Aug 082011

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m really quite into Starcraft 2 – despite my continuing inability to make it as far as Diamond league in 1v1.  Fortunately, the game is pretty fun regardless of what level you play it at.

The first thing I though worth mentioning is that a free “Starter Edition” is now available; it provides some of the single player content, as well as limited multiplayer.  You’re basically restricted to playing as Terran in all cases (as if Terran weren’t doing well enough at high levels of play right now), and can only play on a handful of maps, but it’s still a great way to try things out if you’re not quite ready to quit your job, move to South Korea, and train as a professional gamer. The image below links to more information on this.

The second thing I found interesting was the announcement of the “National E-Sports Event” (NE-SE) on Blizzard’s main Starcraft 2 news page. NE-SE is running a SC2 tournament, available to players of all skill levels, with a US$30,000 prize for the ultimate winner. However, the reason I found it interesting to comment on this is because of the way that this tournament is structured:

  • There’s a $10 entry fee into the tournament. [UPDATE: Oops, it was $10 but it’s now $20, which changes all that follows! I’ll comment more on this later]
  • All entrants are randomly placed into a group of four players, irrespective of skill level.
  • You play two games within your group, and must win both to advance. What’s unstated but necessary for this to work is that the second game always pits the two winners of their first games against each other.
  • The advancing player in each group wins a cash prize. This is $20 in the first round, $40 in the second round, $80 in the 3rd, and so forth.
  •  This continues till there are 50 players left, at which point in time there is round-robin play to determine who “wins” the tournament.
  • There are four such tournaments, leading up to the “grand finals” in Las Vegas with the $30k payout.  The top 16 participants from each of the four online tournaments get an invitation to Las Vegas for the event.
  • While the number of rounds in each tournament is determined by how many people register, their running assumption is that it takes 5 rounds to whittle things down to the “final 50” who compete in round robin play.
What I find interesting and why I’m posting this is that it’s interesting to look at what happens mathematically for the tournament organizers.  Let’s say that things go as they plan, and they have four tournaments, each with enough players to go 5 group rounds + a 50-person round-robin:
  • 50 people in the final stage means that there will be:
    • 200 in round 5
    • 800 in round 4
    • 3200 in round 3
    • 12800 in round 2
    • 51200 participants in the first round.
  • The payment structure means that they pay out roughly half their residual take in each round.  Specifically, they will collect $512,000 up front and pay out:
    • 12,800 x $20 = $256,000 to the round 1 winners
    • 3,200 x $40 = $128,000 to the round 2 winners
    • 800 x $80 = $64,000 to the round 3 winners
    • 200 x $160 = $32,000 to the round 4 winners
    • 50 x $320 = $16,000 to the round 5 winners who make it into round robin play
    • $640 to the “four winners” of the round robin series = $2,560
  • Normally, this sort of infinite series (1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + …) effectively adds up to 1 but the 50-person round robin means that’s not the case here.
  • Specifically, they pay out $496,000 through the first five rounds, plus $2,560 to the round robin winner, for a total of $498,560.
  • This leaves them with $13,440 in proceeds from each tournament.
  • Across the four tournaments that they plan to run leading up to the grand final, that’s $53,760 in net proceeds
  • The final tournament has prizes of $30k for first, $15k for second, and $7.5k for third – that’s $52,500 in total
  • Thus, in total, tournament entry fees are projected to cover all prizes plus $1,260.

So essentially, the tournament is self-financing from a prize pool perspective. Overall, it will cost the organizers some amount of money; the online portion of the tournament has very low operating costs, but even 2-3% for credit cards and/or Paypal, plus the costs of hosting the live final easily exceed the $1,260 left-over calculated above. Still, considering that most other tournaments are able to finance their operations through ads, sponsorships, VOD/HQ stream premiums, venue entrance fees, and much more modest total registration fees, this seems like a pretty good deal for NE-SE if they can get it going.

It seems pretty ambitious to sign up 50,000 people to play an online tournament with a $10 entry fee, but we’ll see how they do. Effectively, the premise here is that “Average Joes” (who will all lose in the first round, unless they managed to pull of a successful cannon rush or 6-pool twice) will chip in essentially all of the costs of running the tournament.  Interesting premise!

I’m somewhat ambivalent about what NE-SE is doing here. On the one hand, all the “you could win!” type language and especially the stuff around the payout structure seems a little misleading; yes, you technically could win but what they’re counting on is enough people to lose to fund the rest of the prize pool. On the other, if this approach wound up meaning that you pay $10, get to play a game or two, and then get stuff (HQ streaming, VOD, etc) that other tournaments charge for – all while having your $10 going towards e-Sports, then that’s not a bad thing.

But if supporting e-Sports is the intent (and I think it is), better to be up-front about that and promote it this way, rather than going with the “go 6-0 and you could win 7 times your entry fee!” language. There’s 1:64 odds of going 6-0, and if you aren’t at least Masters, then it’s not going to happen – because even if players across all skill tiers entered proportionally (which they won’t), you’d get 1 Masters player out of 50. Indeed, using statistics, if the entire player population entered, then all of bronze, all of silver, and 1/4 of gold would lose their first game. The rest of gold and all of platinum would lose their second game. And you know how it goes from there :).

Still, if you are interested, then by all means check it out:

 Posted by at 8:53 am

  One Response to “A couple of Starcraft 2 topics”

  1. […] an earlier post, I wrote about NE-SE, a new e-sports organization that was trying to encourage players of all levels to enter their […]

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