The Grand Debate: UK LAN Formats
The two biggest issues that plague UK LANs for the many years that we have seemed to enjoy them, are the following, seeding and format. Whether you are a believer in best-of-three all the way through, or best-of-one lower bracket, more group games, less group games, there is always a huge talking point every LAN. It always causes great debate’s around the scene. It should be noted though, this isn’t directed at specifically Multiplay, it is one for both UK LAN events to actually work on and continue tweaking.
It is frustrating for event organisers, because there have been expectations placed upon them by the community, but the competitive teams want something different. Many of our big teams believe that some of the lesser known teams are in it for shits and giggles and a bit of fun, whilst the lesser known teams believe they have the right to play against the UK’s finest. It is a struggle that every event organiser in the UK seems to struggle with balancing and dealing with effectively.
To give people some historical context, the original iSeries format was deployed all the way back at i34 when it first moved to Stoneleigh Park, because back at i33, there was a huge shit show of a tournament which made Multiplay and the then Counter-Strike: Source community sit down and hash out ideas and find the balance needed in the event. Enemy Down was the first and foremost website which shaped policy in the United Kingdom, and Fair Shake was one of the biggest ran tournaments at the time. It is actually the backbone of the iSeries format strangely enough. At i34, there was three new tournaments created that went from the groups, the Professional Prize Tournament, the Intermediate Tournament and then the Lower Tournament, a three pronged tournament which gave every skill level a tournament that suited them best. Everyone began in the Professional Prize Tournament through the groups and then the idea was, Top 2 progress to Eliminations, the middle two would head into the Intermediate Tournament whilst (in theory) the bottom two (or more) would head into the Lower Tournament.
Since those days though, of course, the tournament has been refined, and the Intermediate Tournament was prized up with free tickets for the following iSeries event, and it gave all teams a sense of purpose and somewhat a “value for money”.
Is it time for a change though?
The answer is very complex, and a risky one for any event organiser in the UK. Ian “Immi” Harding who heads up Team Endpoint went to Copenhagen Games over the weekend of insomnia60 and believes that iSeries should follow in the footsteps of CPH, considering how both events are very similar in size, statue and domestic dominance. His point in hand was that groups at iSeries should be altered to the GSL Format (which is a double elim bracket in essence for a group stage) and that would eliminate and alleviate some of the issues with the schedule for UK LAN events.
The biggest issue here though is you would effectively rid any lower echelon team a chance of upsetting any good/semi decent team and thus in the process eliminate the “value for money” aspect that teams at that end of the scene hold close to them. When times are getting harder amid a looming Brexit process, and the pricing strategy from Multiplay going to insane levels with £100 BYOC tickets and ever increasing prices for hotel and on site sleeping and additional activities that people may want to do at iSeries, it is a fair point for all teams big or small to get their money’s worth. The beauty in the current format with iSeries, is that all teams are guaranteed around 4 to 5 group games at least which is a far cry from when we had 100+ teams only getting 2 games at i33.
The second biggest issue in changing this format to what Immi suggests is that seeding (which is also hotly debated from LAN to LAN) would then become absolutely important. Whilst seeding is a debate for another subject, simply put, having what many people have suggested which is 10 people having an opinion on seeds, is a rather flimsy idea of giving teams a chance to rig bias and their friends over anyone else. It is a way for the seeding system to be exploited and give good teams favorable groups and routes which I cannot fathom having a good outcome for anyone involved. In essence, you would need an actual independent panel of either casters and admins who keep close eye on the UK scene which would be difficult to do but it would be the preferable route of preventing team and friend bias and exploitation of the actual seeds. (Seeding debate will be covered now in Part 2 of this article series).
GSL format would be a good format to go to and almost every LAN event in the top level of Counter-Strike now deploys it for their tournaments. However for a UK LAN event with a £7.5k prize pool and a variety of teams skill level and reasons for going to LAN is incredibly difficult to justify.
