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Incentives vs prizes

in glhf

Prize pots are all fine and good for solo games, like Starcraft or Quake, where competitions are typically (and rightly) structured as a knockout tournament. This structure necessitates the direct and exclusive binding of performance in a single tournament or series of tournaments to the eventual payout. Solo games need prize tournaments, and they’re best structured as large open bracket affairs, with few if any divisions, and certainly without large gaps in compensation from first place downward.

Team games, however, are a different bird entirelyreally. I’ll keep repeating it until we get it. Team games and solo games have different needs.

Having the same 20-or-so people play each other in a solo game, for half a year at a time, in a league-type structure, would be…well…boring. Having the same 20-or-more teams stay intact and constantly playing, in a team game, for a half year at a time, in a league-type structure is, quite frankly, absolutely necessary to build momentum within a game. Prize-based leagues don’t promote this behavior, and in practice encourage a constant quantum fluctuation of teams popping in and out of existence at the edges of every division, at the top and bottom of a game, and everywhere in between. Mostly popping out, that is.

The cause is the entirely undesirable bands of positions below the .500 mark in any division that’s not entry-level. Historically, and this has likely been the case for basically every video game league that has ever run a seasonal format with prizes, the podium finishers in each division get a decent outlay, while those that didn’t do so well in their respective division get nothing; even the majority of teams in the topmost division go home empty-handed, even though they surely would have lined their pockets in a lower division.

The result is that teams break up. Don’t believe me? Ok then:

aVoided has decided it will break up if they get voted in. Why is anyone trying to vote in a team that has only won open? That would be retarded. Do people really just want to destroy a good team that has potential? Do they not want to play against them in IM? I’m sorry, but putting them in the poll is retarded.

You can’t force a team to play a division higher than they should play because of rolling through a bunch of bad teams and winning a few scrims in the offseason. Scrims don’t mean anything, people should get voted up based on their merit alone, what they’ve accomplished. They won open, so they get moved up to IM. If invite has an opening, it should be from the best team in IM last season, because they earned it. If that’s juankush, then it’s them because they are the highest placed team alive.

Here, this phenomenon is looking to take effect before the season’s already started.

Right, we can say that everyone should just play to enjoy the games, and if you get a prize at the end then ballyhooo!!…otherwise whatever…but we all know that’s a bunch of crap with cash on the line. It fundamentally alters how teams approach the league system, and when more than half the teams in every promotional division have zero chance at getting a slice, this is simply the game theory of what happens:

  • Teams stick together heading into a new season if they feel they have a good shot to finish in a cash position at the end of the season based on where their promotion or relegation lands them. The wheels might come off in the playoffs, but these teams play through the entire season. (GOOD)
  • Teams stick together heading into a new season if they know they’re going to roll the division and are favorites for the divisional title. (GOOD)
  • Teams will fight a promotion heading into a new season if they know they won’t place in a money slot in the promoted division, and have no further chance at promotions after that. One season out of the cash slots is one season too many for most teams, especially if it means they’ll get crapped on for an entire season. No team wants to pay for that privilege. They’ll break up and attempt to reform at the bottom, or breakup and join other teams, or just plain break up and stop playing. In any case, these teams don’t start the season in the promotions they earned. (BAD)
  • Teams will break up mid-season if they get off to a bad start or realize part way in that their chances at making the playoffs is gone. There’s very little save for pride keeping these teams around and playing their remaining schedule, and that’s often not enough. (BAD)

The bottom two are the biggest reasons why good teams who have received promotions dissolve. This is a systemic problem. The way prizes are scheduled causes this! If you want to see growth in a game, a system of compensating teams that presents breakup as the most rational option for some of the best teams in the game is beyond counterproductive, it’s gross negligence.

The solution

We fix this by ending the instant-gratification effect that the prize pots perpetuate, and shift the reward into the following season by spending the money to encourage teams to pursue promotions, and to ensure that promoted teams have a reason to continue playing even if they get crapped on all season. There must be incentives for teams that make it out of Open Soup to stick together and keep playing (unless of course they get relegated back into Open). That can be achieved practically by doing the following:

  1. Open divisions have no payouts. You start earning once you get promoted.
  2. ALL teams in upper divisions pay nothing to play. Costs should be factored in against eventual compensation at seasons end if necessary. 3.ALL teams in upper divisions get a salary for finishing the season in one piece and playing all their matches (with maybe a small forfeit tolerance…shit happens). The payout is (obviously) tiered by division, so teams in higher divisions earn greater salaries.
  3. Provide bonuses for podium placements in the topmost division ONLY.
  4. Promotions and relegations are done in a consistent, predictable manner with none of this voting nonsense.

What does that do for the game? Let’s examine the outlying cases from the thought experiment above, where teams would break up under current systems:

  • A team getting promoted from the Open division but knows they won’t make the podium once promoted will likely stick together in order to get paid! If they’re the middle of the pack and don’t get relegated back down to Open, that’s still a fine place to be. As long as they keep playing, they’ll keep earning cash. Even if they get relegated back down to Open, they’ve earned their promotional pay for a season and didn’t break up mid-season because the payout comes at the end of their promoted season, instead of after their season in Open.
  • A team getting promoted from a paying division to a higher one where they’ll get stomped on will likely stick together regardless of where they figure they’ll end up in the standings of that higher division. They’ll be making higher division cheese. They just need to play their matches. If they get stomped and get relegated back down the very next season, that’s ok, they still made better coin for a season, at least, and probably learned a thing or two.
  • A team that knows they’re getting demoted from the topmost division halfway through the season sticks together anyway because they’ll get Premiere pay at the end of the season if they play out, and will likely still be in a money division after getting demoted anyway.

I’m repeating myself a bit so I’ll stop. Also please take note that this doesn’t making winning a division meaningless either, it becomes absolutely necessary if you wish to get promoted and get into some bigger money. By eliminating the punitive parts of the prize pot system, you provide incentives for good teams that don’t happen to be great teams in their divisions to stick around, instead of providing every reason for them to break up.

If I were to apply this to ESEA-8, at $8000 for the whole game of TF2, and with a more reasonable number of Intermediate teams, here’s how it would look:

  • Invite Winner: $400 bonus
  • Invite Division: 8 teams @ $500 each = $4000
  • Intermediate Division: 12 teams @ $300 each = $3600
  • Open Division: ZERO MONEY. Win your way into an upper division to get paid.

This is what stability looks like. Even if you can’t let 20 teams play for free for the season, the IM teams end up in the black regardless. IN THE BLACK.

1450 words to explain something that simple. Good night.