Friday, October 25, 2013

Army Lists, and a Re-Blog - Competitive vs. Casual, the Endless Debate

So I told Chip / Torrent of Fire that I'd occasionally write a freelance article for them. I'm going to re-post that here.

I also wanted to share that I heard through the grapevine about something ... and if people are looking for army list advice, I suggest ... ask! There are a lot of really nice guys out there (and I'm occasionally one of them) who are happy to help out and share thoughts whenever people ask us for list advice. The grapevine was that someone thought those of us who historically share were suddenly being "sekrit" and only sharing with our friends. Oddball thing, that, but everyone in this hobby is a friend (or should be, it's small enough)!

On to the Re-Blog
Original post:

And the text of it ...
casualty2I’m going to try to convince people to stop using the words Casual and Competitive.
I’m going to do this by using them repeatedly for an entire, long article.
If I could give anyone I know a single piece of advice in life, it would be to live a life without expectations. If I could give someone a second piece of advice, it would be to establish goals instead.
The notion of “expectation” plays out heavily throughout our hobby. It impacts how our games pan out, how we play, how we feel about our games, and dramatically impacts our collective outlook on the hobby itself.
Lately, expectations are coming into play again with an upsurge in the perceived conflict between “Competitive” and “Casual” in Warhammer 40k. It bears understanding right from the get-go that these words are both awful words to use; we use them wrong, and we use them wrong routinely … they’re imprecise and highly subjective. More importantly, they cause serious problems in our community, because they detract from the real issues we often see causing conflict. They imprecisely and inaccurately rebrand these problems as a conflict of culture instead of a conflict caused by unrealistic and selfish expectations.
So let’s break some things down that need discussion …
As soon as you call something a Tournament and establish wins, losses, ties and scores for performance (whether that performance is “Did you win?” or “Was your opponent’s list cheesy in your expert opinion?” or “How attractive is your army compared to everyone else’s?”), you’ve created a Competition. A competition need not be competitive, but competitiveness is largely beyond the control of the organizer in contemporary 40k.
It’s time to take you guys to the mystical realm of ANALOGYLAND (which is apparently a real place). If you host a five-round one-on-one street basketball tournament in which the first round is randomly paired and the participants are Kobe Bryant in his prime, Michael Jordan in his prime, and 30 identically cloned people with dwarfism … is it competitive? We know it’s a competition … after all, it’s a five-round streetball tournament. Your initial thought might be “This isn’t competitive,” since we can probably guess Kobe and MJ are going to face each other at some point (not necessarily in the final round as would make sense, since the first round is randomly paired), and are otherwise going to run roughshod over a bunch of poor little people.
You’d be wrong.
In every round save for the first, 14 of the 16 games played are going to be practical mirror matches in terms of size and athleticism. The excepted round will have 16 highly competitive games, because at some point either Kobe or MJ are going to have to face each other … it’s a five-round tournament and there are 32 players, and we can safely assume neither of them is going to lose to a dwarf. So while theoretically eight games are going to be highly unfair and not competitive (the four rounds in which MJ and Kobe are beating up on the little people, and not facing each other), 72 games are going to be exceptionally competitive. So even though 30 of the 32 players never had a chance to win, the event itself is incredibly competitive, with 72 of 80 games likely to be very closely contested, with no clear guess at a winner ahead of time. Plus, the game to determine the overall winner (Kobe vs. MJ, whenever it happens) is also going to be very competitive (let’s avoid Kobe vs. MJ debates and assume they’d be similar enough in their respective primes).
