Now that the March Madness competition has ended in a four-way tie, I feel like I need to talk about some of what has transpired in the course of this contest. My involvement until the quarter-finals was rather perfunctory. I really started taking an interest in it when Twilight went up against Rarity.
And this is how it ended… bump... bump... sugarlump... SMASH!
It’s no secret that I’m a pretty gung-ho Rarity fan. Not at Ghostie’s level of devotion, perhaps, but I’m vociferous enough about it in my own right, if I may be so bold as to say. So I was overjoyed to see this happen, I really was. I don’t think that it can be fairly held against me by fans of Twilight that I found the victory reason to celebrate. I don’t believe I gloated about it much either (except perhaps in the Rarity Fan Club thread, but that’s understandable, isn’t it? At least it’s in the right place.) I then concluded that the reason that this happened was that Rarity’s popularity must have grown. I still think so, but I understand now that I was wrong about the nature and magnitude of the change. There will be more on that later.
Unfortunately, I was less than impressed with certain Twilight supporters’ reactions. I’m not going to make this personal and name names, or directly quote entire posts, but the general idea was that there were some green people sitting in corners. “It was unfair,” some said. “Twilight is the better pony,” quoteth others. “Let’s make sure we do everything we can to ensure Rarity fails from now on,” spake still others. I found this to be both churlish and childish. (Although, some of them later changed their stances, to their credit.)
In contrast to the intensity of this match-up, the following matches were very low key. Derpy, a perennial fan favorite (don’t ask me why, but members are entitled to like whichever pony for whichever reasons they choose) lost to Pinkie Pie, and Rainbow Dash lost to Applejack. Around about this point, I started to see mentions of a Rarijack alliance, to whit, a collaboration among fans of Rarity and Applejack (generally in a shipping capacity) to vote for those two ponies. Such mentions seemed to carry the subtle implication that this was somehow wrong or unfair. Or maybe there really was no such implication and I’m being defensive.
For myself, I guess I have to admit that I qualify for membership in this alliance, although not for reasons of shipping, but rather that Rarity is my favorite pony and Applejack is my second favorite pony (btw, my most relatable pony is Twilight Sparkle and in some part Pinkie Pie, but I don’t need a character to be relatable in order to like them. As for shipping, when I ship any Mane Six pairing, it’s Twilight X Rarity) So naturally, I would wish to support both of these ponies against their opponents, and vote accordingly. I also voted for Pinkie in her matchup against Derpy, because I like Pinkie Pie better than I like Derpy. (Shall I call this the RariPie/Pinkity alliance, then?)
Then the semi-finals began, Fluttershy vs Applejack and Rarity vs Pinkie Pie. I voted for Applejack and Rarity. And wow, did things catch fire. Both competitions were fierce, as much so as Twilight vs Rarity, with all four ponies alternatively gaining leads (quite massive leads in some cases) and then being caught up or surpassed. It really was all up for grabs, and I was very entertained.
Less entertaining to me were some of the posts. Again, naming no names, but there was a great deal of mud-slinging going on. From certain members we got the now infamous “Rarity is a Nazi” posts. And then they tried to pull the “don’t take it so seriously, it’s only a joke” card. Has that ever been a mitigating factor? You can’t say something deliberately insulting and then add “no offense/only joking” and expect people to accept it. There were other victims of what can only be called a “smear campaign”, such as Fluttershy. This is really saddening, and I had hoped that forums members wouldn’t stoop to such measures. Support for a pony is best shown by supporting that pony, not attacking and slandering/libeling their opponent.
There were also rumours of other underhanded tactics being employed, such as getting friends from off the forum to register and vote, or duplicate accounts being created. I can’t really speak to the accuracy of said rumours, and if true, fans of every pony are just as likely to have done so. It would be a little arrogant to assume that Rarity fans are incorruptible angels and every other pony’s fans are ruthless cheaters. I can only speak for myself when I say that I don’t use tactics like that.
All of the above had left me feeling a bit down on the whole shebang. It being late where I live, I switched off my computer and went to bed, putting it out of my mind as far as was possible. I’m currently suffering from a blocked nose, so it wasn’t precisely a restful sleep, and around about 2am, I was still awake, only having dozed fitfully on the interim. So I decided to check on the results using my cellphone. I had last seen Rarity trailing Pinkie by 1 vote, and Fluttershy trailing Applejack by a few, so I steeled myself to the probability that Pinkie had won the round over Rarity. And although I would have been disappointed, I would have congratulated Pinkie and her fans on a hard-fought and well-deserved victory. As I said, without knowing for certain that questionable tactics had been used and how much, I would have accepted the result.
Imagine my surprise when I found the new poll. Basically, now each member could vote for only one pony, or all of them. So it was no longer possible to vote for the one you like better from each match. You had to vote for your favorite. A vote for “all characters” was precisely what it says on the tin: every character got a vote… actually 2 votes. (Each vote for a particular individual provided half a point. Why add this mathematical complexity?)
This is like a high jump competition where you vary the height above sea level. It doesn’t matter how many members vote for all, just as it doesn’t matter how high up you are. So it’s meaningless in the practical sense. But it lets a member feel good about helping everyone equally, doesn’t it? To this I say, rather just abstain from voting altogether and feel good about that. Since the option to abstain was always there, a “vote for all” choice adds nothing except the opportunity for self-deception.
