As promised in my previous article, (which can be dredged up from the depths of MOM here.) in this installation of It’s the Humidity, I will be discussing traits a meta should posses that make that playgroup a competitive force to be reckoned with. Also in this article, I will be outlining some methods we are using locally to acquire those traits among our own group.
So, let’s get started.
In order to aspire to become something, you must define what it is. A “competitive meta” is a playgroup whose players typically perform very well over the course of a convention, or tournament. Their players are well known; their meta is well recognized and revered on the merit of the talent of their players, as well as those players’ sportsmanship. They win Mayhem Cups (a Midwestern travelling tournament), they win team tournaments, they populate the top 16s at Masters events, and they are the homes of the nationally recognized, powerhouse players.
So what do “Competitive Metas” have?
This should go without saying, but I will enumerate some points here. There is an interesting relationship between a strong meta and a strong player. A strong player can exist without a strong meta, but the inverse cannot. Without this turning into an article on “what makes a strong player,” let it suffice to say that strong players have a good working knowledge of all the rules, are capable of evaluating an analyzing the game at a high level, and possess high levels of sportsmanship. More to the point, strong players can support and uplift a weak meta, but it is unlikely that a group of weak players will create a strong meta, without becoming strong players in the process. In a similar fashion, a group of strong players does not a strong meta make. There must be much more than personal skill at the game, which brings me to my next point.
A group of strong players must have a strong community. This is a social game and community is the single most important aspect of it, as such, I will be spending the majority of this article on this topic, so buckle in. Without community, this game simply does not exist and it is the challenge of every miniatures game to build a community around themselves, to help propagate the spread of their product. This mindset applies perfectly to the existence of a spirit of competition within a playgroup. Players talk to each other openly about their own faction, their own lists, their own weaknesses and strengths; as well as talk to each other about their opponents’ (friends’) factions, their lists, etc.
What this open line of communication accomplishes in a playgroup is many-fold. Firstly, it builds camaraderie among the members of the meta as a group of players that can talk to each other about their games and receive open and honest criticism, advice, or praise, quickly becomes a group of friends. Secondly, it allows individual players to have a library of knowledge available to them, which ultimately strengthens them as a player, thereby enabling that player to, in turn, strengthen the meta he belongs to.
So ultimately, building a “competitive meta” is more about building a strong community, which promotes the growth of strong players, which continues to strengthen other players, which leads to a meta that consists of strong players making the meta strong.
There are metas out there that consist of very talented, insightful, and skilled players, but their community is weak. When push comes to shove, they don’t like playing each other very much, so games cease being an educational experience where the players are working together to promote growth. Games instead, become an exercise in flexing knowledge over your opponent and every move is not only an attempt to remove a model off of the table, but an opportunity to overtly revel in your own success while basking in your opponent’s despair. At the end of the game, there is no handshake; there are few congratulatory words, and little to no discussion about the game. There is only the winner and the loser. The game that was played may have been a good game; it may have been close, with a lot of very good plays executed by both participants; but there is no sense of community among these players so they only recognize the states of winning and losing. All of this perpetuates their distaste for playing each other and continues to support the existing attitudes, undermining their community.
What do we do?
So we here in Springfield have been employing a few methods in an attempt to strengthen our players, our community, and in turn, our meta. None of these are ground breaking, but it is my hope that you can take some of these ideas back to your playgroup, and bolster yourselves with them, as we hope to.
Most, if not all, shops have a night dedicated to Warmahordes so this is pretty standard fare. Springfield’s “game night” might deviate slightly from the norm, in that we come to the table with the expectation of playing competitive lists, with a competitive mindset. The casters that are typically deemed “too cruel for casual play” are encouraged to come out of the bag and beat the crap out of us on our nights that are set aside for tournament prep. We present two lists to our opponent, who presents theirs to ours, we get a scenario randomly, and we select our lists accordingly. Since our players have really adopted the premise, it has proved an extremely useful tool in uplifting the majority of our players. As I said, this isn’t particularly ground breaking, but if you don’t do this in your meta already, I strongly recommend it.
Ex Post Facto Game Analyses
This also falls under the category of “things most players do,” but I still feel it deserves a mention; even if a short one. After a game has ended on competitive nights, sit down and discuss (not only with your opponent, but also with any spectators) how you mentally approached our opponent’s army. Discuss list choice, turn by turn goals, justify decisions, break every aspect of the game down that can be recalled and… well… analyze it.
Discussing the events of a game with your opponents and spectators, provides you, and those involved in the conversation, with myriad viewpoints since, typically, people who are on the outside of a game, looking in, have a completely different take on the state of the game at any given point. Frequently they can provide insights that had completely escaped either player in the heat of the game.
Professional athletes review tapes of opposing teams in order to find weaknesses in their game and tapes of their own games to find the same.. We haven’t implemented this just yet in our meta, (due to equipment restrictions) but what we hope to do is start taping competitive night games then evaluating them. The reason for this extensive level of evaluation is due to the fact that typically, at the end of a game, what is remembered are the highlights of that game; things like rolls that were well above or below “expected value”, particularly worrisome positioning, or risks that were taken that ultimately paid off. Since these stand out so boldly after a game’s completion, it becomes difficult to recall the small mistakes that ultimately added up to a loss, or conversely, a series of small victories that added up to a win.
Round Table Discussion
Let’s be honest, competition can be taxing, even among friends. As such, what we have started doing once a month has been taking a week off from play to meet up and have dinner together. Several days prior to our meet up, we are prompted with a topic to consider, as it relates to Warmahordes. (e.g. “What do you feel your weaknesses are in competition; how do you approach X faction with your own; etc.) We then spend the evening filling our bellies and talking about the topic at hand.
This, I feel, is our strongest community building activity we participate in. It is time spent away from the table, discussing the game in an open and honest way and I really feel like it brings us together as a meta and lets us see how players of other factions and play-styles think on the same topic.
I cannot iterate enough how important community is to forging competitive playgroups. It is the backbone on which Warmachine and Hordes is built and will always be, far and above, the first thing you should be looking at, when actively trying to uplift a group of players into competition.
Next installment: We will be looking at individual player strengths and weaknesses in competition and how to use your local meta to overcome them.