After the conclusion of the previous Splatfest, Kotaku joyously proclaimed that the insanely popular Marina might ruin Splatfests. Well, as they say, you sometimes have to be careful what you wish for.
All day Saturday August 5th, Pearl’s Team Mayonnaise and Marina’s Team Ketchup duked it out in the second Splatoon 2 Splatfest. The popularity results were just as skewed as last time, with Marina’s side picking up nearly three-fourths of participating players, but never forget the cardinal rule of Splatfests: Popularity is not everything.
Team performances are just as essential. To wit, the combatants of Team Mayo eked out majorities in both gameplay categories. Thus, unlike what happened last time with the popularity skew, Team Mayo became the ultimate victors of Splatfest.
So now a whole bunch of people, primarily those on Team Ketchup—full disclosure, I was also Team Ketchup—are now furious and complaining that Splatfests are broken.
I am here to argue that Splatfests are not broken. Additionally, the subject of their blame for this state of affairs may be slightly misplaced.
Let’s work through this, shall we? The most common thread for complaints would appear to be that for a significant portion of players repping Team Ketchup, they ended up not playing again teams of Mayo players. Rather, they were often pitted against, well, other Team Ketchup players.
As someone on Team Ketchup, this indeed happen a lot during my playtime. Granted, it did not seem as bad as being on Team Ice Cream during the last Splatfest, but I was still facing off against my own team rather than Team Mayo far more often than would have been ideal.
On a gameplay experience level, I completely sympathize; it was frustrating and demoralizing to not actually be putting up a good fight against the other side for much of my participation time. Like, at that point, what makes it any different from normal Turf Wars?
Additionally, there is not much certainty about how all of those Ketchup V Ketchup matches factor into the final Splatfest tallies, assuming that they factor in at all, and that knowledge gap is justifiably frustrating a lot of players. It would be nice to know how Nintendo takes those intra-team fights into account.
That said, there is enough to go on in terms of how the final results are calculated—namely, as a three-category rundown where winning or losing each category is represented by percentages—in order to make a reasonable educated guess. My money on what might be happening is that in the interest of keeping the battle tallies fair, the intra-team fights (i.e. Ketchup V Ketchup, or Mayo V Mayo wherever they may have happened) may simply not factor into those tallies at all. I think the only results being counted are the inter-team battles, i.e. Mayo V Ketchup.
Which, if indeed true, would leave us with the uncomfortable reality of the multitudes of Ketchup V Ketchup battles simply having zero contribution to the Team Ketchup effort. And that leads to another level of completely understandable frustration.
Does that mean Splatfests are broken, however? Though they could absolutely be improved for future events, my answer to this is No. In fact, what we’ve seen suggests that things may actually be working as intended thus far.
It ties back into the cardinal rule of Splatfests. These are not elections.* At their core, Splatfests are still team sport events. Popularity does factor in up to a point, but everyone’s performance in the actual matches still takes high priority.
*Side note: Everyone looking to draw parallels between this and the November 2016 presidential election in the US can fuck right off. This ain’t the same thing as the electoral college.
In the original Splatoon, Nintendo attempted to formalize that ethos by calculating a weighted sum from the popularity percentage and win percentage. In Splatoon 2, they have simplified things by using a best-of-three system to determine the victor, where popularity accounts for one of the categories, and gameplay performance accounts for the other two.
Simple though that may be, I think that, in concept, it is a pretty good way to make popularity a significant factor, while still making the actual Splatoon gameplay more important. Commenter dandank summarized what makes this an adequately effective, and perhaps even fair, system:
What most of these salty people aren’t realizing is that this system is actually DESIGNED to not be just a popularity contest. It’s working exactly as intended, in that it gives any underdog side a fighting chance. Anyone who picks the vastly less popular choice knows that they’ll play more matches that count, but it’s also a gamble that they can win enough battles to take the two non-popularity-based points at the end of the splatfest. The popularity split for cake vs ice cream was also a landslide in ice cream’s favor, but that time ice cream won because all they had to do was win ONE of the battle-based points.
This brings up, on a related note, the fact that Splatoon 2's Splatfests may not just be working nicely in concept. The history of Splatfest results up to this point actually seem to also bear this out in practice.
Less popular Team Mayo may have won this event, but the vastly more popular Team Ice Cream took home the trophy last time. Thus, the split in popular Splatfest victors against less-popular victors is, at the moment, 50-50. Mathematically, that’s as fair as it gets.
Update August 8 11:25 am EDT: I was talking about the North America results specifically when typing out this article. Looking worldwide at also the Japanese and European regions, the popular vote winner has actually been the Splatfest victor two-thirds of the time. Do consider that when complaining about how downtrodden the popular team is. However, I also don’t think they’ve had quite as big a popularity skew issue, either.
Granted, this is all also based on an utterly dismal sample size of 2 Splatfest events. In the long run, it is still too early to definitively state whether this system is too lopsided in one direction or the other or if things are largely even. We would need more Splatfests to make a more concrete judgment on that. Still, it seems rather telling that this system is thus far avoiding signs of bias in favor of or against the popular team, even though the popularity contests have been so hilariously brutal.
And, by extension, the way in which Splatoon 2 has been accounting for the intra-team battles (i.e. perhaps not counting them in the final tallies at all), harsh and demoralizing though it may be, appears to also be fair and not broken. However, that does nothing to make the frequent Ketchup V Ketchup state of affairs any less annoying.
