This Week in the ITC 11/28/2019: An Open Letter to Tournament Organizers

Hello 40k aficionados SaltyJohn, a Head Judge for the Las Vegas Open, from TFG Radio here to discuss some important topics pertaining to Competitive 40k event organization.

Dear Warhammer 40k Tournament Organizers, Competitive 40k is more popular than ever. There are a plethora of events to choose from, week in week out, month after month. From GT to Major status the number of events has ballooned. In the past we were lucky to have 4 events a year that numbered over 100 players, now there is easily 1 to 2 a month depending on the time of year. Along with this huge growth in the number of events, we’ve experienced a large uptick in the number of Tournament Organizers, which means that with the majority of organizers who are great, we have had a few who are not meeting the standards the community expects.

If you are running an event that features 30+ players over two or more days, and charging a premium price, meaning over $50 a ticket, there are certain standards you really need to meet. I understand the pressures of running an event can be overwhelming to a first time organizer. I also understand the allure of running a large event, trying to make a name for yourself, maybe make some extra cash. None of that though is an excuse for putting on a sub-par event. There are a few places that Tournament Organizers this season have fallen short, and I think it behooves us as a community to publicly address the issues.

  1. Terrain. There have been a few examples lately of some horrendous terrain layouts, designs, and general terrain standards at events. From unpainted, and partially assembled foam core, to near paper-thin boring MDF NOVA Ls that don’t even live up to the NOVA standard. Some of it is truly horrendous. If you’re going to run a large Warhammer 40k tournament your number one concern should be providing quality, and varied, the terrain on the tables. This hobby, whether being competitively played or not, is still a visual exercise. Would participants in a DOTA, League of Legends, StarCraft 2, or even NFL event be ok with playing their match(es) on unfinished, poorly executed terrain? No. 40k players shouldn’t be subject to that kind of nonsense either. The players at your event are paying money to attend a quality event, providing them with less is unacceptable.
  2. Terrain set up. This is a separate problem from item number 1. While the terrain itself needs to be of high quality the way it is set up is also very important. You can’t just throw standardized, cardboard thin, MDF terrain out on tables and expect it to provide a good experience. I wrote another article all about this topic here.
  3. Organization isn’t something you can phone in. TFG Radio not only has 3 LVO Head Judges running the podcast but TFG Radio has also helped run the Hammer of Wrath GT in Pasadena for several years, started the Battle for Los Angeles GT last year, Adam helps judge and organize several large tournaments including Slaughterfest and the Gentleman’s Major in Vegas. Not to mention we are routinely contacted by TOs and Judges for advice on running events and to help shout cast on Twitch. What I am getting at with this resume is that when it comes to organizing an event we know what we’re talking about. Biting off more than you can chew with events is a common problem, but that is exacerbated when the organization of the event is left on autopilot. Putting together a decent crew to help not only set up, but tear down the event is important there’s no doubt. But having a group prior to the event to organize the logistics, and double-check for mistakes is equally important. Showing up to an event and having the tables not ready, timing thrown off, late starts, no posted table numbers, the BCP event not set up properly, long line for registration, nowhere close for food, or on-site food, adequate toilet facilities, the list can go on and on, is bad for your event. All those issues are easily resolved though, through proper organization.
  4. Event integrity matters. It is not fair to your paying customers when your event is invalidated because you choose to inflate the number of participants for your personal ego, or the “prestige” of your event. Not only is falsifying the event going to result in you, the organizer, being penalized but it can cause your customers to not receive ITC points.
  5. Provide first, profit second. If you are running an event and it is your third year then expecting to have some money in your pocket at the end of the day is acceptable, but if it’s your first rodeo you shouldn’t be thinking about the end of the event profits, you’re probably going operate at a loss or break even. Players also need to accept this as well, players cannot expect their tournament organizer to run events out of the sheer goodness of their hearts. Local game stores don’t run events because they lose money on them, they run them because they make money off them. GTs and Majors are no different. Putting one on is a lot of work, but you cannot expect to be making a bunch of money out of the gate. You need to put in the work putting together a quality, well organized, event with a lot of solid terrain first.
  6. Underpromise, over-perform. I can’t stress this enough. Nobody is going to complain if they come to an event and it is as advertised. However, if you promise the world to people and fall far short of those expectations, or you promise something specific and fall flat in other areas to try to keep that specific promise it won’t look good. It probably won’t end up going well either.

