We are now 2 ½ seasons deep into the new Pokémon Organized Play system that introduced League Cups, year-round Regional Championships, and International Championships. We’re now heading towards our fifth World Championship with the Day 1/Day 2 split, and our 6thyear with 50-minute, best of 3 Swiss.
This has given us plenty of time to experience each of these systems, allowing us to see the good and bad aspects of each, which makes now a good time to start proposing new ideas on how to sharpen, fix, or replace the current systems to help improve the organized play system for now and the future.
In this article I will present a series of proposals that I have for the organized play side of this game that I think would improve the competitive integrity of the game, improve the player experience, increase attendance, and help build the game as an e-sport…or sport if you want to be pedantic.
1. It’s Time to Kill Off Best of 3, 50-minute Swiss
During the 2013-2014 season, Pokémon introduced 50-minute, best of three Swiss. Five and a half years later, it seems pretty clear that it’s time for Best of 3, 50-minute Swiss to go.
The problem with Best of 3, 50-minute Swiss is that it doesn’t give enough time for players to complete a three-game set of Pokémon. I would estimate the average game of Pokémon probably falls in a range of time of taking 18-22 minutes. On the low end, you’re looking at 54-66 minutes of expected time for three games to complete, along with around 4 minutes of setup time in between games, making for realistically 58-70 minutes needed for the “average” Pokémon game.
From the live pairings I was able to find, the tie rate for rounds 1-8 of tournaments averaged out to around 17% for Regional Championships and International Championships. I looked at these rounds in particular, as round 9 is inflated because of intentional draws, and rounds 10-15 have small numbers of matches leading to greater variance, along with an increase in gentleman’s agreements and intentional draws skewing these numbers.
While 17% doesn’t seem like a big number on the surface, it’s actually much more problematic than it first appears.
You can only tie a match of Pokémon if one of two things happen: The match is tied 1-1 when time is called, or the match is tied 0-0 when time is called. The latter rarely happens, so almost all instances of ties in Pokémon are the result of matches that were tied 1-1 in game count but couldn’t finish a third game.
Therefore, we should only really care about the tie rate in regard to the subset of matches that complete the first two games in a tie. How many matches is it? That’s hard to tell, but we can use some simple probability to determine what it should be on average:
Here are the probabilities for a variety of different matchup ratios for what percentage of the time the match finishes in two games and the percentage it requires a third to determine a winner.
- 50-50: 50% – 2-0 Winner, 50% – 1-1 split
- 60-40: 52% – 2-0 winner, 48% – 1-1 split
- 70-30: 57% – 2-0 winner, 43% 1-1 split
- 80-20: 68% – 2-0 winner, 32% 1-1 split
- 90-10: 82% – 2-0 winner, 18% 1-1 split
The overwhelming majority of matches should fall in the 50-50 or 60-40 ranges, so we can estimate that around 51% of the time a series will complete in 2 games, and 49% of the time it will require a third game
So, if only 49% of matches have the possibility of a tie, that means that approximately 34.7% of all matches that require a third game are ending in a tie. This number still doesn’t show the extent of the problem as this number is deflated because players will concede winnable games to save time for a more probable win in a later game, as well as players using gentleman agreements to decide a winner in games that actually did tie.
50 minutes clearly isn’t enough time to complete three games of Pokémon a high percentage of the time, so it’s time for us to look for other systems.
The establishment defenders that will defend whatever is the status quo at all times would suggest, “The purpose of best of three, 50-minute Swiss is to ensure one good game completes, not to have time for three games.” This is a confusing purpose for people to understand, new players, veterans, and spectators alike. If the purpose is for one game to complete, why not play one game?
It also goes against conventional wisdom of the purpose of Best of 3. As far as I know, all other sports and games that I know of that employ Best of 3 matches play it with the intent that all three games can complete if three games are necessary. Can anyone provide any example of another game using a best of series where there isn’t enough time to complete all games?
Pokémon’s Best of 3, 50-minute Swiss is pretty clearly copied after Magic the Gathering. The difference between the two games is that 50 minutes is generally enough time to finish three games of Magic, while it clearly isn’t for Pokémon.
