This article explains the tiebreakers used to determine rankings in single elimination (real-time) tournaments. Please remember that asynchronous (anytime) tournaments use a different system of tiebreakers to determine ranking.
I originally planned to write this article back in September 2019, before asynchronous tournaments were introduced and there were only single elimination (real-time) tournaments but unfortunately, I never got around to writing it. Then when asynchronous tournaments were on the horizon, I thought about explaining the old system as a historical note, but ultimately I did not have enough time. However, since there are still occasional real-time tournaments, newer players (who are mainly familiar with the asynchronous tiebreakers) don't seem to understand the old tournament system and even long-time players (like @marianaemilia) have forgotten how the old system works. So I figure now is as good a time as any to explain things.
First, let me explain the qualifier round since I reference it a few times throughout this article. The tournament bracket / pairing system involves pairing people up so that every player plays exactly one other player each round (with the exception of the qualifier round). That requires a progression system which is a power of 2.
If the number of participants in a tournament is a power of 2 exactly (2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, etc), then there is no qualifier round and it goes straight to the bracket rounds.
If, however, the number of participants is not a power of 2, there will first be a qualifier round to reduce the number of players to a power of 2.
For example, if there are 140 players, then 116 players get a bye and 24 players play in the qualifier so that there will be 128 players remaining.
On the other hand, if there are 240 players, then 16 players get a bye and 224 players play in the qualifier so that there will be 128 players remaining.
In the early days of tournaments, bye priority was based on the order of tournament sign-ups. So the players who signed up first got byes over those who signed up last. Due to concerns about fairness to players in all time zones and because of bots which automatically signed up first, the system was eventually changed so that byes were randomly allocated.
Players who have to play in the qualifier round have to spend the time playing additional games and there is the risk they could get knocked out if they are unlucky in a game or are randomly matched against a strong opponent. However, one benefit to playing in the qualifier round is that you have more potential wins and draws than someone who got a bye. Also, since no one has been knocked out yet, out of all the tournament rounds you have the highest chance of getting a weak opponent in the qualifier round.
Historically, most official Splinterlands single elimination tournaments have had a prize structure like this:
1st place gets a prize
2nd place gets a prize
3rd-4th place get the same prize
5th-8th place get the same prize
9th-16th place get the same prize
17th-32nd place get the same prize
In these cases, the following tiebreakers are used to determine prizes:
- Winner of the Final Round
- Furthest Round Reached
What matters is generally what round you reach. Since everyone who gets knocked out in the same round all get the same prizes, factors like win, losses, and draws don't really have an impact on the prizes.
In these situations, it is important to understand the additional tiebreakers that are used to determine final standings:
- Winner of the Final Round
- Furthest Round Reached
- Most Wins
- Most Draws
- Fewest Losses
- Order of Tournament Sign-up
1. Winner of the Final Round
This one seems obvious but there could be corner-case scenarios where the winner of the final doesn't have more wins than the person they beat in the finals (i.e. this might happen if one of them played in the qualifier round and the other did not).
2. Furthest Round Reached
Because of this tiebreaker, a player who gets a bye in the qualifier and then loses 0-2 in the second round is ranked higher than a player who gets knocked out in the qualifier with a 1-2 record.
3. Most Wins
This tends to be the most important factor for differentiating 3rd from 4th, 5th through 8th, 9th through 16th, etc. It is very common that the difference between 3rd and 4th is determined by who played in the qualifier round and who did not (which is a random factor you have no control over) since those who played in the qualifier will have more wins.
4. Most Draws
This often confuses people who believe that draws are a negative factor. But if you look at other games for a comparison, you can better understand why a draw is better than a loss, even if it is not quite as good as a win.
In chess, a draw is better than a loss for your rating. Since white has a first-move advantage and a higher win rate than black, drawing as black can often be seen as a good thing.
In Magic: The Gathering, there is an oddball card called Divine Intervention which causes the game to be a draw. There are other cards that can cause game conditions that try to force a draw and rare scenarios where you can get stuck in an infinite loop of mandatory effects which then causes a draw. In the multi-player Vampire: the Eternal Struggle (originally called Jyhad and designed by Richard Garfield after Magic: The Gathering), there are withdrawal rules where you can still score victory points (or partial victory points) even if you couldn't otherwise win. You can have tie games if multiple players have the same number of victory points and since there is a time limit you can have timeouts (which often lead to ties). For an even more obscure example, the original Highlander CCG had a Holy Ground card where when played, you lose the duel but not your head (so this was not quite a full game loss).
With non-collectible board and card games, there are some where there can be tied or coalition victories (Illuminati, Root) or where everyone can lose so there is no winner (Battlestar Galactica, Dead of Winter). In the classic game of Diplomacy, there are certain stalemate lines that can force a draw. And in video games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat you can have double KO's.
In sports, soccer/football/futbol is most salient for allowing ties/draws. Apparently, cricket has both ties and draws, which are slightly different. Boxing has technical draws, no contests, and very rare double knockouts. And while American football in modern times has sudden death overtime, in the 1960's, tie games were apparently common.
In rowing, there can be dead heats where a clear winner cannot be determined because two boats finish at roughly the same time (though dead heats are less likely if modern timing technology is being used). Dead heats also happen in swimming, horse racing, and golf.
Coming back to Splinterlands, since draws are considered advantageous, there is the potential of exploitation in the case of multi-accounting (two of your accounts are matched against each other), botnets (getting matched with itself), or collusion between two players who know each other. Ever since the game rules were changed so that identical mirror matches resulted in a draw, it became more likely that botnets keep playing the exact same teams against each other, resulting in draws. However, after a certain number of draws, one of the players is chosen to advance in order to prevent the tournament from stalling indefinitely due to infinite draws.
5. Fewest Losses
Since "Best 2 of 3" is a common tournament format, it is possible to advance to the next round while still losing 1 game each round. As a result, players who make it to the same round may have different numbers of losses.
6. Order of Tournament Sign-up
Although order of tournament sign-up is no longer used for bye priority, it still plays a minor role as the final tiebreaker for rankings. So at the start of a tournament (when everyone is at 0-0-0) if you are wondering why some names are at the top of the list and other names are at the bottom, this is due to when people signed up for the tournament (not when they checked in). This may not seem completely fair but at some point some definitive system has to be used to break any final ties.
This is a snapshot during the semi-finals of a tournament that I won back in September 2019. Although it is not the final results, I took this screenshot back then because it does a good job illustrating how the tiebreakers work:
The final round has not happened yet
This is Round 6 (semi-finals) which means it is down to the final 4. fire-star has secured a place in the Top 2 by defeating newageinv. agami-heron and byzantinekitty are still battling it out for the remaining spot in the finals (spoiler alert: byzantinekitty ultimately wins the tournament!). The Top 4 automatically place higher than everyone else because Furthest Round Reached has priority over wins, draws, and losses.
At this point in time, fire-star is ranked higher than agami-heron because fire-star has more wins.
Right now, agami-heron and byzantinekitty have the same number of wins but the next tiebreaker is draws, which is why agami-heron is ranked higher even though it also has more losses.
Further down, milkystork is ranked higher than vxc despite the same number of wins and draws because milkystork has fewer losses.
In this snapshot, byzantinekitty and newageinv have the same number of wins, draws, and losses, so the final tiebreaker is the order of sign-up. We can tell based on this that byzantinekitty signed up for the tournament before newageinv did.