How to Run a Fighting Game Tournament Bracket Like a Pro

Tips from a 10 year veteran of judging Evo
By on July 29, 2019

Tournaments are the engine that keeps the Fighting Game Community exciting and hype, so Judges (aka bracket runners or referees) are essential as much as players are.

A Judge’s main job is simply, to accurately and efficiently run his pool bracket. To equip folks with the proper tools and avoid any major snafu’s, we created this guide to help people run a bracket like a pro.

We’ll be looking at the scenario of using a paper bracket since most of the big tournaments still utilize them. As much as we might want to use a service like or Challonge, it isn’t practical as of this writing to do it electronically for a huge tournament. It’s also good to know how to do this manually in case the tech fails.

This article was written together with Wakazashe (@thefedups), who has judged and ran brackets at EVO for 10 years.


Qualities of a Great Judge

Congrats on your interest in taking on this role! Tournaments can’t be run without the hard work of Judges. The following are seven important qualities to possess (inspired from Excel Sports Officiating from Excel Sports Officiating by Dave Libbey):

INTEGRITY Be honest and unbiased.

HUSTLE Be efficient, plan the next match and have your players on deck.

JUDGMENT Know the rules and when to apply them.

COMMUNICATION Be able to deal with different personality types.

CONSISTENCY Make the same call on the same kind of play whether it’s the first minute of the game or the score is tied with one minute left to play.

COURAGE There may be pressures, arguments, upsets. Fairness is above all concern.

COMMON SENSE The most important. Understand the rules, intent, and spirit of the game.

Learn and Prep

Before the bracket even begins, it’s good to have a few things ready and prepared.

  • Learn how a double elimination bracket works if you don’t already know. The main thing to watch out for is how to move losers into their proper places in the lower/losers bracket. Practice with a mock tournament bracket on actual paper. Don’t use any software for this practice as it does most of the work for you.
  • Familiarize yourself with the game’s special rules if there are any.
  • Have a copy of the tournament rules handy. This will help resolve any disputes quickly and the tournament rules can be enforced properly.
  • Learn the channels to get in contact with a Tournament Organizer (TO) quickly just in case you need to escalate a situation.
  • Learn about any emergency situation protocols. Ask a TO about what to do for any emergency situation so you’re ready to help when a situation arises.

Bracket Call Time

Closer to the bracket start time (5 to 10 minutes beforehand), doing these things will help ensure a smooth start.

  • Introduction. Be present, easy to hear, and identify yourself at your station.
  • Roll call. Take account the players present and ready. Check with the TO when you should disqualify (DQ) for no-shows.
  • Briefly go over tournament player expectations. This is helpful for first timers or remind players on how to help keep the bracket accurate and smooth. Here’s a few things to ask of players:
    • Players should speak up and communicate as clearly as possible.
    • Players should be present at all times during the bracket.
    • Players are to inform the Judge if they need to step away for a different tournament match or bathroom breaks, etc.
    • Winners of a match should report with score.
  • Pair up players for the first set of matches and have them recognize each other.
  • Try to remember player faces, if you can, to help them match with their future opponents.

During Bracket Time

  • Pay attention to your stations. It’s fine to watch matches, but stay vigilant and keep to your duty as a Judge.
  • Inform and queue players up to a station if both players are present for a match. “‘Player A’ and ‘Player B’ on deck on this station” is simple and effective.
  • Run any matches you can if there are open stations. Run any winners or losers match if players are available to play. This helps with allowing any missing players to come in time for their match.
  • Use your best judgement on who to send up to a stream match. TO’s will typically identify matches that should be on stream. Try to recognize any strong players and when they might match up. Also consider unknown players to give them a chance to show up on stream. REMIND players to return to the pool with results after their match on stream.
  • Stay organized by using your highlighter and pencil. Use a highlighter to keep track of current matches or stream matches. Have clear and legible writing.
  • Do not be afraid to DQ any players that are missing for too long. If a bracket is being held up, use your judgement and disqualify players if it is necessary to get the bracket done on time.

Bracket End

  • Make sure all matches are finished and recorded properly. Your pool may run overtime into the next time slot. Work alongside the next pool’s judge to complete yours and give space to start theirs.
  • Inform the players who made it out of the pool and their next call time. It’s effective to let players take a picture of the info on your bracket.
  • Take a photo of the finished bracket. This will help save the info just in case something happens to the physical copy.
  • Submit the bracket to the TO as soon as possible.

Extra Tips and Things to Watch Out For

  • Wear your judge’s gear at all times during your shift. competitors, staff, and TO’s should easily be able to identify you.
  • Be aware and note any special needs a competitor may have.
  • Competitors may be playing multiple games or need a restroom, so it’s good to mention that they need to inform you if they might be gone at anytime. If they need a quick break, review your queue and give exact time you estimate they should return by.
  • Remind players to desync their wireless controller if they are using one. They may need help as a pad player cannot desync by themselves. See our desync’ing wireless controllers guide.
  • If you are judging multiple pools back to back, it’s a good idea to have a snack and water handy.
  • If you need to use the bathroom, tell your TO to take over. You should NEVER leave the bracket in the hands of someone else, especially if they are inexperienced.
  • Your fellow Judges are there to help, don’t be afraid to get a second ruling for confirmation.
  • If you realized that you have made a mistake, inform a TO IMMEDIATELY. It is far better to properly correct an error right away than fix it yourself.

Don’t forget to have fun!

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