Yeah, that’s right you Commiecorns!!!
Reecius here from Frontline Gaming to set everyone straight on this whole comp thing!
First of all, let me just say that I don’t actually think comp is for Commies and/or Unicorns, I just Google image searched “commie unicorn” and it was an actual thing! Haha, I had to use the images!
So, that aside, I am writing this article in response to Goatboy’s article from Monday about the possibility of bringing comp back into tournaments. I keep my ear to the ground on these things and it is a topic that has come back up on multiple fronts largely in response to the very unfun combos that have popped up in 40K such as Riptidestar and Spam, Screamerstars, Jetseerstars, etc. Comp always will come up in this game, it’s one of those topics that will always be a part of the conversation with organized 40K because the rules of the game are not the best, and we all know this.
Let’s address this systematically, shall we?
What is comp?
Comp is a relatively noble idea. It is the belief that by imposing negative consequences on players for bringing units that are perceived to be too powerful, players won’t bring them or will not be able to win as easily, if at all, and therefore make the game more fair for everyone else.
Comp comes from the days of yesteryear when GW ran tournaments and they needed a way to stratify the field when they only played 3-5 rounds and wouldn’t have a clear winner with W/L/D. So, they added in points to determine a winner. These included battle points, comp points, sportsmanship points and paint points, typically.
This way even with the physical limitation of 3-5 games, you would have a field of players that all had different scores and therefore you could determine who ranked where.
How does it work in application?
While comp seems like a good idea on the surface as with any complex issue, it is infinitely more sticky in the real world than in the world of theory.
Comp quite simply does not do what it’s stated purpose is: level the playing field. The game is inherently unfair and imbalanced. The different armies are made to be as different from one another as they can with a plethora of units within each codex each of which has a lot of options. The amount of variables in this game approaches an effectively infinite number. With that much room for customization, one so inclined to finding powerful combinations can and will do so. Many gamers, by their nature, are oriented towards finding what is most optimized in any given system and we should all accept that this is never, ever going to go away. List writing is a game in and of itself, and a fun one at that. Introducing comp into a system that is this complex and chaotic is absolutely going to fail at creating perfect balance or even coming remotely close to it.
Why do I say that? Think about this logically. In a system where everything is meant to be different from everything else, if you introduce a new rule to “balance” something that is very powerful, it impacts every other unit differently, often negatively. A good example of this is saying you can only take 2 of any unit besides troops. You might immediately think, oh good, less Wave Serpents and Riptides (the current Bugaboos of the game) but then you are also saying less of EVERYTHING else, too. A lot of armies require taking key units in abundance to compete. You throw out the baby with the bathwater by trying to bring balance and while yes, you may reduce some of the perceived problem units, you also unfairly punish armies that aren’t problematic. Beware of unintended consequences.
I have also never seen a tournament with comp have significantly different results than those without it. If comp worked, every army would have a roughly equal chance of winning (not taking into account player skill here, of course). You should therefore see an even distribution of armies performing well based on their representation at the event. At the least, you should see armies that perform poorly in no-comp events performing well in comp events. I don’t see that, either. That isn’t to say it doesn’t happen of course, just that I have not observed it in any significant numbers. I have played in a LOT of tournaments, far more than most people, and many of those were comp events and I can say from personal experience that the same armies were winning in comp as in no comp events with no real statistical difference.
Good armies have depth, like a good sports team. They can fall back on other good units in their book to fill the gap that results from not taking banned or restricted units. Tau or Eldar, for example, can just take 2 of their best units (of which they have many) and then fill the gap with more, awesome units as these books largely have few to no poor choices. The weaker books though, with only a few good choices, suffer which is the inverse effect of what comp wants to do.
Judging comp on an individual player basis by judges or the worst of all, opponent judged comp (blech) is just a really, really poor idea. For one, it is absolutely subjective. You can’t use a rubric for the reasons stated above that is even remotely fair, and your opinion of a lists’s power is utterly biased. Judges may not have the depth of knowledge to fairly look at every army in the field and determine it’s power. Maybe they don’t see the combos, or even know about the problem combos and their score of your comp or opinion of your lists power may be totally skewed. One judge may look at a Screamerstar on paper and think, that is uber powerful, another may see a fluffy Tzeentch unit and give it top marks. You laugh, but I see this happen often. Secondly, the logistics of collecting every players list is a pain in the ass (players forget, change their list, etc. etc. etc.) and then actually reading each list, checking it, and scoring it takes a LOT of time. For a 100+ player event, that is days of work. If you have multiple judges you now have not only bias but an unfair application of bias as not every list was judged by the same standards.
Player judged comp is just asking for abuse. In the heat of the moment, particularly after experiencing a new and deadly combo, or playing an army you don’t like, or losing a game, people give in to the temptation to ding their opponent’s score. If even a single player abuses this in order to gain an advantage or to be spiteful, the entire system falls apart. It is simply unfair, flawed and a terrible, terrible, terrible format. Players should NEVER be given the option to influence each others’ scores. It is asking for trouble if only because it opens the door to the suspicion that impropriety is possible.
