While we're waiting for Farmpunk to post his tourney report, let's think for a bit on this question:
Why do we collect toy soldiers? Why do we play 40K? (more...)
I've been doing a lot of thinking about this lately. Especially since Bell of Lost Souls has been doing hit-pieces on competitive players lately. Then of course we have the well(?) known rivalry/feud between those guys and Stelek over at Yes The Truth Hurts. Both camps act like bratty 12-year-olds when they interact, but I won't go any further into their drama here.
In a sense though, both Stelek and the BoLS guys have come to represent the ying and yang of the 40K community. Stelek is the uber-competitive player, who wants to build up the competition aspect of the hobby, which GW doesn't understand the need for. While the BoLS guys embrace GW's traditional target market and seek to provide some of the community outreach and support that GW can't be bothered with doing themselves.
So how would this divide be mapped out? Any set of choices can be thought of as a series of tradeoffs between a series of demands. Therefore, let's consider the 3 major demands that come into play when you get into this hobby.
Let's consider each of these in turn:
When most players first get into 40K, they are in their teenage years. Which means that they often have lots of free time to play, but very little money. So their choices in terms of the type of army they field will be dominated at all times by what they can afford to buy. This is one reason Marines are so popular. Because the new players don't need to buy as many models to get a game going, and you get a great deal on them by buying the starter set.
As these players get older, their disposable income starts going up. So now they can afford to buy many of the cool looking models they couldn't even consider having before. Or, if they care more about competition, they'll now be able to buy the more competitive units that might, for instance, only come in metal. Or require multiples of expensive vehicle models, like Valkyries.
Beauty-centric players are all about theme, fluff, and making sure their army looks as cool as possible on the table. They like to win, sure. But they're not mentally ranking themselves against all the other players in their area. These guys love to set up themed missions and large Apoc battles just to have fun on a Sunday afternoon. You can bet that every conversion or cool-looking model they have will be on the table, whether it wins games or not. And they'll gladly buy an entire boxed set just to get the parts they need for that perfect pre-heresy version of their favorite primarch's retinue.
The archetype for this type of player in the Indianapolis area is K-Mech, who has a Tau army painted in Gundam colors and a giant conversion of a Gundam robot that stands in for a Hammerhead gunship. His army looks great, and he loves to show it off.
His record is among the worst of the local players, but he just doesn't care. He'll even ask you not to give him tactical advice. Because it just doesn't matter to him.
Now we come to the purely competitive player, who's liking of fluff and theme is secondary to his love of the game itself. He wants to win and be able to rank his abilities on the battlefield against other competitive players. He's chosen his forces based on both points efficiency and their tactical role. If the model he needs to win is cheap, he'll buy it. If it's expensive, he'll still buy it. And it will stand there unpainted for months until he needs to get 3 colors on it for a tourney.
Mapping the Landscape
Now, very few 40K players are purely one type or the other. Instead, each person is a mix of these influences based up their degree of interest in each. Thus, they will fall somewhere within the following triangle:
After plotting several of my friends and other well-known 40K personalities, we get something like this:
Please don't mistake this graphic. Besides being totally subjective based on my opinions, players near the top aren't necessarily "better" players. Goatboy, for instance, is much more of a match for Stelek than this chart would suggest, and he'd probably beat me without too much trouble. But the players nearer the top are focused more on winning and competition, which drives their 40K choices towards greater list efficiency and use of tactics.
Where, you may ask, are the "green" players? Why in their basements, playing 40K with each other. Those that come to their FLGS to play other people will quickly find that their mish-mash collection of figs can't compete in terms of either beauty or competitiveness with the FLGS crowd. So most of them will decide to either return to the basement or quit the game in disgust. Because the only other choice is to spend some serious money and time to catch up. That's exactly what happened to me... twice!
This effect shouldn't be underestimated. There's probably 10X as many 40K players in basements as there are FLGS or Tourney players. Because cost will always be the number one concern for most people. Hence we come to an understanding of the "BoLS Divide":
As players leave the basement, they're confronted with 2 paths. The path-to-beauty beckons with cool looking models and lists that follow neat themes. This appeals to the visual and story themes that get new players hooked in the first place. Hence it is the path most trodden.
The competitive path, on the other hand, seems darker and more unforgiving. The players on this path have lots of unpainted models and various proxies used to test out new builds. They also speak in a strange tongue filled with terms like "Torrent of Fire", "Role Redundency", and "Points Per Wound". They have spreadsheets filled with personal performance stats and have calculated the weapon odds against every target imaginable.
Right down the middle of these two camps lies what I call the BoLS divide.
BoLS didn't invent that division (GW did), but they embrace it shamelessly. Putting up articles that competitive players like me find particularly aweful. There is however, a certain logic to what they do. Most people don't like long articles, so they keep them to about 5 paragraphs, maximum. Which makes any real discussion of tactics impossible. Most people's eyes will glaze over when discussing anything mathematical, so they don't discuss odds or math-hammer. Most people chose their units based on how cool they look or some movie army that they want to recreate. So BoLS panders to that.
There's some competitive info on their site, but it's watered down, lest they wander too far into the red and away from the greater 40K population that GW has built over the years.
What does this mean for you and me? Well, the following thoughts occur to me:
1) You can't change the nature of the 40K competitive scene without GW's help.
Think about it. GW has built this market over the last 20+ years. During that time, they've striven to appeal to the beauty gamers to the exclusion (whenever they can) of the competitive gamers. This long-term shaping has biased the general 40K population (through self-selection) against the sort of competitive play that games like Magic: The Gathering enjoy.
As a result, there just aren't enough competitive gamers in the greater 40K population to force an immediate change of focus on GW's part. We're a relatively small minority compared to the whole. So until GW starts actively encouraging more competitive play in 40K, thus attracting more gamers with a competitive mindset, things aren't going to change much.
Which brings me to my next point...
2) The recent announcement of the new North American Tournament Circuit is a GOOD thing.
Yes, the first few years of it will be aweful. Hideous even. Broken from the get-go. But for the first time in a long while, GW is trying to appeal to competitive gamers. That's an accomplishment. This WILL attract more competitive people to the game, and that's a long-term trend worth supporting. We'll get a few more at first, and then a lot more as GW hopefully learns from it's mistakes and sees the kind of untapped market it's been ignoring for so long.