Superteam Regulation?

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Superteam Regulation?

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots » Tue Aug 05, 2014 10:55 pm

Last night, Evan, Tommy and I contentiously debated Evan's team arrangements for VCU Open Sunday. Tommy and I were a bit angry that Evan had united Eric, John, AND Matt Jackson on the same team against his friends; we felt that Evan had ruined our shot at competing, on an HSNCT prep set, to ensure that he'd win. In response, Evan argued that he had no obligation not to form the best team possible. We were unjustifiably resentful despite the fact that we'd both played on equally overpowered teams at other tournaments. I'm still not sure who was right.

After thinking more about this debate, I've decided that quizbowl's current treatment of superteams is inadequate. Open tournaments would be markedly more enjoyable for everyone in the field if the five-to-ten best players were more evenly distributed across teams. However, our nebulous gentleman's agreement on the subject has failed to stop those ten players from conglomerating onto, at most, four or five teams. Without presuming to overturn years of quizbowl precedent, I'd like to see just one open next year use an actual incentive structure to improve competitive balance.

This kind of structure is worth considering because superteams make tournaments less fun. Yes, there's a certain primal appeal in uniting Eric Mukherjee with some humanities generalists and watching that bulldozer roll, but I strongly feel that that appeal diminishes after you've done it a few times. When people wrote about their favorite quizbowl experiences in the thread I made a couple months ago, they instead brought up quality of competition and variety of teammates as important criteria. Blowouts can be restful, but we generally remember the matches that raised our heart rates - I loved CO and VCUO 2011 because we played so many close matches against good, unusually-composed teams. When the best players are all on five teams, those teams get to play four meaningful games. If we divided them among nine teams, people would get to play eight. The eighth place team would get to contend seriously, and the first place team would get a vastly more exciting experience.

The current system also punishes people for playing with new teammates instead of familiar superstars - if Eric chooses to play with Aidan Mehigan instead of John Lawrence again, he's hurting his shot at winning. At this point most of the best players have teamed up many times just because that's what you do to keep contending. A system that discourages superteams would allow the best players to play with new teammates and make the tournament that much more interesting.

Since parity is a desirable outcome, I've sketched out a few possible ways a tournament could hypothetically achieve it. I just want to open up discussion here; if you think this is going way too far, you're free to say so.

TD Approval
The TD or head editor of the tournament gets to veto any team s/he judges to have more than one superstar. Assuming most people have an accurate judgment of what 10 players we're talking about, this could work pretty simply.
Drawbacks: Inconsistent treatment of teams could potentially ruin competitive balance worse than a superteam would.

Salary Cap
The way professional sports does it. Obviously we don't get paid to play quizbowl, but a salary cap-like system in quizbowl might assign point values to the best players and set a cap on the number of points any team could acquire. A luxury tax that saddles overpowered teams with a higher entry fee would allow people who REALLY want to play together to do so while still discouraging most teams from doing that.
Drawbacks: It's hard for a TD to assign point values accurately to players. Given the quizbowl economy, a luxury tax would mean basically nothing to some players and a lot to others.

Draft
The tournament director determines the field size, divides it by four, and picks that many captains. The captains, seeded according to skill, then do a snake draft.
Drawbacks: Impossible to use for packet sub events. I might like to see this used more for housewritten opens, though.

None of these are at all optimal, but variations on them might work. If anyone has ideas on how to work this somewhat formally, I'd like to hear them.
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Re: Superteam Regulation?

Post by Cheynem » Tue Aug 05, 2014 11:05 pm

I think unless we do a draft, gentlemen's agreements are the only feasible methods. And I think you're right in suggesting that the top players don't always have to form the best possible teams at every tournament--but on the other hand, I don't see this as inherently being a problem--as someone who doesn't play on superteams, having your ass kicked majorly by one superteam and then having more competitive games against everyone else isn't THAT much worse than getting your ass kicked a little by five teams with a Top 10 player.

This might be unpopular or unfeasible, but perhaps a private snake draft communicated before the tournament might be interesting (i.e., TD consults with captains in the IRC quickly). That way, we don't get the inevitable waste of time in which the drafters ask the draftees who they are and what they know, or the hurt feelings when someone's best buddy doesn't pick him.

