noted that due to only a single game being played in a match (due to time constraints), Thrones is already a game where variance can play a very big role, and it’s not something we should be emphasizing more. In fact, it could be argued that the whole Swiss + Cut system is important in Thrones because it helps mitigate the game’s otherwise inherent variance.

There are two more issues with this. Firstly, that the tournament effectively becomes single elimination but requires you to continue playing even after you’ve effectively (though not technically) been eliminated for a further 3-4 rounds of Swiss - fully aware that it’s a pointless, fruitless endeavour. Secondly, that the previous statement is only actually true for about half the people that finish X-1, and that the other half make the cut anyway. So it’s disheartening for players and inconsistent, the best of both worlds!


Reduced Travel: There’s a long-standing culture for travelling to Thrones Tourneys, and this change will likely have a very negative effect on its popularity.


Essentially, people are more ready to travel for a swiss tourney followed by a cut, than they are for just a shorter Swiss. Why? Because they get more content (whether it be actually playing, or just watching others duke it out in the Finals) for the travel time & money they spend. On average, a swiss round and a cut round more! This is especially critical for smaller tournaments, which can wind up becoming a "self-depleting" prophecy (the fewer people that bother travelling, the smaller the tourney, leading to even more people staying at home), until they shrink under a specific critical limit... at which point the TOs will simply start deciding that hosting them is not really worth the bother.

Large Tourneys - For large Tourneys like Stahleck, these rules are frankly a joke.


The most recent Stahleck had a tournament of 228 players, yet the size of the swiss and cut max out at 149 (for number of swiss rounds, and 77(!) for size of cut). The organiser of a large tournament is essentially being asked to treat their tournament as a much smaller tournament than it actually is.

This clear representation of a lack of ambition for the scope of the game could be dismissed as a basic incompetent oversight, but it’s important not to overlook the possibility that this is a deliberate move, designed to stop the game from growing. FFG have an event centre that is simply inadequate for holding tournaments larger than ~150 people, especially with the current structure of their World Championship Weekend. By not facilitating tournaments larger than they are able to officially host at their own venue, FFG are demonstrating an insular trait, seemingly with an intent to drive away those surplus players.

This might sound like a conspiracy theory, but when you factor in FFG’s constant struggles to provide enough supply to fit the demand, there seems to be an actual motive for a “but not too big…” attitude - an attitude that most competitive players, i.e. those who will attend the tournaments these rules apply to, would likely disapprove of. For anyone who views this game, and by extension all FFG games, as a potentially worthwhile game to invest in the tournament scene of, this is a very troubling policy to perceive.

Alienating TOs: The changes go against the experience of established veteran Tourney Organizers (TOs), and risk alienating said TOs.


Do not kid yourselves, a lot of the competitive scene within LCGs has always been made and supported by a community of veterans, who love the game enough to try and keep it active in their prospective regions. Mostly, TO:ing for games like AGoT is a somewhat thankless job, especially if it’s even stopping you from playing in the events yourself. It’s one thing to do all that work for free, but another to also feel like FFG is only making the job and knitting the community together more difficult, instead of supporting it.

Fragmenting the Tournament Scene: An unpopular change such as this is unlikely to be adopted in events where it is not required.


While many Thrones TOs are experienced enough, and so emotionally invested in the game that this will not stop them from organizing said Tourneys, it will likely lead to more and more of them simply deciding to not follow FFGs suggestions (since the Rules leave an “out” for doing this), with the feeling that “clearly FFG does not understand the realities on a street-level”. This in turn means FFG has less and less control over how Tourneys are shaped, which further leads to increased differences between Tourneys, rather than the uniformity we'd hope from an enforced rule.
  • Ratatoskr, imrahil327, Ire and 12 others like this


33 Comments

Here here ! I mirror these comments !
I ran tournaments in IL for 4 years. I will be running a big one here in February. I will be ignoring all of this and doing it the way it should be run for the amount of ppl that play. Thankfully this is not an ffg sanctioned tournament. With everything as it was before this, I found myself playing less and less thrones. 2nd ed is just boring. Now I know it just came out and it will only get better. I was willing to wait. Throw this kind of stuff at me a waiting around is getting tougher and tougher.
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PulseGlazer
Jan 02 2016 01:02 AM
So, I mean, ffg isn't at it tournaments. We should just run them the usual way. Problem solved.
    • Tomdidiot, vszeus, Ortos and 4 others like this
@pulseglazer - exactly. Ignore these. Nate probably will.
    • PulseGlazer likes this

I have heard from the netrunner community that stores have lost the ability to host Store Championships because of people complaining that the tournament rules were not followed. So there is an incentive for stores to follow orders. But yeah, these rules are garbage and really want someone from FFG organized play to speak up.