The Grand Prix Oakland is currently going on while I’m writing this article, and it’s in the fourth round right now. The tie rates for the first three rounds of the tournament? 1.9% round 1, 1.6% in round 2, and 1.3% in round 3. While they still exist, they’re in low enough numbers that they appear to be a tiny part of the tournament experience. Compare this to Pokémon where players have to actively strategize to avoid ties, as they’re such a natural part of our tournament experience.
1B. Replace the 3-1 scoring system with a 2-1 scoring system
The other issue with Pokémon’s Best of 3 Swiss is that wins are worth 3x as much as a tie is, instead of 2x. By providing a bonus point for wins relative to ties, Pokémon adds variance to the tournament and eliminates players from contention more quickly than they would under a more balanced system.
I didn’t really understand the logic behind the bonus point, so I did some research on this, and here’s what I found. Traditional scoring in Chess tournaments is done with ties being worth half a win. It’s a zero-sum game, where players will divide the point between them in some way.
The 3-1 system is referred to as football scoring, and it was used in soccer leagues to discourage draws and instead encourage aggressive play to make the game more exciting for fans. It was adopted in 1981 in England and then in the 1990s by FIFA, prior to this they used a 2-1 system like Chess. It is sometimes used in Chess tournaments as well, to discourage draws and encourage risky play.
Our origins of using the 3-1 system basically comes down to Magic the Gathering’s use of it. For whatever reason they chose the 3-1 system when making their Swiss Tournament system, most likely to discourage draws, and as a result, we’re stuck with it because Pokémon copied Magic for this.
I found a really interesting research paper written by Kjetil K. Haugen and Knut P. Heen of Molde University College in Norway, titled,“Point Score Systems and Cooperative Incentives: The 3-1-0 Curse”. The paper explains how the 3-1 system will lead to more collusion than a 2-1 system as a result of draws being penalized.
Regardless of whether we stick with Best of 3, 50-minute Swiss, or switch over to a new system, I think it would be good for the game if we moved to a 2-1, zero sum system, as it would decrease collusion, keep more players in contention longer into the tournament, and not penalize players for getting ties.
As for alternatives to best of 3, 50-minute Swiss, I think there are two clear models that we could employ for our large tournaments, and I discuss these in the next sections. I would fully endorse both of these alternative systems as a replacement for our current best of 3, 50-minute Swiss system, but I also wouldn’t be opposed to trying Best of 3, 50-minute Swiss with a 2-1 scoring system before moving to a more radical change from what we have now.
1C – The Return of Best of 1, 30* minute Swiss
The first proposal for a new Swiss system would be to bring back Best of 1, 30-minute Swiss, but play more rounds of it in an attempt to decrease variance.
I put an asterisk after 30 as Japan uses a 25-minute, single game system, so it is possible we could move to that instead of 30 minutes.
The big question is how many of these rounds could we fit into the same time that we are using for our tournaments right now. So, let’s calculate that out.
Now in between round time will be pretty standard across events. I would estimate that at a well-run Regional Championship, there is around 15 minutes of in between round time. Therefore, we can calculate a best of 3, 50-minute tournament to take up 65 minutes per round (50 minutes for the round, and then 15 more minutes until the next round, or 15 minutes until final standings are posted after round 9.) Therefore, we would expect one of these tournaments to take a total of 585 minutes for the actual tournament (so not including any possible lunch break), or 9 hours and 45 minutes.
For Day 2 Swiss and its 6 rounds, that is a total of 390 minutes, or 6 hours and 50 minutes.
Therefore, what we need to do is solve for how many rounds of each tournament we can fit into 585 and 390 minutes. Here is what it looks like for each, keeping in between round time constant.
- Best of 3, 50 minutes – 9 rounds
- Best of 1, 30 minutes – 13 rounds
- Best of 1, 25 minutes – 14.625 rounds
- Best of 3, 50 minutes – 6 rounds
- Best of 1, 30 minutes – 8.66 rounds
- Best of 1, 25 minutes – 9.75 rounds
Based on these numbers, here is what our potential tournament situations look like:
- Best of 3, 50 minutes – 9 rounds Day 1, 6 rounds Day 2
- Best of 1, 30 minutes – 13 rounds Day 1, 8 rounds Day 2
- Best of 1, 25 minutes – 14 rounds Day 1, 9 rounds Day 2
Based on the time logistics, if we switch back to a single game Swiss structure, I think 30 minutes would be more preferable to 25 minutes. The value in preventing unfinished games with the extra five minutes seems more valuable to me than the value in adding one extra round each day.
