Last year, the Worlds Qualification system underwent some major changes. Instead of handing out invites to the players with the highest ELO rating, which measured skill by weighing a player’s wins and losses against his or her opponents’ ratings, a Championship Point system was adopted that would reward players that placed high at Premier Events, but never punish them for poor performances.
The main advantage created in the new Championship Point system was that players would no longer feel the need to protect their rating from risk by either dropping or sitting out entirely from a tournament. At the 2009 Georgia City Championship Marathon (also referred to as the 2009 Aaron Curry Tackles You in a Friendly Game of Parking Lot Two-Hand Touch Football Marathon), I watched as many as half of the players that would make a Top 8 Cut drop from the tournament after the Swiss rounds rather than risk points against the skilled players that they would face in the Top Cut. That year, at U.S. Nationals, other skilled players, including Chris Fulop, realized their rating had secured a Worlds invitation, and rather than risk losing points and their invitation by playing, they chose to sit the National Championship out.
When you think about it, the system did appear to be flawed; if a player that would make the Top Cut instead dropped after the Swiss rounds completed, his or her rating would fare much better than a player in an identical situation that chose to play the Top Cut, but lost in the first round of it. Depending on whom you were paired against, it was very possible you could make the Top Cut, lose your first round, and end up with an even lower ELO rating than you had at the beginning of the tournament! In other words, you could make the Top Cut, but end up with a lower chance at qualifying for Worlds after the tournament finished. Even worse, in most cases, a player with an established ELO rating could win his first round of the Top Cut, and then be eliminated in the subsequent round, and still lose points by playing in the Top Cut. (The player would lose points from playing in the Top Cut, but not necessarily overall.) In terms of rating, that player would have been better off simply dropping after Swiss, even though he or she won his or her first match. In a City Championships with a Top 8 cut, a player with a high ELO rating that made the Top Cut often had only two possible outcomes from playing in the Top Cut:
1) Win the tournament and gain ELO points from the Top Cut.
2) Finish any place other than 1st and lose ELO points from playing in the Top Cut.
While the player’s gain from 1st place would almost always be higher than the loss had he or she been eliminated in Top 4 or the Finals, a player that was comfortable with his or her rating sometimes felt it was better not to take the risk.
Additional issues arose from the fact that some skilled players had chose to enter the season later, perhaps skipping City Championships and first appearing at a State or Regional Championship. These skilled players would have ratings much lower than other skilled players who had already built their rating by playing and winning in earlier tournaments. If you had a high ELO rating, playing a tournament with these latecomers was like playing Russian Roulette, take a loss to one of them and your rating would crash. Beat them, and you’d gain very little. Though your opponent may very well be a skilled player, if it is not reflected in his or her ELO rating, your ELO rating will take a big hit by losing to him or her. Areas that had a higher proportion of skilled players entering the season later would, on average, curb the ELO ratings of the highest-rated players. This problem was augmented by the fact that these State and Regional Championships would have a higher “K Rating,” meaning wins and losses would have a larger effect on your ELO rating than at previous, smaller tournaments.
It should go without saying that the constant dropping and sitting out of tournaments combined with the nerve-wracking games against a low-rated opponent produced a less fun tournament environment. (Losing on Turn 1 to a Sableye and dropping 20 ranking spots didn’t seem to please anyone.) The ELO system produced a lot of crazy situations, too. In a City Championship with a Top 8 cut, I once saw a player who finished 11th win the event as three players dropping allowed him to sneak in to the Top Cut at 8th and win the event.
The Championship Point system implemented in 2011 fixed this issue. No longer would performing poorly at a tournament jeopardize your opportunity to earn a World’s invite. Although I hear criticisms about both systems, I’ve yet to hear one person voice the opinion that the ELO system was superior to the Championship Point system. Players complain that the Championship Point system gives an advantage to those who attend more events, and this is true. But I have also yet to read an idea for a rating system that would remove this advantage without also encouraging players to sit out and drop from tournaments.
In the 2011-2012 season, Worlds invites were given to the Top 40 players in each division from North America, and the Top 50 from Europe/Africa. It took Masters players in North America 49 Championship Points to earn an invite, and 39 to earn it in Europe/Africa. This year, in the 2012-2013 season, Play! Pokémon revised the system. Since they now had an idea of how many points were needed to make the Top 40/50, and the tournament structure would remain nearly identical, they instead promised invites to players that accumulated a certain number of Championship Points. They further modified the system by multiplying the points by 10 in order to award a small number of points for some lower placings at events that did not previously award any points (while still based on divisional attendance).
In the United States and Europe, earning 400 Championship Points, equivalent to 40 last year, will earn an invite to the 2013 World Championships. Battle Roads will now award a small number of points to more than just the Top 4 finishers. However, they will no longer feature a Top Cut, only Swiss rounds. City Championships will also award points to more positions.
Let’s take a closer look at the biggest changes made from last year into this year’s 2012-2013 season:
#1 Awarding Invites to a Point Threshold Instead of Rankings
The big advantage here is that players know exactly what it takes to earn a Worlds invite. Instead of being surprised by some last minute ranking changes, they can be assured that if they hit a certain number of points, they will qualify for Worlds.
There’s only one disadvantage to this, and it’s quite small; the amount of players attending Worlds can be unpredictable. What if we end up with a large number of players, and the Worlds timeframes force us to cut to a smaller Top Cut size than would be appropriate? Or much less likely, what if we simply end up with a very small amount of players meeting the point requirement, and end up with an uncharacteristically small Worlds event? The latter seems almost impossible, and even last year, with a set amount of invitations awarded, the event size ended up with a less-than-ideal amount of players since many invited players chose not to attend. When I say less-than-ideal, I am referring to the fact that many players with high win percentages (myself included at 5-2) missed the Top Cut. Ideally, if you can determine how many players will attend a tournament, you can choose a number of players and rounds that produces a Top Cut where resistance plays a minimal role in determining who makes the Top Cut. The uncertainty of entrants into the tournament may produce some less-than-perfect Top Cuts, but you can argue that this uncertainty would exist anyway.