The biggest issue continues to be inadequate terrain and poorly executed terrain. Not providing quality terrain is unacceptable. While attendees want prizes, the idea that most of the money should go to prizes is a misconception. The money should go to the event being a fun and quality event, which means investing in terrain, and the other items previously discussed. Here are some examples of what not to do for your terrain.

I understand the draw of MDF terrain. I myself own Frontline Gaming terrain kits, our local tournaments use MDF terrain (in addition to GW plastic kits and foam core), the Hammer of Wrath and Battle for LA GTs we run also use MDF terrain.

This style of MDF terrain leaves a lot to be desired. While functional, it doesn’t work aesthetically. Even if painted, it still will just be flat walls with no texture.

However, MDF terrain is not good because it’s cheap and easy to build. It is good when it is a high-quality design, built well, painted well, and put onto the tables in an aesthetically pleasing way. This is an immersive hobby, yes even at the competitive level, and providing that immersion to your attendees should be very high on your list of priorities.

I am not writing this to discourage you from running events, or if you’re thinking of hopping into the Competitive Event planning scene for 40k, or any tabletop game, think of this as a guide to doing better. The player base will begin to react more and more negatively to events that are phoning it in and appearing to gouge their participants by charging a premium price but providing a subpar event. There are plenty of options out there, and some events are killing it in terms of quality and that disparity will only become worse. If you’re not careful you might find your event dwindling into irrelevance or history before you know it.

And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!



About SaltyJohn

John has been playing Warhammer 40k since the 3rd edition box set with Space Marines, Dark Eldar, and weird green palm trees were in the set. He is currently a 40k Head Judge for the Las Vegas Open, the largest 40k tournament in the world. An avid board gamer, a huge fan of video games, and a guest spot on Geek and Sundry as a "Historian" during an episode of "Game the Game" round out his geek credentials. You can catch "Salty" John on TFG Radio's Twitch Show, and Podcast, as well as find him streaming video games on Twitch on the TFG Radio Twitch page from time to time.

13 Responses to “This Week in the ITC 11/28/2019: An Open Letter to Tournament Organizers”

  1. Avatar
    CadianRanger November 28, 2019 10:08 am #

    Hey John,
    Great article. I totally agree with you…
    Our gaming group will try to run a set of events, starting next year, on a high quality level. We‘ll try to meet all the points you mentioned.
    I just want want to add that a TO should absolutely try to reach a high quality level. Even if it’s more work. It’s worth it.
    TOs should keep in mind that their own experience when attending an event will become better, if they know that their own event has a higher or maybe just different standard. As a TO just make sure that you provide something to the community before you start taking something and even more important do it step by step while maintaining your own standards.
    Good luck!

  2. Avatar
    Akra November 29, 2019 2:51 am #

    That last picture is literally a WiP shot. It is from an australian TO who, after a survey with his community, went and bought 40 tables of terrain, and this terrain was asked for in the survey.

    Its highly unfair to post a wip shot and the discourage it. The TO in question is a friend of mine and in 1 fell swoop you crushed his motivation. His been working tirelessly for the last 2 years building a 40k community and have built 20 tables of terrain prior to this venture.

    Paying the “Australian tax” for everything GW related, most TOs borrow terrain from the community. This TO is doing it all himself and then lending out the terrain to whomever needs it.

    Is it currently unappealing. Yes. But it is a WiP shot and not a representation of the final product.

  3. Avatar
    $0 guy November 29, 2019 9:35 am #

    As one who does NOT use any MDF…I think MDF is fine. We all start somewhere. The cost of the hobby is high enough without complaining that TO’s, in order to make sure there is ENOUGH terrain for the intergrity of the fairness of matches, “should choose to go with way more expensive choices.

    This shaming of peoples financial constraints is pretty much unconscionable. I get that terrain adds a ton and I spend a lot of time making sure we get help and support providing it. At the end of the day, however, one can easily spend SEVERAL HUNDRED on just one table. Terrain sets can be QUITE exorbitant; and once you start adding bases to them and flocking, texture paint and bitz, this is not an inconsiderable amount.

    Exhorting people to have good terrain is one thing. I agree that encouraging people is a goal the iTC should have. I also think that shaming people is a bad look for the ITC. Real bad.