Our single game system would give us 13 rounds Day 1, and 8 rounds Day 2, for a total of 21 matches of Pokémon before we get to the elimination rounds.
I think this would be the best system for the game from an entertainment standpoint, and that might help the game grow more than anything.
It would be great for the streaming of the game. You would have 21 possible feature matches during Swiss, compared to the current 15, which would allow a maximum of 42 different players being featured on stream, compared to the current 30. This would allow more players, decks, and matchups to be featured in streamed games.
Additionally, streamers would essentially be casting 21 matches that almost always conclude, compared to the 15 matches, many of which end unfinished. This makes the game more compelling for its viewing audience, and also simpler to understand for players dropping in and watching the game for their first time.
I also think it would pave the way for the return of the tournament report. These mostly disappeared with Best of 3 Swiss, as it became difficult to remember all the details of so many individual games, and stuff like needing to concede a winnable game to save time for the next game could make games uninteresting, and with how common collusion can be because of the 3-1 scoring system, there are going to be plenty of matches that players don’t want to talk about how they got a win in that one round through a gentleman’s agreement or opponent’s friendly scoop.
1D – The Creation of Best of 2 Swiss
Another alternative is to create a new system that is unique to Pokémon, and that is Best of 2, 50-minute Swiss. 50 minutes isn’t enough time to finish three games of Pokémon naturally, but it’s generally going to be enough time to complete two games of Pokémon naturally.
Here is my proposal for a Best of 2 Swiss format:
- 50 minutes to play 2 games.
- 2-1 scoring system.
- 2-0 and 1-0 results score 2 points, and 1-1 and 0-0 results award 1 point each.
- Coin Flip decides who chooses who goes first in game one.
- Player who didn’t get to choose game 1 chooses who goes first in game two, regardless of who won game 1.
This system attempts to eliminate the variance of a Best of 1 system by playing a second game against the same opponent. It makes for a more enjoyable player experience compared to best of 3, as in this format, the majority of matches will be able to conclude naturally within time.
By keeping 1-0 as a winning match result, setup decks, control decks, stall decks, and other decks that are on the slower side still remain tournament viable.
While this system would inherently force more draws, players would be more accepting of draws because they would be of a completely different nature of the draws in best of 3, and with the 2-1 scoring system they would receive proper value, which means players wouldn’t be penalized for drawing as they are under the current 3-1 system.
Under the current best of 3 system, draws are a frustrating experience that typically come as a result of a third game being unfinished. This creates a frustrating player experience in which sometimes one player has a clear advantage in the incomplete third game. Even in games where one player doesn’t have a clear advantage and it’s in spirit a true draw, it is still a very frustrating experience as a result of the two players being penalized for getting a draw under the 3-1 scoring system.
In this proposed best of 2 model, draws would not be a frustrating experience. They would result from two players showing themselves to be evenly matched through two completed games. With the 2-1 scoring system, the draw would also be valued properly, and players would not be penalized for getting a draw.
A big advantage that this Best of 2 system would bring is that it would eliminate the impact that first turn advantage has on the game, as both players would each get one game to choose who goes first.
The advantage of getting to choose who goes first is hard to quantify, as in some matchups and formats, it might not exist, or be very small, while in others it could be very large. We’ve had matchups, such as Vileplume AOR mirrors, in which whoever went first would win the game a high percentage of the time. We saw in Worlds 2015 where Night March players would opt to go second in the mirror if they knew they were playing a mirror. Even right now, in something like the Malamar mirror matchup, you should win a higher percentage of the time going first than second.
This advantage exists, and this is the one system that could eliminate that advantage from having an impact on the result of tournament matches.
2. Make Seeding Matter
My second proposal is to make seeding matter in Top Cut. This would reward players for strong Swiss performance and prevent them from becoming an underdog as the result of luck (instead of matchup/or general player skill) as they can now.
The way to do this is to have the higher seed in an elimination match get to choose who gets to go first in games 1 and 3, and then the lower seed gets to choose who goes first in game 2.
This would be similar to what our sports leagues currently do in which the higher seed gets home court or home field advantage.
As it is right now, a player could go 15-0 in Swiss, lose the coin flip in their Top 8 match, and then suddenly be at a disadvantage to win the tournament relative to the eight seed.
