So I'm going to write a series of articles for the number of people out there who've asked about running their own NOVA at RTTs and major GTs, but who have questions about various things ... some of these come up more often, so sharing my thoughts on it might be helpful to all.
First off, for this article, a couple of what I consider myths ...
1) Battle Points (BP) and Swiss Pairing (SP) are superior to Opposite Seed (within w/l bracket) Pairing (OSP) and Rating Points (RP). Let's screw with you guys and use acronyms from here on out.
There's a phenomenon that in an open invite tournament you cannot address effectively - Baby Seals.
In the first rounds of a tournament, depending on the size, the odds are high that a couple of things will happen across a number of players:
A) Skilled players will randomly draw Unskilled players (aka Baby Seals) and score very powerful wins off them. In either the NOVA's RP system or the standard BP system, this invariably results in them being a high seed in Round 2.
B) Skilled players will randomly draw other Skilled players and while one will win, both will score very low in the RP or BP approaches.
The unavoidable nature of these issues brings about the question of what you want your tournament to achieve. Do you want it to advance the largest number of skilled players as far as possible, or do you want it to have players bludgeon each other every step along the way?
Also, how much do you value a loss vs. scale of wins?
Some people, those who propose the "traditional" BP and SP approaches, suggest that quality of win is far more important than simply "barely winning" a bunch of games that go to tiebreaker. The NOVA system advocates undefeated as the "best" unbiased determiner. Why do these conflict and where should the emphasis lie?
Let's look at things for a second here;
Presuming A and B above are true, which system is fairest?
For a system that rewards you for SCALE of victory, A and B yield two results:
A - The player who drew the "baby seal" is greatly rewarded for his large win.
B - The player who drew the tough first rounder is greatly punished for his marginal win.
Does this make any sense?
For a system that rewards you for simple victory, A and B yield two results:
A - The player who drew the "baby seal" advances
B - The player who drew the tough first rounder advances
Hrm, this seems to be an easy one ... win/loss should trump scale of win, b/c scale of win places instant long-term value on how easy your first draw was or wasn't, and that's entirely random.
What about pairing, then?
In the NOVA system, the person who clubbed the baby seal gets a high seed, and plays someone with a much lower seed ... which could be B in the example above, but could also be someone weak who simply barely beat another weak player. In that latter example, the person who clubbed the Baby Seal gets by rule ... ANOTHER BABY SEAL.
What about the traditional swiss approach, where the baby seal clubber in the above example plays the person just below him in rating? Is that superior? Doesn't it prevent the baby seal clubber from being rewarded too greatly for his big win?
Well, maybe. Let's talk this one out a little.
If the person who wins against a weak opponent in Round 1 faces another weak opponent, and crushes him (again), is your system failing? Someone who can beat 2 baby seals advances (we haven't proven he can beat a tough opponent yet, but we haven't proven he can't either), and 2 baby seals are now knocked down to the win/loss brackets they'll be more comfortable in.
What happens if someone at the bottom of the rankings who faces the baby seal clubber actually is there b/c of situation B from a while ago above (he faced another tough opponent and barely won)? Well, the baby seal clubber now gets his litmus test, doesn't he? Either he "belongs" at a high seed / in the winners' bracket, or he doesn't.
The catch-all here is that in a w/l situation (no ties) where you pare it down to a single undefeated finisher, invariably anyone who drew lucky rounds earlier on will face a tough opponent and be knocked out. Until then, he'll at the WORST provide you the service of knocking unworthy winners out of the winners' bracket to the spots they belong in. If you go with traditional swiss pairing, the LOWEST RATED winners constantly face each other (as well as the highest). While the worst result of OSP is someone who drew lucky early getting a couple of easy rounds and knocking weak players out, the worst result of traditional swiss is that numerous weak players CONTINUE TO ADVANCE by beating other weak players. Ooops.
This is one that can be argued both ways ... but the fact remains that any argument oriented around "luck" pairings applies to any system equivalently, and I would contest to the NOVA's approach LESS materially ... simply b/c it does it is designed to limit the risk (as much as it can) of high seeds knocking each other out or down early on.
Now we get to the point and purpose of a tournament system ...
Is it to have "balanced" matches in every round? Well, if you've been following along, you can't really accomplish that ... any number of variables early on WILL cause unfair matches in the first couple of rounds NO MATTER WHAT SYSTEM YOU USE. This is amplified when the field grows larger. No matter your system, your first couple of rounds should always be considered a "weeding out" process, where people firmly establish themselves in the brackets to which they belong. This is why for the NOVA Open next year, we'll be clearing w/l records and maintaining seeds for the 2nd day of games, giving people a fresh start within their "proper" division.