    I as a TO never take profit. It all goes back into prizes. I could increase the terrain by taking a cut or I can enrich the players, and I have always opted for that. One year we did pay to update our site and that was necessary, but beyond that all monies in have gone to players.
    I’ve run almost 100 events over time and made $0.

    I think this assumption that TO’s are pocketing or profiting from the events is probably true for the ITC. Its clear that its a money making venture for a lot of TO’s That’s their choice…

    I’ve been able to provide a great experience by drawing on my player resources and building up the community. They have provided the terrain for many events and that willingness is in part because they WANT to help, and know that I am a $0 guy.

    I will consider taking some monies for terrain in future events if the ITC continues a shaming campaign. I’ll have to disclose that fully before doing it in good conscience. But I’d lay off the shaming, honestly. Everyone is doing their best. Elitism can be toxic if it goes too far.

    • SaltyJohn
      SaltyJohn November 29, 2019 10:06 am #

      This isn’t about you, it’s about the attendees paying you money to play at the event and what they deserve as participants.

    • Reecius
      Reecius November 29, 2019 10:33 am #

      Lol, well ok, a few things.

      For one, John doesn’t represent the ITC, he’s not involved with it anymore than any other TO. So, the ITC isn’t doing anything here. John is one of many writers on FLG and this is an OpEd, so it should be quite obvious this is one person sharing their opinion.

      For two, it sounds like you run a good event. Good on you, that’s awesome. However, in the past two years as the 40k matched play community has exploded in growth, we’re seeing a LOT of very bad events being run with the idea to either make a quick buck, or to make a reputation in the 40k community. The quality standard has dropped like a rock in some instances (not every event, thankfully, but quite a few) and it’s making the entire matched play community and the ITC specifically look bad as people think there’s no standard for professionalism and presentation. That’s what this article is (explicitly) addressing. Reading into it that it’s “shaming” people for not having money is silly and inaccurate.

      And the excuse of: “we’re just getting started” really doesn’t hold water, lol. Look at who you are talking to. We built this entire company on the success of the first BAO way back in the day. We built a 100+ person event in our fist go with almost no money, no time and all of us working full time jobs. Some of the guys on the crew were only 2 years out of highschool at the time, lol, and there was no MDF terrain back then to make it remotely affordable. We had to use GW terrain or make it all by hand and we got it all done, all painted, all (mostly) on themed tables year 1 right out the gates with essentially no resources and a short run-up to the event and we actually turned a profit of a whopping $14 that first year with all the upfront costs of (expensive) terrain, the venue, prize support, etc. It is absolutely doable, so using the excuse of “I’m doing my best” just doesn’t excuse a poorly run event. Start smaller, and work your way up in incremental steps with the primary focus of providing an excellent experience for your attendees first, and growth second unless you can keep up with that growth.

      The point being, don’t run an event you are not ready to run. It only hurts your long term chances of success and it hurts the entire matched play community when more and more pictures like those above start circulating as if they’re normal occurrences at GT and Major level events. That should absolutely not be OK. And yes, showing pictures of very poor terrain (as some of the above are) at big events is not shaming as you keep repeating, it’s being honest about the current state of affairs in the matched play community and saying: this is not OK. If anyone feels shame as a result of that then they should probably reassess how they are going about running their event, not get mad at someone for literally just showing what has been done. If a table of terrain is not fit to be shown in a picture online then it probably wasn’t fit to be run as a GT+ level event in the first place. I think that should be obvious.

      You mention the cost of terrain and that is why we built the ITC Terrain in the first place, to offer up some good looking terrain at reasonable prices. We started out making it for ourselves and then started selling it. Same with the gaming mats. So yes, lol, you’re preaching at the choir. We know all too well how expensive it can be to get a table of terrain for an event. We literally built solutions for it. The thing is now, people are taking it to an extreme with functional but just awful looking terrain because it is cheap and easy to build but that is a not a strategy for long term, sustained growth. That is a strategy for short term cost cutting.

      Anyway, I understand where you are coming from to an extent but this isn’t elitism, this isn’t shaming, this is trying to raise the bar of matched play gaming to help it grow, draw in new players and make the experience better. Just like we require people to paint their models and base them when they come to an event. That could be construed as “shaming” someone for not being a good painter or whatever, but that’s baloney and I think we all know that. It’s simply saying: there is a baseline standard for what we consider to be a professionally run large event should be as it is good for the hobby overall to do so. For RTTs and smaller events? Sure, let your hair down and relax the standards. But if you are charging someone a good amount of money and they are taking 2 or more days of their life, and travel expenses to come to your event they should in good faith expect a certain minimum standard of presentation and professionalism and many of the above pictures are not that.

