Examining the Altador Cup’s Problems

Hey Altador.com, it’s that time of year again… I’m Neon, and I’m back for the first time since last year to share my thoughts about the state of the AC. More specifically I’m addressing some of the Cup’s major issues and offering some suggestions on its improvement. I may update this article slightly as time passes, but this covers pretty much everything. This is lifted straight from one of my petpages, and addressed “to TNT,” but hopefully everything stays clear and formatted. Thanks for reading!

 

Examining the Altador Cup’s Problems

Background: I’m Neon, and I’ve participated actively in the Altador Cup for a very long time now, as one of the leaders of Krawk Island on the boards and as a general AC enthusiast. I’ve spent a lot of time playing the games, observing and discussing the results and systems, and making friends inside and outside of my Altador Cup team. The past few years have been very disappointing for most AC fans, and I’m here to offer my feedback once again. I do not claim to speak for Krawk Island or the entirety of the site’s users, and I did not come up with everything in this post on my own. I’m merely speaking my mind, as a long-time fan of the AC who has thought and read about the various issues regarding the event. To everybody who has expressed their concerns or discussed these issues with me — thank you for helping me formulate my thoughts here. (I apologize about the formatting as well — I’m not a design/HTML wizard, but I tried to make it readable, at least.)

I’ll try to fit the issues as neatly/concisely as possible in the following four categories: Communication, Cheating, Competitive Legitimacy, and  Quality of Life , along with some closing words. I apologize to TNT in advance if some of the issues discussed are sensitive ones. I’m just desperate to at least discuss what’s going on. And with that out of the way, here we go:


Communication


For me, (lacking) communication is the biggest problem for the AC and the site as a whole. Users are almost entirely left out of the decision-making process behind the AC each year. As someone mentioned on a recent board, the team uses a “decide, announce, defend” process as it decides how to run the tournament. The users are aware that you consider feedback in some way, but the efforts there have been far too limited. A “discuss, decide, do” style would serve TNT and the users far better than the current system would. Transparency is an absolute necessity for making your dedicated users happy.

This means that we need more than the occasional survey about our opinions on the site or the Altador Cup. The AC community was delighted to see a staff member, Comastar, answering questions on the board and via neomail shortly before the AC began. We are aware that you all have work to do, so it is unreasonable to expect constant, direct communication like this. But it is important for us to know what’s going on. We need to have some idea of your plans each year, so we can provide feedback before another year is wasted on an event that isn’t as good as it could be.

The AC staff desperately needs to open up lines of communication. Not only are the boards a great source of feedback from many users, but there are also a smaller subset of people who have led various groups of players and participated in the event very actively for a long time. Why not discuss potential changes with these two groups? There are plenty of users still participating in the AC, and their feedback is important. Open Q&A or at least more careful observation of feedback with the general population is necessary. Additionally, the smaller group of fanatics is knowledgeable enough to provide even more in-depth, specific solutions that you could consider implementing. Just ask, and you would get plenty of sincere advice from users that care about this event.

Closing words – Communication is a basic necessity for the site and for the Altador Cup, and the users are tired of being left in the dark. Even if you refuse to “break the fourth wall” any more than they absolutely have to, something must be done to make things more transparent. When the primary response to complaints about the bracket system (in its third year of existence, after nearly universal complaints) is basically an insult toward the community, something has gone very wrong. We need to be able to respectfully communicate with each other for the site to grow and improve.


Cheating


As you know, the last few years have been dominated by “ACGs” — players who cheat on multiple (from a few to over a hundred) “shell” accounts. The effects have been clear since at least AC 7 and have only grown more obvious as the years go by. I don’t want to dwell on the problem here, as it’s rather simple: the competition is dominated by users who aren’t legitimately playing the games, and this is unacceptable for any event on the site, especially a competitive one. You guys know how it works at this point, so I’m going to focus on some potential solutions, some of which would be trivial to implement.

The most fundamental solution, of course, is to totally redo the way that scores are accepted into the system. Find ways to make this process more secure, and continue to vigilantly watch for breaches or flaws. I understand that this is likely very difficult, and likely never completely secure. Even if the system can’t be completely redone, surely there are ways to tweak the system as the AC goes on to halt cheating methods temporarily. Although I’m sure most of us would be willing to wait as long as we needed to for a new, secure system (whether this means a transition from Flash, or more encryption, or whatever), I’ll also offer some ways to mitigate the impact of cheating when it occurs.

