Heyo, Julian Schuetze here on behalf of the collective. This is a topic that's been rattling around in my head for the last few years, and I was debating whether or not I wanted to talk about it because this may come across as me telling other people they're wrong, and they should listen to me instead because I'm right. I do not want it to come off that way, so I just want to make it clear that I'm not implying that I'm so smart and everyone should just do what I think - but rather just expressing from the POV of an event organizer what I've been thinking about and providing some ideas that others may find interesting or useful.
I've organized many events over the years, some of them quite large (several hundred people), some of them quite small (less than a dozen). I would consider myself a pretty seasoned event organizer, which has allowed me to start thinking a lot more about the bigger picture of running these kinds of events, as opposed to exclusively spending all my effort/focus panicking on logistics, like I did at the beginning. One of the main thoughts I've been thinking a lot about, is that many events (including ones I ran for a while) are spending too much time coming up with formats and rulesets that cater towards the wrong people & demographic. At this point I feel that too many events come up with rulesets & formats in order to try and identify "who is the best at this event today", and don't take enough into account everyone else.
This Article from SwordStem "A Win is a Win: How Weighted Point Values Don’t Affect Match Outcomes" looks at many tournaments and one of the main outcomes is that better fencers hit others more, get hit less, and therefore, ultimately how the scoring is set up is relatively irrelevant (it still affects behaviour, but not particularly the outcome of matches. That's its own topic I won't get into here). Ultimately, if your ruleset means that the person who hits the other more gets more points, they will win matches and potentially the event. So as long as that's not completely butchered, in my opinion, means that your event should be formatted in a way that everyone else who doesn't win gets their money's and time's worth. I guarantee you if you ask the top 4 of most events if they felt the event was worth it, they will answer "of course!", but if you ask everyone else, chances are you will have a mixed reception. Why?
Let's imagine this. A participant shows up to an event. Pools of 4 are set up, so they get 3 matches. They start their first match, and they lose in 1 exchange because they got hit by a controlled thrust, and the ruleset heavily rewarded that. Oh, okay. 2 more matches, let's argue that they're pretty standard, so they win 1 and lose the other. Because this participant lost 2 matches, they will not be making elims. This participant has paid money to come to the event, probably booked time off to make it, probably paid for accommodations and travel. Was this tournament experience worth their investment? No. No it wasn't. This scenario is even worse if pools of 3 are involved. I've seen this scenario happen to many people across many events over the years and it always bothered me. Those events, as fun as they were, were not structured in a way that respected all of their participant's investments to come and play. The 1 hit exchange means that both this participant and their opponent did not get the opportunity to really learn from their match, and only having 2 other matches is also not a large amount of time to get feedback from. This is also intentionally ignoring the possibility of judging related issues which would also impact enjoyability.
I'm not saying my event ran perfectly, but let's compare that to a Messer tournament I ran back in 2022. I borrowed Bayoufecht's 5 exchange cap. 5 exchanges per match with a 3 minute continuous timer, means that you can run pools much, much, much faster. This let us run 2 full rounds of pools of 6 in what would be a hair longer than running 1 round of pools of 5 in previous events I've run. This meant that every participant was guaranteed 10 matches, with 10 different people, and generally around 50 exchanges. In this system, even if someone did not make their elims, that is an incredible amount of value. The overwhelming feedback we got is that 5 exchanges was perfect, because it was enough to get a good feel for the match & feedback for improvement, but not too long which allowed for more matches. Everyone that we've asked said that they would prefer more matches that are shorter, than fewer matches that last longer. Every single person that I talked to about that event stated that they felt that the event was worth the time and money to participate in. That's because I specifically had everyone else in mind when coming up with this event format, not just focusing on the best way to identify the winners.
I want to make it clear I'm not saying that my event is the solution, and everyone should listen to me because everyone else is wrong and they suck and I'm so smart. But I do bring this up because I feel we see too many events that spend so much time and effort focused on the wrong demographic for the tournament - which as a result shorthands a lot of the value of the event for the majority of the participants. As the swordstem article suggests, how you format your rules doesn't matter because the people who are better (should) win anyway. Instead, I really feel events should take a look at everyone else, and make sure that even if someone loses every match in the fastest ways possible, they feel that your event was considerate and respectful of their investment. There's many ways to do that, and I would love to hear from others your solutions & ideas.
We acknowledge that The Historical Combat Collective operates on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Kwikwetlem, Sto:lo and Songhees First Nations Peoples. We are grateful to have the opportunity to gather, work, and train on this land.