Thoughts on competitive/league play

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macsforme
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Thoughts on competitive/league play

Post by macsforme » Mon Apr 29, 2019 10:26 pm

After playing in BZFlag leagues for several years and more recently playing other games that have a ranked/competitive ladder experience, I have a few ideas for the future of BZFlag league/competitive play that I wanted to jot down here.

Basically, there seems to be two distinct competitive experiences: team/clan-based, and individual-based.
  • Team/clan-based competition: This was the entire BZFlag league experience for many years, where you play with the same group of teammates each time. Other games have this as well, especially in the context of organized e-sports. This is really the ideal way to play. However, challenges (for BZFlag) are: 1) drops in the player population resulting in fewer players looking for matches; 2) teams based in different time zones who do not play at the same time of day; 3) players being unaware of who else is online and possible matchups that could be formed; and 4) no "tiers" of teams based on skill or rank, so we have teams at opposite ends of the ladder who might match, where reasonably fair odds cannot be achieved.
  • Individual-based competition: We have a form of this already, with personal ELO ratings and "mixed official" matches in LU. This is the more casual form of competitive play, especially in other games, where you mostly want an experience where at least everyone is trying their hardest (in theory, haha) and where you can improve your individual skills and/or show them off (with a corresponding reward of a higher relative rank among players). Your rank, reflecting individual skill and general team play skills (rather than your specific team's cohesion), is a potentially useful quick-and-dirty method for identifying relative player strength, which is useful for automatic matchmaking, etc. This does not work well for us now, with complete seasonal resets of player ELO ratings in LU, and few official matches played resulting in almost everyone having close to the base ELO score.
What I would like to see is both of these experiences available in BZFlag, integrated right into the client, with automated or assisted matchmaking helping to facilitate more matches. I want to focus on three areas for this: determining acceptable match conditions, assisted team/clan-based matchmaking, and automated individual-based matchmaking.

Determining acceptable match conditions

For anything else to be automated, we need to know the following information about players:
  1. whether they are online
  2. whether they are available to match (i.e., have not opted for just casual play, have sufficient time without interruptions, etc.)
  3. the terms under which they are willing to match (e.g., map choices, team sizes, match lengths, and maybe fairness of teams if not divided into tiers)
To determine these things, I envision a dialog in the client, which would allow match terms to be set or changed at any time. Here is a crude mockup:

match terms.png
match terms.png (19.43 KiB) Viewed 1400 times

Once the game has this information, it would be able to provide automated assistance as detailed in the next two sections.

Assisted team/clan-based matchmaking

Matches between organized teams/clans are at-will (that is, everyone needs to agree to the match). A player would tell the client they are opting in to league play (or they could set it to automatically opt in whenever starting the game), at which time the client would suggest matchups between players on different teams. This would happen in the background, while the player waits or plays or observes another game. A non-invasive dialog would indicate matchmaking progress in a corner of the screen:

clan matchup.png
clan matchup.png (18.65 KiB) Viewed 1400 times

Once enough players agree to a match, there would be a short delay to give players one last chance to back out, or for other teammates to jump in to make it larger match. Once that delay is over, the players would be transferred over to a new game instance where the match would begin.

Automated individual-based matchmaking

Once a player opts in to individual matchmaking, everything else would be handled automatically and in the background in order to avoid players backing out when they see who their opponents might be. Once a match is arranged, following each involved player's match conditions, there would be that same short delay, after which all players would be transferred over to a new game instance where the match would begin.

individual match found.png
individual match found.png (6.66 KiB) Viewed 1400 times

These are just some general ideas. There would be a lot of details to iron out, for instance, how to penalize players who back out of a match they don't like, and whether we should allow players to specify their preferred fairness or make it some consistent value, but this would be at least a start.

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Re: Thoughts on competitive/league play

Post by etigah » Tue Apr 30, 2019 12:55 am

Sorry for going off topic but, something i have been contemplating for some time is a way for players to signal their willingness to play, without needing to run the game, and avoiding manually checking strayers.. discord solves this problem partially, but not everyone is on it.

Back to the topic, if the solution you are proposing is separate from the game itself, that is, perhaps a web app where match making takes place, it might be more practical, I think.

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Re: Thoughts on competitive/league play

Post by tainn » Tue Apr 30, 2019 5:35 pm

I don't mind ideas like these, but I would personally prioritize expanding the league's reach on flagged maps as well before going out of my way to perform anything even remotely more complex than posting a message about a FM to Discord and then being a part of said FM.

The current (efficient) ways are really lax, albeit lacking 'commitment'. Just for me personally, I'd commit myself if some of my favorite maps were officially included (such as Boxy), which they currently aren't.

