Wednesday, March 07, 2012

A Gentleman's Tournament

Today I want to share something that’s a bit old but good fun.  About two years ago, before I really started playing Warmachine/Hordes, I was still playing Warhammer 40k fairly regularly.  The crowd at my local game store was fairly strong but some grumbling had begun to creep into the community – people were starting to become a little unhappy and bored with the armies regularly seen at events like tournaments.  My friend, Jon, and I came up with an interesting and fun idea: what if we had a tournament where winning didn’t matter?  I’m not just talking about including “Comp” or Composition scores on army construction (still a controversy in the 40k community), but winning legitimately did not determine the winners of the tournament.  It was a radical idea and some in the community didn’t like the thought of having a community where winning didn’t matter.  Really, who blames them?  What’s the point of a tournament otherwise?  Me and Jon were convinced that this could work and actually be quite fun, however, and thus, the Gentlman’s Tournament was born!

"Why yes, ol' chap, I do still think you were being a douche
for taking so many Long Fang squads!"
There are some key features of the Gentleman’s Tournament which you should understand.  The first part I already mentioned: winning doesn’t matter.  Once you get past the idea of winning, what’s left to the game?  Well once you no longer consider winning to be valuable, it frees you up to look at the other aspects of the hobby which are important to a gaming community.  The point of this event was to build a stronger community, not to see who the “best player” was.  The catalyst for this tournament was that people were getting tired of losing to the same player and the same lists over and over again, and the community needed a jumpstart.

So once you remove winning as a key condition, what’s left?  Well the purpose of the tournament was to encourage what we consider to be “proper” behavior of a member of a miniatures gaming community.  In other words, what kind of people did we want as fellow gamers?  While this might seem subjective, I think any of you reading this blog will agree on the following aspects of a player being important: having a fully-painted and based army, being a good sport, playing with some kind of theme, and supporting others in the community.  We had no shortage of competitive players, but those competitive types were driving away the players that just wanted to have fun.  We decided that this tournament was our opportunity to use some positive reinforcement to get players to behave in the way that the community wanted.

So these were our criteria: sportsmanship, theme, and painting.  These three areas are common to comp-style tournaments, but we decided to take a different approach than some other tournaments have.  Most tournaments at the LGS had a painting prize anyway, so this wasn’t anything new to players in the community.  However, since our community was small (about 20), the same people won those painting prizes over and over again, so we again had to think outside of the box.  We decided that a “fully-painted raffle” was the best solution, encouraging everyone to get all of their models painted and based, regardless of skill, and everyone would have an equal chance of winning.

"This mission looks right."
"No, I do insist on this one."
We also decided that since winning didn’t matter, we should give players the opportunity to try traditionally “bad” units that they might not use otherwise when winning a tournament prize was on the line.  Therefore, we decided that each player should create a list with a particular self-determined theme in-mind.  Instead of deciding on a particular rubric to judge the players as tournament organizers, instead we decided that perhaps we should leave it up to the players of the tournament to decide what themes were fun and interesting to play against.  Each player would create their own list with a particular theme of their choosing and they would pair that list up with a special mission from the GW BattleMissions book.  They could choose any mission they wanted, they just had to justify it with their particular theme.  Since the players were the ones who would vote on which ones they liked, there was more of a motivation for people to choose something wacky and fun.

"I say!  Good show, ol' chap!"
Sportsmanship didn’t really need to change too much, except we decided to give a rubric for the players so that it was a little easier for them to choose an appropriate score instead of giving everyone a top score.  Also, we gave them their sportsmanship evaluations at the end of the tournament so that they could judge according to the rubric.  Past tournaments at the LGS limited the number of scores people could assign, but we had faith in our players that they wouldn’t all give the same scores, and they didn’t so it turned out alright.

While these are all good, since it was a Gentleman’s Tournament, we decided that in order to get everyone into the spirit of the tournament, we would require all participants to wear a tie throughout the entire event.  That’s right - we forced our players to be classy!  We even added a “Best Dressed” award that players would vote on, to encourage everyone to dress even classier.  Even if someone showed up and claimed to “forget” their tie, we brought extras so that there were no excuses!  This ended up being tons of fun and we were clearly the most impressive individuals in the entire store!

That still left us lacking a “top prize” for the tournament.  Well, naturally, the Gentlemanly thing to do was to have the players determine who deserved to get the top prize – for whatever criteria they deemed most fitting.  Everyone in the tournament cast a ballot at the end for the player who was most deserving of the “Gentleman’s Award” – whether it be due to generalship, sportsmanship, thematic creativity, painting skills, or fashion sense.  In essence, the Gentleman’s Award was an award for the ‘Renaissance Man’ who embodied the best aspects of the hobby.

The end result was that we had higher attendance than any of the tournaments the store had held prior to that event in some time, everyone had fun, lots of people went home with prizes, and there was a near-unanimous approval of the player who was most deserving of the Gentleman’s Award – who even brought-in purity seals with descriptions of the martial prowess of his Black Templars (prior to their FAQ update, mind you).  It was a great success and I forgot how much fun it was to run.

So what am I telling this for?  I think I’m inspired to create a similar event in the future for Warmachine/Hordes.  Why not?  There’s already an easy way for restricting players to playing themed-lists.  Warmachine/Hordes, although more balanced, still has a community known for having some really nasty lists that are tough to face.  Removing winning games from the tournament equation really levels the playing field and allows people to try things they haven’t considered trying before, and Warmachine/Hordes can benefit from that just as well as 40k can.  What do you think?

Here's the link to the revised Gentleman's Tournament documents in case you are interested in running one of these tournaments at your LGS:

The Steam-Powered Gamer wishes to remind you to...
"Keep it classy!"
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