Fixing top-8 cut should be TPCI’s priority

The Pokémon Company International needs to provide Tournament Organizers with an alternative to top-8 cut at regionals. Top-8 cut is a heavily flawed system with problems that have only been exacerbated by the recent changes to the VGC circuit.

Though I’ve only been playing VGC for a year and a half, I understand why players are fed up with the current top-cut system. At every regional, there are frequent complaints by players about  missing top-cut due to resistance, whether it happened to them or to friends. Even more take their issues to Twitter, where there’s as much conversation complaining about top-cut as there is about the matches.

The primary rationale regarding the discussion is whether a top-eight cut succeeds in determining the best player at the tournament. Admittedly, there is no way to prove who the “best” player is  considering the randomness in VGC (who your opponent is, what their team is, or “hax” elements within the game). Even still, many great players consistently make good runs at regionals but miss top eight due to resistance.

These aren’t just solid players making bad team choices or playing poorly. Using the Phoenix regional as an example, both the US national champion and a top 8 worlds competitor barely missed top cut due to resistance despite having x-2 records. Many other talented players experienced the same.

In response, some argue that those players simply should have played better. Had they lost one game fewer, they would have guaranteed a spot in top-cut. However, the luck elements involved with Pokemon make this difficult to accept. There are certainly scenarios where good players play poorly and miss top-cut through justified losses. However, what happens just as often is these players miss a crucial attack or their opponent lands a critical hit/double protect.. In these cases, it isn’t bad play being punished, but bad luck. It is hard for even the best players to only lose one game out of eight or nine rounds of swiss due to luck elements alone.

As a result of in-game RNG, players can miss top-cut for reasons completely out of their control since resistance (the average of your opponents’ win percentage) determines placement between tied records. While two competitors ending the day with the same record but a different placement isn’t inherently problematic,basing that result on who their random opponents were throughout the day is an issue.

Resistance often comes down to the difference of just a few percentage points, making it extremely unclear who the “better” player was that day. Even worse is when multiple players around the top-cut have the same resistance. This forces the determination of top-cut in terms of their opponents’ opponents win-percentage, which even further distances the competitors from their placement. This happened at the recent Orlando regional.

The problems with top-8 cut are also more punishing than in previous years. With the changes to championship point payout and the Worlds qualifier bar, players are forced to not only travel more frequently but to also perform more consistently, since non-top-eight finishes reward even less CP. Though one might argue the increased best finish limits make up for the reduced CP payout, this requires attending more events, which are more expensive than ever and require more traveling. This is difficult for most competitors due to their young-age and school responsibilities, making it hard to justify attending events considering all of the elements outside of the competitor’s control.

Though we players recognize these problems and still signed up to play, these are unnecessary limitations. However, it’s clear that The Pokémon Company International recognizes the problem, as well. They shunned the static numbered top-cut system at last season’s US Nationals and the World Championships. They did so intentionally, to reduce the impact of the above-mentioned luck-based factors. Those that claim TPCI doesn’t care are ignoring the facts.

If most everyone involved in VGC sees a problem with the current top-cut structure, why hasn’t anything changed? Why can’t tournament organizers run their regionals the same way TPCI ran US Nationals and Worlds? The limiting factor is that the Tournament Organization Management (TOM) software used at all sanctioned events isn’t built for the system used at Nats and Worlds. The top-cut brackets at those tournaments were hand-made. For the current resistance-based system to change, TPCI would either have to let TOs create hand-made brackets like they did at US Nats and Worlds or update TOM.

Both cases have their drawbacks. While the latter seems straightforward enough, TOM is a customized piece of software that TPCI already invested a lot of money in. Updating that would be even more expensive and require a lot of time to develop and test. It has to work perfectly since there is a lot at stake. There would be huge controversies if software errors kept someone out of top-cut or incorrectly generated the match-ups.

In terms of the former option, the same potential for controversy is similarly a limiting factor. While TPCI could train TOs on how to make more complex brackets by hand, the chance of human error makes this alternative less desirable.

This isn’t to say the solution to the current top-cut problem is to use the same system as US Nats and Worlds. The point is simply that players are frustrated with the current system and that changes need to be made. The solution needs to come from TPCI, as only they have enough information to make a decision considering the whole picture.

I have faith in TPCI’s dedication to change. Just think about how our tournament structures have progressed from the early days of VGC to now. Going from single-elimination regionals to the improved Swiss and top-cut system that we have now turned out to be a huge step forward. All we want is for TPCI to take another step, and to make that step a priority.

 

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