First, and most obviously, is to close sign-ups as soon as the AC begins. This would prevent people from joining on even more shells as the tournament goes on, and it would prevent people from shifting their illegitimate scoring from one team to another, either to boost another team or to attempt sabotage. Sure, this means that some users may run out of time to join their team, but that is far less important. There is plenty of buildup before the event starts, so users have no one to blame but themselves if they can’t find thirty seconds to join a team in time. You could either let users join the Practice Team to play for rank points and not count them for any team, or let them join as a “Reserve Player” (a distinction that, to my knowledge, no longer exists) where they can play and be on a team, but would not have their scores counted for the team.

Further options include requiring the completion of the Altador Plot (or, preferably, a newly designed plot or mini-plot, as the Altador Plot can likely be automated) before joining a team. This would make it more difficult for cheaters to join the Cup on so many accounts. There are other potential solutions, like the use of Captcha to confirm scores after every X games, but this idea seems to have mixed support. My last proposed solution is to cap the maximum score in YYB, SLSL, and SOSD, like you have with Make Some Noise’s hard limit of ~9999 points. The maximum score in YYB should be 18-0, ~800 or a bit more in SLSL, and 1200 in SOSD. Illegitimate players can abuse the unlimited scoring potential if they’re willing to lose their accounts.

Finally, it’s extremely important that the cheaters that you can identify and freeze are removed from the system, even retroactively. If accounts can impact results for a day or until they are frozen, then people will continue to create them. Removing their scores from the scoring system might require changing the system, but it’s another necessity. This might even change prior matches results — but that’s okay! It might be confusing, but I would rather see honest results than deal with another year of illegitimate players getting the satisfaction of a victory.

Closing words – Again, this is a pretty simple issue. Something big must be done about the cheating, or the AC is hardly worth having. There must be a way to eliminate the cheaters or at least minimize/neutralize their impact. If not, I fail to see the point of having a competition in which the winners aren’t really (necessarily) playing the hardest.


Competitive Legitimacy


I’ll start off with the infamous bracket system. We first met the brackets with cautious optimism that everyone could be happy — the AC would still be around for us to enjoy, but it could be a bit shorter to give people a break. Unfortunately, the system has failed to deliver a fair AC.

First of all, yes, we understand that the Double Round-Robin was too long for a lot of people; we know it needed to change. But the issue of length does not demand brackets, and as far as we know, AC fatigue was the only problem with the DRR (perhaps this is an issue of communication, again, but I’m working with what you’ve told us). With this in mind, the most sensible and widely suggested solution is a Single Round-Robin. It’s quite simple. We could have 17 matches (one day to play each team), followed by a bye day, two days of playoffs, another bye day, then the final playoff match for two days (i.e. the playoff system used before the brackets, along with the SRR). We end up with 23 days this way, which is even more manageable for people who don’t want the AC to go on too long. But yeah, the brackets are sort of ridiculous, as teams don’t go against each team once (despite this being a stated goal in your FAQ, oddly enough), and daily results don’t even matter like they used to.

There are more issues here than just the brackets themselves, though. The current system appears to weigh each game equally, even though Yooyuball is considered the focus of the tournament. This doesn’t make any sense, and it should be reverted to the old formula where Yooyuball granted the overall win, while the sides combined for an equal number of points that the YYB win gave. Further, the experiment over the last two years of showing each team’s “points” from the games has been a bit of a disaster, as the eventual winner becomes quite obvious after one or two days, and the cheating is emphasized. Finally, there should not be any cumulative elements in the system (although this is not a concern with a SRR tournament), as this basically makes it impossible for a team to achieve a “comeback win” in later brackets.

Disregarding the system, scoring, and cheaters, there are some serious imbalances in the system that have persisted over the years. Teams like KI or DC, where many players join for the “cool” themes and hardly play, were always carried by the players that dedicated an insane amount of time to the AC. With the lowered maxes this year, the influence of these less active players seemed more clear. As the AC goes on, the smaller teams with higher proportions of their players on the board are easier to positively influence, while teams with disproportionate numbers of less active players struggle to improve.

The best way to combat this would be to ignore scores that count for NP. This way, the masses of players that don’t play more than one or two games can still earn a few prize points and get some NP from the games, without any team having their averages pulled down too far. Admittedly, this will skew things in the other direction somewhat, but this year’s lower maxes reduce the impact of the “crazy” players that might join certain teams more than others.