The other option that Ian actually offered up was making Single Elimination a thing and/or reducing the lower bracket to a Best-Of-One. His tweet alluded to the fact that tournament organisers are now ridding themselves of Double Elim in favour of Single Elim because they feel Double Elim is dying, however a tweet shortly after this debate took place on Twitter from Duncan “Thorin” Shields actually was ironic and hilarious timing. In that tweet, Duncan stated that he was looking forward to seeing a LAN event (cs_summit) deploy Double Elimination and Best-Of-Three all the way through. What followed was actually a few well known Tournament Organsiers and casters chime in with their reasoning as to why DE isn’t commonplace in top tier level Counter-Strike. They cited that they would want to do so, however organisations end up dictating terms to tournament organisers which means they have to sacrifice a format that they would love to run. That isn’t of course the only reason, there is the factors of money (ie event duration) and hectic scheduling which means unless you are Valve who can afford to run a two week event called The International and do a rather brilliant format with Best-Of-Two group stages and Best-Of-Three brackets and a Best-Of-Five Final.
Let’s be honest, some of iSeries events past have been shaped by brilliant three map series in the Lower Bracket, Infused’s triumph at insomnia53 comes to mind when they came back from a map down against fm-eSports to then beat them in a 2:1 series and then go on to beat vexstaR in the Grand Final. Would such triumph’s under Ian’s proposed format come to fruition if Elimination Brackets were cut to a Best-Of-One or Single Elimination.
“80+ shit teams make it the issue”
Berty was another one who chimed in with his thoughts in this epic debate on the Sunday of insomnia60. Berty’s tweet was poetic and very intriguing, because without the shit teams, how do players get better or improve, or teams consistently improve. Berty seems to believe that group stages would be better if shortened by either less teams or a GSL format. Whether it was an off the wall kinda comment is debatable but it is one to actually examine.
A lot of the reason why Counter-Strike actually was a big esport before esports became a thing is because of the open LAN circuit first created by theCPL. The ability for 128 teams to turn up, bringing their own computer, playing against some of the world’s finest teams at the time, is why people fell in love with Counter-Strike as a spectator sport and a competitive game back in the day. Without that back then, Counter-Strike wouldn’t be as widely known or widely played now. It is why people should treasure such LANs like iSeries, epic.LAN, Copenhagen Games, Gamers Assembly, The Gathering, FoM, and many other LAN events across the world. These are your backbone to the domestic scenes they help shape, they are the ones where big teams can scout future talent and provide a base for teams to garner experience on playing on stages.
The point I made to Berty, that the issue from insomnia60 wasn’t really down to group stages, and even if group stages were cut short, you still wouldn’t recoup the time needed to run a full Best-Of-Three 16 Elimination bracket. Blaming a hustling and bustling UK scene for turning up to the UK’s largest LAN event is really misdirected and incredibly arrogant. These teams pay in excess £500 – £800 to be there and should be treated with respect by everyone.
(Just for reference, Berty probably made an off the cuff quip about the scene and it’s issues, it was still an interesting thing to talk about.)
6am finish of games one night & 10am start is purely unacceptable
I am pretty sure that everyone from players, organisation owners, event organisers, admins and casters can all agree on this above statement. Without knowing all the details surrounding the Infused/Radix Lower Bracket Semi-Final match, the 6am finish of this particular match and 10am start was a pretty unacceptable thing to happen at a UK LAN event. I’m also a fine one to talk, when I have been part of an admin team who oversaw a Grand Final finishing at 5am at insomnia38, however if memory serves me well, there wasn’t much our admin team at time could do about it considering the stage schedule heavily overran and meant that our final was delayed somewhat to not starting till 1am/2am in the morning.
The biggest problem surrounding all this is actually you, the players. One thing Jasmine “Veracity” Kanuga was very vocal about was that players were taking the piss with breaks, and not informing admins of what was going on. I’ve been a victim of this myself, where a particular team didn’t inform me of disappearing for food, took a few hours after agreeing with their opponents and so their opponents were annoyed that they hadn’t come back at the agreed time and thus came to me to deal with it. For an admin it is a logistical nightmare to keep on top of a tournament full of 80 + teams all with different agreements. The simple solution here is, teams should first ask the admin if it is ok and if the admin agrees to it, you then thrash out a proper scheduled time so that both teams are aware of when you should start. This would eradicate 95% of the schedule issues we see because admins would be looped into what teams have either agreed or not, and admins have the decision in their ballpark to make regarding changing or altering their own tournament schedule.
Some of you may argue that breaks should be included into such schedules, which is what admins will do and/or tournament organisers do. However because people take thousands of fag breaks, food breaks and other breaks, it ends up being thrown out of the window usually as teams ignore the fixed schedule and deploy their own instead. Again, this would be solved by players talking to admins first and getting a simple yay or nay, especially as most admins will be able to flex that schedule to accommodate your team for food or see a potential break time elsewhere in the schedule and thus giving you an answer within a few minutes.
