The Art of Over-Thinking Tournament Formats

I think about strange, middling things, perhaps at too much length. For the heck of it, I figured I'd describe my recent thought process for one such thing here. At the very least, that should help establish a permanent record of my thoughts in the event I forget about this whole ordeal a few months down the road.

Trials Evolution is coming out this Wednesday. I played it at PAX East alongside other Giant Bomb mods and users, and it's a lot of fun. Trials can be frustrating as hell alone, but the four-lane supercross multiplayer, which puts more emphasis on racing and basic technique, eschews most of the frustration for hectic speed. I entertained the idea of hosting site-wide online tournaments here on Giant Bomb, and the second I did, my mind began racing over how brackets would work.

Most tournament brackets are focused on head-to-head matchups, be it team versus team or player versus player. The methods for handling these are numerous and well-established, both for single elimination and double elimination. Four competitors at once, however, is a trickier format, and while you can simplify it somewhat, that can be to the detriment of the ongoing competition.

Let me explain by highlighting the various formats and quirks I've been thinking about in regards to a Giant Bomb Trials Evolution supercross tournament. I'll use my own naming conventions, since I haven't found much in the way of information elsewhere.

Half In/Transfer

This is a more basic, straightforward format, and I'd expect most people would use this when faced with a similar style of tournament. It's much like you might see in a snowboard cross tournament at the Olympics or the X-Games: There's a set amount of transfer spots in each round, and a competitor either finishes well enough to transfer or is eliminated. Typically, you'd transfer the top two finishers in a four-person heat, which is pretty standard. This was also the format of tournaments in Forza Motorsport 2, except those matches had eight racers and transferred the top four to the next round.

It's an easy format to follow, both in the layout of the brackets and knowing how you have to perform in each match. It's also really simple for drawing up brackets as an organizer, which is helpful when you have an odd amount of entrants and need to figure out where your play-in matches or preliminaries need to go. However, it doesn't provide any extra incentive to be first until the very final round, since you're only looking to transfer as one of the top two. There's also no chance to recover from a single bad performance, so slipping up and finishing third means elimination at any point, even if it's after a string of firsts.

The other quirk here that can be dealt with involves seeding as rounds progress. In most formal tournaments, the transferring competitors move along the brackets much as if the tournament was geared for head-to-head matches. This means that if the same pair of competitors keep finishing in the transfer spots in each round, they could conceivably be facing off against each other for the entirety of the tournament.

A lot of competitors could potentially have several rematches!

This is where a little mixing or re-seeding can help out a less formal tournament. Perhaps I instead move all the second place finishers into another bracket to face another set of first place finishers. This hampers some of the ease of following the brackets, but it allows players to face a wider variety of opponents over their time in the tournament. Plus, having a more predictable movement along the brackets could be an incentive for finishing in first, I suppose.

This is way more complicated to follow visually, but competitors get to face a wider variety of opponents and there's far less potential for rematches.

This mixed "half in" format will probably be what I use for any Trials Evolution tournaments on Giant Bomb. What if I wanted to allow competitors more chances to recover and redeem themselves, though, sort of in the vein of double elimination (but not quite)? There's a complicated format for that, too.

Last Chance Qualifiers

In motocross and a lot of short track dirt racing, every heat sends a set amount of people to the main race, or at least to the next round. At least a portion of the entrants that didn't transfer then fight for a smaller handful of remaining spots in the main race, in what's called a "Last Chance Qualifier" heat. It's essentially your last chance of the night to get into the big money race, and while the chances are slim, it's at least a chance, which can be handy if you experienced misfortune in your earlier heat race.

This could be implemented into bracketed tournaments, as well, and it's actually beneficial on a few fronts. It allows for multiple chances to move forward in a tournament, while providing more incentive to finish in better positions to avoid having to compete in additional matches. It also provides a lot more matches for competitors to participate in, and generally provides a better sense of overall ranking against everyone else at the end of a tournament.

Of course, the problem is that it's difficult to organize, difficult to follow, and the method of providing multiple chances to move on, since it's not exactly double elimination style or otherwise strictly defined, can appear arbitrary in its implementation.

It's not impossible to follow the logic of this system, but it takes a bit of staring. (Also, "1st place advances to E" should read "1st place advances to K.")

