Why the Dubai SPE is bad for Europe


When I look at these maps comparing attendance in Europe from this year to last year, my first impression is not to note how attendance has gone up. My first impression isn’t to say that no SPE in the region had over 100 Masters, and that the smallest Regionals had over 200 Masters. These are all true, but my first impression is to say that many tournaments are gone.

Not including Russia, which was a special case, I count eight SPEs in Europe last season. In contrast, there were four this season. In my opinion, this is fine and it is a step forward. Here is why: 

1) SPEs are worth more

Last year, there were 8 SPEs. The winners of each tournament received 145 points. This year, there were four SPES, and the winners of each tournament received 200 points. This means that there was a 50 percent drop in number of tournaments, but only a 31 percent reduction in points given to the winners of those four tournaments compared to the points given to the eight previous winners. This means that even though Pokemon took away tournaments, they made the remaining ones more valuable in exchange. The fact that there are still less points given out overall is okay. Point inflation from many Special Events makes Regionals and Internationals finishes less valuable, and Pokemon probably doesn’t want that.

2) SPEs have higher attendance

In the 2016-2017 season, the average SPE had 95.875 players. This season, that number was 134.25. However, those numbers don’t really tell the whole story. Even last season, there were big SPEs and there were small SPEs. The top three in attendance last season averaged 151.3 Masters, while the smallest five averaged 62.6. So what we saw last season was that three events were at the level that TPCi wanted to see, while five "underperformed". This year, in contrast, every SPE in Europe met TPCi’s expectations.

3) SPEs match their intended value.

In my opinion, SPEs were never meant to be small tournaments. Instead, TPCi wanted to create a Tier Two event and an opportunity to get points in countries that could not have a Regionals. This could include avoiding gambling laws, or it could simply be that TPCi has a limit on how much cash they can afford to give to players and can’t afford to hold ten Regionals in Europe. The tournaments are equal in points to Regionals, so TPCi wants the events to be big so that the large amounts of points at stake are well-earned. 

Sponsored Events

While cutting events, TPCi was able to invest in more tournaments. Last year, to my knowledge, there were three sponsored SPEs: Essen, Lyon and Madrid. For an unsponsored SPE, organizers get no extra support from Pokemon and have to pay for expenses from the entry fees and other sources of revenue. I believe that all tournaments in Latin America function this way. However, Pokemon wants to support Pokemon in Europe. They would like these to be Regionals, but again for some reason can’t make it happen, so they financially support a Special Event.

This year, all four Special Events in Europe were sponsored. This made better venues and prizing possible for the tournaments. In some cases, such as in Bilbao, entry into the tournament was free! This support from Pokemon goes a long way in attracting players and making sure that tournament participants have a good time. 

Event Changes

Four SPEs were cut this season. The Netherlands, Austria and Denmark were losers in this equation, as all three countries lost their sole Tier Two events. This was a particularly large loss for the Dutch, as their Special Event last year had a whopping 157 Masters. This was the second largest SPE on the continent, and the country previously hosted the European Challenge Cup for many years in a row, so it seems very sad that there are no more Tier Two events in that country. Italy had two mid-sized events last year, and instead had one large one this year. Germany had an SPE last year, but lost it. However, the country did not really lose anything in that regard, as they got an extra Regionals in exchange. France and Spain kept their tournaments, although they did move from Lyon to Tours and from Madrid to Bilbao respectively.

When crafting a Day Two system, you want players to travel. However, required travel is only positive when it’s connected to Regionals and Internationals, not SPEs. Travel is expensive, but deep finishes that earn cash prizes make the system fair and not pay-to-play. But when one must travel to many SPEs with no chance of earning cash from those events, it is not an optimal system. So in this case, there is a trade-off. Players have less opportunities to earn points because four SPEs were cut. However, players also have less required travel to reach Day Two, especially with no Best Finish Limit. So cutting SPEs doesn't reduce income, while it does lower overall travel costs for competitive players.

Another factor is planning. Last year, Pokemon announced the Regionals and the sponsored SPEs at the beginning of the season. Later, more SPEs were added haphazardly with less notice. This meant that some players planned out their travel only for thresholds to change. This year, Pokemon stuck to what they said and did not add any events last-minute! This is good because it creates more trust in the system and more confidence in Pokemon.

One thing to keep in mind is that in theory, a good system should create equal opportunities for players on every corner of the continent to have a good season. This is entirely feasible because cash prizes make it possible for all of those players to travel. Even though there is no Special Event in Finland, Finnish players can travel to England and Germany, win points, and potentially break even with cash prizes. Under the old system before the cash era, region-locked National Championships meant that each country was practically guaranteed to push players into Day Two. Without the cushion of Nats, players qualifying for Day from every country is longer guaranteed. I would like to take a look at the distribution of Top 22 by country, and compare the pre-cash era with the last two seasons.
All Day Two data is taken from the leaderboard on 8/4/2018. 2018 Day Two is still subject to change due to Dubai SPE upload and NAIC.
I have separated the cash era from the pre-cash era with the thick line that comes before the 2016-2017 season.