    • istaril likes this
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Ironswimsuit
Jan 02 2016 03:56 AM

I sometimes feel like FFG supports the idea of OP because it moves units, but they don't care much for it in practice. The tournament structures aren't very strong from the games I've played (SWLCG, X-Wing, Armada, and now Thrones). Armada mostly due to time required, SWLCG because the game is played for the tie breaker, X-Wing due to the scoring changes of 2013(?) and newer packaging shenanigans, and Thrones because we haven't really had much of a structure for 2.0 up until now. I hope they get their mind right before L5R comes out. Rokugan is filled with fickle samurai. But, with this Asmodee stuff and latching onto the Disney/Star Wars teat, maybe Fantasy Flight doesn't need to support OP or provide reasonable tournament rules to remain successful. 

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PulseGlazer
Jan 02 2016 04:49 AM

 Re: just going community run/ignoring FFG. Almost all of the biggest tournaments in the world are community run. That suggests, to me, that besides some prize support, and, obviously the cards, we aren't getting much from FFG, since the cards have nothing to do with how the tournament is run and the game itself is fine either way. The major, known metas largely have relationships with their stores and, if they were willing to take the onus of organizing and promoting, are and were generally given free sway to run everything. That means we can safely run tournaments like this functionally without ffg support/with only their prize support, especially since we all basically provide our own support (and can support those who don't know how.The downside would be FFG throwing a fit and refusing prize support, but if numerous stores do this (and we are quite organized, right Stahleck Committee?) FFG rarely has the nerve to hand down mass punishments, especially to the detriment of their own business.

The divide in the community with newer players and stores would exist. These new groups would likely run things the way FFG wants and hopes to run things. New metas, however, hit a tipping point where they join the larger Thrones meta. These metas can then choose to adopt the way other stores and groups run things, or, well, their events just won't be traveled to by the outside greater meta. It behooves these new metas to do things the FFG way as they grow, and then when they grow to an extent, to join everyone else for consistency and continued growth. That means new metas without great store support will suffer for awhile, sure, but better that divide exist than we all suffer under this frankly stupid new plan.

As a player that only commits to games because of organized play / tournament scene activity, I would stop going to tournaments altogether if these "suggested" tourney rules were to be implemented by other TOs in our meta.

 

I'm not going to spend 4-5 hours of my life playing swiss knowing full well that I'm not going to make the cut just because of tiebreaks or a bad setup. I'd rather just play other games that don't emphasize variance -- and these tourney rules are just the opposite of what we should be striving for.

 

I concede that there may be new metas or players who think that running less rounds would be great -- when I was new to the tourney scene, I didn't understand the number of swiss rounds and cut and wanted it to just be over with -- but there will come a time that these new players will cross the border and understand why longer and more rounds + bigger cuts mean better for the tourney as a whole. It's making me think FFG is doing this to reel in / retain new players? Rest assured that there will be vets at least coaching new metas on how tournies are done -- the Thrones community is tight like that.

    • darknoj, imrahil327 and PulseGlazer like this
Didn't I see a job posting on FFGs website recently for an OP director or something similar?

I often feel like FFG has the best of intentions. They post something that looks like they have put a plan together and are headed in the right direction. Then the next thing out of their mouth on the same topic is completely different.
    • Ire, PulseGlazer and kennish like this

I do want to clarify that despite the snark, I don't think this change single-handedly ruins tournaments, or means is somehow game-shattering. I just think it's a universally bad decision, and I struggle to see *any* upside (aside from the "upside" of shorter tournaments) - AND the whole thing is at odds with itself - contradicting its stated intentions. 

