We assembled a committee of TRC members to organize all the details. The committee members would communicate via e-mail. This immediately made apparent our first problem, the same problem that has frustrated me in many areas of the TRC. E-mail is a terrible way to carry on meaningful communications. It took several days to communicate ideas back and forth. This is not a reflection of the committee members, but rather of our chosen method of communication. This leads to my first suggestion for next time. Rather than have a committee of 5 or 6 that communicates electronically, we should have a small group of around 3 people run the tournament. These people should be located close enough to each other that they can have regular, and convenient, face-to-face discussions. The committee setup worked well for hashing out the rules. Each member posted ideas and responses to others' ideas. After a couple of weeks of discussions, we settled on the rules of the tournament. I knew early on that this would not work once the tournament started. We would need fast and accurate communications to administer the tournament. Fortunately, I would have the time available to take on much of this burden. A small group in one location would be able to communicate more quickly without breakdowns.
The first, and most obvious, problem we had in running this tournament was to get all the players together to play. Our budget of zero eliminated the possibility of gathering all the players in one place, so the Internet was our only chance. After a very brief discussion, we decided on Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Ken Hudson's "NetNetRunner" online NR software was brought up, but we decided that, at that time, it was too unstable to have the reliability we wanted. Besides, very few players had or could use NNR. We wanted to make access to the tourney fairly easy to acquire. IRC was fairly widely used, was relatively reliable, could be used on a variety of computers, and was easy to learn. Using IRC created the two most significant (by FAR) problems of the tournament.
IRC makes for long games. It uses a generic text-only interface that is not very conducive to many aspects of playing Netrunner. A typical online game takes about 2-3 hours, compared to the 1 hour playing time when face-to-face. Information that a player would normally have instantly available would need to be asked for and answered, typing instead of talking both ways.
IRC causes scheduling problems. Since we are facing players from different continents (and different time zones), there is the question of scheduling. An evening game for me would be an ungodly early morning game for someone in Europe. Different work schedules, different school schedules, different vacation schedules, telephone and Internet access costs, and limited Internet access would all conspire to compound this problem. As a result, having the tournament in one day was never an option.
We decided to spread it out over a period of two months in an attempt to minimize the effects of these problems.
Also in IRC games, there is a question of honesty. In casual games, it's usually not a problem. But, we decided early on that the stakes were large enough in this tourney to warrant some kind of safeguard against cheating. The use of encrypted cardlists was brought up, but that idea was discarded because it would require added setup time, a more advanced knowledge of zip files, and would require extensive checking after the match if cheating were to be eliminated. We ended up using 3rd party judges. These judges would have all of the cards in front of them (including draw and discard piles). They would communicate info to the appropropiate players, who would make all of the decisions during the game. While these judges virtually eliminated the possibility of cheating (I decided early on to not worry about judges cheating, as there was nothing I could do about it), it exacerbated both the time problem and the scheduling problem. Matches using these judges took about twice as long, and the scheduling problems were tripled (not only does player A and player B have to coordinate, but player A needs to coordinate with the judge, and player B needs to coordinate with the judge). This magnified both of those problems to tourney-threatening levels.
Again, we extended the length of the tournament in an attempt to minimize these problems. We also warned the players beforehand of the expectations of the tourney, in the hopes that players who could not attend would drop out, alleviating other problems.
Using NetNetrunner would *greatly* reduce both of these problems. I suggest that the TRC try to work with Ken Hudson in developing his software to a level that would be usable in a tournament setting. It's quite close now, but if Ken's willing, I'm sure suggestions and test runs by TRC members would be helpful. Maybe the TRC could repay Ken's work by encouraging its members to register a shareware version of NNR, with a fee of $5 (or whatever) for players who use it. Requiring that players be registered NNR users for entry into an Internet tournament would certainly be acceptable.
Once the interface was decided, we talked about the deck format. Many good ideas came up, from pre-constructed decks, to a "pick 3", to straight highlander, to "choose-1-of-these-4-posted-sealed-decks". We ended up going with the Gridlock II format because it encouraged deck building and individual choice, eliminated the effects of getting a bad deck, and had continuity with the qualifying event. Nay-sayers claimed that all decks would be identical. There were similarities, but I was surprised in the variety of decks I saw. I think any of the formats would've worked well. I would suggest doing something different next time, simply for the sake of variety.
