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Get to know Ninja vs Ninja: New rules and format changes

Executive producer Brian Richardson breaks down what will be different on the new show.

Eddy Chen/USA Network

When American Ninja Warrior: Ninja vs Ninja debuts on March 1, fans will notice some changes. In previous years, the show was known as Team Ninja Warrior and the scoring was a little complex. If you’d like a reminder of what that format was, we’ve included information on it at the bottom of this article.

Ninja vs Ninja will take place on a decidedly more dramatic stage, at night, and brings with it some pretty significant changes to the rules.

To help you get ready to enjoy the action, we’ve laid out what those rule changes will be.

What’s the same

  • There are three Ninjas on each team, one woman, and two men.
  • Competitors from each team run the course side by side. Each team member will run one individual race.
  • Touching the water is allowed as long as the Ninja’s feet don’t touch the bottom of the pool.

What’s different

The points:

  • Each race is now worth one point (no more “anchor” run worth two points).The first team to snag three points wins the match-up. It can also be described as a best-of-five format. This means no more sudden death race in case of a tie after three heats.

The match-ups:

  • Ninja vs Ninja will use a single elimination format. Knockout rounds are gone. Where we used to watch three rounds of heats per episode (preliminary match-ups, knockouts, episode final match-up), it’s more straightforward now.
  • Four teams face off. The two surviving teams face each other and the winner returns for the playoffs later in the season.
  • Runner-up teams will get a chance to come back later in the season and fight their way through the Wildcard Round into the Playoffs, but it’s a longer, tougher road.


  • If a match-up goes beyond three individual races, we move into relay races.
  • Each of the team members will complete two obstacles before tagging in the next member. (This replaces the previous “sudden death” individual race.)

Extended course:

  • The course expands from six to nine obstacles once the final matchup of the episode begins.
  • Previously, we only saw one heat on the extended course per episode. Now, it’s a best-of-five format.
  • All team members will run an individual head-to-head heat on the extended course.
  • If no team earns three points in the individual heats, it moves to a relay on the extended course. All team members will strive to complete three obstacles each.

What all this means:

Executive Producer Brian Richardson gave us some insight on what brought these changes about, and what they mean for the competition.

The new name:

“We’ve rebranded it from “Team Ninja Warrior” to “American Ninja Warrior: Ninja vs Ninja”. Research showed that some fans were confused and thought it was teen ninja. And even loyal ANW fans were not always aware of the show, or how to find it.

With the new name, we’re more closely aligning ourselves with the name people know, American Ninja Warrior. It now reflects what the show really is all about: The best athletes from American Ninja Warrior, racing each other down the course.

That’s what really makes the show special, those head to head match-ups, and you’re on the edge of your seat through the whole race.”

New look:

“This is the first year our Team competition has been produced for USA Network, and we wanted to come out big, and re-launch it with a primetime look. So we’ve changed to film at night, under the lights, with new graphics, and LED screen introductions for the competitors.

It looks amazing, and really makes the athletes look like the superstars they are, and it’s more in line with what viewers are used to seeing on USA Network.”

New Rules:

“We’ve tweaked the rules a little bit to come up with a format that’s cleaner, and easier to understand. Every race is now worth the same. Now you can’t rely on just one strong individual. You need to have a well-balanced team because of the relay races, where every team member has to contribute.

We’re also making the back half of the course more of a factor. Before, you only saw the full course for the final relay. Now in the Final Matchup, the Ninjas will be running the full course, nine obstacles. That includes the women, who now get to compete past the Warped Wall, and it’s great to see what they can do.

And it’s one thing to do nine difficult obstacles when you can take your time, but when you have to race through it because there’s someone right beside you, it really tests your cardio.”

New Teams:

“We’ve had so many new stars emerge on ANW in the last few years, and we wanted to include as many as we could, so we expanded to include more teams this year. You’ll see all your favorites, but also a few rising stars. In previous years, the Team competition has been a great launching pad for new talent, especially for the women, and you’ll see that again this year.”


“This side by side racing creates such fast-paced action, with great comebacks, and close finishes that it’s always fun to watch. And being on USA Network this year, it’s such a big platform that reaches so many more people than we’ve reached in the past. So of course, we’re really excited about the season.”