Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sportsmanship: The Dashofpepper Story

Hey folks! I wrote something on Dakka that I thought I would bring here. A poster is having some sportsmanship troubles for "winning too much" and it struck a chord.

Here's the thread if you care to follow, but I'll post his question and my response.

Dracos writes:
There seems to be an inverse correlation between my sportsmanship score and my battle performance during a tourny. When I started out, I lost many games and got top sports scores. Now that I am winning most/all my games I seem to get a low sportsmanship score. I don't feel like my demeanor has changed during the game, but perhaps its something I'm not noticing. No one has said anything that they found objectionable, so I don't know what exactly it is. For all you guys who tend to win locally, how do you keep your sportsmanship score up while laying down a beating?

*laughing* OP, welcome to my life.

I'm probably going to regret everything I'm about to type, is what it is. I'm going to give you a little backstory in hopes that you can relate - but this is what's happened to me, how it happened, and what I've done to overcome it. I win pretty consistently, both at the local and national level. I've suffered from poor sportsmanship scores at a few events, and some of those have been scandalous in their circles.

When I first started playing 40k, at my first tournament ever, I got zeroed out for sportsmanship in all three of my games with my Orks. My first opponent thought that Ghazghkull Thraka was too powerful to bring to a tournament - he was running full terminators (on foot, in cover, stationary most of the game in a Capture and Control, and zeroed me out for sportsmanship. My second opponent zeroed me out because he thought I was cheating by using a boarding plank on an ork trukk to swing at a dreadnought with the nob leading the boyz inside the trukk. We called a judge over, who ruled in my favor, but he maintained that I cheated. My third game was against a pretty famous player in Florida - and he narrowly won. Deployment was a scattered randomization across the entire board (extremely unfavorable to Orks, even before I knew what a KFF did and started using one). Terrain was set up by players each game, and he took some of the felt (for forests) that I was putting on the table off again, and told me it was too big. I'll freely admit that I didn't know what Ghazghkull's Slow and Purposeful rule was, and he had to remind me....but he didn't tell me that Ghazghkull had Move through Cover either. I didn't make a fuss during the game, but afterwards I broke open the rulebook in combination with utilizing YMDC here to get answers to questions we had during the game, and posted on their forums with a breakdown of the rules issues we had during the game.

Open war broke out, with the community there polarizing against me. My "reputation" as a bad sportsman (and an outsider as I was new to the game) started spreading from the lips of the folks at the store there.

Fast forward to 'Ard Boyz semi-finals - my first time there, and I'm in North Carolina. My first game is against another very well known gamer from the Southeast...and the game is atrocious. I'll spare the details, but for the first time ever, I picked up my models from the table, packed up and left - I was winning the game, in part because of Eldrad failing fortune (and a reroll) at the beginning, leaving Ghazghkull free to ravage them, and because of my advantageous assault positioning. I quit the game when he started picking up his models during my assault moves and repositioning them on the board, away from me, prattling "Fine, assault me now." It wasn't even 40k anymore, and I had no idea what to do, and was too tired to even want to fight. My "reputation" gets cemented amongst his friends and their small forums and yahoo user groups.

I'm stubborn. Over the next two years, I continually get hammered at local events. Not losing....I win virtually everything - but creating animosity with my winning streak. I've learned much about 40k now, am quite adept on the rules, and I trot through virtually every tournament at every store within a 4 hour radius undefeated. I rarely fail to table an opponent. I start posting Ork advice based on my own success here on Dakka, and get shouted down as a "stupid noob" who is a "big fish in a little pond" and that my army lists "couldn't compete against decent players." I take this as a sign to look for a larger pond and learn what a GT is. I start looking for GTs within travelling distance, and learn that there's going to be one in Raleigh...not so far from me. Local tournaments cost $5-10 to enter, and this one has a comparatively larger entry fee....$50-$60. I'm curious why that is, so get ahold of the organizer asking about the entry fee, what prize support is.....turns out that he's a native Floridian (Green Blow Fly, now permanently banned from Dakka), and he knows who I am and my reputation, and he's quite hostile. Tells me that prize support is none of my business, and that GT participants should pay their entry fee and be grateful to get to participate, and that winning is prize enough.

That's a new concept to me, and I don't agree....but I'm new to the GT idea, so I take the dispute public here on Dakka to ask for community input on whether I'm out of line or not. My reputation as a troublemaker spreads.

