2012 BPA Survey Results—Formats
Jan. 12, 2013

We asked you to identify your favorite tournament format. As a CD, I am most interested in this information from the viewpoint of efficient scheduling of convention time and facilities. Players, myself included when wearing my competitor hat, look at it differently through the prism of our own experiences with our favorite games. One thing I’ve noticed over the years as a CD, is that GMs tend to be among the most ardent fans of their particular game and have a tendency to overestimate the experience/loyalty of their players to their game, often attributing their own intensity level to their players. The frequent result is to choose a format that is overly ambitious for the bulk of their players—especially in terms of speed of play and desire for multiple bites of the same apple in repeated rounds of play against the backdrop of so many of WBC’s other distractions/choices. Consequently, I try to steer new GMs to the simpler formats for their first attempt—giving them time to better gauge the appetite of their players for the game in the future. When asked to identify your favorite format, you responded thus:
  • Multiple Heats with tiebreakers to determine optimal number of advancers—30%
  • Swiss Elim (3 or more rounds followed by single elimination for top qualifiers—23%
  • Multiple Heats advancing all winners—20%
  • Single Elimination With Mulligan (one extra practice round advancing winners)—13%
  • Single Elimination—11%
  • Free Format (play anytime but without designated time/place for rounds)—3%
What You’d Like to See… What You Want Not to Change How I See It…

 Win & You’re In 1: Let all winners in multi-player games and heats advance, if possible. I realize this is difficult with the scheduling.


It is the most inefficient event type to schedule since it is not possible to accurately predict the number of rounds required, some of which can require a great amount of time/space. It is also among the least fair since it invariably results in a less than optimum number of players in the next round. This causes differing number of players/game in the same round, and worse—the advancing of non-winning players to optimise player numbers at the next level—thereby changing the dynamics of the game and playing not to lose rather than to win.

However, many can’t abide elimination without a loss (even when they’ve lost three times en route to that win) and discount the use of tie-breakers as even more unfair, which is, I suppose, why we have chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Different strokes … Consequently, we allow both types although I have a hard time hiding my disdain for this particular choice.

More Swiss events 2


True swiss formats are the ultimate test of skill, but require the most time in the form of repeated rounds. Given all the other distractions of WBC, relatively few games have a dedicated enough audience to concentrate on one event for sufficient rounds. We have found that a variation of Swiss play that offers three such rounds followed by Single Elimination for the top scorers to be the most practical alternative.

Less Variety in Formats 3: Single elimination tournaments, you lose, you’re out. / Single elimination works extremely well at scale. Yes, it does increase the luck factor. However when you have 200+ players it is very impractical to run lots of swiss rounds unless you are the only game happening (rarely the case). Even though it means I may get knocked out of my favorite game (Puerto Rico) after 1 round, it also means I would now enter one of the other 3 games I wasn’t playing because I had to play X heats instead. If I REALLY want to play more Puerto Rico, I’ll go to open gaming and start a game. Put another way, assuming I play multiple games, I have more opportunity to advance with single elim. / I like the single-elim with the mulligan, lets you play the game at least twice and in my opinion, if you lose twice back-to-back, its just not your day anyway.


I am a staunch believer in “less is more"—especially at WBC where players attention spans are drawn to so many playing opportunities for a variety of games. Quicker and simpler is almost always better in such an environment. However, I believe the Single Elimination with Mulligan format offers the best of both worlds. It offers a gaurantee of at least two games if you want it, and if you don’t you just ignore the practice round and start later.

Random Seating 1: I most enjoy the random table seatings, where a mixed group of ages & sexes can compete and socialize for an hour during a game round. It promotes growth in individuals, the hobby, and WBC.   Depends what you mean by “random seating". If you mean simply picking your own table to play with your friends I think that’s fine for the “party” or social games such as Slapshot where rapid seating or the option to play with your friends is more valued than true random pairings. In more serious events, I consider it a mark of a lazy GM. What I consider random seating is designated pairings without any seeding attempt. In general, I favor random pairings over seeded play as being more “user friendly” to newcomers. However, an attempt should be made to show how truly random the pairings are—especially with playing GMs—to avoid the appearance of favoritism.
Experience Levels 3: Separate events in the same game for experts and beginners, where attendance warrants it. / I would also like to see events for the complex games (e.g. Empire of the Sun) separated into a ’sharks and minnows’ divisions. The minnow division would be for those gamers who want to learn a complex game and not just end up as roadkill for a vastly more experienced player. / Keep tournaments, but make them more friendly for first time players. Having a new player play the top ranked players to protect their position and possibility to advance is the best way to intimidate and scare people away so they do not participate. That’s why I usually don’t. I’m not driving hours to get to a Pre-Con event just to get destroyed in an hour by an admitted master of the game. I may learn a little, but I sure won’t have any fun. Beginners Welcome 1: I was able to join and learn a game or play one in which I was only somewhat familiar. I was always welcomed regardless of my skill level.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to matching players. One is to treat it like a sport, seeding the best against the worst. The other is to match by ability or random draw. I favor the latter in the interest of encouraging newcomers. However, any attempt to force GMs to adopt a particular format is met with howls of protest from those who want to “do it their way". GMs too are diverse, so all I can do is suggest you scout ahead and frequent those events which use a style you like. We do go to great effort to post Event Previews of every event in which the GM details how the event will be run so you can make educated choices.

