Sportsmanship: What is it Good For? by Dave Symcox

17 Aug


Back in the day, tournaments were filled with such chuckles and smiles that even Eddie Murphy’s laugh would have felt right at home.

Back in the day, tournaments were filled with greetings of such enthusiasm that an onlooker would have been forgiven for thinking that the room was full of long lost brothers meeting each other for the first time.

Back in the day, tournaments were filled with looks of such sincerity that even Oprah Winfrey would have blushed.

All of them false: a ruse that players followed and all players knew about; a silent pantomime played out to gain maximum sportsmanship points.

‘Back in the day’, sportsmanship could be worth as much as 5 points per game which at certain tournaments could be 25% of the total score; making it vitally important to any player that wanted to place well. Sportsmanship scores were common; the aim being to ensure that the game was played in the right spirit, that arguments were kept to a minimum and that every player taking part had an amazing experience, ensuring they came back again. An aim which I support and believe every event should strive towards. Yet, somehow, and for some reason sportsmanship scores at tournaments weren’t working.

The essential flaw in the sportsmanship score approach was that neither player could be sure that they were meeting the genuine person in their opponent. Instead, were met by an underlying suspicion that they were meeting their opponent’s representative who was on their best behaviour in a ravenous hungry hunt for sportsmanship scores. The result being that a genuine, fun filled game was always in question and you could never be sure that you were legitimately apart of a common community. Perhaps an impossible combination when put in conjunction with a competitive tournament, but if that is the case then perhaps sportsmanship scores were not the ideal bed partner in a competitive environment.

I plead guilty! Swept up in the proverbial sportsmanship gold rush, I was willing to do almost anything to secure those added, valuable sportsmanship scores. Once, playing an opponent called Jon, I walked around to his side of the table to drop ordinance shots from my monoliths. The templates were perfectly on target and to celebrate each shot Jon put his hand on my ass and proceeded to pat it. “Good shot Dave, good shot” he whispered soothingly in my ear with each gentle pat. My usual response to this (not that I’m saying it happens all that often) would be to politely ask Jon to stop. The cunning part of my brain whispered – ‘no, don’t stop him, think about the sportsmanship points’…and so Jon continued to pat.

An unusual situation that you perhaps wouldn’t expect to find at a Warhammer tournament, yet it wasn’t even the most compelling which convinced me that sportsmanship scores were not working. At my last tournament before leaving the scene 4 years ago I witnessed an incident of what I can only describe as bullying. A worked up, heavy breathing, moody looking cave troll, angry (because his laser pen had ran out of battery from repeated attempts to gain line of sight… after bouncing it from his model, onto a person’s ass four tables down then reflecting it onto the roof, off a nearby judge and onto the targeted model) grabbed his opponent by the shirt and threatened him. For me, sportsmanship was dead and my time with tournaments along with it.

…And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for four years, tournaments passed out of all knowledge. Until, when chance came, tournaments ensnared this bearer once again.

Tournaments had developed a lot in my absence: there were four times as many tournaments, players were ranked, and there was even a European Team Championships – if anything, on the surface the tournament scene was even more competitive than when I left. Imagine my surprise to find that the last bastion of defence; sportsmanship was no more. Sportsmanship had been abandoned and I feared what tournaments had become in its absence.

In January, I travelled to Maelstrom (a gaming centre in Mansfield) to cover the Masters for the 11th Company Podcast. The Masters pitted the 16 top ranked players from 2010 against each other in a tournament to decide the ‘Masters Champion’. As much of a failure as I thought sportsmanship had been (back in the day); with its fall I had expected to find a room full of laser pen touting nerds with geek rage vying to be top dog. Instead, I was surprised to find a community of players laughing, joking and having fun. Suspicious, the Lieutenant Columbo in me wondered whether I was merely meeting their representative and at any point would be blinded by a laser pen, or patted on the ass. Over time, attending multiple tournaments and getting in touch with many of the players on the tournament scene I was surprised to find a tournament community that had somehow managed to combine a competitive tournament scene with an actual fun community that I could actually socialise with; without a sportsmanship score in sight… I asked myself how this had happened.

