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Seeding is the Root of the Problem

ShockSmash - May 7, 2018

The life of a tournament organizer (TO) is not easy. It is fraught with responsibilities that can either make or break a tournament. I think it is a thankless task that comes with many responsibilities—responsibilities that are necessary to make events as enjoyable as possible. Nonetheless, there is room for error. When an error occurs, it can derail a player’s chance at not only placing in the top 8 but losing that valuable and extremely needed prize money. It could even impact the player’s relationship with their sponsors or team.

This article is, in fact, a direct result of an email I received from players about issues that occurred at various tournaments. As I read the email, I was made aware of recurring issues and how they were handled by TOs and larger eSports organizations such as Smash.gg.

I was shocked to find that many inquiries remained unanswered and a lot of issues went unresolved. My initial thought was to blame the grassroots nature of eSports and the inherent desire by TOs and organizations to move onto the next tournament. After all, why should they dwell on previous issues when players still sign up for the next tournament? As eSports tournaments (in this case Smash Bros.) grow beyond the grassroots level, players’ issues need to be resolved to ensure and sustain that growth.

We need to address complaints, make things right, and prevent future problems from occurring. If we, as an eSports community, hope to see growth and increased sponsorship, then we need to make sure that the organizers are working to be support players and not just their own organization.

If I was going to write an article in reply to the email, I needed to understand how seeding occurs and why it is so important. Before the email, I had zero understanding of these past tournaments and only had a cursory understanding of seeding. In order to find these answers, I went directly to some local TOs to get their take on seeding. Here was what I found out:

  1. The first set is usually seeded around a player’s level; after, they fight against a higher-level player.
  2. You can’t really seed all people as it takes too much time.
  3. Some TOs do not understand how to seed well.
  4. gg uses an Auto-seeding system.
  5. There is personal preference based on who the TO believes will win.
  6. People may request a change in pools, which can cause seeding issues.

After hearing the TOs speak about seeding, my initial assumptions were confirmed. It is difficult to be a TO. There are nuances and personal preferences that are taken into account when creating and running a tournament. In fact, I heard the old saying, “You can’t please all the people all the time,” several times during my research for this article.

The original quote is from a fourteenth century poet and monk named John Lydgate, “You can please some of the people all of the time; you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” It still applies today.

“You can please some of the people all of the time…”—that is the part that really stuck out to me when I was reading through the issues outlined in the email. It made me wonder. If a handful of players from different levels and regions are reaching out to me and raising questions about seeding and tournament organization; then, whois truly being made happy? Is there a player bias?

In order to answer this question and address the issues in the email, I needed to reach out to the TO who was in charge of these national events. Now, when one person becomes the figurehead for an organization or tournament, they can oftentimes receive more than their fair share of anger so I did not want to solely blame the TO without getting his side of the story. Since I am an objective third party who is new to Smash tournaments and eSports, I felt like I could get answers that would satisfy all parties. In this case, I wanted to get a response from Bassem “Bear” Dahdouh, the head TO, who ran the events in question.

 I sent out an email and tried to set up a meeting with Bear. Unfortunately, he was not able to set up a time to meet. He recommended that I reach out to Luis "suar" Suarez, the Director of Panda Global’s Statistics team or Stephenson “Bam” Bamidele, the FGC/Smash Project Manager at the Esports Arena. I sought out both and followed up with Bear.

Suar and I connected on Twitter. He offered some insight into seeding and tournaments in general, which you will see below.

Bam agreed to hop on a video chat and was really eager to answer any questions. I had received answers from Bear and suar at this point, so I told Bam not to worry about it right now. I honestly did not know how much he could answer as he was the Event Organizer (EO) for Smash Master’s Battle for Vegas, but did not run the event or do anything with seeding. On a positive note, Bam agreed to come on the podcast, which I am sure will be a terrific interview. More to come on that later.  

With all of that in mind, let us look at some of the concerns that were expressed by players and see if we can find some answers. The first person to answer was suar. 

Steve: The issue is that players had problems with last minute bracket changes and seeding at a few events over the last couple years. They wanted the head TO of these events (Bear) to address their concerns and talk about ways of preventing future issues.

suar: That's unfortunately all too common and TOs are held to the parameters EOs set up so they unfortunately get crucified for last minute drops or registration. Historically, registration closes up to one to two weeks before the event so that TOs can seed. Even in those ideal buffer times, after pools are made public, top players drop out due to conflicts, sickness, or even just plain missing their flight. This then throws everything dramatically out of balance because some pools are viewed then as "free.” However, TOs cannot reseed because people have been preparing for their pool for days on end.

