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Inspecting the Aspects of Competitive TFT: Is Winning Completely Equal?

Photo Courtesy of Riot Games

Robin "Robinsongz" Sung put on one of the most dominating performances in competitive Teamfight Tactics history last weekend. Throughout various stages of TFT competition, we have seen players such as Juanzi, 8LJaywalking, and Double61 string together multiple first or second-place finishes to win big competitions. But Team Liquid's Robinsongz set a new standard on the final day of the NA Regional Qualifiers by accumulating 54 out of a maximum of 60 points through winning five out of six games.

Competitive players in TFT have a couple of metrics that they typically use to determine how good of a player someone is. Skills such as economy management, playing the strongest board, itemization decision making, and following tempo are just some of the million things that the best players keep in mind as they compete. However, there are some things that players keep in mind that aren't always up to them as they play. TFT is infamous for its random or 'RNG' elements that keep players on the tip of their toes. Part of the skill expression of course is doing your best with what you are given. But time and time again, we have seen that at the highest level of play, there are aspects of TFT that are hindering players from getting an equal chance at claiming victory.

Colloquially, TFT players speak of two different directions that their games can take - low roll or high roll. These terms are how the community has come to describe how their RNG has materialized in-game. 'Low rolling' depicts the RNG elements of the game going against one's favor. Low rolling can take place anywhere from what items you get dropped to what units appear in your shop. There is a general consensus of strong and weak in TFT. Receiving the weakest units and items by chance means you are low rolling, while at the same time in the same game another player can be high rolling. This means that in comparison they are, through RNG, simply receiving stronger items and units. This is something that frustrates any casual or competitive TFT player, and at the highest level of competition can result in serious consequences.

At the NA Regional Finals, Robinsongz came into the day with a clear plan and strategy. Through observing his board priorities, we can see that he was able to minimize having a weak early game through RNG by consistently playing the four Knight board or the Sentinel Skirmisher board which both consist of easy units to find in the early game. Robin played well, and this is not written to diminish his achievement. But we can see that there were aspects of the game that impacted the standings in this tournament quite a bit. First, Tome of Traits being dropped at stage three Krugs provided significant board strength for select lucky players. This means that other players who did not high roll tome of traits took more damage on average in the early game when they had to face these players who randomly were able to receive an extra boost to their synergies. Second, receiving bad item combinations in the early game is incredibly punishing. For example, in the final game, C9 K3soju began as third place in the overall standings which meant a strong performance would solidify him a spot in the World Championship. He was forced to start with a Negatron cloak and went on to only receive another Negatron cloak from the first set of minions which is notoriously known as a bad item start to any game of TFT. He, unfortunately, ended the game in seventh place, knocking himself out of world's qualification.

Ultimately, skill expression is obvious and represented in many ways in competitive TFT. But the competitive format is not perfect, and the game is understandably not perfect yet for competition. We have to wonder if there are things that can change to make the experience more satisfying for both players and viewers. There are steps the game can take to move forward in competitive integrity, and I'm excited to see what the TFT team decides for the future of the game.