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Re: Thoughts on competitive/league play

Post by ducatiwannabe » Wed May 01, 2019 4:17 am

I want to see the league active again - and I like the idea of an app or something that helps find matches easier than strayers - but being automatically transferred to a match doesn't allow for normal things that come up (a slight work delay, somebody at the door, finishing a phone call, etc.). Somebody being penalized if they have to go or something is just not appealing to me either, so I don't think I'd use the in-client method you're suggesting, but I probably would use a match-finding web app of some sort. :)

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Re: Thoughts on competitive/league play

Post by Orange Peanut » Wed May 01, 2019 5:50 pm

With so few people and so many options, I think it would be hard for this to be effective at creating matches. If I had the option, I would only play hix, but if people on ducati I don't mind playing a couple matches there. I don't find matches over 4v4 all that fun, but will of course play if that is the only option. I feel like the way things are now (if people are interested in playing they show up to a match server and figure out what works best for everyone there) is not much improved on with this.

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Re: Thoughts on competitive/league play

Post by MYTH » Wed May 01, 2019 8:44 pm

Orange Peanut wrote:
Wed May 01, 2019 5:50 pm
With so few people and so many options, I think it would be hard for this to be effective at creating matches. If I had the option, I would only play hix, but if people on ducati I don't mind playing a couple matches there. I don't find matches over 4v4 all that fun, but will of course play if that is the only option. I feel like the way things are now (if people are interested in playing they show up to a match server and figure out what works best for everyone there) is not much improved on with this.
Agree

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Re: Thoughts on competitive/league play

Post by macsforme » Sat May 18, 2019 5:51 pm

It seems to me that these responses reflect that BZFlag has a small, tightly-knit community, where there is a high degree of cooperation and accommodation for players’ preferences and needs. This is in contrast to large game communities, where individual voices are not as impactful and decisions are often made in a blanket manner and applied to the whole community based on general trends and statistics. I lost sight of this to an extent when I initially shared this proposal.

Nobody wants to feel like just a number on a page, where their individual preferences get drowned out. Systems that are highly automated and are based on algorithms have a corresponding risk of losing sight of the human component. Even in larger games, there is still some human interaction (for review of reports of abuse and such during games), but it is still a largely different picture.

So I suppose this comes down to how much we want our (competitive) game community to grow, and to what degree we are willing to accept changes that may help us to get there. This may vary from person to person, but I want to ask a few follow-up questions about how our current system would work if we had a competitive community that was ten or a hundred times larger than it currently is.

Ending matches early: Would we continue leaving it up to the players to decide whether to cancel, finalize, or postpone, and/or make the admins review these situations to determine which result is fitting? What about players who change their minds about a match early on when they realize their odds of winning are lower than they thought? I’ll tell you how this works in another game I play: if you leave a game early, you have now wasted everyone else’s time, so you are penalized by losing about twice as much ELO as if you had just lost the game, and you are banned for a few minutes (and these penalties go up if you do it repeatedly). If you had to leave early due to an unforeseen event or emergency, you still bear responsibility for it so you accept the consequences and deal with them. The rest of your team continues to play with a man down, unless a player left very early in the match, in which case the game is cancelled and only the player who left is penalized.

Accommodating match preferences: With a larger community and potentially larger matches than what we have now, how would we efficiently find match terms everyone would agree on? I don't know about you, but I have many memories of sitting on a match server when a match was proposed, and there was a paralysis as players sat there continuing side conversations, or ignoring the question, or sometimes arguing about the length, map, or team sizes, sometimes resulting in no match being played. This is just one personal anecdote here, but it felt aggravating and a waste of time. Are we satisfied with this, or how can we better enable players to clearly indicate their match terms? In another game I play, you enter the queue when you’re ready to play, team sizes are fixed, and you play whichever map is randomly determined for you. And yes, players sometimes end up playing maps that are not their favorite, so it is not completely ideal, but is there a better way than just letting players argue about it and trying to find that elusive common ground?

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Re: Thoughts on competitive/league play

Post by tainn » Sat May 18, 2019 7:08 pm

It is precisely the relatively low amount of active playerbase and overall activity that makes flexibility in league matches currently possible. This flexibility manifests in the form of adaptable FMs, where for example, if one player leaves mid-game, another player that has been waiting as an observer (which a few usually do) can swap them out instantly. Of course, that doesn't mean that leaving mid-game is encouraged, it is still not desired at any point, but if it happens, it can be compensated quite easily.

If the game and league activity would ever expand for the factors you named, a more strict system would have to be put in place, as human irrationality is inevitable when a group of people is big enough; everything would end up chaotic otherwise. A lighter adaptable system might be some sort of an automated queue which would declare in what strict order observers could swap players that leave for whatever reason, perhaps followed up with some sort of penalties for the ones who have left, as you had proposed.

As for preferences, they will always be an issue. Short and simple, I'd say that preferences can be utilized if everyone agrees upon them in every separate case, but if not, then everyone has to follow some sort of standards that we would agree on and declare beforehand. There is really no other way to go around it when the playerbase is big enough and preferences span far and wide. If everything would work on a level of preferences, then there would be a reasonable argument of why is someone's preference worth more than someone else's. However, if preset standards are put in place, it is a force no individual can argue against.

