Since the departure of GW from the world of tournaments years ago, 40K "competitive" play has been all over the place. Let's see where we are now.
First, we need to get something out of the way. I have played in exactly two 40K tournaments, both several years ago, and both at FLGSs. It was in the day of hobby score, social score and win-loss. I placed in the middle of fields of about 15-20 players. Won 2/3, got a decent social score and a mediocre hobby score. In that context, what is going on today?
Standardized RulesWe will start with ITC. This effort by Reese and the folks at Front Line Gaming is commendable. Trying to standardize a set of rules for tournaments in a world that has been adrift since GW cut the anchor chain is a yeoman's task. I really respect what they are trying to do, and why they are trying to do it. Being an Infinity player, I appreciate a set of standardized missions and basic rules that are consistent no matter where I play. Of course, the ITS Missions we use for Infinity were created by the company that made the game, Corvus Belli, in the same way that we had a standard set of rules for tournaments from GW back in the day. It makes it easier to practice for a tournament since you know ahead of time exactly which missions will be played. Issues of balance are addressed by the game system itself; missions really don't affect balance to any significant degree. In many ways, Front Line Gaming is trying to fill the gaping hole left by GW when they set us adrift.
However, even with a set of standardized rules (which by the way, are to some degree democratically determined by the community), the complaint that there is still huge opportunity to build "broken" lists is common. From the vantage of someone not involved in tournament play, I just don't get why people fuss about this so much. You know what you are getting going in. You have a game, a set of rules, and victory conditions based on missions (we talk about this a bit later). If you don't like the rule set, the conditions imposed or the missions, you can choose to not play. Simple. Really. Yeah, being able to get some credit for your beautiful paint job and playing like the gentleman (or woman) you are would be nice, but it's not there. Deal with it. Most people are there, with the usual exceptions, to have fun, hang out with like-minded gamers, drink adult beverages, and of course, smash their opponents' bloody corpses into their component atoms. Why do people say this is broken when someone brings models that are allowed? Because you didn't think of it first? Because your army doesn't have the formations and units to counter those "------ Stars" and other "overpowered" models?
The ITC system is not breaking the hobby and is not chasing people away. ITC events, such as the LVO, are well attended and growing. There are other examples as well. The only folks who think this effort to make some order out of the chaos is a bad thing are those who didn't win, and don't have the personality to enjoy the game and the company of fellow gamers despite getting their butts handed to them. If you go to these events with the right attitude, even defeat can taste pretty damn sweet when you have great folks around who are like minded.
Missions & VarietyMissions are another issue that is often mentioned among those who are regular attendees at tournaments. Paul Murphy and the crew at Forge the Narrative are among those who have developed a library of missions for 40K tournament play. Their reasoning, at least in part, for developing missions is twofold. First, to add variety and interest. He has also commented that proper mission design can help "balance" play. Again, I commend Paul and his folks for their efforts. IMO, these guys are professional tournament players, in so much as they attend tournaments around the country on a regular basis. They know of what they speak. The question I have again...is it necessary to attempt to balance play? Increasing interest and variety I understand. The same deployment zones and missions over and over again...yawn. It's why I like the mission decks developed for individual armies. But does attempting to balance play through the use of specific mission sets really affect the overall results, or mitigate the effect of "broken" lists? Since I assume that most players, like Paul, who go to tournaments, bring beatstick lists to begin with, what is the point in using missions for balancing?
Bringing Back HobbyLast...talk of reviving hobby scoring has surfaced, specifically from the folks at The Long War. Not only win-loss, but recognition of building/painting skill as well as how well players follow the "social contract." I certainly don't see the harm in this. A great point that has been made is how much time we spend building and painting versus how much we actually spend gaming. Shouldn't that time be recognized/rewarded? The risk in giving more weight to hobby scoring is that those who can afford to have their models professionally painted have an unfair advantage. Moreover, they are not spending time building and painting; why should they get credit for work they don't do? The piece related to adherence to the social contract I am not so sure about. It may affect your overall score, and that is a good thing, but no matter the tournament format, aren't the vast majority of attendees going to be the kind of folks you will want to have a beer with after the game? Being rewarded for not being an jerk seems a bit odd to me, especially since this is not the vast majority of those who win in the end. Perhaps in smaller, local venues. But at larger events, doesn't this work itself out anyway? I seldom hear of someone who won a major event who is hated and despised by his/her peers. Most of the winners seem to be an important part of the community and add, rather than take away, from the enjoyment of others; especially those they have played.
Attending a large event is on my bucket list. I KNOW that I will most likely be tabled by Turn 3 (if I am fortunate). But the chance to play some of the folks I listen to every week on their podcasts would be a great experience. I will walk in knowing I will feel like a baby seal by the end of the day. But I will enjoy giving it a go, and afterwards, having the chance to knock back a few with some of 40Ks brightest minds. So in the end, at least as I see it, the tournament scene is for a relative few (hundred) who have the time, models and wherewithal to be fortunate enough to make this a part of their lives. They are an essential part of our hobby, and no matter if I agree with them or not, it is fun to listen to the stories and the excitement the tournament players bring.
Have you attended any major 40K tournaments? Do you intend to?