When the current Tournament was announced, someone asked me who would win. Like most Illyriad-watchers, I gave the answer “Harmless will win”… but I then added, “80% likely”.
Harmless? [H?] are Illyriad’s dominant alliance. To my knowledge they have only ever once not won a Tournament – and they subsequently decapitated the Alliance who beat them. They are the largest Alliance. And as far as I can tell they are the best organised.
So, was there a 20% chance that someone would beat them? Well, there were three ways that I can see that they could be beaten.
When Valar beat H? in a previous Tournament, they did so by being absurdly committed. Members who were on-line 12 hours a day, sending out armies as soon as they returned, were not the committed ones – they were the normal ones. The committed ones were constantly swapping information, sitting each others’ accounts as the account holders slept, and setting their alarms to get up in the middle of the night to log in: it was a very grinding Tournament, and Valar ground! It is conceivable, though highly unlikely, that one of the top ten alliances might become so hyper-committed and organised that they could repeat Valar’s success.
A “super-alliance” might theoretically have formed in the first day or so, with huge, active players temporarily leaving their alliance to join one entity. This would have been logical, but hard to organise. And emotionally people would not want to abandon their allies to fight under a banner that wasn’t “theirs”.
A better chance would have been for a group of Alliances to get together, right at the start of the tournament and say “if we fight amongst ourselves none of us will win. But, if we join forces, one of us can!” As the most obvious example, the network of Crows alliances outnumber Harmless, and some of them are very well organised. They could have divided up their efforts, saying that one would aim to hold squares (constantly shifting their focus, so that Harmless couldn’t target them), while all pooled their intelligence gathering, and the other alliances focused entirely on attacking Harmless’s squares and disrupting Harmless’s plans. Harmless would still have been tighter knit, but the Crows would have had the size advantage. That would have been an even fight – and a very interesting one.
So, it was possible that someone would beat Harmless? … but it was never likely.