Evaluating Byes

Other TCGs have a long history of awarding byes during the early rounds of even the most competitive tournaments. ARG was the first to incorporate byes into Yu-Gi-Oh at its $20,000 Championship at the end of the summer. It didn’t take long for others to follow suit. TCG Player gave byes at its $10,000 Championship in October and most recently Konami has begun incorporating byes at YCSes as well. Is awarding players literal free wins in competitive tournaments a good or a bad thing? Even if byes are a good thing, how can you go about distributing byes? It would be pointless to give everybody in the tournament a bye, so if you’re going to allow for byes you’re going to have to determine who receives them and who wouldn’t. This can be quite difficult to do as it can come across as unfair and thus distributing byes will leave you treading on thin ice. In this week’s article I’m going to be taking an analytical approach to the bye system and trying to answer these tough questions.

Why Byes?

The most logical place to start is to ask the question “why give out free wins?” Giving an obvious advantage to some seems inherently unfair, so if you’re going to do this, there’s got to be a good reason.

One reason Konami might want to implement a tournament system with byes is that it allows you to keep a larger span of players happy. We can generalize and say that players fall into one of two players; competitive or casual. Sure there are plenty of subdivides within these two categories, but staying more general will help better illustrate my point.

Competitive players focus mainly on performing well in tournaments. This is the fun they get out of the game. While casual players surely would love to perform well, they’d mostly rather do it on their own terms. They’d usually rather stay away from something meta and their fun often comes from making a big play by executing a difficult combo or from playing something unique to them.

shooting Quasar dragonIf you’re Konami, you’re obviously going to want to keep both player bases happy. The problem is that sometimes keeping one happy is in direct conflict with keeping the other happy. Let’s say for example that you’re a competitive player. You show up to round 1 of a tournament and your opponent wins the dice roll and opens with a huge combo resulting in them having a massive Shooting Quasar Dragon. That play is obviously quite powerful and no matter what the competitive player is playing, it’s unlikely they will be able to overcome the opponent’s first turn.

You win some, you lose some. It’s part of the game. The problem for the competitive player is that they didn’t really have any control over the outcome of the game. They didn’t just lose, they didn’t really ever have a chance of winning. This results in the competitive player wanting action taken on the part of Konami to prevent things like this, where there isn’t any interaction, from occurring. They might call for some sort of limitation on the Forbidden and Limited List that prevents this type of thing from happening. It’s not an unreasonable request from the competitive player to want to have some sort of interaction with the opponent and have at least some control over how the game turns out, even if it may not always turn out in their favor.

The problem is that if you give into the competitive player’s desire for cards like Shooting Quasar Dragon to be restricted, you alienate the casual player base. If they were to outright ban Shooting Quasar, all of the casual players who got their fun in this game by summoning it, now are excluded.

The opposite holds true as well. If you try to appease the casual player base by maximizing the number of ways they can execute some giant combo, the competitive player is going to lose a lot more games without having any control over the games. The competitive player gets his fun in the game primarily through winning, so if a bunch of cards exist to take away wins they’d otherwise get, you exclude the competitive player.

I often hear things about how Konami is motivated by money. Well, I’d certainly hope so! They’re a business. Of course they want to turn a profit. Rightfully so, I might add. I don’t think there’s any blame to be had here. Especially because that’s actually great for the players! The more people playing their game, the bigger their profits are. Because of this, they don’t want to exclude anybody. More people are going to play their game if both the competitive and casual players are happy than if just one or the other was happy.

As I talked about above, sometimes keeping one group happy is in direct conflict with the other. This is where byes come in!

If you allow the competitive player a bye or two, it becomes easier for them to perform well. That’s one or two rounds that they’re marked down as the winner. Since the competitive player gets their fun from winning, they are kept happy if byes exist.

Additionally, strategies based around huge combos such as summoning Shooting Quasar Dragon are typically less consistent. While they are incredibly difficult to overcome if they are successfully pulled off, it’s not going to happen all that often. This often translates to strategies like this losing earlier on in the tournament. The casual player gets more fun from successfully executing these combos than they do from winning. They may only pull it off 3 out of 10 games, but they’ll have had fun regardless because they were able to pull it off in those 3 games.

Since strategies like this are less likely to perform well consistently throughout a tournament (and those that can perform consistently are the ones that should end up actually on the Forbidden and Limited list), if the competitive player starts off 2-0, it’s much less likely that they’ll play against such a strategy for the remainder of the tournament than if everyone started out 0-0. This further results in pleasing the competitive player.

