Is the Internet and Tournament Mindset the Destruction of the GW Hobby?

I’ve had this buzzing around in my head for a while, thinking of all the nuances and subtleties so that I can try to put across my point of view with this post. I’ll be the first to admit that in general I believe the Internet to be a good thing. However, as with many things in life that which can be used to benefit mankind can also be used for the exact opposite. Just as there are places that you can visit out in the real world that will bring enlightenment and joy, so too are there places where one can place their life in mortal danger.

While gaming generally doesn’t result in the fatality of either party (there are games in ancient civilisations where the captain of the winning team was offered as a sacrifice – this was considered an honour!) I think that sometimes having our community be so large can actually be a detriment to it.

While we benefit greatly from the vast melting pot that is the wargaming community and its online smorgasbord of thought I do believe that a lot of this, not all but a lot, tends to push most gamers into a single direction. The reason that I have titled this post the way I have is because I feel this affects the Warhammer Fantasy and 40k populations more so than any other. My belief here may be just down to the fact that Games Workshop reaches a larger portion of the gaming world than any other company’s offerings, even with an ever larger number of people deserting it for reasons I won’t go into here. It is also worth bearing in mind that a lot of the competition owes a lot to the Sherriff and his band, as without them breaking through into the mainstream it’s likely that none of them would be here now to make the market as saturated as it is.

Warhammer of both varieties has developed over a long period of time, more so than any other game, therefore the other rule sets have evolved to the current environment in which GW found itself; namely the tournament scene. I don’t think I’ll end up with a huge number of dissenting voices when I say that GW’s competitors generally have much tighter rule sets that lend themselves nicely to the tournament mindset. I’ve read a lot of articles that decry GW for their rules being badly written, for the games we hold around a dining room table this generally isn’t a problem as we can work things out and get the game going. Yet, when one adds in the competitive nature that is present at a tournament; that interpretation of a badly written rule becomes all the more important. I’m sure we’ve all seem mammoth threads that have popped up on forums the world over when someone has asked others to chime in on how something should be interpreted.

I’ve heard stories of people refusing to play games because they were trying to optimise their list and prepare for a tournament while another gamer was wanting a pick up game so he could just play the game he loved. To be honest that one post was the spark that got me thinking about things and led to this blog post.

Every forum you go to that allows the posting of army lists generally consists of advice for how competitive that list would be in a tournament setting. If people even bother to specify their list as “friendly” they will still get some advice that will try to “optimise” that list. One could argue that if a list is for a friendly game then getting advice on that list is rather moot anyway but I digress.

Somehow the Internet has transformed our appreciation of the hobby into a maelstrom of extracting every ounce of power out of our lists and weighing up the choices between character/unit selection, magic lores and item options. As soon as a new book is released it is stripped down to its bare bones and assessed against how well it would perform in that all-pervading competitive setting.

I’m aware that there are large numbers of tournaments running the world over, perhaps GW caused this themselves when they held their own tournaments, it may be that they’ve encouraged this, whether intentionally or not. I’ve also read a number of times that people have decried that the rules for Fantasy and 40k are not fit for tournaments, they are too random to necessarily be a true reflection of one’s generalship. This criticism is normally levelled at the random terrain generation and its effects for 8th Edition Fantasy.

I happen to have a lot of fun playing Warhammer Fantasy, even with the lack of opponents within my gaming circle. I’d say we play friendly games but we do like to play hard too so one could say we’re at a happy medium. Are we really playing a game that was meant for tournaments? If you consider the amount of players that use Comp systems to change the way the game is played (I’m not a fan of these systems myself) that try to “improve” things for tournaments then one could easily argue the games are not in a fit state for such. Then there is the perceived balance issues between various army books which also can tip the scales in one player’s favour just because of which army they bought.

I wonder whether these conditions on their own would be a non-issue, but having them all brought together into the ever-present online world we’ve created some kind of homunculus similar I suppose to the birth of Slaanesh from the Eldar fluff. All our thoughts and emotions have coalesced into this being that we are now all bound to.

