Basics of Running an Online Tournament

1.Introduction

We’ve seen a lot of local communities recently convert their in-person events to online ones. Smash.gg has the functionality to make it easy for both players and TOs! Players can coordinate and play directly through smash.gg and moderators can handle issues all in one place. 

In this article, we’ll go over some best practices and the most important things to consider when organizing an online tournament on smash.gg. Making sure everything is set up correctly is imperative to your success!

2.Finding Your Players

When planning an Online tournament, you’ll need to figure out who your target audience is. Since Online events don’t have the same physical restrictions as Offline events, there’s a significantly larger pool of potential players that could participate in your event. Someone from an entirely different continent could even register!

During the planning phases of your event, consider the following:

  • Should this be local, regional, national, or international in scope?
    • You’ll typically want to start as local or regional
  • How frequently am I running this event? Weekly? Monthly?
  • How common are distance-related lag issues in my game? 
  • What is the incentive to play? 
    • Think prizing, league points, etc.

Once you get your page up, it’s all about promotion. After all, how else will people find out about your tournament? Lindsay goes over some great best practices on social media posting in this article here. I’ve found that advertising in local Discord servers is an effective way of reaching out to your players. If you’re not on those servers, Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook are good alternatives. If you have a Twitch stream or YouTube channel, try to leverage those to get eyes on your event as well!

3.Registration

It’s tough to find the balance between making sure everyone who wants to play has the chance to, but also giving yourself enough time before the tournament starts to make sure everything is set up properly. A lot of the settings for online tournaments can’t be fully configured until registration and the bracket are completely finalized. And the more attendees you have, the longer it takes to get everything fully configured. You need enough time to:

  • Seed the entrants
  • Put all the pools into waves/schedule the waves
  • Set up round timers correctly

Based on the number of attendees, here’s some recommendations for when you should close registration:

  • 5 – 15 attendees: 30 minutes before tournament start time
  • 15 – 30 attendees: 45 minutes before tournament start time
  • 30 – 60 attendees: 60 minutes before tournament start time
  • 60 – 100 attendees: 90 minutes before tournament start time
  • 100+ attendees: 2 hours before tournament start time

As attendee counts increase, consider closing reg the day before. Smash.gg has built in functionality to send players a dashboard email that can help guide attendees on how to play. 

4.Staffing

Having a solid core staff is the key to success for any event. Online events are no exception. Just like with in-person events, the size of your event will dictate the size of your staff. The bulk of your staff will be tournament moderators. For smaller events, this role will typically be taken up by the main TO of the event. However, moderators are a must have for any tournament with more than 64 players. 

The big question is: how many moderators do I need?

My general rule of thumb for this is at least 1 mod for every 64 concurrent sets. What I mean here by concurrent sets is basically the maximum number of matches that will happen at the same time. For Elimination-style events, this will almost always be during the first few rounds, while Swiss and Round Robin will have an even distribution of matches throughout. 

If you’re running a National or International tournament, try to find a geographically diverse staff. Moderators may need to do lag checks for players. Having moderators that are evenly distributed across your country or across the world will ensure that your staff can reasonably test anyone’s connection.

In general, more mods = less stress. If you’re a first-time organizer, I encourage seeking out moderator assistance for your first event! Ask around your local community and the people that you know! I always look for moderators that I know have a great track record when figuring out staffing. 

5.Communication

The more attendees you have, the harder it can be to coordinate everyone and answer their questions. Making sure players understand exactly how to participate and escalate tournament issues is key. Let’s go over a few things that you can do to make this easier! 

In my opinion, Discord servers are essential for running a tournament. By using a Discord server, all attendees can be in a single place. It’s easy to provide updates and notifications for them as a whole this way! You can have them join a Discord specifically for the tournament, or use an existing server for your organization/region. 

Smash.gg has built-in integration to help ensure that everyone who registers for your tournament has also joined a Discord server of your choice. You can set it as a requirement that anyone who registers for your tournament must be a part of that server! More detailed information on setting up registration connections are in this article.

I would recommend that you make it clear that disputes with games should be reported via smash.gg. Create and distribute a ruleset document that outlines what players should do in the case of a match dispute. Players have access to a match chat where they can request a moderator, and it makes it a lot easier as a TO to see which sets need attention. And it can reduce the noise of all the attendees in the Discord trying to get your attention. 

It really helps to have a clear workflow, and everyone understands that:

  • Announcements to players will be done via Discord
  • Issues with your set should be escalated by requesting a mod directly through smash.gg

Trust me, handling stuff through the smash.gg mod chat will help unclutter your Discord DMs and make the process easier!

6.Lag Issues

A lot of variables can affect the connection between players. Distance, server load, internet connection strength, and the game being played can all impact stability. Laggy connections are bound to happen at any possible moment and for any possible reason. Sometimes it’s obvious which player is at fault for the bad connection. Other times, not so much. 

How should we handle this?

This will vary from game to game, but here are my general thoughts on this:

  • Have clear guidelines in your ruleset of how lag checking will be handled
    • Include how to escalate and the process that will be used
    • Don’t be too explicit with when DQs are given out–this will give you some leeway
    • If possible, include objective connection limits (maximum accepted ping value)
  • Never DQ a player without first…
    • Troubleshooting the connection issue
    • Lag testing both players
    • Ensuring both players are on a wired connection
    • Making sure your internet connection is solid
  • When testing a connection, look for ping spikes or lag spikes in-game
    • This is a telltale sign of an unstable connection

If there’s still no clear solution after you’ve done all of that, that’s when you’ll need to make an executive decision. Depending on the context, you might have to force the players to play it out, despite the lag. Most of the time, you’re better off telling them that rather than DQing one player without enough evidence. 

We spoke with a group of TO’s in a roundtable discussion on how they handle networking issues. It may help guide you on how to create a process for handling network issues between players.

7.Any Questions?

If you’d like to get started creating your own online tournament, head over to our tournament creation page to get started! I highly recommend checking out our Online Tournament Webinar that goes through everything you need to know about online tournaments on smash.gg. If you’d like to chat with someone from our team directly feel free to schedule a Q&A call to go over your questions.

Feel free to reach out to us at support@smash.gg or via your support chat on smash.gg!

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