I will start with the overall situation after Season 5. It looked rather bleak at the time as a lot of players forfeited before or during the early stages of the season; Recruits seemed the worst with almost the half of Bravo group being disqualified due to no-shows, and half of the rest forfeiting before that. Alpha group didn't perform much better on that. But probably the most impactful was the exodus in Masters, where Happy, kazu and Lorrydriver all left due to various reasons, being of course considered top spot contenders going into the season.
So, preparing for the season, it was already clear that changes are needed to keep the entity afloat, otherwise players would just all leave as the current system didn't hold their attention enough to stay. And even if this weren't already bad enough, the registrations for Season 6 were going massively underwhelming, as even those who finished the previous season declined to proceed or didn't respond at all. This resulted in only 13 players total coming over from Season 5, that including all the three tiers of Masters, Minions and Recruits combined.
All this gave really gloomy feelings, to a point that there might be no RAGL season at all for the forseeable future. But [fortunately] we decided against it, running the season as-is with all the signups gathered by that time (25) being split in just two tiers of Masters and Minions, Masters consisting of Season 5 participants. Also kudos to WhoCares, who not only signed up just for the sake of making the numbers even though he knew he wouldn't be able to give enough time to it, but again stirred up the player pool and dragged several players in, also manufacturing OpenRA Academy in the process, which has already contributed to RAGL roster somewhat and hopefully will be a perfect startup point for people to get into the competitive scene.
Two major changes were made to the League structure - doubled-down number of matches per week and the removal of Recruits tier. The latter change was initially planned (and still is) as Recruits tier was to be substituted by a qualification tournament so that there is less time strain on the newcomers, but still a level of competition that also supplies the league bottom tier (now Minions). In the end it also became a necessity as there were simply not enough signups to consider neither Recruits tier nor qualifications anyway.
Matches-per-week increase was a very positive switch as it turned out. It allowed cutting the group stage period almost in half, but still kept it reasonably self-scheduled. Coupled with the further streamlining of the schedule where mid-season break week was removed and delays were rolling over the whole season, the structure now compacted the season just enough to keep the attention span each week (compare this to previous seasons where due to delays or forfeits there might be one or two weeks with 0 matches being played).
In the end, Season 6 turned out to be much more fun than I initially expected it to be. Yes, we didn't have some of the top-flight players in the likes of Smitty, Gatekeeper, Lorrydriver, kazu, Happy, Blackened, Doomsday in Masters this season - that would have been a massive super-league otherwise probably. Still, we had a great number of games played, several League-shaking upsets (yet another time to mention Upps, I guess ) and all in all a memorable competition.
By the way, two words about Blackened should be said here: I'm thankful for your trust in me and .1 to keep the League going, I'm sure that you have a good journey out there; we all will be glad to see you back of course
A couple of talking points for the next season to be that were either already voiced or just waiting to be discussed.
- Map pool
There were certain concerns from the players regarding this or that map being in, considering some maps unbalanced, unfair, inferior and so on. Most of this is due to the fact that the map pool wasn't impeccably refined prior to the season. Frankly speaking, it never is, and there always will be complains, because the playstyles of different players are too different to be able to have all the maps be to the liking of everyone. Also I'm still of the opinion that the map pool should also have out-of-meta maps as well as all-around maps just to test the players' skills and give opportunity to everyone.
Saying this, I agree that something like Lorrydriver's Foretaste Tournament map testing is a great procedure to refine the maps to high standards. This was planned to be run this season as well, but lack of time and effort prevented it from happening, as well as the lack of desire from active players to do it, because in the end it is a community process and you need various players to play the maps, otherwise there is no point in testing.
- Tiebreakers and playoffs
With the group stage being fast-paced and streamlined into a solid structure, tiebreakers after it now feel too dragged out and uncomfortable to be scheduled right away. Playoffs too, but less so and they still ran fine and were all live-casted.
So, suggestions on how to improve on tiebreaking system are welcome. Introducing more sorting options (i.e. evaluating tied players' scores against opponents higher than them in the table) might reduce the probability of such cases ending up in a rematch. Making matches best-of-3 with first map being pre-drawn for each round is also a way, but doesn't solve 3-way ties, introduces yet more games (and all 3 need to be played if we are calculating game-win points) and other problems.
- Delay system
This season played out ok in this regard, even though it looked a little bit worrying in the first half with the delay plague being as active as usual. Something might be improved here, as the current system still may punish a player who can play his games on schedule but is being delayed by his opponents. One of the ways actually may be to use total delays count used by a player as a sorting factor in tied situations described above (i.e. players are tied in standings, but playerA used 5 delays including re-delayed games, and playerB used 3, so playerB gets ahead).
- Discord integration
Next season will probably completely be moved over into discord as a primary communication channel instead of emails. Probably the reporting/replay uploading may move there as well.
As for the automation, currently there has been no work on that as we are still short on manpower capable to do anything more complex than a bunch of spreadsheet tables. On discord, darkscrypt was undertaking a project to make dedicated servers able to post data outwards, so that's a start in the direction needed.