So, what should be the purpose then? The later you get in a tournament, the more ACCURATE your seedings are. This is practically a fact ... the more games people have won, the more likely they each are to be talented. As a result, your goal should be to keep the highest seeds away from each other AS LONG AS POSSIBLE, b/c people who maintain their high seeds through multiple rounds generally tend to be the better players. Those who drew unluckily against them earlier may indeed have been just below them or near them in skill, but it's irrelevant ... they will be to a degree vindicated when they personally go through only losing once or so, and when their conquerors go on to the very final top table matches.
Any tournament should seek to pit the VERY BEST players in each w/l bracket against each other only in the FINAL round. OSP tends to accomplish this BETTER than traditional swiss, and that is why numerous events use it. It is true that you should ideally have a comparable statistical set to go off, and should seed people properly from the first round, but barring that it is never "ideal" to pair the higher rankings against each other early, b/c it emphasizes the flaws of early random pairing, instead of ignoring them (you can't effectively "de-emphasize" them).
Rambled a bit ... next important subject ... "How do I do this in a tournament locally when I don't have the time and resources for enough rounds to pare it down to one????"
This answer is much simpler - reward all your undefeated players equally as Tournament Aces or Best Generals.
STOP. Why not? Why is it so critical to have only ONE competitive "best" when numerous candidates have yet to be beaten? This is where traditional BP systems are the worst. This is where those lucky early seal clubbings come into their own. Now among, say, 4 undefeated players ... the people who CRUSHED THEIR ENEMIES ZEE WORST are the ones who actually win. Uh oh. What does this do?
A) It discourages close games
B) It encourages "cheating" the scores and giving opponents you "like" max points, especially late, in order to advance them over people you don't like
C) It encourages tanking people on soft scores when those are components of it
D) It encourages beating the snot out of people mercilessly, even when you already know that you've got them "beat" (and this is probably the worst part - it encourages over the top power gaming instead of tight competitive friendly gaming to win, and no more)
This is what a Best Overall is for, my friends. This is why we have Renaissance Man. Best Overall and Best General become contentious because they are just de facto #1 and #2 in a system that includes soft scores as part of it, and rewards people for massacring opponents to score maximum points instead of simply winning out.
Simplify it, actually prove your "equal love for all in the hobby" statements aren't just bs lip service. You will know based upon attendance how many undefeated finishers you'll have ... it's not complicated at all.
Let's pick a random number ... 20 over 3 rounds, let's say
20 ---> 10 ---> 5 ---> 2-3 (#1 vs. #4, #2 vs #3, #5 2-0 vs. #6 1-1) undefeated after 3 rounds; have prize support for 3 "Tournament Aces" or Best Generals ready and if you only get 2, either give the guy who beat #5 a prize also, or split #3's prize among #'s 1 and 2 or the Best Overall/Renaissance Man.
It's not complicated, all it takes is a little forethought and a little respect for your players. Do not be a shallow tard and hand your Best General prize to ONE PERSON who numerous other undefeated players have to sit there angrily gnashing their teeth that they didn't get easier draws on the way up or slaughter their foes more mercilessly.
Next, give your Best Overall far more emphasis on appearance and sportsmanship. Why is this important? If the Best Overall is MOSTLY comprised of competitive score, it will almost invariably go to ONE OF THOSE UNDEFEATED PLAYERS. You fall right back into the same problem - the other ones feel punished b/c they didn't have "prettier" armies or because their opponents tanked their sports score. By making competitive finish only ~33% of the composition of the Renaissance Man / Best Overall score, you firmly separate it from Best Generals finishers, and ensure that none of them will feel "gypped" by the result. It's true that one could still win Best Overall, but only by virtue of a truly gorgeous army and phenomenal sports scores. The award itself is mathematically divorced enough that it prevents that rightly angry feeling of being gypped by simply not having enough games to go after each other player.
So reward all. This should be inclusive, all-rewarding, all-fair as a hobby anyway. If you as a TO cannot provide an event that will give them a clear Best General, do not invest all of your prize support into a single Best General award. Fair, simple, etc.
Think outside the box, on everything ... it'll get you somewhere. The number of times I've had people go "WELL WHAT IF I DON'T HAVE ENOUGH ROUNDS" is huge. The number of times when I've replied with "Um, give multiple best generals?" and been answered with "Oh ... duh." Is almost equal.