This has similar benefits for the casual player as well. Without byes, there’s a good chance that Shooting Quasar or other similar strategies could be restricted on the Forbidden and Limited list in an attempt to please the competitive players. Because of byes, however, there is often no need to ban these strategies.

The competitive players are already kept happy by starting out with a winning record and rarely having to play against such strategies. They’re the ones asking for restrictions on these strategies, not the casual players. Since no one is calling for their restriction, Konami is free to allow these types of strategies in the game without alienating either player base. Since they aren’t restricted, the casual players who get their fun in the game by executing strategies like this can continue to do so.

In effect, byes are win-win for both competitive and casual players.

Who Currently Gets Byes

So we have established that byes are good for a growing game, but now we have to ask the question, who should receive them? Let’s start out by taking a look at how byes are currently distributed.

Konami and Alter Reality Games are the two companies that host premier events for Yu-Gi-Oh. Both of them have recently introduced byes, but they both have a separate way of implementing them.

ARG distributes byes via a point system. You can win points by performing well at a Circuit Series or another ARG event, such as a 1k in 1 Day. Points are not directly attached to the person that won them originally. They are given out in the form of tokens. This means that they can be bought and sold amongst players or directly from ARG themselves. If you have a certain number of points, you can receive a first round bye at a Circuit Series. If you have another, higher, amount of points, you can receive a first and a second round bye at a Circuit Series. You can also use the points to purchase things such as a flight or hotel room. Points are good for an entire season (Summer to Summer).

Konami, on the other hand, does not distribute byes based on any kind of point system. Instead they host tournaments at high performing OTS stores. Tournaments have a swiss format with a top cut. Those who advance to top cut will continue in a single-elimination bracket played under a draft format. The winner of the tournament will be awarded a first and a second round bye at the next YCS along with other perks such as VIP seating during the YCS. Each tournament is held only in the state of the next YCS and those states touching that state. The byes cannot be taken at a later YCS and have to be used at the specific YCS the tournament was for and they can only be taken by the player that won, not traded or sold.

Who Should Get Byes

We’ve now established that byes serve an important role in growing the game and shown the two different methods currently used for distributing byes, but just because something is done a certain way does not mean that is necessarily the best way to do it. There is always room for improvement and assuming that an optimal way to distribute byes exists (it may not, but there will still be a way that would achieve the goal of byes better than any other way of distributing them), at least one, and quite possibly both, of the current systems is not this optimal distribution. To find the optimal distribution, we should first ask who should get the byes for them to be effective?

Byes keep both competitive and casual players happy. They do so by allowing casual players to execute powerful plays that often don’t typically require a lot of interaction between players, something the competitive player would otherwise be at fault with. It speaks to reason, then, that byes only keep both types of players happy if they are given to the competitive players.

Giving a bye to the casual players doesn’t actually help accomplish this goal. Of course they like to win, but as we said, it’s likely not their main focus. They get much more enjoyment from pulling the combo off in the first place. For the most part they’re happy if they get to do it at 0-1 or at 3-0. The actual record matters much more to the competitive player.

Giving byes to casual players actually detracts from the goal of byes. Both groups are not made better off if byes are given to the casual players. They may see a slight increase in the amount of fun they have while they pull off their combo if they are winning, but the competitive player will get more utility from the actual wins. Additionally, if casual players were given byes, they would now be facing competitive players as the tournament progresses. Competitive players were discontent with having to play against strategies that could beat them without interaction between players, such as a combo to summon Shooting Quasar Dragon.

If you give the byes to casual players, you’re creating this exact kind of situation. This results in pressure to do something about these cards and if something is done, the casual player will no longer be happy as they can’t use their combo or execute their big play. The competitive players will feel excluded in the mean time while they lose to things they had no control over. This results in both groups being worse off.

If instead you give the byes to the competitive players, you keep them happy as they are less likely to play against these type of strategies and they are given actual wins that make them that much closer to tournament success, which is what is motivating them. You also keep the casual players happy since there is no demand for these cards to be removed from the format and the casual player can get their happiness through executing elaborate plays.

Evaluating the Current Systems

We’ve now established that byes are a good thing and that they will be most effective when given to competitive players. Let’s now evaluate how well the current systems effectively distribute byes.