I think TD approval and (especially!) the salary cap are bad ideas and susceptible to wonkiness.
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Re: Superteam Regulation?

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots » Tue Aug 05, 2014 11:12 pm

The idea wouldn't be that you'd get your ass kicked by five teams with a top 10 player - unless it's a really big tournament, most people would end up playing with a top 10 player. You'd have a chance to win nearly every game.

It's kind of important to me because I'm getting tired of playing against the same teams at every open. I think we could make those tournaments better. The salary cap as I proposed it is a pretty terrible idea, but I'm just throwing things out. A more explicit gentleman's agreement, maybe?
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Re: Superteam Regulation?

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Tue Aug 05, 2014 11:16 pm

This would take some effort, but could we feasibly create a program that automatically generated balanced teams of some sort? i.e. A player ranks him or herself, says what their best subjects are, and then the players are combined in a way to generate teams that are balanced across both subjects and skill level.
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Re: Superteam Regulation?

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Wed Aug 06, 2014 8:15 am

Matt, I'm positively flabbergasted by your post.

You've been on the best team in the country for a couple of years now, smashing the Mid-Atlantic with aplomb, and doing a pretty nice job carving up the national field. This year, you decide to play MFT with your full A team, even though it was the spiritual successor to EFT, and therefore exactly the kind of tournament which the "gentleman's agreement" was supposed to apply to. Then, you win Nats and ICT with what is possibly the best regular-season humanities team in quizbowl history, clearing the field at both tournaments. Then, you decide to play CO with the same team + the greatest science player in quizbowl, clearing the field. Then, you team with Eric Mukherjee yet again for VCU Open, and win. But finally, for what is apparently the first time in your recent career, you play on a team of slightly-below superteam-strength in a tournament that has a superteam; you lose; and then you post a diatribe against superteams. Apparently, superteams now make the game not fun, and people should stop playing with the same people over and over.

And apparently, that was what the "Favorite Quizbowl Experiences" thread was all about, according to you: tournaments without superteams; tight matches and not blowouts. Well, except that many of us who have played on CO superteams put our memories of playing on those superteams on our list of Top 10 memories. In fact, your own list is filled with opens where you were on superteams. Your third place memory involves our biggest blowout at CO 2012. And your top memory is of an open tournament where you absolutely smashed the field.

So, when exactly did you discover that the current system is unfair and not fun? Are you now contrite for all the teams we plowed on our way to winning CO 2012? How about the victims of this year's spree?

I've spent almost my entire non-CO open-tournament career playing either on my regular-seasons school's team (e.g. my team at this year's VCU Open) and/or playing on teams that were fairly obviously not going to win (e.g. my team at KABO). And to defend Evan, I seem to recollect him also playing a fair number of opens on non-contending, just-play-for-fun teams (e.g. his team at this year's VCU Open Saturday, his team at KABO). The one time we form a team that's as strong as the teams you normally play on, we're suddenly breaking the gentleman's agreement?

However, at the heart of your post, is a truth I discussed with Seth, Selene, and Jeff over dinner after CO this year. Matt Weiner famously won CO's 2007-2010 playing with no repeat teammates. But even more impressively, on the winning teams from CO 2008-2010, Matt Weiner was the only member of the team that had won a CO before. That happened again in 2012, when we won CO: Eric was the only one of us who'd won CO before. I postulated to Seth, Selene, and Jeff that we have entered an era where this is impossible: the only way to win CO now is to play on team that contains at least two players who have previously won a CO.

Like you, I don't think this is entirely ideal, because I don't like the idea of a fixed "in crowd" always winning CO, and I personally enjoy mixing up who I play with. But we got here to begin with when players like you and Matt Jackson rose to fill the void left by the graduation of the Seth/Sorice/Jerry crowd. We didn't need to employ some kind of "reverse eugenics" where players that were too strong were prevented from combining with each other. I don't see any reason why there won't be another revolution within a couple of years, in which the current superplayers of today are evenly matched with a younger generation that has risen to fill the void of your graduation, just as you did before them.