The tournament scene has evolved, and somehow whether by design or accident the atmosphere has developed from one which I couldn’t wait to get away from to one which I have enveloped myself into once again. I believe the reason lies in the standard that the top tournament players are setting for the rest of the tournament scene. I don’t mean standard of play, instead I mean an unwritten, unspoken etiquette; a fairness dictated through example which says, ‘this is the morally correct way to act at a tournament, yeah be competitive, let’s try and beat each other, but we will not accept ‘that guy’ or any of that s@&t from the past ’. The top players don’t need a laser pen, don’t need to cheat, don’t need to be ‘that guy’: they know the rules and know what is accepted. I’m not saying that the odd discussion or heated debate doesn’t take place…it does and should be expected to do so in a competitive environment, but it is done in the right way.  Their message has permeated throughout the tournament scene and took root; resulting in that scene becoming more than a competition; it has become a community. Because of that community, I have started playing in tournaments again, set up a podcast and since moving to Nottingham much of my social time is genuinely spent socialising with that new found community. To regular players at tournaments that community has become as important, if not more than being successful, and anyone that turned out to be ‘that guy’ just wouldn’t be accepted.

It is for that reason that I bang on (and probably bore all listeners) when I recommend the tournament experience to all players of 40K.

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8 Responses to “Sportsmanship: What is it Good For? by Dave Symcox”

  1. Digital Unicorn August 17, 2011 at 09:38 #

    Nice article Dave, this is the part of the tournament scene that I love the most. The top players set a fine example, and sometimes I wish a lot of non-tournament players would pay attention and perhaps we could get rid of ‘that guy’ forever. Now excuse me while I continue my porcine aviation experiments……

    • Gareth "Fatty" Donnelly August 17, 2011 at 17:46 #

      What a funny article ! I started really hitting the tournaments hard this year and the friends I have made are just awesome. The social side of tournaments are as important as the competitions themselves.When we go to maelstrom for a weekender we will often stay the friday night aswell just for the social. If you want to meet like minded people,have a great laugh and learn more about 40k in one day than you could learn in 6 months playing at a club or with friends….go to a tournament!!!

      • 40KUK August 19, 2011 at 01:56 #

        I second that!

  2. Andy Ovel August 17, 2011 at 17:32 #

    Nice piece Dave 🙂

    I must admit the fear of meeting “that guy”, or worse a whole crowd of them, has kept me away from the tournament scene for far too long.

    I used to hear horror stories about how your opponents treated you at tournaments, from this guy I knew at my local store. Till one day I played him, and I realised he was actually “that guy” and this is why he hated tournaments as his tactics were no longer tolerated! 🙂

    As you will know I play at home with my chums, and nicer bunch gamers you could never hope to meet. We would have no problem letting each other reroll particularly bad rolls, or move back models after a an ill conceived battle plan, or even advising opponents mid game on the best tactics to kill our own army, but I would never expect that level of “friendly” play at a tournament.

    At a tournament everyone has gone to compete, and therefore everyone should do their opponent the courtesy of trying their best (otherwise how can they truly test their ability and judge their true standing in the community). However winning should never be at the expense of your opponent, the rules or the spirit of the game, after all winning by those means is not winning at all.

    Ok that enough preaching from me 🙂

  3. Gary Percival August 18, 2011 at 21:06 #

    i thought it was a nice write up.. but i swear if i hear that bum patting story one my time…im gonna call shenanigans and say that you loved it!!!

    • 40KUK August 19, 2011 at 01:56 #

      Well, it was kinda comforting.

  4. Harry Allen August 19, 2011 at 18:01 #

    Dave, I really think you have hit the nail on the head. I personally feel the same way. I’ve been attending tournaments for approx 4 years or so now, back when there were half the number of tournaments. There has been a good solid core of tournament gamers that have almost, in a strange way grown up together. Weather that you get used to seeing a friendly familiar face or a strong sense of comradery.

    I really feel that this rubs off on other players. So when you bump in to ‘that guy’ it can be made clear to all that unsporting behaviour won’t be tolerated within the tournament gaming community.

    I also feel a huge shout out should go out to tournament organisers also. People such a Neil Kerr, and others to many to name, have made it very clear of the high levels of sportsmanship they are looking for at their tournaments without the need to hand out good boy points or beat people with a stick.

    • 40KUK August 21, 2011 at 01:41 #

      I think so buddy, I have been trying to nail it down into words for a bit, but I think your bang on the money.

      Neil Kerr is a prime example in how to run a tourney, his attitude is perfect to get dual role of competition and the RIGHT way to act.

      And that comaraderie is very open, (I’ll name drop here), our very own Gary ‘The Voice’ Percival is a very good player, easily one of the best in the country, but when I first came to notts (and he ran all over me in every game we played for 3 months) he didn’t have a I’m better than you attitude, or get bored. To my surprise he gave me hints and tips and was very open with his time and introducing me to others.

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