Altador Cup V: Preseason Pontification
It's the month of Hunting, and while everyone's busy hunting down Tarla, there's an issue on the back-burner of most Neopians' minds: the Altador Cup. It's coming back for a fifth year and it's rumored that it will bring a number of changes to the tournament nearly everyone knows and most of us love. And while what's really going to go down has to wait until it's game time, we can take a look back at previous changes to see how the Altador Cup Committee will alter things this time around. History does repeat itself, you know. History does repeat itself, you know.
So let's get started, first, with disclaimers: I don't know anything for sure; I'm not psychic. (Psycho, perhaps, but that's for you to know and me to find out. Wait a sec...) This is just healthy speculation designed to entertain, educate, and eradicate any false notions some Neopians have out there about certain issues. If you're reading this article, I hope you've got some knowledge about the AC already, because I use common Neoboard abbreviations in the article which may confuse you. Sorry. Try to follow along? And finally, chicken is the best. (Except for the vegetarians in the house--go spring onions!)
1. Who's playing?
In the first Altador Cup, there were sixteen teams. Since then, there has been, oddly enough, sixteen teams competing every year--although there have been seventeen teams since ACII, when Shenkuu joined in on the fun. In ACII, Kreludor sat out due to gravity concerns. Kiko Lake lost their way in ACIII and missed the Cup, and Brightvale decided studying was more important and spectated ACIV.
This year, all signs point to the inclusion of a team from Moltara. Murmurers have murmured about the creation of a snazzy team logo--and some lucky few claim to have seen it!--as well as some practicing behind closed gears. Will perennial fan favorites like Shenkuu and Lost Desert rue the day our beloved AotA crew helped out the wonderful Neopians of Moltara, or will they be competition for unfortunate bottom-dwellers like Faerieland and Altador? Time will tell the tale...
In addition, instead of including all eighteen teams, two teams may sit out. This doesn't seem highly likely, considering that eighteen is just as round a number as sixteen, but as the next section explains, sixteen is a better number when it comes to the finals...
2. So how will the finals work?
A fine question, this, because with eighteen teams involved the finals get a little tough to figure out. In ACI, the format was a single-elimination bracket; 16 teams were whittled down to eight, then four, and finally two (Darigan Citadel and the champions, Haunted Woods). In ACII, the format changed to the familiar double round robin swiss format, meaning each team played each other twice. Fans on teams who missed out on the top four spots once the dust cleared were allowed to piggy-back onto a Top 4 team in the final match-ups; the first seed played the second, and the third seed played the fourth. In ACIII, teams were separated into four tiers of four upon completion of the double round robin, and everyone fought for placement within a tier; the top seed played the bottom-ranked seed in each tier, and the middle two played each other. Winners played winners and losers played losers to determine final rankings in each tier--so someone in 5th place could fall to 8th, or one in 4th could rise to 1st.
With eighteen teams, both options appear difficult. Single-elimination would mean several teams would have a bye round in the first week. And four tiers of four won't be so easy with eighteen, which isn't divisible by four. While it seems illogical that the double round robin will be sandblasted, the finals may get updated. Here are some of the numerous choices:
A. Two tiers of nine teams each: a giant mess all around, and unlikely.
B. Nine tiers of two teams each: viable, but not much movement between ranks. Unlikely.
C. Six tiers of three teams each: a bit better, considering the bottom two seeds would play each other and then the winner would play the top seed for the top rank, but the third team would get gypped. Not probable.
D. Three tiers of six teams each: much better. A classic bracket would have the third seed versus the sixth, the fourth versus the fifth, and the top two teams on a bye in the first round. The winner of the 3 vs. 6 match would play the second seed; the other, the first seed. Then the winners would play out. This only works as a single-elimination bracket, though, unless one gets creative in how the losers play out their matches (e.g. the first two losers would duke it out for the bottom two spots in the tier, and the second two losers would duke it out for the middle two spots). Unwieldy, but it works.
E. Four tiers of four teams each, and one two-team tier of four-day play (!!) for the top two seeds. This is the most likely variant, as far as I can see. It retains the ACIII and IV format for places 3 through 18, and calls back the ACII format for the top two teams. A four-day final would be exhausting, surely, but entertaining. I see this as a highly likely possibility--it's either this, or a completely different revamp of the finals process, which is also highly probable.
