MLR 2020 Alternate Reality Explorer: What Could Have Been

The 2020 Major League Rugby season came to an unfortunate end in March with 71 games left unplayed. Obviously, rugby is pretty far down the list of priorities as the world grapples with a global pandemic. Still, a large number of socially distancing rugby fans were left to wonder: How would the 2020 season have turned out? Who would have made the playoffs? Who would have won it all? Who would have crashed and burned? We have only our imaginations to provide answers.

In some other parallel universe though, free of quarantines and shutdowns, the 2020 season went on. Matches were played, a champion was crowned, and the season was completed. The Glorious Rugby Alternate Reality Explorer uses the power of statistics to bring some of these potential alternate realities to life. You can check out it out at the link below:

https://gloriousrugby.com/alternate-reality/

The great thing about alternate realities is that you can pick whichever one suits your preference. Since each one is entirely hypothetical, they are all as valid as each other. Don’t like the reality you ended up with? Pick a new one! Personally, I’m partial to reality xgxy4t8i11, which shouldn’t be a surprise seeing as this is an Old Glory website.

What probably would have happened

To come up with a firm answer on who would have won everything, I simulated the season 100,000 times over. Crunching the numbers across all of the alternate realities, we can get a sense of the most likely results. Here are the results:

Won the TitleMade the Playoffs
San Diego49.0%99.997%
Toronto20.7%90.2%
NOLA14.0%82.7%
Seattle4.7%89.4%
RUNY4.4%53.8%
Atlanta2.5%27.8%
Colorado1.5%69.3%
New England1.3%20.4%
DC1.1%25.1%
Utah0.5%29.5%
Houston0.2%9.8%
Austin0.03%2.0%

There are some interesting takeaways from these numbers, some more surprising than others. It’s not especially surprising that San Diego won the title in half of the realities, but the fact that in 100,000 realities they only missed the 3 times is astounding. Because they had a head start with five wins and three bonus points, a dominant rating in the GRI, and were competing against a relatively weak conference, it was apparently almost impossible that they would miss the playoffs.

It’s also worth noting how the strength of the respective conferences is reflected in the numbers. Colorado was only slightly less likely to make the playoffs than NOLA, but vastly less likely to win once it got there. It all pretty much confirms what we thought, but it’s still interesting to see it play out in the numbers. The East was just as competitive as we expected, with every team having at least a 20% shot at making the playoffs.

And finally, you can never count out Austin. They have had a rough time of things these last couple years, but they still had a 1/4000 chance of winning the title and a 1/50 chance of making the playoffs. Considering where they started the season, it could have been a lot worse for them. That said, in 100,000 alternate realities I wasn’t able to find one where they won more than nine games. It was always going to take a lot of luck and the right teams losing the right games at the right times for them to have a shot.

How it works

The Alternate Reality Explorer leverages a combination of statistics and random numbers to create a plausible spread of scores. For each match, the system uses the Glorious Rugby Index (GRI) to calculate the most likely score for the match, then uses a seeded random number generator to introduce variability. This allows results to follow a reasonable curve of probability while also allowing for some crazy potential realities.

The system also recalculates the GRI as it goes through the season. This mirrors how the GRI would actually have worked in an actual season, taking new scores into account as the season progresses. After all, there’s a possibility that a team that looked bad in the beginning of the season might actually turn out to be good, or that a team that looked good might actually turn out to be bad.

There are some realities where the unlikeliest of things happen. For example, in reality db8418bmozj the Gilgroniacs are proven right as Austin lifts the Shield. In reality adcja3j1bnu, the San Diego Legion loses some close games and miss out on the playoffs entirely. However, those are rare occurrences that you are unlikely to find in just any random reality.

How accurate is it?

Accuracy is a strange concept when it comes to alternate reality exploration. Since the point is to create a possible outcome rather than predict the most likely outcome, there’s no real benchmark for whether the system is “accurate”. That said, the GRI has proven to be empirically accurate, so it stands to reason that random variation using it as the base would be accurate as well. Perhaps more to the point, it’s probably the best we could do given the information we have.

Of course, the point isn’t really to provide anything scientifically rigorous, but rather to spark conversation about where the season could have been headed. If it gives fans something to think about and debate, then that seems good enough.

Eventually, the world will recover from its present global sickness and we will again be able to watch and play rugby. Until then, hopefully this can provided some much-needed distraction.

Stay safe!

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