With the deck format decided, we needed to figure out who would qualify. There were passionate arguments for having regional qualifiers, a certain number from each continent. I like this idea, but opposed it at the time, for two reasons. First, I was looking at this as much as a PR event as it was a tournament. I wanted to give everyone a chance and include all the little poduck hick-towns who have been working so hard (no offense to all you podunk hick-towns out there). Every tournament producing a qualifier has a certain charm to it, and gives real meaning to each and every tournament. Secondly, I thought we simply weren't organized enough to have any kind of meaningful regional qualifiers. Most of the world is either too spread out, or just has too few players to do something like that, unlike the well-oiled Netrunner machine that is central Europe. But I think regional tournaments are something to aspire to, maybe next year or the following.
So we went with all of the GW2 winners. But we also wanted to reward those areas that were able to generate large turnouts. We went with the wildcard qualifiers. Each player was given a score from 0 to 1, based on their performance in their GW2 tourney (the score was based on percentages, so the size of the tourney didn't effect this score). These scores were then weighted according to the size of the tournament that particular player competed in. We took the top X number of non-tourney-winner players as wildcard qualifiers. This number X could be adjusted to make the rest of the tournament run more smoothly, to accomodate last minute entries into GW2, and to accomodate any problems arising from the GW2 tournies themselves. As Byron Massey said in a recent private discussion on the subject, vagueness in the rules is no substitute for good planning. He's right. A well-planned and tested qualifying system would not have the need for this. But, as testing the system on a world-wide scale would've required almost as much effort as running another tournament, we decided to go with the quick-fixability of vagueness and consider this tournament as part of the testing for next time. It turned out that our vagueness ended up fixing a potentially catastrophic problem. A few of the GW2 tourney organizers used an improper method when they paired opponents each round. This produced some improper results, especially in one rather large tournament (I'll leave Daniel Schneider anonymous to protect the innocent ;) where the top players played the bottom players every round. This was mostly due to the fact that the tournament rules that WotC originally posted were very difficult to understand. Anyway, we had to decide what to do. We could eliminate one of the largest tournies of GW2, make them all replay, or quick-fix. We ended up adding wildcard spots so that no one was adversely affected by the problem. It was less than perfect, but everyone seemed happy. The lesson learned, obviously, was that we need to clarify the swiss pairing procedures in the tournament rules. Skip Pickle is hard at work at this very moment doing just that.
Another thing about our wildcard system is that we wanted to encourage orgainzers to have larger tournaments instead of several smaller tournaments. If we just admitted tourney winners, there would be an incentive for people to break up a large group into several smaller groups, just to get more people in. We added the wildcards so that larger tournies had the potential of producing more qualifiers than several separate smaller tournies would on their own. Also, imagine you have a tourney of 4 great players, and down the street they have another tourney of 4 weefs. Your area will send 1 good player and 1 weef to WD. If you were to combine, you could send 2, or maybe even 3, of the best players in your area on to WD. Larger tournies encourage the sense of community between players, produce results that are more statistically relevent, and look more impressive to casual onlookers. Byron said that I ascribed to the "bigger is better" philosophy. I think "bigger is better than smaller, but smaller is better than nothing" would be more accurate.
So, we had our qualifiers ... finally! In this case, we had 48 of them.
Here's where the two problems I mentioned at the beginning come into play. We wanted many qualifiers so that a lot of players could be involved. We also wanted to minimize the chances of players dropping out, because that causes problems with byes and takes games away from those players who want to continue. So we decided on a 2-tier system. We would have an eliminations round that would significantly cut the field, and a finals round for those few who made the cut. We would have many players playing a few games, and a few players playing many games. All qualifiers would only have to commit to play a couple of games. Those who made the cut would all have a good crack at winning, so would be more motivited to stay in the tournament during the final rounds.