3. Which side games will be available?
Early reports have confirmed that both Slushie Slinger and Make Some Noise are back in, which only seems logical since their inclusion in ACII. Whether or not the format of these games will change remains to be seen, but why fix something if it ain't broke? As for Shootout Showdown, which was just included last year, things aren't so clear. But I see no reason why it wouldn't. Terror Mountain and Virtupets fans rejoice, eh?
A fourth side game would be a dangerous inclusion. As seen across the finals last year, a team who sweeps the side games but loses the main event (Yooyuball) loses the match. To add a fourth game would perhaps upset that balance--would a sweep of four games and a loss in YYB mean a draw? An overall win? Then what would be the point of playing YYB, one might wonder? Three games seems like enough.
4. Which team should I join?
Choosing a team is a difficult one. Some pick a team based on which world is their favorite. Others are drawn to the team's logo, colors, or personalities of the players. Still others go by the team's reputation, either in-game or the fans' reputation on the Neoboards. And of course there are those who select a team based on the past finishes and likelihood that they will do well this year. For your convenience, a brief history of each team's performance, listed alphabetically and place listed from ACI through ACIV from left to right:
Altador: 14th place, 13th place, 13th place, 15th place.
Brightvale: 8th place, 12th place, 16th place, DNP (Did Not Play)
Darigan Citadel: 2nd place, 1st place, 7th place, 7th place.
Faerieland: 16th place, 15th place, 15th place, 16th place.
Haunted Woods: 1st place, 7th place, 8th place, 10th place.
Kiko Lake: 13th place, 15th place, DNP, 14th place.
Krawk Island: 3rd place, 4th place, 2nd place, 1st place.
Kreludor: 9th place, DNP, 6th place, 4th place.
Lost Desert: 5th place, 5th place, 3rd place, 3rd place.
Maraqua: 10th place, 9th place, 10th place, 5th place.
Meridell: 7th place, 8th place, 5th place, 11th place.
Moltara: DNP, DNP, DNP, DNP.
Mystery Island: 6th place, 6th place, 9th place, 6th place.
Roo Island: 4th place, 2nd place, 1st place, 9th place.
Shenkuu: DNP, 3rd place, 4th place, 2nd place.
Terror Mountain: 15th place, 10th place, 12th place, 13th place.
Tyrannia: 11th place, 11th place, 11th place, 8th place.
Virtupets: 12th place, 16th place, 14th place, 12th place.
5. Okay, but what are the teams like?
It would be subjective to cast my opinion on any team's general demeanor. My best advice is to go to the Neoboards yourself (the Virtupets and Other Worlds boards in the off-season, or the latest plot board) and find the chat groups dedicated to the AC team of your choice. Or check out the descriptions of each team to see how the players gel. What I can tell you is what the teams' strengths are and/or have been across the Cups.
Altador: Slushie Slinger seems to be their best game. Don't underestimate them in Make Some Noise, either.
Brightvale: Another side-game worrywart. Beware their Shootout Showdown ability--they've never played it before, and we might have another VP on our hands...
Darigan Citadel: Yooyuball, without a doubt, has been their strength. They've also shown strength in SOSD and, to an extent, MSN.
Faerieland: If you're going to worry about FL, play YYB. In ACII, they were SS win stealers, but those days are, presumably, long past.
Haunted Woods: They can hang with the big dogs in any game, but beware their MSN and SS abilities the most.
Kiko Lake: They turned on the SOSD last Cup, and I wouldn't sniff at their MSNing either.
Krawk Island: Um, everything? Their only weak spot, if you can call it one, is in SOSD.
Kreludor: Side games carried them to the first seed in ACIV, although Kreludor's YYB ability can be scary at times. Their strengths, however, are in SS and SOSD.
Maraqua: They became awfully scary at YYB in the back half of ACIV. Watch their SS too, or you'll get pwned faster than you can blink.
Meridell: The Slushie kings and queens of ACIII. Watch out for their YYB and MSN as well.
Mystery Island: The kings and queens of unpredictability. Only in SS could you safely count them out.