Meanwhile, at the local level, I'm contemplating the idea of a "small pond, big fish" thing, and start trying to help locals improve their gaming after tournament gaming. The locals recoil in animosity that I would dare offer help. After winning several successive tournaments back-to-back, defeating the "local champion" in North Carolina (he's also a store employee), I'm asked not to return to the store. Another shop that freshly opened in Raleigh announces that it will start hosting a league, and I call to enroll my wife and I; she's learning to play Orks fairly well, and has not lost a game against any of the locals either. The store owner (Hangar 8 Hobbies) tells me that while I'm welcome to shop there and play games, I'm not welcome in their league or any tournaments because I'll scare new players away.

My friends encourage me to tone down my armies, and play less competitively....folks on Dakka do the same. I've always been competitive, and I have trouble with the idea of competing half-heartedly. I'd much rather try helping other folks improve to my's not that hard. Meanwhile, the anti-Dash folks in the Southeast (especially the aforementioned TO) are crowing on their blogs and forums that I've been banned from two stores, proving that I'm a real douchebag. No one around the country knows who I am, but there's plenty of people (most whom have never met me) swearing up and down that I'm a serious jerk, and unfun to play against.

Fast forward again...I get a massive promotion at work to a position back in Jacksonville, FL - where I'd started playing 40k in the first place. The store I played at and enjoyed friends at has closed because the owner is in Afghanistan, and he plans on re-opening another store when he returns, but that isn't in the forseeable future. The store where I attended that first disastrous tournament has closed as well, leaving two stores in the area to pick up the slack. Suncoast Games and Borderlands. Borderlands is across town some distance, and Suncoast is close by, but small. My return to Jacksonville and first apperance at the store (in a suit and tie, during lunch) start nasty things being said in the local forums. I post an introduction in their forums, attempting to explain what's happened and bury the hatchet - I take an apologetic tone, and tread very carefully about looking to fit in and make new friends. I'm met with contempt and derision.

My own friends from the area don't go to either of the game stores because of the poisonous nature of the "locals," so I dedicate a room in my house to 40k, set up tables, get terrain, and we start gaming there, or at one of their houses. When I'm at one of the stores, if I meet someone nice, I grab their contact information so that I can look them up and invite them over to play - Jacksonville, FL is really hot, and the air conditioning at Suncoast doesn't work - so playing at one of our houses is nicer anyway.

The first tournament is approaching at the local store, Suncoast. The store owner has taken a liking to me - I attended 'Ard Boyz preliminaries there shortly before moving back there a month or two prior, and had stopped into the store the night before to introduce myself, and had subsequently helped them set up tables, and got to know them a bit. This first tournament that I planned on attending was a 1500 points "No whining, no crying, beatdown" tournament - single elimination, no holds barred, last man standing event. I showed up with 1500 points of Dark Eldar and proceeded to win. Hard. My first opponent was playing Space Wolves on foot. He put his entire army in a single piece of terrain. The new DE codex was still a rumour, and disintegrators were still STR7 AP2 small blast. He conceded at the bottom of my first turn. T

he tournament proceeded, and the last round was against a genuinely good guy - who would later become a good friend and frequent visitor to our 40k house parties. He was a tough cookie to beat, but I did, and won. The locals were furious. How DARE I come in with a beatstick army? Jacksonville is a place for gentle armies, fluffy players, and my kind of gaming has no place there. Half my opponents declared on their forums that they never wanted to play me again. One of the players announced that if if he had his way, I'd never be allowed to compete in a tournament again. Did I mention I was stubborn? I remain courteous and polite.

Fast forward to the next tournament. The previously mentioned player is now the TO, and the tournament is a 2,000 point attrition tournament. IE, what you lose stays dead. He passes out scenarios, and pairs himself against me in the first round - telling me that no one else wants to play against me. I wish I had video-taped the entire thing. Our game is a mish-mash of 3rd-5th edition rules, with an Attacker/Defender scenario, with the attacker going first. I show him the DE codex, which says that in any attack/defend scenario, DE are always the attacker. He announces to the store that he's changing the scenario, that all DEFENDERS will go first. The screnario itself is one objective, in the middle of the table. Deployment zone is defender deploying in the middle, and attacker deploying on either flank (short board edge). To keep the tournament going, the scenarios also call for games to stop at the end of the game turn when one of the players has lost 700 points. He deploys, I reserve, and we start. He cheats like a mofo. Extra inches...not like .5" extras, but like 2-3" extras. Extra dice. Extra shots. Extra attacks. I say nothing. I don't have to say anything, because he's moving out from the center towards my flanks - where I'm going to be coming in. And every inch he moves away from the center is one less inch I need to cross to alpha-strike him. Turn two sees me move onto the board with a good chunk of my army, and I hit him hard. I killed 698 points out of the 700 required and leave him incredibly crippled. Turn three he mostly does nothing, and on my turn three...he announces another change. When one player reaches 700 points, the game stops instantly. IE, I was going to hurt him hard....far beyond 700 points. For our game, all this meant is that I killed one model and our game ended.