 Apart from that, the other case is that registration is accepted until the event begins…often in the early morning. Many people wait until last minute and the seeding that comes about from that is usually less than ideal.
Everyone is partly responsible and the lack of standardization and regulation kind of prevents from legitimately holding TOs accountable but at the same time, the players don't make it easy.

What I can say is that in all of Smash 4's life span, no TO has ever rigged a bracket for their friends at a major event. I just want to be clear seeding is a systemic, grass-roots issue. Hopefully that offers some clarification.

Eventually, Bear agreed to answer questions through email. Below are my questions and his answers in regard to the issues in the email.

 

Level Up Expo 2016

Yes, I know this is two years ago, but it caused a lot of frustration for players. According to the email, the tournament was scheduled to be a one-day tournament; it later became a two-day tournament without any advanced warning. Many players were forced to drop out, including Chris “Falln” Rugg, who made it to the top 8. This lack of communication resulted in Falln not being able to compete, and it also meant a monetary loss.

Now, I would like to note that Falln was not one of the players who reached out to me, but I followed up with him on Twitter to get some answers from his point of view.

Falln told me that he was compensated out of pocket by Bear. The payout ended up being the equivalent of a 4th place finish. I was happy to hear this. Despite it not being the ideal solution, I did find it interesting that Bear tried to help resolved the issue by paying Falln himself. 

Steve: What was the reasoning behind changing the structure of the tournament?

Bear: When I set the schedule, I was under the impression we would be in a specific Tournament area with no interference. What ended up as we got closer to Top 8 was the con had a really loud dance contest right by the tournament stage that was extremely disruptive. After talking to the Production Team and other players, we came to an agreement that the rest of the tournament should be played the next day to avoid interference with the tournament itself. This was one of the reasons why I didn't want to work with them the next year along with being very cautious when contracting with "Cons" as their goals don't always align with mine.

Steve: Falln was compensated out of your pocket for the change. How did this come about and what was your motive in compensating Falln this way?

Bear: I felt horrible that he made it out all the way from San Diego and was under the impression Singles would be completed in one day on Saturday. Since he made Top 8, he was the only player who couldn't stay the next day as he planned to come and go for one day. So I wanted to make it up to him somehow for the inconvenience. 

Steve: What have you done to prevent this kind of thing happening in the future?

Bear: Ever since that event I actually been very much upfront in contracts with any events that I'd have full schedule well ahead of time to adequately suggest and plan a schedule for a tournament. I've also been more selective on what events I work with to avoid a sub-par experience for people as I wouldn't be able to control everything, but I can at least not be part of an event if I foresee a problem out of my control. 

 

Genesis 4

There was a bracket mix-up that resulted in incorrect seeding. These changes caused top players to fight difficult matches and to create potential double jeopardy situations. It appears that there was a lot of dropped communication between CurlyW who responded with a lengthy and heartfelt explanation on what he believed happened. You can read his take here—

https://www.reddit.com/r/smashbros/comments/5pyd87/genesis_4_wii_u_singles_phase_2_pools_was_using.

Steve: The big question is how did it get this far? Was it a glitch with Smash.gg or was it an oversight?

Steve: When CurlyW sent you a message to run the event off the paper, why didn’t you stick to that?

Steve: What steps have been taken to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

Bear: Bear chose to answer these questions in one answer, which I will post at the end of the next section.

 

 Smash Master’s Battle for Vegas

I released a vlog about my experience at this opening event in the Esports Arena in Las Vegas. I had a terrific time, and I believe it was because of this vlog that prompted players to reach out to me.

Seeding was the major issue at this event as well. “Eon” who is from So Cal, was seeded 4th in his pool, but he is ranked 51st on the PGR and 9th in So Cal. In addition, he was set to play against four So Cal players in a row. Usually, the home region has to fight against each other. In fact, when I was at Rise 2018 in Arizona, the AZ players fought a ton of matches against AZ. At the Smash Master’s League, Vegas players fought against Vegas players. This is the norm.

However, it is common for traveling regions to request pool changes, so they do not have to play against players in their region right off the bat. I was the traveling player at Rise 2018, and the TOs were more than willing to change it so Vegas didn’t have to fight Vegas in pools. Actually, they were surprisingly accommodating.

I would like to note that Eon was not one of the players who reached out to me in the email, so I tracked him down on Twitter and asked him to provide me with his thoughts. Eon said he was seeded 27thand felt like he should have been seeded 16thor so. He believed that was off right off the bat. And, I will note that I commented in my vlog that 18 of the top 50 PGR were here for this event. If Eon is 51st, he would logically be seeded 19th. The fact that he was 27this curious as he is in that Area-51 range and is seeded 9thin probably the most stacked region in the US.

