Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The "Competitive" Army

How "competitive" an army is is something we hear come up a lot, but what does it really mean? Unfortunately I think it's become a bit of a buzzword lately and lost some of its context, so lets take a look at the meaning behind the phrase.

I can't tell you how many times I'm in a Twitter thread, WhatsApp chat, or a Facebook page and see people discussing an army list only for the phrase "yeah, but it won't be very competitive" come up. Often this is in relation to a slightly "softer" list, a "suboptimal" army choice, or something themed. While this is certainly a valid point to bring up, and I am in no means saying we shouldn't discuss the competitiveness of an army when people are asking for pointers on a list, I do think we need to take a step back and really think about it for a moment.

I find often, that when someone says an army list isn't competitive what they really mean is that you more than likely won't come out on top at an event or a competitive scene. As in, you won't finish 1st, 2nd, or 3rd. That's fair enough. Unfortunately I think it's often misconstrued as saying, "Nah, you won't ever win with that army." While this may not be what the person who commented on it intended, this can certainly be how it's heard by the person who posted the question or anyone else reading these public discussions. People see or hear the word "not competitive" and they'll often change their mind on what they were going to do. Someone could be newer to the hobby and perusing a thread about their favorite army they're thinking about starting only to hear the unit they really like is non-competitive or even the entire army itself. If this person is only looking for the top tier list that will let them take out Adepticon, then that's fine, but I think more often than not this ends up stifling creativity and diversity within army selection.

For people who are aware that it won't win every game and are fine with that it's no big deal, but I think they're a smaller percentage. They're the narrative gamers. If we were to look at a pie chart, people who identify as competitive gamers and those who identify as narrative games will take up pretty small chunks, while the largest section will be people who fall in the middle. These people are generally more open to critiques like this.

I feel like a more accurate thing to say would be "You probably won't place at an event with that army." It's very likely that an army list deemed "non-competitive" will win about half of their games, or even higher. Winning and losing are all part of the experience, what matters is that you have fun with the army. I'm looking at doing an entire Troggoth army for example, which has been said to be non-competitive. This is probably true in that I don't have the volume of bodies I would need to really hold onto objectives securely. I do think it will be a ton of fun to play though, and I expect to win about half (hopefully more) of the games I play with them. They will have good match ups and bad match ups, and some battleplans will be easier or harder to win with them, but I won't be losing every game.

Basically I think we need to be a bit more nuanced with our feedback. It should be "You'll probably do okay with that list, but you're unlikely to win an event," or "I think that list is really bad and you'll probably lose the majority of your games," or "That's a great list!" instead of just black or white. This approach will be less discouraging to people trying out new things. I mean, who would have thought an all Squig army could win a major event a few years ago, or a mixed Order army with seemingly random units? I'm sure people would have said those lists were non-competitive when just looking at them on paper. By being more nuanced with our feedback and encouraging people to try something they really like I think we'll see some growing diversity amongst the armies out there at events. It can even lead to some sleeper top tier armies that no one thought of. I remember hearing about how bad the Gore Gruntas are, only for an Ironjawz army made up almost entirely of them to do pretty well at Adepticon last year.

"...I think more often than not this ends up stifling creativity and diversity within army selection." 

The next time you see someone posting up an army list or idea and asking for feedback try and keep this in mind. Give a little more thought to your response and explain your reasoning behind it instead of a blanket statement that could be easily misconstrued. Nobody's at fault here, but some people may still be getting hurt along the way.

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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