      • Avatar
        JVail December 1, 2019 7:16 am #

        Well said reece, this is exactly how I interpreted it. It’s not shaming in the extent that People are complaining about. If you don’t have the funds to run a large event well, don’t do it. Also the whole guy not making profit off the event, do you give store credit? If so, you make profit. Do you sell concessions and offer food? You make profit, you make profit by people BEING at your store, they will tell other people about it if the event is well run, driving more business. It’s called an investment. As a side note, some local gamers would be more than happy to paint your terrain, it’s super easy to do adequately. We used to have a “Workshop” day where we’d clean out the terrain room at our lgs and fix/paint stuff, until we had enough, and make more if it was called for. It was a fun community building event, even if you put money into it (don’t use GW paints on terrain) it’s still worth it in the long run. Don’t be afraid to ask the community for help. They most likely want your events to be as good as you want them to be and will give a helping hand. Just my opinions as a gamer who has worked at a game shop.

        • Reecius
          Reecius December 2, 2019 4:51 pm #

          Yeah, we did the same thing, rallied local players to come out for a few hours on a weekend to chip in and hang out making terrain. Most gamers enjoy helping out.

          The higher the standard of appearance, the better it is for the overall community and the more we’ll all grow.

  4. Avatar
    Dave Ledbetter December 2, 2019 4:33 pm #

    Not at all trying to stir the pot here just wanted to submit that one of the events pictured was the Crozius GT and the MDF table shown was one of mbe three out of the whole lot. All the rest were Kitted out with well painted and well constructed terrain with even density from table to table. As i Understood it they were added for last minute sign ups as well. The Guys at Field of Eire ran a top notch event at the Mace Con and there was great prize support, easy access to bathroom facilities, and on site concessions. Again just wanted to clarify since i was there. No intentions of stirring the pot or belaboring the point. I do Agree that the scene could use a facelift at many events where minimalist terrain is an issue.

    • Reecius
      Reecius December 2, 2019 4:53 pm #

      Not stirring the pot at all, that’s good to know. And again, the pictures used weren’t meant to be calling anyone out specifically, they were used to illustrate a point that we’ve been seeing a lot of this type of thing lately with very bad terrain at bigger events. That’s why John didn’t use names of people or events, they were more generic images (or meant to be, anyway).

      But, thanks for explaining the specific situation, appreciated.

      • Avatar
        Dave Ledbetter December 2, 2019 5:01 pm #


  5. Avatar
    Gary Frank December 5, 2019 2:10 pm #

    First a thanks to FLG and all the content producers that support the hobby. I am a advocate of symmetrical style terrain for 40k Championship events. The terrain should offer the same advantages and disadvantages to each player. I completely understand the visual aspect of tables and how that draws in new players ETC.. I also understand how much it blows to lose a game because all the LOS terrain was 3 or 4 inches tall on table 3. Pulling a pic from a event and essentially going this is not okay is well not okay in my opinion. I am running a event that can have hold up to 40 players. If I was to buy all ITC terrain and mats for each table it would cost me over 4,000 grand. The Average price for a complete set of ITC Terrain with Mat. While my event is 35 bucks for the GT and 25 bucks for the weekend badge. I have around 1200 bucks for prizes terrain etc.. I know most of you are well versed in the cost vs income of a these type of events so I will not waste time on that. While I do like ITC terrain and the look and feel of it I do not care for random tables with what the TO feels is balanced terrain. I prefer to know that I am getting into before I go. With that said the event that I am running I was able to purchase 20 tables of terrain for about $1,100 bucks. I will take a lose on the event but that is expected initially. I find consistency to be one of the keys to success. Consistency in how the event is ran and the style of terrain that is used makes for a great event. Terrain that provides the same advantages and disadvantages is in my opinion that way to go. You guys run the most popular events for sure and have put the work in no doubt. But when you started you had nay Sayers as well and pushed on. So i guess my point is why point out other peoples terrain? If the event is bad and the terrain is bad they will learn from or continue to struggle. Simply telling something is not okay when it is often preached run an event however you like seems somewhat hypocritical to me.

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