Taking on 2GD as Esports Manager may have been the smartest thing Stunlock ever did. Even though the game itself never took off as well as everyone had hoped, 2GD’s contribution single-handedly kept the game alive for years after the developers had all but given up.
What was his contribution? The beautiful tournament system that eventually became the game’s life pulse. I don’t know if he invented the idea from scratch or if he was inspired by an implementation from another game, but I loved it all the same.
Here’s why I think it was their greatest feat, why it worked so well, and why we’ll need something like it when Battlerite is released.
Participation Was Downright Easy
Participation was an enormous obstacle in Bloodline Champions. Even when there were hundreds of active players online, it was hard convincing them that they should queue up for ranked 3v3 — but tournaments caused everyone to come out of the woodwork. It was the one time the game really felt alive.
Now that Battlerite is switching to a 2v2 format, we won’t have to worry as much about this. After all, ranked 2v2 was always the most popular queue.
But what I’d like to highlight is the entire process of participating. Team creation was simple. Once made, all you had to do was click one button to join the tournament. Once enrolled, it found matches for you and offered another one-click button to accept. No registration pages, no extra requirements other than grade. In retrospect, it’s amazing how seamless everything was.
More than that, it was easy for spectators to get involved, too. The tournament details were always easy to find, and even if you’d missed the first thirty minutes or hour, it was so simple to look at the standings and see where everyone stood. The brackets were informative and easy to digest. But most importantly, games were super easy to observe — and that was key.
Towards the end of a tournament, it wasn’t unusual to see hundreds of players packed into a single game to watch top teams duke it out. It was the closest thing to community, at least within the game itself, and I’m sure it left many of us with lots of great memories.
The Two-Phase Design Was Fair
As someone who likes to design systems, I have to admit that I’m quite jealous of what 2GD managed to come up with in his two-phase design. Obviously there’s nothing special about a Qualifications/Brackets split, but what impressed me was the elegance in how they were adapted and implemented.
In essence, he took a handful of well-known systems, combined them all together, got rid of any excess that bogged down pace, and did it all without harming the integrity of competition. In fact, it’s one of the fairest systems I’ve ever seen.
The Qualification phase was pretty much a Swiss system: as matches were completed, teams were matched up against teams that had similar records. As the Qualification phase progressed, you ended up with the best teams at the top (usually around 6-0) and the worst at the bottom (usually around 0-6).
But Swiss systems are known for being slow, which is why the Qualification phase wasn’t a true Swiss system. Instead of waiting for all matches to end before setting up the next round, teams got paired up as they became available. Not ideal, but it kept people from getting bored. It kept the energy going. It was good as a warm-up, too.
And because the Qualification phase adequately sorted teams from best to worst, the seeds for the Bracket phase were pretty darn good. Most of the time, you had the two best teams by the grand finals, and that made for many exciting games.
This two-phase design meant each tournament was a clean slate. Your grade, MMR, and team history didn’t matter. All that mattered was your Qualification performance and your Bracket performance, and this meant everyone had an equal shot at winning no matter what. Perfect.
No Tournament Host Was Needed
As if the actual tournament system wasn’t awesome enough, the cherry on top of the cake was the fact that it was all automated.
No host was needed to run a tournament. Let that sink in for a moment. I’ve played in my fair share of tournaments, and even hosted a few in other games, and one of the worst things is that a tournament host is needed to handle all of the logistics. Who’s playing who? What were the scores? Ugh.
The need for a live host comes with many potential problems. If the host loses Internet or he needs to deal with a real-life emergency, the tournament is paused or cancelled. If players aren’t punctual, a simple tournament could last hours longer than intended. Plus, hosts can make honest mistakes.
Whereas in BLC’s system, those problems were gone. Everything was controlled by the computer, the process was a million times more efficient than having a live host, the match results could be tracked in real-time, and the system never made any mistakes.
Not to mention the fact that some players would lie and complain to hosts to get match results overturned. Fortunately, you couldn’t complain to the tournament system. It was what it was and you had to deal with it.
But what I liked best was the automated schedule. Sure, the developers had to manually input new tournaments every week (and sometimes they missed it) but for the most part, you could see when the next tournament was and plan around it. Again, it made for really easy participation.
There Were Reward Incentives for Everyone
One of the worst mistakes in Bloodline Champions was how badly the bloodcoin system got botched over time. Looking back, it had a lot of contradictions and redundancies that hindered how much fun players could have and how much money Stunlock could extract from players.
On the other hand, the tournament rewards were one of the best things about the whole virtual economy. The bloodcoin grind sucked, but the fact that you could win a cosmetic item by placing in a tournament was awesome. (Although, for the record, tournament tokens were terrible.)
The best aspect of these reward incentives? The sheer number of participants who could walk away from a tournament with a prize in hand. At some point, the top 64 teams in a Super Cup could walk away with something. Maybe not a lot, maybe just a few bloodcoins, but it was better than nothing. Consolation, you could say.
And I think those consolation prizes went a long way towards encouraging players to participate, even newbies who knew they’d never get anywhere near 1st place. That’s the problem with tournaments that only offer prizes to the Top 10 or Top 3 or Top 1 — if you aren’t anywhere close to that, then there’s no incentive to participate.
Bonus: Replays & Tournament Histories
There are actually two more things I loved about the system, but I’ll combine them because they’re tangentially related: replays and tournament histories.
Replays have always been a wonderful part of Bloodline Champions. With them, you could watch a particular game from the perspective of anyone — perhaps even your favorite player — and learn from them. For tournaments, replays especially came in handy for making fan videos like this:
Tournament histories might seem like a negligible feature, but I really appreciated them. Their main benefit, of course, was that they highlighted the winners of past tournaments. Fame and reputation are big motivators for players in a competitive game and these histories acted as proof of one’s success.
They were also useful as overall historical records. For example, it was an easy way to check who won that tournament several weeks ago. But for me, I actually used tournament histories as a way to see which of my favorite players were still playing the game: open the latest tournament and browse the team list.
I know you probably think that this “feature” is stupid, and maybe it is, but there was no other way in game (at least that I knew about) to get that kind of information so effortlessly, so I’m glad it existed.
What Was Your Favorite Aspect?
I’m not saying the tournament system was perfect, because it surely wasn’t. Some aspects of it could be gamed (especially during Qualification), the rewards weren’t always enticing (especially if you won or bought items a lot), and it was a slight disincentive for people to spend money in the shop.
But in terms of rallying the community and giving players something to look forward to, it was bang on. The competition was fairly designed, exciting to watch, and easy to keep up with. That’s pretty much an ace as far as design goes.
But enough out of me. What did you think of the tournament system in Bloodline Champions? Was it was great as I remembered it? Or was it riddled with flaws that you hated?