I’ve often been told that narrative is key in esports tournaments. That fans and the community want to be able to experience the best stories and narratives. If that is the case, then the prerogative of the tournament organizer is to setup the best tournament possible to tell that narrative. I believe that better tournament formats make for better stories. However when it is argued in abstraction, people try to hype up the thrill of unpredictability of a single elimination format to a double elimination format. So to break it down into practicality, I have picked two of the best narratives to have come out of esports in 2018: The International 8 and ELeague Boston.
Before we get started, we first have to realize that tournaments have no control over teams, players, or player form on the day. In that sense it is a crap shoot and sometimes you can get incredibly unlucky in the game quality (as FACEIT did). However they can control what tournament format is to be played. While there are good arguments for each type, when it comes to the biggest tournaments of the year, I believe that The International format is superior when it comes to telling narratives. I explain why by examining the stories of OG winning The International 8 and Cloud9 winning ELeague Boston and show how the tournament format allowed OG’s victory to have more depth in the narrative than Cloud9’s victory because of the existence of the double elimination format.
To begin, with we will start at the beginning of both teams. OG had just gone through a roster shuffle where their leader and offlane player had abandoned them to create a superteam with EG. They were in crisis mode and were able to pick up two players at the last minute. They then had to qualify through the EU Regional qualifiers to make it to The International.
Cloud9 had been the best NA team since Tarik “tarik” Celik and Will “RUSH” Wierzba had joined the roster. They were a dark horse team that had a potential chance to make a deep run into the Major, but had a terrible record against the superstar squad of FaZe going into the Major.
Both teams went to their respective tournaments and started off poorly. Cloud9 went 0-2 in the Legends Stage, but were able to rally back and make it 3-2. OG started off their round robin group stage 1-5. They were able to rally back and made it to the top four of their group. Both Cloud9 and OG had made it to the playoffs. From there, the runs are similar. Cloud9 beat G2 in the quarterfinals and SK in the semifinals to make it to the finals of the event. G2 had looked amazing in the group stages and SK were filled with the legendary Brazilian players that had dominated CS:GO for the last few years. On OG’s side they beat VGJ.Storm, the team that had topped their group stages and then beat EG in a grudge match. OG then went to the winner’s bracket to play PSG.LGD.
In the finals of the Major, Cloud9 pulled off a miracle. They were barely beaten on Mirage where FaZe closed it out 16-14. However they rallied back and dominated Overpass. They then had that miraculous inferno game where they won the entire event in over time. For Cloud9, that is how the story ends. They beat the all star team that had smashed them throughout the months before in an epic miraculous final game to win the final.
OG’s story is quite similar to Cloud9. PSG.LGD were looking to be the best team through the event and were among the favorites to win the entire thing. In the winner’s bracket of that tournament, we saw an epic battle as OG played against PSG.LGD and just like Cloud9, OG barely made a miracle comeback at the last second to win their match.
However where Cloud9’s story ends, OG’s story continues. OG then went to the finals of the event where they played against PSG.LGD again. This time the stakes were even higher. PSG.LGD were able to make it through the loser’s finals and now they had been able to face OG in a bo3 in the playoffs. They knew exactly how OG were playing and the finals were a best-of-five series. There was no chance for this to be a one off or a fluke. If OG wanted to win, then they had to pull off the miracle a second time. That is exactly what happened. PSG.LGD went up 2-1 in the series, but in game four and game five, OG pulled off two miraculous comebacks to win the series and take home the trophy.
Cloud9 had to pull off one miracle in a best-of-three to defeat FaZe. OG had to do it in a best-of-three and a best-of-five. Mathematically that is more than double the miracle. The double elimination format gave us an extra chapter to the story with an even greater finale. Imagine for a moment how incredible the Cloud9 Major run could have been if they had not only beaten FaZe in a best-of-three, but had also done it again in a best-of-five.
What makes this tournament format even better is that, it doesn’t matter who wins in any scenario, the double elimination format makes for better narratives. If for instance, PSG.LGD win, they defend the honor of China and legendary players like Xu “fy” Linsen and Lu “Maybe” Yao finally win the aegis. In the case of FaZe winning in this alternative universe where it’s a double elimination best-of-five, then you finally get to see Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovacs and Finn “karrigan” Andersen win the Major after years of turmoil. No matter how you slice it, the better story comes out of the double elimination format because it gives us a stronger finale and an extra chapter to the confrontation of the two teams in the finals.
Put another way, all competitive formats have one type of story they must tell. That is the individual or team’s ascendancy to excellence. A chase of perfection and greatness. That is the story that is told in a single elimination format, though the bracket can be flawed and can be limited. In a double elimination format that story is more refined. At the same time, you also get the archetype of the fall from grace and the rise back up through the double elimination format.
I understand that there are financial or time restriction reasons as to why the double elimination formats cannot always be used. In fact, I think it makes sense to vary the tournament formats throughout the year so that teams and players are tested across different types and viewers get a different experience. However for the biggest tournament of the year, for the tournament where you want to tell the best narrative possible, in those cases the best choice has to be The International format because it consistently gives us the best narratives. As I’ve outlined above, even with a comparable story like Cloud9’s miracle in Boston, it has less of an impact than the OG story. The OG story had an extra chapter, a greater finale, higher stakes and difficulty, and thus a deeper narrative.