This change, combined with the lower maxes, could help bridge the gap between “normal” teams and those with one or more of the roaming “All-Star Groups” (ASGs) of which I’m sure you’re aware, as well. Of course, ASGs do not appear to be in violation of any rules, but they are an important factor to consider because they’re capable of dramatically throwing off the balance of the Cup, which leaves a lot of users less interested in playing. There isn’t an easy way that I know of to reduce their impact (without reducing the impact of All-Stars, which seems kind of silly), but it’s something to keep in mind as you try to make the AC fun for everyone.

Closing words – We need a system that makes more sense, Yooyuball needs to be more important, and outside groups (legitimate or illegitimate) as well as users who hardly participate in the event need to have their impact lessened somehow. My last suggestion here is to consider a way to group teams together somehow, so that a relatively small group of users can have less of an impact and perhaps things would be more balanced overall. I’m not sure exactly how this might work, but again, I’m hoping for a fairer AC if it comes back next year.


 “Quality of Life”


This last set of problems and suggestions involves less critical issues that would still provide a more interesting/exciting/enjoyable experience for the next AC. I’ll do a simple list for this section to cover as much as I can without making this page too much longer than it already is.

  • In YYB, revert the Darigan Yooyu back to it’s former state, where it made a bit more sense.
  • Raise the YYB “max” to at least match SLSL’s 139.
  • Loyalty bonuses of some sort would be nice, considering the advantages that ASGs have as they roam to small teams.
  • Modify SLSL to avoid the slow, boring start, and/or consider giving it a time limit.
  • Even if SLSL is somehow changed, the rank points per game need to be rebalanced around the amount of time that a game takes.
  • Raise the minimum score in SOSD or, again, balance the points better.
  • Bring back achievements and expand them to make the daily grind more interesting. Consider adding NP rewards for ranking up (like leveling up in Habitarium).
  • Consider bringing back the post-season awards like All-Star teams.
  • Consider adding a new side game or two, and/or removing SLSL, MaSN, or SOSD.
  • Add mouse controls for the side games (at least SLSL and SOSD) to make them easier to play for people who have trouble with all the arrow key pressing. WASD controls would be nice too!
  • Work on the player art and make the teams’ players more diverse/unique.
  • Make it more “special” to win, somehow. This year, people were okay with losing teams getting gold trophies via individual effort because of all of the illegitimate play, but I don’t think that sort of thing would be popular in a fairer year.
  • All-Star or team-specific avatars?

Closing message – Keep the AC interesting with new elements, and make sure your design choices make things fun for everyone. The AC is growing stale for many users, even without considering the real flaws.


Final Thoughts


That pretty much wraps things up. I know that a lot of this is not new or unique, and there’s always more to say, but I tried to cover as much as I could in one place (without going overboard with it). The Altador Cup is a fantastic, unique event on this site, and I hope it can recover from recent changes. Rather than making slight changes over time that don’t appeal to the users that care about the event, I hope the AC can become a fun, competitive experience once again in its tenth year. If the event continues to be a messy, watered down version of what it used to be, I’d rather not have it at all, but I don’t want to give up on it yet.

I look forward to feedback from other users and, hopefully, from TNT as well.

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15 Responses

  1. The whole cheating aspect is something that I feel like will always be a factor. Because as long as the event is designed to be influenced by players, than there will be a way to abuse the amount influence, and seeing as the whole point of the cup is that it’s “unscripted any anybody can win” I don’t really see anything that can be done. These groups can get around CAPTCHA and will be able to just put all their shells and stuff on the team. Even without shells the SS program they use means if their members using only 1 account can easily out weigh the efforts of many legitimate players.

    However even if they find a way to deal with cheaters. ASG’s are another problem entirely. We bitch about Codex rigging the cup but if they were out of the picture SOTAC and Stealth would just fill in the gap. Even if they’re legit they aim to join a team for the sole purpose of winning the cup.

    The biggest thing they could do for a step in the right direction would be removing the visable scores (at least back than it was easier to keep up morale when 18s couldn’t be seen). And maybe once it’s known what teams have these boosting groups, find some way to handicap their scores. That way even if cheaters arn’t found their impact can be swayed.