The new Battle Royale system is equivalent to a control group in an experiment. It eliminates (controls for) the ability for fans of multiple ponies to mutually aid each other. In other word, it eliminates the effects of the so-called Rarijack alliance. Given doing so has put Rarity far behind the other three and shows that she was indeed benefiting from votes from the Applejack crowd (and I would wager some from the Fluttershy camp too). While it’s good to know what the real situation is, this result is troubling, and not just from the view of those who supported Rarity. Twilight’s fans are now quite entitled to question whether Twilight might not have beaten Rarity if this method had been used since the beginning of the competition; I find it hard to deny that they’re probably right. And I can understand the frustration they may be feeling. But does this make the result of the bout between Rarity and Twilight unfair? I don’t think so. Here’s my reasoning.
If one wishes to count how many fans consider a particular pony as their favorite, a head to head elimination tournament is not the way to proceed. Because at each round, you are not asking “which of these ponies is your favorite pony?”, you’re asking “which of these two do you like better?” Sometimes the questions yield the same answer, but much more often, they don’t. As such, how a person ranks the contestants comes into play, not just which of them is their favorite. A pony whom more members consider their favorite can be beaten as long as enough members don’t have either competitor as their favorite, yet rank David above Goliath.
I think this is a natural consequence of the tournament model, and in no way goes against the spirit of friendly competition that is the objective of the tournament itself. And if one wishes to point out the influence of Rarijack, surely we need to ask: why is Dashlight not equally prevalent? Or DerpDash? Or any other pairwise combination of ponies that fans may prefer? If Rarijack is a stronger influence than is Dashlight, surely Dashlight supporters only have themselves to blame. There was nothing preventing Twilight fans from voting for Rainbow Dash and Rainbow Dash fans for voting for Twilight in their respective matches, and I’m sure there were plenty who did. It’s a little late to start calling foul when the same conditions have been prevalent since the beginning of the contest, just because they ended up causing your favorite pony to be beaten.
Heck, if you want to completely eliminate the influence of alliances, just put all 32 names in a single poll, and forgo the entire tournament setup. No need for seeding.
Dr. XFizzle’s heart was in the right place, but I don’t think this change to the poll was fair, and I can’t view it as a legitimate move. It undoes all the hard work and effort of members to rally legitimate support for their favored pony. I still voted for Rarity, but out of loyalty, not out of a spirit of eager participation as I did before.
The change to the poll removed the influences of fan alliances, but I don’t think it did much to control outside rallying, mudslinging or multiple accounts, which really do constitute an unfair advantage. The immorality of multiple accounts is easy to show, being a violation of the “one person, one vote” principle. What about outside rallying, i.e. asking friends from off-site to register and vote? This is incorrect because it relies on the newcomers’ loyalty to members who are their friends, and not loyalty to the ponies being voted for. It becomes a competition to gather supporters rather than a competition to support the ponies. Now mudslinging isn’t unfair, as such, but is certainly is not a respectable way to go about doing things.
There is no easy way to prevent duplicates/outsiders from voting. You would have to do it manually, i.e. members would have to actually post their votes. That way, any usernames that are suspect like Rarijack20 or only joined on the day (i.e. Blank Flanks) could be ignored. Any member who tried to use smear tactics would forfeit their right to vote. Of course, this means a rather prohibitive amount of extra effort on the organizer’s part, and duplicate accounts that have been around for a while and not been detected could also slip through, so it’s unlikely we’d ever get an entirely fair contest. It’s the nature of the beast.
I would be interested in a control of the control, as it were, to investigate the Rarijack Effect. I would change the poll from “vote for your pony” to “vote for the final you want to see”. So the options would be Fluttershy vs Pinkie; Applejack vs Pinkie; Fluttershy vs Rarity; Applejack vs Rarity. It’s equivalent to the first format used, rather than the new system, since it basically asks who do you want to see win and be runner up. I wonder what sort of data would result from this.
A brief note on tactical voting… I don’t tend to do this. I consider it a little unfaithful to the pony you support, because you’re trying to get the opponent that easiest to beat. If you’re confident in your pony’s chances, you would expect them to come out on top even against worthy competitors. I also feel a close race is much more entertaining than a one-sided one to watch. That said, I don’t think of it as underhanded or unfair.
Vengeance voting, however, I highly disapprove of. As I said, it’s childish and petty to wish failure on a contestant just because they beat one you liked. At least make sure the pony you’re getting vengeance on actually is the one who beat your favorite.
Of course, all the above it now moot, since the competition has now been declared a four way tie. I guess Dr. XFizzle decided that continuing a compromised tournament was meaningless, but it’s another move I disagree with. It’s not fair to the supporters of whichever pony would have been the champion, and I doubt it would have been Rarity, much as I would have liked it to be. It makes the past two or three days of voting an exercise in futility. I still do take away the warm fuzzies I got from seeing Rarity win against Twilight, so it wasn’t entirely a waste, although I wish the tournament had resulted in a sole winner. If their success were due to doubtful practices on the part of some of their supporters, then whoever had participated in such would have found their victory hollow. And if they didn’t feel bad about winning through cheating, then they’re not the kind of people I’ll waste my anger on. For my part, I know I supported the ponies I like in a fair and sportsmanlike way.
So, looking only at which pony fans identify as their favorite, Rarity’s rank within the fandom is still quite low, and has not increased as much as I originally thought. But in terms of ranking all Mane Six, I feel Rarity is in a much stronger position than she has been previously. If this weren’t the case, there is no way she would have beaten Twilight even with the Rarijack alliance helping her along. She may not have moved to the top of many lists, but she’s probably moved up in more lists than she has moved down. And it seems that in many lists, the first two spots are now 1. Applejack 2. Rarity.
I hope that lessons can be learned from this March Madness tournament, and that future competitions will be consistent, fair and the participants well-behaved.
Stay sunny side up.