3. Asymmetric Cut at all Major Events
I think this one is on its way, but it’s still worth mentioning. You play 15 rounds at a Regional Championship or International Championship, and then you bubble out of Top 8 because your Day 2 opponents performed slightly worse than the persons at 7thor 8th.
There is no reason for this when there is the simple tie breaker solution of having the tied parties play it out for those final spots in the playoffs. While sports leagues like the NBA and NFL do not have tiebreaker games, these do actually exist in the MLB, where baseball teams with the same record will play a tiebreaker game to see who gets a playoff spot.
For those unfamiliar what asymmetric cut is, here is how Pokémon describes it for the Nashville Open, the last Pokémon tournament to use it:
The number of players who advance to Sunday will match the standard Play! Pokémon tournament structure, but will also include all players with the same number of match points as the lowest-ranked top-cut player. For example, if the age division would usually cut to Top 8, all players who have the same number of match points as the person in 8th place will also advance to Sunday.
Sunday’s rounds will feature single-elimination best-of-three bracket play. Based on the number of players who advance to Sunday, some players may have a bye for the first round.
A common concern with adding this to tournaments is that it adds too much time to the tournament. I have a compromise solution to this, and that would be to play 30-minute, best of 1 elimination rounds for the asymmetric cut matches prior to the tournament being cut down to only 8 players remaining. From 8 players-on, you would do the standard 75-minute, best of 3 match play.
4. Introduce an Optional Mulligan
This is present in other card games, and it’s something I would like to see brought over to Pokémon. Right now, if you open a hand without a draw out of some kind, you are probably going to lose that game.
I attended a League Cup this quarter where I opened without a Supporter in three consecutive games, and when that happens it becomes very difficult to win, or even play the game, as your opponent just amasses a massive card advantage over you, and you end up without the necessary resources to formulate a coherent strategy. I ended up splitting those games 1-2, as one of my opponents dead drew even worse than me. I essentially wasted my afternoon with that tournament all because of bad variance on my opening hands. If I had the option to mulligan out of those hands, I could have had the potential to actually play the game and have a productive tournament, not making that tournament a complete waste of my time.
If there was an optional mulligan rule in place, these types of bad experiences can be almost completely eliminated, at least from a mathematical standpoint. It’s just a math problem at that point. For example, if you have a deck with an 80% probability of opening a Supporter out, then if you get two runs at it, you would have a 96% probability of having a Supporter out in one of the two trials. If you build a deck with a 90% probability of opening a Supporter out, you would then have a 99% probability of drawing a Supporter out with two tries.
This of course doesn’t completely eliminate the possibility of dead drawing as the result of a bad opening hand, but it does do a great amount in reducing the amount of games in which that would happen.
As for how I would make the rule, I would keep it simple:
“Once per a game (during the setup phase), you may choose to shuffle your opening hand into your deck and draw a new opening hand.”
I don’t think it’s necessary for the opponent to be able to see your hand during an optional mulligan (only on the no Basic Pokémon mulligan). I don’t think you need anything like draw one fewer card, as we shouldn’t be punishing players for wanting to have a hand that allows them to play the game in some way. I think doing something like draw one less card each time you optionally mulligan also gets messy in Pokémon as you need to draw a Basic Pokémon to start the game.
5. Provide Financial Support to Tournament Organizers to Stream Every Regional
Right now, not every tournament has a stream, which I think can hurt the game when spectators can’t continuously watch every part of the circuit throughout the season.
I think TPCI should provide financial support to tournament organizers to ensure tournament streams at all major events throughout the season. Something as little as $2,000 per a Regional Championship would go a long way in paying for internet, sourcing a stream manager to set it up and provide equipment, and to hire local commentators to commentate for the stream.
I realize the organized play team has a small budget that is probably spread very thin, so I would call on the overall company more so than the organized play team to release some more money earmarked specifically for this purpose. Compared to how much they probably spend in advertising in other avenues, would there really be a better spent $40,000 or so than this to have your entire US and European circuits streamed?
6. Get Rid of Quarterly Best Finish Limits
I think these are fine to have in regard to figuring out stipends, but I think these are very detrimental towards the health of organized play in regard to the World Championship invite.
The general theory behind these seems to be that if players need points from every quarter, they will attend events throughout the year to get the points they need from the World Championship invite.
