by Noah “Theftz” Gordon
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.
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:
|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.