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40K Tournaments: ITC Policy, Polls & Philosophy

12 Minute Read
May 7 2015
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Hey everyone, Reecius here to talk shop a little about what goes into the decision making process with the Warhamemr 40,000 ITC, why we use polls, and a little of the philosophy behind everything!

This is an apt occasion to discuss all of this as we have a poll out and in process! Be sure to vote if you play in ITC events. Whenever we do these polls, it stirs up some controversy, as can be expected. Thanks to everyone that is participating, and thanks to everyone that has provided feedback! We appreciate it, even the folks that may be expressing themselves in less than polite terms, haha. We don’t get mad because we understand the motivating emotions are that folks care about this silly hobby of ours, and are acting out of that love for what we do.

As always, we get a certain set of questions/reactions in response to what we do with the ITC: democratically determined policy. As I don’t have the time to respond to everyone personally (as much as I’d like to), I will touch on some of the key points that we always get.

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Why vote?

First of all, why do we run polls at all and not just dictate terms? Because we believe that everyone that plays in ITC events should have a voice, and a degree of self-determination in choosing the game they want to play. Is it tempting to simply dictate terms based on what we believe to be the “best,” or “right” way to play 40k? Sure it is, we have out own personal biases and desires, but we do not believe that that is the right way to do things. We typically don’t even play in our own events (and when I say we, I mean the FLG staff) and as such, we are willing to accept rulings from the majority that may go against what we personally want to see or how we may want to play every rule.

We determine which issues to address based on our interactions with the community. We are constantly keeping our ear to the ground for what is going on, what needs to be addressed, what issues are being brought up the most frequently, etc. We also use our personal experiences and play testing to help determine what is or is not something that is worth looking at. It is a combination of art and science as we can’t look at everything that gets brought up, and have to choose which issues appear to be most prevalent. Is the polling process perfect? Are we perfect in our application of it? No, of course not. We strive to do it as well as we can, and work with an imperfect system, but it does allow us to directly respond to community desires. And while not perfect, it works and we’ve yet to find a better system.

We are here to help facilitate community, and a standardized tournament format to make it easier for players to travel to events. The ITC is about growing the hobby, growing community, helping to make it easier for existing and aspiring TOs to organize events in the face of the increasing complexity of 40k, and by providing resources to help get the word out about their events. It’s about creating excitement, fun, and camaraderie.

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Don’t change the rules!

If you change any of the rules, you aren’t playing “real” 40k…right? This is one of the most common reactions we hear. However, if you think about it, when was the last time you played 40k without changing the rules? 7th ed 40k is all about playing in a sandbox environment. The game designers have given us an open rule-set to allow us to play the way we want, which is rad! You can literally put any models you want on the table.

However, for organized play where you walk to the table against an opponent you have never played before, with no time to determine how you want to play, you have to have pre-set guidelines in order to play. So, event organizers must choose what type of 40k is going to be played. Do you use Unbound lists? No? You are not playing “By the Book 40K.” Do you have a points limit pre-determined? That is not by the book, which states you do not actually have to use a points limit at all. Do you use custom missions? Yes? Then you have changed the rules. Do you not use Lords of War? Don’t use Forge World? Then you are changing the rules. Do you have an FAQ to answer ambiguous rules issues? Yes? You have changed the rules. In my 20 years of playing 40k, I have literally never been to a tournament or league that didn’t alter the rules to some degree. It is never a matter of if, but how much these changes occurred. It’s actually a fundamental part of 40k, and one which the game developers have repeatedly told us they expect and encourage us to do.

Some folks get upset when they feel that some rules are OK to change, but others not. However, this is an artificial differentiation based on personal opinion. We hear terms like, “core rules,” to somehow show that one rule is more or less important, or not OK to change. The fact is, it comes down to personal perspective as to what is OK, or not OK to alter. There is no objective determination without taking the book as it is, in entirety, which no one does. Objecting to a proposed rule change on the grounds that that singularly makes a system no longer “Real 40K” has no basis in reality.

