Friday, October 30, 2009

What Does Winning a Tournament Mean?

I'll touch base on part two of the promised basic strategy article, though this kind of popped out between work and studying for that take-home test this weekend.

What does winning a tournament mean?

Some folks say it means nothing. Some folks say it means they've earned credibility simply by winning. Some folks will tell you that since you HAVEN'T won a tournament, you should shut up because you've produced no results.

So, Winning That Tournament
Warning: Some Scientific Stuff Ahead

By 'science' I mean I'm dragging the scientific method (kicking, and screaming through a gag and straight jacket) into this realm.

Consider tournaments like a test in school. Does passing a test mean you are smart? It could. So, you take a test. You get a passing grade. What's that mean? Maybe you've studied hard, done well all semester, and earned it. Maybe you crammed, which is a sub-par learning strategy but may still get you that grade.

What if you didn't do well? Maybe you're a diligent student who studies and works hard, but you had a pet die, you had a nasty breakup the night before the test, or something else. Then again, maybe you're a slacker who doesn't study.

Where am I going with this school analogy? There are multiple paths to a passing (or failing) grade. Similarly, Winning a Tournament May Be A Result Of Different Factors.

On to science, then, since I promised it. If we want to make heads or tails out of something from a scientific standpoint, we're going to do our best to control all the inputs. So, if I'm going to get a statistically significant sample* for my study, I'm going to go through the trouble of making sure they take the test with the same conditions; IE no distractions, no extraneous interference (unless I've carefully controlled for it), and so on.

In other words, I'm making sure that none of the random crap is clouding what I'm really trying to find with my study. Mmm, fond memories of spending 20-30 hours a week researching crap for my useless degree.

In 40k, I can reduce the factors of the game to six things, with three for either player:

1) The General's Decisions In The Game
2) The General's Army List
3) The General's Dice

Any combination of these may contribute to your win or loss. If all the dice are average, then they are not a factor, and it's down to the players. Let's all enjoy a laugh as we talk about dice performaing average, and watch Raptor's next game feature dice that are wildly horrible.

There are also factors beyond the player's control, at times:

4) The Scenario
5) The Terrain

These may or may not provide an undue advantage to one side.

Warhammer Is Not Science
Warhammer 40,000 does not obey the laws of science. Similarly, neither do the tournaments. If you are honest with yourself, you will see this.

Let's say that every person who plays Warhammer 40,000 is the population of Warhammer 40k. Well, the whole population probably doesn't play in tournaments.

What's it take to get into a tournament?
Nominally, a sign-up fee, an army, and time.
An army can range from like $800-900 bucks (Don't believe me? Check some math)
Of course, an army can also be around $200 (Also, check the math)

The money's largely academic, since it's kind of the entry fee into the population. So, then, you need like $15-25 and an afternoon off. This isn't a big limit, but it still is a limit; some folks just can't get that specific day off from work/family/the spouse.

So, you lose a few, but you might have a decent local turnout. So, if you win a local tournament, you've proven your ability to beat the locals that showed up on the given day.

Let's say it's out of town.
We're adding transit time and costs to the tournament at a minimum. Now, you're really eating the day up (figure 7-8 hours for the tournament, and maybe a couple hours of driving to be 'out of town'). Ok, gas isn't that bad.

Still, it's your ability to beat the players in that locale, plus anyone that heard about it and showed up.

Let's make it waaaay out of town
So, let's consider a tournament you'd have to drive 5-6 hours and stay overnight. Now we're taking up 2-3 days, and spending a night or two in a hotel. If you work an hourly job, you may incur additional costs in the form of hours off. Or, you might simply be taking time off.

You've also added a few hundred bucks to the entry fee, as you have to eat, drive, and sleep in a hotel for a night or two.

Distance means...
More barriers to entry. Personally, I'm willing to go some distance to play in a tournament; I participated in the Big Waagh! last year. This year, though, the economy hit and I had no job, so the entry fee + gas + hotel put it squarely out of my reach.

I'm not looking for sympathy; I'm just stating facts and pointing out that there ARE barriers to tournaments.

Time means...
More barriers to entry. It's an opportunity cost; you could've done something else that day. Me, if it's a day with the crazy relatives, that's an opportunity cost I'd happily pay. On the other hand, let's say you'd normally be working 3:30-10:30 on a Saturday and making $10 an hour. Not only are you spending time and money to go to the tournament, but you're skipping out on $70 in wages.