The kind of system I do support is one in which in the strongest open players elect to remove themselves from circulation every now and then to edit the open. You and Matt Jackson did this for CO 2013, creating quite a different field dynamic for that tournament. Jeff is about to do it for CO HIstory 2015, allowing someone other than Jeff to win it for the first time in a while. I'm about to do it for CO Lit 2015. This is why I co-wrote the previous Imaginary Landscape, and having now won this one, I'm going to write the next one solo, so that hopefully as strong a combination of players (Jacob Reed, Aaron Rosenberg, Magin, etc.) can face off against each other. And I assume that somewhere down the line, if my PhD program allows me a free summer, I'll edit a CO main event.

But yes, much stronger teams smashing much weaker teams is a reality of quizbowl at every single level of competition. During the regular-season, these superteams (most of them barely weaker than most of the superteams that play open tournaments) are the results of who happens to be at what school, and at opens they are the results of strong players from different schools deciding to combine. The reality of this dynamic is a fact you should presumably be familiar with, since this has been your career for the past couple of years. The fact that being on the winning side of this equation bores you now and being on the losing side of this makes you mad is not a compelling argument for altering the fundamental nature of the game.
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Re: Superteam Regulation?

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots » Wed Aug 06, 2014 9:02 am

You've been on the best team in the country for a couple of years now, smashing the Mid-Atlantic with aplomb, and doing a pretty nice job carving up the national field. This year, you decide to play MFT with your full A team, even though it was the spiritual successor to EFT, and therefore exactly the kind of tournament which the "gentleman's agreement" was supposed to apply to. Then, you win Nats and ICT with what is possibly the best regular-season humanities team in quizbowl history, clearing the field at both tournaments. Then, you decide to play CO with the same team + the greatest science player in quizbowl, clearing the field. Then, you team with Eric Mukherjee yet again for VCU Open, and win. But finally, for what is apparently the first time in your recent career, you play on a team of slightly-below superteam-strength in a tournament that has a superteam; you lose; and then you post a diatribe against superteams. Apparently, superteams now make the game not fun, and people should stop playing with the same people over and over.
No, this is fair - I didn't mean to make this an accusation of your team. I tried to include both sides of the argument in the opening to avoid casting blame. And you're right that I participate* in this system more than basically anyone else, especially when I play with Eric. The optics of this post are pretty terrible in that light and I apologize.

I still think spreading the talent out more at opens would improve the event for pretty much everyone, just mathematically, by giving the good teams twice as many competitive matches to play. I didn't say they made the game "not fun," just "less fun," and I'll stick by that one. To answer your question, I don't feel bad about mowing down weaker teams at any tournament. I just don't particularly find those games memorable. That said, I don't think I can avoid the appearance of being a sore loser here, particularly since you're right that getting beaten on Sunday is what got me considering what I eventually wrote.

*For what it's worth, Michigan and VCU both said we could and even should play MFT with our full team. I don't consider that a violation of any informal agreement.
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Re: Superteam Regulation?

Post by Cheynem » Wed Aug 06, 2014 9:39 am

I do think that the problems posed by superteams can be subtly thwarted by two trends that don't require outside interference:

1. The emergence of new talent. In my first VCU Open, Jonathan Magin played with the not yet superstars Richard Mason and John Lawrence. By today's perspective, this was a damn good team; at the time, I think there was even a feeling that Magin was playing with "unknowns." The team, of course, turned out to be very good.

2. The willingness of good to great players to not play on superteams or at least play on midcard teams. At Chicago Open the last two years, I played with Kurtis/Saajid/Ashvin and Jordan/Aaron/Sinan, both very good teams that I don't think people would label as superteams. We had solid performances and beat a number of superteams (and in fact only lost to the most super of superteams by five points). People like Kurtis and Jordan and Aaron would not be out of place on true superteams, but they chose to play with folks like me, which is nice.

Anyway, I'll close by saying one of the biggest thrills for a non superteam team is to play a superteam well or even beat them (which I have). Open tournaments tend to attract superteams; certainly I'll argue that if the competition doesn't need it, it seems less than optimal. I also think two of my most enjoyable experiences in quizbowl have been the draft tournaments of Experiment and Gaddis. In short, I think unless a TD wants to do a draft and is ready to make that efficient, I would be against officially curbing superteam formation.
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Re: Superteam Regulation?

