Fact check: Does the better player lose more often than he should?

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A recurring source of complaint in the scripting, handicapping and momentum (SHM) debate is the indisputable fact that you sometimes lose despite having dominated the match. In this post, we check whether there is any truth to the assertion that the better player loses more than he ought to.

Foul play?

40 shots, 0 goals vs 1 shot, 1 goal. It smells fishy, and the smell doesn’t wear off when you look at possession and passing accuracy. Although the example might be extreme, I believe most FIFA players have experienced losing or winning under somewhat similar conditions. Some of us brush it off as bad luck while others believe there is foul play involved:

“If I’m getting shut out or its 1-0 to them & I have like 20 shots then no its manipulation hands down.”
— Comment on Ultimateteam.co.uk

“This image below shows obvious scripting/momentum statics. I’m the winning side but I teared my hair out to to win this game. 26 shots, 45 tackles, 7 goal post! Opponent has 1 shot and 1 goal! Fuck! Its from penalty!! 120 minutes of super stress makes you a bullshit man. Do not play this game or you will get CANCER. Really don’t play and be healthier, funnier, richer. Share it to everyone until they remove scripting.”
(– Anonymous at fifa13scripting.blogspot.dk)

The guy with the most attempts won
Winning 2-1  after having had 18 shots on target (source)

The rationale behind the claims above seems to be that it’s “too unlikely to be a coincidence” that you lose despite dominating i terms of shots, passing and possession as often as you do. Therefore, the only possible explanation has to be that there must be foul play involved. Allegedly, this happens as part of an effort to make bad players win more matches.

This narrative might be convenient, but it’s nevertheless unjustified. The fact remains that no information indicates that such defeats happen more often than they ought to. And furthermore, there are other explanations available than foul play.

In the following sections, we will look into how often the “better” player actually does lose.

How often you actually lose despite dominating

You lose sometimes despite dominating, but how often does that happen? The chart below is based on 1,100 FUT 16 seasons matches and shows the three performance metrics that were available in FUT at that time.

The blue bars show the percentage of matches where the winner minimum had the same performance as his opponent. The orange percentages are matches where the player with less passing, possession or shots on target won.

We see above that the player with less passing, possession and shots lost considerably more than he won.

When we look across all three performance parameters, the winning player dominated on minimum one of the three parameters in 92 % of all matches that found a winner in the end. Only in 8 % of the matches, the winner didn’t dominate on any of the parameters.

Does the better player lose too often?

So, was there foul play involved in 8 % of the matches in our sample? The answer is a clear no.

First of all, it needs to be stated that although the winner didn’t dominate on passing, possession and shooting in all those 8 % of the matches, many of those matches were pretty tight with both players having a fair amount of shots and a fair share of the possession.

Second, the fact that the dominating player didn’t win doesn’t necessarily mean that the better player didn’t win. We collected performance track records (W-D-L ratio, best completed division etc.) for all the players in our sample, and in approximately 46 % of those 74 matches, the player with the better track record won.

This brings us down to a residual of 4 % of the matches (40 in total) where (a) the player with the worse overall track record and (b) worst performance in the match won.

So, did EA intervene in 4 % of the matches then in order to help out a new or bad player?

A deep dive into those 40 matches definitely kills of that idea. In 33 out of 40 matches, the winning player had division 1, 2 or 3 as his best completed division. Only in a couple of matches did the winning player reside below division 5, but in both cases, so was his opponent.

The better player usually wins

7-0 and all is fine
A perfectly normal 7-0 win

Take a look at the results page above. It’s a perfectly normal 7-0 win. The player, who clearly dominated the match, won by a large margin. Although matches like these occasionally end 0-1 instead of 7-0, the vast majority are won by the better player. The chart below is based on a sample covering ~2,100 matches and ~2,000 different players. It shows that in the majority of the cases, the player who was predicted to win based on his previous performances, also did win – by a large margin.

Do the better players win?

Do the better players win?

The better you are relative to your opponent, the larger the chance that you will win. That being said, someone will defy the odds once in a while. Even a player who only has a 1 in 20 chance of winning will win 1 in 20.

No traces of scripting, momentum and handicapping

We have a looked at a sample of 1,100 matches picked out as randomly as possible. And although our sample contains many examples of the dominating player ending up losing, it has failed to deliver as much as one single example of a player, who clearly and indisputably got a win that he didn’t deserve.

There are no traces of scripting, handicapping and momentum in this sample what so ever.

Why do you win despite dominating? We look into that in another article.

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