Monday, March 22, 2010

Musings on Running Tournaments

My alarm finally wakes me, its 8:30am and I have less time then I planned on having. Wasting no time, I see to packing everything I need into as quickly and accurately as I can. I can't afford to forget anything but time is not on my side. For the fifth time I go over the list of gear I need in my head and resolve to head to the venue where already awaiting me are a pair of enthusiastic gamers offering to help set up the venue for the big day that lies ahead. In no time at all, nearly half the participants are present, all pitching in to layout the terrain and set up the tables. Miraculously everything is prepped and ready by 9:30am, just as planned. The last of the players arrive and the room is buzzing with excitement. Its time for Recon to begin...

On March 20th in Mount Gambier, South Australia, our war gaming club ran its first one day tournament and with the assistance of Rob, one of the Club's most senior members, I ran it. While not the first time I've run a tournament, it was a daunting prospect nonetheless. Regardless, it was still great fun, I enjoyed myself and it was a thrill to see so many people having just as much, if not more fun. A more then ample pay off for the effort that goes into running such an event.

So what is the point to running a tournament? What is its purpose? Answering such a question is harder then one would think. In many ways, it is as much a social event as it is a competitive one. Or at least in Australia it is and when viewing the sportsmanship scores, it shows. Nearly all the peer based sportsmanship scores at Recon were maxed out or a point or two away from being maxed out. Something I was particularly impressed by. Clearly a group of gamers who thoroughly enjoyed playing against each other and did so in good spirit. The same can be said of any other event I've been to, where its more like a gathering of friends then a competition and I guess I could say that's quite true for a lot of us. I've made many friends in my travels and I know many other gamers who have too.

But it wouldn't be a tournament without some genuine competition. But is it solely about winning games? Obviously they count for a lot but many tournaments in Australia also grade their players on sportsmanship, painting and their army's composition. The reason for this being that many tournaments here are regarded as the search for the "Apex Gamer" someone who is excelling themselves within the various aspects of the hobby, playing in relatively good spirit and that it is their skill as a general, not just what combination of units they are fielding that has earned them their place upon the podium. I agree wholeheartedly with all of this and run my tournaments in a similar fashion as I feel it gives us all something to aim for. If the players wining all the prizes and places were playing with completely unpainted armies and/or playing like complete douchebags then that simply tells the rest of the tournament going community that is perfectly acceptable. Wouldn't it be better for them to have something better to aim for?

It made me want to improve my abilities and over the years I have seen similar improvements in my peers as they strive to reach that position. And at Recon, it was a delight to see some of them finally begin to achieve that and get recognition that was truly well deserved.

As the tournament organiser, you obviously see things in a different light and as a result of my own experiences, I tend to try my hardest to not make things difficult for the organisers. The basic fundamentals of running the tournament can be difficult enough without players complaining about your choice of mission or any rulings you've imposed. Having had that at previous events I've run, it can really throw you off your concentration and then you're struggling to get back to what you were doing and doing it without making a hash of things.

But do the players see this? I don't think we do. So long as the tournament seems to be going well, we don't ever actually know what's going on behind the scenes and how closely its shape can sometimes resemble that of a pear. Even at Recon, after entering round one's sportsmanship scores, by accident I closed the window before saving and lost all of them, prompting me to go through all the submitted sports scores and enter them all over again much to my dismay. But did anyone notice? Of course not. Did it negatively impact on the event? Nope. Things like that only seem to go to a bad place if you lose your cool and allow it to. Easier said then done. Would that situation have gone so smoothly if that moment someone came up and told me I'd completely screwed them because the mission cost them the game and they demanded some form of compensation? Hell No! Disturb the TO like that and things can get much worse if they aren't able to get on top of the situation and a difficult gamer can only worsen that.

And you never know if something like this is going on. Just ask a TO after their event is done and gone and they'll probably have a story or two for you. It doesn't even have to be on the day for something to be difficult for them, printing off so many sheets for missions and results sheets is no small feat and like anything involving computers, it can go oh so horribly wrong. And they are only human, they can make mistakes too.

So where am I going with this? I've crapped on an awful lot about the ideals of running a fun yet competitive tournament and giving the TO their due respect, but why?
Well basically its food for thought. The tournament environment isn't just an incentive for us as gamers to better ourselves within this wonderful hobby, its also a means for the organisers to endeavour to run increasingly better events. To refine that process of finding the Apex gamers, to run better, more enjoyable missions and to give their participating gamers the best experience possible. To be told you are doing that, like I was at Recon, is an incredibly high honour really. I mean its kind of fantastic but you don't let it go to your head. If anything its motivation to further that. Yet I couldn't have done any of that without the gamers. The courteous, helpful, good spirited gamers who made Recon the most enjoyable events I've run.

And when you find that wonderful little niche, you know you have something special. There are many tournaments also in this category within the country. Terracon is a fantastic example. They are run brilliantly and the participants couldn't be any less brilliant in their conduct and support and it has created an environment that I know I for one can't get enough of.

So at the end of the day, I now look to the future, thinking how can I improve? Maybe not rambling so much and making this blog shorter would have been a good start. Anyway, just putting some thoughts out there and I'd be glad to hear those of others!
Hopefully I haven't bored you too much and you've enjoyed reading.

Till next time,

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