Tournament formats in esports

Tournament formats in esports

7 min read | 8 Nov 2021

From round robins to single elimination brackets, esports uses a variety of tournament types. There are some similarities with traditional sports, but key differences too. We look at which tournament formats are commonly used in esports. 

Match Types:

In many games, such as CSGO, one team may be significantly better on one map and the other team significantly better on another. Due to these reasons, esports matches are typically played over a series of games in order to determine a winner, as outlined below. 

Best of 1 (BO1): A single game is played between teams in group stages only. It’s very rare that it will see use in a knockout stage.

Best of 2 (BO2): This game type is occasionally used in a group stage, where points for draws can be awarded.

Best of 3 (BO3): This is commonly used in knockout stages of tournaments and also sees use in group stages. They can take anywhere from around one to three hours depending on what game it is.

Best of 5 (BO5): This is the longest match type that is only seen in knockout stages of tournaments and sometimes in the grand finals. It typically takes around between two and five hours depending on the game.

Open or Closed?

Stating whether a tournament is open or closed is essential in allowing those interested to see if and how they can get involved.

Major tournaments like The Dota 2 International are invitational, and use the Pro Circuit to allow teams to qualify from various regions. Some tournaments may require an application form or certain requirements (such as from a particular region) to be applicable to join.

Not all tournaments follow this, so here are the two main types to look out for:

Open: Anyone can enter.

Closed / Invite-only: The event coordinator chooses who will compete, and there is no other way to enter. 

Group Stages:

Group stages come in various shapes and sizes, with some being split into groups, some being randomised and some being seeded. These are the main types to look out for.

This is where every team or individual will play each other once in a league format. Teams will receive a different number of points depending on whether they win, draw or lose.

Round Robin:

In a round robin, every individual or team will play each other once in a league format. Teams are then awarded points based on whether they win, lose or draw (if the match allows for draws).

Double round robin works exactly the same, except teams play each other twice. The double round robin format is among the most commonly used across all esports leagues (such as the LEC) and the matches are usually BO1, BO2 or BO3.

Swiss Seeding:

Teams are matched together either by random or predetermined seeding for the first round. In the second round, teams that won in round one will play against each other, and teams that lost will play against each other.

Teams then continue through the bracket playing against other teams with the same score record until the limit set by the tournament organiser is reached.

This format is great when a tournament has a large number of teams and the round robin format wouldn’t be possible due to time constraints. Swiss formats often use the BO1 format, but sometimes incorporate BO3 too.

The Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS) is known to use swiss seeding.

Playoffs / Knockout stages:

Single Elimination Bracket:

This bracket is very straightforward. The teams that qualify for the bracket will be drawn into a place on the bracket, depending on their seed. The fixtures will then be played out and the winner will advance onto the next stage, while the loser will be eliminated from the tournament.

A single elimination bracket stage will usually use the following match types: BO3 or BO5.

Double Elimination Bracket:

This is where two brackets are used to progress teams or players towards a grand final. Entrants first enter the upper bracket stage, which is the same as a single elimination bracket but with one key difference.

The winning team will still progress onto the next stage of the tournament. However, the losing team will drop down to a second bracket, known as the lower bracket, which will also lead right up to the grand final.

If you lose a game in the lower bracket, you are eliminated from the tournament.

The grand final can be played out in one of two ways in a double elimination format. The first is that the upper bracket winner begins the final 1-0 up. The second, often found in fighting game tournaments, is that the upper bracket winners only need to win the grand final to be declared the champions. The lower bracket winner has a more difficult task: they must win the initial grand final to ‘reset the bracket’. If they do this, another grand final is played and the winner is declared the champion.

Want to know more? We have a video breaking down the different tournament formats in esports, with examples. The video can be found here.

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