Final Thoughts on GSL and 2018-2019 DPC Season
As you might well know, I've been critical of parts of the GSL format for DPC majors all season long. So while I'm definitely still a little salty that our bo3s at Epicenter were played against VP, VG, and LGD, it's clearly not the only thing driving this post. Obviously, we at Forward Gaming failed to fulfill our high hopes coming into the year, and we proved we haven't been an elite team. Any way you spin it, our performance wouldn't have qualified us directly for TI, and we had plenty of opportunities to prove otherwise. Let's acknowledge that and put it aside.
Previous criticism addressed the high level of noise and volatility in the format, but as the circuit comes to a close people are also increasingly noticing the outsized importance of 'one decent tournament finish' as the point floor for qualification drops lower and lower. I think there are two major takeaways from this situation for potential refinement of the system:
1. GSL with DPC-based seeding inherently favors the top teams in a rich-get-richer way. On average, the top teams begin by playing the weakest teams in the field which likely halfway secures their right to starting with 4 lives in the main tournament rather than 1. If you are a 'bad' or even 'middle of the road' team you most likely begin the playoffs with one life, and then even if you survive the bo1 round you don't get to play other teams of similar caliber and performance as your next opponent is a winner-bracket dropdown. Unless the depth and strength of top teams wildly varies in a given season, this makes the format more a test of 'can you win series against the elite teams and/or somehow get lucky and avoid them altogether' RATHER than 'how do you measure up compared to the entire field'. This has always been one of the base arguments for a round robin or large group format over GSL. Since points can continue to be accumulated by teams who have long-since passed the qualification threshold, a season with good teams showing any measure of consistency virtually guarantees this kind of distribution under the existing system.
As a clearly anecdotal example, and taking nothing away from them as they're obviously a damn good team, Vici Gaming beat us 2-1 in the Epicenter groupstage. They proceeded to guarantee themselves a spot in the Top 3 without facing a single team that was in the Top 10 of the DPC standings (and therefore seedings) coming into the tournament. We can possibly chalk this up to just getting a 'favorable draw' but it is consistent with GSL structure and almost a self-fulfilling prophecy UNLESS teams perform drastically better or worse than their seeding. To oversimplify, in the current system 'bad' teams open the tournament playing 'good' teams and then have to beat them again early and often in the lower bracket if they survive, but they less often play other 'bad' or 'middle-of-the-road' teams, and the rewards skew heavily towards the 'good' teams who begin with easier roads.
2. Related to groupstage format and not that easy to sort out: I think the point distribution needs to be tweaked as well, it also seems a bit too top-heavy. Consider that winning an initial upper bracket series guarantees a team 900 DPC points, which is at the moment enough to qualify for TI. To reach that point starting from the lower bracket, you'd need to survive a bo1 and then win TWO bo3s, including at least one of them against one of the teams that just dropped down from the upper bracket. Cherrypicked anecdotal example from Epicenter: VP beat Secret to secure at least 900 DPC points. OG, meanwhile, beat EG in a bo1, then Secret in a BO3 (the same team that VP just beat), yet they've only secured half the points and need to win another BO3 against another dropdown high-seed elite team, LGD, to secure the same number of DPC points as VP.
There are many different ways to tweak and solve these issues, but at the very least I don't think many players or teams would disagree with wanting a better format than GSL to sort teams out at majors. I am hopeful that the circuit will have have better formats next year.