Warhammer 40k is an extremely engaging hobby that includes multiple aspects of other hobbies rolled into a single appealing package. There are the miniatures of amazing quality for those of us who love to build and convert models, the painting side of the hobby for the artists among us, the social side of the hobby that encourages 40k enthusiasts to actually engage with other human beings in person, and there is the tournament side of the hobby for the more competitive minded among us. There are even some folks who love the lore of the 40k universe and engage with it by reading Black Library books without ever playing a game of 40k. Some of the people who engage with this hobby only focus on one aspect, or excel in one area while letting the other areas take a back seat, or some rare 40k hobbyists take time to master each separate aspect of the hobby over a long and grueling journey. It is no mystery why so many people flock to the Warhammer 40k universe, but one thing is certain in this hobby that I love, Warhammer 40k is not a game focused on (or even designed for) competitive play.
While it would be hard to argue that there are no competitive aspects to this game it is also hard to argue that the game has the balance required for a truly even competition to come from any 40k game. This is evident in the rules Games Workshop publishes for 40k. It is clear to me that each Codex is written in a vacuum with little (or no) contrasting and comparing with previous Codexes released throughout the Edition. An excellent example of this is the Enriched Rounds stratagem found in the Adeptus Mechanicus Codex. For 1CP a unit of Vanguard wound any non-vehicle target on a 4+ to hit! The poor Necron Codex had a similar stratagem for 1CP which granted auto-wounding shots on a 6+ to hit. For the same cost one of these seems absurdly good while the other becomes a jokes upon the release of the Admech Codex. I cannot think of clearer proof that rules writing is done in a vacuum with little thought to competitive play in mind.
The argument can be made that the same players, especially now, are always seen at the top tables during large events. Surely this is evidence of a competitive game? These players have mastered the game of 40k (living in a house dedicated to playing 40k will do that) so there must be some truth that Warhammer 40k is competitive. While its undeniable the players we constantly see at the top are excellent 40k players it does not prove that the game of 40k is balanced or competitive in its base rules or tournament packs. These players generally play factions in the game that have strong Codexes, or strong rules interactions with the Codexes that they believe are going to to at the top table at many 40k events. They use their knowledge of the game to win (they probably mostly use this over their army rules), but these players would not be in the spots they are currently in without playing the stronger armies currently in the meta. There are players who play Tyranids or Genestealer Cults at the highest levels possible, but they know that in some matchups their army is going to loose regardless of their high level of skill with their chosen army.
Some people may argue that Games Workshop releases errata and Chapter Approved points updates in order to bring the factions in their game more in line to help the competitive meta, but these rules changes come after many tournament games are played using the un-balanced rules. Of course no game as complex as Warhammer 40k is going to be as even as a chess match, but some of the obvious meta busting Codexes seem like big misses if Games Workshop’s focus is on making a balanced game. Even going back to 8th Edition Iron Hands, which were laughably unbalanced and overpowered, it is evident that this is not a problem of a new edition or a new Admech or Drukhari Codex. These points changes and errata are more then welcome, but their main purpose has been to tweak the game as little as possible to make the game less broken.
Many 40k influencers focus their efforts at providing solutions (read- talking into a microphone and complaining) to the many problems the unbalanced square game of 40k brings to the round hole of 40k tournaments, but I have discovered an alternative approach to solving the problem of unbalanced 40k. Accepting the imperfect nature of Games Workshop and the competitive side of the 40k hobby. Tournament 40k is an awesome experience, but it needs to be viewed through a different lense then other truly competitive games. Currently I am playing Necrons. A faction that is not bottom tier, but they are no Admech. I am also no Necron savant who will get every last drop of competitive play out of the Necron Codex, but I still enjoy going to 40k tournaments and playing as many games of 40k as I can cram into a weekend. I even enjoy laughing as 36 Skitarii Ranger shots wipes 20 Necron Warriors right off the table (it hurt my heart so bad). I know I have little to no chance to win a large event with my Necrons, but that isn’t my focus. I am there to enjoy my hobby with other enthusiasts and hopefully win as many games as I can along the way.
It can be extremely hard to accept that the game you love isn’t a fair or balanced one, but once you do it will make going to events and competing for the best score your army can produce much more exciting and rewarding.