Original Character Tournaments are all over deviantart and keep growing in popularity, but not everyone knows what they are or how to participate in them. Since they're hosted by individuals and not actually affiliated with the website itself, there are no guides available to help explain how they work. Hopefully, this FAQ will be helpful to anyone looking to get involved in OCTs.
What is an OCT?
OCTs, or "Original Character Tournaments" are contests held here on deviantart in which you can pit your original characters against other people's characters in a comic-style battle-royale. To put it simply, it's a cross between an art competition and a storytelling contest.
OCTs can be hosted on someone's account, or they can have a tournament account of their own. OCTs are usually open to anyone with a deviantart account, although some are invite only. Information about who is eligible to audition will usually be clearly stated somewhere in the account journal.
How do OCTs work?
It's simple. You design a character and audition for the tournament. If you're accepted, you'll be given an opponent (someone else's character), a deadline (usually three or four weeks), and sometimes a theme (ex: you have to battle it out in outer space!). You then have until the deadline to create a comic or animation in which your character fights your opponent's character and wins. Your opponent will do the same. Then before the deadline, you both submit your comics, and a panel of judges decides on the winner.
The winner's comic becomes the canon version of the fight, and that person moves on to the next round and receives a new opponent. This process continues until only one person remains, and that person is the winner of the tournament.
Who is the host and what do they do?
The host is basically the person in charge. This person is the one who first came up with the idea for the OCT. They have a lot of responsibilities, including creating and updating the tournament account, coming up with a set of rules, selecting judges for the tournament, posting the tournament roster, matchups, and winners, offering the prizes or finding other artists willing to offer prizes, setting deadlines for the rounds, and settling any disputes over the tournament rules. Be nice to your host, they work hard for you.
Who are the judges and what do they do?
The host is in charge of finding a panel of judges to choose the winners each round. These judges may be friends of the host, tourney veterans, people on DA who are known for their in-depth critique, or even people who went through an audition process to become judges. Each tournament picks their judges differently.
The judges look over all the auditions and choose the final roster for the tournament. They also view all the battles after the deadline has passed for each round, and decide which character won which battle. Entries are judged based on a lot of things, including plot, humor, artistic ability, characterization and character interaction, creativity, and the all-important "heart" factor.
In theory the judges should be completely unbiased, but in reality we must remember that our judges are human and will ultimately pick whichever entry they liked best. Please your judges, they control your fate!
Can I win anything in an OCT?
Yes! Lots of OCTs offer great prizes, such as free commissions from artists, and even subscriptions to DA. Participating in an OCT will also earn you an impressive pageview spike, meaning more people are stopping by to see your artwork.
How do I find a tournament to enter?
The first thing to do would be to look for an OCT currently taking auditions. There are plenty of ways to find out about these, like searching the DA news and journal sections for tournament announcements. OCTs already in progress will often advertise those just getting started somewhere in their journals. There are even some very helpful tournament directories.
Once you've found a few OCTs still in the audition stage, look through them and see which one interests you. Most OCTs have themes, so choose carefully: you don't want to end up in a cyberpunk tourney if you're no good at drawing machines!
When you find an OCT you'd like to join, read through their journal to find out about tournament rules. Some tourneys are very casual (just defeat your opponent, any way you can), but some are very structured (You have to defeat your opponent in a specific event, or in a certain area). Make sure you know the rules before doing anything! And before asking questions, see if the tournament has an FAQ. These can be very helpful!
How do I enter?
All OCTs have some sort of audition process.
This process is generally the same for every tourney, unless specifically stated otherwise in the rules. You'll have to do three things; create a character (or select one you've already created), make a reference sheet, and draw an audition comic (or animation, or short-story, ect.).
The tournament rules will tell you more about what to include in your audition comic. The comic can be as long or as short as you like, but it usually revolves around your character finding out about the tournament, or arriving in the area where the tournament is being held. Be sure you read the rules very carefully before drawing the comic so you can be sure you're meeting all requirements.
Your reference sheet is your way of telling the judges and your opponents everything they need to know about your character. Be as detailed as possible, and if you can't fit all your information in the image, continue in the artist's comments. A good reference sheet should include a detailed, full-color, full-body image of your character. You may also want to include views of the character from different angles, or sketches of the character making different facial expressions.
Put as much effort into your audition as you can, because this is what determines whether you'll be chosen to participate in the tournament or not.
When you've done that, submit the links to your ref sheet and comic in a note to the tournament account. There! Now you've done all you can do, and the rest is up to the judges.
At the end of the audition period, the judges will choose a certain number of contestants from the people who auditioned, and these lucky few will go on to participate in the tournament itself. Remember, not everyone who auditioned will make it into the tournament. Don't worry too much if you weren't chosen; there are lots of tournaments on DA, so keep on trying!
What kind of character can I enter?
Any character that you own the rights to. From a character you've been doodling on the back of your homework ever since you were a little kid, to one you just made up on the spot after hearing about the tournament. Your character can be anyone you want: an adult or a kid, a human or a monster, a minumum-wage Burger King employee who moonlights as a superhero or an anthropomorphized ice-cream cone. As long as you own it, you can use it.