On EVERY OTHER TABLE, that meant that the player who went second auto-lost, because they never got a turn. The player going first gets to shoot and assault first, and hit 700 before the second player.

I won this tournament as well - as gracefully as I could. I pulled him off to the side afterwards and offered him my services to help write missions, because there was loud complaints from folks after the first game and the unfairness of it. He proceeded to scream at me - that I had no business trying to tell him how to run his tournaments, and that he plans on seeing that I never game in the store again.

I have a word with the owner later about my misgivings, and they tell me that they're going to start rotating TOs around, and that I'm welcome to host an event. I sign up to host a tournament, and also talk to them about an idea I've been having. My only wish is to see folks get more competitive, and the best way to do it is to reward them for it. I like the owners, and want to call the store home (nowhere else to go) so I tell them about my idea of a "Store Championship." I don't spend a lot of money there because I have several armies - most of them have been "free" because of tournament winnings and store credit. So I want them to declare me the store champion, and let people challenge me. Anyone who spends $50 in the store gets a challenge token. They use it to play against me, and anyone who wins gets a free battleforce box. I'd pay for it myself. Buy $50 of merchandise in the store, get a pass at me, and if you win....get a free battleforce box. In my eyes, the store wins because they made money. Players win for a free shot at loot. And I win because it will increase competition locally. The owner loved it.

What actually happened: The locals went ballistic. How DARE I declare that I'm better than they are? What RIGHT do I have to call myself "Store Champion?" The locals light up their local forums with more vitriol against me, and they start calling the store and telling the owner that they're going to boycott the store if I'm allowed to play there. And...boom. I'm uninvited to another store. A few weeks later, a couple of my friends and I want to play a game, and the other store in town (across town) is closer to them than driving to my house, so I call Borderlands to reserve a table. The owner asks what name to put on the reservation, and when he hears my name, says "Nothing personal, but I don't want you in my store." Poison is a horrible thing.

Shortly before leaving Florida and moving to Louisiana, three of us went to the store unannounced for a game. The owner (who didn't know my face, just my name), saw that I was playing Dark Eldar and asked if I was Justin Hilderbrandt. I told him no, that my name was Chris. He said, "Oh, ok." We played. Other players admired our game. Asked us rules questions. Ah...anonymity. ><

Moving to Louisiana after two bad experiences in two locations, my experience has been the opposite. And here's where we're going to get to the meat of my advice. My current situation (at the local level) is fantastic...with a bit of initial help (which I'll explain), and I've been going to GTs all year, mostly to good experiences, only a couple nasty little buggers giving me bad sportsmanship votes (Example: Your army is too strong, and unfun to play against...bad game vote...), but mostly positive, capped off by winning Best Sportsman at the Nova Open in Washington D.C., the largest (or second after Adepticon?) GT in the country. Folks who know my name but have never met me are always telling me that I'm nothing like what they've heard. Sometimes I hear that I was the best game they've ever played (tactically) and that they learned so much. I've been to other locations (I played in most of the Atlanta circuit championship tournaments, won the championship, and haven't left any bad memories behind).

Locally, I'm well-known and (I think) well-liked at the stores. Here's the crux of it. I hate to call it "Gaming Sportsmanship" or "Gaming friendship" but I'm being blunt and honest here, as always.

When I first moved here, and went to my first tournaments at stores amongst complete strangers, I went early. I made a point of meeting the other gamers. I looked at their armies, complimented paint jobs, asked questions... During games, I was as overly friendly. I made jokes at my own expense. I highlighted every success they had on the field, and every turn of misfortune that I had. When I play a game and land 2/27 shots with dark lances, only kill one vehicle the whole game against a Mechanized BA army....the memory of the game should be that I won because I got incredibly lucky at the end, not for any other reason.

