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  • Writer's pictureAlex Payne

Football, 40k and the ITC

Updated: Aug 20, 2023


Warhammer 40k tournament players at the ITC

Or, my life as an armchair 40k fan, and why I love the Tabletop Tactics league revamp

I am, to be blunt, an avowedly non-competitive tabletop gamer. I love the story and narrative of creating characters, heroes, villains and silly (but secretly, stupidly cool) scenarios through the medium of expensive plastic.

See for me, my enjoyment of the competitive 40k scene is rather more like my enjoyment of sports. I may never play in a proper ITC major (just as I’ll never play for Chelsea…), and I sure as hell don’t want to be Richard Siegler or John Lennon, but I still love watching and reading about the tournament scene.

A recent update from the good folks at Tabletop Tactics spurred me into thinking about why I love competitive 40k as an armchair fan, why it’s replaced sports for me in many ways, and the one major change I’d pull from football to shake up the 40k tournament scene...

Football, talking heads and plastic soldiers

Time was, football was the lynchpin to each and every one of my weekends, living in a slightly damp and only occasionally mouse-infested flat share in South London. My flatmates and I’s lives revolved around it: fantasy football chat and selection conundrums; all day games on Saturday and Sunday (including dubiously sourced streams of the 3pm kickoffs); Sky Sports News most other evenings; Champions League in the pub; even lower leagues or foreign games when there wasn’t anything Premier League related to sate our need for more football. The near constant diatribe of talking heads giving it big on TV and online about all aspects of the league and beyond meant the football never really stopped, but rather flowed endlessly, like the spice. Or that one eerily prescient Mitchell and Webb skit from fifteen years ago.

Football - and sport in general - is also an incredibly dense topic for potential conversation in the real world, with opportunities for never-ending discussions surrounding form, results, rivalries, drama and intrigue.


Who’s in, who’s out, who’s on the rise, who’ll be next to slip up? It can run for hours, and has definitely saved my hopelessly introverted self at many an awkward work event, or family gathering.

A lot of this has changed for me. I left the lad house a long while ago, and slowly fell out of love with the all-consuming nature of football - especially the gambling and fantasy football elements associated with the game that left me frankly drained. I still love sport, and football especially, but on my own terms, without all the research and investment that comes from knowing everything about it at all times.


Nowadays, I’m much more likely to watch two people play competitively with toys than I am to actually sit down and watch football. But the reason why I enjoy both is, I feel, remarkably similar. Competitive 40k is, to me, not a million miles away in terms of being a bottomless pit of conversational topics, though in fairness much of that discussion happens online, rather than broadly speaking in the real world. That’s the impact of being a niche within a niche.

But still, it’s there: hours and hours of YouTube and social media content discussing the latest lists, releases, balance issues, what’s “broken the game” this week, who’s cracked the meta at the latest ITC event.


Nor is this a comparison that is especially novel, as the notion of competitive circuits - like the ITC and the Major events in particular - trying to be viewed in the same vein as esports is a recurring theme in much discussion in the world of competitive 40k.

To reiterate: I have absolutely no interest in actually playing in such a capacity, but listening to the fallout from the latest list/balancing shenanigans is fascinating to me. I am an armchair competitive fan, much as I was and (still am) an armchair football fan . So Where am I going with this? Well, in my competitve 40k/football analogy, I think there’s one major difference, and that’s transfers.

"In my competitve 40k/football analogy, I think there’s one major difference, and that’s transfers."

Transfers are a critical part of football, and the general speculation around them fills weeks and weeks of debate in the summer and January. But then, they’re done. You’re team is set. A good window is cause for excitement and optimism; a summer of bad business means months of ignominy and panic purchases in January (*cough* Fernando Torres *cough*). It is a critical part of the soap opera merry-go-round of modern sport, integral to all those hours and hours of investment outside of the games. But there’s nothing like this in competitive 40k.


Nothing.

And that’s where the new Tabletop Tactics League comes in.



The new Tabletop Tactics League, and why I love it

For their second iteration (season?) of league games, announced this week, the Tabletop Tactics guys are each committing to an army for the entirety of the league run. They can tweak lists, sure, but the faction is fixed. One player, one faction, 20 games including semis and final. That’s it. Simple.

