Monday, December 20, 2010

Exchange w/ a Friend ... Thoughts and Analysis of "Competitive" Player Development

We see the following happen in 40k clubs, buddy groups and communities across the country ...

From Anonymous ...
Here's how it goes down. They get beat on a bunch by better players who also take better lists. They think the lists are the devil. But finally, guiltily they steal a "net list" thinking that now, in some sort of Faustian exchange, once he has the power list he will auto win. But they still lose. So they get frustrated and swear up and down they are just not "competitive" and go back to aiming for best painted. It's the way it always goes. And when you try to help them, they get upset, and say that they know how to play, they just refuse to use the "cheese." And I feel bad. Because I see this cycle clearly, and these are my friends. And I would love for them to be able to participate in the WHOLE hobby Gameplay, Modelling, Painting. But they choose to opt out of gameplay.
So, what's the problem here?  Are these players just not "competitive?"  Are they brilliantly good gamers who simply refuse to use the "cheese?"

No, in fact, while not necessarily full of shit, they're very wrong about themselves.

Anonymous largely hits on it in the first sentence - they get beat on a bunch by better players who also take better lists.

So what's the solution?  Should these player types - and it's really the majority of the country I think - quit game playing at 40k?  Should they accept that some people are just going to always whoop their butts and take weaker lists as excuses?  Should they focus on painting only?  Are they actually not competitive?  NO to all of the above.

This is actually going to tie a little in with the Incidental Comp bracketing format for the NOVA Open GT next year, where people with same records and very similar battle point accurals will play only amongst each other through the 4 rounds of Day 2.  The most important thing in the game of 40k is not so much to be humble, but to certainly not be too proud.  Like all activities in life, we all possess differing aptitudes for different things.  Believe it or not, when you blame someone's victories over you on their cheesy tactics and powergaming lists, you're actually competing to win still - you're trying to win off the table, in a different fashion, by sniping at the person's integrity and the fairness of the playing field.  You might even win, if the person in frustration actually decides that's a fight worth participating in.  You're actually being cheesier than your referenced opponent, in fact, by competing entirely outside the rules of the game and the boundaries of the codices.

Regardless, the solution here is to be honest about your own capacity with the game.  If you can't grasp the intricacies of the movement phase and the intricacies of thinking ahead on missions ... you need to do one of two things.  1) Compete with people who are the same rough skill and list level as you, or 2) Honestly admit that the people beating you are currently BETTER THAN YOU, and even though you know "how to play," you don't know it as well, you don't take advantage of it as well, and you could get better ... and then, get better.  This game isn't rocket science.  The "average" intellect of a human being can attain a level of competitiveness with a strong list that he's fluid with ... that will enable him to compete on the dice and the razor's edge with most people - especially outside of national tournaments with a high concentration of 40k geniuses.

This ties in with so many other articles I've written, about assessing your own needs and personally seeing them fulfilled, about how to treat others within the same very small hobby ... it bears repeating and it bears belaboring.  Everyone plays the game at a different level; everyone is possessed of a different aptitude level for the game.  It doesn't speak to your quality as a person that you aren't as good at it as someone else.

BUT, it does speak to your quality as a person when you brand the superior painting, or gaming, or whatever skills of someone else with extremely negative connotations and terms ... just to feel better about your own limitations.  In fact, it speaks very poorly about your quality as a person.  Honest self-evaluation is a difficult thing ... it can lead to ego, to bragging ... lord knows we all can struggle with that in fields we excel in.  Regardless, it is just as much a struggle to admit your limitations, but speaks so much more about you, and can lead to so much more happiness and a much stronger ability to co-exist with those around you.

Truth of the matter is, less than 1% of us 40k gamers aren't competitive.  Put any of us in a dogfight with an opponent of similar skill and list, and you won't see ANY players who literally don't care and are trying to lose.  EVERYONE enjoys a close, fun, competitive game.  That's where the fun is at, right?  Not blasting someone vastly inferior off the table,  but tangling to the bottom of 7 with a peer.  If you're in a gaming club, play with people who are your peers, and RESPECT (don't insult, disrespect, classify as "cheesy," etc.) the people who aren't your peers.  You wouldn't compare your excellent pro painting skills with a brand new painter, proclaiming your awesomeness and his weakness, and a brand new painter wouldn't look at your excellent pro skills and call you a cheesy powerpainter.  Why would you do this with the gaming component of the same hobby?  If you want to play with a wider group of people, IMPROVE YOUR SKILLS BY HONESTLY ADMITTING THEY AREN'T "FINE."  It's easy to play down to someone's level by taking a weaker list, or playing more casually, and still netting competitive games.  It's impossible to play up unless you're willing to flex that amazing human brain of yours and pick up your game.  Same applies to painting, converting, and everything else in the hobby.