That’s theory, but in reality, what happens is that someone has a bad quarter early on, they then have no way of making up those points because the best finish limit is locked to being quarterly, so they throw up the white flag and quit going for the invite and usually stop going to events for the rest of the season or go to very few events. Sometimes they come back for the next season, other times they just move on and don’t come back to the game.
If you eliminated the quarterly best finish limit and instead just had a Best Finish Limit of 8 for League Cups and League Challenges for the entire season, I think we would see better attendance in the second half of the season as you wouldn’t be functionally eliminated from obtaining an invite so early into the season.
7. Remove Local Events from the Stipend Race
Right now, League Challenges and League Cups count in the stipend race and towards Day 2 invites. I think there is pretty general agreement from the 25 players that actually pursue the Top 16 race that this is dumb and that only the larger events should count towards the stipends and Day 2 invites.
This would be a simple change, all they would need to do is program the leaderboards to only award points from Special Events, Regional Championships, and International Championships when calculating a person’s Championship Point total for the stipends and Day 2 invites.
There is too much variance in terms of event availability as well as difficulty of local areas that it seems somewhat unfair to include them when awarding the biggest prizes in the game.
8. Give each store two League Cups per quarter – 1 Standard, 1 Expanded
This would do a few things. It would give stores two times per a quarter, and eight times per a tournament season to engage with the competitive Pokémon community. It would also increase the number of available League Cup tournaments, helping make them more available for players to play in, giving them more opportunities to receive Championship Points towards their World Championship invite.
The other big thing this does is help give Expanded more legitimacy as a format. Right now, in some areas, Expanded essentially doesn’t exist as a format, as the local stores only run Standard events and there isn’t a nearby Expanded Regional Championship. By mandating that one of these two League Cup tournaments must be Expanded, there would now be relevant Expanded events in all areas.
9. Make League Challenges a Weekly Event, Re-Imagine Pokémon League
I have a vision for a better form of Pokémon League that I think would revitalize the base level of organized play. The way to do this is to turn Pokémon League into an actual league in which players compete with each other to become the League Champion.
Here is how it works, you have four 13-week quarters throughout the year. Every week of the year, you hold League Challenge tournaments in which players compete. Then at the end of the quarter, you tally up the Championship Points, and whoever has the most Championship Points becomes the League Champion. I think I would make the Best Finish Limit for these 8 finishes per a quarter. (These are only counting towards the point total for that individual league, not towards a World Championship Invite. That could keep a Best Finish Limit of 2 per a quarter, or eliminate League Challenges from counting altogether.) Having a best finish limit would give people some breathing room in missing some weeks of league every now and then.
Pokémon would then send some prizing for the Top 4 League finishers for a League for the quarter. I think it would be appropriate to just do promo cards (different than the League Challenge promo cards) for the quarterly rewards. You would then do this for all four quarters throughout the year.
Then at the end of the year, you take the four quarterly totals and add them up to determine a League Champion for the year, as well as the rest of the Top 4. You again have some new stamped promo cards for this, and I think you make a special playmat for the yearly League Champion.
I think this would give players good incentive to attend their local Pokémon League from week to week, while also not putting a big emphasis on it being a significant part of the overall championship series.
I think local leagues could help make this into something special over time as well. For example, a store could put up a trophy plaque and put up the names of their quarterly champions and yearly champions on that trophy plaque to display in the store.
This is only half of my proposal though, I would use League as a way to play Pokémon in new fun ways, as well as some old fun ways. At the beginning of every quarter, Pokémon would release a League schedule, announcing the formats for League for each week of the quarter.
I would make 1/4 of the weeks Standard format, 1/4 of the weeks Expanded format, 1/4 of the weeks retro formats, and 1/4 of the weeks alternative formats.
As Expanded encompasses BLW-on, I think it’s reasonable to hold Retro Format tournaments in any format that came after BLW-on. This means that Pokémon could use any Standard or Expanded format that came after the start of the 2012-2013 season as part of this retro series.
For alternative format tournaments, they could do all sorts of crazy things. They could create a Water Gym tournament in which only Water Pokémon can be used. They could do an Ultra Prism-on format, or Expanded, except Double Colorless Energy is banned, or even do something like Expanded with Lysandre’s Trump Card or Forest of Giant Plants removed from the ban list.
