Hey guys, today I will be talking about the year’s most prestigious events: US Nationals and Worlds. Pokémon pulls out all of the stops for these tournaments and they attract a lot of competitors and spectators. TPCi has made a number of changes to these events recently, some of which have helped to bring exposure to the game. However, there are many more improvements that can still be made.
Note: I will refer to US Nationals as simply Nationals from here on out. Some of the same commendations and criticisms I will address apply to Nationals in other countries but many will only be applicable to the US event.
Recent Improvements by TPCi
Before I move on to the potential changes, I want to discuss some of the positive improvements TPCi has made recently. All too often, Pokémon players spend time complaining about the changes they perceive to be needed and pay no attention to the changes TPCi does make to benefit the game.
One of the most visible inclusions over the last few years is live streaming. Pokémon has dedicated a lot of money and manpower to start an official stream for US Nationals and Worlds. Streaming got off to a rocky start with the infamous Gamespot stream of Worlds 2012. Since then, Pokémon has added great commentators like Kyle Sucevich, Josue Rojano, and Josh Wittenkeller. The streams help give the events a big-time feel similar those other other games such as League of Legends (but not yet at the same level). This has benefitted both the events’ attendees and those watching at home.
The other big change that I want to touch on is prize support, especially in the form of Championship Points. In 2013, I felt the Championship Point payout for Nationals was very low. The top 16 players only got between 60 and 80 Points, depending on their final standing. This was barely more than the payout of winning a City Championship (50 Points at the time). If you scrutinize this even more, players who placed in the top 32 got 40 Points, which is equal to placing 2nd at a City Championship (that could have had as few as 4 attendees!). The US National Championship had over 900 players in 2013 and making top 32 in that event was certainly more of an accomplishment than getting 2nd at a City Championship.
In 2014, TPCi rectified their mistake of the previous year and upped the ante in Championship Point payouts. US Nationals 2014 top 64 received 80 CP, a great improvement over a mere 30 CP the year before. Top 32 got 100 CP and top 16 got 150 CP, meaning US Nationals was no longer comparable to a City Championship. It is true that the threshold for qualifying for Worlds increased by 100 Points during this time, however the disparity in thresholds is only a 25% increase between 2013 and 2014 versus a 100% increase in CP awarded for these placements at Nationals. TPCi realized that these placements were great achievements and gave the players the CP they deserved.
As far as other prizes, booster packs awarded nearly doubled between Nationals 2013 and Nationals 2014. That was a nice bonus, but it was necessary considering Masters Division players had to pay $30 to compete in the event.
The real increase in prizes came in the form of paid trips to Worlds for the top 8 finishers in the Masters Division. This is a change that had been a long time in the making. In the past, the top 8 finishers at Nationals would all earn invitations to compete in Worlds and only the top 4 would receive paid trips. This has precluded several players from competing in Worlds, as some have not had the funds to travel to the event.
Increasing prize support is a change that has been a long time coming for this game. It helps to legitimize it more when you compare it to other popular card games such as Magic: The Gathering. Sure, Masters Division players need to pay to enter tournaments now, but it is a small price to pay for the vast increase in prizes. Prize support has been one of the best improvements that TPCi has made over the past year.
The last improvement that I want to touch on is the online registration that was used at both Nationals and Worlds this past season. Players for both events were required to register (and in the case of Masters Division competitors at Nationals and the Last Chance Qualifer, pay the entry fee) online and only had to “check-in” before the start of the events. This significantly sped up the process of registration at the event, especially when it came to payment. There are still some minor flaws in this system that need to be ironed out, but props to Pokémon for using this new method and Carlos Pero for designing the system.
What TPCi Could Still Improve
Although TPCi has made many positive changes to large events recently, a lot more can and needs to be done. Some of the changes that I have in mind are wishful thinking, but I believe that many other players agree with me and would like to see them implemented.
There are several things about the streaming set up that need retooling. The biggest problem here has to do with TPCi’s priorities. Currently, the TCG and VGC events for both Nationals and Worlds are played concurrently. Thus, both events cannot be streamed in their entirety. VGC definitely gets the most coverage, with almost all of their Swiss rounds being streamed on the big stage. In comparison, there were 0 Swiss rounds for the TCG streamed at Nationals and only 2-of 9 streamed at Worlds.
The solution to this problem is simple, but implementation would be difficult. The TCG and VGC events should be run separately. This would allow for the thorough coverage that both of these events deserve. In addition, players would be able to compete in both events. Few, if any, Masters Division players have qualified for Worlds in both the TCG and VGC, but I know several younger players who have.
I do understand TPCi’s reluctance to run these events in this way. Nationals is already a three-day event; an extra day would probably have to be added in order to accommodate this change. Similarly, Worlds spans three days as well with the Last Chance Qualifier on Day 1 and the main event taking up Days 2 and 3. They want to keep the events close to a weekend endeavor but it would be best for the players if the events were spread out over another day.
Round Structure at Worlds
A big problem with Worlds this year was the strict top 8 cut. When the updated round structure for the season was announced, players were unsure what TPCi would be doing with Worlds. As the event drew closer, it was announced that it would have a top 8 cut. Some players thought that this was due to the number of players that had preregistered for the event being less than the 227 necessary for a 2nd day of Swiss rounds for the top 32 players. However, the Masters division had 230 competitors at Worlds 2014 yet it was still announced that there would only be a top 8 cut.
This was a shame. For an event this large, a cut to 8 players is just not enough. This was a chance to not only give more players a chance to fight for the title, but also for TPCi to showcase some high profile matches. Many players were outraged by this decision and rightfully so. Worlds 2014 featured the largest attendance ever but a smaller top cut than any other Worlds.