That said, I don’t think that is necessarily Nintendo’s fault. Sure, there is an argument to be made that Nintendo could have designed Splatfest’s matchmaking and other mechanics to better deal with popularity disparities than throw in a bunch of Ketchup V Ketchup matches that don’t have any damn effect on the final Splatfest results. However, there a couple of things about that line of thinking which don’t exactly sit right with me.
First off, I am quite frankly unsure if there are any good solutions for what we saw during either of the last two Splatfests. On the one hand, yes, what Nintendo has on offer was clearly designed with equally sized teams in mind. I’m pretty certain that the intra-team battles were last-resort fixes based around the assumption that the moments when there are no opposing teams in the matchmaking queue are edge cases that would happen very rarely. This implementation of matchmaking was not built around the possibility that a lack of available opposing teams would be a regular occurrence.
Maybe Nintendo should have accounted for that, especially with what happened during the first Splatfest. On the other hand, however, even for the extraordinary circumstances we’ve gone through with both Splatfests, there still might not be a much better solution than what Nintendo ultimately went with.
Had Ketchup V Ketchup matches been given more significance in the Splatfest tallies, would that have been even remotely fair to Team Mayo? Additionally, had matchmaking algorithm been adjusted to cut down on Ketchup V Ketchup matches, chances are everyone on Team Ketchup would have played far fewer matches during Splatfest than what they got due to the scarcity of Team Mayo competitors. Would that have been any less frustrating?
Are there any tweaks to the existing system that could make things better, really? The closest that I’ve come up with is handing out more Splatfest points or XP for participating in these intra-team Ketchup V Ketchup-esque matches, perhaps justifying this by branding them as something along the lines of “practice matches.” Yet that does nothing to address the fundamental shortcomings of the shitty matchmaking situation.
Anything that I could think up to attempt credibly making such popularity-lopsided Splatfests more fun for everyone involved would entail radically changing up how Splatfests are run. For example, if you’re on an unfathomably popular team that cannot find a single group from the other team to fight against? Instead of pairing you up with another group on the same team, maybe you all load up into a session of Salmon Run instead that would have some bearing on the Splatfest results!
I think that could significantly help things on the gameplay experience side, and would do so in a way that ties in one of Splatoon 2's newer features at that. However, the logistics of how to fit that into Splatfest might be a nightmare. Who knows how radically the matchmaking algorithm would need to be altered to make something like this happen? Then there is the question of how exactly to make Salmon Run affect who wins or loses Splatfest, and how to do so in a way that it fair to both teams.
Specifically, if this is our solution for making things better on a team that is struggling to match up with competitors due, then the vastly more popular team is going to be seeing Salmon Run a lot more often. So how the hell do we tie this into the Splatfest results without giving the more popular team a disproportionately massive advantage over the less popular team?
Any discussion of how to improve/”fix” Splatfests going forward is going to inevitably come up against conundrums like these. This will not be an easy issue to work through; we’re looking at either minor tweaks that do nothing to alleviate the fundamental problems, or Nintendo having to put in what very well may be an astronomical amount of legwork to significantly change Splatfest’s mechanics in such a way that it addresses the popularity skew.
But second off, is this really Nintendo’s problem to address? Before everyone goes all-in on the argument that Nintendo should have better anticipated the popularity skew, everyone also ought to also consider that maybe the Splatoon 2 community could have avoided such a state of affairs had they not fucking Yuri!!! On Ice-d the popularity contest in the first place.
After all, we knew something twisted was coming! Over here in the USA, Marina is the clear favorite over Pearl in the Splatoon 2 crew! Everyone—even Heather Alexandra—made it clear that their choice of team during the first Splatfest was purely decided on wanting to be on Marina’s team despite what the actual theme of the event was! She did, in fact, end up winning that Splatfest, so no one complained.
And with little indication that this was going to change in a month’s time, the prediction was that Marina was going to (literal quotes on this) “ruin” Splatfest again for the same reason! And it would be joyous! A “nonstop Marina Mania”! One Splatfest weekend later, and lo and behold, she DID ruin it again!!
But this time, in an ironic twist befitting The Twilight Zone, the tables have turned. The clear popular vote winners, Team Ketchup—to a significant degree being more of a proxy for Team Marina—lost! Being on the losing side, they have single-handedly upped the salt levels of the world’s oceans by a few percentage points, and the chosen target of their derision is the state of affairs—the constant Ketchup V Ketchup battles, lending to the feeling that they’re not really contributing much to Splatfest at all—inherent in a Splatfest where one team is far more popular than the other team.
Issues that were just as prevalent in Cake V Ice Cream. Issues that they themselves arguably caused—AGAIN—by blindly running to Marina’s side en masse, betraying the good faith and spirit of Splatfest as they did so. Had everyone done what they were supposed to when choosing between Mayonnaise and Ketchup, Ketchup may still have retained a large popular vote margin (pretty sure it’s still got a clear advantage in the condiment department over here in the US), but perhaps it would not have been to the absurd extremes seen here. And by evening things out, maybe there would have been a whole lot less Ketchup V Ketchup to go around.
But nope! This is what everyone chose instead! And it just so happened to backfire SPECTACULARLY in pretty much every way possible.
A part of me takes a look at this and smiles with thorough satisfaction at how this Splatfest turned out. Nintendo didn’t do this. Y’all got what y’all deserved. This is karmic retribution in action. This is poetic justice.
Wanna avoid this next time? Then sit your ass down and be honest. Play by the damn rules.