#2 Issuing Points to More Places at Battle Roads & City Championships
Since invites are now given to a certain point requirement, giving more points simply means more invites. Who doesn’t want a better chance at qualifying for the World Championships? Awarding points to more finishers helps balance out the high amount of luck involved in the game and reward consistent players.
#3 More Even Distribution of Championship Points at Battle Roads
In addition to awarding more finishers points, Battle Roads now award points more evenly to the finishers. Last year, 1st awarded the equivalent of 20 points, 2nd 10 points. This year, the system was changed to spread the points more evenly:
1st: 15 Points
2nd: 12 Points
3rd-4th: 10 Points
(Depending on attendance, more places can earn points.)
Considering the luck involved in these Battle Roads, I like the more evened-out point distribution.
#4 Issuing Points at the World Championship for the Following Season
A new experiment this year involves awarding 2012-2013 Championship Points to players that performed well at the 2012 World Championships. Since Worlds is the culmination of a season, awarding these points into the 2011-2012 season would have made no sense. Awarding success at the World Championship with points toward the following World Championship was a great idea that is consistent with the idea of rewarding players who consistently perform well.
The only counter-argument would be that it’s unfair to new players to be ranked behind players who played the previous season, but since the system was changed to award invites to a certain point level, rather than by rankings, this argument no longer exists! (I’d like to think that these simultaneous changes did not occur fortuitously, but rather because someone at TPCi thought these things out.)
#5 Removing Top Cuts from Battle Roads
Battle Road tournaments were always proclaimed by TPCi as tournaments intended for beginners, which is why they finally decided to remove Top Cut rounds and make them Swiss-only tournaments. These season-opening tournaments are now less time-consuming, but I can’t help but ask: If these tournaments are for beginners, why do they play a role in determining who qualifies for Worlds? Without a Top Cut, the luck factor becomes huge in determining how players place, and given how competitive earning an invite is, do we really want to basically force players to travel to play in what will often be nothing more than a three-hour luckfest? Three hours is a generous assumption for the Juniors and Seniors. In many areas, these divisions will do nothing more than play three or four games and call it a day. They’ll probably spend more time driving and registering than playing.
The counter-argument, and indeed a legitimate one, is that no one is realistically being forced to play in these events. Since Worlds invites are given by a point requirement rather than a relative ranking, players cannot “surpass” you by attending tournaments you do not. Rather, these tournaments are just extra opportunities to earn points, and who would argue against more chances at points? However, it is important to realize that though the point requirement to qualify is lower than last year, even some of the most skilled players will most likely need some points from Battle Roads to earn their invite. A better alternative may have been to reduce the points required for an invitation by 50 and not awarded points as Battle Roads. I must concede, though, the point requirement is lower than I expected, and it is still very possible for a good player to earn an invite without playing any Battle Road tournaments.
Yet another alternative that allows maintaining a more skill-based tournament would have been to remove the Top Cut, but replace those rounds with more rounds of Swiss. For example, instead of doing a Top 4, do two more rounds of Swiss. Two more rounds of Swiss will generally only add about 80 minutes to an event, but it allows a player who loses a game to still win the tournament. (This isn’t the case in most Battle Roads now.)
It’s odd that I don’t actually disagree with removing the Top Cut from Battle Roads; there are so many tournaments now throughout the year that I hardly would mind a break to let beginners play in their own tournament. Rather, it’s only because Battle Roads issue Championship Points and play a role in determining who earns a Worlds invitation that I disapprove. After all, it seems contradictory to call a tournament that helps send players to Worlds a “Beginner’s” tournament. Tournaments can become more of chores than an enjoyable hobby when you are driving hours for such short, luck-based events.
#6 400 Point Requirement
Is 400 points (US/Europe) a fair and reasonable requirement? Given that last year it took the equivalent of 490 points, 400 makes this year seem even more obtainable.
Perhaps it isn’t entirely accurate to say that the equivalent of 490 was necessary to earn an invitation last year, as their have been some other limitations placed in the structure. Winning a City Championship now only awards 50 points (last year it was the equivalent of 60), and you can only count your best four City Championship performances this year, instead of six. Also, there are rumors that there may be less City Championships to play in this year.
There are, however, some small bonuses this year that help you earn more points, too. First, there is a third weekend of Regional Championships in North America, making it possible to play in three Regional tournaments. Unfortunately, the distance between these tournaments will make attending three impractical for most players. But since more places are awarded points at Battle Roads & City Championships this year, I think it’s fair to say 400 is indeed the rough equivalent of 40 points last year. And for those that earned points at Worlds, it’s definitely going to be easier than last year to earn an invite.
There were some minor changes I did not mention, but let my conclusion be clear: the changes made to this year’s Championship Point system benefit the players and are a continued step in the right direction. I look forward to 2013 to what I predict will be in the largest World Championships event ever!
That’s not to say the game isn’t without its obstacles to overcome. Currently, I am working in a continuous effort to have increased time limits for Top Cut matches at our larger tournaments. I am pleased to report that another PTO, Derek Farber, who will be hosting Indiana’s Regional Championship in October recently agreed to extend his Top Cut time limits from 60 to 75 minutes, another victory for the players. I encourage those of you who play in areas with 60-minute time limits to speak to your PTO. He or she is the one that has the final say on the time limits. With Regionals being a two-day event, it’s not hard to convince a PTO to try it out.