Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Throne of Skulls $.02, Differences in Formats, Competitiveness, Evaluativeness, Fairness ... Getting Along

This is a bit of an extension of a post I made on Dakka Dakka, in a discussion about the recently held Throne of Skulls championship/finals in Las Vegas, which by all accounts were extremely competitive, very well run, and a ton of fun for those involved.

Any tournament can be competitive, regardless of format. People often mix up the notions of evaluative and competitive. I.E. a tournament's competitive SIDE should in a vacuum fairly evaluate the best player in THAT tournament for THAT weekend, and the path to achieve best player should be appropriately predictable ... perceivable consequences is a phrase often bandied about.

Long story short, for the competitive side, a player should be able to say "If X, then Y." If I Massacre every game, I win, for instance.

In a NOVA, AdeptiCon, Bay Area, etc., type event - you're going into it knowing flatly that if you win every one of your games, you'll win the event's competitive track, period.

In a Battle Points and Margin of Victory type event, you're going into it knowing that the more you win BY, the better your chances of winning, unless someone beats people even MORE than you ... this is in the VACUUM sense of tournament theory LESS ideal than the first set, but still - you only will lose because someone else flat out did BETTER; that's to say, your final placement is not impacted by those who performed worse than you, only by those who performed better.

In the Throne of Skulls format, the water gets muddied even more because your final placement is not necessarily at all related to who does BETTER than you, but to how well your peers BELOW you did. Hence, you're getting quite far away from the simple notions of perceivable consequences, self-determination, and the ability to win by ... winning.

As I said earlier, I think Throne of Skulls sounds like a resounding success for those who attended, but it is not very accurate or appropriate to throw up the hands and lump ALL tournaments in together as equally evaluative or "fair" in giving players control over their own destinies.

Such control is not necessarily valuable - to the originator of the Throne of Skulls format, it was not valuable at all; generally, it was irrelevant whether players had much control over their own fates. That's OK, because it's openly stated that's the case - the format blatantly makes clear that your final placement in the overall competitive track will be in many ways divorced from your own personal success .... winning all your games helps you, but guarantees you nothing. Too bad so sad, yatta yatta.

Competitiveness is determined by the closeness of the field; if Michael Jordan in his prime were to compete against me in the most FAIR field possible at Basketball, he'd murder me so horribly it wouldn't even be funny - the fact that the format in which we played was fair and even and balanced and evaluative is irrelevant to COMPETITIVENESS ... such a match would not be competitive at all, despite the fairness of the format.

Similarly, if everyone playing in Throne of Skulls was a highly competitive player with a strong list and a lot of skills, the event was like to be EXTREMELY competitive, whether or not the final placement of the winner was his fault or the fault of his peers.

It's important, I think, that when these types of discussions start to heat up, we all take a step back and realize that there's a) a big difference between competitive and evaluative, and b) TOs are the ones with the rights to choose what is and isn't a valued function of their format, and as long as they are very clear well ahead of time about how things will pan out ... well, more power to them and try not to jump their case so much; it's not as if they've deceived or harmed you in any way.

This is most especially the case when evaluating Throne of Skulls ... the field was certainly competitive, and the event was extremely well advertised and clear in how it would play out. Beyond that, Ed and co threw an amazing time by the feedback of all who participated, and mostly great players won awards. I think it's a good point for all of us to call it a success, shake hands on differences, and look ahead to the next big events


  1. A good time was had, but due to oddness in scoring, at least one player went 5-0, but did not win overall....that went to a 4-1 player...his loss, incidentally, was to the 5-0 player.

  2. I dislike those type of touranments, but if I know in advance that is a possibility I can choose either not to attend, or maximize my ability with battle points to win. Either way, these type of tournaments tend to be more hobby focused and less competitive focused.

    Too bad for the 5-0 guy!

  3. I would not have called this particular tournament "Competitive". Granted my match-ups were the following:
    -Mechdar (Best Eldar player)
    -Horde Orks
    -Space Wolves

    However, do not assume that it was a bust.
    I had an awesome time.


  4. Since I'm going to England this Fall, I decided to sign up for the ToS tournament over there. It's...definitely a different format than what I'm used to. Should be interesting to see how I do.

    I did a tournament last year with some 20-odd people. I had massacre-level wins in all three of my games, yet wound up placing third because two guys had decent win scores and better-painted armies. Disappointing, to say the least, but it wound up being more motivation to make sure that, when I go to a tournament, my stuff is fully painted and painted coherently, too (I was "borrowing" a Land Raider from another of my armies, so it was totally different colors).