I know for example that Jasmine is one of the best admins I have had the pleasure of working with, she has been better than Jon “ViciousHorizon” Kelly and myself put together plus numerous other try-hards in the admin industry. If there was an admin to actually get your problem thrashed out and worked on, it’d be Jasmine.
One of the other factors to also include, is that mitigating circumstances do often fuck over schedules and breaks, which includes the following:
- PC Failures
- Server issues
- Plugin Issues
- Steam Issues
- PC Component failures
- Stream Failure (if a streamed game)
- Power failure
- Network failure
These circumstances can plague any LAN, anytime, anywhere, and do strike quite often, they are unavoidable and usually leave matches overrunning their allotted time, so even if you made the perfect schedule, you would still find delays would be commonplace at UK LAN events. Sometimes, it is best for teams to approach admins and make sure that games aren’t being overrun by one of those issues instead of pointing a blame game at the opponents they are yet to face.
The one question to ask the community here, if you are faced with a 3am match, and know it could potentially finish at 6am, do you ask admins to go to bed and then wake up for 6am, so you could start at 7am or do you play the match and try and finish it quicker? A tough one for most people to answer because here’s the kicker, your opponent is then in a similar boat, so if you know they are tired, you could force them to play now and whitewash them whilst they are tired to knock them out and progress.
Whatever the answer, it is still unacceptable for this to happen, and some compromise could have been found in the insomnia60 schedule, considering the Grand Final was due to start at 7pm on the Sunday with the Lower Bracket Consolation Final finishing at around 4:30pm. The set up time could have been moved and Grand Final put back 30mins at least.
The Best-Of-Three Pre-Elimination Playoff
Because UK Masters is a thing now, and the fact that Mr Kelly decided it would be fun to not only cause issues with seeding at insomnia59 but to also have a bit of a Pre-Elimination bracket playoff, it means that there is now effectively another round of playoffs not included in the original schedules and thus causes more headaches to an already tight schedule.
Luke “Emperor” Ingram disputed this shortly after insomnia59 where his team had to play in the Pre-Elimination Playoff after managing to secure top spot in his group. He felt this was a backward step in the actual format because teams who finished unbeaten in their groups and/or top of their groups were then faced off against some difficult opponents and that meant, they might not even hit the elimination bracket, which isn’t a fun thing for your team to be aware of. He also argued (and this was changed subtly for insomnia60) that some teams ended up with byes in the first round of the elimination bracket after everyone had participated in the Pre-Elimination playoff.
It isn’t a great way of rewarding teams who finished top of their group, and this pre-elimination bracket if it does remain in play for future iSeries events, should be re-thought and perhaps teams who do finish top of their group should get through to the elimination brackets whilst teams who placed second or third should then square up against each other.
I also don’t see the need for a pre-elimination bracket match, especially when scheduling is incredibly tight currently with people complaining at playing long into the night, is there a need to have that much of a complicated system which defies the need for groups.
Best-Of-One Lower Bracket?
One thing that has been put around for a while now, is that Best-Of-One in the lower bracket should be the norm at UK LAN events. According to Jamie “Keita” Hall, he believes that LAN events in the UK play way too many Best-Of-Threes and thus should operate the lower bracket in a Best-Of-One only scenario.
There are a few reasons why best-of-one was initially dropped by epic.LAN and later on iSeries, one of those reasons was to prevent random teams managing to beat some of the better teams in a Bo1 scenario when a Bo3 scenario often finds the better team, and is the fairest way in Counter-Strike’s esports system. The other reason was that players like Jamie, actually voiced their hatred at being knocked out in the lower team by “some random n00bs” over one map, something which Jamie has said before numerous times when he himself has been victim of the Bo1 scenario he proposes.
He is fundamentally right though, and that I will give him credit for. Sometimes, you do have to wonder if far too much Counter-Strike is being played over one weekend, and whether something needs to give, with the possibility of overtimes, and 3 maps, the days can be 14 – 15 hours long as a player just without breaks, not to mention for admins and casters too. Perhaps there needs to be a compromise here, which iSeries usually does do under these circumstances, which is Bo1 first couple of rounds of lower bracket, then move into Best-Of-Three later on. This didn’t happen at insomnia60 because there was a team leader briefing prior to the elimination bracket and people there apparently voted overwhelmingly for Best-Of-Three.
