Tournament Design – Longsword Mixed Team Relay – SoCal 2023

Every year, SoCal Swordfight hosts an Experimental Tournament in addition to its regular tournament lineup. This is to try out tournament formats that are less proven, and it changes each year. Sometimes it’s lame* (like using a historical saber ruleset) or really out there (like rotella & spear). This year I got a shot at picking it, and this is how I went about the design process. 

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Sean and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the rest of the SoCal Swordfight Organizational Team.

IMPORTANT NOTE: During the design process I was actively getting feedback from the rest of the team. So while I was writing the rules it’s not like the rest of the SoCal team didn’t have contributions. But for the sake of brevity (and also because I don’t remember in that much detail) this is just going to be referring to “my” design.

Concept

It’s no secret I really liked the Longsword Relay format that I debuted at AG Open 2022 (Longsword Teams Is Awesome: Here’s What Went Down At AG Open). To summarize the AGO Longsword Relay format:

“A match shall consist of a series of 1v1 matches between the team members. Team members must compete in the order based on their final ranking in the individual longsword tournament, from lowest to highest ranked fighter.

Each team will start with 0 points. At the end of every exchange the points a fencer is awarded will be added to their team score. Once a team exceeds 5 points they will force their opponent to switch to their 2nd fighter, and after 10 points the opposing team will switch to their 3rd fighter.”

This was a blast at AG Open, and was almost everyone’s favorite part of the event. But when I proposed this to the team they had concerns: “it kind of feels like we are just cramming another longsword tournament in”. Which is very fair. So the next idea was to have each fighter use a different weapon: Longsword, Saber, Rapier.

The interesting twist: because of the format, whenever you are doing a switch-over between fighters you get a mixed weapons contest until they tie up the score and switch to the next fighter. 

Weapon Selection

While the design of the tournament is inherently a little goofy, given the ability to do mixed weapons, I wanted it to still be a somewhat ‘serious’ tournament. Or even just “not a big joke”. So rather than a free for all “bring anything” (which I’ve seen at other events),explicit weapon definitions and roles for the teams were decided. The weapons were based on the three ‘main’ weapons fought at SoCal, and care had to be taken to balance the game for a mixed weapon tournament as opposed to a longsword only game.

First design constraint: because any given fighter might have to fight vs longsword they all MUST be wearing gear that is suitable for longsword sparring.

The sabers used in the SoCal saber tournament are already of a “heavier” design, with gymnasium sabers not allowed. And as such, proper HEMA longsword quality gloves are required for the tournaments. So everyone who wanted to do saber was already ready to fight in full longsword gear. 

Rapier… Not so much. Which led to the first equipment concession: arming swords are allowed by the rapier fighter. Since many complex hilted rapiers simply don’t allow longsword-appropriate gloves, we needed weapon options that could accommodate them. This meant possibly no hilt, so at that point it made sense just to open it up to any cruciform straight single handed sword. (Though arming swords could still only thrust, in accordance with the rapier rules.)

In terms of offhand for rapiers, it was naturally assumed most people would use a dagger. But to have some fun we also included buckler as an option, as it was a valid historical companion. And as such we gave people who were really sad that SoCal no longer did Sword and Buckler the opportunity to relive past glory by pretending they were rapier fighters.

I also included the cloak as a viable offhand in the draft list as a joke, but then forgot to remove it before the rules got published. So we were stuck with cloak as an acceptable offhand choice for rapier. 😅

Team Order

One major difference from the AGO LS Relay was that in AGO format the team order was always fixed, with the least experienced going first and the best going last. But this didn’t work for the SoCal Mixed Relay, on account of not being able to pair the weapons and the skill levels. (Unless I just assume the longsword fencer is the best.) So instead what we did was randomize the weapon order every match, giving everyone a statistically equal opportunity to go out and fight. (Randomize for the match, not the teams. Both teams had the same order.)

Logistics/Team Selection

In terms of making the tournament be a little bit less goofy I also adopted the team formation guidelines I had used in the Longsword Relay format. 

The intent of not allowing mixed teams was to encourage people to fight with their clubmates over forming super-teams with their friends, and to get a little bit of school pride on the line and identity to the matches. (Not to mention keeping the tournament to a reasonable size. SoCal is a crazy huge event.)

In the end, after drops, we had 84 competitors: 28 school teams and 1 mixed pickup team. But there is another issue with this, one which I had for AG Open 2022, and had to deal with again in SoCal 2023. How do I keep track of the team registrations? 

When you sign up for an event, normally you register for your tournaments and it’s done and taken care of. There might be some drops to deal with, but in general people are coming to you for that, not the other way around. For the teams I need to know what they are ahead of time, or it’s going to be a nightmare and a huge delay in starting the tournament.

At the start we just had people registering for the Relay with no indication of what team they were on. Then later we got smart and added text fields to the registration form for people to assign what teams they wanted to be in. Which you think would solve this, but tended to result in people trying to form teams that:

  • Had one or more members not registered in the Relay tournament.
  • Had a member not even registered in the event.
  • Had one or more members not registered as part of the same school.
  • Had one person claimed by multiple teams.

So while this was helpful, it still didn’t really solve the problem. Not to mention all the people who had signed up prior to this. So it was back to the default option: mass email to all the people. Nooooo. 😭

Doing a mass email as an organizer is a horrible task because a ton of people never even read them, and never get back to you. And you’re always astounded by how many people sign up for something without knowing what it is or knowing the rules. But fortunately I was, eventually, able to get all the correct people into the tournament, club assignments correct, and teams sorted out. And in general people were very supportive of the work I was putting in and expressed appreciation. Remember folks, your overworked volunteer event organizers do appreciate when you recognize their efforts!

Also email clients really have trouble properly threading messages when you send a BCC to 80 people and have them all replying back independently.

(For the record, I had the same problem later in the year at AG Open 2023, and have yet to think of a good solution.)

Implementation

And so we arrive on the day of the event. Given historical difficulties with getting people to read the rules and understand the tournament format I was somewhat worried going into it that we would have a lot of disappointed rapier fencers showing up to gear check and being told their equipment didn’t pass. But…. everyone had all the correct equipment and there were no issues! Which was already a huge win, before the tournament even started. (Oh, and BTW this was the first tournament of the event, so I was trying to get it running while everything else was being set up.)

The not-so-win part of this was that we had not been able to get judges sourced for the tournament ahead of time. Which led to a system where Pool 2 judges Pool 1, which isn’t that bad, and helped keep the casual and fun environment for the pools. In line with everyone showing up to the gear check with the correct equipment, it seemed like everyone also understood the rules pretty well. So there weren’t any major logistical hiccups with execution.

The final structure was:

  • 10 pools (run in 2 sets of 5 pools. With the second set judging the first, and vice versa)
  • 1 single elimination bracket.

Of course I wasn’t sitting on my hands during the pools, and was able to source some judges for the eliminations. I don’t have a ton to say about them, because at that point I was already running around trying to get the next tournament started!

Overall Reflection

All in all I think the tournament was a huge success. It capitalized on the fun of the existing Relay format, andmixed weapons was an exciting addition. Because it was a very rigid classification of weapons that were already included in competitive fencing I felt it kept the focus on having a fun fencing tournament feel, rather than a wacky tournament vibe that most mixed weapons outings exude.

Overall I’d love to do this at an event again sometime, but alas Mixed Weapon Relay’s moment as the SoCal Experiment Tournament has come and gone. So I have to find some other event with time to spare in its schedule. And if you read this and thought “that sure sounds cool”, I definitely encourage you to run a Relay event of your own!


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