I’ve made no secret about the fact that I’m not a tournament player. I like the idea of tournaments, of getting to play outside my normal group and face new opponents and new armies, but I rarely participate. Partially, it’s a distance and scheduling thing (although once my Friendly Local Gaming Store gets its new game room finished, that will change somewhat), and partially it’s a social anxiety thing (I’m a huge introvert, and very shy until I get comfortable). Mostly, though, it’s the fact that playing in a tournament – playing at a high technical level with actual stakes – makes me very tense and nervous. This goes back to my collectible card gaming days, when I would participate in tournaments with some regularity. The most tense, least fun games I’ve ever played are ones where I made it into the the final elimination rounds, and while there is some satisfaction in winning such a game, for me there’s no… enjoyment. There’s no elation. Just a feeling of, “Man, I’m glad that’s over,” and feeling vaguely ill from the stress.
That said, I think having supported outlets for competition-level play is very important. There’s a large section of the 40K player base that loves the thrill of playing hardcore no-holds-barred tactical wargaming, and they deserve to be supported just as much as we more casual players do. They’re the players that push the envelope on the game, that strive to discover the underpinning theories behind the rules and codexes, and to take what they find and apply it as efficiently as they can. That’s where they derive their enjoyment. Fortunately, they also share what they find, because they want to encourage others to join them on the competitive field. Even though I don’t consider myself a competition-level player, I still enjoy reading sites like 3++ Is the New Black and Yes The Truth Hurts to see how the other half lives and plays, and to pick up tips and tactics. I may not always agree with their point of view (more on that a bit later), but I can’t deny their passion for the game and their efforts to raise the level of the entire community.
Also, I’ll go on record and say that for competitive play, I prefer the W/L model that’s been pushed lately over the old Battle Points model. I think that if you’re going to compete, you should be going for the win, and that some of the best games are the ones where one good opponent barely edges the other one out. I’m not a fan of soft scores, either; I’m not vehemently against them, but I think they dilute the point of the tournament. Painting belongs in the painting competition, not on the tabletop competition, and sportsmanship should be a given. If someone wants to cheat or to be an ass, let a judge call him on it. On the other hand, I don’t have a problem with composition rules, as long as the goal of them – to create an alternate environment – is clear. I’m used to limitations on deck building in different environments from my CCG days, so having something similar in the tabletop environment doesn’t bother me. However, I prefer composition to be presented as an alternate format, and that the standard remain comp-free.
However, the name of this article is “My Love/Hate Relationship with Competition Play”, and my general nerves about tournaments are not the “hate” portion. To illustrate that, let me share with you a story about Street Fighter world champion Daigo Umehara. To celebrate the release of Super Street Fighter 4, the game’s producer, Yoshinori Ono, invited Daigo to play him in a friendly game. How did it go? Here’s what Ono said:
“We once played a so-called ‘friendly match’. He’s such a serious guy. He always studies the game to improve himself, but he has no sense of fun. I tried to inject some into him, saying, ‘You’re playing with the producer of Street Fighter IV, it’s a nice chance! Ok, you shouldn’t let me win but at least let’s try to have fun together and show the spectacular things the game can offer…’ He replied ‘ah’ and continued to butcher me without batting an eye. He KO’ed me in few seconds…”
Daigo has become such a high-level player that it’s almost impossible for him to see the game any other way than as he would in a competition. The concept of the friendly game has become lost to him. My worry is that the same thing could happen to 40K. When every game becomes a tournament game, or practice for a tournament, or for developing tournament lists, there becomes less and less room for the casual gamer. I’ve seen it happen before in the CCG arena. There reached a point in my experience with one of my favorite card games, Legend of the Five Rings, where I literally could not get a game with anyone if it wasn’t testing a deck for an upcoming tournament, and if I brought a deck that wasn’t tournament-tuned, I couldn’t even get that much. Even if I did manage to get a game in, they were all played tournament-style: no nonsense, cutthroat, and tense. When the game became more about the work to keep up with the tournament environment, rather than the fun of kicking back with some casual play, I left. What I was looking for wasn’t there any more. I don’t want to see that happen with 40K, and I pray that it doesn’t.
Now, I’m hoping that competition-style 40K players understand where I’m coming from here, and I hope they understand that I’m not attacking them or denigrating the aspects of the game that they love. As I said above, I think the tournament environment should be encouraged to flourish, and I think GW could do a lot more towards that goal (timely errata and regularly-updated FAQs would be a huge start). However, I just ask people who have adopted the tournament-only mindset to remember that it’s not the only way to play, and I ask them to encourage and support the casual gamer side of the hobby as well. There’s room for both of us in this game. Remember, if I play Slaaneshi Chaos Marines, or if I take a Hammerhead in my army because I like it and it fits my playstyle, it’s because that’s just how I roll. Yes, the competitive players might tell you that they’re bad choices, and perhaps they aren’t always the most optimized options, but I’d rather play on my own terms, win or lose.
And know that if I do play in a tournament, even if I don’t bring the most finely-tuned list ever because I want to play what I want, and even if you eventually table me, I will do my best to make you have to fight as hard as possible for that victory. I may be a casual gamer, but I never said I wasn’t competitive.