Winlimit should absolutely be used. Winlimit creates more uniform results, ends rolls in a reasonable fashion, and creates a strong incentive to close out matches rather than dragging games out. While many people are clinging to the idea of windifference and its comeback potential as its only redeeming factor, this has simply been proven in practice to not be the case. If comeback potential was being stifled by winlimit 5, you would be seeing matches where both teams score 5 or more. However, a quick glance at the last 3 years of ETFL2 premier results reveals that not a single match has done that. What seems to happen every single time is that any team that passes 5 rounds ends up winning anyways, often by large margins still. So instead of enabling a comeback, what the windifference does in these situations is create unnecessary garbage time where the team that has a big lead just keeps building upon their lead and ends up winning regardless. Even the most legendary comeback of TCM vs iM which ended 6-4 didn’t do that, where a 5-4 comeback actually would have been more exciting than the 6-4 game that ended in an anticlimactic garbage time. Windifference 5 never creates the same level of pressure and excitement of a close game where one team is on game point, or of a 4-4 game where the next round decides it unless of course they go to golden cap, which already happens in ETF2L and we can probably all agree adds a unique and special layer to the game. It’s also important to imagine under a windifference 5 system an invite playoff spot coming down to a rounds-won tiebreaker so a playoff bubble team lets bad teams win a few rounds so they can milk them for more than 5 rounds.
The real component stifling comebacks is not the winlimit, but instead the timelimit. More often, comebacks are cut short because of a lack of time. Some comebacks are simply not possible given the timeleft in a match. The less time left in a match, the more the team with the lead is incentivized to slow the game down dramatically as well, making any further rounds also unlikely. While it is still possible for timelimits to hurt comebacks in the ESEA ruleset with the 1 hour match length, the longer the match, the less you hinder comebacks. With no timelimit, all comebacks would be possible. Without a timelimit parking the bus also becomes far less beneficial. I think this is what we should be moving towards. Obviously, this could potentially create immensely long games, but we’ve already seen with the windifference situation that the potential outcomes of a ruleset don’t necessarily create the norm. Many games don’t have timelimits these days, so I can’t agree that tournaments would be impossible to run with longer or no timelimits. What you find with games with no timelimit like DOTA2 or LoL is that the games naturally resolve themselves after a certain period of time. This too is something we should be moving towards in addition to removing the timelimit. If we can adjust the ruleset so that it has no timelimit but has a strong natural tendency to end at around 30-45 minutes, we’ve created the perfect ruleset. Obviously there is a missing component to help move matches along quickly and eliminate stalemate time, and I am inclined to think that the simplest solution would be shorter round timers. We absolutely need to get testing on shorter round timers. I’d like to see how the game plays out at extremely short round timers, as low as 2 minutes, but most likely something like 3 or 4 minutes would end up feeling the most natural. Though it would take a plugin or custom versions of current maps to implement currently, if proven to be useful through extensive testing and results, I am confident we could get Valve to implement something that replicates it easily through a config.
On to halftime, it’s a luxury not a necessity, except on non symmetrical maps (another strong case for removing viaduct!). For a similar strategic reset effect I think we could extend humiliation time at the end of each round by 10 seconds or so, allowing teams to have more time to reflect on rounds and prepare for the next one (some servers already do this and it’s quite nice).
For futureproofing, it’s also important to consider the matchmaking ruleset. Though potentially liable to change, at the highest levels matchmaking currently plays winlimit 3, no timelimit. To me, winlimit 3 feels fairly short, but this could be offset by playing matches bo3 or something.
Proposed ruleset: winlimit 5, no match timelimit, short round timer.