 

I can't help but be frustrated when I think that people discussed and implemented a system that is, as far as I can see, marginally worse than the status quo in every way.

    • imrahil327 likes this
For 1 to 16 players, their system is perfect. One undefeated player. If you want more games with a small field then host back to back tournaments or casual games afterwards.

I completely agree with the article; it makes no sense to reduce the number of tournament rounds for Thrones when the current system already works well, and indeed, for smaller communities, makes sense.  You don't want to drive 5 hours (both ways) to play 4 rounds of Thrones, and not have a chance of making the cut because you lose a game round 1.

 

I can, and do understand the justification for similar reductions in no. of rounds for Netrunner and Star Wars (because both of those games have 65 minute rounds, and very long cuts due to the double elimination format), but I view this as unnecessary unjustifiable in Thrones, a game with 55 minute rounds and sa singel elimination cut.

 

I'm also going to bring up Magic.  While magic tournaments generally have a fixed cut (i.e. Top 8), they also usually have enough rounds to ensure that every single X-1 will make the cut, as well as a sizable porportion of X-2s, which makes it slightly more forgiving.  True, you have to run the gauntlet of around 10-15 rounds in the massive tournaments to make the cut to the final Top 8, but those massive tournaments tend to have double-cuts anyway, where you have to be X-2 to make Day 2, and from there, you have to be one of the best X-2s to make the final cut into the Top 8.

 

I will admit that the old numbers don't make complete sense (The jump from Top 4 to Top 8 cut at 16-17 players was very jarring), but those could easily have been fixed with small adjustments.  These numbers make it look like FFG didn't even take the time to calculate how many players would be on a certain record by the end of X numbers of rounds. (Hint: Pascal's Triangle does this beautifully), and looks a lot like numbers pulled out of someone's arse.

Whatever they're smoking, I want none of it.

    • Ratatoskr, darknoj, FedericoFasullo and 1 other like this

Reducing number of rounds will be better for small in-store tourneys  ran during the week days which seems to be inline with recent announcement of more support for LGS.

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bluebird503
Jan 02 2016 09:08 AM

Changes to Netrunner and Thrones tournament structure seem really bad, hoping its just for GNKs and all store champs and higher include better rules on their inserts.

 

This would be fine if this is for GNKs/Casual tournaments only

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OldShrimpEyes
Jan 02 2016 09:12 AM
As much as I like seeing all my friends, I also like sneaking into the cut in last place. I'm going to be far less enthusiastic about taking weekends out to travel to events under this new structure,
    • darknoj and fauxintel like this

Reducing number of rounds will be better for small in-store tourneys  ran during the week days which seems to be inline with recent announcement of more support for LGS.

 

Small in-store tourneys are as unofficial as it gets. They're already run without cut, even with 20+ players, due to time constraints. There's no need to make bigger tournaments worse to promote them.

Sadly, I completely agree that this is an objectively bad change to the rules document. 

Even though I often travel to tournaments, my personal pick from the list in the article has to be the point about "Variance" - restructuring the tournaments in this manner would have been bad in v1.0, but in a new edition which

1. Still lacks (and will for quite some time) reliable consistency due to its small card pool, even when it comes to basic things like economy 
(Read - RNG is a bigger factor)

and

2. Has no guaranteed board reset and will probably not receive one soon if we are to judge by the game's current direction
(Read - Comebacks are harder so a better start is even more important)

just seems like begging for people disgruntled by having their cut spots literally "stolen" by this change to come knocking on your doors with torches and pitchforks. 

I sincerely hope they reconsider this course of action - you would think that they'd be hesitant to change things around without first reaching out to the community after the whole Stahleck fiasco, but, apparently, this is not the case.

I didn't really look into these tournament changes the way OP has, but I'm glad you posted this because I would've overlooked it otherwise. 

 

Knowing you have no chance to win after round one because you lost the first game is one of the most demoralising things in competitive play. I have made the cut severals times in different games after losing round one and it's such a great feeling. The hope that things will turn around for the better is such a strong drive to stay in the fight. 

