What if it's the Top 6?
Things aren't lopsided but they seem like it
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Problem X reached Grand Final of both Capcom Pro Tour Online United Kingdom events this year, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to cash in on either attempt, losing to The4Philzz and then Infexious.
Because of this, Problem X’s only avenue remaining to get to Capcom Cup will be by winning the Last Chance Qualifier, scheduled for February.
Today’s newsletter is not specifically about Problem X’s prospects of winning and then going to the big dance, that can be for another time.
Rather, this is a look at his bracket road while focusing on something only three players have accomplished since September 2019: win a Capcom Pro Tour event when starting Top 8 in the losers bracket.
If you’ve followed me on social media, you’ve seen me talk about this for quite a while, the lengthy streak in which no player who started in the losers bracket of a CPT Top 8 was able to convert.
Then came Monsieur Crimson, who ended the 42-event streak. Papoi is the only other player to achieve the feat so far this season, winning the Eastern Europe qualifier in October.
The rarity of the accomplishment, even before Crimson got the job done, created a simmer within me to start talking more about the tournament formats. If next to nobody wins when getting sent down to the losers bracket, why is there a losers bracket?
After having multiple discussions and seeing where people gravitate, the idea is based around two major concepts. There are a lot but here are two big ones:
The double elimination format gives players at least two matches, two opportunities to face someone in a competitive setting. To knock it down to a sole single elimination format, especially in this esports era, is a tough sell for newcomers and borderline ‘pro’ players aspiring to get to the next level.
Hope. There’s almost always someone who emerges from the losers bracket as the one to root for because even though they probably won’t win, we hold on to the belief they can somehow get it done. That hope gives people something to get behind, something to keep playing for. Tough to find someone who doesn’t like a good storyline to follow, even if the ultimate result is the same bracket death.
Those two concepts blend together with other lower-level reasonings and make the double elimination format worth keeping according to a lot of people who either use the format or follow competitive gaming.
There are three prime examples, all from past Evolution events.
During Evolution 2004, Justin Wong was the last chance for the United States to win the Third Strike title after Hsien Chang and Mike Watson were eliminated. He became the rallying point up until a certain moment.
Ten years later, Luffy was knocked into losers bracket well before the Top 8 but made the miracle run through some of the best at the time, ultimately defeating Bonchan to win the Street Fighter IV series title. With every win, Luffy gained more support than the previous until it was a crescendo.
In 2017, it was Bonchan who became the focal point following his first-round loss. He won more than 10 matches in a row and ultimately ended in ninth place. But his bracket run was not forgotten by those who know that it’s nearly impossible to win from his spot, let alone get one round away from the main stage.
It’s moments like those that make me wonder whether there’s a way to change the format so that those runs aren’t wasted more often. This is where people will interpret my thoughts as saying that everyone who gets to losers should emerge as the champion, when that’s not the case.
The idea is to give those who get to losers bracket a better opportunity to convert.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve tried my best to craft a piece that will sell the Swiss format as best as possible. Using Swiss play into a single elimination playoff is the best way to do it.
Swiss is used for the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive major championships to determine the Top 8 who then play in a single elimination playoffs for the lion’s share of the $1 million or $2 million prize
Swiss is also used in the Clash Royale League, the first part of a 1,000-player monthly tournament to determine which 32 players will advance to an 8-pool divisional format followed by an 8-player double elimination bracket.
Valve for the former and Supercell for the latter both show Swiss can work in esports. I believe it’s time that fighting game events do the same.
I’ve always been convinced of this. Over the months my idea has evolved. Whenever I find a new idea that revolves around the idea of Swiss to playoffs, I pause and look at the whole.
This is why I’ve struggled to come up with the words that can make it concrete. Usually typing brings the creativity out of me. But talking about it brings this out of me better than typing. I’m not sure why. So until I can frame it correctly in words, I’m holding it.