...where are you going with this, Raptor?
All I'm trying to say is that you need to consider the external factors before you make much ado about a tournament victory.

Not everyone came. Not everyone had equal dice luck. Not everyone has skill. 'Soft' scores like comp may play a factor**. Scenarios may or may not be a factor. Matchups may or may not be a factor.

Before you make much (or little) of your wins, consider what went into them. I will always congratulate a tournament winner because if nothing else, they won that day and there is some element of an endurance test to them by their nature (and by the fact we tend to play 2.5 hour rounds...).

But please, think a little bit before you consider winning a tournament anything but winning a tournament. If someone tries to tell you to shut your mouth simply because you haven't won a tournament...tell them to address the actual point you're addressing.

Don't mistake this for an attack on tournaments; I'm just attempting to offer some perspective to things.

*I think 30's the minimum, if my memory from stats class serves. Sampling is something I'm not going to discuss here, but suffice it to say that a sample truly representative of a population is the result of some careful procedures. The sampling that builds your tournament set bears no real or implied resemblence to sound statistical/scientific procedures.

**While they shouldn't, they still can. Some sportsmanship ranking systems are a fine incentive to screw over the guy who stomped you. Paint scores are somewhat subjective. Theme scores are hellishly subjective. Then again, you might get a genuinely pleasant set of opponents, and we tend not to remember those in favor of the samples of carbon-based waste that ruin the game for us. So it is to be human and have a memory.


Faolain said...

I'd say winning one or two tournaments doesn't add anything to your credibility, but reliably winning lots of tournaments in multiple locations would.

Of course, winning all your regular games against various opponents in various locales should carry just as much weight as winning a tournament as a tournament is simply a bunch of games in a row.

Raptor1313 said...

I'm not so sure about that. It would depend on what it actually took to win that tournament. Comp, if applicable, sportsmanship, if applicable, and who you played, matchups, etc.

I do agree with you on winning regularly locally. I think a lot of people simply dismiss that as 'casual', and sometimes? It is. Other times, if everyone treats every game like a tournament game in terms of bringing high-end armies, then why shouldn't it be comparable to winning a well-run, high-end tournament?

At the end of the day, a tournament is just a day or two of steady gaming with a bunch of prizes at the end.

Karnstein said...

I agree on the asumption that winning tournaments doesn't necessarily improve your credibility.

But w/o further information I tend to rate winning some tournaments or ending up in the top 5 on a regular basis higher than winning 15 games on a row in your FLGS.

That doesn't mean that you can't fake your credibility if you only pick those tournaments with rules/scoring systems you like. And this also doesn't mean that you can use them as some kind of math-hammer, because you won't find the same rules, restrictions, missions and scoring systems being used at different tournaments all over your country (or esp. the world). But at least you do know that someone who placed high or even won 5 different tournaments all over his region/state/country did that against random opponents without picking on newbies on purpose or using tailored lists.

You can't say that about local winning streaks. Maybe that guy DID just picked on newbies or used tailored lists to increase his chances. So yeah, if s/o wins more games with one evolving list than he looses with it at his FLGS, where anybody uses competitive builds and doesn't tailor them towards specific opponents, he can't be that bad of a player. Problem is that you don't know that and people tend to exagerate or even a lie a lot on the anonymous net.

I also agree that wining those 5 tournaments in your region doesn't necessarily makes you a better player than s/o who has a winning streak at hs competitive FLGS + the tournament hosted there. Someone can be a born tactician without enough money to allow travelling that much. You won't see him stated as "the best player of the state", but maybe he is.

Basicaly it breaks down to the fact that you can only take basic assumptions for being true and take everthing else as more or less highly speculative. That's because in most cases the audience doesn't have enough data to make a fair comparison. You can take it as a fact, that someone who places in the top 5 of a couple of tournaments is a decent player, who can at least adapt to local customs. Anything else breaks down to how much verified data you have.

So the more data you can provide, the more credibility you can earn from boasting your tournament success. But in the end it breaks down to how well you can argue your point. Using logical arguments in a civilised manner beats being an ass, regardless of how many tournaments you may have won or not.

Raptor1313 said...

