If there’s a single idea behind tourneygeek, it is that a lot of badly designed tournaments are being run, often because their organizers have simply never considered some of the available alternative designs. If some people think there’s only one right way to run a tourney, they’re likely to make a fairness (A) claim whenever those expectations are not honored.
The last post considered the strength or weakness of this objection based on the source of the expectation. This one will consider the extent to which the claim is stronger or weaker according to whether people have reasonably relied on those expectations.
Many, perhaps most, innovations in tourney design aren’t vulnerable to the strongest sort of fairness (A) objection because no one is likely to behave any differently in reliance on an unmet expectation. But where there is reasonable reliance, the objection is a strong one.
Let’s return to the example of that frequently-abused form, the double-elimination tourney. For many, there’s only one way to run such a tourney: with a recharge round, without shifting the lower bracket, and with unsystematic drops. Following these links, you’ll find that there are sensible options for all three of these aspects that are frequently better choices. Let’s say that a conscientious tourney organizer finds her way to my printable brackets page and selects a double-elimination design that has no recharge, does shift the lower bracket, and adopts my optimal drops. How should reliance affect our view of consider a fairness (A) objection to various aspects of the design?
If a participant can say, “I wouldn’t even have entered this tourney if I’d know you were going to do that”, that’s reliance, or at least it’s reliance if the statement can be believed. It will be more believable with respect to some aspects of design than others.
It’s not particularly believable if the objection is to systematic drops. Do they really mean that they wouldn’t have entered the tourney if they had known that there was less likelihood that they’d play the same player again in the lower bracket? Doing the drops right is likely to be considered an unambiguously good thing.
Now, this is not to say that the objection depends on whether the unexpected design feature is a good one or not. What matters is not whether it’s good or bad, but rather whether the person with the objection reasonably believes that it’s bad. If the tourney omits the recharge round, some people will take umbrage, even if the tourney is one that would, from a fairness (C) perspective, be better without one.
Perhaps the clearest case for a fairness (A) objection would arise when the unmet expectation concerns seeding. It’s entirely plausible that a player would decide whether to play a tourney according to whether or not is was seeded, and if so, how it was seeded.
Even if some unmet expectation didn’t affect whether a player or team would enter the event, there may still be some reliance if it affects how the event is be played.
Let’s say that the tourney is a baseball tourney, and the design element in question is whether the brackets should be shifted. If the bracket is unshifted, each win (after the first) in the upper bracket means that the player gets to skip a round in the lower bracket. This is a huge reward, so a team should be more willing to use its better pitchers in early games. But if the bracket is unshifted, it might be better to risk starting a weaker pitcher early on, knowing that the penalty for being dropped to the lower bracket is smaller. The reliance factor is even stronger if the issue is whether or not there will be a recharge round. If there is, it might be wise to risk a weaker arm in the first game if you know you will need another strong one for a possible second game.
Similar considerations might be present in other sports. Knowing how many games are left might well affect how much energy to put into a particular match, or whether it’s worth risking he aggravation of an injury to play a bit better.
Expectations might also be relied upon with respect to settlements and side bets. Knowing that the losing finalist in the upper bracket drops to the semi-final of the lower bracket (as happens with some shifts) rather than the final (as happens with unshifted brackets) might not affect how a player plays the upper final. There’s incentive to win it either way. But that knowledge may well affect a decision to hedge, and the terms of the hedge.
These are, however, the exceptional cases. Most of the time a player aggrieved by an unmet expectation would have a hard time making the case that they’re relied on that expectation. The first time I because aware that I was playing a tourney with a shifted bracket was when I lost the upper bracket final. I was nonplussed to see that I was dropping into an earlier round of the lower bracket than I expected, but I can’t point to anything I would have done differently if an unshifted bracket was in use.