Hello, again. In this era of rampant tribalism in the world at large, it seems that there has arisen an interesting and occasionally unhealthy division within the Warhammer 40k community: the casual gamer vs the competitive gamer.
In my experience, there is often a bit of pushback among casual gamers against 40k as a competitive game. It seems as though casual gamers tend to view tournament goers as win at all cost (WAAC) douchebags who aren’t fun to play against and some of them seem to take offense at the efforts of tournament organizers who implement standardized rule sets (i.e. the ITC) in an effort to balance and streamline some of the more poorly written/edited, rules from Games-Workshop and Forge World.
In their defense, some competitive players ARE WAAC douchebags, that many of us would rather develop a pizza allergy than spend a few hours playing army men with; however, I think we can all more or less agree that these people fall into a fringe element of the overall community population. I’ve personally only encountered a couple handfuls in the two decades I’ve been playing this game, and the vast majority of those weren’t at tournaments, but rather in alleged “friendly games” with casual players. To be fair though, this fringe element of jerks exists as a part of civilization as a whole and they naturally pop up with about the same frequency in any given group of people. Whether it’s grown adults playing army men, plumbers, or your state Quidditch champions, a certain percentage of any given group of people is just going to suck to be around.
Not this guy, though. He can fly.
But the second complaint that seems to accompany some of the casual gamers’ pushback against competitive 40k is their disdain for external standardized rules systems. They don’t like the idea of an external organization, such as the ITC, sweeping in and “changing” the rules. This was a bigger issue last edition, where increasingly major overhauls were needed to balance the game system, but even in this brand new edition we are beginning to see the need for independent ITC rulings and appendices to the core rule set. Typically, I haven’t been able to get much of a coherent argument beyond the timeless reliance on the deification of GW and their intelligent design for the game, which we’ve already established is a fallacious and unhelpful position as we discussed, here.
Instead of third party rules, these players tend to rely on something commonly referred to as a “gentleman’s agreement,” which essentially states: “we are playing a game, don’t be a dick.” As I’m sure we can all attest, this agreement is a nebulous thing that, while generally unspoken, can translate to anything from “no Superheavies or FW units” to “no ‘ridiculous’ psychic powers.” In essence, the gentleman’s agreement is simply an informal method of game balance. The only real differences between it and rules appendices from the ITC are the scope and formality. And while these appendices are generally adopted by the community-at-large for ITC sanctioned events, they absolutely aren’t required, which kinda throws out the complaint that “they’re changin’ muh rules!” that I’ve frequently encountered from many ITC nonbelievers.
So, what we really have here isn’t a division between opposing ideologies or anything so serious, but a simple preference. One side simply prefers to not have formal rules changes thrust upon their gaming experience. I can dig that, I just prefer honesty in arguments.
The problem with such an adamant position comes with the scaling of the game. It’s one thing to have a spoken or unspoken agreement among friends to balance and regulate a game but, often as not, you won’t be playing friends at tournaments. And sometimes even if you do, they don’t always abide the gentleman’s agreement, because they don’t have to since an informal agreement isn’t binding.
To use a sport analogy, when I play pick up hockey games with my friends, we essentially play under the gentleman’s agreement of no rough play, which includes a ban on slapshots, hits, slashes, etc. for a number of reasons, but primarily because we all have regular jobs and can’t go to work jacked up every week over something we do as a recreational activity.
Maybe not a great look for the office Monday morning.
However, in sanctioned games and events, rule sets have to be established and enforced because random people you might face on the court aren’t your buddies and can’t be trusted to have you or your team’s safety in mind. Therefore, we play with standard rules regarding penalties and such when we play sanctioned games. The same principle applies to 40k and when viewed in this light, the balancing appendices published by the ITC and other agencies are actually protecting us all from WAAC douchebags who have exactly zero reasons not use infinite warp spider flickerjumps and unkillable units to make you have a bad time (oh, how I miss the 7th edition).
Now, I’m sure it will take a lot more than reasonable debate to bring your casual buddies and acquaintances around to participating in events, but it isn’t necessarily a bad place to start the conversation. People nowadays tend to become so wrapped up in their tribal positions on a given subject that this particular player division – along with a few others – will likely always exist, but an attempt at inclusion doesn’t hurt anything. And once they finally turn up to a tournament, see that it’s not everything the fearmongers have been preaching, and have a good time they’ll likely come back. It is this simple effort that is the basis of growing the community as a whole and a growing community is good for the game and everyone involved with it. From the 16 year old kid who just got his first Necron Start Collecting! boxed set for his birthday all the way up to the CEO of Games-Workshop, all of us benefit from increased community involvement from everyone involved at every level.
And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!