A far less competitive event would be one in which the field is incredibly diverse. Host the same tournament with the same random first round pairings, yet change the field to MJ and Kobe, a handful of the little people, and then a full spectrum of basketball players from grade school, junior high and high school, college, the pros and retiree leagues. This event is far less likely to be even remotely competitive, because the ability to actually pair up evenly matched individuals becomes more difficult … and you still know going into it who is likely to wind up at or near the top by the end.
The second example represents all of today’s major 40k tournaments, from the Feast of Blades and NOVA Invitational all the way through most local Rogue Trader tournaments. You won’t find any event that is even remotely competitive. You’ll find plenty of events that are well-designed, fair competitions.
There’s another point, by the way. I’ll wager no one reading this wondered about the rules of basketball while pondering the whimsy of the above examples. Nobody was sitting there thinking, “3-pointers are overpowered; I wonder if any of the old guys will bring those to their game.” Perceived and real imbalances in 40k create yet another layer of “Come on guys, none of these tournaments are competitive.”
You, the reader, represent one of the people in the second tournament example above. Just like that example, when you attend a Tournament you are competing. You are in a competition. Your likelihood of getting a bunch of competitive games isn’t necessarily very high. Your likelihood of successfully winning games is directly proportional to your metrics; while for MJ the key factors were his skill and physical attributes, for you it’s your skill and army attributes.
In all of these cases, skill and army … or skill and physicality … are independent of personality. They are independent of “competitive spirit” and “sociability” and “fun-lovingness.”
Hall Of Fame Induction CeremonyThe world is full of competitively elite people who are superjerks, and competitively elite people who are wonderful human beings. Cal Ripken, Jr. isn’t an awesome human being because he played a ton of consecutive baseball games.
The world is also full of competitively incompetent a**holes, and competitively incompetent angels. Kim Jong-un isn’t a horrible ornery a**hole because of his poor hangtime.
But I’m getting off course. There’s a paradigm in our hobby of trying to brand people as being “one or the other,” “competitive vs. casual,” and other similar brandings.Kim 40k
I hope we’ve by now completely abolished the horrible use of the word “competitive” when referring to 40k tournaments. They aren’t, and IMO they never will be. There are too few events, too diverse a set of codices, too rapid a series of changes to those codices and too many players spread across too large a land area. Until we have a seeded event for only the best players (and look, I think the NOVA Invitational gets close, but it’s still fairly diverse in skill and army level), we’re never going to have a remotely competitive 40k event.
Stop thinking yours is. I’m talking to you, Mike Brandt of the NOVA Open. I’m talking to you, Chandler Lee of the Feast of Blades. I’m talking to you, Reece Robbins of the Bay Area Open. Whoever. Until we want to shoot ourselves in the financial foot and only let in a tiny handful of people we know are “good,” and then just to be sure, QC their lists with an independent commission to make sure none of them are being dummies and taking something that’s trying too hard to be different … we’ll never have a truly competitive event. Furthermore, calling someone “competitive” makes no sense whatsoever. I’ve faced many local heroes who are considered competitive dudes by their local crews … and crushed them. Does that mean they are or aren’t competitive? Just … STOP using the word. Try “good at 40k,” or “He has an optimized list,” or “He a bad man!!!” Those, at least, are all aware of their own subjectivity.
shoot-40kWhat we all do have, by the way, are fair competitions with fair rules in which people have a fair shot to prove how good they are (at painting, gaming, being good people in the eyes of those with whom they interact, or all three combined somehow).
So … moving on to the word “casual.”
What does it mean?
  • Relaxed and unconcerned
  • A person who does something irregularly
  • Clothes or shoes suitable for everyday wear rather than formal occasions
  • Made or done without much thought or premeditation
