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40k Editorial: Competitive Gaming

6 Minute Read
Aug 4 2011
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There is a lot of disgruntlement on the Internet with competitive players. I feel a lot of this stems from mislabelling of WAAC (win at all/any costs) compared to someone who enjoys a good tight game. 

This article will explore the difference between these two, where it should be applicable and be used as a stepping stone to an article series relating to the Competitive Hobbyist (totally stolen from Purgy over at Best Overall).

Over at 3++ is the new black, we’ve made it a point to cater to all gamers. Whilst we certainly are more competitive in nature than not, we understand the games we all play and love are just that, games (and we aren’t getting paid to play them!). They are a hobby which we take great enjoyment participating in but the fact of the matter is there are rules and rules are written to determine a winner. How one goes about winning can be very important. Let’s take a look at what I believe is a very strong misconception online in labelling competitive gamers – WAACs. Whether or not this is a misconception, at the very least we have some working definitions.

WAAC & Competitive Gamers

A lot of people label competitive players as WAAC or win at all costs. Depending upon terminology this can be both correct or not. A competitive player will attempt to do everything s/he can within the rules and without unduly infringing on his opponent’s right to enjoy the game. The game after all is about having fun and enjoying yourselves. Arguing over millimetres or obscure rules can subtract from this but if this is done, it’s to ensure the game is played correctly – whomever it benefits. If you beat me, I want you to have beaten me fair and squarely rather than either of us forgetting rules or playing the game incorrectly. Just the same with me beating you. 

In comparison, the real defining feature of WAAC players is they attempt to win at any cost and this often means stepping outside the rules. It can be as simple as ‘forgetting’ your own rules which disadvantage you (but remembering all the ones which hurt your opponent), to nudging models when your opponent isn’t looking to the extremes of loaded dice, etc. It essence, WAAC players are cheaters because they do not care how they win, as long as they win. 

This is the real difference between the competitive player (explained first) and WAAC players. As a competitive player I enjoy nothing more than a closely fought game. Who wins is almost irrelevant, I won’t go so far and say it isn’t, as long as the game was close with both sides fighting it out tooth and nail. This is what I get the most enjoyment out of and this stems from two evenly matched lists. 

Competitive Gaming – Applicability
Of course, competitive gaming isn’t always the norm and a lot of people don’t feel 40k is the place for competitive gaming or simply don’t want to partake in this. That’s fine and there’s nothing wrong with this but as we said before, there are rules and they do determine a winner or loser. This is to take nothing from the hobby. I love painting and modelling just as much as the elite painters out there. I strive to improve my painting and modelling skills and am pleased with my painting level to this date.

Back to the rules – they exist, at times unfortunately so. They are there to allow us to play the game on the tabletop. Whether you believe it’s not as tactical as another game or you don’t want to play in an ultra-competitive environment is fine, but some people do. This divide in goals for gaming is where we often see huge arguments arise. If one person is looking to just have a casual game with what they have on them or what they think is a fluffy list compared to someone who has brought a properly balanced tournament list, well no one is going to be happy. MVB from Whiskey & 40k explores this in his post on Social Contracts and this is part of where the problem is.

Personally, I am a competitive gamer. I make tournament balanced lists (and acknowledge that whilst 5th edition is the best 40k has ever been in terms of balance, the older books still struggly mightly) and play to win. This is very different from WAAC players as discussed above. When I go to tournaments or am playing with regular buddies or for tournament practice, the competitive lists and play come out. I’m still going to enjoy myself and have a laugh but the players opposite me should also be running good lists and expect no-holds play. It’s a competitive setting after-all and this should be clear (i.e. my gaming group knows we play this way, I’ve informed my opponent it’s for tournament practice or you’re at a tournament, etc.). When I don’t want such a serious game or feel like a bit more narration (i.e. campaign), different lists and play come out as the understanding of what the game is for has changed. 

This is a prime demonstration of what MVB is talking about in terms of social contracts. I am primarily a competitive player and at tournaments, this is expected. For casual games? Less so and unless my opponent and I agree to do such a game, a more casual atmosphere/list/play is acceptable. This is where I think a lot of confusion arises between the two camps of competitive and casual/hobby. Competitive players aren’t, or shouldn’t, be playing top notch lists all the time unless their opponents know what they are getting into. At the same time, casual players shouldn’t be going to tournaments and complaining about solid lists. Each player needs to know what to expect when a game is partaken and this way there isn’t going to be any disgruntlement as one player thought they were playing a casual game and another a competitive game.

Bringing it all Together

There is no right or wrong way to play the game. Well correction, there is a wrong way – don’t cheat. For example. You prefer a more laid-back way which has full back stories and armies closely related to the fluff. I prefer harder lists with lots of redundancy and options and whilst this may translate to a list which has lots of MSU (multiple small units), spam or anything else the Internet can hate upon. We both enjoy the game differently and that’s great. If the two of us get together and we don’t discuss our expectations, we will both end up disappointed. I was looking for a closely fought competitive game and you were looking for a casual game perhaps with a backstory, etc. If however we discuss out expectations before hand, we can move our understandings around and therefore enjoy a game between us. And remember, that’s what the game is all about.

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I hope this clears things up a bit. A combination of social contracts and playing within the rules to win closely fought battles against evenly matched armies is what defines competitive players. Whilst you may personally lament the concepts they often utilise within their lists such as redundancy, spam, MSU (multiple small units), etc. they aren’t out there to suck the fun out of the game but rather have fun themselves with like minded people. To avoid playing against concepts such as this you can ensure you and your opponent know what type of game you want before you play and if you are at a tournament, remember tournaments aim to promote competitiveness and end up with an eventual winner. Particular tournaments generally reward more than just the best General (i.e. NOVA) but understand you will come up against competitive players – that’s part of a tournament. WAAC players on the other hand should simply be ignored, maybe give them a bone.

With this under our belts I’ll be looking to start the Competitive Hobbyist articles soon so keep an eye out for those and for now, discuss and flame less. Remember, it’s not for you to determine how someone has fun but to ensure when you play together, you can both have fun.

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