I know even presenting the words will mean very little to tournament organizers and event coordinators who already deal with a ton. To overhaul an event so we can get more losers bracket runs turned into possible wins is probably the 10,000th thing on the list of to-dos.
It gives me a concession, that us in the community who strive for more will probably not get it in our lifetimes. So what can we get?
In doing this analysis over the last few months and deciding how to present my findings, my approach was too broad — go for the complete overhaul and nothing less. That’s not going to win anyone over. It’s too much for anyone to consider. That’s partially what’s made talking about Swiss so tough to write about.
The better plan is to come up with small changes that add up to what eventually will be the conclusion of getting the most balanced and competitive format possible. James Clear calls this accumulation the aggregation of marginal gains. It’s not that we might never see Swiss to single elimination playoffs as the norm in 2022. If small changes are made over the next 10 years, then something is brewing.
In looking at small changes, there is something every tournament organizer can consider today for their next event, and that’s to look at the bracket.
It would be easy for me to brag that I was the one who helped kickstart the need for tournament organizers to be more conscious about the final four order in double elimination tournaments. That’s not what I want to do. I just wanted it to be fair to those who were forced to play immediately after a loss.
It was happening way too often in 2016 and 2017, the losers of Winners Final having to play immediately, sometimes within a span of 90 seconds. It was also bad in 2018 for a while, a 1-9 mark for the 2018 regular season. It was in 2019 when things finally turned around and only five events did it.
Partially pandemic related, the incorrect final four order has not been used in a CPT event since the 2019 Asia Regional Championship Top 8. Prior to the current streak, which is 54 regular season events in a row, the longest streak I recorded was 24 in a row.
Collecting data was key in making sure change was needed — players who immediately played after a loss fared far worse than players who got at least a one match break. Game 1s of those games ultimately told the tale of how the series went.
Again, it’s not about getting every Winners Final loser to Grand Final but providing them a better opportunity to get to Grand Final instead of the deck stacked against them.
It is doable to make change happen. It was a small move that produced more opportunities for those who lost. I wasn’t asking for a major overhaul, but rather something small.
This has to be the goal to where Swiss into playoff brackets becomes realistic — small goals. But it’s about finding what can be tweaked to make things more exciting. Implementing the correct final four order is the first small step. It’s time to find the next.
The genesis of Problem X’s second CPT grand final appearance this year was the losers bracket. He started Top 8 in losers and won four in a row to get to the final where he ultimately lost to Infexious.
It was the 11th time Problem X started a CPT Top 8 in the losers bracket. He has converted two of those runs into wins, April Annihilation in 2019 and Celtic Throwdown in 2017.
Just getting two wins is a tough road. All things equal, a player has a 1.6 percent chance of winning 6 matches in a row. Compare that to someone who just needs three wins, 12.5 percent.
Seeing the 1.6 percent chance, it’s understandable why next to nobody cashes in from the losers bracket. It’s almost a miracle when someone does, as was the case with Crimson and Papoi.
Since the start of the 2016 regular season, 46 players won a CPT regular season event when starting Top 8 in losers. Of 298 Top 8s, 15.4 percent. Of 1192 players, that’s 3.9 percent. Thirty-one players achieved the feat, Punk leads with 6 followed by Tokido and Brolynho with 3 each.
Acceptable? Up for debate. Looking at 2019 up to last week, only nine players did it. Of 420 players, that’s 2.1 percent. Of 105 events, that’s 8.6 percent.
Before looking at the results, I tried to come up with reasons for the dropoff. The obvious is that the online era has taken form. Sounds like a good reason until I looked at the results. The last six out of seven players and four in a row to do it all did it in online events.
Maybe it could be the players got lucky. None of these 31 players are paper champions. They’re consistent contenders on the pro tour.
There might not be a reason for the dropoff. There’s no special thing about a double elimination Top 8 bracket and, at least since 2019, the order has been run the same by either Capcom or every tournament organizer.