    • I saw this suggestion posted on a board a while ago, but I think another way they could curtail the cheating and dampen the impact of ASGs would be if they set max scores for the game. Say they set the cap for each of the games at 8 or so and if both teams meet the cap, they draw. That way if a normal-powered team throws their weight into one game, they can easily take points away from these overpowered teams. This, of course, only really means something if they do in fact make YYB/SLSL/MSN/SOSD worth 9/3/3/3 like it was during the DRR.

  2. what are the chances someone at tnt reads this? i’m crossing my fingers they care at least that much

    • I sent it to a few people on Staff, and I have a board up. Hoping for a response for someone at some point, but I’ve pretty much exhausted my options as far as getting the ideas out there.

  3. I hated the bracket system, and no matter what TNT does to it, I always will. Wouldn’t it be better for the Altador Cup and for Neopets if they decided to do a Round Robin? That way, because daily results will matter, more people will want to play and play more often. Also, if they used daily results for the Altador Cup to determine the order and points for the brackets, there would be huge changes to the standings. First of all, Virtupets would be our repeat champs, secondly, Faerieland would have come in last because of the results in the last bracket, and finally, Roo Island and Kiko Lake would have had dramatic changes in their places in the final standings.

  4. Good on you for raising the issue with communication (the lack thereof). Even if TNT is unable to make technical changes to address the other issues, improving communication is the least they could do.

    Even though I know this following idea is extremely controversial, I still think it’s worth a try: Randomly assign teams to everyone. It’ll certainly break up those ASGs and ACGs. Even though there’s many users who are super loyal to their teams, who knows, maybe this randomized shakeup won’t be as bad as the loyalists might think? Maybe temporarily forming alliances with randomly grouped teammates would turn out to be fun?

    • Unfortunately, your proposal is greatly flawed. It will just create a bigger advantage for cheater groups while preventing ASG’s and the average Neopian from combating us even further. There is potential for cheating groups to use account makers to make a lot of accounts and join teams until they get the team they want. There are account makers hidden away from the casual spy so hypothetically if one person makes 100 accounts, statistically speaking, 5 or 6 would land on the desired team. Especially in cheating forums, if one player is unable to get the right team, those accounts can be traded or given away very easily. With this possible truth spreading through the AC boards, legit Neopians (as well as some cheaters) would be outraged at how helpless they are at stopping ACGs (more so than this year) while at the same time very much infuriated at the fact they can’t join their favorite team. They would so much more be preoccupied with the above than having fun with their randomized team.

      • I suppose you have a point, Keil. That said, *assuming* TNT are actually able to catch & freeze cheating accounts, it might be worth a try to have randomized team assignment after cup begins.

        But to clarify, I personally think ASGs and ACGs are two versions of the same problem, just that ACGs give users more reason to hate them.

  5. TNT is very capable of catching cheaters, it’s just that they’re extremely lazy. Lots of things can be implemented to catch cheaters, but very few have actually been.

  6. I agree with the majority of your article (especially raising rank points SS earns…), but I don’t think they should make YYB the match winning game again. I think it should stay even, or we could compromise with 1 yyb win = 2 side wins or something. The ONLY thing I like about the bracket system is that you can play anything and it still helps your team. If we switch it back to the way it was… Well, I feel almost guilty playing anything but yyb.

    • Absolutely agree that 1 yyb win = 2 side wins. This would emphasize the importance of YYB while also keeping a strategic element in the finals(so the finals strategy would not be just ‘grind YYB’).

      On a side note, was there any evidence that 1 yyb win > 3 side game wins in the old system? I don’t think it ever happened in any finals that team A wins YYB while team B wins all side games (except AC3, but there were only 2 side games then).

      • I don’t remember what it was, but there was irrefutable evidence at some point or another. Maybe during finals like you said, but I know there were tons of instances where teams were tied in points but the one with more YYB was always listed ahead

  7. I would think changing game ids randomly throughtout the games would be able to catch the cheaters since, if I am correct, SS programs use the game id to submit them. Also, change the game’s scores that are sent to the systen.let’s say 15-0 is the score. The system would send 1500 or something else rather than the game’s score.

    Either way, I agree with changing scores after cheaters are frozen to lessen the impact.

    Bracket system…well, I wouldn’t mind personally if daily scores mattered I or the scoring and ranks at least made some sense. As it is now…it’s just frustrating.

  8. WE NEED A NEW TEAM!!!!! Have them be a new land that was one of the first teams in the cup

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