Last week’s comments on the NA Silver League explained the problem of server mismatch rather briefly. Let’s explore that at some length using boxing weight classes as a metaphor. TLDR: the week’s WvW matchup is only competitive if at least two servers are in the same weight class with no one from a higher weight class, so most weeks will not have competitive matchups for most servers.
The idea of the three leagues is to divide the servers into three weight classes, but reality is more finely parsed than that. Wikipedia lists seventeen weight classes for American boxing, and some alternate systems add more to the top instead of capping at “heavyweight” (like “super heavyweight”).
Absent unusual circumstances, assume that someone from a higher weight class will always beat someone from a lower weight class. It might be a close fight between a flyweight and a light flyweight, but a welterweight should crush a featherweight. (Some few people fight consistently above their weight class, which fits perfectly into our metaphor because servers with strong WvW guilds can consistently beat more populated servers without strong WvW representation. Just consider them to be the weight class they fight in for the purposes of this discussion; “weight” is determined by WvW strength, not total server population.)
In a three-cornered fight, two people from a lower weight class would have a legitimate chance if they teamed up against a higher weight boxer. In practice, boxers are not trained to coordinate, so people get in each others’ way, hit each other, etc. The martial arts movie standard of attacking Bruce Lee one at a time is not (quite) as ridiculous as it seems. In WvW, coordination is even less feasible; imagine that each boxer has hundreds of arms that are independently controlled and that none of the boxers can communicate directly with each other in the ring. If coordination were more feasible, you might expect the Eternal Battlegrounds to usually have the two losing servers fighting the winning server, for example both Red and Blue attacking a Green Stonemist Castle from opposite sides or Red stabbing Green in the back when Green presses Blue; I more often see Green zerging one side of Blue while Red poaches a Blue tower or goes after Blue’s borderlands. To borrow a different metaphor, it is easier for the hyena to scavenge from the lion’s kills than to attack the lion.
Setting that aside, the TLDR takeaway should be an easy conclusion. If your trio is a middleweight, a lightweight, and a flyweight, the middleweight will win. If you have two flyweights and a middleweight, the middleweight will win. If you have two middleweights and a flyweight, one of the middleweights will win and the flyweight is gonna have a bad time. If you have three middleweights, this will be a really great week of WvW.
Those last two options are competitive, although only for the middleweight servers. If you live for the fight, rather than the easy win or the crushing loss, no one is having much fun except the middleweights in the last two options. The flyweights are always getting crushed, and that one lightweight is not doing much better. There will be some good individual fights and great moments, but most fights will be 2v1 or 1vNPC, neither of which is good PvP.
If you like playing in godmode, or if you prefer to lose, this situation is great for you. The goal of the system, however, is to create roughly balanced fights. I saw this work perfectly recently, in a highly competitive matchup where the servers’ scores were within a thousand points of each other all week and all three servers had the lead at some point. Ideally, that is supposed to happen “often” rather than “once that I remember.”
Ideally, if you have three leagues, you have three weight classes: heavyweights in gold, middleweights in silver, lightweights in bronze. The system of seventeen weight classes is closer to the WvW reality, and we may need that “super heavyweight” class.
Note that the leagues are of defined sizes. If you have seven heavyweights, the lightest one fights with the middleweights. Maybe the heaviest middleweight is competitive with the lightest heavyweight, but that is more of a hope than a plan and not much solace everyone else in that league.
I do not know Gold League well, but my understanding is that there are 2-3 super heavyweights and 4-6 heavyweights (depending on how you rank those, last minute server transfers, etc.). Given population caps and the difficulty of coordination, being a super heavyweight does not grant a huge advantage, so I expect most weeks to be mostly competitive at the top, but I imagine that the #6 server in Gold is going to be in some pain.
I am also led to believe that at least three servers were competing for that #6 slot, so there will be some heavyweights in Silver. Silver certainly has some cruiserweights. The same probably applies to the bottom of Silver and top of Bronze, but that group of 4-6 bantamweight servers seems more tightly clustered.