In taking a look at the order, there is a possibility to make things more exciting, to give the losers bracket players more of an opportunity to convert.
The idea came from the Clash Royale League, which runs its double elimination Top 8 over the span of two days. Let me be clear that running a Top 8 bracket over two days is not the answer, and CRL should drop that idea themselves.
The first day of CRL’s Top 8 goes until two players are eliminated and then there are six remaining. The second day starts with the Losers Quarterfinal and then runs to the finish. It’s a head scratcher that CRL would spend a whole day of a Top 8 just to eliminate only two players.
However, the second day starts with the two Losers Quarterfinal contests, then Winners Final and all the way to the end. None of this sounds like the answer for CPT, and yet there is a potential answer for change.
CRL starts its Top 8 with everyone having zero losses. There is no competitive advantage to a specific bracket round. If you lose in the first round, you will face someone who also lost in the first round.
In most other double elimination Top 8s, if you lose, you will face someone who is coming off a win unless it's a full reset bracket. When you face that next opponent varies. Sometimes it’s a few minutes. Other times it could be 30 minutes. In the Capcom Pro Tour, it’s almost an hour.
In 2021, when a player loses in Winners Semifinal, the average break time between the end of the match and their next match — Losers Quarterfinal — is 58 minutes 33 seconds. For full disclosure because I actually have a public database beyond twitter dot com, time starts at “KO” of the final round of Winners Semifinal and ends at “FIGHT” of Round 1 of Losers Quarterfinal.
Twenty-seven of the 56 players this year who lost Winners Semifinal got a break longer than 58:33.
Doomsnake had the longest break, 1:35:15. Problem X had the shortest break, 29:28, and that’s because of a connection issue that delayed part of his match.
Having an hour break between matches is quite long, and I understand a lot of it is out of the players’ hands.
Twenty-five of the 56 players who lost Winners Semifinal won Losers Quarterfinal. Only one player has turned that into a tournament win: Higuchi. Six others in the 25 reached Grand Final.
None of this suggests a change. Regardless, I thought about the process as a whole.
A Top 8 starts with Winners Semifinal, where a player loses, then gets an hour break to decompress, eat, sleep(?) and scout their opponent.
Meanwhile, a Top 8 for someone in losers means they’re waiting at least an hour before playing. And then their day could end right there. Sure, they win, but they can’t scout their next opponent because they still have to play one match.
What if the order was reversed? This is the small change to possibly give more of a chance to the players who start in losers bracket: start Top 8 with those matches instead of Winners Semifinal.
Let the two losers of the losers bracket matches go on with their day instead of having them wait an hour.
In addition, the two winners of those matches get an opportunity to scout their next opponent, which would be the losers of the Winners Semifinal matches.
The players still in winners know they’re getting two matches. By having them start their bracket run later in the day, the scouting advantage and the extra-lengthy break gets taken away from them. It puts extra emphasis on winning that match, nobody wants to go down to losers quarterfinal to face someone who has the book on what happened.
“But Glenn, you’ve said nobody should immediately play after a loss.”
That’s correct. Nobody would. If the losers bracket matches and Winners Semifinal matches are an A-B-C-D order, the A winner faces the C loser, B faces D. No loser is playing consecutive matches.
This is the idea that I believe can spice things up. It’s not requiring an overhaul of the system. It’s a small change to the bracket order that could potentially result in more players in losers getting to Grand Final and getting the gold.
A tournament organizer can take it a step further and take out those two losers bracket matches from the day. Play them a day earlier. Make it the Top 6 instead of the Top 8.
Do a modification of what CRL does, two in losers and four in winners. Start the big day with the two Winners Semifinal matches, and those players who lose will have to face a person fresh and ready to go who has done nothing but scout. The two players in losers need only to win five matches instead of six to win the tournament.
It is not necessary to do this as was the case of the final four order. The stats say nothing needs to change. I’d like to see tournament organizers try this out to see whether more players at least get to Grand Final.