I think these alternate formats would tap into the Pokémon social media scene very well, with players leaping to post the decks they came up with to succeed in these crazy new formats. The retro formats would also allow players to go back and enjoy old formats from years past.
Standard and Expanded format are great formats for competitive play, but there are way more ways to play the game than just those two that could be a lot of fun, and it would be nice to see Pokémon to tap into these other formats in organized play. This new League structure would allow them to do so in a great way.
Edit: After reading some feedback on this idea, I felt I should add a couple of follow ups.
First, one concern is that League should be free to play. To that, it’s important to remember that League Challenges can be run with no entry fee, and it’s up to the store if they want to collect entry fee or not.
Second, even if your league has paid entry for the League Challenge, there is nothing forcing you to play in it. You can play casual games with people interested in that concurrently with the tournament portion of the league going on.
This is the best of both worlds, where the people interested in very casual play can co to us doing that at League as they do now, while people interested in a more competitive league experience could participate in this new League Challenge system.
Another concern is that this puts too of a burden on League Leaders, which is a fair point. The 13 full weeks of a quarter for the Challenges is probably too much of an ask.
A better approach could be for Pokémon to release a schedule of 8 different events, and League Leaders choose the best 8 league sessions to schedule the challenges.
This does lose the power of the strong social media boost that a given Challenge week could have for the retro and alternate formats of every League isn’t on the same page though.
Another solution could be to release a full 13 week schedule, but allow leagues to skip a few weeks each quarter if they don’t work for the League Leader.
This is just the first attempt at forming the idea for a Pokémon League like this, so there definitely are some holes in the idea that would need to be patched up before coming into reality.
10. Re-introduce Automatic Invites
These used to exist, but Pokémon got rid of them, and it would be nice to see these make a comeback. An automatic invite is an invite to the World Championship that is gained by performance at a single tournament. These have existed in multiple forms throughout the years, with the most recent examples outside of the automatic invites gained for top performers at the World Championship being the automatic invites players could win by making Top 8 at the US National Championship.
My proposal for what these automatic invites would be, if implemented under the current structure, would be:
- Special Events* – Day 1 Invite for 1stPlace
- Regional Championships – Day 2 Invite for 1stPlace, Day 1 Invite for 2nd-4th
- International Championships – Day 2 Invite for 1st& 2nd, Day 1 Invite for 3rd-8th
I put an asterisk next to Special Events, as the Day 1 invite should be the minimum prizing. At the Special Events that are meant to mirror a Regional Championship, the Regional automatic invite structure could be used.
This would provide players incentive to play in Regional Championships throughout the entirety of the season, no matter a players Championship Point total, as a good run at any Regional, even the last of the season, could land them into the World Championship, even if they had 0 Championship Points headed into that tournament.
With 14 Regional Championships and 1 International Championship, there would be a total of 64 possible automatic invites awarded throughout the season from the North America rating zone, and then others from other rating zones’ tournaments too. It wouldn’t actually be 64 total though, as some players would finish in the automatic invite slots multiple times throughout the season, so functionally it would be less.
If we applied this automatic invite structure to the current season, here is what the automatic invites awarded would look like right now for North American players.
Day 2 Invites:
- James Taylor (Nashville Open)
- Caleb Gedemer (Philadelphia) [Also Day 1 via LAIC]
- Daniel Altavilla (Memphis/LAIC)
- Jimmy Pendarvis (Portland/Roanoke/Anaheim)
Day 1 Invites:
- Colin Norman (Nashville Open)
- John Kriewall (Nashville Open)
- Rukan Shao (Philadelphia)
- Xander Pero (Philadelphia)
- Aaron Rucker (Philadelphia)
- Kyle Lesniewicz (Memphis)
- Michael Bergerac (Memphis)
- Aaron Tarbell (Portland)
- Zachary Everest (Portland)
- Joe Sanchez (Portland)
- Alex Schemanske (LAIC)
- Zach Lesage (LAIC)
- Tran Nguyen (Roanoke)
- Franco Llamas (Roanoke)
- Stephen Hunter (Roanoke)
- Connor Finton (Anaheim)
- Preston Ellis (Anaheim)
- Le Bui (Anaheim)
To make something very clear on this, to make sure there is no confusion, these automatic invites would be in addition to the at large invites that could be earned through Championship Points.
