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RPS Asks: What's The Best Game Tournament Format?

This is a prototype of one of the earliest MOBAs

I write a lot about esports/professional gaming and, as such, I’ve witnessed a lot of discussion of the years of various tournament formats – their strengths, weaknesses and, obv, what the company should be doing instead according to that particular commenter at that particular moment in time.

So I thought I’d ask you, as people who might watch professional gaming or play in your own tournaments: Which tournament formats do you prefer and why?

I’m asking this today because I was reminded of the subject by discussion of The International 2016‘s format. The International’s format is something of a weird one before you get to the actual matches because the exact qualification requirements for a direct invite to the event are opaque to everyone but Valve. You can make educated guesses about the criteria but there’s a certain lack of transparency about who goes through to the main event from the start so you’re starting from a point where some qualified and some were just invited because reasons.

But, leaving that aside, once the final cut of sixteen teams was set you had a round-robin group stage which sorted them for the main event; a double elimination bracket.


Image taken from the official tournament site

Double elimination generally means you need to lose twice to be out of the tournament. The idea is that everyone starts out in the upper bracket, then drops to the lower bracket if they lose a game/set. If they lose again they’re out of the tournament. The International main event is slightly different in that the group stage already sorted teams into an upper and lower bracket so some of them will only need to lose once to be out of the main event. The majority will need to mess up twice to be out, though. It’s also possible to fight your way through the lower bracket and get into the final even if your group stage performance was a total nightmare.

I know that some people hate this format and others love it so I’m interested in your own preferences, both when watching and playing. For my own viewing experience, I like the drama you get from elimination formats and double elimination is preferable to single elimination. In terms of when I’m competing in something myself I actually rather like Swiss systems. Those are non-elimination-based but not everyone plays everyone else so it’s less of a time sink than a round-robin. I like them because when I’m competing I like that people get more games in, plus I feel like I have a better sense of my relative skill by the end of the event.

OH, and if you’re looking for our primer for The International you’ll find it here!

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Philippa Warr

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