Popular Tournament Formats in Esports – A Complete Guide

While conventional sports have stayed with traditional game patterns, esports organisers continue to experiment with tournament structures in order to strike a balance between optimal spectator experiences and fair outcomes, and this is a particularly touchy subject among esports enthusiasts.

Esports employs a range of tournament formats, ranging from round robins to single eliminations, the Swiss system and so forth. There are several parallels to traditional sports. Let's take a look at the many esports formats available.

Esports events can be either highly complicated or basic. However, it is extremely beneficial for both tournament organisers and esports aficionados to be aware of all the formats and how they interact with one another.

What are the various tournament formats in esports? In esports, there are four major tournament formats: single-elimination, double-elimination, round-robin, and Swiss format/seeding.


Additional unique tournament formats that can only be utilised for certain games and genres, such as battle-arena point systems and clan-based tournaments, alternative elimination brackets, or rules like Buchholz system and GSL format that you may have never heard of before.

What are the esports tournament formats?

Via Flickr

Before we go into what tournament formats are, it is necessary to offer a description or some further clarity on what a tournament format is in general and what it particularly means in esports.

What exactly is a tournament format? A tournament format, often known as a tournament bracket, is a set of rules that govern which contestants in a tournament will play against and how they will continue whether they win or lose a match. There are a total of nine different tournament formats.

Single elimination, double elimination, multilevel, straight round-robin, round-robin double split, round-robin triple split, round-robin quadruple split, semi-round robins, and extended brackets are the tournament formats. But don’t worry, these are not the exact terms that you need to keep in mind nor you have to know all the rules and details.

It gets easier from here:

What are esports tournament formats? Esports tournament formats, often known as tournament brackets, are a set of regulations that govern which contestants in a tournament will play against and how they will continue if they win or lose a match. In esports, there are four different competition formats.

As you can see, the definitions are identical, noting that esports only has four major formats.

Although previously mentioned 9 forms are still being utilised, they are being used as slight tweaks to the major formats instead of being used under a different tournament format name.

For example, instead of a round-robin double split, it's called a group stage round-robin.

The 4 Tournament Formats of Apocalypse

Single elimination, double elimination, round-robin, and Swiss stage are the four major tournament forms.


A single elimination format is a linear bracket in which the winning team from each match advances to face the nearest non-eliminated team in the bracket. The losing team in any match will be eliminated after the first defeat.

This approach is of course very brutal and swift for the attendees, resulting in 50% of the players being removed after just their first match and an extra 25% being eliminated after their second match. Independent of how many teams and players have joined up.

This is why single elimination is frequently seen in a playoff bracket and follows a round robin or a swiss – something which we will get to shortly.

This tournament excels at saving time by being the shortest format to operate in esports. Just be aware that it detracts from the player experience owing to the competitive nature of the game and the limited amount of games available in return for less time invested.

Double Elimination

Two linear brackets make up a double elimination tournament. Every team begins in the first bracket, but as a team loses, it moves to the second bracket. Teams who lose in the second round are eliminated, and the grand finals are contested by the champions of both brackets.

This style is often known as double elimination . The names of the two brackets are also significantly dissimilar.

The names of the two brackets are also distinct. The first bracket on which everyone begins is known as the main bracket or mainly known as the winner's bracket, while the second bracket on which the losing teams from the main bracket shift is known as the loser's bracket.

The winners of the main bracket and the loser's bracket compete in what is known as a grand final.

If the winner of the loser's bracket wins the grand finals match, the match enters what is known as a bracket reset, in which the match is replayed as if it had never been played before.

This perk is only available if the loser of the first grand finals match is also the winner of the main bracket, as the main bracket winner has never lost before.

This ensures fairness for the main bracket winner while putting the loser bracket winner at a minor disadvantage since it’s their overall 2nd attempt at winning the tournament.

Bonus: GSL Format

The GSL bracket is a famous and widely used tournament structure, particularly in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and StarCraft II. The name is derived from the 'Global StarCraft II League,' since this event was one of the first and remains one of the most popular to use format to this day.

GSL tournaments include four teams per group and begin with two Opening Matches, two winners and two losers. The two winning teams compete in the Winner’s Match to decide the overall group champion. The losers compete in the Elimination Match, and whoever fails to fulfil there is eliminated from the competition.

But… GSL is Not the Fairest Format of All

Unfortunately, GSL does not pay much attention to losers. DreamHack Open events, for example, often include just Best-of-One games as the Opening Matches. If the player or the team is not performing their best even if it's just for one map, they are immediately pushed to the bottom of the bracket.

Then, one Best-of-Three match determines whether or not you remain in the competition. In this case, Swiss Stages and Round-Robin leagues provide a lot more freedom and flexibility.

There are still concerns with GSL events, mostly because they require very precise seeding.

Round Robin

One of the fairer types of bracket, that usually takes place as a preliminary for playoffs, which then may be followed by the tournament types above.

A round-robin structure requires all contestants to compete against all other competitors, regardless of previous victories and defeats. The winner of this format is chosen by who has the most victories.

This format is nearly always referred to as a round robin.

This bracket structure is divided by rounds, similar to a Swiss format.

This format has the most games and also gives everyone the exact equal amount of games, as it is the only format that does so. As a result, the RR is widely used as a group stage format.

