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Neal's Last Words


Neal's Last Words

by Byron "Neal" Massey

WD: Thoughts and Suggestions

This week, guest writer Scott Dickie discusses the pitfalls and triumphs of the World Domination Netrunner championship tournament.

The World Domination tournament was the first large-scale project of the TRC.


We assembled a committee of TRC members to organize the details. The committee setup worked well for hashing out the rules, with each member posting ideas and responses. After a couple of weeks, we settled on the rules of the tournament.

The committee members communicated via e-mail. E-mail is a terrible way to carry on meaningful communications. It took several days to communicate ideas back and forth. I knew that this would not work once the tournament started. We needed fast and accurate communications.

My first suggestion for next time: A small group of around 3 people should run the tournament. These people should be located close enough to each other that they can have regular, and convenient, face-to-face discussions. This small group would be able to communicate more quickly without breakdowns.


The first problem we had was getting all the matches scheduled. 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 too unstable at the time.

[ Neal Note: the current version of NetNetrunner is highly recommended. ]

Besides, very few players had or could use NNR. We wanted easy access to the tourney. IRC was fairly widely used, was relatively reliable, could be used on a variety of computers, and was easy to learn. Using IRC, however, created the two most significant problems.

"...we've shown WotC and the CCG world that NR players are serious about their game. We're not about to roll over and die. "

IRC makes for long games. It uses a generic text-only interface that is not well-suited to playing Netrunner. A typical online game takes about 2-3 hours. Information that would normally be obvious must be continuously typed.

Worldwide competition causes scheduling problems, since opponents are often from different time zones. 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 all compounded this problem. Having the tournament in one day was never an option. We decided to spread it out over a period of two months.

Using IRC to play Netrunner depends on honesty. In casual games, it's usually not a problem, but we decided early on that the stakes were large enough to warrant some safeguards against cheating. The idea of using encrypted cardlists was discarded because it required added setup time, expertise with zip files, and require extensive checking after the match. We ended up using 3rd party judges.

These judges had all of the cards in front of them. They communicated game information to the appropropiate players during the game. While these judges eliminated the possibility of cheating, 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.

We extended the length of the tournament to minimize these problems, and warned the players beforehand of the difficulties. We hoped that players who could not schedule effectively would drop out.

My second suggestion for next time: The TRC should work with Ken Hudson to develop his software for use in tournaments. It's close now, and if Ken's willing, suggestions and test runs by TRC members could add finishing touches. The TRC could repay Ken's work by encouraging its members to register a $5 (or whatever) shareware version of NNR, requiring that players be registered NNR users for entry into an tournaments. NetNetrunner would make judges unnecessary and reduce online time to an hour per match.


Once the interface was chosen, we talked about deck contents. Many good ideas came up, from pre-constructed decks, to a "pick three", to straight Highlander, to "choose-1-of-these-4-posted-sealed-decks". We chose 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. Any of the formats would've worked well. I would suggest doing something different next time, simply for the sake of variety.

We wanted to minimize the chances of players dropping out, because that causes problems with byes and takes games away from committed players. We used a 2-tier system: An Elimination round that significantly cut the field, and a Final round for those who made the cut. We had many players playing a few games, and a few players playing many games. Qualifiers only had to commit to two matches. Those who made the cut were more motivited to stay in the tournament during the Finals.


With the deck contents chosen, we needed to figure out who would qualify. There were passionate arguments for having regional qualifiers. I like this idea, but opposed it at the time, for two reasons. First, I was looking at this as a PR event as well as a competition. I wanted to include all the little podunk hick-towns who have been working so hard (no offense to all you podunk hick-towns out there). Having a each winner qualify gives real meaning to each tournament. Secondly, we weren't organized enough to have regional qualifiers. Most of the world is too spread out, or has too few players, unlike the well-oiled Netrunner machine of central Europe. I think regional tournaments are something to aspire to. Maybe next year?

We qualified each GW2 winner for World Domination. We also wanted to reward areas that were able to generate large turnouts, and included wildcard qualifiers. Each player was given a score from 0 to 1, based on performance in their GW2 tourney. These scores were weighted according to the size of the GW2 tournament. The number of wildcard qualifiers was selected to make convenient parings and accomodate last minute entries.

We decided to leave the exact number of wildcard entries unspecified. It turned out that our vagueness fixed a potentially catastrophic problem. A few of the GW2 tourney organizers used an improper pairing method. The tournament rules that WotC originally posted were very difficult to understand. We ended up adding wildcard spots so that no one was adversely affected by the problem.

[Neal's Note: See my NTP Online 98.4 column for step-by-step Swiss pairing rules. ]

Our wildcard system helped encourage larger tournaments instead of several smaller tournaments. If we only admitted tourney winners, there would be an incentive to break up a large group into several smaller groups. Wildcards made it possible for a large tourney to produce more qualifiers than several smaller tournies. If 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. In a single, larger tourney, 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.

So, we had our qualifiers ... finally! In this case, we had 48 of them.


I knew getting judges for the tournament would be difficult. It was the main reason I went with four-player groups for the Elimination round. A pair of judges was assigned to run a two-round Swiss tourney for each group. The winner of each mini-tourney advanced. I wanted to reduce the amount of administration required by myself, so I outsourced the scheduling to the judges. This format minimized the communication necessary schedule the 24 matches.

I underestimated the difficulty of getting judges. I only got nine volunteers, plus a few "maybes" who ended up being "yesses". This shortage of volunteers would have been devastating in a straight Swiss. I can't stress enough that these volunteers made this tournament possible. These people spent their free time, when they had nothing to gain, just to help out the tourney.


There were bound to be scheduling problems anyway. We made some rules regarding no-shows and byes. Judges were given authority to determine fault for games that were not completed. Those players determined at fault received losses, and their opponents received byes. If the judge was at fault, both players received byes. For byes, we used a "no-count" system (the only fair bye system), where byes received scores equal to a player's average performance in other matches. The Elimination round was originally scheduled for three weeks, but was later extended to five weeks. There were no deadlines for first match during Elimination, to allow greater flexibility for the players and judges.

The lack of a deadline for the first match was my biggest rules mistake. I'll explain by way of an example. I'm a player in group A. The Elimination round had no deadline for the first match, so both matches could be delayed until the last few days of before the deadline. If I could convince, stall, or persuade my judge to stall my first round match, I could force a tighter time schedule for my opponent in the second match. In my desire to make things more flexible and easier for the players and judges, I compromised the potential fairness of the tournament. The deadline should be enforced more strenuously next time.


The Final round was the easy part. We used a straight Swiss system with the remaining 12 players, four rounds of six matches each. Again, getting judges was a problem, but we always squeaked in under the wire.


Have 3 people, who can communicate directly, run the tournament.

Use NetNetRunner (or some other software). Encourage Ken Hudson, verbally and monetarily if necessary, to build a tournament-level cheat-proof product.

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.

[ Neal Note: I did not pay the gracious Mr. Dickie to say this. ]

Now that the tourney is over, I am very happy with the results. At the start, I gave it about a 50/50 chance to finish. A lot of us worked very hard, and it paid off. We have crowned our first World Netrunner Champion, and we've shown 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!


Scott Dickie
Top Runners' Conference
Former Chair, World Domination Committee
Short Circuit

(oh, and the obligatory pun ...)
World Rumination