Thursday, November 17, 2016

Casual vs. Competitive Play and Player Attitudes and Expectations

Casual vs. Competitive Play and Player Attitudes and Expectations

In addition to being an avid tournament player, I also help run my local club and often have to help new players learn the game. I wanted to use that experience to talk about competitive vs. casual play.

To start with, let’s define competitive and casual play. For this article, “competitive” play is going to be tournaments, competitive events, and games specifically agreed on to be practice for those. Everything else will be “casual” play. Those are pretty broad but that’s often how I see them loosely defined elsewhere. Both of these types of games and the difference between a good and bad experience in either of them depend on managing the expectations and attitudes of both (or more) players involved.

For competitive play, expectations are very easy to define. Both players are trying to win, and you shouldn’t go to a tournament without the understanding you might get a bad matchup or play against a very good player who kicks your ass six ways to sunday. I don’t like the kind of shaming I sometimes see towards competitive players for taking a list that’s “too cheesy” or “uses unfluffy units” for a tournament. The goal is to win, and it’s fair for anyone going to an event to bring the best they can.

Player attitudes are the tougher part to manage in competitive, because you may get an opponent who’s rude, tries to cheat, plays horribly slowly, or throws a temper tantrum. Luckily, this is what TO’s are for and the best way to mitigate how bad an experience a crappy opponent can give you is to call a TO over and let them know what’s going on. For the most part, your experience at a tournament is going to be governed by your own attitude and the luck of the draw on which opponents you get.

Defining expectations for casual games is where I think a lot of players fail and end up with a bad experience. Some people like to just play with whatever models are on their shelf, or even only what’s painted. They throw together a list and use it. Other players, like myself, can’t help but make sure their list is a “good” list. I often use bad units (I LOVE Vanguard Veterans) but will equip them and support them within the list to make sure they have a job to do and can hopefully do it. This is a difficult expectation to manage because both players are building what is, in their opinion, a “casual” list. The only real way to manage this is to ask the second group of players to tone down their lists, or maybe help their opponent write a list if their opponent wants to bring a better army. Also, try a scenario that puts that person at a disadvantage (with their consent of course) to make both the game and matchup more interesting.

Attitudes are easy to manage in casual games. If a player is consistently difficult to play with for any reason, just don’t play with them. The benefit of casual games (and tabletop games in general, usually) is that you always have a choice about who to play with and when. If you feel like you need to play with someone with a bad attitude, talk to them. I’ve had plenty of bad games with otherwise good guys because they were having a bad day.

So what happens when these two cross over? Usually nothing special actually. A lot of competitive players will fall into that second category of casual play, and may need to be given a disadvantage to ensure a fun game. Trying out a new army or radically different list is a great handicap. Also, as a casual player playing with your more competitively-minded friends, don’t immediately point to their attitude and list as a reason for a tough game. I see a lot of people with the belief that tournament players all have a “Win at All Costs” mentality that means they’ll always stomp you in an unfun way. I think this often comes from those competitive players just being better players, and the casual player looking for an excuse. If you felt the game wasn't fun, talk to them. Maybe they can tone down their list, or point out a few places where you could've just played better to make the game closer.

Finally, let me quickly address “That Guy”. I think when most people talk about having a bad experience with a competitive player, they played against those people who bring an overly competitive list and/or attitude to a casual game. Even when you were clear the game was casual, they brought a top-placing tournament list they pulled off the internet, and act like a jerk or talk down to you all game. For the most part, there is nothing you can do about this kind of person except not play with them. In my experience, these are often middle/lower-tier tournament players who need an ego boost by smacking around people’s fluffy armies. The very good tournament players who I’ve encountered have all been friendly and enjoyable people to play with, and are usually just as capable of fun casual play as competitive play. If you have “That Guy” in your group, refuse to play with them until they tone it down. There doesn’t have to be a line between competitive and casual players.

Sorry that ended up being a bit long. Hope you guys liked this departure from tactics/list analysis. Let me know if there’s a topic you’d like to see me cover next.

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