Some Thoughts.

20 min read

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Tournament Observations

I’ve been in art tournaments of the DeviantART sort for a while, observing, competing and administrating ever since July ’07. Doesn’t sound like much, but I am assured by my friends that this makes me at the very least a Veteran in the Tournament scene. So! With that in mind, I’d like to take this opportunity to bitch and whine about problems with tournaments I’ve seen, and to praise to the high heavens innovation and whatnot in the various tournies that pop up from time to time. This is mainly to do with Tournament establishment and administration; have a gander if you like.

This was streamlined from Deathdog3000’s list. Credit to her! And to my plethora of helpers at RoninRubbish and PCBCChat. Contribute and comment, please!

Overriding Concepts:

Be as Fair as Possible.

This should be self-evident. Obviously, your judges in particular should be totally free from bias, and preferably people ‘known’ in the tournament scene to be fair and impartial – your best bet being to steal judges from other tournaments or organizations, because they will already have judging experience and a reputation for fairness (obviously this only applies to judges who have a good reputation). And do the obvious thing and have an odd number of judges. One, Three, Five, whatever – so long as you can never tie on votes.

Judges probably shouldn’t compete, but this really depends on how much you (and more crucially, your community) trusts your judges.

Other stuff. If you have an audition process, don’t promise slots to anybody. Judge everything on its own merits.

This leads into...


This is a big one. Never, ever, ever, hide anything  from your competitors. Ever. You should be as transparent as glass. You should almost never hide anything from your contestants. Your judging process should be obvious to all – explain it clearly and in precise terms. Basically everybody, spectator, competitor, judge, random off the street – they should be able to find out exactly why any given decision was made. Anytime that you hide something, you are creating suspicions.

There are a few obvious exceptions – which judge voted for who, votes by contestants if you have more exotic forms of judging or wildcard selections – but on the whole it is important that everybody knows what you are doing, and why you are doing it. If you’re late for judging, you should tell everybody why. Any explanation (if true) is much better than no explanation.

If you’re going to rig match-ups, at least have the common courtesy of telling everyone you did it. Don’t go into damage control and deny everything like crazy – it just makes you look like an ass. Don’t hide ‘damaging’ comments unless they’re just inane spam – respond in a reasonable and fair manner.

This also means you should leave crits, or at the very least offer criticisms of pieces if asked. And make clear that you offer them.

Similarly, remember to tell all of the people helping you judge and administrate what precisely the hell is going on. Constant communication between judges and administrators will mean, obviously, that everyone will have a good idea of what to do even in the absence of direct orders from you. This is important. Do not forget.

Be Consistent.

For gods’ sakes, follow your own goddamn rules. If you expect your contestants to follow them you, too, have to follow them. I can’t believe I have to explain this one but I have seen a few tournaments where ‘automatic disqualifications’ were applied inconsistently across the board or things to that effect. It’s ridiculous, it makes you look stupid, it erodes trust in administrative capabilities – just do the decent thing and be consistent.

Be Committed.

If you remain committed, it’s more likely that your playerbase will remain committed. And the more committed your playerbase is, the more successful your tournament is going to be. And if you’re not committed, why are you setting up a tournament in the first place? These things are huge amounts of effort to plan and create!

Be Able To Take Crits...

If a multitude of people point out things that are wrong, at the very least give some serious thought to changing stuff around. There might just be something horribly horribly wrong with your tournament mechanics that you’re completely blind to.

...But Not to the Point of Absurdity.

On the flip-side, not everybody knows what they’re talking about. Trust your judgement to differentiate the two, and don’t fold to every single person’s demands. If you do, nothing will ever get done.


Stick to one type of media.

Seriously. Writing entries and comic entries are probably the biggest problems here, because of the insane differences in time requirements and skills required. While a written entry can go toe-to-toe with a comic entry, you have to realise that the written entry almost always has the advantage. It takes a lot less effort to come up with the right words than it does to get the exact right angle, to capture the panelling, to decide colours, to write the script, and to put that all together to create a comic.

What it all comes down to is not ‘worthiness as art’, but ‘fairness’. Because that’s what a tournament should really be about – judging two entries against each other in the fairest and most balanced manner. If you absolutely must mix media types, do your best to match written entries against written entries and comics against comics – for fairness, if for nothing else.

An exception to this is probably Flash entries, since while they are often much more impressive than comic entries they also require equal or greater amounts of skill and work to create, and so are fairly well balanced when matched up against comics. Besides, if we lost Flash entries, we wouldn’t see entries of Unknown-person or ashlelang’s calibre. And that would be terrible.


And by “Sparkle”, what I mean is, “have correct grammar and spelling, and make sure everything looks nice”. It is surprising how many tournaments overlook this seemingly obvious fact, so here it is. It is a fact that your opinion will get more respect if it is presented nicely, everything is spelt correctly, and there are no glaring grammar mistakes. It is exactly the same for tournaments. People (such as ProfessorM) will judge you based on your spelling and grammar, and they are right to do so.