Roo Island: The Slushie kings and queens of old, before Meridell and Tyrannia took the helm. Beware the Rooligans in YYB, or you'll get burned.
Terror Mountain: More than solid in SOSD, and a match for any team in that event.
Tyrannia: The renowned Slushie champions of late. They've also started to pick up their MSN game.
Virtupets: VP + SOSD = WIN. Take them on in it at your peril. Beware also MSN.
6. How will Moltara do?
We've only got one example to fall back on for Moltara, and that's Shenkuu. When they entered as a new team in ACII, they lagged in the early rounds and came on strong near the end. They are now a perennial powerhouse, and slated for a win by many. Shenkuu's strengths in ACII were SS and then YYB, with MSN not far behind. Since Moltara will be looking for confidence fast, I'd lay odds that their YYB and SS skills will be feared the most, since those two games have the most weight. If Moltara gets that confidence early, anything could happen. The first week can make or break a team. Plus, Shenkuu has a whole different vibe than Moltara, who's far more steampunk than Shenkuu ever was. Sometimes it's the world itself that brings the best fans...
Side note--what's this team's abbreviation? Even this we don't know. The consensus seems divided between ML and MT, with a slight edge to the latter. I guess it'll be like Shenkuu, who goes by either SH or SK at any given time. Funny coincidence, that another new-worlder seems to be following that trend...
7. Who's going to be the sweetheart story?
In ACII, it was Shenkuu. In ACIII, Tyrannia got the nod. In ACIV, Virtupets took the reins. This year someone's got to surprise, and the chances are numerous. Rumors say MQ is looking to ride their late-season wave to the first tier. Meridell and Haunted Woods promise comebacks. And there's no MSN champion (although TY, KI, and KD had the best records in ACIV), no real dominator... so any team's free to take the reins.
My picks? Watch for Kiko Lake to vie for the role of an MSN dominator and steal our hearts in the process. Beware MQ in the YYB ring. MD and HW will surprise in SS. And TM should continue to improve at SOSD.
8. How will Brightvale do, coming off a rest year? And will Krawk Island be affected by the "winner's curse"?
KL showed us that teams who weren't so hot when they went out don't necessarily get better coming back in. BV wasn't doing so well when they went out, but who knows--they could come in again like a Noil. A really... fierce Noil. As already noted, their side game skills could be the difference maker, and they've yet to play a game of SOSD. Maybe that'll be their game?
As for KI--well, whichever team wins the AC tends to tank the next year. This is called the "winner's curse." See HW and RI for details; they've yet to really recover from their "curse." DC, a (presumably) larger team than either HW or RI, seems to have stabilized into tier 2 play, which seems natural. KI was as large, or larger than DC (presumably), so who knows? KI might still be a powerhouse... or it might take them a year to return to at least high tier 2 status.
9. What are your predictions?
Everyone's got them, and this wouldn't be a proper ACV projection article without them. Here are my guesses, which are fairly conservative. (At least, I think so.)
1st: Lost Desert
4th: Darigan Citadel
6th: Krawk Island
9th: Mystery Island
11th: Haunted Woods
12th: Roo Island
14th: Terror Mountain
16th: Kiko Lake
10. What other changes could be made?
We might get a new Yooyuball, for one; the inclusion of new Yooyus in ACII and III spiced up the main game considerably. A new field could rejuvenate the main game as well. Expanding the maximum game cap on any of the games could be interesting--imagine being able to play 2000 games of SOSD per day if you wanted! (I can see VP players swooning as I type.) There could also be a significant alteration to the schedule itself, including maybe only one round robin or, dare I say it: rest days for teams! (Something we'd all love, without a doubt.)
But what's most likely? The finals format will change. All eighteen teams should be participating. As for anything else... the Committee will rule, and we'll have to wait to find out.
Until then, thanks for reading. I will once again say that any opinions in this article are simply that--opinions. I sure as Sloth don't know anything without a doubt. I'm privy to no secret information. And I have a bias, being a longtime Kreludor supporter, but I've tried to put that aside for journalism's sake. In this moment, I will say this: a happy Cup to all. May you keep your head on the Neoboards and may your scoreboards be forever true. Also, chicken.