I am, however, not sure I agree with OP's hypothesis that FFG is driving away players to make up for production and shipping problems. In the end, FFG is a company that wants to make money. I don't see how it's better business to drive people away, than to have people wait for a few months for a highly sought after and wanted product. I mean, I always thought they kept production low to artificially increase demand while reducing risk of overproduction. 


Having said that, thank you OP for pointing out that most of the decks we'll see in competitive play for the time being will be high variance decks. 
I hate those :D

    • MightyToenail likes this

I organized few GoT tournaments and will organize more in the future and our meta in Croatia consist of maybe 12-16 players, and we follow the rules, but when it comes to this rules I do not agree with them. I agree what is said in the article, and for few players that drive for few hours to get to the tournament to play a small event 4 rounds with no top cut is lame.

Our tourneys in the past had 12 players tops and we always played 5 rounds with top cut 4, because we had time and all players wanted to play the tournament that way.

So Croatian meta will continue to organize tournaments in this way, everybody agreeing how long we will play and how many players will be in the top cut.

Our biggest problem still is prize support and overall support of Tournament kits here is bad. The shop we play in has big problems getting to them, so I really hope FFG will make these Kits more available to us in smaller countries.

    • kennish and Geoman15 like this

I don't like the tournament changes. Would certainly put me off travelling to play at an event. There's loads of reasons, which are all covered in the article.

I have comments from two perspectives.


As a player, I find it totally unacceptable that I can got X-1 and NOT make the cut. This fact alone will make me think twice about traveling to play. And reluctance to travel is the opposite of what FFG should want to foster, in terms of community attitude toward OP.


As a tournament organizer (and a fairly experienced one as these things go), I'm baffled and disheartened. In NYC/the northeast US, we hold several large tourneys each year: a regional or two, Thronestoberfest, Red Saturday. Our most recent event, Red Saturday, drew 48 players from six states and two counties -- and it wasn't even an official event.


One of the most common points of feedback I got from traveling players in particular was this: "it was worth the drive." No one went home unhappy. No one felt short-changed. But i worry that, with this new structure, not only will fewer players travel, but our players (both local and imported) will be inclined to pack up and go home after a round one loss. And it would be hard to blame them. Indeed, I've both TO'd and played in tournaments that had fewer rounds/a smaller cut (similar to the new structure) in which players felt cheated by the shortened day. This should not become the norm, but that's the current danger.


Another fear as a TO. At this point, the thrones community is fairly mature, and instances of unsportsmanlike play are few and far between. With the new emphasis on the greater importance on each game/going undefeated (in a game that already inherently has a high degree of variance), I fear that we will see a greater amount of higher-pressure situations that could escalate into incidents. I am disappointed that the tourney rules (perhaps unwittingly) foster such a dynamic.


At the end of the day, as has been noted, the desired goal was not met by the changes as implemented. I think all players and TOs would agree that we want a system that works toward "finding the players whose choices before and during the Swiss rounds led to the best performances, then creating exciting, high-stakes games to eliminate all but one overall winner." That goal is not achieved by "placing an emphasis on tie-breakers" - tie-breakers de-emphasize "choices before the cut" and stress dumb luck. Put simply, there is a glaring disconnect in the logic with which we have been presented.


As things currently stand, and as some people have noted, the rules state the new stucture for number of rounds and cut size as "suggested." So long as that is the case, I will most certainly -- as a TO for a large meta -- not be following them. But, I do not think this is a preferable solution, that each to can do what he/she wants. That will create variance between metas/regions/events, and such unpredictability is bad for OP. I would urge FFG to re-think this structure, at least as it applies to Thrones, and consider making some changes based not on "simulations," but on actual experiences that many of us have had over the past 8 years.


Dave/Vaapad
NYC
    • WWDrakey, Ratatoskr, imrahil327 and 14 others like this
Double post, pls delete.
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MightyToenail
Jan 02 2016 05:16 PM

At least you guys didn't get a restricted-style list like Netrunner. And the cards on there are so arbitrary. Eli 1.0, really? Yog.0? Astroscript?

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PulseGlazer
Jan 02 2016 05:39 PM

There was a restricted list for most of 1.0. It really does help the environment.