The reason that Pokémon chose to schedule Worlds in the way that they did is obvious. They thought this would provide the best streaming set up. They had a couple of priorities that led to their streaming set up: keeping Worlds a two-day event and showcasing the VGC finals in the “primetime” slot.
There are two potential solutions to this problem. The first is the most similar to how Worlds is currently scheduled. The TCG players would play their 9 Swiss rounds on Day 1 with one match from each round streamed. On Day 2, the top 32 players would play 5 rounds of Swiss and then cut to a top 8. This would run concurrently with the VGC Swiss rounds. This year, only 6 rounds of Swiss were ran for VGC so it would work out very well. Pokémon would probably want to stream the VGC Swiss rounds but this way, they can do it without neglecting the TCG Swiss on Day 1. There are some logistical problems to work out in this proposed system, especially how to fit in the streams of the Junior and Senior TCG finals and closing ceremony, but I think it could be a good solution for everyone.
My preferred solution here would be to add a 3rd day to the main event at Worlds. Under this system, TCG could run roughly 7 rounds of Swiss on Day 1 and VGC could also run around 3 rounds. On Day 2, the TCG could run the remaining 2 rounds and all 5 of the top 32 Swiss rounds. VGC would run their remaining 3 Swiss rounds and maybe even the top 8 and top 4 matches. Then, the 3rd day could feature the entire TCG Masters top cut, as well as the Junior and Senior finals, plus all of the VGC finals. Some of these rounds would probably overlap, but it would definitely address all of the coverage problems with the current system.
The main issue here is of course adding the 3rd day, which is actually a 4th day when you consider the Last Chance Qualifier that is run on the day before the main event. However, most competitors already arrive at Worlds early and would love to have the opportunity for a more complete event.
Note: I wrote this section about adding a 3rd day to the Worlds main event before we received the news about Worlds 2015. Pokémon is definitely making a step in the right direction with the new tournament structure. I am skeptical of the top 8 being run on the same day as the Day 2 event as far as streaming goes; I think the TCG will still get neglected for more VGC coverage. My thoughts above still apply; TCG Masters top 8 should be run on the 3rd day. I also hope that Pokémon decides to run the streams for all three days. It would be a lot of coverage and the commentators may get burned out, but complete coverage for the event is how it will attract even more attention. Also, the longer the stream goes on, the more chance that Pokémon will want to feature both the TCG and VGC.
While I’m briefly mentioning the changes that Pokémon has announced for next year, I want to bring up my earlier point of adding a day to the Nationals schedule. I think this is less likely to happen than adding a day to Worlds at this point. There wasn’t really an extra day added for Worlds, TPCi just decided to get rid of the Last Chance Qualifier and have the main event start on Friday instead. Nationals doesn’t have a Last Chance Qualifier so there isn’t a day that can get repurposed to add to the main event.
I will say that I think the Nationals schedule will be changed slightly this year. I don’t expect a Championship Point Challenge (or two) like in 2014 based on the fact that qualifying for Worlds Day 1 is even easier than in previous years. Pokémon will want to fill that time, especially on Saturday, to entertain the competitors that are no longer playing. I think streaming is the best way to do that, so hopefully we get a more complete TCG stream in addition to the great coverage VGC has gotten.
Communication and Consistency
My last point is applicable to every tournament in every country but in particular was an issue at US Nationals and Worlds this past season. TPCi made some impactful decisions at or before these tournaments either as a result of their poor planning or to appease their own agenda. The first of these was circumventing the round structure for Worlds, cutting directly to a top 8. The way I see it, Pokémon decided to forgo the top 32 Swiss rounds in order to align with their predetermined streaming schedule. Instead of having the longer tournament that the players wanted and that the round structure described, TPCi’s priority was to make money off of their stream. Furthermore, we didn’t even get final confirmation that this was the case until the morning of Worlds. We started to see clues in the Worlds material a few weeks before but nothing was definitive.
Nationals 2014 provides an even better example of the poor communication and consistency from TPCi. The event ran smoothly until the 2nd day’s Swiss rounds for the top 32 in each flight. According to the round structure, there were to be 6 rounds played with the flights combined into a top 64. At the end of these rounds, there would be another cut to the top 8. This would provide fewer chances for players to be paired against opponents they had already played on Day 1. However, we were informed that we would be playing 5 rounds within our flights and the top 8 from each flight would then combine to a top 16. While this change didn’t impact the tournament too much, I wonder why it was even made at all. My only guess is that no one ran a simulation of TOM to see if it would be able to combine flights for a top 64 on Day 2.
The other example had potential for disaster but was barely averted. There were Championship Point Challenges run at US Nationals, two events that handed out Regional-level CP as prizes. The first one ran smoothly with best-of-three matches as advertised. However, near the end of the first event, an announcement was made in the hall that the 2nd Championship Point Challenge would be single-game Swiss. The difference between best-of-three and single-game Swiss makes a huge impact on deck choices and the competitors were just being told about it around 12 hours before the event.
Even worse, the announcement was to a nearly empty hall. Luckily, TPCi had used the online registration system for this event and they were able to email all of the competitors as well to inform them of the change. The reason that they had to change the round format was due to “time constraints with the venue,” another problem that would potentially be solved with a four-day Nationals.
Overall, TPCi does a lot of things well with the game. There are still a lot of things that need improvement though. I realize that my suggestions are not perfect, but they are a step in the right direction. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to leave a comment! Discussion is always encouraged.