On Rotations

by Noah “Theftz” Gordon


japanese arcade

Winner stays on

This mantra is at the heart of every fighting game culture and is a practice that has become the standard for rotations in the smash community. You can trace its roots back to the arcade days, when slipping a quarter into a Super Turbo machine bought you the right to take on all challengers until you were dethroned. However, the CRT is a very different beast than the arcade machine, and it’s time for us as a community to put aside this tradition.

When you insert a quarter into an arcade machine, you are purchasing the right to play time with real capital. A smasher who walks up to a friendly station has made no such purchase. Unless he owns the set-up, he is no more entitled to play time than anyone else sitting at the station. Each player should have the right to equal amount of practice opportunity, regardless of skill.

At every national, local, and even smashfest I have ever attended, the default rotation for friendlies has always been winner stays on. My contention is that this prohibitive culture needs to change because it harms our potential for growth and diminishes the experience of new players. Winner stays on monopolizes practice time in the hands of players who already the most skilled, creating an atmosphere where the rich get rich and the poor get poorer. In a winner stays on rotation of three players where one player is much better than the other two, the best player will get about double the play time as the other players. Not only does this make it harder for new players to improve, but it also actively lowers the quality of their experience in the community, as they spend most of their time waiting for others to play their matches.

Round-robin Rotations

By contrast, the rationale behind the round-robin rotation is sensible; It is the most equitable rotation possible. Note that any increase of play time past 2/3 games for any given player in a 3-player rotation will necessitate a decrease of play time for at least one other player. Only when each player plays 2/3 games in a single rotation, i.e. a round-robin, is play time fairly distributed. Given the premise that skill does not entitle one to extra play time, the round-robin is the only fair 3-player rotation.

3-Player Round-Robin Rotation
P1 vs P2
P2 vs P3
P3 vs P1

But, I hear the objection coming. Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but what about 4-player rotations?? Well, the good old round-robin can still be done for 4-players, behold:

4-Player Round-Robin Rotation
P1 vs P2
P3 vs P4
P1 vs P3
P2 vs P4
P1 vs P4
P2 vs P3

It can be done, but it ain’t pretty. The 4-player round-robin is awkward and difficult to remember. It’s time to get more creative with our rotations with 4-players, after all, the problems with 3-player winner stays on apply also to 4-player winner stays on, but to an even more drastic extent. Here’s one suggestion, I call it the winners-losers rotation:

Winners-Losers Rotation
P1 vs P2
 P3 vs P4
 Winner of (1) vs Winner of (2)
 Loser of (1) vs Loser of (2)
 Winner of (3) vs Winner of (4)
 Loser of (3) vs Loser of (4)

And repeat ad infinitum.

The chart looks concocted, but the rotation is actually simple. This rotation knocks out two birds with one stone. First, it is a perfectly equitable like round-robin, guaranteeing to every player an equal share in games played . Second, it also efficiently allocates practice time. If P3 is winning every game and P1 is losing every game, they spend all of their practice time against players closer to their skill level, rather than spending time 4-stocking or getting 4-stocked.

My proposal is simple: we should do everything we can to promote round-robin and alternative rotations on friendly set-ups at every event we host as a community. This could mean taking the responsibility to suggest round-robins at smash-fests, even (or especially) when you are the best player or it could mean formally changing the practice as a TO by ruling that friendly rotations will be round-robin (or an alternative rotation).

It’s easy to dismiss this problem by putting the onus on new players to request round-robins rather than asking veterans to change an age-old practice, but it isn’t that simple for new players. Firstly, there is currently no formal procedure for the friendly rotation if it is in dispute. I have personally been denied an alternative rotation by a player much more skilled than others on the set-up. What exactly is one supposed to in such a situation? Try to locate the set-up’s owner? Bring the TO over? Quietly unplug the winner’s controller?? Additionally, new community members are still trying to find their place and make friends in the community. It can be hard for them to request special accommodations when they see that in the community, almost everyone uses the winner stays on system. Putting yourself back in their shoes, it’s easy to see why they would feel too nervous to ask a veteran to stop playing, especially when many would argue that they have earned a right to the set-up.

When you are the most skilled player on a set-up, winner stays on seems like a great system, but don’t sweep this issue under the rug: It could be stunting our community’s growth, both in numbers and in skill.

9 thoughts on “On Rotations

  1. while the better player does monopolize the setup in “number of games played”, winner stays provides the most quality experience per game to the players who get to play the top player at the setup
    like if I’m at a setup with a top player and another guy less good than me, I’d rather play every other game with the top player than 2 out of 3 games when only one of those is with the top player
    it also provides motivation for improving: “You wanna get more chances to play friendlies? / play on stream / etc. Get good”

    if the goal was casual enjoyment then those arguments wouldn’t hold as well, but the scene in which this debate exists is inherently competitive

  2. When I lived in Europe, more often than not, people didn’t play winner stays on the rotation. If someone won two games, they would usually let the other two play each other.

    Having moved back to the USA, I must say that I enjoy winner stays on more, even though I was often the loser at every point in my smash career. Winner stays on just creates more intense matches, and I know I often want a rematch against the person who just beat me, not just because of salt, but also so I can learn what I’m doing wrong.

  3. My friends and I have been using this type of rotation for a few months, others should give it it a try, too. Playing against the best player might give you the best practice for that single match, but overall it’s extremely inefficient practice for everyone except for the best player. You end up playing, and usually losing, to the same person repeatedly while he is constantly warming up and learning to adapt to a variety of playstyles. People underestimate the value of warming up, and it’s extremely difficult to do so when there are limited setups and you only get to play a match every 6-8 minutes (the 2 matches after yours).

  4. You’re using inequality as a primary argument against winner stays on, but your proposed solution won’t really affect this much. If inequality is really a big issue, you should be advocating for a system where the weaker players actually get to play more than the stronger ones.

  5. Smashers can’t remember the 5 stages to strike from without looking at the screen, you expect them to remember who won a match two friendlies ago?

  6. I actually think the winner stays on format is more equal in terms of how much each player in the rotation learns. You improve more from playing better people than from playing worse people. The best player in the rotation learns the least in any one match (since he only plays worse people), so he needs to play more matches to get the same amount of improvement.

  7. winner stays on is legit, I wouldn’t like it any other way

  8. The thing that our Crew does is that winner stays on, unless there is no one he hasn’t beaten. So, P1vsP2, then P1 vs P3 then P1 vs P4, and if P1 wins that game then it sets up P4 vs P2. Winner still plays more games, but it’s not as much of a monopoly, and everyone gets to have games with the “best player.”

  9. I think it’s a great idea. I’m going to start suggesting it at events. Winner stays with your own friends when everyone agrees is one thing. It makes sense to have “staying” as a motivation to try harder, but not with strangers when someone may be obviously above or below the others in skill. It is especially important during warm-ups before the tournament starts because everyone deserves the same amount of time to practice.

    For those arguing in favor of winner stays I would say it’s only fine if everyone agrees. What if a new player you don’t know who is considerably below your skill level asks to join your set-up? I just hate it when people selfishly ignore another person. Just try to be considerate and fair, that’s all.

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