The closest I can see any of these getting to how our hobby community tries to use it is the fourth definition, but it’s still …. just awful as a way to try and brand someone.
I call tell you, the people out there desperately crying for comp or “casual” events are very, very concerned, and aren’t even a little bit relaxed. I can tell you none of them seem to play 40k irregularly. We can skip the clothing definition …
There are other uses for “casual,” as funny as that is. There’s also a great deal of thought and premeditation going into trying to brand “Competitive vs. Casual” subsets of players, and then trying to add qualitative value to whom each “side” is as human beings.
I’m a casual player. OH YEAH I DID. Am I concerned with the outcome of a tournament or game I attend? Not particularly. Am I relaxed when I play? Most opponents would probably argue stridently “yes,” especially when making cocktails for opponents and myself (as at Battle for Salvation: Lavender Bitters + Citadelle Gin + Q Tonic, yessir!). I played about four games of 40k in the two+ months leading up to BFS. Sounds fairly irregular to me. Less than once every two weeks. Less than twice a month. I do occasionally wear fancier clothes while playing … but that’s usually because I just got home from work. I often scribble out a list to play against my opponents on the spot, the moment I get home, with … well, without much thought or premeditation.
Yet I’m not who the Branders are thinking of when they say “casual.” (Oh yeah, I just branded the Branders, sue me.)
Who are they thinking of? Bad players? Players who try really hard to build a list they don’t think is “competitive” (there’s that stupid word again). Players who … don’t care if they win? Wait, can’t go there … lots of the “competitive” guys don’t care if they win either, despite bringing strong lists and playing well.
I think what gets me is that it’s the opposite of casual to try and stovepipe or brand people who share the same hobby as being a certain way. There are a lot of players who are anything but casual, but for whatever reason (more power to them) don’t want to play what is considered an optimal list, and don’t want to spend much energy within their games playing to win. That’s OK. I don’t fully understand it personally, because I’ve always found myself able to engender positive relationships with all sorts of player types while playing the game as it is supposed to be played and bringing whatever list I want to bring … the exact definition of a casual player.
The truth of the matter is we all need to take it a little less seriously, and remember that it is a game. When you sit down to play Apples to Apples, or Trivial Pursuit, or Pictionary … you give it your best shot at playing the game correctly and to win … you congratulate those who do well … you laugh at the fun things that happen … and you generally care not all that much about the outcome. You certainly don’t look at that guy next to you who is answering all the Trivial Pursuit questions correctly and say
competitive-2The long and short of this long-winded retort to the Branders of our little hobby world is this:
Kim Jong-un sucks at basketball (I’m just sure of it), and also sucks at life. Cal Ripken, Jr. is pretty awesome at life, and awesome at baseball. I think most of us use the words “casual” and “competitive” incorrectly, but we all know what players mean when they try to brand people as being one or the other.
And it’s still wrong.
There are as many overly intense, unpleasant people who play 40k poorly or with fluffy / underpowered lists as there are overly intense, unpleasant people who play 40k well and with optimized or overpowered lists.
Drop your expectations when going into public gaming settings (local game stores, tournaments, etc.), and be open and aware of your own needs. Avoid games that are too far outside your skill and list level, and if you put yourself in games that are outside your skill and list level … understand and accept responsibility for the fact that’s exactly where you’ve put yourself. You aren’t a “casual player” stuck facing a bunch of “competitive players.” You aren’t a competitive player forced to get his practice in against “casual newbies.” We’re all different, we all share traits and differ in all sorts of variable ways, and we’re all playing a silly little game. Obsessing over throwing a diverse group of human beings into a couple of hyper-generic, grammatically intoxicated buckets is probably the last thing any of us should be doing.


