Neal's Last Words
by Byron "Neal" Massey
Tournament Equality for All
The Netrunner mailing list has been busy with discussions on how
to run a fair tournament. This week I'll try to explode some myths
and offer some opinions on the best Netrunner tournament methods.
I began playing Magic almost 8 years ago. At that time, a Magic
tournament was usually run using a single-elimination bracket. Store
owners (the only people running tournaments) would sometimes include
a "loser's" bracket so that half the players wouldn't
be done after one round. Each round consisted of a best two-out-of-three
games. Sideboards were important for the second and third games
(sideboards are cool in Magic but haven't found a place in Netrunner).
Soon, the level of Magic competition rose and players began requesting
a more fair tournament structure. The Duelist's Convocation International
(DCI) fumbled temporarily and then borrowed the tournament format
of the United States Chess Federation. It's called the Swiss system.
The DCI didn't fully understand it at first, and I played in a couple
regional tournaments which had several Swiss rounds, then the top
players were funneled into an elimination bracket. Go figure.
Another problem with using the Swiss system for Magic was the three-game
match. The Swiss system works well when each match produces 1 point
for the winner, and no points for the loser. With three games of
Magic, a simple solution would have been to award the first player
who won two games a point. The DCI was committed to playing all
three games, however. In addtion, a player who finished 3-0 received
an extra point for sweeping the opponent. Soon the pairings were
mixed and mangled.
A factor that helped these Magic tournaments run smoothly was the
large number of participants. The more players, the more forgiving
their system was, and in general, players were happy. I have no
idea what system is used now, I haven't played Magic for at least
Anyone want to buy a Black Lotus or some Mox? How about a complete
set of English language Legends?
When Netrunner first burst on the scene, WotC was careful to announce
the Swiss system as the tournament format of choice. Unfortunately,
Netrunner doesn't fit conveniently into a Swiss system, and the
draft of the rules from WotC was contradictory and difficult to
understand. Basic problems became apparent. Myths sprang up as central
arguments for ranking a Netrunner tournament.
* It is better to play the Corp first. In the early days, the
Corp dominated the scene, and this lingering myth was spawned. Despite
the fact that Runners and Corps are now considered fairly equal,
the myth has remained.
In match scoring, where each game winner receives ten points and
the loser gets points equal to the AP scored, a match is decided
by the total number of points in the two games. The myth says that
if you can win as the Corp in the first game, your Runner game is
easy because you know exactly how many points are required to win
the match. You can play recklessly and not worry about winning the
second game. It's all true, of course.
The myth is that this is a Corp advantage. The exact same thing
holds true if the Runner wins the first game. The second game will
feature a reckless Corp that is only trying to score a single agenda,
at any cost, heedless of how many points are given up in the process
(as long as it is less than seven). Apparently the Corp psychology
of many players doesn't include recklessness, but the Runner psychology
I once played a sealed deck match where I installed a Nevinyrral
out in the open, unrezzed. The next turn, I installed a Marine Arcology,
rezzed the Nevinyrral, and advanced it three times, scoring it.
There was that Nevinyrral, though, waiting to be trashed. I just
let it happen, because in the first game of the match, I won 10-0,
and all I needed was that single Arcology to win. Myth destroyed.
* Game scoring is better than match scoring. Counting the total
number of games won in a tournament does give a good indication
of how successful a player was. But so does counting the number
of matches. An additional benefit of match scoring is that the Swiss
system fits nicely with the pairings and rankings. In game scoring,
the Swiss system produces a large number of ties in the pairings,
which is a headache for tournament directors.
The main argument for game scoring is that is prevents a reckless
second game (one like my Nevinyrral example above). I don't agree
that this is a bad thing. Either side may dominate the first game
and have a chance to play recklessly in the second game. I see that
chance as a reward for dominating the first game. Remember, the
object of a match is to determine who played the best as both Corp
and Runner. If my stack dominates your Corporation, but your stack
is an even match for my Corporation, doesn't that mean I am better
Of course, we play Netrunner for fun. It's not fun to get wiped
out in the first game of a match, knowing that your now-reckless
opponent is going to try to score a few points with no regard for
winning the second game.
I've run some simulations and thought about this problem a lot,
and here are the general rules I believe the Netrunner tournament
system should include:
* The winners should be determined by the same kind of points
as those used in the pairing system. If you pair the rounds using
"games won", the winner should be the person with the
most "games won." Likewise with matches or agenda points.
* The tiebreaks should use the same points as those used to determine
the winners. It's not fair to score a tournament on the basis of
"games won," then break a tie on the number of agenda
points each player scored. During the tournament, each player had
a single goal, to win each game. If they accomplished this goal,
they should not be penalized for scoring few points in their losses.
If we have an automobile race and we tie, the winner should not
be determined by the best gas milage. That is not the purpose of
having a race.
The chess tiebreak system is quite good, and only considers the
number of games won. It compares the opponents each tied player
faced, and uses their records to see who played against the most
difficult competition. This form of tiebreaks should be part of
the Netrunner tournament system.
The Games/Matches point (GMP) system suggested by Scott Dickie is
a nice compromise between ranking by games and ranking by matches.
Using this system, each round pairs two players who play two games,
one on each side. Each player receives one point for each game,
and the match winner recieves an addtional point. A match tie is
worth half a point for both players. This is very similar to the
system used for Magic tournaments above.
The pairings are difficult, though. With enough participants, the
Game/Match points make nice pairings. Most Netrunner tournaments
are small, however. A compromise is to divide the GMPs of each player
by 3 after each round, and round this quotient to the nearest whole
number. This whole number can be used to pair the next round. This
system preserves most of the Swiss system pairing advantages without
favoring either games or matches in the scoring.
Some might protest that doing this division complicates the system.
Here is a chart:
# of Game/Match points: paired using
This system should give fair results, allow players to understand
their goals in each game, and be simple enough for tournament directors
(copy the chart if you need to). I think the system should be called
the "Dickie-Game/Match point, Neal-rounded-pairing tournament
System." Or if you prefer, "Netrunner Tournament System"
Mail me if you want to talk about tournament scoring or any other