Some people might say we shouldn’t have automatic invites like this as it would decrease attendance, but I don’t think this would be the case. While a few of these people with automatic invites might choose to stop playing for the rest of the season because they have their invite locked up, most will continue to play for the enjoyment of the game, some of the Day 1 auto qualifiers will continue playing to try winning a Day 2 auto qualification, or to improve their chances of getting an at large Day 2 invite for finishing in the Top 16.
In adding these automatic invites, if you keep the Day 2 system, I would decouple Day 2 invites from receiving a travel award to the World Championship. Those would stay with the Top 16 players (or Top 22 in Europe, etc.) in a region, as it is now. So, if you get the Day 2 auto invite, but aren’t in Top 16, you don’t get a travel award to the World Championship.
I think this would greatly improve attendance in the second half of the season as now no matter how late in the schedule we are, no one would be eliminated from gaining a spot in the World Championship.
I think this would help with general player retention as well. Right now, when people no longer want to play Pokémon hardcore, they generally quit the game altogether as there is no meaningful way for them to compete in the competitive circuit, as the World Championship circuit is entirely based around devoting most of your weekends in a year to Pokémon.
This would allow people who don’t want to be as heavily involved in the game because they got old or busy to still choose 3-4 Regional Championships throughout the year to train for to try to get into the World Championship.
This should all add into improved attendance at Regional Championships throughout a season, especially in the second half where we see a huge dip every year. I think every Regional Championship tournament organizer should be in favor of the return of automatic invites, as it greatly increases the prizes their tournaments are awarding, while awarding a prize that costs nothing, but would have a big impact on attendance.
11. Get Rid of the Day 1/Day 2 World Championship Format
The final change I would make is getting rid of the Day 1/Day 2 World Championship structure, and instead just bring back a single World Championship event. After five years of this format, I think it is generally bad for the game.
The Top 16 race for Day 2 invites doesn’t really have a positive impact on the game. It hasn’t done much to create a pro class of players as intended, and instead has led to a lot of toxicity in the community, with some Top 16 contenders bribing opponents or pressuring opponents to scoop matches to them at tournaments because they’re not in the Top 16 hunt.
Additionally, very few people actually go for the Top 16 invite, as the cost of airfare from most areas is too high to justify going after it. With so few people going for this, it’s easy to see this doesn’t have much of an impact on tournament attendance.
It’s also the World Championship, so players should be able to show that they’re the best, even when playing on equal footing as everyone else. The advantage of the best players in the game in this tournament should be that they’re better at the game than other competitors, not that they get to skip half of the tournament.
With the automatic Day 2 invites, Pokémon has really stacked the deck in favor of the Day 2 competitors. Not only do they not have to play in the first half of the tournament, but they also get to scout out the meta from Day 1 and can steal any deckbuilding ideas from Day 1 competitors.
It’s a very raw deal for the players that have to play in Day 1. They have to play through highly volatile qualifying rounds to get into the real World Championship, and if they come up with an amazing rogue deck, it can be stolen by other players headed into Day 2, diminishing the deckbuilding advantage they built for themselves. If they choose to keep it a secret for Day 2, either to keep it a secret for themselves or for teammates already qualified for Day 2, they leave themselves vulnerable to getting eliminated by playing a subpar deck.
The qualifying rounds are highly volatile for the players in it, and no individual player is going to have a good shot at making it out of these rounds. Here are the probabilities of winning 6/8 rounds for a player with various win rates, assuming players play in a manner to avoid draws.
- 80% win rate – 79.7% probability of going 6-2 or better.
- 75% win rate – 67.9% probability of going 6-2 or better.
- 70% win rate – 55.2% probability of going 6-2 or better.
- 65% win rate – 42.8% probability of going 6-2 or better.
- 60% win rate – 31.5% probability of going 6-2 or better.
- 55% win rate – 22.0% probability of going 6-2 or better.
- 50% win rate – 14.5% probability of going 6-2 or better.
Some people will look like this, and just think, get good, then you won’t have an issue getting through Day 1, but it’s not exactly that simple. A 70% win rate gives players barely over a ½ chance of making it into Day 2…and almost no one has a win rate of better than 70%, and that’s just in tournaments in general that they don’t have a >70% win rate.