  1. I think better descriptors are "Narrative" players and "Mechanical" players. Mechanical players focus primarily on the mechanics of the game, and that is central to their enjoyment of the hobby. It is about how to win, or playing the game in the way they want to. Conversely, "narrative" players care about the storyline and the fluff associated with the game, and their armies in particular. The mechanics of the game are necessary abstractions for the purposes of telling a story, rather than the focus of their hobby.

    Can a player be both? Absolutely. It's a spectrum. Very few are extreme players on either side, in my experience. But the further one is to one side or the other, the less they are able to understand the motivations of players on the other side of the spectrum. You can have civil and polite players of both flavors, and you can have mean, nasty and bigoted players of both flavors.

  2. Some people play to win, and some people play to play. I'm not seeing the problem with giving those two different groups of people names.

  3. 40k is not,nor has it ever been, competitive. It is a game of chance -- all that dice rolling-- and thus a contest, not a competition*. Any talk of "competitive 40k" is risible. And I think this whole divide only exists in the GW gaming community. I certainly do not see it elsewhere. (I could be wrong) Other than that, what Lost Cateran said make perfect sense.

    A short while ago, a mutual friend of ours remarked that he hadn't checked out your blog is ages. It occurred to me that I had not either. So, I decided to give it a look, only to find you complaining about the state of 40k; then again, complaining about something at the BfS, and now this.

    Normally, you are very optimistic, perhaps too optimistic-- that whole 'Reality Distortion Field' thing ;) I joked about-- but I don't see it in these posts. Gaming should be fun, an uplift, and certainly not a source for complaints-- especially the same ones, ad infinitum :S

    Why do this to yourself? Climb over the wall. Get out of the Nottingham Gaol and explore the gaming world. We are in a golden age of gaming, and you punish yourself by dwelling in the warped and barren dimension that is GW gaming. There is so much available that is fun and challenging and.. wait for it... affordable .

    My 2 Cents. NNTR.

    Oh, and you must try The Fear, Flying Dog Brewery's Imperial Pumpkin Ale. Awetastic! Now gotta get a hold of some Pumpkinator

    Kim Jong-Un is to basketball what his father was to golf.

    *Oddly though we say pissing contest when we should say pissing competition. Idioms, go figure.

    1. Semantics-Why all the arguments over competitive or not? I would assume you understand what the word competitive means..... Which is simply put "strive to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same." How is any game not competitive? I guess the definition of a game which is "a form of play or sport, esp. a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck." doesn't really apply to your interpretation of what a game is.

      The simple fact is that games are designed to be won. I am not sure if I have ever heard of a game that was designed to end in a tie..... still thinking..chutes and ladders, stratego, chess, poker, Settlers of Catan,nope. Can't find one.

      So maybe the issue is that people don't like losing and have to find an excuse as to why they lost. Therefore, claiming that it isn't fair that Johnny brought a bigger bat, or has a better car, or is naturally stronger, etc. Maybe all the complaining about why 40k isn't competitive is really just some men's way of not feeling like they are big enough in a certain area of their lives.....

      Either way, games are meant to be fun. They are meant to have a winner and a loser. We shouldn't get upset when we lose but we do. I do. But I don't whine about it and pout in a corner and then blame everyone else for my shortcomings. But misery loves company.

      I admit, I am competitive. I also like long walks on the beach, action movies.....

      There is my $1.47

    2. Geoff,

      Rumors of my cynical demise are far exaggerated :)

      I still love playing the game of 40k, and do so regularly. I simply have my issues on occasion w/ the internets, where in all games and spheres of interest there are trolls, flamers and general douchecanoes.

      The Fear is good, btw; Weyerbacher's Imperial and Schlafly continue to be the best of the high test IMO. Uinta's low-test Punkin is amazing, but gone for the year.

      Finally, people who like the sickly sweet crap that is Southern Tier's Pumpking ... ugh.

    3. Want sickly sweet, try Hornsby's Cider. Wow, bad. I've had both Weyerbacher's and Shafly's. They just brew all around excellent stuff. Southern Tier has... slipped. For a good coffee stout, try Dominion's Morning Glory. Plus, gotta love that label art.

      Well, if you enjoy the play, that is what matters. We don't do this as a chore ;) But y'know, it ain't like marriage (Marriage is cheaper) you can play other games. And should. Everybody should. IMHO. Variety is a good thing.

      Douchecannon. Ugh, what an image.

  4. Casual and competitive are inaccurate labels for the differences between players...but when riptides cost $85 each, our community is in no way classless.

    1. :)

      Class-less ... Without class ...

      Or ... not classifiable

      One thing I can't help but agree on ... Tabletop Miniature Wargaming has become incredibly expensive; also, third party and competing companies practically rejoice in GW price increases, b/c it lets them raise theirs to silly levels ALSO, so long as they are "not quite as expensive as GW." The same is true for boutique model producers who make "Better than GW" models ... and are able to increase their prices to always be slightly higher than the competition they claim their superiority over.

    2. Where differences exist, everything is classifiable. Doesn't mean it's always appropriate to do so.