Monday, 28 June 2010

Why the UK GT/Throne of Skulls 2010 = Fail

This is a post I never really expected to write, I’ve been attending the UK Grand Tournaments, which more recently became known as the Throne of Skulls, since 2003 and it’s always been an event I, and those at my local gaming club have loved (by way of example back in 2003 two of us went up, last year we took up a team of eleven, not bad for a small club at the far end of the country).
Now I know that there is plenty of dislike for the event, typified by Stelek, the hardcore tournament crowed who have a dislike of any sort of soft scores (i.e. Sportsmanship, Painting etc) in the format, as well as the sort of players who often attend including myself it would seem, but for me and I know a good sized crowd of people typified by the Warseer contingent who really like the event as it was, a relaxed Tournament where you will see just about every sort of player you can imagine from the ‘Net List’ players to the fluffy bunnies (no offence intended here, I’m closer to one of those then a Net Lister).
The original format I started attending under was two Heats and a Final, those who did best in the Heats then had the option to buy a ticket for the final, tickets were sold top to bottom until they were all gone, subsequent years saw the addition of an extra Heat to keep up with demand and the introduction of a free Final ticket for those who qualified.
Each player could attend one Heat per year and potentially the final if they performed well.
The new format as it has been presented removes the Final in favour of another Heat, so you could say they’re now Rounds instead. On the face of it I see no problem with this, indeed I think it could be a good move, the thing is in the past couple of years especially tickets fly – they were all gone in something like 48hours last year – and there are plenty of people who miss out, removing the Final and adding another Round means another hundred odd people get the chance to attend the big event in the UK (and arguably Europes) gaming calendar – this is the obvious and IMHO best solution given that the event’s team are unable to calendar in a forth heat and the final.
However theres a fly in the ointment, it would also seem that a player will be able to attend multiple Rounds in a year, this means there will almost certainly infact still be people who are unable to go as I’ve no doubt there will be those, especially those who live in the area who’ll go to two, three or even all four events each year regardless of the cost. As long as those who could’nt get a ticket before get one now that’s alright though.  
The Event
Originally each weekends gaming included 6 games over Saturday and Sunday, Lunch on both days was provided and Dinner on Saturday as well as Coffee and Donuts for breakfast (yummy), there was some form of entertainment in Bugmans bar in the evening for those who wanted to attend and back along Seminars were held (though these stopped a little while ago). It was also common practice that many of those who had the option to arrive early would meet up at Warhammer World for a few friendly games, this was always great as it meant you’d get to catch up with friends an acquaintenances who you’d met at previous years event or just through the online community for a few games and a couple of drinks before getting down to the tournament proper.
The food format remains unchanged (though apparently it’s going to be better food – though I’m not sure quite how they’ll pull that off as food is already of an excellent standard), likewise Saturday entertainments will be improved (again it’s always been great so unless they’re adding the Seminars back I’m left scratching my head).
Next up we’ll have the introduction of social gaming before the event on the Friday… wait a minute did’nt we already do that? Oh sorry no it’s going to be ‘official’ social gaming now… this is great, but to say it’s something new we’re offering and then use it as a financial justification is not.
Finally we’re going to be gaining a whole half hour extra per game which means… oh yeah it’ll now be five games rather then six, so it’s more ‘relaxed’. I’m of two minds about this, on one hand sometimes people do run out of time for games, on the other hand I’m now spending 5 or so hours in the car for less actual games, they’re not even larger games which I know is something which has been asked out plenty before, upping the 40k limit to 1850pts which is fairly reasonable I’d think for an extra half hour?
So why are GW implementing these changes? Well for this I’ll turn over to the head of event Andy Joyce in an email correspondence I received from him in reply to an email I sent last week.
The reason for removing the heats was twofold. Firstly, the new Throne of Skulls format has been designed to emphasise the fun of playing games in a relaxed, friendly environment, where the only prize up for grabs is the knowledge that you were the best in your race class. As the heats and final system is essentially encouraging people to play for a physical prize, it now doesn’t fit with the ethos of playing for fun for what you can win.

The second reason is to open up the competition to more players; 3 events limits us to a maximum of 468 players, and a final where (if we’re lucky) 120 may turn up. This now opens the competition up for 4 events with a total capacity of 624 different players, allowing greater access to the competition and providing more support for the hobby.