This is the World Championship, so win rates will naturally close in towards 50% more so than they do in a general tournament, as almost everyone you play is going to be really good at the game.
During the 2015-2016 season, which was my best season, I finished 13thin North America in Premier Rating. My win rate was 68% that season according to my Play Pokémon player profile. You can assume that the number of players with a better win rate than me that season wasn’t a very big number.
Despite being one of the highest ranked players playing in Day 1 that year, my 68% win rate gave me only a 50.1% probability of getting out of Day 1. This is also based on a year with 8 rounds on Day 1. In a year with 9 rounds Day 1, this becomes an even larger problem. You would need a 71.4% win rate to even have a 50% probability of making Day 2 in a 9 round year.
This is why we see stuff like this at the World Championship:
- Jose Marrero – Did not qualify for Day 2
- Zakary Krekeler – Did not qualify for Day 2
- Ryan Allred – Did not qualify for Day 2
- Alex Hill – Did not qualify for Day 2
- Isaiah Williams – Did not qualify for Day 2
- Chris Siakala – Did not qualify for Day 2
- Aaron Tarbell – Did not qualify for Day 2
- Zachary Bokhari – Did not qualify for Day 2
- Daniel Lynch – Did not qualify for Day 2
- Peter Kica – Qualifed for Day 2
- Jon Eng – Did not qualify for Day 2
- Riley Hulbert – Qualified for Day 2
- Russell LaParre – Did not qualify for Day 2.
- Kian Amini – Qualified for Day 2
- Ahmed Ali – Qualified for Day 2
- Chris Venier – Did not qualify for Day 2.
This past year, of course all of the Top 16 make Day 2. Only 4/16 of the next 16 were able to qualify for Day 2.
The Day 1/Day 2 system is awful for anyone that doesn’t get a Day 2 invite. While higher skill will improve your probability of moving on to Day 2 of the tournament, it’s still a giant crapshoot of a tournament, with even the best players participating in Day 1 only having just over a 50% probability of moving onto Day 2 and the real World Championship.
A better format would be to use the same tournament structure we use for every other major tournament in the circuit, which is the two-day Swiss format.
Play 9 rounds on Day 1, bring over all players with 19 or more match points into Day 2, and then play 5 or 6 more rounds of Swiss to determine a top cut, and then play elimination rounds until we have a new World Champion.
This tournament structure works well for a small World Championship with around 250 players, as well as a larger World Championship with more than 600 players.
While the number of players participating in the World Championship is for TPCI to determine, I do think the larger World Championships is better for overall attendance for the circuit throughout the entire season, and the lower attendance in the circuit this season with the 550-point invite threshold seems to provide some evidence for this case.
By moving to this tournament structure, we would have more rounds played to determine a World Champion (14 or 15 rounds compared to the 7 we have right now), decreasing variance, and all World Championship participants would be able to utilize their deckbuilding and metagaming skill to their full potential.
This would also allow them to do something else that I think aligns with their goals for Worlds weekend. They could hold an Open tournament that completely excludes World Championship competitors. As you no longer have the Day 1/Day 2 split, you could now properly award Championship Points at the World Championship (either giving it point totals equal to a Regional Championship or an International Championship), while also holding the Open. If you do bad at the World Championship, oh well, you still had your opportunity for Championship Points that weekend.
This does remove that big incentive that players travel the globe chasing after from the tournament structure, but that’s probably not a big deal, as so few players are chasing after it anyhow, and this change would improve things for more players at a much greater number than the few players it makes winning the World Championship more difficult for. Additionally, the travel awards and stipends still exist as an incentive for being a top point performer.
I think one thing that they could do to create a secondary incentive is to hold an Expanded Invitational tournament with some type of significant cash prizing on the Thursday headed into the World Championship to hype up the event. This invitational could include your Regional Champions and Finalists, International Championship Top 8 finishers, and then all of your travel award and stipend players that don’t fall under one of those other categories.
This is just my two cents on what I think can be done to improve organized play. There seems to be a lot of discontent with the current organized play system, so I felt this was an important topic to cover. Most likely, people will agree with some of my ideas, disagree with some, and be neutral on others, which is completely fine. We all have different ideas of how organized play should work, these are just ideas I have for how the player experience can be improved, attendance could be increased, and how players could be incentivized to attend various event series.