Swiss Format

via Rocket League

What is the Swiss format? Does it only take place in Switzerland, I can hear all your questions. Don’t worry I’ll explain:

Teams in a swiss bracket compete against other teams that have the same number of wins and losses. When a team's victories and losses differ from those of the other teams, they are either eliminated or named the winner, depending on whether they have more wins or losses.

Swiss are almost never used in group stages and almost never as a follow-up bracket for another bracket.

They are almost often used as a stand-alone bracket or as the first bracket before a single elimination or double elimination.

When you think about it, it makes no sense to employ Swiss as a playoff bracket in the first place because teams who lose once are automatically unable to win the tournament, rendering their matches meaningless.

Single Elimination or Double Elimination are usually the go to when it comes to playoffs.

Niche esports tournament formats

Battle Royale or Point Based Format

Because battle royale matches must be played with a large number of players in the same place at the same time, most battle royale-based competitions use a point-system framework.

In these variants, each side is awarded points according to how long they survive and how many kills they score. Assists are occasionally included in the score depending on the tournament.

Clan-Based Format or Clash Royale Esports Format

This format is extremely specialised, only being used in pro-play for clash royale.

When Supercell, the makers of Clash Royale or CR, intended to create an esports league for CR all the while appealing to esports teams with several players, they came up with this concept.

To accomplish this in both 1v1 and 2v2 games, they set up a tournament in which teams would compete as clans, and for a clan to win, many players from the same clan must win back-to-back.

Supercell has opted to abandon this technique and solely utilise the standard formats in their 1v1 and 2v2 game types within CR from 2021.

Types of Matches

There are several types of matches:

  • best-of-1(bo1) — a game with one map victory
  • best-of-2(bo2) — a game with two maps, with a 1-1 tie conceivable
  • best-of-3(bo3) — a game with two won maps
  • best-of-5(bo5) — up to three victories (such matches are played in Dota and CS:GO tournament finals)
  • best-of-7(bo7) — up to five wins (Rocket League, Rainbow Six).


via Flickr

The playoff is often played using the so-called Olympic format — a traditional tournament bracket in which competitors depart after each round and there are only two finalists in the end. In esports, there are two types of playoffs: single elimination and double elimination.

In the first situation, the losing team is eliminated from the tournament, while the winning team advances to the next round. In the case of double-elimination, the losing team advances to the lower bracket and, following a defeat there, exits the tournament.

Double-elimination refers to two tournament brackets, each of which allows one team to advance to the final. These playoff forms are employed in all prominent genres such as MOBA titles like LoL or Dota 2 to competitive FPS titles such as CS:GO.

Rarely do you encounter distinct forms of triple elimination. This bracket contains three stages, and in order to exit the tournament, you must lose three playoff series.

This structure is employed in games with a large number of participants, and the game itself is highly unpredictable. At events of collectible card games (Hearthstone, MTG, Gwent), different combat games (Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken), or sports simulations, triple-elimination can be encountered.

Tournament Group Stages

What is a group stage in esports?

A group stage is when a tournament divides participants into groups, with each group playing a mini-tournament among themselves. The top performers from each group will create a playoff bracket.

The best players or teams from these groups advance to a different bracket, which will be referred to as a playoff bracket. This bracket can be any of the four forms written above, including the one used in the group stage.

Then comes the tournament brackets but the plot doesn’t thicken here so no need to get confused.

Tournament formats can be merged. They are known as brackets when they are joined.

A tournament bracket is what it sounds like. A tournament bracket is a predetermined tournament format that transitions or progresses to a preceding variant configuration. Brackets can be mixed indefinitely, but inevitably they will always end with a playoff.

A group-stage round-robin into single elimination, for example, is a frequent bracket combination.

3 types of Tournaments; Open, Invitational and Qualifier

“What are open, invitational, qualifier tournaments?”

An open tournament is one in which any competitor can join presuming they meet the qualifying requirements, without needing to be qualified or invited to play.

An invitational tournament is one that only certain participants are allowed to enter. These players are usually either professionals, entertainers like streamers, or have qualified through a qualification competition.

What is a qualifier tournament?  A qualifying event is one in which the top winners of that tournament get an entrance into a special invitational tournament. Qualifier events are usually open tournaments that have reserved seed slots for the previously qualified.

Leagues vs Tournaments, or What is the difference between league and tournament?

My mini book leagues vs. tournaments, what are the differences will be available shortly on all book stores, but here’s a short excerpt for the fans:

Leagues are typically long-term tournaments in which wins award you points and you are usually divided into groups of teams against whom you must compete. Depending on talent, there are usually numerous leagues such as first, second, and third. For example, the winner of the second league moves up to the first place, while the loser moves down. The finest illustration is football leagues.

Tournaments are short-term tournaments in which you are eliminated if you lose (unless you use double-elimination where you get 2 chances for example).

The biggest difference between the two is their duration, with a league often lasting many weeks and an esports tournament lasting only a few days.

There are also terminological differences. If you split an esports tournament into several groups, they are referred to as groups.

Meanwhile, in an esports league, distinct groups of clubs or players are referred to as divisions or sometimes named after regions. Similarly, if everyone in an esports tournament played each other, this is referred to as a "round-robin," however in esports leagues, this does not apply.

An esports league features a randomization aspect in which each player does not play against every other player, thus a person who plays against less talented competitors has a better chance of progressing in a tournament even if they do not earn it.

Basically: Leagues are suited for a larger player base whilst Tournaments are more suitable for smaller groups. Usually Leagues culminate into a tournament of its own and end with a bang.

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