Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Throne of Skulls ... Thoughts on Tournaments / GW Approach
So, some of you in the blogosphere/etc. may have read about the Throne of Skulls tourney pack written up by Jervis Johnson.
I have some issues with the way this is presented.
To present them in short, prior to an inevitable ramble, I believe they intend to accomplish a couple of things ...
1) Be fun for all players, regardless of skill level, and de-emphasize competition
2) "Comp" the difference in various codices in terms of perceived strength, and reward the best general, as opposed to the best codex
3) Promote fun
4) Get people to want to play in their tournaments
I believe they accomplish, instead, the following ...
1) Create an extremely negative environment for the least skilled players, and annoy the more skilled players; furthermore, in the aftermath, it will reinforce an already-negative GW (Jervis) mindset toward "competitive players," as they will be blamed for the problems instead of the format (which emphasizes them)
2) Encourage players to game the system by bringing hyper-optimized lists from known underpowered codices; since codex imbalance is not nearly as significant as many without deep thinking skills would believe (and sadly this appears to include JJ), tournament "gamers" will simply break the system and ... again, lead to an increased perception of "competitive" players being the problem
3) Not be very fun, especially in terms of how it screws "lesser" gamers
4) Get "kudos" from people who don't like tournaments anyway, and so still won't attend, and generate anger from tournament goers who dislike the system
I believe the system is inherently geared toward disillusioning the average observer's mindset, punishing competitive players both in execution and perception of a "problem," and disenfranchising a significant percentage of the customer base (if not a majority). Either the author of this packet and this style of tournament is seeking the fulfillment of these actual results on purpose, or he simply isn't capable of developing a packet that avoids them without better oversight and input from outside sources.
So, into the argument and break-down ...
Let's start with the name; "Throne of Skulls." There's nothing casual or laid back about it. The implication is clear and straightforward - battle it out and claim your spot atop a throne of skulls, atop Khorne's throne of skulls, etc. - be a god / master of war. Sounds pretty competitive. Sounds like a tournament. OK, I'm fine so far. Let's see if hypocrisy will be tabled and consistent speech utilized ...
Our Grand Tournaments are all about having a great time playing one of your favourite(sic) games ... Our aim is simply to get people together so they can play their favourite(sic) game, meet up with their mates and immerse themselves in the hobby for a day or two.
Alright, thanks for defining what our HOBBY is about (having a great time playing with your mates and immersing yourself in the hobby). Thanks for butchering the definition of tournament, however. Go ahead and look it up, or don't and trust me that basically any definition of a tournament refers to it as a competition or series of competitions. OK, so what's a competition? I'll give you a hint - determining a winner is an integral part.
Let me be clear: there is NOTHING WRONG WITH JUST PLAYING TO HAVE FUN. That's not the issue. Calling a "weekend for gaming fun" a THRONE OF SKULLS TOURNAMENT, however ... is likely to lead to you sounding like either a) a really shitty salesman who visibly thinks he's smarter than his customers (big mistake #1), or b) simply stupid.
Let me restate. People are arriving at a *Grand* Tournament entitled Throne of Skulls. You then use words like "weekend of gaming fun" right afterward. Look, we should all have fun gaming, in any venue, but am I the only one that doesn't see the blatant double speak right off the bat?
OK, so let's move past that to the actual way the tournament works ...
Here's problem numero uno ...
You will play against a randomly selected opponent in each round.
If anyone doesn't see the problem here, let me make it simple ...
2 players attend a tournament. One (A) has a really fluffy laid back simple list that will get its teeth kicked in if it goes up against a hardcore list. The other (B) has a super potent hardcore competitive list that is ready to go toe to toe with any army out there.
Round 1, each gets paired off against a super nasty opponent. A gets utterly annihilated, B wins. What now? RANDOM PAIRING AGAIN! A gets paired off against ... ANOTHER NASTY OPPONENT (even though he lost round 1), and B gets paired off against ... a really easy opponent that also lost. B annihilates his poor now-0/2 target, and A ... loses again, horribly. Who is having a "fun" time here? The person who came ready to super compete, or the person who read the rules packet and came with a laid back list to have fun with his mates?
After the tournament, when A complains about how he got mauled by all these power gamers, who do you think is going to take the heat? The flaming idiot who came up with random pairing every round, or the "power gamers" that ruined the event by coming "just to win?"
Maybe Jervis hates power gaming (as he sees it), and is doing this on purpose to further sully their reputation. Shame he has to do it at the expense of "casual" gamers ... further shame that he would be so quick to treat a percentage of his customer base so poorly. Alternately, he simply wasn't capable of or willing to think that deeply about the import of his system.
Final issue ...