The second reason I’ve already commented on, I like it for the most part, the first I have a problem with.
I agree that the changes should encourage friendly play, a little; however they seem to be making a mountain out of a mole hill. We’re all familiar with the horror stories that come out of tournaments from time to time, the Rules Lawyers twisting the meaning of RAW above an beyond to scrape a tiny advantage, the weighted dice, the time wasters, the tantrum throwers – and yes they’re all true, but they are a minority of players, a real tiny minority. I’ve met at most one of these people in my years at the GT, and to be honest he just did’nt know the rules very well, it’s a problem I’ve encountered far more at my local club or shop (the worst cheat (read did’nt know the rules) I’ve ever met was a GW Store Manager for heaven’s sake, but that’s another story). The thing is if you actually talk to a GT player about it they’ll have a story, but most of those stories come from a friend, or a friend of a friend, the undesirable opponents are indeed out there but are few and far between and they are not going to go away just because the event is changing it’s reward system.
For the most part those that attend the GT are a fantastic crowd, go in relaxed and ready for some fun games and that is exactly what you’ll get – make no mistake some of those games will be hard because you will play against some hard armies and some great players but 95% of the time the people behind them will be wanting to have just the same thing you want, a fun, relaxed and friendly game (oh and being a tournament they’ll want to win, ditto though surely - even if you don’t have your sights set on the top tables).
So what are GW really going to achieve with these changes, my theory is very little in terms of improving game play, you have removed a tangible physical prize certainly by removing the free final ticket, that’s not going to stop people from taking the hardest army they can, they may not have a prize still, but they still want to win even when moving the goal post’s with odd changes in how points are awarded, it will be for the most part the same people, playing the same way and those people want to win.
10 Minutes to Midnight
There is another thing though, and I hate for it to come down to this, I really do, but for me it’s the thing which breaks the horses back, why I won’t be attending the Throne of Skulls. I’m trying to get my head around this still, Heat Tickets have for a few years been priced at £55.00, that included subsidizing the ‘free’ Final, we now have no Final, we now have a game less meaning that in fact the event will end a few hours earlier for the purposes of the vast majority of players (because even with the ‘Friday’ event a good portion will not attend this because they’ll be doing other things or traveling up to Nottingham, it is a work night afterall. Somehow despite losing all these things the ticket price remains the same, it’s not according to Andy ‘a viable option for us’.
If the GT’s were making a loss I could maybe understand this – do some number crunching though and you’ll see the sort of gross income they have from these events at a venue which is already there regardless of the event, I don’t believe for a minute they were making a loss.
The thing is there are plenty of other great Tournaments out there, a recent highlight for me was Bristol Vanguard, it’s organization was on a par with the GT, the terrain if anything was better, the food was pretty good, the venue was nothing special and the people were great – the price was half of the GT, the fact is the prestiege of the official event is all well and good, but at the end of the day it’s coming to a point where this is the main selling point, GW actually offering less just as other events are offering more does not sound to me like a good move if they want attendance to continue.
I can’t finish on an unhappy note, because I do have to add one little thing, pretty much the same that I ended to Andy Joyce with, the thing is as I started with I have loved the GT and the Throne of Skulls events, that’s down to the people who attend them yes, but even more so that’s down to the Events Team from top to bottom and not forgetting the volunteers who give up there time freely, I don’t think you could ask for a more dedicated group to organize and run the tournaments, they’ve turned out a great event year after year and I have a huge amount of respect for them for doing it. It is with real regret I won’t be attending this year, I know for a fact I’m not alone in feeling this, I have plenty of brilliant memories of the Tournament over the years and no matter what changes now and in the future that won’t change.


mart007 said...

To be honest, I think it will still be a great event, I for one will be still attending.

I am thrilled they dropped a game on the sun as I will be able to see the closing stuff and drive home safely at a reasonable time without being stupidly tired.

£55 for two days entertainment and your food sorted is very reasonable imo.

I think change to something you love is scary, but at the end of the day as you have said, there is still in the majority going to be a good bunch there.

I m not good enough to be a tourny winner, thats not to say I dont want to win, I know my limitations and personally if I can get say 3-4 out of the games as memorable good fun times, its been worth it for me.

Thats my 2p

Col.Gravis said...

It will still be a great event, the changes are as I mentioned both welcome an unwelcome, the greater capacity is great, the greater time/one less game is for me very meh, the scoring system likewise - if anything it probably favours my style of play and army.

What gets me what you get for your ticket.

Last year £55.00 got you 'casual' Friday night games, food, entertainment and 6-12 games.

This year £55.00 gets you 'official' Friday night games, food, entertainment and 5 games.

