Last week I wrote a little forum post that turned into an article asking “what makes 7th edition 40k LESS COMPETITIVE than 5th edition 40k”. The answers that were posted back and the conversation that followed highlighted a very important piece of information that probably should have been resolved first. The definition “competitive gaming” had many different definitions to many different people; no wonder there is such heated discussion on the topic!
I don’t think that this article is going to be the ultimate definition of what Competitive Gaming is, but I am going to give my opinion on what Competitive Gaming is and will also touch on why I feel that Warhammer 40,000 has NEVER been a competitive game in any of its editions.
To the first topic, Competitive Gaming is to me a game played between people where the skillset of the players are compared against and the player with the most skill should come out on top. This can be in anything, be it sports like football, soccer, or games like chess.
Competitive Gaming should primarily be resolved based on the skill of the player(s) involved and should be against players of roughly equal caliber.
For example, the game of football can be played by anyone. However, there is a large difference between a high school foot ball team, a college football team, and a professional football team. We expect that these teams be matched up against people in their same class or caliber.
Fighting sports such as boxing or mixed martial arts, or even wrestling, pair people up in weight classes, because there is nothing LESS competitive than setting a heavy weight fighter up against a 130 lb fighter.
Competitive players also have to deal with random elements in the form of weather, sporting venues, and things of that nature. Not only must they deal with them, they must overcome them.
Competitive Gaming ultimately seeks to determine who is the better overall player.
Why I feel 40k has never been a competitive game has nothing to do with its core rules. The things many people who claim to be competitive talk about hating, I don’t see as making any more or less “competitive”. Random charges, random powers, etc don’t make a game less competitive, they enforce a different set of skills and tactics that must be employed.
However, the lack of game balance between factions DOES make a game less competitive, and Warhammer 40k and Warhammer Fantasy have never had any real balance in any of the editions, which is to me why neither game is competitive nor has it ever been.
When competing in warhammer, players will actively seek to have their army list do as much of the heavy lifting as possible. In sports terms, it is the same as being handed a professional football team, being able to freely obtain all of the super star players in the league, and then also be given the caveat that one can play teams at the high school or college level, and if the weather is not preferable one has the power to change the weather so that conditions are always perfect.
As a fighter, it would be like getting to be the heavy weight fighter and taking on opponents in weight classes far below the one assigned.
None of these scenarios to me is competitive. I’d even go so far as to say that actively engaging in these types of contests is NON-COMPETITIVE because the skill of the player is secondary to how well the deck can be stacked. While that may be fine in a deck game like Magic: The Gathering – in a game of war where one expects tactics and strategies to be tested this falls very very short.
To me – for 40k to be truly a competitive game, the balance in all of the factions needs seriously overhauled. Barring that, a solid comp system needs put in place to put more builds in viable standings.
Second, for 40k to be truly a competitive game, tournaments should deviate from every table being the same and having the same scraps of terrain on them. This enforces certain build types. A truly good player should be tested on different types of boards, with different types of terrain and cover available. Start showcasing tournaments where some tables are like city scapes where line of sight is not freely given to every model on the table, and you’ll start to see lists shifting to accommodate the fact that you won’t always get to play on planet bowling ball and do nothing but shoot.
Third – for 40k to truly be a competitive game, the designers need to lessen or eliminate the ROCK/PAPER/SCISSORS aspect of the game. This has always existed, from the time I started playing in third edition, to today.
My two primary tournament 40k armies were starcannon spam eldar and leafblower Imperial Guard.
A little history: my first army was Dark Angels. After three months of playing the game I played in my first tournament and got curb stomped bad. The winner of that event was a star cannon spam eldar player, who said something to me to this very day that I will never forget, even nearly twenty years later. He said “eldar are a tough army to play properly and only veteran players can really get a hang of it”.
I didn’t understand that, since he tabled me in three turns by rolling a lot of dice with weapons I got no save against. So I built the same army. The next tournament I attended, about six months into the hobby, I won my first tournament by tabling two blood angels players and a space wolf player.
That really summarizes competitive 40k to me. I am not a great player. When you kick my crutches out from under me, I win as much as I lose, and I certainly would never have been able to win a tournament without a list that took advantage of no cover, and a meta which was dominated by blood angels players with a smattering of space wolf players.
That next year and a half I played in over one hundred competitive games. I lost twice: once to an ork player and once to a tyranid player. I mistakingly thought that I was a great 40k player because my lists were busted and few played my hard counter (a hoard army).
The thing was, I was the 270 lb heavy weight fighter fighting 125 lb high school kids. I was the New England Patriots playing football games against Springfield High. There was nothing competitive about it. When I tried playing lists that did not exploit whatever was broken at the time, I didn’t do nearly as well. That to me again speaks volumes about competitive 40k.
It never has been competitive while the army rules are as imbalanced as they have always been and sadly has never really been a test of player skill or strategy so much as it has been a test with how good one is with rudimentary math and effective spreadsheet skills.