Monday, July 23, 2012

2012 Fantasy Olympics: Finding A Competitive Balance (Part II)

Last week we decided to tackle the idea of creating a brand new fantasy league, the Olympics of fantasy competitions. We ended on a question of competitive balance; one in which we were looking for a solution to address the Olympic powerhouse trio of USA, China & Russia.

Now if we had three competitors we would have a simpler task but in our current scenario we have six lucky participants of which several are going to be left out in the cold. Let's evaluate several solutions and proceed with whichever offers the greatest benefit.

As mentioned in our introductory article last week the participants will be selecting countries in a snake style draft which will take place over the course of five rounds after which each person will evaluate their drafted national lineup and select from a limited Olympic event schedule what they feel they will perform best at. Three possible options:

            Quantity vs. Quality: Borrowing a solution from popular sports leagues around the world, often a franchise losing a player who was a major contributor will be met with some sort of compensation. In the case of the NBA or NFL these can be in the form of Compensatory draft picks. We can incorporate this into a snake style draft by having one or more rounds in between the normal sequence of draft picks for participants who were not fortunate to receive a high draft choice.
            The Upside: This addresses the issue directly by breaking our limit of five countries in order to achieve aggregate balance among competitors.
            The Downside: Deciding exactly how many compensatory picks and where they fall in the draft is difficult and there is a risk of overcompensating and tipping the scales the opposite direction.

            Change the Game: As aforementioned, we are utilizing a limited Olympic schedule and simple scoring technique. Each day participants will select one event and score points based on their own countries results in that event. Additionally everyone will score in four "Team Events" will score larger point values that will last much of the duration of the Olympics. This possible solution involves picking largely diverse and unpredictable events while still offering several more reliable options for countries beyond the Olympic Big Three.
            The Upside: In game design this is often a more feasible option than it happens to be here. The problem is the results can swing wildly and there is little semblance of balance added through this approach.
            The Downside: Potentially this method can backfire and cause a run away leader effect in a design with as much "chaos" (unpredictable results) as the Olympics if the the USA or China finds success in events they were not expected to. Surprisingly the downside isn't as dramatic as it seems. With three options per day the schedule can be called upon to limit the athletic strengths of certain countries (Excluding Basketball for the USA) while offering strong options for those with strong non-dominant countries (Including Cycling for Western European countries).

            Change the Scoring: The implementation will change for this option from one design to another but in this case our scoring is based on Gold/Silver/Bronze medal finishes with a possibility of a dominant country sweeping all three medals in a single event. In order to limit the dominance of a country we will allow only one medal to count for each country in an event.
            The Upside: This restriction evens out the field and with surprise upsets happening frequently in the Olympics the failure to get the Gold stings a little more even if your country earned you the Silver and Bronze. Additionally it opens up the strategy: as you can only pick one event per day it makes sense to draft natural complements to your previously drafted countries (A Kenya/Ethiopia combo for distance track events).
            The Downside: While a simple rule, it does add complexity. It deviates from our first design goal "Simplicity over all else" but does contribute considerably to our second design goal "Allow participants to create their own strategy". 

So how do we proceed? Which direction do we take? As one might imagine if there are three reasonable solutions that can be used in moderation we should try to utilize all three.

  • Participants unable to select USA, China, Russia & Great Britain will be given compensatory draft picks following the first two rounds and again after the fourth round. Great Britain will be given a compensatory draft pick only following the fourth round. This is in anticipation of Great Britain hosting in front of a home crowd with more athletes than anyone else and projections of 62 medals to as high as 95 medals. This could be the Olympics that we see the Big Four. If this is indeed the case a 6th country at the end of the draft won't effect much and if Great Britain doesn't turn out as optimistically its a little bit of added insurance.
  • Selecting diverse events in different event categories allows strategic draft selections where participants can create their own strategy to best position themselves for scoring each day or overall.
  • With a scoring limitation we create opportunity rather than purely limitations and strengthen the prospects of smaller countries in unpredictable events. Hoping to break through with an extra Bronze medalist every week is what the Fantasy Olympics is all about.