I think we have laid out all the pieces. Let’s combine them. Because I play in NA Silver, which has nine servers, I am going to run through the cases with nine servers.
In the best case scenario, everyone in a league is in the same weight class and every week is competitive. In the worst case scenario, everyone in a league is in a different weight class and no week is competitive. The first we know to be false. The second is unlikely but may be closer to reality. Let’s see what happens if we assume that each league has contains several weight classes.
Consider the easy case of three trios in a group of nine: A beats B beats C, and your nine teams are AAABBBCCC. The best week will be AAA/BBB/CCC. We have a pre-determined winner when there is an A in each matchup: ABC/ABC/ABC or ABC/ABB/ACC, and remember that there are several combinations possible for those (A1B1C1, A1B1C2, A1B1C3, A1B2C1, A1B2C2, A1B2C3, A1B3C1, A1B3C2, A1B3C3, repeat for A2 and A3). When two As are paired, that matchup is competitive (with a guaranteed loss for the B or C), the matchup with the other A is predetermined (A wins), and the third may be competitive (BBB, BBC, and CCC are; BCC is not). Note that the only times a C can win a week is when the matches are AAA/BBB/CCC or AAB/ABB/CCC. Otherwise, you know you are going to lose as a C.
You can re-do this with different numbers of As, Bs, and Cs to see what happens. The more As you have, the more guaranteed losses you have for everyone except those As. The fewer As you have, the fewer competitive weeks you have for As, because A automatically wins unless the trio has another A. If you do not have at least 3 Cs, all the Cs always lose because there is never a CCC week.
I suggested that the reality was closer to ABCDEFGHI. It almost certainly is not that bad, but let’s see what happens if you just expand it from three weight classes in a league to four: AABBBCCDD.
First, we know that an A will win the league and no D will ever win a single matchup. Second, the “best week” has fallen to the one where three Bs face each other; in every other possible matchup, either one server is definitely going to win or one is definitely going to lose (or both). AAB, AAC, and AAD are competitive weeks for the As, but that third server is just a tetherball of pain (metaphor mixed again). The same applies (with slightly less pain) to BBC, BBD, and CCD. We already established that ABB, ABC, ABD, ACC, ACD, ADD, BCC, BCD, BDD, and CDD are all matchups where you know the winner before it starts.
The more weight classes you have in a league and the more spread they are, the more difficult it is to create competitive matchups, even defining “competitive” as “two of the three have a chance while the third has a guaranteed loss.”
The reality of WvW is not as clearly defined as weight classes and ABCs, but it is probably a lot closer than many servers are willing to admit to themselves. Also, you can argue about whether A1 is a super middleweight or a light heavyweight, and you can argue about whether C1 is a super bantamweight or a featherweight, but you cannot argue that C1 has much of a chance against A1. There is some fuzziness at the margins, but with NA Silver reportedly having 4-5 weight classes, those margins matter in a couple of the matchups in a couple of the weeks, which is not a lot out of 21 matchups over Season One.
As I said, I expect Gold to be more competitive: fewer servers, closer weights. For those who care about WvW, all eyes are at the top.
Bronze, I am led to believe, is more of a DDEEELLLM situation (instead of ABC). That could be strangely interesting. There will be a bit of a fight at the top, and the lower ranks get to be competitive with each other even if they will get stomped by the top. In boxing, weight differences matter more at lower weights because a few pounds is a few percent difference, but in WvW, the smaller the values the more sheer randomness is a factor. Bronze could have some really fun matchups, or it could be just utter crap for everyone. As I said, randomness.
But that’s just me, no WvW expert, writing this Friday before Season One starts. We have two months of experimenting with WvW seasons ahead, so please be sure to come back and crow if I am hideously wrong and a huge Silver whiner yaddah yah. And if the leagues are much neater on the EU servers: awesome, go you.
Americans love an underdog, but in American fiction, the underdog usually wins.