Post by theMoMA » Wed Aug 06, 2014 11:27 am

To me, there's a big difference between forming a super-duper team for Chicago Open, which is the big central open event, and forming a super-duper team for a more regional open tournament (like Illinois Open, Minnesota Open, VCU Open, the Cardinal Classics of yore, various Chicago-run spring tournaments of recent vintage, etc.). I do think that spreading out the best players has a competitive benefit at regional opens, and I think people could stand to be more reasonable when deciding to build their teams for those tournaments.

I'm glad that people have pointed out Jonathan and Matt Weiner as players who consistently go out of their way to play with new teammates. They've both showed a very keen eye for new talent, too. (While we're at it, I'd add Will Nediger, Laferbrook, and Seth and Selene to the list of players who I've noticed seem to be interested in finding interesting team configurations.) Mixing up your teammates at these regional opens is a good way to test our the strengths of your game while avoiding team structures that might completely wreck the field.

But at CO, I think the expectation has been (and should continue to be) that the very best players should try to team up to win the tournament, because there are enough good players to make it a fun and competitive tournament regardless of how good the top teams are. (This year, for example, the list of teams that scored over 250 points per game, and whose rosters were undoubtedly "superteam" worthy, went SEVEN deep. And there were several quality teams below that that might be deemed superteams at a regional open.)

Finally, John, I don't see any reason why a humanities core picked from players like (for example) Will Nediger, Auroni Gupta, Aaron Rosenberg, Stephen Liu, Doug Graebner, Marshall Steinbaum, Ike Jose, Matt Jackson, and Jordan Brownstein couldn't team up with Eric to win CO (or with a great science specialist like Billy Busse, Gautam Kandlikar, or Sinan Ulusoy, if we want to pick a hypothetical team that could win CO without having any past champions on it). I don't mean to call these guys out for not winning (in fact, quite the opposite, because John's post seems to imply that they have no shot of winning, at least without a couple past champs on board, which I think this list shows is simply false).
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Re: Superteam Regulation?

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Wed Aug 06, 2014 1:00 pm

theMoMA wrote:Finally, John, I don't see any reason why a humanities core picked from players like (for example) Will Nediger, Auroni Gupta, Aaron Rosenberg, Stephen Liu, Doug Graebner, Marshall Steinbaum, Ike Jose, Matt Jackson, and Jordan Brownstein couldn't team up with Eric to win CO (or with a great science specialist like Billy Busse, Gautam Kandlikar, or Sinan Ulusoy, if we want to pick a hypothetical team that could win CO without having any past champions on it). I don't mean to call these guys out for not winning (in fact, quite the opposite, because John's post seems to imply that they have no shot of winning, at least without a couple past champs on board, which I think this list shows is simply false).
"Impossible" was too a strong word, I admit, but I still don't think it will actually happen for a little while. All your list demonstrates is that there are many good players who haven't won CO yet who could conceivably form a team that is "strong enough" (in the abstract) to win CO. Of course, in reality, every field has contained many teams that are "strong enough" (in the abstract) to win some hypothetical CO, but had no real chance of winning CO in the year in which they played, because there were too many other stronger superteams in the field.

If, as is rumored, Eric and Jerry are going to co-edit CO next year, I could imagine a winning team consisting of Matt Bollinger, Matt Jackson, and two others from your list. I don't think any other combination of three non-winners + one winner will win. But this is a prediction about which I'd be very happy to be proven wrong, as I like the idea of exciting new combinations of players and diversity at the top. So, I'm willing to issue a challenge, if that will spur people on: if Eric and Jerry's editorship of next year's CO happens, once the tournament is officially announced, I'll place a small bet that the tournament will not be won by a team that contains fewer than two previous winners of CO or that does not contain both Matt Bollinger and Matt Jackson.
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Re: Superteam Regulation?

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Wed Aug 06, 2014 1:34 pm

It doesn't have to be rules, guys. You can get some of the results you want through peer pressure and the development and social enforcement of unwritten norms.
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Re: Superteam Regulation?

Post by grapesmoker » Wed Aug 06, 2014 5:31 pm

ThisIsMyUsername wrote:If, as is rumored, Eric and Jerry are going to co-edit CO next year
Assuming no one else is going to throw their hat into the ring, that is the plan.
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Re: Superteam Regulation?

Post by minusfive » Tue Aug 12, 2014 10:31 am

Since there was (almost) a parallel discussion of this in the Canadian VCUO thread, I will post my thoughts here.

