Press conferences at eSports events can traditionally be a dull affair. Teams often haven't received media training and the media often doesn't know what questions to ask.
But when the favourites to win the tournament are paired up in the same group, questions have to be asked. And when the reply is "the teams aren't seeded," more questions need to be asked.
Running tournaments isn't easy. I know — I've run two LAN leagues and multiple one-off events and a World Cyber Games national qualifier. There's no satisfaction: if anything ever seems like it's gone wrong, it's automatically your fault.
And that's not to mention the arguments about things that might not be perfect — like seeds. After all, everybody wants a good draw. Teams talk about having to beat everyone to win, but the reality the team that wins a tournament will often only play half, or slightly less, of all competitors.
Seeding matters. Even if you discount the impact it has on the players, it's worth doing for the tournament as an overall spectacle. You can't guarantee that teams will show up on the day, but you can at least ensure that brackets and groups aren't lopsided.
Unfortunately, the latter is precisely what is happening at the Heroes of the Storm world championship Americas finals.
Seeding does a few things, but the main advantage is to reward past performances (by giving teams a higher seed) and prevent the best players/teams in a tournament from inadvertently meeting each other.
There's a practical benefit to this. Ideally, the closest games will be between the best teams or the seeds that are closest to each other. When those teams meet towards the end of proceedings, admins are doing their best to ensure that the final matches of a tournament are the most tantalising and the most exciting.
It's also fairer for the teams. So why were Cloud 9 and Tempo Storm — the two favourites to win the Heroes of the Storm Americas qualifier — drawn into the same group at all?
Complexity Gaming's Ben Bunk quipped that seeding was tantamount to Blizzard rating North America above other regions. Even then, it's not to the detriment of the tournament to seed teams on merit — it results in a better event.
Random seeding — or no seeding, to be accurate — was recently deployed by ESL for one of their CS:GO tournaments in Dubai. Interestingly, ESL are also helping operations at the Heroes Americas qualifier, although what influence they have in terms of seeding and the wider structure is unknown.
Anyway, Duncan Shields recently took apart the logic behind random seeding after ESL used the system for their Dubai invitational. He rambles on a bit and the entire video is more about criticising ESL generally, but the first few minutes tackles the problems behind random seeding and why it has no place in official tournaments.
An added problem is that by arranging things this way, Blizzard is forcing not only C9 and Tempo Storm to show more of their hand than they would like — not so much for their North American rivals at the tournament, but any international opponents they may face at Blizzcon.
The fact that Blizzard is reusing the WCS-style groups, a format popularised by South Korea and the GSL, is worth noting too. It's a structure that eliminates tiebreakers and meaningless games by using a double elimination bracket instead of traditional round-robin matches.
However, this only works when the groups are drawn properly. In a standard round-robin, a team's prior results doesn't impact on what teams they will play later in a schedule. An early loss quite often still means their tournament life is on the line in their second match, of course, but at least at the end of the groups everyone can have some confidence in the end result.
I don't envy Blizzard's position; I've been there many times myself, after all. But eSports has advanced far enough and there is enough common knowledge that we can agree there are better ways of structuring tournaments.
I'm not saying every system is perfect. But there are countless alternatives that are far superior to randomly seeding teams, which as Thorin says is effectively no better than playing 52 card pickup with your tournament.
The author travelled to the Heroes of the Storm Americas event as a guest of the developer.