What is Round Robin? – Esports Tournaments Explained

by Fabio

In our ongoing series on esports tournament organizing we have covered plenty of tournament formats, such as GSL and Double Elimination. Today we’re answering the question: “What is Round Robin?”

This format is especially useful for big leagues looking to find the fairest way of determining the best team within the league. Unfortunately, it has some major downsides as well. Before we can jump into those, we should first explain how the format actually works. 

So What Is Round Robin?

In Round Robin, the teams are put into groups. Every team in the group plays every other team at least once. This means that there are a lot more matches than in Single-Elimination, Double Elimination, or GSL Group tournaments. 

With that information, we can do the maths of how many matches there actually are. Let’s imagine a league with six teams in total. We want every team to battle with all the other teams, excluding themselves. This means that there should be 6 * 5 = 30 matches. But that’s not entirely correct, since we’re counting some match double. When “Team 1” competes vs. “Team 2”, then “Team 2” has already played “Team 1” and we don’t need to count that match anymore. So, accounting for this, there are (6 * 5) / 2 = 15 matches in this league.

Of course, some organizers create a Round Robin Scheduling with a first and second league half, so that all teams meet twice. Instead, one could just expand the original concept into Best-of-Three matches. Generally, this format can be modified to fit a lot of tournament purposes. 

Why Round Robin Is so Useful

Let’s image you’re part of the best team going into the tournament. In the Semi-Finals, one of your players has a really bad day and your team just can’t keep up. In a regular Single-Elimination bracket, this one match could potentially eliminate you from the tournament. For instance, the Open Qualifiers for regional CSGO Minors have previously been held as huge 256-team Single Elimination Best-of-One brackets. Even for experienced CSGO teams, these are are a lot of matches to endure, especially when they’re being held within one day. 

On the organizer’s side, you might also be interested in the benefits of a Round Robin tournament. More matches means more broadcasting time. Right now, as the coronavirus pandemic is forcing so many people to stay indoors, viewership is going through the roof. This is a point at which you want to cash in with as much broadcasting time as possible. But not every facet of Round Robin is this useful.

Dependence On The Results of Other Teams

There are many examples of convoluted tiebreaker scenarios in recent CSGO memory, but let’s go back to ESL Pro League Season 4 in 2016. The Finals took place in São Paulo, Brazil. Here, the likes of SK Gaming, Ninjas in Pyjamas and Cloud9 competed against each other in Group B, which featured six teams. SK were on top, with Cloud9 and Ninjas in Pyjamas close behind. 

On the last match-day, all these teams still had one match to go. Ninjas in Pyjamas were anxiously awaiting the results from Cloud9’s match against Dignitas, which would probably decide their fate. If C9 lost that match, Dignitas would have gained enough points to get into a tie-breaker scenario with NiP – and because Dignitas had won their encounter with the Ninjas in a 16-14 nailbiter, they would have advanced over them. 

It was a ridiculous premise and a strange match to watch. The fans internally rooted for the Ninjas in Pyjamas to succeed, while watching a completely unrelated match in terms of the teams playing. The NiP players were even standing on the sidelines, nervously awaiting the results to see if they would make the next stage of the event, or not. This whole concept seems inherently flawed and is just an invitation for match manipulation. 

Imagine if Cloud9 would have wanted Dignitas to succeed over NiP, maybe because they felt more comfortable against them as opponents. They could simply have dropped the last match. They were safely locked into the playoffs already and could have given the ticket to Dignitas, if they had wanted to. Now, we’re fairly sure that most top esports teams believe in competitive integrity and would never do such a thing. But this option should not exist in the first place!

Managing Tie-Breaker Scenarios

Below, you’ll find the tie-breaker rules of ESL Pro League Season 10 (via liquipedia.net):

  1. Points amassed between the tied participants (direct match win > direct match loss)
  2. Map difference between the tied participants (3:2 maps > 3:3 maps)
  3. Number of map wins between the tied participants (3:3 maps > 2:2 maps)
  4. Overall map difference
  5. Overall number of map wins
  6. Round score difference between the tied participants (23:21 > 23:22)
  7. Number of round wins between the tied participants (24:22 > 23:21)
  8. Overall round score difference (39:31 > 40:33)
  9. Overall number of round wins (40:32 > 39:31)

Did you understand all of this? These rules get increasingly complicated and convoluted. Most importantly, they are absolutely intransparent to any casual viewer. Often times, even the casters and analysts can’t properly figure out what a match result would mean for the overall standings. Nobody wants to have the official league rulebook open for every match. From an outsider’s perspective, it can feel like a coin toss. 

Read this: Organizing an Esports Event, a Helpful Guide

When Should I Use Round Robin?

To make it short, a Round Robin tournament is quantity over quality. You’ll have plenty of matches, but in turn every individual match drops in significance. You’ll also be vulnerable to these aforementioned tie-breaking issues. But when it comes to finding a fair method for determining the best team, Round Robin does the job better than most other formats out there.

Organizing a tournament is quite a challenge. As you can see, just choosing the format and structure can give you headaches. With that, we can only give you a few bullet points of what to consider – the final decision is on you. For all the other stuff, however, there’s Bitspawn. Our Esports Advancement Platform takes a lot of tournament organizing problems off of your hands. Do you need a platform where players can easily join your competitions? Do you worry about the servers crashing? Do you even have servers? Bitspawn takes the tasks of organizing a tournament and automates a lot of these processes for you. Join us today and start hosting your own esports tournaments!

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