I completely love it.

But why? Why does this so drastically improve the sports-esque vibe of competitve 40k for me? Well.

It is absolutely bizarre to me that generally, a player can take as many different armies and lists to as many opens or tournaments on the circuit as they like. Not to name names, but one prominent player and social media personality - who I genuinely like - took Custodes to a tournament in January; Harlequins in February/March; before suddenly realising that actually, they were a true follower of the Hive Mind all along, and playing Tyranids in the summer.


Gah.

More than simply taking away from the game, I feel this ability to chop and change - to MetaChase what’s currently broken or exploitable at any point in time - is at the root of what causes folks online to gnash their teeth and wring their hands with such abandon when discussing game balance and “the meta” in 40k. It’s at the heart of what makes people scream that the game is broken.

"I feel this ability to chop and change - to MetaChase what’s currently broken or exploitable - is at the heart of what makes people scream the game is broken."

Even worse, it enables “professional” players, with access to a wide raft of hastily-airbrushed flavour-of-the month units from a rolling pool of armies, to adapt to and exploit any meta present in any newly released books. Most players can’t do that. Most players are going to go to tournaments with the armies they adore, have spent hours painting themselves, that they love the lore, and the vibe of. That, in my view, just doesn’t feel right.

There’s also none of that team-building or specialism aesthetic so prevalent in wider sport. Your team can’t just (generally) go out and buy clones of whatever player they want. Sure, there’s vast discrepancies in player wealth and price tags, but with coaching and the right set up, a good team can overcome the big boys by knowing their playstyle, working as a team, and being led by a canny manager.*

Competitive 40k needs more of this.

But by restricting players to only playing one faction, even if there is scope to mould and amend your list within that restriction, the game and meta could be completely changed. Under that principle, all players choose a single faction at the start of an ITC/league season or circuit. They can change lists, sure, but their faction is locked. You need to select a faction which suits you. Because if you go out and grab the best faction in January, you sure as hell know they won’t be top dogs when a balance dataslate rolls round in February.

It would also promote a much greater variety of armies on show. Everyone and his dog playing AdMech at one tournament, and then half the field showing up with Crusher Stampede the next, is not fun, is not interesting, and its dull to follow as a neutral. So let’s change it. Let’s get to know individual players with individual armies on a proper circuit. Let’s see them grow and change along the way. Let’s know that a particular heavyweight is infamous for their ruthlessly commanded Drukhari, or their calculating Admech, or their stoic Ultramarines. Let’s learn their stories as they develop through victory and defeat, as particular units gain renown for their unexpected deeds, and as their heroes become legends.

What’s more, I think this is the perfect time to implement such a change. With the ITC finally partnering up properly with GW to provide a form of tour-finals at the end of the year, having a proper structure for the yearly GTs, and the armies employed in them, is possible. Get players to lock in a faction at the start of a dedicated time period, throughout the tournament season, and then build up points and tournament wins towards tour finals. Build a cast of recognisable faces and associated factions as they traverse a true competitive circuit, with opens and GTs leading to one, no-holds barred throwdown in the capital of wargaming for a shot at winning it all.

"Build a cast of recognisable faces and associated factions as they traverse a true competitive circuit, with opens and GTs leading to one, no-holds barred throwdown in the capital of wargaming for a shot at winning it all."

That, in my armchair-bound opinion, sounds f*%”king cool.

Because after all, isn’t being a MetaSlayer is soooo much cooler than being a MetaChaser?


In summary, I probably won’t be jumping into any local leagues anytime soon (although I do have some tournaments lined up… but more on that another time). What I will be doing is watching with interest as the TT league takes off. And who knows? It might just help shape competitive 40k into a more interesting soap opera for us armchair fans.

Just like the football.

 

Until then, may your voidweavers be hastily airbrushed, and your wracks come in multiples of 100.

Alex

*I know, I know - this barely ever happens in real football. But it could. And Leicester 2015-6 are the greatest sports story ever because of it.

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