Comp also often becomes a thinly veiled Witch Hunt. Under the guise of fairness, it often becomes the instrument for changing the game into the image of he who writes the comp rules or even worse, into a way to persecute individual gamers or armies in smaller gaming group.
There will always be the OP army. Every edition has it’s crazy lists that just hit too hard. We had Speed Freaks and Blood Angels in third, Tri-Falcon Eldar and Nidzilla in 4th, Leaf Blower, Missile Wolves, Grey Knights in 5th, and now we have Screamerstar, Eldar, and Riptide heavy Tau. A solution to these always eventually comes through player innovation or new rules (Sisters of Battle are going to be shutting down a lot of these problem units we have now, IMO) and then the community calms down until they flip out about the next OP thing. And there always will be these rising and falling inequities in the game, it is just a part of 40K.
Lastly, if your comp system seriously impacts someone’s list that they bought, built and painted, making it unable to win in your format, what incentive do they have to come? It inconveniences people who have invested all of the time and energy into building a legal army that now have to rebuild their army to fit your version of 40K.
What are my personal feelings about comp?
I don’t hate comp, I just feel that it is a flawed system that makes an event less fun to play in. On a philosophical level I do not like telling other people what to do. I value freedom and choice and so have no desire to attempt to impose my idea of what 40K should be player on others.
Comp pisses people off in a big way because a lot of people don’t like being told what to do. If their army is legal per the game, then so be it. If anyone deserves to feel bad about imbalance in the game, it’s the game designers.
Building an army is a creative process that involves a lot of time, energy, TLC and money. Telling someone they can or cannot do something because you don’t like it when they have gone to that effort is–of course–not going to make them happy. It creates conflict.
On the flip side though, I totally understand how un-fun it can be to play a super powerful army that just smashes your face. That is not enjoyable for either player and some of the combos in the game right now, really are incredibly OP.
I personally make the choice to play armies that are balanced and challenging. I do not play the crazy lists we see in the game because I feel that it detracts from skill and prefer to win (if I do win) by being creative and overcoming the power lists. I do not oppose comp for personal reasons as my lists usually will max out on a comp score. But, that is my choice to play that way, and I do not wish to take that choice away form others.
No list is unbeatable and to take that stance is to be intellectually lazy and to look to take the easy way out of trying to change your environment as opposed to adapting yourself to function optimally within it. The creative gamers that look for ways to beat what is “unbeatable” will also gain a lot of satisfaction from that. I prefer that method but understand that not everyone thinks that way, which is why we see so many gamers follow the trends of what is perceived to be best. One of the things I dislike most about a tournament is when every Tom, Dick and Harry brought the same got-dang list.
Complaining about a problem can be useful in that it brings it to light, but you need to take action to resolve it or else you are just being a pain in the community’s collective backside.
I prefer systems that motivate people with positive consequences as opposed to negative. I feel that instead of creating conflict, that engenders cooperation and positive feelings. As Goatboy mentioned, in our events we award people for doing the best with every army. So, you come to an event and play Orks, you may not win Best General (only one person does, afterall) but you can be the best Ork player. Cool! That means not everyone feels the pressure to take what is “best” but instead can strive to be the best with their army and if you know a lot of folks are bringing Tau or Eldar, your odds of winning a Best of Award go up if you take a less popular army.
Also, I believe that opening up the game to more diversity such as introducing Forgeworld really helps to incentivize people to bring different armies. It means that more armies have more units and combos available to them to bring the power levels up.
Lastly, while I think telling others what they can or cannot bring through comp is both asking for conflict in your event, un-fun for those coming, reduces the number of players that will want to come to your event; I do 100% believe in creating as fair and fun of an event as possible. This game is about having fun, after all, and that should be the primary concern for any TO when designing their event.
In order to do that in our events we very carefully and after a great deal of play testing, design missions and terrain that levels the playing field as much as possible. While this is a form of comp (any change to the core book rules is a form of comp) it allows the TOs to subtly influence the balance of the game while still giving players the freedom to bring what they want.
We have found that by providing positive incentives to players to bring the army they want to play, not just what they think is best, and creating a format that strives to level the playing field you end up with a much more enjoyable format that also encourages diversity. The last BAO illustrates that well as we had, by far, the most diverse field of any of the major tournaments this year. This was a different meta then than now of course, but all of our events this year (3 GTs so far) have had similar results. Far more diversity in the field than we have been seeing in some of the other events where the results have been depressingly uniform armies on the tables. And please don’t take that as a swing at any other event or format, I bring it up only for comparison’s sake.
|Overall army representation at the BAO|
|Top 10% of the finishers.|
In summation, let people do what they want to do and play what they want to play. As TOs it is incumbent upon us to use the same creativity and problem solving skills we want to see in our players to create systems in which players WANT to bring different armies and therefore, create a more enjoyable gaming event for everyone where no one feels that they are being told what to do.