Thursday, April 07, 2016

The Missing Element in Competitive Seasons

Overwatch has released its current plans for competitive ranked play.  Basically, it will have "seasons" that are one month long, as in Hearthstone. Everyone starts at the bottom rank, and you try to play your way up through the various divisions. At the end of the month, prizes or bragging rights are handed out, and the ranks are all reset.

The immediate reaction from the community is that the seasons are too short. That they would much prefer a season which was 3 or 6 months long, giving people time to come to their true rankings.

I am not entirely in agreement with this view. In an odd way, I think that the current season length is both too short and too long. The real problem, in my view, is that the competitive structure of many games is missing a crucial element.

The missing element is tournaments.

As an analogy, let's look at a sport like tennis. Tennis has matches between two players or teams. Tennis has a 52-week season where the entire pro community is ranked. But tennis also has intermediate structure of tournaments.

A tournament is different from a season, and has a lot of desirable properties. The time frame is much shorter. Only a subset of the community participates. Most players don't attend every tournament. Each tournament usually produces different winners and different results. Prizes handed out at the tournament level end up going to wider variety of players.

Overwatch wants a lot of these properties for its seasons. But a month is too long for a tournament. It's long enough that most players cannot skip it if they want. But it's too short to act like a true season does and produce definitive rankings.

My suggestion for Overwatch would be to actually break the current "season' into a tournament which runs weekly and a longer season of 3,6, or 12 months which aggregates the weekly tournament results. This way players have less pressure to participate in every tournament. There are more changes at the top, with different players placing in the Top 100 each week.

I do think that many games have this same hole in their structures. They have individual matches, and they have long seasons, but they don't do anything with the medium time-frame. The only games I can think of that significantly utilize this time-frame are Path of Exile and Magic Online.

For example, imagine that Overwatch you could join a league. Leagues start every hour and run for four hours. You are only matched with people in your league. When you get two losses, you are knocked out of the league. At the end of the time, the person who won the most matches without getting two losses wins the league.

I think that there's a lot of room for fun game play in this medium time-frame. Obviously, the time frame is long enough that not everyone will participate. It can't be the only option to play. But it could stand to be used a lot more than it is currently.


  1. What you're describing are Path of Exile races, which used to be anywhere from a 30 min race to a week or more. The character with the highest level after the time expires is the winner. I have no idea if they still have this feature nowadays.

    1. Yup, Path of Exile is one of the few games that utilize this medium time-frame.