Monday, January 3, 2011

Tournament Sportsmanship, The Way to do it Right

I've run my fair share of tournaments while I was at GW and beyond and have seen and experienced all manner of sportsmanship systems. Few are good and some are just plain dreadfully awful.  For years,  I've been pondering what makes a fair and unbiased sportsmanship system that would reflect a player's true nature and remove all manner of chipmunking.

But first, let's go through some bad sportsmanship systems and show why they are rubbish. 

Descriptors -  This style featured a series of descriptions that a player could use to reflect upon their opponent and game and mark an appropriate score.  For example, the sportsmanship card might say "My opponent was fantastic, I wish all my opponents were this much fun," or "We had a few rules problems that we worked through," or any number of broad sweeping statements to describe an opponent's sportsmanship during the game.  Many will notice that this style was the Games Workshop Sportsmanship style used in  Grand Tournaments during the 90's and early 2000's and was one of the first methods to judge sportsmanship in the tournament scene.

Checklists - The checklist system came into use from Adepticon around 2007 and GW borrowed the format for a few years. This format awards points by checking off any number of boxes whose descriptions might apply to a game such as "my opponent showed up on time at the start of the game," "Hey, my opponent showed up with his rulebook and codex," "My opponent brought his dice," "He measured and moved his models correctly," "My opponent was fun to play against." I've paraphrased these a bit but you get the idea.   Half the points in this system rewards players for basic principles that are required for players to have a game, and the other half are so general that they fail to deliver substantial differentiation amongst the player's sportsmanship scores.

Up/Down systems -  The Up/Down system is another variant that scores players as either fun to play against or not.  This system fails to create substantial differentiation amongst the scores as well as most players will get the nod and get an up vote, unless they are a real bear to play against.   

On the whole, the systems above evaluate one player at a time, and usually ignore previous evaluations of other players, while scoring a large group of players with similar scores and needing additional tie-breakers.  If we must have sportsmanship, then these systems must disappear if we want real results.

Sportsmanship Ranking - I am of the opinion that this is the finest way to get realistic sportsmanship results if a tournament is to have sportsmanship.  Using this method, a player ranks all of his opponents at the end of the tournament on a scale of best sport to least best sport (which in some cases could very well be a worst sport but that isn't always the case!).  Players must remember who they have played and a T.O. should provide the players with a sheet so that players can record the names of the people they played. 

When a player ranks their opponents, they need to take into account anything and everything that happened during their game, which the above mentioned systems may not always account for, and usually don't.  As such, the ranking system takes everything into account and allows the player free reign in determining the results.  Reminders to the players to evaluate the players, not the game result can help discourage dishonest evaluation.   Only one player could be the best sporting opponent, there are no ties.

One might argue - What if both players are your best opponents or equally deserving of the highest mark? They aren't, you must dig deep, reflect upon your games, and figure out which is the truly the best and the other second best.   There can be only one!

This system is less likely to be abused by chipmunking and open sportsmanship scoring (whereby a player marks his sheet in full view of his opponent hoping that his opponent will score him the same highest value) and creates realistic scoring.  Irregardless, we know there are plenty of unscrupulous, malicious, manipulative, and unsporting players out there who's only way to win a tournament (with soft scores) is by being disengenuous to other players to gain the win.  Don't be that guy!

I like to have opponent's ranked from 5 (the best) to 1 (least best and not necessarily a bad sport).  Then simply add up the ranks to determine a score.  If the tournament has a large number of players, then double or triple the values to create a greater spread of scores.

If you attend tournaments, encourage the organizers to use ranking systems in the next event and let's cut down on the sportsmanship abuse and put the emphasis back onto the table!


AkersMinis said...

Solid post especially because I am now starting to post for the second Boston Brawlcon I am running out here. Let me know if you are interested on being a guest at the event. Shoot me a email at battleroadgames at yahoo dot com

sonsoftaurus said...

I think that most of the time this could work pretty well. As with any scoring system it is possible to have a HUH? result occasionally.

Say typical one-day three-game event.

Three really good sports, three jerks, bunch of middle of the road players.