This LCQ format I've thought up also takes a lot more matches in general. For sixteen entrants, I could put together a tournament in the LCQ format that takes twelve to fifteen matches to run, whereas a typical transfer/half in system could handle double that, with thirty-two entrants in fifteen matches. It's not efficient, but that's not really the point -- it's meant to be exciting for someone watching the tournament unfold. Then again, that implies somebody other than the entrants will be watching a tournament like this unfold, and is that really going to happen for something this minor? Probably not.

Anyways, that's just a little bit of the thought process going through my head for potential Trials Evolution tournaments. I kind of wish there were more resources out there for tournaments that involve matches more complex than head-to-head, so that this sort of shindig would be easier to plan and implement.

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Posted by Trace

I think about strange, middling things, perhaps at too much length. For the heck of it, I figured I'd describe my recent thought process for one such thing here. At the very least, that should help establish a permanent record of my thoughts in the event I forget about this whole ordeal a few months down the road.

Trials Evolution is coming out this Wednesday. I played it at PAX East alongside other Giant Bomb mods and users, and it's a lot of fun. Trials can be frustrating as hell alone, but the four-lane supercross multiplayer, which puts more emphasis on racing and basic technique, eschews most of the frustration for hectic speed. I entertained the idea of hosting site-wide online tournaments here on Giant Bomb, and the second I did, my mind began racing over how brackets would work.

Most tournament brackets are focused on head-to-head matchups, be it team versus team or player versus player. The methods for handling these are numerous and well-established, both for single elimination and double elimination. Four competitors at once, however, is a trickier format, and while you can simplify it somewhat, that can be to the detriment of the ongoing competition.

Let me explain by highlighting the various formats and quirks I've been thinking about in regards to a Giant Bomb Trials Evolution supercross tournament. I'll use my own naming conventions, since I haven't found much in the way of information elsewhere.

Half In/Transfer

This is a more basic, straightforward format, and I'd expect most people would use this when faced with a similar style of tournament. It's much like you might see in a snowboard cross tournament at the Olympics or the X-Games: There's a set amount of transfer spots in each round, and a competitor either finishes well enough to transfer or is eliminated. Typically, you'd transfer the top two finishers in a four-person heat, which is pretty standard. This was also the format of tournaments in Forza Motorsport 2, except those matches had eight racers and transferred the top four to the next round.

It's an easy format to follow, both in the layout of the brackets and knowing how you have to perform in each match. It's also really simple for drawing up brackets as an organizer, which is helpful when you have an odd amount of entrants and need to figure out where your play-in matches or preliminaries need to go. However, it doesn't provide any extra incentive to be first until the very final round, since you're only looking to transfer as one of the top two. There's also no chance to recover from a single bad performance, so slipping up and finishing third means elimination at any point, even if it's after a string of firsts.

The other quirk here that can be dealt with involves seeding as rounds progress. In most formal tournaments, the transferring competitors move along the brackets much as if the tournament was geared for head-to-head matches. This means that if the same pair of competitors keep finishing in the transfer spots in each round, they could conceivably be facing off against each other for the entirety of the tournament.

A lot of competitors could potentially have several rematches!

This is where a little mixing or re-seeding can help out a less formal tournament. Perhaps I instead move all the second place finishers into another bracket to face another set of first place finishers. This hampers some of the ease of following the brackets, but it allows players to face a wider variety of opponents over their time in the tournament. Plus, having a more predictable movement along the brackets could be an incentive for finishing in first, I suppose.

This is way more complicated to follow visually, but competitors get to face a wider variety of opponents and there's far less potential for rematches.

This mixed "half in" format will probably be what I use for any Trials Evolution tournaments on Giant Bomb. What if I wanted to allow competitors more chances to recover and redeem themselves, though, sort of in the vein of double elimination (but not quite)? There's a complicated format for that, too.

Last Chance Qualifiers

In motocross and a lot of short track dirt racing, every heat sends a set amount of people to the main race, or at least to the next round. At least a portion of the entrants that didn't transfer then fight for a smaller handful of remaining spots in the main race, in what's called a "Last Chance Qualifier" heat. It's essentially your last chance of the night to get into the big money race, and while the chances are slim, it's at least a chance, which can be handy if you experienced misfortune in your earlier heat race.

