What would a district/regional event look like if we used a variation of Swiss style pairings for qualification matches.
For people not familiar with the system, the essence of Swiss pairing is that in a given tournament round a player plays against people who have the same score as they do. In the first round of an unrated (I’ll explain in a moment) Swiss tournament, opponents are assigned randomly. In the second round, the people who won in the first round play against other winners. The losers from the first round play against other losers. In the third round, people with two wins play each other, players with one win play each other. Players with no wins play each other.
The Swiss system is most closely associated with Chess, where each player also has a pre-tournament rating that influences who they play in the first (and subsequent) rounds. The pairings are chosen to try and ensure that the top two players meet to decide the championship in the final round, much like seeded brackers are used in FIRST and other sports’ playoff rounds. While it is best known in Chess, it is also used in other game tournaments, and I’ve used it in martial arts tournaments as well.
The advantage of the Swiss system is that you are more likely to end up playing against someone of your own level, at least by the end of the tournament. At the end of the tournament, the great players will be playing each other, and the not-so-great players will be playing each other. Speaking as a not-so-great Chess player, I always figure the first couple of rounds are going to be pretty rough, but by round 3 I ought to be competitive, as I play against someone else who lost their first two rounds.
The only down side that I have encountered over the years is kind of ego related. If you lose all your games in a randomly assigned pairing tournament, you can say that your opponents were very strong. If you lose five games in a Swiss tournament, that means you lost one of those games to someone who was 0-4.
Because of the alliance system, FIRST couldn’t use this system directly, but could we use some variation on it? Could we modify qualification alliance matches so that, after an initial set of rounds, the teams with good records would face each other, and the teams with not so good records would face each other.
I can think of a couple of problems with the idea. One is simply logistics. It would mean that you couldn’t publish the competition schedule at the beginning of the event. I think you could get away, though, with a “lag” system. The first two rounds are random. The third round assignments are based on round 1 results. Fourth round are based on rounds 1 and 2, etc. The last two rounds are paired after the 10th round. (That’s based on a 12 round district schedule) There is also the problem that our competitions aren’t in even “rounds”. The last match of round 1 includes robots that are playing their second match. However, algorithmic modifications can take care of those issues.
The advantage would be the same as in other games. After a while, you are competing against opponents of your own level. You could have some really great alliances at the top end. At the bottom end, the not so great bots would at least have an opportunity to do what they could without “getting in the way” of their high scoring partners.
There are some disadvantages as well. First, the same as with other sports, there might be some bruised egos when a team can’t even win against a skateboard. A Swiss almost guarantees that some team will finish with an 0-12 record, or close to it.
Second, some people might really enjoy competing with, or against, the “super teams”. In a Swiss, if you don’t meet them in the first round, you probably won’t catch up to meet them later.
Finally, and in some years this would be a show-stopper, we don’t always play zero sum games. It not only matters who wins, but how many points are scored. If you start off with tough pairings, or maybe your 'bot needs repairs for the first couple of matches, you are likely to be with weak alliances that will never score bonus ranking points, while the teams that started strong are likely to now be with two other strong teams, so will likely get the bonuses. This can cause the gaps between teams to widen so that catch up play is impossible. This year, I don’t think it would be a huge problem. If there is another “average score” year, as with that 2015 game that must not be named, it would be an absolutely horrible system.
So, what do people think? It’s just a thought. It is not a critical issue that must be discussed right now! I just have spent a lot of time thinking about how tournaments are run, in several different styles of competition over the years, and find the thought interesting. I think the way that things are done at FIRST right now is pretty good, but it’s an exercise I thought I would share with other interested parties.