I’ve heard of a golden place, like a living Elysium, where all the Warmachine and Hordes players are relaxed and have a great time. Where rules calls are resolved with shrugs, smiles and amicable rolls of dice, rather than shrill summons of judges and bitter mumbling. It’s called the top tables, and I have glimpsed it in dreams and sometimes in the second round when I flounder and soon return to my natural home in the other half of the hall.
That other half, whether you refer to it as the drinkers’ bracket or the losers’ tables or whathaveyou, is a more grimdark place. You can generally cut the tension in the air with a knife. Every ability your opponent unveils on their bullshit 3 point model is more broken than the last. Sometimes they are actively adding new rules to the backs of their cards as you play. You can’t seem to select the right list, everything your opponent does nullifies your army. Your dice are against you, your opponent seems to know everyone on the surrounding tables and they agree with their rules calls (for our European friends, the bonus is that they are speaking a language you don’t understand!) rather than yours. With every loss you wonder why you play this game, and even the wins are bittersweet. You’re already losing, what does it matter?
This here is a
two-part three-part article about trying to be a better sport. As a touchstone for this I’ve taken the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling. Chauvinist and imperialist elements aside, it sets out a regimen for conducting yourself which in the modern day is all too rare. If you haven’t read the poem please do, and think about how you could use it in your own day-to-day life. If you can remember it in the dark times when you’re 0-3 and you’re about to set up against an opponent with a similar record, maybe it will shed some light on the situation!
Meeting With Triumph and Disaster: Resolving to be a better sport
If you’re like me, it’s hard to stop the tailspin into gloom. At the start of a tournament, the hope kindles, you have a clean slate and you have your goals in hand. Recently I have set myself the resolution of winning as much as I lose. I haven’t gotten there yet, the best I’ve done is 2W-4L in the Irish Masters, with a win in the first and the last round. Hanging in there was important to me, as we had a lot of foreign players coming over and I wanted everyone to have a pleasant play experience, particularly if they were playing me or near me. It’s one thing if your opponent is having a bad time, it’s quite another to be conscious of someone at a nearby table giving out constantly about how they’re doing.
Between one thing and another, at the Irish Masters I didn’t get there. At the start of the day I was in great spirits, I had a good first round against a great local player and we had a great time. Obviously it didn’t hurt that I won that first one! In my second round I faced off against a well-known player from Scotland, and I had my vision of how it could be if I were the sort who graced the top tables of tournaments. That second round game was so precise and yet so easy-going, it was exactly like I’d heard about on all the podcasts and forums. When I lost, it was obviously to a superior opponent well-practised at his craft, who saw sportsmanship as a priority. We had 4 rounds on the first day, and even after 3 enjoyable initial rounds I suffered such a crushing defeat in the 4th round I was feeling the slump. I redeemed myself by being a sparkling socialite at the Saturday night festivities, which meant that Sunday started off under a cloud again. I showed up with a dark cloud hanging over my head, and since I was hanging around the bottom tables I got talking to my future opponent who was playing Retribution, a match-up I struggle with. I started counting against myself before I even knew what lists were being played.
I hope the game wasn’t as bad for my opponent as it was for me. I found myself grumbling under my breath about rules (in this case Ossyan’s gun) and at the end had an assassination attempt which a more skilled player could have manufactured but which I failed to line up. As you can see by the photographs above, the second day of the event was not the best time for myself or my opponents. Down at our end of the hall there were certainly lots of people having a good time, but more and more you could hear an element of saltiness creeping in. It’s always the same two things too: “where was that particular model before it charged?” and “wait a minute that rule doesn’t do that!”. For people who were meant to be doing something we enjoyed, the players at these tables were looking down in the dumps.
It was when I looked back over my photos from the Irish Masters that I saw this decline in my good humour, and I was taken aback. I like to think of myself as a good sport and an enjoyable opponent, but those last two photos don’t suggest that I was either in the last two rounds. And why? Because I was losing games? This is nothing new for me, and I’d like to think I can find my enjoyment in other aspects of Warmachine by now! Because I was hungover? Again, water under the bridge! I hadn’t reached my resolution, but I had some close games and that should be its own reward. Any pressure I might have been under evaporated after that second round, after all!
No, it wasn’t good enough. I had a duty (self-appointed, but anyway) to be a good ambassador for Irish Warmachine and Hordes players, and here I was looking like a misery-guts. What’s more, without naming any names, many of the players around me were as well. It’s understandable, nobody enjoys losing. Even after that initial defeat, with all the recriminations about Tough rolls and threat ranges done and dusted, you have yourself to blame. As has been outlined in some of the Hacking the Cortex articles on this very blog, you can be your harshest critic and going into a new round dwelling on the last can be the first step to failure.
Treating Those Two Imposters Just The Same: Whose Advice Is It Anyway?
But shouldn’t it be different? It’s a truism that every game has a winner and a loser, and it’s a part of maturity to realise that somebody has to lose and that somebody could be you. I don’t think anyone felt cheated, and we were all there to play a game we enjoy, so why the long faces? I’ve been thinking about it a good deal over the past few weeks, and I think the problem is cultural.
There’s a lot of emphasis at the moment on good clean play. As Warmachine and Hordes becomes more and more a game of precision and clarity, and because it’s really easy to talk about if not to demonstrate, all the podcasts and all the blog posts are talking about how to improve your play in this respect. The idea of a “good game” now corresponds to one where someone not directly involved in the game could glance at the table and tell what was happening right then and there. And as to the disposition of the players, how they comport themselves? Very little, beyond the unfailing maxim of “don’t be a dickhead”.
When it comes to list-building too, everyone takes a look at the top tables, at the tournament winners, because that’s what succeeds. But if you’re not doing well, you face an entirely different environment, one you never thought you had to prepare for. Apart from the first round of a tournament, I haven’t played against Haley2 in about a year and a half. Apart from my second round in the Irish Masters, I haven’t seen Asphyxious2 in a tournament setting. These lists and the players who field them are on a different flight than I am, so my perception of the Warmachine and Hordes scene is different too. Nobody’s playing Lylyth2? What are you talking about, I had my arse kicked by it last week! Khador plays infantry-heavy? Then why did a load of Devastators trample over my whole army last round?
So when you hear people give advice to starting players about tournaments, about how they’re not intimidating because everyone is there to mix with their friends new and old and to have a good time, I think they’re talking about a different environment. They’re not talking about the bottom tables where the self-imposed pressure to prove yourself threatens to boil up and make you angry. They’re not talking about the galling defeat to a player you 100% know you are better than. They’re not talking about the jungle, where although there are lots of good-sporting players, there isn’t a culture of being a good sport to create a pleasant play experience.
When I looked back and pictured myself getting grumpy, I resolved that I would strive to be a better sport. “If” didn’t come to mind right away, that was when I set out to write these thoughts down, but I wish it had because it would have given me a good starting point. All I knew was I was unhappy with my performance, not how I played (that’s par for the course), but how I conducted myself. I was heading to SteamStorm in Bratislava at the end of April, and I would be damned if I came away from there with a reputation as a poor loser.
Next time I’ll take a look at how SteamStorm went for me, and offer some thoughts on what I think other players and I can do to improve our attitude in addition to improving our level of play!