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Re: Thoughts on competitive/league play

Post by Orange Peanut » Mon May 20, 2019 5:02 pm

Although the community is small right now and the way things are work well for what we have, I do want the community to grow and do think that some things could be changed for the better.
I guess what I would imagine is an option to observe and an option to play. Within play you can also create a private match. You can go observe and potentially find others observing or playing and set up a private match with them, observer all chat should probably be kept off until the match is over. A private match would be just like fun matches are now, except observers, potentially, couldn't join. No penalty for leaving, etc. The normal play function would let you choose your map, match time, and team size like you have above, but maybe you could also have an option of if the wait is long, there are some options you are willing to change. Like, I want to play a 20 or 30 minute match, but if the wait is over x minutes I'd be willing to play 15 or something like that.
I think if there is automated match making, there should be some kind of penalty for leaving.

I'm not completely sure about this idea and would like to hear other thoughts, but this would probably better than what we have if the playerbase were to grow a lot larger.

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Re: Thoughts on competitive/league play

Post by alfa1 » Wed May 22, 2019 9:01 pm

At a first sight, I could suggest what I said time ago: a manual method to facilitate quick decisions. I remind you that not always automated methods are the best, specially if population is low.
I am not sure if this is enabled nowadays, but I think it is not. If leagues enabled the Motto to allow to add custom text (which is normal in other maps), then people could add short messages like:
- fm
- offi
- fm/offi
- afk
etc.
then the Moto would end up looking like "fm - Team Name X" in example.

About the skill level of individual players, I have talked a lot before, and was not listened. I repeat that I don't agree with mixing both teams' ELOes and individual's ones, because are different things. Despite of this, I can share that I worked a lot on an individual's skills level system which also could be added (maybe just optionally by each one) to the Motto. Basically it has 5 levels, from 1 to 5, being the higher the better (default: 2; labels: Begginer (1); Intermediate (2); Expert I (3); Expert II (4); and Expert III (5); simplified system: from 1 to 3). Then the Motto would end up looking something like "3 - fm - Team Name X". The calculation for fair teams is easy; in example:
Team A: 2 + 3 + 1 = 6
Team B: 4 + 1 + 1 = 6
=> match
Then you can apply some flexibility factor like +/- 1.
In the case the latter is annoying for league's leaders, the level could be just asked, asked privately or assumed. The object here is not to humiliate anybody but to make matches more enjoyable for all.

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Re: Thoughts on competitive/league play

Post by macsforme » Thu May 23, 2019 9:13 pm

alfa1, please explain:
  • how you would teach everyone the format for their mottos
  • how you would get people to follow the format correctly and consistently
  • how you expect people to sort through a list of mottos and cross-reference the information to figure out who is willing to play what, with reasonable effort
  • how this is better than a system that does it all automatically

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Re: Thoughts on competitive/league play

Post by alfa1 » Fri Jun 07, 2019 5:45 pm

how you would teach everyone the format for their mottos?
how you would get people to follow the format correctly and consistently?
how you expect people to sort through a list of mottos and cross-reference the information to figure out who is willing to play what, with reasonable effort?

How would be so hard to see very simple messages like "fm", "offi", "afk", etc. and not figuring out what the player is willing or able to do? Note that the part "Team Name X" is just the player's team, which is automatically added already. And the "-" is just a separator.
The level part is more complex, which requires a lot of parallel effort to make it work. Here I worked a lot; I just gave an idea. But the main idea is not so hard to understand: if you use the simplified system (levels 1 to 3), everybody could understand it easily at start. With time, levels 4 and 5 would appear naturally: "Hmm, I think I am already level 4; not 3", etc.
The general system I suggest should be taken as a relaxed and somewhat informal system; with some freedom (similar to write some custom text on the Motto); though, admins should demand some observance ("you are not level 3, you are level 1"; "if you are not playing fms, please change your motto", etc.).

how this is better than a system that does it all automatically?

Manual systems are the best on some situations. In example, as I said, in the case of a low population. Also, you can compare the effort of making a complex system to solve a simple problem; it will work, but it's not worthing that effort. Other case: considering speed and simplicity. Here, the chat also participate: seeing "offi", opponents can ask "do you want offi with Team Y?"; seeing 4 "fm"s, "all fming go to server Z"; etc.

The way to learn it? Some guidelines/rules on the sites and/or informal teaching on play time.

I hope it is more clear now.

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Re: Thoughts on competitive/league play

Post by Jachin » Sun Jul 21, 2019 5:10 am

How about handicapping team scores they way amateur golf is done? (note that I am not talking about the handicap option in the server config)

Basically, better teams will "spot" weaker teams a certain number of caps based on relative handicaps. This could also be a per-match option that could be disabled. (e.g. /nohandicap) Then it doesn't matter who you are playing you still have a chance to win. Handicaps could be continuously adjusted based on performance metrics.

And If there's a league playoff then you ditch the handicaps to get accurate results. Some of the weaker teams may have improved enough over the season to be competitive by the playoff.

Although I view losing as a motivation for improvement, many may not like the ego beating that the normal process requires, and may be encouraged to engage in more team play because of that.

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