Personally I’m happy with my “beer and pretzels” gaming with my friends. Despite some people’s arguments that they go to tournaments just to have fun and play some games I don’t think that really holds water. A tournament is about winning and I can’t rationalise someone who would go into that environment just to “have fun” and them actually having fun if they got their butt whooped by all the more competitive players. If that same person tuned their list to a tournament level to stop that from happening, well, you’re not just there to have fun then are you?

Considering what GW have put into 8th it seems they have really gone against the tournament mindset and created a game they just want you to have fun with. We’ll have to see what this year’s impending 6th Edition 40k release does with those rules (although I’m expecting the rulebook will be £50 after the latest round of price hikes) and if they move to a more tournament like set. I will congratulate GW on the fact that so far the Fantasy books for this current edition do seem to be nicely balanced and fair, we’ll see if they can keep that up once we get to some of the more popular and currently powerful armies out there.

I do think this tourney thinking might not be a bad thing though. While the GW offerings might be far from perfect for these things, WarmaHordes, Infinity and Malifaux for example work far better, in my opinion, because they can be played for fun but also have a robust enough rules system that a transfer to a more competitive environment works with no extra effort needed. Is the fact that these other companies do it better going to get to the point where GW either has to tighten up its own rules writing or make way for the other games that are snapping at its proverbial heels?

I’m interested to hear what anyone else things about this and how we might see this work for new offerings such as the current 6 Inch Move anticipation generator Drop Zone Commander.

2 thoughts on “Is the Internet and Tournament Mindset the Destruction of the GW Hobby?”

  1. Most tabletop games such as chess and checkers have winners and losers.

    These games therefore tend to be competitive. The tournament aspect is just a natural progression of this. 40k is simply a form of chess with hundreds of extra layers of complexity. Throw in the variables of tabletops, measuring and dice throwing and soon you have a system where army selection, min/maxxing and rules lawyering becomes as, if not more important than the actual playing.

    That is the point. If the pregame stuff becomes more important than the game then it becomes more of a hobby about the pregame, which is usually less social.

    It’s not a bad thing, as some people love that side of the hobby; but bear in mind that it may be to the detriment of people who don’t.

    Are there alternatives? Well yes. We could play more scenario driven games (40k 1st edition had a games master for this purpose), or throw the whole points shebang out of the window and just concentrate on gaming!

  2. As most of my comrades will attest to, I personally prefer to have a fun game rather than win-at-all-costs. There have been times when I have won and not felt good about it. Saying that we all get frustrated when those inevitable losing streaks come around and this does lead to us re-thinking our armies and playing style. I agree with Servitob that it is a natural progression from older games and dare I say it; a result of the human psychological development over countless millennia. We are naturally competitive.

    I think it has to be an individual or gaming groups choice as to how ‘tournament like’ they want to be. Some enjoy a win-at-all-costs game, for others this mentality spoils it.

    As for rules systems; I think that sometimes GW’s rules can be badly written and open to multiple interpretations, and this can lead to loss of fun in game as both sides try to interpret the rule to their advantage. It’s at this point that I think people lose sight in the fact that it is a GAME and not a real battle for life and death. For me I just prefer to get on with the game, even if it may put me at a disadvantage by the interpretation of a contentious rule (you could argue that this makes a victory more satisfying). As ZP said there are other systems out there that may provide you with a more tournament based rules set. There are also those that don’t. When Warlord Games brought out their original Black Powder rulebook they very much emphasized that historical battles were not played on points and so didn’t include a points system in the rules. They have since done a couple of supplement army list books that do have points values in them. But again they stress that the game doesn’t have to be even points.

    Scenarios can be a great way of playing unbalanced points games. After all do you think Leonidas told Xerxes that he wasn’t allowed to use all of those hundreds of thousands of extra men because it was unfair? And even if he did, do you think Xerxes would have listened? And yet Thermopylae was one of the most epic battles in history.

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