This could be implemented into bracketed tournaments, as well, and it's actually beneficial on a few fronts. It allows for multiple chances to move forward in a tournament, while providing more incentive to finish in better positions to avoid having to compete in additional matches. It also provides a lot more matches for competitors to participate in, and generally provides a better sense of overall ranking against everyone else at the end of a tournament.

Of course, the problem is that it's difficult to organize, difficult to follow, and the method of providing multiple chances to move on, since it's not exactly double elimination style or otherwise strictly defined, can appear arbitrary in its implementation.

It's not impossible to follow the logic of this system, but it takes a bit of staring. (Also, "1st place advances to E" should read "1st place advances to K.")

This LCQ format I've thought up also takes a lot more matches in general. For sixteen entrants, I could put together a tournament in the LCQ format that takes twelve to fifteen matches to run, whereas a typical transfer/half in system could handle double that, with thirty-two entrants in fifteen matches. It's not efficient, but that's not really the point -- it's meant to be exciting for someone watching the tournament unfold. Then again, that implies somebody other than the entrants will be watching a tournament like this unfold, and is that really going to happen for something this minor? Probably not.

Anyways, that's just a little bit of the thought process going through my head for potential Trials Evolution tournaments. I kind of wish there were more resources out there for tournaments that involve matches more complex than head-to-head, so that this sort of shindig would be easier to plan and implement.

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Posted by lithiumproject

*Mindblown*

Posted by MattyFTM

And I thought that I over-thought things too much.

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Posted by wrathofconn

I think having more than one LCQ make the finals is lame in a field so small, but if I get way into this game I'd definitely participate either way.

Posted by Trace

@wrathofconn said:

I think having more than one LCQ make the finals is lame in a field so small...

I can agree, but when you're reducing a field from 8 to 4 by that method, it's really the only way. Otherwise, you're arbitrarily picking one of the 2nd place finishers to fill a third spot by some additional criteria, be it score or time, and I think in a tournament format like this you'll be lucky enough to have an accurate ranking of who finished where in each round.

To make only one LCQ spot work, you basically have to make the semifinals 12 entrants strong, so that three winners transfer. At that point, you're allowing up to three matches for one final transfer spot (all 4ths battle, all 3rds+4th winner, and LCQ with all 2nds and 3rd/4th match winner). It's not necessarily bad, just a little lengthy in deciding a minimal amount of LCQ transfers, and it knocks out 2/3rds of the field each round. The method I'm showing above is the far lengthier "slow LCQ" format I devised, where I'm knocking the minimal four entrants out every round. It's overly gracious to the less successful entrants in each round as a result.

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Posted by wrathofconn

@PsEG: Yeah, I guess what I was thinking of was the better second place finisher in a semifinal advancing, but I did not consider the difficulty for moderating that system.

Posted by slowbird

I think the LCQ thing is most useful in a scenario like dirt oval racing, where you only get one heat race to qualify and there's way more cars that get left behind than ones that move on.

In a 4-player scenario with 2 players advancing, I think you can leave out the LCQ, especially if each round is a series of several races which gives players a chance to overcome a bad race.

Posted by Grnd_Lb_Knt

You could always do a modified swiss tournament taking the top 4 or 8. That way you can just set the number of rounds. With a larger number, people will tend to play with different people. It's easy to follow and not to hard to run.

There isn't much of a way to get around people who are going to dominate. And with the last four or eight you could do a double elimination where if you are last twice you are out. Yes, that's 7-8 races for 4 but I think the races are short enough to where it isn't a big deal. Plus it's a tournament, it should be a time investment.

It's nice to see your thought processes on all this. Keep it up!

Posted by Sparklykiss

You are my favorite crazy person.

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Posted by Trace

@Grnd_Lb_Knt: I could totally see a swiss system as a valid replacement for pool play in a World Cup-esque tournament, either letting 8 or 16 progress through to a single or double elimination knockout stage. That'd be something I'd definitely consider in the event more than 32 people signed up for a tournament like this, since that way you can guarantee a set amount of matches for everyone at the expense of a little of that satisfying progression through tourney brackets.

On the flip side, I'd really need a multiple of four for number of entrants for the swiss system to work best, both for scoring purposes and since I'm trying to ensure full matches in any of these formats (the three-man matches in the LCQ format bug the crap out of me, even if they're necessary). Could always use a play-in match/series to reach that magic multiple, though.

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