Aye. The more data you have about the match, the better you can determine its 'validity', as it were. Saying 'I won a fistfight' is one thing, saying 'I won a fistfight with a 5-year-old' is another, and saying 'I won a fistfight with a boxing champion' is yet another thing.

Of course, at the end of the day it DOES come down to the skill at debate and making your points. Just seems that not everyone realizes that your points are often only as valid as your backup, and your backup may or may not be that valid all the time.

Thanks for the solid reply.

Stelek said...

Like this post.

Wanted to give some feedback.

When you use underlining in a blog, people think that's the end of the topic and look for the comment line.

When it's not, it makes jumping around a little more difficult.

Might I suggest a slightly different color for your topic headers and your comment line?

Making them stand out would I hope, be appreciated by more than just myself. :)

Farmpunk said...

Good one, Raptor!
the points you bring up are why I like to read detailed battle reports.
At the same time though, it's hard to give really detailed reports for tourneys. It is something I want to improve for my own blogging.

Currently the measure of talent and skill is something subjective. I'm not sure how well we can quantify those things.
I think it's why I tend to rely on battle reports for gauging how 'excellent' people are.

not everyone does battle reports. Sandwyrm and I don't do them for every battle. I've played against people where it's not worth the embarassment for them. (We've got a guy here that loves playing his orks, but unfortunately he gets his clock cleaned regularly.)

I do wish money wasn't as much of a prohibition as it is. I'd love to see people able to freely travel to hit tourneys and local game nights.

I'm really thinking of making a standing invite to anyone coming to Indy to look up Sandwyrm and I for games. I think it'd be fun, but it would make Gencon a really busy time of the year for me.

Dverning said...

@Farmpunk: If I'm ever up in Indy again, I'll take you up on that!

@Raptor1313: A good post and great feedback. Does it really mean much to say "I won this tourney!" when you're being graded on a curve? :-p

It doesn't help that tourney's are usually only 3-5 games in a Swiss style. There's limited opportunity for the truly top players to get pairings. I think all too many players make a big deal about winning tournaments when what they really won was the luck of the draw. I'll admit that I've won regional level events because I got some chump draws. In the same, I've been blasted in tiny local events because I drew a solid player (or two) and we washed each other out of the rankings.

So tourney victories, especially big ones, are a nice feather in a cap. But by no means does that make the person an immediate expert on all things pertaining to their chosen list.

Raptor1313 said...

I think you're my official format-editor; I've got a few regular guys that keep me honest on other things. ;) That being said, I'll have to beta-test color-coded formatting and see how it rolls, since admittedly the underline thing COULD be a link. That kind of formatting feedback is appreciated, as it's kind of a rare thing.

That aside, I think it just needed saying. Context is bloody important for this 'Tournament Win = Street Cred' concept some folks have.

I think I was angling towards the batrep thing myself, and had I been there more during the night when I wrote this, I probably would've made mention in the post itself.

It's one reason I like posting up detailed batreps when I can, but there IS some serious time involved in it. Less so when I remember to bring the camera. It's just a heap of work to put up the batreps, and that's why you don't always see them. It's something I try to do, and have been a bit lax on. In part, well, work attacked and I've not gotten a game in within a couple weeks.

If I ever manage to make it to Indy, I'll have to try to finagle a game time somehow. Who knows, maybe work'll send me there for some reason or another. ...then I'd have to somehow pack my army, and there goes my carryon.

I think I've managed the same. For me, I have the most fun in a close-fought game, but a narrow win is the least productive outcome for a tournament. It's mutually assured destruction for good matches. It's actually an incentive to play uber-cut-throat.

My main goal with this article is just to get people to THINK about it. Always ask the crucial 'why', and examine how folks got to their conclusions.

Laertes said...

Raptor, great summary. Too often it seems, when any tournament results are discussed, everyone seems to want to dramatically oversimplify things (especially when it seems to come to list construction). The winner tends to basically deflect everything by pointing and saying "scoreboard", and those critics then declare the tournament as flawed.

In reality it's a lot more like winning a football game. Sometimes you were more talented, yes, sometimes you had the right play called, sometimes you may have been lucky. But hey, sometimes you had the wrong play called -- that halfback trap against a stacked 4-6 run blitz. Sure, you ran for a touchdown, but after the game you can still say that wasn't the right play call -- and be right.