It'll still be a great event, but it's now overpriced compaired to comparable events which are half the price and just as enjoyable - hell some of them are even at the same venue.

It's kinda like buying citadel glue, it does exactly the same as other glues but it's GW branded and cost's more.

Mart said...

Very true. Im comparing £55 for general day out stuff as opposed to last years price.

For the quality of food and such its still reasonable, but as you have pointed out no Justification.

On a side not I attended Open War 13 at Warhammer World this year. Its a one dayer, but only cost £15 and still came with the food.

Im not sure how the new best army rules will work, Im more intrigued to see how it pans out!

Great blog btw, I have seen your stuff over the forums!

Willard said...

I agree with you an almost all the points - I loved the the achievement you got from qualifying for the free final, lament the loss of the sixth game on the Sunday, and think it's a bit of a cheek to drop those things and still ask full price.

But, I'll still be going.


Much as I enjoy events like Vanguard, I find they draw from a narrower pool of Gamers, and crucially - they don't have the same "feel".

There is something to be said from playing in the big gaming hall in Nottingham - from winning best army at an event where the pics go on the GW website - from the deeply varied group the GT attracts.

Still as a hardened tournament gamer, I'm quite upset by three things -

1.)The way in which every round is random - I really enjoyed the tabbing & score system, which meant you played against equally skilled opponents.

2.) The way overall tournament victory is determined by an arcane calculation based on how many of your army there are at the tournament.

3.) The subjectivity of the "Best army I played against" award - this is meant to encourage 'friendly' play, but in my experience, it really adds up to more arguments than anything else.

All that said, I'm going to give it a try - despite my reservations, I'm open to trying something new. Maybe it'll be great. Maybe it'll be terrible. But at least I'll be able to say one way or another.

Willard said...

PS: - Also, while working in publishing, I have no problem with the tie-breaker being on army roster (I'm already planning my Valkyrie Crash Safety brochure & Ork-Imperial phrasebook), I can see how some people who just want gaming will HATE it.

Mart said...

I like the fact they are encouraging that kind of thing, afterall its not only a generic mathmatical game based on statistics and dice!

Being at the main ToS tourny is special, but I dont really go for the actual competition (unless I was winning the thing - which strangley never happens!). Put it this way, I hate going to GW shops and would never game in them because of the kids and over enthusiastic staff.

ToS and other tournies is great because most people seem to be between the age of 26 - 40 have nicely converted/painted armies - are there to enjoy a few bugmans etc etc...

The_King_Elessar said...

I think what they fail to realise/care about is that the cost in of itself is prohibitive to getting these new players in.

If I'd just started the Hobby, and heard about this Tournament, I'd be checking it wasn't posted April 1st. In no way is tournament a legitimate descriptive term. Paying £55 for 2 days food and entertainment may be reasonable to us adults who have already invested hundreds or thousands in the hobby - but younger players (hark at me, I'm only 24!) simply cannot afford to travel, get accommodation, and pay this without any sort of physical prize at the end. They might be best of that codex. Woop. Because of Best Opponent points, they might not even be 'Most Successful with that Codex On The Table' - so hardly 'Best' are they?

I grew up aspiring to one day travel to the mainland and play in the GT, then it became ToS, and it looked even better, but I couldn't afford it still. Now I can, and I have no desire to spend maybe £300 to sit around while my opponents play slowly and I take 10/15 min turns but we have too much time to fill for 1500 points. :(

Col.Gravis said...

It'll definately be interesting to see what the concensus is from those who attend post event, I do hope we'll get plenty of feedback to mull over.

I can appreicate what your saying about a bigger pool of gamers Willard, certainly the downside of events like Vanquish is that they draw more from the local area so fewer people from further afield and virtually none from abroad. I'm not sure I'm worried too much about that as really I'm intending on attending mroe events if anything but across the country, so should still get the variety of gamers, just not all at the same time - and I'm holding out for a big event still, there does seem to be an increasing number of options which may better fulfil this hole, if only in the pipeline.

Likewise I agree the prestiege and venue of the official event is great, it's just to me this is about the only reason to go over other events now, and I'm not sure it's worth the extra spend.

I ccertainly agree on your own own concerns as well.

King Elessar, agreed completely, personlly if GW are really concerned about opening up official events for all I feel a far better way would be to make a better quality shot at the old Conflict events, maybe 3 or 4 up and down the country aimed at casual fun play, mini-campaign events even to encourage that (very improtant) aspect of the hobby.