Are promotion / relegation matches more difficult?

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A recurring complaint within the realm of FUT seasons is that decisive matches either are more difficult or easier than the other matches in a season. We decided to investigate it.

A quick scan of some of the biggest threads on scripting and handicapping yielded quite a few different perceptions on whether the difficulty changes in decisive matches or not:

“From my personal experience I feel that handicapping happens more often when you reach the end of your FUT season when relegation/promotion need to be decided. First few matches of the season always looked much more fair to me.”
(– Comment on UTUK)

“Why when you approach the threshold for a Hold/Promotion/Title (And yes I KNOW that I am only one of MANY to experience this “phenomenon”), does the difficulty of the matches to get those last points appear to increase so steeply?”
(– Comment on FUTHEAD)

“The end result is that it’s much harder to do well when you initially enter a new division through promotion for example – it seems to match you with better players and you get some pretty bad luck. Likewise when relegated, the initial games seem far easier in the previous division than they were 2 seasons back.”
(– Comment on Reddit)

“…there are obvious times when your team plays like dufus’s e.g straight after promotion”
(– Comment on UTUK)

“…if I needed to clinch a promotion I would likely get aided.”
(– Comment on UTUK)

We decided to run a strawpoll on Reddit to see which perceptions are most common. As it turned out, the majority of the respondents didn’t think there was any difference in difficulty. As for the rest, there were different opinions about the difficulty of decisive matches:

 

Is the difficulty of promotion, relegation and title matches different?

Yes, they are always easier0%
Yes, they are typically easier3%
No, there is no difference53%
Yes, they are typically harder33%
Yes, they are always harder11%

 

The primary take away from the straw poll is that there isn’t a consensus about whether decisive matches are more or less difficult. The second is something that we have mentioned previously, namely that people’s opinions are pretty worthless when trying to establish the truth about something.

Having said that, it definitely is possible that decisive matches occasionally are more difficult than the previous matches. As we however will demonstrate in the following section, there may be a completely harmless reason for that.

In small tournaments, all matches are decisive

In the first quote cited in the introduction, the author expresses that relegation, promotion and titles are decided during “the final, few matches” of a season like in real football:  “…handicapping happens more often when you reach the end of your FUT season when relegation/promotion need to be decided. First few matches of the season always looked much more fair to me”.

There is however a fundamental problem with this idea.

First and foremost, relegation, promotion and title aren’t necessarily decided in the final rounds like in real football. A FUT season lasts 10 matches maximum. During a season, you play minimum one decisive match. This situation will occur if you lose all your matches up until the point where you have no chance of making it past the lowest threshold and hence won’t get to play the remaining matches. Depending on what division you are in, you may encounter decisive matches as early as in match #3 (promotion from division 10).

Second, decisive matches are way more frequent than in real life. In FUT seasons, most people end up playing way more than three decisive matches per season, because they don’t make it past every threshold in the first attempt, and hence get another go in the next match.

To illustrate how this works in practice, we created a random example of a division 5 season. The player needs 10 points to stay, 16 to get promoted and 19 to win the title. In the example, he ends up playing 6 decisive matches before winning the title in the last match:

Match # Result Points Decisive match?
1 W 3 No
2 W 6 No
3 W 9 No
4 L 9 Yes, stay
5 L 9 Yes, stay
6 W 12 Yes, stay
7 W 15 No
8 L 15 Yes, Title
9 W 18 Yes, Promotion
10 W 21 Yes, Title

 

What should be clearly visible above is that (1) decisive matches in reality occur throughout the season, and (2) unless you are really effective, most seasons will contain multiple decisive matches. The table below shows the maximum number of decisive matches per season in each division:

Division Maximum decisive matches
10 8
9 9
8 8
7 8
6 7
5 7
4 7
3 7
2 7
1 6

 

We can actually tell a few things about the number of decisive matches, most players encounter. Based on the actual performance records (win ratios) of more than 1,000 players, we assess that the vast majority of players will play decisive matches in way more than 50 % of their matches. Most players win between 30 and 50 % of their matches, meaning that they will find themselves in a situation, where their total point earnings in a season will land close to some of the thresholds.

Concluding comments

The key finding here is that decisive matches are far more frequent than most of us probably would expect.

And considering that the difficulty varies from match to match, there is a large probability that a considerable share of your decisive matches will be fairly difficult. For that reason alone, it is quite likely that a lot of decisive matches will be quite difficult.

Another thing to note is that decisive matches happen throughout the season. And most decisive matches occur in situations where the player has additional chances to make it past a threshold if he doesn’t make it in his next attempt. Hence, when we talk about decisive matches, we most of the time are talking about groups of 3 or 4 matches, where each of those matches potentially may decide whether you make it past the next threshold.

When someone claims that the decisive match was considerably more difficult than the previous matches, he obviously forgot one of the following two things:

(1) That he either had additional attempts remaining after that match, meaning that it wasn’t that decisive after all.

(2) Or that he, prior to that match, missed a number of opportunities, which is the reason why that last match has become decisive. And, since he missed them, the final match obviously wasn’t the only difficult match during that season.

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