I am often a member of a "superteam" (the term is obviously relative, as in Canada, where I play, it currently takes less to be "super," although this is thankfully in the process of changing), and find them very enjoyable. They allow me to:
1) Play with my friends, regardless of their strength
2) Play with new people, regardless of strength (this year I have had new teammates on all of our superteams)
3) Not overreach on areas I don't know (what's a smooth endoplasmic reticulum?)
4) Perhaps (though not always) win the tournament.

It seems to me one's perspective on what one gets out of quizbowl alters one's perspective on superteams. If the goal is to win, then they obviously make a lot of sense (and, like any other team, people try to form the strongest teams they can). If the goal is to unite people who have often played against each other, but not often with (a sort of All-Star arrangement), then again, they make sense. If the goal is to see how dominant a team can be, again, the answer's yes. If it's to have "fun," then obviously that's subjective, but I can't see how it's more fun to be forced to play with people other than the ones you would choose.

From another perspective, the "spectators" deserve balanced games. I can see this being an argument for changing the format (so the losing team isn't sitting around most of the game being ritually slaughtered), but I, with respect, can't see this as an argument against superteams. First off, it seems like penalizing players for being "too good:" maybe Ayn Rand has possessed me, but it seems like this drags down good players to the level of less-good players in the name of "fairness." One has no right to be competitive at quizbowl, in my opinion: if you don't want to be blown out, get better. Secondly, there are few to no spectators for most events, and the players (rather than pro sports, an analogy which came up) are paying to be there, rather than being paid. A quizbowl competitor, as a paying customer, owes the community nothing more than civility. Of course, this makes the contributions of quizbowl volunteers/staff all the more impressive. Finally, many collegiate events artificially segregate teams into schools, anyway, which essentially means that all players have a chance to "nerf" opposing teams at some events.

At the end of the day, with respect, none of the proposed solutions (not even a "gentleman's agreement") seem workable or desirable. Superteams are cool to win with, play against, super-cool to beat, and can even be fun to lose to. Great players shouldn't be encouraged to limit their abilities.
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Re: Superteam Regulation?

Post by Nabonidus » Wed Aug 13, 2014 2:23 am

minusfive wrote:It seems to me one's perspective on what one gets out of quizbowl alters one's perspective on superteams. If the goal is to win, then they obviously make a lot of sense (and, like any other team, people try to form the strongest teams they can). If the goal is to unite people who have often played against each other, but not often with (a sort of All-Star arrangement), then again, they make sense. If the goal is to see how dominant a team can be, again, the answer's yes. If it's to have "fun," then obviously that's subjective, but I can't see how it's more fun to be forced to play with people other than the ones you would choose.

First off, it seems like penalizing players for being "too good:" maybe Ayn Rand has possessed me, but it seems like this drags down good players to the level of less-good players in the name of "fairness." One has no right to be competitive at quizbowl, in my opinion: if you don't want to be blown out, get better. Secondly, there are few to no spectators for most events, and the players (rather than pro sports, an analogy which came up) are paying to be there, rather than being paid. A quizbowl competitor, as a paying customer, owes the community nothing more than civility.
And if the goal is primarily to answer trivia questions, the tossup-bonus structure of quiz bowl means that a more even spread of strong players ought to increase the amount of time a "paying customer" can reasonably expect to spend participating. To take an example from the tournament we both played last weekend, the highest-scoring team heard an average of about 28 bonus questions per game and the novice team heard less than 8. They probably paid something like 50% more per unit of time spent actively playing (if you generously include listening to tossups said team knew they had very little chance of getting). Of course they already knew that they were going to lose badly... but as you already pointed out, "you get what you sign up for, take it or leave it" is a fairly Randian approach to the issue.
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Re: Superteam Regulation?

Post by minusfive » Wed Aug 13, 2014 3:46 pm

*Economics babble incoming*

There are two types of equilibrium, as you know. The Nash equilibrium is not met with superteams, as both sides are not better off, but the Kaldor-Hicks type is, since a superteam gets more toss-ups and thus more bonuses (thus increasing the total number of bonuses heard). It's not just Ayn Rand who thinks that this more realistic equilibrium is, well, more realistic.