Winners: Czechia, Germany, Norway, France, Spain, and Slovakia

Of the winners, Spain is doing better because they have Organized Play in their country now. That is an important step in qualifying for Day Two! The fact that Germany and France are doing better makes sense to me as well. In the pre-cash era, a strong finish at your region-locked National Championships was required to make Day Two. Both Germany and France had large Nationals, making it especially difficult for those in contention to get the points they needed.

This was not the case in the Czech Republic, where byes and scoops meant that in the pre-cash era some players in contention could qualify through their Nationals (which was combined with Slovakia and Hungary) without playing a game. However, the cash era shows us that Czech players may have deserved it the whole time and simply did not have a chance to prove themselves, as when they have traveled Europe, Czech players have excelled. They are currently having an especially good season, which is probably helped by the existence of the newfound Prague SPE. Norway is doing about as well as they did before, and I think that they just had a fluke year in 2016, which is made more probable when Day Two contention literally comes down to one tournament: Nationals.

Losers: Denmark, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Portugal, United Kingdom, Finland, Austria, Belgium, Italy

The Netherlands is in a worse position than before, and I think that stems from the loss of the European Challenge Cup. The ECC was a very special Regionals that gave out Nationals-level points, which in effect gave Dutch players two local attempts at Nationals throughout the season. They also had a fluke year in 2015 when many of their players qualified for Day Two, which skews the numbers a bit. Unfortunately, this is to be expected with such a small sample size.

Countries like Italy and Portugal are on the outside of Europe. The idea was for all of Europe to travel to all of the tournaments in Europe. But for these two Mediterranean countries, the cost to travel within Europe is higher. This inhibits attendance and means that less players from these countries are able to make Day Two.

The United Kingdom has no excuse for its current position. The upload of the Dubai SPE should affect this, but it greatly confuses me that last season with three Regionals, an Internationals, and the greatest quantity of League Cups in Europe, only one player from the UK was able to make Day Two. Whether unlucky or unskilled, this country has been given all the tools it needs to succeed already.


So in terms of event allocation, Europe was very successful with one major exception: Dubai.

Last year, the United Arab Emirates SPE was announced three days in advance. The event had 12 Masters, and only one European attended. With such short notice, few could travel to the event. The exception to this was the British Nitish Doolub, who had the power of Brexit on his side to manage the logistics. This year, Nitish attended the event again, and it grew to 27 Masters. However, two more Europeans made the trip as well from Czechia and Slovakia respectively. All three of these players are now in the Top 22 in Europe. This concerns me a little bit because with the events that Europeans have access to, the cost of points is pretty consistent. To win the big 200, you have to slog through a tournament filled with more than one hundred players. This tournament in Dubai was the size of a British League Cup, so there’s an inequality of opportunity.

Because of cheap flights, players in Czechia and Slovakia have decent access to the Dubai SPE. So the question is, is this a bad thing? Are Eastern and Central European players normally at an inherent disadvantage because of their distance from Regionals? Both of the players who travelled to Dubai from this area already were in the Top 22 already and just used this trip to solidify or lock in their positions, especially Kiko Hodas who was sitting at a scary 22nd place and would have been bumped out by Nitish without a successful weekend! So these players arguably could have succeeded this season even without the Dubai SPE.

However, the real issue here is that the existence and timing of this tournament is something that European Organized Play should be able to decide and not have decided for them, as the Dubai SPE is run as part of the Asia Pacific region. Europe made a change this year to have a Prague SPE, and both of these two central European players that went to Dubai also got points from Prague. A Regionals was moved from England to Germany, which should help Czech players. If Eastern Europe needs more tournaments, European OP should be the decider of whether Slovakia should have an SPE or not, for example, without having a decision made without their input. This year, Pokemon made a real effort to announce ahead of time all of the Tier Two events in Europe, and they didn’t add any at the last minute, which is a good thing. However, the Dubai SPE was announced last-minute, and European players attended. This completely undermines EU OP's otherwise successful effort to announce tournaments far in advance and stick to their schedule.


