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Gaming ladders are all about ranking. The better you play, the more rungs you climb in the ladder. Game ladders can be used to track any kind of game, from online tournaments to regattas along the coast. In terms of chat, game ladders usually refer to ranking systems that relate to casual or parlor games, such as board games and card games. Let's use a backgammon ladder as an example. If I have a backgammon ladder with 100 members, each member has a ranking from 1 to 100. If you beat a ladder member with a higher ranking than you, your ranking improves and theirs declines. Some sites offer ladders exclusively, leaving it to you to choose the game vendors and chat clients. Other chats integrate the ladders right into their service, so you can chat, play games, and create and join ladders all at one place. The integrated sites usually automatically track the game scores so all you have to do is chat and play games :)
If your interested in viewing and joining an online gaming ladder or league go to Ladderstats.com. Our site is also able to create ladders and leagues for events and tournaments that play offline.