In regard to his pools, Eon said that he had checked his pools and they were fine at first. Then, there was some scheduling change and it resulted in him being forced to play So Cal players. He said that he and Larry Lurr tried to reach out to Bear, but did not get a response. He wasn’t notified about the change and was definitely not happy. 

I remembered hearing about this, so I scrolled back through Twitter and found some of his tweets.

 

You can see his frustration, and it is totally understandable. As I mentioned above, I felt the same way about Rise. There were sixteen Vegas people at the event and my first pool had me fighting four Vegas people. It was basically a Vegas local. I was bummed that I would not get to mix it up with players from other regions. Some of the Vegas players said to reach out for a pool change. 

I contacted Javier, who was co-running Rise 2018. He was more than happy to change it around for us. It was really great, and Rise only had about fifteen fewer people than Smash Master’s so a change at Smash Master’s League would not have been out of the question. In addition to Eon, there were sixteen people who were disqualified at this event. This was also due to late minute bracket changes.

Steve: Why was Eon seeded in this way?

Steve: Did Eon him reach out to you?

Steve: How far did you guys seed? Was it everyone or top 50, top 100?

Steve: Was seeding done through an auto-seed program? 

Steve: Did any of the other sixteen people reach out to you after being disqualified? 

Bear: As for any seeding questions, I'm in very much open to any committee that's willing to form to help with major events. I would also be willing to compensate them for their time as well as I think for certain events it's quite important to have as many collective smart folks with head to head and local ranking knowledge to assist heads of events when it comes to seeding.

I also implore players to encourage their TOs to use smash.gg and the smash.gg Bracket Feedback tooling https://help.smash.gg/hc/en-us/articles/115009858988-Bracket-Feedback. I've been an advocate of this feature at the company and many players' voices go unheard if they tweet it into the void of nothing. Even @ing a TOing doesn't help as notifications can get lost and the smash.gg feature will allow tracking for the TOs in charge of Conflict Feedback. It'll vastly help the experience for a lot of players to get their voices heard and things changed. I managed the Conflict Feedback for Evo 2017 and went through almost 2000 pieces of feedback to resolve across all games.

 

Top player privilege

This was mentioned a few times too. At Genesis 5 and at Smash Master’s Vegas, PGR players were given more time so they would not get disqualified. I see why this is a thing. Top players are a draw for viewers on Twitch, so you do not want to DQ them early and risk losing out on viewers, except…this is not really fair. If you have rules, all the players need to stick to them. You do not see a basketball game held up because LeBron James is running late. No one player should be above the rules.

The funny thing is that I arrived a bit early on Saturday at the Battle for Vegas and Salem, and K9sbruce were waiting outside. Not that I am saying they should have been ushered in on a red carpet, but they are in the top 50 in the world and probably should have been brought it early. I do not buy into top player privilege, but I think some common courtesies like that are perfectly fine.  

Steve: What are your thoughts on top player privilege? 



Steve: Why would you give more time to a PGR player than a low-tier or mid-tier player?

Bear: Bear did not provide answers to these questions.

On a similar note, there were last minute pool changes mentioned a few times in the email. When something like this occurs, there has to be more time given. People are traveling out of state and paying money to compete. If the TOs or pool captains are making changes, there needs to be ample time for everyone to be informed. This might include announcements at the venue, on twitter, on Facebook, and in emails to registered players.

Steve: What kind of effort is made to inform players of pool changes?

Bear: Bear did not provide an answer.

 At the end of the day, one thing keeps repeating itself over and over again. Seeding. This is easily understood when you imagine that a player’s chance of making the Top 8 are drastically improved if they are seeded correctly. The question becomes—if we are regularly hosting tournaments with 100 to 3000 people, what is being done to ease this issue and solve the problem for both TOs and players?

The big revelation that came from this research was that players need to be more actively involved in seeding and in talking to TOs and EOs. Yes, as we have established, we cannot please all the people all the time, but we can work hard to ensure that we are doing things correctly. We can ensure that we are seeding as best as we can and that we are informing players when bracket changes are made within 24-48 hours before the tournament begins.

There are a lot of things to consider here, but I really hope a panel is formed to speak with Smash.gg, TOs, EOs, and whoever else may be needed to make sure issues are stopped before they begin.  

As eSports grow, the tournament support systems need to grow as well. I can only hope that improvements will be made, and we will see these types of issues become a thing of the past. If you have experienced tournament issues, feel free to contact me. I will gladly help to identify and prevent problems in the future.

You can check out my progress in Esports at www.BeyondBetaPodcast.com,or on YouTube at Beyond Beta Podcast. You can follow me on Twitter @SteveJShockey, or follow the podcast on Twitter @BeyondBetaPod.

Steve "ShockSmash" Shockey

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