Some tournaments only accept characters that meet certain requirements or fit in with a certain theme. (For instance, I've seen a tourney that only accepts villain OCs, and another that's purely for non-human characters.) The tournament rules will tell you what kind of characters are acceptable in that particular tournament.
Can I enter a fan-character?
If you're dead set on using a fan-character, there are a few tournaments on DA set specifically in fandom settings (such as pokemon) that only accept fan-characters, but for the greater majority OCTs they're not allowed. A fan-character is still technically an original character, but since they were based off a pre-existing story that doesn't belong to you, they are banned from most OCTs. That means the beloved Mary Sue from your thirty chapter One Piece fanfic is out.
For instance, you cannot enter a character who is a ninja from Naruto's world, even if you came up with that character yourself. The world they belong to is still the copyrighted property of Masashi Kishimoto.
You also cannot enter Naruto himself, or any other character that was not created by you. That would be stealing.
You can technically enter a blonde-haired ninja from a forest village who has a demon inside of him and who looks eerily similar to Naruto, but be prepared to have the character turned down. The judges value creativity, and simply copying other people's ideas will never get you into a tournament.
Can my character have cool powers?
Yes! That's the whole point!
Give your character any power you want. You can even be silly about it!
Just don't make them too powerful. Simply decimating the competition with your super-mega-ultra-power-blast isn't nearly as fun as coming up with creative ways to win by using the terrain to your advantage or using your opponent's strength against them. Believe it or not, it's usually weaker characters that win tourneys, because their fights are more creative.
Remember also that the type of powers your character can have may be limited by the rules of the tourney. Some tournaments don't allow powers that would be out of place in the setting, and others limit certain powers for the sake of the OCT's plot. (For instance, powers like flight or magic-wielding being prohibited.)
What if I missed the deadline to audition?
No matter how badly you might want to be in this particular tournament, if you didn't get your audition in by the specified deadline then you won't be in the tournament. No tourney will accept late entries or let a new artist join in the later rounds. That would throw the whole tournament system out of whack, and be unfair to the other artists.
Never fear, you can still participate through something called an SE!
What is an SE?
SE stands for Spectator Entry. A spectator entry is a comic in which your character can interact with other characters without actually fighting them. SEs are just for fun, and while they serve to further your character's storyline, they don't have any impact on how your actual battles are judged.
People who are not contestants in the tournament can also make spectator entries, in which their OCs interact with the tournament fighters. You can make as many SEs as you want. This is a good opportunity for character building and interacting with the other contestants. You can continue to make SEs even after you've been eliminated from the tournament.
Do my battles have to be in comic format?
Not at all! Maybe you're not very confident about your artwork, or you're not very good at drawing things in comic format. This doesn't mean you can't participate in tournaments. Remember, it's an art contest, and there are lots of different types of art.
If you're not good at comics or don't think you'll be able to draw an entire comic before the deadline, you could always try splash pages. These are entires contained in a single image. A splash page could show any part of the fight you want, just as long as you make it clear which character won. (However, many OCTs don't accept splash page entries.)
Animations are also accepted, and in fact usually have the advantage over comics. If you've got mad flash skills, or even if you're just a beginner who could use your entry as an opportunity to practice, this could be a great direction to take.
Literature is also a form of art. If you're a writer, you could submit your entry in short-story format. Writers are usually at a disadvantage in tournaments, but that doesn't mean you can't give it your all and take out the competition with some spectacular prose. There are even some tournaments designed specifically for writers, in which only written entries are accepted.
Different tournaments will have different rules about what kind of entries are accepted, so read the rules over carefully before deciding how to create your entry. Tournaments are all about creativity, so find whatever kind of art works best for you and go with it.
Is mature content allowed in my battles?
Things like cursing and gore are usually acceptable in tourneys. It all depends on which OCT you enter, so you'll need to check the tourney rules to see how far you're allowed to take things. Keep in mind that too much mature content can be a turn-off for some judges.
Can I kill my opponent's character, and can my opponent kill my character?
Character kills aren't very common in OCTs, but they do happen. Usually kills are frowned upon unless you can manage it with the utmost care and tact. After all, your opponent worked hard to create that character.
Since killing a character effectively ends that artist's ability to participate in the tournament, character kills are generally considered bad sportsmanship. (Some artists get around this by "killing" a character and then later bringing them back to life somehow.)
Once I've defeated my opponent's character, can I have them join my character and help them out in battles?
Indeed you can. This type of teaming up with previously defeated characters happens a lot in tourneys. It's called collecting a support character. You can have as many support characters as you want. Just make sure that your battles still revolve around your main OC.
Remember, when using a defeated opponent as a support character be sure to respect them, because they still belong to their creator. You may want to ask permission first.
How does copyright play into all of this?
The storylines of OCTs belong ultimately to whoever is hosting them, but they are also technically "shared worlds". A shared world is a plotline that comes from collaboration between a whole lot of different artists. The story belongs, in part, to every artist in the tourney.
The characters still belong to their respective artists, but by entering your character in a tournament you give other artists in the tourney your permission to use that character for anything tournament-related. Don't worry, the character is still yours and all the rights to that character still belong to you.