Op-ed: The Question of Qualifier Slots
— by ShiaoPi
As the qualifiers for the next major are completed already we face a recurring question of the premier tournaments in the Dota 2 landscape.
What actually determines how many qualifier slots each region receives? With the formula for the DPC season being 3 for NA/EU/CN and 2 for the remaining regions there is as usual a lively debate about it. Classical examples are as follows (and may or may not have been inspired by our favorite subreddit):
“NA clearly does not deserve a third spot!”
“Why does THAT region get more than ours?”
“Just remove that trashcan region LUL”
While some of these concerns are valid, many of the complaints do not keep the whole picture in mind. The central issue is the utter arbitrariness of the current system. Taking away a slot from one region and awarding it to another would actually just exchange one arbitrary decision for another.
So what would be the solution I have in mind? Is there actually a process by which we would not only eliminate arbitrariness (regardless in which direction) but also maintain the peak of competitiveness a Major should encompass?
The model I have in mind involves more or less a complete overhaul of the allocation so please bear with me as I go through the details. As a first step I would suggest a flat 2 slots per region. Cutting the third spots EU, NA and CN currently have. Obviously some more radical-inclined persons would also like to see a reduction of the SA region’s slots due to it’s (perceived) weakness, but that is one step too far in my opinion.
Just as the SEA region has been slowly built up over the years of Dota history I believe we can promote a similar kind of growth in South America by keeping a slight and temporal overrepresentation of the region until it can compete with the others. It not only includes a large market from the economical standpoint but it also gives fans of the game storylines to cheer for and makes sure that the Dota world does not exclude a significant amount of its player base hailing from South America. By bringing every region’s slots to the same level we also remove the issue of arbitrariness I mentioned above.
So what happens to the 3 slots that we can “distribute” now?
Before I go into details on them I would also like to introduce an idea for a rework of the current qualifiers for Majors and Minors. As it stands now the qualifiers for the Minor and the Major are strictly separated and doing well in the Major qualifiers but just missing out offers no tangible reward for the qualification to the Minor.
My suggestion would change the current formula. Instead of the current division between the two, I would like to see the third place from each regional Major qualifier to get invited into the Minor, which rewards you for making it far in the Major qualifier and also makes sense in the larger picture since the Minor is more or less a last chance Wild Card tournament for the Major, reminiscent of the old Wild Card Matches from past TIs (TI2 throughout TI6).
While it does make it harder for teams to break into the Minors from open qualifiers as only one slot remains for teams who did not make it to the Major qualifiers I think this step will also avoid situations like last Minor when Na`Vi was turning heads at MegaFon but not making it to the Minor for a shot at Chongqing. Having established rules for the Minor qualification process also helps in reducing the arbitrariness of tournament organizers being able to choose how to allocate slots to it. If you want to combat the slightly higher restrictiveness of the Minor it can easily be counteracted by expanding the tournaments to 12 teams with 2 open qualifiers for each region.
So now that we have established how the 8 Minor slots will be filled (4 third place finishers from each region and 4 to 8 open qualifiers) it is time to distribute the 3 open Major slots. My suggestion is to give out these slots for the teams placing inside the top 4 of the Minor. The thought-process behind that is actually really simple. On the one hand we aim for a “fair” distribution of slots but on the other we also want the “strongest” region at a given time to send the most teams to a Major. Having the top 4 of the reworked Minor qualify for the Major fulfills both of our aims at the same time. With 2 (or 3) teams from each region competing there is no regional bias present and limiting the slots to the top 4 also ensures the competitiveness of the attending teams. If one region is that much stronger than others, surely they can prove it by monopolising the the extra slots at a Minor by beating the competition.
There is also another advantage to having 4 slots awarded to the best teams at the Minor. Seeding for the groups at the Major also frequently suffers from the same feeling of arbitrariness that plagues the qualifier slots. Who or what determines the round 1 matchups for the ever important GSL group stage that has become the standard? With my proposed system in place it becomes very easy and clear-cut. The winners of each regional qualifier draw from the pool of teams coming in from the Minor and the runner-ups of each region face each other in the opening match of the Major. A elegant solution that not only rewards the stronger teams by giving them a favored matchup but also establishes rules and fairness based on performance.
Of course I realize that the amount of rules and stipulations I envisage to solve the qualifier slot problem are highly contradictory to Valve’s hands-off approach. Nevertheless I think it is important in order to ensure the feeling of “fairness” in the DPC especially in regards of quelling talk of “oh they just abused a weak-ass region to get there”. Dota 2 has grown to a size in which establishing rules, systems and regulations have their merit and would not diminish the inherent competitiveness of the game at all. For tournaments with as much on the line as Majors we should also have fixed rules by which the organisers have to abide for competitive integrity of Dota 2 in its entirety.
Since the inaugural season of the DPC we have already underwent several changes in formats and rules so I hope that Valve can take this next step for the esport we all love and cherish.
Let me hear your thoughts and ideas on this matter in the comments.