The way the scoring works, your final score is based upon how well your army book or codex does across the tournament. So, if you bring a Necron army and score 10 points, and the average of the Necron armies present at the event is a 5, your adjusted score is a "5"
I don't know what they do if you're the only Necron ... I guess you score a 0.
Either way, on face value this appears to be a unique and smart way to do "comp," so that you're not competing against the "hardcore" codices, but simply against your own. WRONG WRONG WRONG.
5 Demonhunters players show up. 4 of them have pure grey knight armies, one of them has abused the inducted guard rule as much as possible and is loaded up on cheapo chimeras, autocannon heavy weapon teams, and the like, and runs rampant all over the tournament, while his pure grey knight buddies get hammerfaced into the ground.
Aftermath, he wins by a wide margin. Again, what do you think happens here?
a) Wow, Jervis was really stupid to use this crazy system that was so easy to game
b) THOSE STUPID POWER GAMERS BROKE THE SYSTEM AND BROUGHT A CHEESY ARMY THAT ABUSED AN OLD ALLY RULE!
Nobody has "fun" regardless of who they blame ... the blame is there b/c angst is generated by the system.
The reason that you do pairings in a tournament, and brackets as the thing goes on, and the reason that you have separate paint and sports and conversion and army awards (which they don't, of course) is so that you actively provide reward and award for those people that don't come with the "best" army list or "best" skills, and you rapidly pit the nasty powergamers AGAINST EACH OTHER, where angst diminishes as competitors compete and hobbyists hobby. Asymmetrical competition against same-codex, random pairing regardless of success/record, and double-speak about GRAND THRONE OF SKULLS TOURNAMENTS and "fun hobby weekends" ... all leads to a situation where the blame gets shifted someplace other than the organizer (smoke and mirrors, or stupidity, whatever), nobody is happy afterward (except for the people who would be happy if you threw down cardboard tables with origami terrain while screaming WAAAAGH! in their ears ... aka, happy no matter what), and your own credibility is at best dinged, and at worst destroyed ... among the very people you seek to serve.
What's best, is this is a self-fulfilling prophecy situation. After all the inevitable fall-out and internet bitching, because this is the way the people at GW and I guess Jervis have ALWAYS worked, guess which of the following will happen ...
a) Tournament gamers are always bitching, they don't like what we do, and they aren't worth our time ... plus, the internet is something we should just avoid, b/c it's always unhappy.
b) Wow, we really need to improve our tournament offering, we're obviously doing something wrong!
If you guessed B, you are probably a new guy.
So, what do I suggest ...
Well, I really like GW. I like their minis, I think 40k is actually a balanced and competitive game (ask a certain someone who has been playing against Necron, Tau, etc. armies I've proxied in with his optimized guard to get practice for the tournament scene), I'm freaking ecstatic at all the support GW and Ed Spettigue have given me and other Indy GT's for their circuit.
I wish they would take a page from some of our books.
The NOVA Open is in its first formal year. I've run plenty of tournaments and leagues before, but this is my first major GT. We sold out 40k with 2 months to go, and sold out 16 additional spots the day we opened them. What have I done that's gotten so much attention? It's not b/c all these people went and had fun last year.
Develop your tournament approach. Document the thought process you went through developing it. Open it up to input and critique from the global community of players, who have combined for thousands of hours more experience than the "creators" at their own game. Those who wrote the rules wouldn't last 4 turns against the world's top players - mark my words on it. USE THAT. The Open has been more and more polished by the DAY not because I'm an egomaniacal bastard stuck to his own notions and ideas for what the game should be, but because if you drop the ego, accept that not everyone will like it one way or another, and actively use the minds and inputs of thousands of gamers ... you actually might get a really great product put out.
What's more, if you build it they will come. Look at Adepticon. Look at what the Open has gained in its first year - over 25 states and 2 countries attending, with people as far away as Germany inquiring about attending this year or next. If GW reconsiders how it runs its own tournaments, it will generate revenue and players for them. It's not rocket science, but it's certainly not done the way they're doing it with the above linked Throne of Skulls packet.
This got a little rambly, and I hope it doesn't sound self-promoting on the Open front. I don't think of it as "my" tournament ... I think of it as an expression of a clearly expressed need from a wide variety of gamers made manifest. It's a reaction to what people bitch about in regard to tournaments across the web (which actually is a useful resource), and a presentation of an event that rewards hobbyists and competitors alike, without a format that lends itself to anger and post-event unhappiness. It's not complicated to do this - tournaments and leagues for sports and games the world over have perfected tournament approaches, and all I did was hijack from all of those. Come on GW ... give it a shot. Sending one of your aging old hands up to his office to crack out some ill-edited, ill-reviewed BS isn't going to help the company we ALL LOVE.