Similarly, do your best to make your page look spiffy. Host it on an account separate to your own (please do this) and buy that page a subscription. Grab a free CSS journal layout and modify it to your heart’s content, crediting the original coder of course. Make everything look nice and easy on the eyes. Choose a complimentary colour scheme, or find someone who can. You’re trying to draw in competitors, and to make sure your contestants stick around, so aesthetics are actually quite important.

Know Your Competition.

Remember that in Artist tournaments you are competing for competitors with other artist tournaments. Artists and writers only have certain amounts of time on their hand, which limits their ability to pursue multiple tournaments or competitions at once. A particularly organized artist or writer might be able to juggle three or more tournaments with no decrease in quality, but the vast majority of artists will greatly prefer to stick to one or two tournaments at a time.

What this effectively means is that you should keep an eye on other tournaments, specifically deadlines for auditions or submissions. You absolutely do not want to have your submission deadline on the same day as that of another tournament, or even really within the general vicinity. You also do not want to have, say, the exact same theme as another tournament. What you do want then is to find a niche you can happily exploit for artists, either by tailoring your contest for a specific group (group of friends, artist circle etc) or by covering a theme that hasn’t yet been done, or by doing a theme that has been done yet but better.

Make a Schedule and Do Your Best to Stick to it.

People like to know what to expect. This is perfectly normal and should not be taken as some form of surly rebellion on the parts of competitors. People like to have goals and times so they can plan their normal lives around having to work on their tournament entries, or so they know when to start stressing and freaking out over the impossibility of doing something. And people like to do this in advance.

One of the best things you can possibly do for your tournaments is to set a basic skeleton of a timeline. A good example would be at TheColosseum, where host Kilo-Monster posted a ‘tentative schedule’ around five months or so before the tournament even began. As of writing The Colosseum is one of the more successful tournaments around, partially because of an influx of talent but also because of its rigid schedule.

While problems may crop up with your schedule – judges may be hospitalized, family tragedy may strike, etc – do your best to stick with your schedule. Have contingency backup plans. Be ready to call in extra judges if necessary. Minimise time requirements by collecting auditions or submissions or by making judgements before deadline, if both entries are already in. A good tournament will stick as much as possible to a given schedule because that way everybody knows what to expect – judges, competitors, and spectators alike. Otherwise it is possible to end up stringing along your contestants with a series of broken deadlines – “it’ll be done in two days!” – “It’ll be done by Sunday!” – “Just one more day, we promise” – and there is almost nothing that will piss people off more.

Be Prepared.

Maybe you’re doing a basic ladder tournament. Perhaps you’re trying something entirely new, something the likes of which DeviantART has never seen before. Either way, be like Batman: lay your plans, and lay them early. See if there’s a market for the audience you’re aiming to attract. Convince your friends to join or to judge your prospective future tournament. Write out your schedule. Check if the account name you want is open, and register it if it is.

Preplanning is key to running a successful competition. You cannot rely on <a href=”…>Indy Ploys to keep your tournament running smoothly – making it up on the spot will only get you so far, and eventually all your hastily-made-up mechanics will end up falling and crushing your tournament dead. Instead, learn to be <a…>Crazy Prepared. Make plans. Be ready to adapt them, but always have plans.

And find beta testers – talk to people who are tournament veterans, see if they can spot any flaws in your plans before you launch them out into the big wide internets. And take their advice. Everything is better solved before it’s put out to work – you do not want to be running Indy Ploy after Indy Ploy to patch everything up. Do not introduce new rules after people have already begun drawing for a round. New rules should be introduced at the beginning of new rounds – i.e. when a minimum of people have already made or planned something out.

In the same vein, you should probably only start advertising after you’ve got at the very least the basics down.

Create a Community.

Ideally what you want to do is tap into a pre-existing community, but if you can’t, do your best to bring people together. A chatroom – and a lot of advertising for that chatroom – is a good bet, because nothing brings together people (over the internet, anyway) like instant messaging on a grand scale. Just remember to appoint a chatroom moderator who will actually be there most of the time. Spammers and trolls infest DeviantART like everywhere else. Similarly, encouraging the growth of a community through spectator entry competitions or simply by showcasing that kind of thing is a good thing.


The Community is Not Your Enemy.

If you’ve reached the point where your playerbase is actively rebelling against you it’s a fair sign that you’ve failed. There’s only so much you can do for damage control but among the first steps would be to not treat your contestants as the enemy. Grow some extremely thick skin, in case you have experienced trollers among your playerbase, and sit and be reasonable. Don’t give in to your anger, resist the temptation to be a huge jerk. And for fuck’s sake don’t lash out against the playerbase. The mentality is often that an attack on one is an attack on all, and you do not want to attack your entire playerbase.

Really, though, you should never reach this stage in the first place.

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do you think it would be possible to do a Written OCT?