I knew getting judges for the tournament would be difficult. That is the main reason I went with the 4-player groups in the eliminations round. Getting 24 judges to oversee 24 separate matches during the first 2 rounds of play would be very tough. For this reason, I lumped the first 2 rounds into one eliminations round. A pair of judges would be assigned to run a small 2-round swiss tourney between 4 players. The winner of each mini-tourney would advance. The judges in each group were responsible for running the 2 rounds and handing over that winner. This was to minimize the amount of communication necessary to pull of those first two rounds. Each player and judge would only need to communicate with a small number of others. They would keep that small group for the second round. Players and judges could be flexible enough to accomodate a wide variety of schedules. Planning could be done ahead of time. That was the reason for that. With 48 players and 24 judges, there was an impossible number of combinations for the first 2 rounds. The amount of time wasted during communications was significant. By breaking the field into many smaller groups, we could greatly reduce this waste by dividing-and-conquering. Again, in a private discussion, Byron pointed out that we could've done a swiss tourney with a double elimination. This would've cut down the field of players, but wouldn't have helped with the communication problems. Also, selfishly, I wanted to reduce the amount of administration required by myself, so I outsourced some of the burden to the judges. I was also thinking about accusations of bias. By taking myself out of the loop at this stage, I reduced the chances of that.
As it turns out, I underestimated the difficulties in getting judges. I only got 9 or so volunteers, plus a few maybes who ended up being yeses. Each judge ended up pulling double duty during the eliminations round, running the whole mini 2-rounder themselves. This shortage of volunteers would've been devestating had we done a straight swiss. I can't stress enough how much these volunteers made this tournament possible. These people were willing to spend their free time, when they had nothing to gain, just to help out the tourney.
Even though we had made attempts to minimize the effects of scheduling problems, there were bound to be some anyway, and there were. So we had some rules regarding no-shows and byes all set up. Judges were goven authority to determine fault for games that were not completed. Those players determined at fault would recieve losses, and their opponents would receive byes. If the judge determined themselves at fault, then both players received byes. For the byes, we used a "no-count" system (the *only* fair bye system, IMHO), where scores would be inserted that would neither increase or decrease that players scores. They would receive scores equal to their average performance in their other matches. The eliminations round was originally scheduled for 3 weeks, but was later extended to 4, and then to 5 weeks. There were no deadlines for each invidual round within the eliminations. That was to allow greater flexibility for the players and judges.
It was during the execution of the eliminations round that I realized my biggest mistake in the WD rules. I'll explain by way of an example. Let's say I'm a player in group A. The eliminations round has no intermediate deadlines, so in theory, both rounds could be delayed until the last week or even last few days of the whole thing. If I can convince, stall, persuade my judge into stalling my first round match, I can force a tighter time schedule on to my opponents for the second round. They are now subject to the whims of my "schedule". In my desire to make things more flexible and easier for the players and judges, I in fact compromised the potential fairness of the tournament. Obviously, my suggestion here would be to enforce the deadlines more strenuously.
There were other complaints about the eliminations round. But fortunately, the rules explicitly handled most of those situations, which were due to scheduling problems.
The finals round was the easy part. We did a straight swiss with the remaining 12 players. 4 rounds of 6 matches each. Again, getting judges was a small problem, but we always squeaked in under the wire. These last few rounds went by very smoothly, as expected, becuase the scheduling problems were very few. I think that accentuates my earlier point that the scheduling and time commitment were the biggest problems of the tourney.
It seems that my discussion with our Mr. Neal this last week has consisted mostly of him saying what we should've done, and me secretly agreeing with him while I explained why we couldn't do it that way. So it's not surprising that my final comments largely reflect the things he has said to me.
I think I can sum up my comments for next time in 2 suggestions. First, instead of having a committee run the tourney, have 3 people who all live close together run it. They will be able to communicate well and quickly, and can divide the work. Secondly, and MOST importantly, get NetNetRunner (or some other software) up to speed. Encourage Ken Hudson, verbally and monetarily if necessary, to build a tournament-level cheat-proof product. Using software like that will almost eliminate the major stumbling blocks I mentioned earlier. It would eliminate the need for judges. It would also make it more appealing for people not up to 5 hour games to play.
Now that the tourney is over, I am VERY happy with the results. At the start, I gave it about a 50/50 chance in even getting to the finish. A lot of us worked very hard, and it paid off. We have now crowned our first World Netrunner Champion, and we've shown to WotC and the CCG world that NR players are serious about their game. We're not about to roll over and die. In fact, we're growing healthy crops out of the rocky soil. This tournament has definitely been a shot in the arm for the cause.
Also, I want to take this opportunity to resign from the World Domination committee. Not because I didn't enjoy it, and not because I don't think I could contribute to next year's effort, but because I want a piece of the action! No disqualification for me next year!
Suleyman (aka Scott Dickie)
(oh, and the obligatory pun ...)