After games, I made special effort to compliment any brilliant moves my opponent made, or commiserate with them on losing. Instead of offering advice, I'd ask a question or two, like "Anything you would have done differently?" I like to hear what could have been, and what might have happened had things changed - doing so right after the game is almost like getting a second game in for free. Deployment and movement changes, but presume the same dice were rolled, and the same results on them.

At the end of the tournament, I passed on whatever prizes I got to whomever came in last place - something I've done everywhere local and GT for quite some time now...because I truly don't need more 40k stuff.

Afterwards, I paid a visit to the local store forums to introduce myself thank the locals for having me, for being such a great crowd to play with, for giving me some great games...and looking forward to trying my luck there again.

Today, I don't have to do any of those things anymore....because the folks are genuinely my friends, and I genuinely like them. Instead of being a hostile outsider, we get along - at multiple stores with different crowds. Some of the guys who ask me for advice on their armies, and I give it if I can. I'm grateful for the fresh start locally. There was some growing animosity at one of the stores by some of the "veteran" players that I kept winning, but some of the others apparently dispelled it by challenging them to get off their asses and play better. And true to it, I've been seeing increasingly competitive lists. Many of them are specifically tailored to fight my Dark Eldar, but I don't mind - those are the best games of all. When all the las/plas come off the razorbacks and get replaced by Assault Cannons and heavy bolters, and the number of Psyflemen in the GK lists keep growing exponentially, you know it's going to be a tough battle.

There's an old army saying, "Fake it till' you make it" talking about motivation. If you fake motivation long enough while under physical or mental duress, you'll eventually be motivated. Believe it or not, it's true.

I would feel dishonest toning my games down to try making them closer. My buddy Hulksmash is a master of it, and good enough that people don't know that he does it. He gets great sportsmanship scores because he can make a close game out of pitting his Imperator Titan against a lone longfang without it being obvious. So that's not me. But holding to the "fake it till you make it" works. I played extra-nice, I was super-chummy and friendly....until I didn't have to be anymore because the danger of being a "hostile outsider winning all our stuff" passed.

At GTs with relevant scoring, I work extra hard. Buy a beer for an opponent, offer a snack, be as easy-going as possible during a game - at this stage in my career I'll let small "cheats" and mistakes go. I won't press on rules. If someone is moving 6.5" or 7" instead of six....I'll let them, because I've learned that if you need to cheat to win, you're not good enough to win anyway, so it doesn't matter. It's true. Well, mostly true. 95% of the time true. I did recently lose a game to a guy cheating so badly that the judge at our table was correcting literally every movement, every shot, disallowing him to double-shoot units, move units again during the same the point where when I went to talk to the TO afterwards, the judge told him "Whatever he tells you is true, and I'll back him on it." I hadn't said a word to my opponent; was fighting to keep my mouth shut.

The local douches in my previous locations still troll about me, and recently latched onto a Blood of Kittens article bashing me, but that's damning in itself. Anyone who will read any of the drama on Blood of Kitttens and swear by it is laughable themselves. But the rest of the furor has died away. I've gotten around the country as much as possible, met as many gamers as possible, and there's enough people out there who know me and have met me that when someone starts crap, they pretty much get shut down without me having to get involved. I don't really post on Dakka anymore because I get special moderator attention - attacks are made against me freely, but defending myself usually gets me a lengthy suspension for saying a bad word (and yes, I even have e-mails from moderators about the special attention I get).

That might sound like a lifetime of 40k, but it's been three years since I first picked up dice and started the hobby. I'm not sure exactly what I would tell you for advice - I was hoping my story and how I coped with it might help you find something worth emulating without just dropping a blanket statement about "Gaming Sportsmanship." Don't get me wrong - there are plenty of folks out there who share my mindset, and don't need to be gamed for a good sportsmanship score. But in your local group, be overly friendly. Be generous. Don't do anything that might make you stand out as potentially "arrogant." Be OVERLY humble. Work your tail off at it, because this hobby is uniquely full of thin-skinned folks....and whether someone says they're just playing for fun or not....they still want to win.

Eventually it will become natural, or you won't have to anymore.

Comments welcome, and as always, clicking ads is your favorite past-time for your buddy Hulksmash! He says that if we get enough money, he'll buy me a lollipop.

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