As to multiple levels of tournaments within a tournament based on experience level, there have been a few attempts to do this with mixed results. Such schemes are hindered by lack of sufficient help to administer different levels as well as determining who belongs where. In short, it adds more work and complications to the task of the GM.

Experience Level Proof 2: Mandatory proof of basic game knowledge for B level tournaments (how about proof of attendance at a demo session be required). GMs should not allow players who have ignored the requirement to attend the demo if they have no knowledge of the game. / My understanding is that rules for the tournaments have changed appreciably, so I can be assured that I won’t get stuck in an awful ACV game with someone who has never played it before and wants to quit (this was my last experience at WBC and it was one reason for my recent lack of attendance). Experience Level A, B, C format 2: I don’t want to have to explain an A level game while playing, and I don’t want to be neglected asking rules in a C level game while playing. The color coding of events for the experience level required is one of the better features of WBC tournaments. Unfortunately, not everyone obeys those requirements. Sometimes the GMs are not proactive enough in emphasizing the requirements at the outset or enforcing them, and more than a few blur the lines by accepting players they shouldn’t. On the other side of the coin, there are players who ignore the requirements and are not forthcoming with their lack of familiarity until it is too late. Both do an injustice to players who have a right to expect a game against opponents with at least a minimal knowledge of how to play. However, requiring proof of attendance at a demo is not an answer. For starters, there are those who have never played a game but who have read the rules and are far more qualified to play than those who have sat through a brief demo. More importantly, requiring such certification would upset far more people than it would please on both sides of the student/teacher equation.
Continuous Play 2: I would like to see the continuous format amended slightly to allow short breaks between rounds. It’s unrealistic to expect players to play continuously without short breaks to get food, et al. The current approach leaves you at the mercy of the speed of play of your opponent.   The Continuous format is defined as having not more than one hour between rounds, except for rounds ending after midnight. No one can be required to start a round after midnight. Thus, every GM is free to dispense one-hour breaks between rounds. The problem is that many GMs are reluctant to adjudicate slow games to keep on schedule so that the rounds bleed together and the break times are being used by slow play. Players in need of a break and involved in a slow game should request adjudication when exceeding the time limit.
Ban Free Form Tournaments 3: Fewer free form tournaments. I like the game, but don’t like that I have had to wait what I perceived to be a long time in the past for a game. Thus I don’t play in them anymore./ I want a set time to play. Show up or shut up. / Improve matching in Free Form events. Free Form Tournaments 1: I like the free-format events but fully acknowledge there is room for improvement with regards to management & logistics. Free Form events are popular amomgst those who know how to navigate them, but not so much for newcomers who have difficulty finding willing opponents if assigned games and times are not meted out in the customary manner. Free Form events require very dedicated GM oversight to compensate for this problem and consequently are neither recommended nor presently allowed for new events.

Decrease # of heats 4: Cut the number of first round heats. Three and four heats are excessive and make for a difficult scheduling task.

Increase # of Heats 4: I wish there were more opportunities for 1st round play to reduce scheduling conflicts. / Less events with more multiple heats.

  Heats increase the opportunity to play in an event by providing multiple first round opportunities—ostensibly to decrease scheduling conflicts. However, in doing so, they increase the number of scheduling conflicts on the back end when those multiple first round winners must inevitably funnel down to one time for continued play in Round 2. This results in a higher percentage of no shows for subsequent rounds and pressure on GMs to reschedule Finals for player convenience. This problem is especially egregious for the “Win & You’re In” formats. As a consequence, I will likely recommend a reduction in the numbers of heats allowed in an event for 2014.
Less Oversight 1: I’d like for more flexibility for tournaments to advance people however they want, even if they don’t neatly fit into regular categories. For example, adding quarterfinals without having special approval (I think many more events could use them than currently have them), or letting the semifinal round of a 2-player game be open to as many people as won a game in the early heats (Queen’s Gambit used to do this, and now the SE phase is limited to 16 people). I understand that you want the ability to reject “stupid” advancement criteria, and having more things to check puts more work on you, but I think more flexibility would be useful. Standardized formats 4: Best tournaments anywhere as a result. / No more giving prior winners preference in bidding, choice of sides or seeding, random pairings is the only way to be fair.

Having done the job since its inception, I believe we’ve erred on the side of too much flexibility rather than not enough. Limiting the number of formats makes things simpler for all concerned.

As for quarterfinals, far more events request them than need them. Scheduling a phantom quarterfinal that never happens plays havoc with room/table assignments—not to mention people’s personal schdules. Time and again, events that have requested quarterfinals are unable to even fill a semifinal, let alone a quarterfinal, due to the high incidence of no-shows brought about by schedule conficts and scheduled open gaming with no intention to advance. Most of the events that already have scheduled quarterfinals are unable to fill them. This is mostly an issue for “Win & You’re In” formats. If I had my druthers I’d ban the latter as they are the cause of most scheduling problems.

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