To directly address these points, the superteam players are as much paying customers as the other players (who again, can sign up for superteams as they wish), and all players get the same number of questions when they request the packets at the end of the tournament. More bonuses are heard (but not able to be answered) by teams that are playing against superteams, and if you simply want to answer all available questions, many other formats (such as the World Quizzing Championships) are buzz-independent. Being able to answer a question quickly, however, is a fundamental skill in quizbowl, which can't be eliminated.

In sum, I think it's not fair to characterize superteams as "pay and take what you get" without adding the corollary that anti-superteam concepts are essentially "I want a format that not only allows me to play, but to win."
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Re: Superteam Regulation?

Post by Nabonidus » Wed Aug 13, 2014 6:23 pm

Speaking once again as a devil's advocate, it's arguable whether superteams are "as much paying customers as the other players" if the latter are receiving significantly less value for their money.

But even if we assume that it is equally rewarding to listen to other people do trivia, the claim that more bonuses are heard when teams play against superteams is probably false. More bonuses are heard in rooms with good players in them, obviously. But clustering the number of people who can answer difficult tossups makes more of that skill redundant and increases the total number of rooms in which those tossups can be expected to go dead. I'm pretty sure this actually decreases the total number of bonuses heard during the tournament. Only 16 out of 40 tossups were answered correctly during the games between the two worst teams at our VCUO, for instance.

I agree that the buzzer is a fundamental part of quiz bowl, but surely the number of questions in which quickness plays a factor increases when fewer games have a predetermined outcome.
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Re: Superteam Regulation?

Post by gyre and gimble » Wed Aug 13, 2014 8:05 pm

Something to consider is that if we were to distribute the top 15 players eebly between 15 teams, they'd probably take care of most of the bonuses for their teams. I mean, what's the utility that you as an individual experience when your team hears a bonus? Unless you're coming up with the bonus parts yourself, you're sitting there watching a better player name things he or she knows. And that's no better than listening to a superteam play bonuses on the other side of a blowout.

The same goes for tossups. People on lower-tier teams at CO, for example, might not really be playing to win games but rather to see how well they can perform personally on hard questions. That was certainly the case for me when I played in 2010 and 2012. How "competitive" my games were didn't matter as much as just being able to get some questions without having to worry about the final standings. If we were to have everybody in the field play with at least one top player, we'd undermine this aspect of CO that I think is what keeps the field as large as it always is. Consider a player who can proudly say that they got 4 or 5 solid buzzes throughout the tournament, say by the 4th, 5th, or 6th lines, all in mythology. Put that guy on a team with Matt Bollinger and his entire tournament experience might be much less worthwhile because Matt's better at myth.

I can't speak for anyone but myself, but when I was still developing at the college/open levels of quizbowl I'd have felt less comfortable playing on an artificially constructed team designed to even out the field. The way it works now lets players self select so that they can get the experience they hope to get out of CO, with things like the above factored in. Spreading top players out would sort of make the tournament less of a team-based event.
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Re: Superteam Regulation?

Post by Nice hockey Cote d'Azur » Wed Aug 13, 2014 10:47 pm

I think Stephen's right in that too many players would become spectators if you distribute the top players that way, especially at regular difficulty, which wouldn't really be fun for anyone involved. My best experiences have been playing on a well balanced team of players who were around my level or slightly better, and I think that's probably true for all levels of players. This could be a good gimmick but I don't think it would make tournaments any more fun or interesting.
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Re: Superteam Regulation?

Post by evilmonkey » Sun Aug 17, 2014 8:32 pm

gyre and gimble wrote:Something to consider is that if we were to distribute the top 15 players eebly between 15 teams, they'd probably take care of most of the bonuses for their teams. I mean, what's the utility that you as an individual experience when your team hears a bonus? Unless you're coming up with the bonus parts yourself, you're sitting there watching a better player name things he or she knows. And that's no better than listening to a superteam play bonuses on the other side of a blowout.
The utility is that, unless you shouldn't be playing the tournament in the first place, you ARE sometimes coming up with those bonus parts. And possibly even a few tossups. And if the teams are actually balanced, those bonus parts/tossups that you get can make the difference between your team winning and losing. So you feel like you're actually contributing.
Bryce Durgin
Culver Academies '07
University of Notre Dame '11
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