We’ll start with ARG’s point distribution. Points are given out when a player is successful. To actually receive a bye, you must be successful multiple times in order to have enough points. This would seem to indicate that their point distribution is geared toward the competitive players, which is certainly a good thing.

One potential drawback is that points can literally be traded and sold. While it isn’t possible to receive more than two byes through points, something seems inherently wrong with quite literally being able to buy a win. If you’re competing in a tournament to show who’s the best that day, it seems very counter-intuitive to be able to use money to get ahead.

This is potentially counteracted by two separate factors that keep this in check. The first being, while you may use points to get a bye at any Circuit, I haven’t heard of anyone who consistently does this. 1 point is worth roughly $1. The reality of it is there are very few people who would be willing to spend close to $100 to start off 2-0 at every tournament they attended.

The second factor is that even if this were the case and someone did consistently do this, they are almost certainly a competitive player. Casual players don’t gain as much utility from the actual wins the byes provide as a competitive player would, so you can almost say for certain that if this happened, it would be a competitive player taking advantage of it. Since byes most effectively serve their purpose when given to competitive players, this could actually help accomplish the goal of byes.

I think the biggest drawback to ARG’s system, is that the byes are so difficult to obtain. If you’re a competitive player who is trying to naturally win the byes and aren’t actually paying for them, you’re only going to be able to get 3-4 byes per season at most. At this point, byes serve little purpose for the growth of the game.

The vast majority of competitive players would not receive byes for any given tournament. That means they are still more likely to be paired against the casual player trying to execute his combo, which as we’ve discussed ends poorly for both parties. At this point, it seems like the byes may not be wide enough reaching to have any real impact and that they only give benefits to the players using them, not the community as a whole.

Moving on to the way Konami distributes byes, we can examine a few drawbacks of their system as well. Byes cannot be bought, so that seemingly is an advantage over ARG’s system, but they also share the impact problem.

Similar to ARG, byes are awarded under Konami to those who perform well in tournaments. This means that they are directing the byes primarily at competitive players. One problem is that the tournaments do not have enough reach. Each tournament only applies to the next YCS and the tournaments where they give the byes are hosted only in the same vicinity as the upcoming YCS.

Similarly to how it isn’t very realistic to consistently bye points to start 2-0 in every Circuit, it’s not realistic to expect players that don’t live within that area to attend the tournaments to win the byes. The most competitive players often have to get on a plane to get to the YCS, they almost certainly aren’t going to get on a plane a couple weeks earlier to have a shot at starting 2-0 if they perform well at a local. This means that their system is going to exclude a significant amount of the competitive players the bye system needs to be targeted at to be effective. Since they only apply to the next YCS, it’s of little use to host these tournaments all over the country, as it will often be the case that the winner will not attend the YCS and the byes will go unused.

There is also the same concern that byes will not be given to enough people and that the clash of competitives and casuals will occur regardless, which as we’ve talked about time and again, makes both groups worse off.

Suggested Improvements

Both systems do well in targeting competitive players to receive byes, but they also can both be improved upon.

I think the biggest thing they need to do is make it so that the byes apply to more competitive players on a more consistent basis to achieve the desired outcome.

One way they might do this is to implement a ranking system. The current Konami ranking system is effectively useless as it counts a win at locals the same as a win at a YCS. This just rewards people who play a lot of OTS locals. One that either excludes locals entirely (probably better as many as not OTS and they shouldn’t punish people for something they can’t control) or seriously weigh the different tiers of tournaments to create a real ranking system.

At this point there are two ways they could take it. The first of which would be to take the top X ranked players, let’s say 50, and give those player 2 byes to every event they show up to. This would give the bye system a wide enough impact to make a difference. You could then take the next however many ranked players, let’s say 51-100, and give them 1 bye to every tournament they show up to.

Another, potentially even better alternative, would be to utilize a ratings system, similar to Duelingnetwork. For instance, everyone on Duelingnetwork starts out at 100 rating. You could make it so that anybody with 1300 or more got a bye to every tournament they attended and anybody with 1500 or more got two byes to every tournament they attended. This makes it so that the byes aren’t relative to other player’s performances. Once you have a high enough rating under the system, you got a certain number of byes.

Both of these extend the reach of byes, something that can positively impact both the competitive and casual community if implemented correctly. What are your thoughts on byes? Leave a comment and let me know what you think down below. Until next time, play hard or go home!

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

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