In spite of what I've said above, this does not mean that I think the Dubai SPE should be cancelled. This event was crucial in making it so that Emirati players could qualify this year. The United Arab Emirates is a country which does not have League Cups, so local players have to spend long hours on planes to try and get their invite. Emirati players travelled to the London IC, the Prague SPE, and Malaysia Regionals. At the Dubai SPE, Omar Alnemer got his invite from making Top Eight, and Saeed “BK” fell just ten points short of the invite when he lost in Top Eight. Neither of these players would have been in contention for the invite if it weren’t for this event. In addition, we can see how much the event has grown in just one year: from 12 Masters to 27! It’s exciting to see a Pokemon community grow, and this event was announced only a couple of weeks in advance. Imagine how much the community will continue to grow year after year! Because of this, simply cancelling the event is not a solution.

Technically, we shouldn’t region-lock this Special Event either. If a player from this region decides to pursue a Day Two invite in the Oceania region, having access to a region-locked Special Event would give them an unfair advantage. This is the original reason that Pokemon tries not to have region-locked tournaments. If we wanted to region-lock the Special Event, we would also have to make Dubai its own rating zone.

With Latin American Special Events, my suggested solution was to schedule the SPEs on the same day as American Regionals. That way, American Day Two chasers would have less incentive to attend a Latin American SPE. Scheduling the Prague and Dubai SPE on the same day wouldn’t be optimal in this scenario. Like I said, one of the three foreign tournaments this year that Emirati players attended was the Prague SPE. Having the tournaments in Prague and Dubai on the same day would unfairly take away an affordable opportunity for Emirati players to compete! However, a scheduling change could work if the Dubai SPE was on the same day as a Regionals in Germany, for example. That way, Czech players would be motivated to attend that event where they could potentially earn cash. This would have to be done very purposefully, and since Europe doesn’t control the Dubai SPE, this is unlikely to occur.

One solution then is to give control of the tournament to Europe. That way, the main problem (a lack of control on Europe’s part) would go away. However, at the same time, Europe cut half of its Special Events last year. That makes me scared that if Europe had control of the UAE event, they might cut it! Besides, Europe and NA are run differently than APAC and Latin America, because in the latter two regions SPEs exist (in my opinion) to give invites to players in those countries, while in the former Special Events are meant to be big, grand events that model Regionals in the pre-cash era. The idea of handing the tournament to Europe may be a pipe dream, because one of Maxsoft’s sister companies distributes Pokemon cards in the United Arab Emirates. This might mean that there is no way to take the event away from APAC control. And again, I don’t necessarily want to give the event to Europe, the event just doesn’t mesh with Europe’s other events.

Another solution that I can think of is to give Dubai the same treatment that was given to Russia and South Africa. These two countries are not part of the four main rating zones, and those players cannot earn travel stipends. Because of this, it’s totally feasible to have region-locked tournaments there. This past year, they both had closed National Championships. This is an option for Dubai, as these tournaments don’t give out Championship points and they are allowed to be region-locked. This would give players in Dubai opportunities to be invited to Worlds. The downside to this option is that it discourages Emirati players from traveling outside of Dubai. Players from South Africa are greatly restricted by price, so they cannot really travel outside of their region. Ilya is the only player who travels outside of Russia, and he travels more for love of the game and less to chase CP (I think). So these closed National Championships don’t discourage international travel. If Dubai players could get their invite without leaving the city, would they still travel to European and Asian tournaments like they have for the past two years? They would have less incentive to travel, and Pokemon’s goal is not to discourage travel.

The optimal solution is simple but incredibly difficult to execute: make the Dubai Special Event big. If the Special Event had 100 players, then there wouldn't be a question of fairness. It would not be as big of a deal if Europeans traveled to the event because a large amount of points would be more fair to come by. Emirati players would still have their tournament. The community would grow larger and larger because tournaments like this have great effects on communities. Of course, it is impossible to snap your fingers and make this event large. But I can think of a couple ways to grow the community in Dubai:

1) Give them League Cups. This would also help ease the travel necessary to earn an invite while living in Dubai.

2) Bring Organized Play to Kuwait. I have heard that there is a player population of about 20 there. If there were events in both locations, they could share a player base, which would boost attendance at a Dubai SPE as well.

3) Announce the Special Event further ahead of time. Last year, it was announced just a few days beforehand and there were 12 Masters. This year, with three weeks’ notice, there were 27. Imagine how large the tournament would grow if there were months, or even a year’s notice!


Usually, when I point out a flaw in a system, I have a solution in mind. However, with Dubai, there is no easy fix. The only real and constructive way to fix the situation is to work hard and grow Pokemon, which is the goal everywhere already!

This is the third article in a series discussing the Day Two systems in various regions using attendance comparison maps as a jumping-off point. The fourth and final article by that logic should discuss the system in US and Canada. However, Christopher Schemanske at SixPrizes already completed a fantastic analysis of Regionals attendance numbers between this year and last year. Besides, aside from issues that I already touched upon in my Latin America article, I only have a little more to say about the system. My plan is to post the final attendance comparison map to wrap everything up.

Until next time!


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