Similarly with an FAQ for the community, such as the ITC FAQ, you have contentious rulings but rulings that have to be made. I will often hear a small number of folks say they dislike an FAQ for one ruling they may not agree with when they appreciate the other 99% of it. That always makes me laugh, as the root of it is typically them not being able to do something they want to do and focusing on a perceived negative while ignoring the vast majority of positives. While you may not like every ruling in an FAQ (I personally don’t like all of them, either!) it is better to have it than not. GW is not answering the questions we have about the rules, so that leaves us as a community to do it for ourselves. Without it, we have no common ground for us to all come to an event and play without having to debate every other rule. Or, we end up with situations where there is no FAQ and you can have multiple judges at an event making different calls on the same rules at different tables and you end up with chaos. Compromise is the name of the game in order for all of us to come together and play. You give ground on some rulings, you gain it on others. They key is to roll with community driven decisions with maturity, and accept that it is impossible for everyone to get every ruling they want. It just doesn’t work that way.

So when should rules be looked at for alteration in organized play? FLG’s philosophy has always been: a rule should only be considered for alteration when changing it will cause less harm than not changing it. We do not want to ever alter rules, ever. It inevitably causes a small number of folks to get upset and we’d rather not deal with the headache, honestly. But, if we believe based on community feedback, personal opinion, and experience, that a certain rule will actually hurt the organized play community, we feel it is our responsibility to address it, present it to the community for consideration for change. For example, altering the 2+ rerollable save as we have done for the ITC to stop the incredibly resilient units that were essentially invincible was met with the usual protests form a few folks, but now has an over 90% approval rating among ITC community members. It made the game more fun, and fair for more people. While yes, it did come with a bit of controversy out of the gates, it has proven to be positive change.

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But, what’s to stop you from changing all the rules?!

This is the next most common reaction we get. If you start altering some rules, what’s to stop you from altering them all? The slippery slope argument is a fallacy. Simply because we do one thing, does not mean we will inevitably do another. For one, look at the past. Have we indiscriminately altered rules for no reason? No. We’ve been in this game for a long time. It’s bad for business to change anything for no good reason, and we have no desire to do it. As stated, we only consider a rules alteration when we feel it is the lesser of two evils. If not altering something is–in our opinion–worse than not addressing it, we take action. However, we only ever implement policy for the ITC if it is what the majority of community members want.

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It’s not smart to make snap decisions!

Frequently we get folks making the argument to not make hasty decisions without really testing things out over a few months. While I agree with this in principle–it seems logical–in practice it doesn’t work as cleanly as one would think. For one, there are ITC events every weekend. We have TO’s that are waiting for answers to give to their communities, and we have a responsibility to help them. We at FLG also are always rolling from one event we host to another, and have the very real responsibility of getting event guidelines and tickets up for sale, or to answer questions to customers that may have bought a ticket and want to know what rules they will be playing with. There is money, vacation time, hobby time, etc. all on the line. In many instances we simply cannot tell customers, friends and ITC TO’s to hang in there for 30-60 days for answers as they need them sooner than that.

Secondly, folks can get upset when you tell them, hey, we as a group are deciding to tone some things down a bit in order to make everything more fun and fair for everyone else, relatively quickly after something new comes out. But if you want to see folks get really upset, tell them that after they have bought, built, painted and gotten used to playing with said models/rules. In most cases, it is actually worse in practice to do this as now folks have invested time and money into something and then having it taken away, than to simply put a stop to it before it becomes entrenched. Again, lesser of two evils.

Lastly, some basic math can often be applied to see that something is too efficient for the points. Experience and a calculator is often enough to see things at a far extreme of the power curve. If you let these things into an event knowing what will occur in order to “test” it out, what happens is you often simply ruin some other people’s experience when they get hit with it.

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So what if something is too powerful? My opponent should just toughen up and get over it!

This is another common response we get. And while many of us may agree with a “suck it up” mentality philosophically, and even live our lives that way outside of 40k, the reality of the fact is that this is a game that is inherently rooted in social interaction. You play it with another person who came to the table to have a fun, challenging game. In the case of tournaments, they’ve taken time away form family and work, spent money and often traveled to a location for a fun weekend of gaming.

When you allow the balance to be thrown off too much, there are those folks that will simply say: this isn’t worth my time and money. While yes, they could simply “suck it up,” and deal with it, so to speak, when you factor in the human considerations of what it takes to participate in an event: why would someone pay for the opportunity to play a bunch of games against an army or combo they do not enjoy playing against? Playing 40k in an organized setting is not a test of character or an obligation, it is a luxury. The playing field needs to be relatively level in order for it to be a worthwhile experience. If not, the community as a whole suffers and events shrink. We’ve seen it happen, many times.

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But I have a list I want to play!