Say the three really good sports all play the same three people (not each other). One is just a little nicer, so gets ranked top by all three, so gets the highest possible scores.

At the same time, the three jerks all play the three same people (not each other, not the same people the good sports played). One jerk is *slightly* less jerky than the other two, so also ends up with the highest possible scores, tying with the really good sport.

And...if one of the good sports' opponents flips the ranking for top sport and second sport, then slightly less jerky guy skips past all three good sports and wins Best Sportsman.

With a forced ranking and a limited pool of people to rank, rankings can be a problem. It is hard though to find a way for everyone to rate everyone else. Similar issues can arise when you have players judge painting and only judge the armies they play against. And indeed it's a similar issue people are having with battle points/"baby seal clubbing", where the problem is luck of who you play vs. luck of who else your opponents play.

cliff said...

Probably the best way to evaluate something that is as subjective as Sportsmanship is to build a set of rubrics that clarify at least 5 different levels of sportsmanship in such a way that it is quick and easy to determine where to rate your opponent.

This is the same way that, as a trainer, I develop assessment tools for ensuring that subjective skills (like customer service or client rapport) can be effectively evaluated.

The GW system attempts this, but doesn't go far enough/isn't developed enough to handle the vagaries of tournament goons.

RonSaikowski said...

Interesting to see the idea of rating all you opponents in relation to each other to get the "best" and "worst" of the day.

It seems like most are done without comparing one opponent to the other.

I'll definitely tuck this idea away for a rainy day if I do a tournament.

Ron, From the Warp

Kevin said...

Personally I dislike sportsmanship awards. Reason being, as a TO I consider being a good sport a required element of play much like having dice or a tape measure.

In a large scale even this can be a challenge to manage but I think its a noble goal to reach for.

Buyaki said...

@ Sons of Taurus - Valid point and potential situation, though hopefully unusually rare.

Player shouldn't judge painting on the basis that the number of judges equals the number of players in the tournament and don't judge every army. Painting must be judged by non-participants, whereas sportsmanship can't.

@ Cliff - no rubric or any evaluation can accurately reflect the myriad of potential sportsmanship issues. The last few years of GW GTs simply used the horribly atrocious Adepticon model and the early GT years suffered from potential shenanigans.

@ Ron - It works well and makes players choose their best opponent as opposed to them simply marking best opponent opponent after each game. I'd like to play in your rainy day tournament.

@ Kevin - I like recognition of outstanding individuals, but agree with your assessment on sportsmanship as a required element for any game.

Perhaps we simply need to ask folks to be civil and polite which are necessary requirements for a functional society. I find it ludicrous that folks can get so worked up, enraged, impolite, and cheat at games of toy soldiers. It's toy soldiers.

Perhaps some folks need to prove to themselves that they amount to something on the tabletop when they may not amount to much in real life. I simple don't have an answer to a lot of the stuff I've seen at tournaments.

Dan (nyhil) said...

I know it is just semantics, but I liked your system much more when I read it described as "Best to Least Best", rather than "Best to Worst". In my experience at tournaments thus far, I have liked my opponents far too much to slight anyone.

Jason Dyer said...

Hey Jason
One issue I have with this - it can still be heavily affected by chipmunking and sandbagging.
At the end of the event you'll have a good idea where you stand in the rankings - based on your battle points and who you were playing against in the final round.
What would stop an unscrupulous player from "ranking" to affect scoring, either for themselves for for buddies?
I agree that this can happen with the other types of scoring, but as I'm sure you recall from one of the early cases of "cheating" at GTs the best way to catch it is to look at patterns of scoring as they come in.

Buyaki said...

It is important to keep rankings as an independent scoring device that does not affect any other scores. That alone reduces the temptation to chipmunk.

Nothing stops unscrupulous players (save the big marsh right outside our hotel for this event in NJ Meadowlands area) but rankings creates a more realistic scoring mechanism whereby each player may only give out one top score, not a potential number of top scores equal to the number of games played.

Alternatively Doc, you could just become a nicer player! ;)

Jason Dyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jason Dyer said...

ouch! I've been one of the nicest players at GW events - FOUR Sportsmanship awards can attest to that!
See you at AdeptiCon...

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