How about Top 8 from UK Masters go into Elimination bracket & skip Groups?
This one solely applies to Multiplay here as UK Masters is actually their baby. Adam “adamxoxo” Rotherham suggested on Twitter the other day, that the eight teams that feature in UK Masters should be eligible to skip group stages altogether and focus on the Elimination Bracket, this cuts potentially 6 more teams out of the group stage, helps with seeding and reduces the possibility of group games overrunning the schedule.
But will it though? It’s another stab in the dark from my esteemed friend Adam. There are quite a few issues with his suggestion here, firstly it was actually highlighted at insomnia60 where Radix ended up sending TWO teams to LAN, one specifically for UK Masters, and the other to play in the main insomnia60 tournament. The roster instability, has been something that plagues this dire scene at times, and forcing 6 other teams to stick together, head to LAN and play in the Elimination Bracket is a tough ask. It also creates a headache for the admins, who then quadruple their workload by collecting 6 more roster submission forms, and means that all teams would potentially expect computers for them to play on at the event, or at the very least free iSeries tickets. It’s something that GAME or Multiplay won’t be able to budge on unless they had a higher budget than predicted for the possibility of 8 teams to have there.
The other issue that potentially could upset the apple cart, is that then your seeding would be forced somewhat unless you naturally re-seeded in a way that wouldn’t harm the UK Masters Top 8 teams. I can tell you now that no admin particularly enjoys seeding as it is in the UK, and to have 8 seeds forced upon you can make things worse, because your 8th seed may find themselves against a much tougher opponent than their seeding predicts.
It could (and should) be explored, but there are so many issues with this suggestion that I am unsure whether it would be ideal.
So what is the answer then?
This is a good question to be honest. In my many years experience of dealing with the UK esports scene, it still is a massive pain in the arse getting a schedule correct. I won’t toot the epic.LAN horn too much, but epic20 bar one maybe two matches actually ran incredibly to schedule, with the latest finish being at 10 to midnight. The majority of this was actually down to very few issues encountered by teams or admins, and that teams managed to just get on with it and play match after match and follow a rather rigid schedule. The one piece of feedback we did recieve post LAN was that more breaks should be factored in to allow teams to get food, but that is an issue we can rectify for next LAN by having a little better schedule.
It should be noted that the epic20 featured a 16 team double elimination bracket and that was full best-of-three, so to have only one match finish really late one night is a pretty impressive feat. It isn’t perfect mind you, and there are always improvements that can be made to any tournament.
So what different tournament formats could be used which would accommodate the “value for money” factor, the competitive environment factor, and make the schedule flexible. The problem being, is that casual teams will want the best of everything and sometimes that is difficult to pull off. Some of my own highlights from iSeries past was when my shitty team would face the big boys in the groups and whilst big teams do indeed hate playing group stage matches, it gives every Tom, Dick & Harry a story to tell for years to come. It is the beauty of having the iSeries and epic.LAN formats used in a way that is akin to the FA Cup. It is the classic underdog story of David Vs Goliath, everyone wants a piece of the action.
There is a wide variety of ideas out there that we can pick from, here are some of the few.
- Round Robin Groups into Double Elimination (16/32)
- Round Robin Groups into Single Elimination (16/32)
- GSL Groups into Double Elimination (16/32)
- GSL Groups into Single Elimination (16/32)
- Top 8 Seeds in One Round Robin Group (who play for their actual seed placement), everyone else in GSL Groups into Double Elimination (16/32)
- Top 8 Seeds skip groups, everyone else in groups and then Double Elimination (16/32)
There is more I could explore or talk about, but perhaps we can spend another three weeks working out what is the best format. It should be noted I am not slating anybody in this article, it is merely using some people’s tweets and forming my own opinion around some of the solutions they have offered, those of you not included, should perhaps comment on this particular article and offer up some kind of solutions to the hectic scheduling at UK LAN events. In my twelve years of being behind the scenes in the form of being an admin for events and online leagues, it is something that the UK is kind of unique to compared to other parts of the world.
This is of course only part one of the “Great Debate”, with the seedings article shortly following sometime next week. If you do enjoy these type of articles then don’t hesitate to suggest subjects we should cover here at UKCSGO. The seedings one will be slightly different because I will cover some of how traditional sports do seeds and how seeds should be done in theory. The biggest problem is people don’t realise that seedings and rankings are incredibly different.
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