Our hobby will benefit from more people treating others as peers by attaining similar levels of play, painting, etc.; our hobby will benefit even more if those who are not at the same level as others are honest enough to simply admit that, and not attach branding, criticism and intense negativity to the difference.  Partisanship was opposed by George Washington for our country, and we see where it gets us all the time.  It's an inevitability, often, that people will create and choose sides ... but can we knock it off a little?  Our hobby is too small to suffer it, but small enough to actually do something about avoiding it.


  1. Not 'the country' mike, 'the world'. The majority of players, in the world.

    Anyway, I find it very difficult indeed to play down. Taking a weaker list, sure, but that doesn't necessarily mean a thing against some of my opponents. A recent article of mine ( expressed this very problem I've been having, to be honest.

  2. Ever since I started treating the competitive side of 40k like poker, I've found my game improving vastly. To me that means it is better to honestly assess one's skills, but that requires knowing the game, by which one can determine how much luck influences particular outcomes. I'm still a rookie, less than a year into the hobby, so a number of things veterans take for granted I still struggle with. But the more strategy and tactics I learn, the bigger difference I see in my own game. If anything, luck is my biggest hurdle, so I tend to blame the dice.

    That said, I'm still coping to grips with the fact not all codices are created equal. Some are better designed, and some are on the cusp of much needed updating.

    As a steadfast CSM player, I can present some rather interesting lists to provide a challenge for friends. There's one of our players (who's reading this, no doubt) gets the complaints about list cheese lobbed at him frequently. His lists are better, but he's also a better player. I believe the relationship between lists and players is very close, as a better player will come to the table with a better list, understanding what should and shouldn't work.

    So when I look across the table at what Space Marines and their various factions can do, it's daunting. Slowly, I'm figuring things out by playing to my strengths and those of my codex. Persistence pays off and I consider myself lucky in that regard.

    Saturday, I played my first game against a complete stranger, a friendly 1000 point CSM vs Necron game. I knew I would win from Turn 2 on. I realized every now and then, especially against strangers, it's good to kick some serious butt. Close, competitive game are more interesting, but my ego needs a good win every now and then. It's such a positive reinforcement of my ability to evaluate, which brings my comment (manifesto?) full circle back to your article.

    My next goal is the biggest one yet: to have fun! I get carried away with the competitive spirit, but I'm trying to divorce myself from the concept of "fun=winning". I don't want to be the players described, who sell out to an Internet list and live in perpetual frustration. Fun should equal playing! Once I loosen up, only good things can happen.

    Good article for me to read, thought-provoking as you can see by my wall of text. :D

  3. I think a big part of the problem is the community as well as the individual. I consider my self an average to above average player. I am probably the best player at my LGS, and in the top 3 or 4 in my local area, on a national scale, I do about 50-50 in larger tournaments (this is where I go to learn to be better.) Often times I will beat newer players fairly badly (especially in tournaments). However, I always offer to go through the game with them afterwords, and offer advice if they are open to it. I think this is the key point. If people are getting stomped and recieve no assistance, or encouragement I think that they get discouraged.

    For example I won a local tournament yesterday. In the first round I tabled a new Tau player by the bottom of turn 3. After the game we talked about his army, deployment, and tactics. What could he have done differently, what worked, what didn't? I also followed up with him after each of the following 2 rounds to see how he was doing (he lost round 2, but tabled his opponent in the final game, likely another player around his level).

    I think what most people need to understand is that learning to be good at this game is a fairly long process, with lots of platues (especially if, like me, your local group is not filled with great players). I started the game back in 1993, but never really got into it as my group moved away shortly there after. I picked the game up with a new group at about the beginning of 5E, and only lost once amongst my group of friends over the next several months. Then I went to my first tournament (ard boyz) and went 0-3 with the same army I used to stomp my friends. But I learned a lot from that, went back to the drawing board and did better my next 2 tournaments going 3-4-1 overall. I think it helped that I have yet to play against "that guy", and that plenty of people have helped me along the way, some people don't have this, or are resistant to it (if help is offered you should always listen, and take from it what you find useful.)

  4. Gamers will get from the game what they put into the game. No matter how cheesy an army list is, or how hot the dice, if the gamer does not put in the hours to learn the game, through play and study. they will never be good. The players mentioned by Anonymous are thinking that the game is somehow 'intuitive'. They are wrong. Study and learn or get used to losing. And also evaluate your own view towards the game. If you have no motivation to improve your play, you may need to find another game. To Thine own self be true.

    Also Mike, yhould you start posting the URL for the NOVA Open Forum? which is Hmmm. Looks like I just posted it. Oh well, edit it out if this is too soon :)