Hearthstone as a competitive card game has a vast wealth of possibilities regarding tournament structure. Lots of us have been there, playing in a single elimination tournament and losing unjustly to a set of match-ups that favour the opponent inherently and subsequently crashing out of the event. It's a grim set of circumstances beginning a tournament on the bubble, and having an event won by someone who isn't strictly the “Best player”.
In this article we will be exploring the options available to tournament organisers to combat this feeling of rage and salt from being donked out of an event, and exploring the pros and cons of each structure.
Arguably the most efficient if not most cut-throat structure available to tournament organisers, the single elimination event does exactly what it says on the tin. You lose one best of five match and you're done. This offers a very streamlined tournament experience with clearly defined timings. You can as an organiser forecast when each round will begin and end to a degree, which enables the players to get into a rhythm and know what to expect.
Whilst single elimination offers this streamlined experience, it can award the event to the luckiest player on that day, not necessarily the best player which can lead to disenchanted players. To encourage repeat participation, I feel that single elimination is not the best tournament structure by a country mile, but whilst this is the case it's a very good structure for satellite events offering participation to other events, where the high turnover of players can be a positive factor in inflating the prize pool for the main competition.
Single elimination offers the most excitement for the neutral spectator, offering emotional highs and lows that can be played out on Twitch, however this statistically unfair tournament may not award the win to the “Best” player, which is why this isn't the only structure at an organiser's disposal.
Double elimination functions in the same way a single elimination tournament would, only offering the player a second life. Losing in a double elimination event places the loser in a “Losers bracket” which offers the losers an opportunity to continue the tournament with one life remaining and the chance to clamber back up into the effective “winners bracket” later in the event.
Whilst this structure offers that “Second bullet” it is limited in terms of players available to participate, and in larger events there is a requirement for group stages much like the recent “Curse Trials” which spreads the event out over three or more days and offering that second bullet to players that don't qualify for the finals bracket straight away.
Swiss events are a mainstay of competitive card games stretching back over 20 years. The swiss structure offers players a league structure where each player plays x amount of games dependant on players entered in a round-robin style format. These games will be set in stone, and really offers the best player at that event to persevere and earn the title without the “donk factor”.
The swiss structure pairs players based on matches won, and their tie breakers beyond that. The gulf in class between players becomes realisable by the third round, as the classically trained players will face one another rather than the people that have stumbled through single-elimination matchups. This rewards consistency towards the latter stages of this “Swiss structure” process, as single elimination brackets are drawn up at the end of the Swiss portion of the event and players are seeded relative to the position they finished in this league. First seed plays eighth, second versus seventh and so on.
This swiss event can be controlled by timed matches, and offers the possibility of ties. Whilst the pessimists among us will point out that intentional ties could become a thing and make a mockery of the structure, this process has been tried and tested for years in the TCG world, employed by Magic the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokémon. These ties could be applied within the sets of games played during the match. For example, if there are two fatigue players in a best of 5 set, there is a high chance that they could be going past the time allotted and would have to work out who gets the win. The player with the most wins after the final game once time is called would be declared the winner. Unless the players are then tied 1-1 or 2-2, then points would be awarded for a tie similar to a Football match. Three points for a win, One for a tie, and zero for a loss. This generates a league table in which players can be defined by their performance across the day, not judged by a storm in a bottle.
A swiss event with one-hour rounds can traditionally be run within a day, subject to players present, or even possibly two days. Some of the larger TCG events house 1200+ players. This means there are over eleven rounds of swiss, followed by a cut to either a top 32 or 64.
With the controls on time, and reward for consistency through removing the donk factor, I feel that a swiss event would be something Blizzard could look to employ on a more regular basis, as it rewards the good players, not just the lucky ones.
In my opinion, there are arguments for all three formats. These could be employed for specific events. Dreamhack use the swiss format for their LAN events to great success, where as exhibition tournaments on Twitch use the double elimination format. Certain events call for different structures, although I feel that Swiss to top-cut should be the universal method of separating the Legends from the Innkeepers.
I would love to hear opinions on this, so sound off in the comments with opinions on what makes a tournament a success and a failure, relative to structures and organisation.