In a ladder tournament, each competitor receives a seed, or ranking, in order of perceived skill in the event. This tournament format does not include predetermined matchups. Instead, competitors challenge higher ranked opponents on the ladder. If the competitor with the lower rank upsets the higher seeded player, he moves up the ladder to one spot above the player he defeated. Individual events provide the most suitable candidates for the ladder tournament format. For example, many online checkers and chess tournaments use a ladder.
Most tournaments occupy a short period of time. The ladder tournament, however, invites continuous competition. The format increases camaraderie among opponents by encouraging continuous play against one another. The ongoing competition provides a challenge to everyone involved. In a playoff structure, each competitor experiences elimination until only one winner prevails. In a ladder, everyone remains in the tournament and stays motivated to continue climbing up the ladder.
Most tournament formats require a specific schedule format to run a successful event. In a round robin, for example, each team must play the other in a predetermined time frame. The ladder, however, allows for flexible scheduling. The lower ranked competitors challenge those with a better ranking to a match. The two competitors work out the best time and place for the scheduled match.
In most tournament formats, only one competitor prevails. Everyone else finishes with a disappointing loss that keeps her from the ultimate goal of winning the championship. In a ladder, however, each competitor has something worthwhile to play for. Each experiences the satisfaction of testing his skills against a competitor of grater skill. Each victory secures a higher ranking on the ladder. This way, everyone that competes maintains interest in the tournament and in improving his position.
Many tournament formats lend themselves to blowouts and embarrassing losses. In a ladder, however, the best and worst players all experience parity. The lower ranked players challenge someone slightly higher on the ladder in order to move up in the rankings. This way, every player has an opportunity to improve his skill without getting embarrassed by an opposing player with a much higher level of skill.