I totally get it. For the average player, they look at things like rules alterations in terms of how they impact their play experience, their list. That is logical. However, remember, you are not having ideas about how to use powerful new things in a vacuum. Everyone else is thinking the same things! And if you think you will be the only person to show up to an event with the mega-powerful new army, you are wrong. You will show up to an event being yet another guy with “that” army. Largely with the exact same units, too. The field at an event will be swarmed with the same armies when there is true imbalance, which is not good for the game.

Perfect example: let’s go back in time to Adepticon 2012, when we had Grey Knights dominating the scene, the most powerful codex we’d seen until this new Eldar book. Finals at the event: 50% Grey Knights. The event itself had 25% Grey Knights in the field in a game with 15 factions, some factions had NO REPRESENTATION at all. Do you want to go to an event and potentially play the same army in half of your games? If you bring the powerhouse, do you want to play mirror matches all weekend? Do you want to be yet another player with the same army as everyone else? Because you will be. This has hapenned many times in the past, and any veteran of the game can attest to it.

2012 Adepticon Finals: 50% Grey Knights

Game 5 (Sunday Round 1)
Alexander Fennell (Necrons – Winner) vs. Tim Gorham (Grey Knights)
Tony Grippando (Grey Knights) vs. Reece Robbins (Eldar – Winner)
Mike Mutscheller (Space Wolves) vs. Nick Nanavati (Grey Knights – Winner)
Justin Cook (Grey Knights) vs. Brad Chester (Grey Knights – Winner)
Bill Kim (Chaos Daemons) vs. Dave Ankarlo (Grey Knights – Winner)
Jose Mendez (Dark Angels) vs. Tony Kopach (Space Wolves – Winner)
Joakim Engstrom (Grey Knights) vs. Paul Murphy (Grey Knights – Winner)
Doug Johnson (Orks – Winner) vs. Brett Perkins (Imperial Guard)

Game 6 Winner Brackets (Sunday Round 2)
Reece Robbins (Eldar) vs. Paul Murphy (Grey Knights – WINNER)
Alexander Fennell (Necrons – WINNER) vs. Doug Johnson (Orks)
Brad Chester (Grey Knights – WINNER) vs. Dave Ankarlo (Grey Knights)
Tony Kopach (Space Wolves – WINNER) vs. Nick Nanavati (Grey Knights)

Game 7 Winner Brackets – (Sunday Round 3)
Alexander Fennell (Necrons) vs. Brad Chester (Grey Knights – WINNER)
Tony Kopach (Space Wolves – WINNER) vs. Paul Murphy (Grey Knights)

Game 8 (Sunday Round 4)
Tony Kopach (Space Wolves) vs. Brad Chester (Grey Knights – WINNER)

Final Results: Warhammer 40K Championships Warmaster – Brad Chester (Grey Knights)

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We don’t simply have to allow things to happen. We have the legitimate right, and responsibility, to create the game we want to play together. We’ve seen many times in the past where things that throw off game balance are introduced into the game and it creates a less enjoyable environment for most gamers to play in. These situations could be easily avoided by simply coming together to say, no thanks. There will always be those who will disagree with changes such as those we propose. The simple fact that you have groups of people that want to see opposite sides of the same issue come to be means this is unavoidable.

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However, through our polls, and real world experience, we have seen that most folks agree with these changes. The ITC format has spread like wildfire, and the 2015 LVO 40k Championships had 256 players (with well over 300 registered), the largest 40k singles event ever held. We also had an incredibly diverse finals with a championship match of a Scout army vs. a Lichtor Nid army! This isn’t to say be any means that we’re the best or what have you, but compare that to the Deathstar on Deathstar (or similar style lists) Championships we typically see in other formats and the changes become telling. Again, that is no put down of other events, we offer only support and encouragement to our fellow tournaments. But does lead you to ask, what type of 40k do you want to play? We want to see variety, and a playing field where players do not feel compelled to bring the most extreme units/combos/rules in order to compete and have fun. So far, it has worked. And, the ITC is a flexible system! We built to be able to react to changes as they come, so nothing is set in stone, too. We can adapt as we go.

In closing, my challenge to all of you that are impacted by the ITC is to vote with your conscious first, but after consideration for not only how a ruling impacts you personally and your list, but how it impacts the community of gamers you are a part of and without whom we would not be able to play organized 40k at all.

Thanks to everyone that has participated so far! We look forward to another great ITC season.

Reece Robbins
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