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By Don Greenwood, WBC Convention Director
Ever since we started the WBC, we’ve drawn fire from some quarters
about the validity of our name: World Boardgaming Championships. Since
this issue continues to flare up from time to time even among our most
ardent members, I thought it time to throw in my two cents. Our
membership weighs in on a variety of topics every year on our
discussion board with varying degrees of civility, and I generally do my
level best to refrain from comment.
The latest brush fire to break out
there was a discussion on the validity of our name. People, by their
very nature, are prone to disagreement and gamers are certainly not
immune. The history of mankind is a never ending series of wars,
conflict and lesser disagreements of how we all see things differently
and want our own way. Whether we’re talking politics, ice cream flavors
or road rage, everyone has an opinion and a tendency to value the other
guy’s point of view less charitably than perhaps we should. The
internet age has not changed that and if anything has added new fuel to
the fire with the advent of "flame wars" to the human lexicon.
This fact of life is regrettably on display all too often in our window
to the world on Consimworld which often resembles more of a debating
society than (for gamers at least and with apologies to Disney) the
happiest place on earth. Although it is tempting to lay the blame for
this at the feet of a few vocal members who just love to argue in the
age of the internet soapbox, I believe we generate so much heat because
our members feel empowered to speak their mind since they buy into the
notion that they really do own a piece of WBC.
It is their convention
not just because it happens to be in their region, or caters to their
interests, but because as members they own a piece of it. They elect a
Board that makes the policies. If enough of them don’t like the job I’m
doing, they can fire me and get somebody to run the thing that knows
what they’re doing. If only enough of them can agree on that course of
action. That sense of empowerment does not naturally flow to the
customers of convention X owned by a faceless corporation or an all
powerful owner where one just takes what is offered without question.
Under those circumstances it is understandable that our folder is often
mistaken for a war zone by the outside world. Actually, as hobby groups
go, ours is rather tame, but even so…it still makes me cringe.
Your Board of Directors is a microcosm of the membership at large.
Those nine gamers are rarely of the same mind on just about any subject
you care to name. It should come as no surprise then that the
membership at large has even more unresolved concerns than the ones we
nine endlessly debate behind closed doors so as not to offend the
prying eyes of a curious world. Some of those issues can be pretty
esoteric and chalked up to the musings of a distinct minority. Others
defy resolution because they generate just as much heat on either side
of the aisle. Damned if you do—damned if you don’t. Appeasing X by
offending Y does not generally equal an improvement. Change under such
conditions is usually slow in coming and handicapped by the half
measures of compromise because it generally causes more problems than
it solves. That’s when it dawns on you that you’re probably doing it
right just the way it is.
All of which is an introduction to the latest debate topic to grace our
folder, which is the validity or lack thereof of our name: World Boardgaming
Championships. It’s not that this particular topic is anything new. It
is a criticism that has been around as long as we have. Is it valid? Yes and no…depending on your point of view.
But the philosophy
behind it is something that is perhaps long overdue for some sort of
explanation to counterbalance all the potshots that have been taken at i
it over the years. In doing so, perhaps we’ll make clearer the
reasoning behind other related issues that continue to vex various
people from time to time. For if there is one undisputed truth about
WBC, it is that everybody would change something about it if they could…but others would then change it back.
To preface this discussion,
I’ll quote two of our outspoken members on the topic—Jeff Cornett
and Eric Freeman. Jeff sparked the latest debate by pushing for the
publication of a BPA mission statement in his quest to see our winners
more widely recognized as world champions. For this, he was taken to
task by several members with opposing viewpoints. My response is not
directed at either Jeff or Eric—both of whom have valid points…but at the subject in general. A small part of their exchange follows:
"Regardless, we truly have the best organized tournament game
convention in the world. To say the WBC is not the world boardgame
championships is disrepectful to not only our tournament winners but
also to our leadership."
Jeff, in general I often agree with you, and on your first point here I
definitely do (and I think everyone reading this would also). It is
the best organized tournament boardgame convention in the world.
However, IMO it is a far leap from that to claiming that the tourneys
there somehow crown a "world champion." Hell, in most cases the winner
isn’t even the best player to show up to Lancaster. Because of
conflicts and whatnot often many of the best players present at
Lancaster don’t even participate in a particular tournament of the
game. To truly identify the "best player" even among those that show
up would require more time than any of us truly really wants to commit,
as you’d need multiple game plays to iron out the statistical variation
Winning a tournament at the WBC requires skill for sure, but it also
takes a lot of good luck. It is an accomplishment in and of itself.
Whether one calls it a "world championship" or not does not make the
accomplishment any better or worse. It isn’t "disrespectful" of the
winners if they aren’t called "world champions".
"To those who think the WBC does not deserve the title of World
Boardgames Championship, perhaps you should nominate for our
consideration another convention that is more deserving of this title."
I find this statement to be a bit disingenuous. Sure, there is no
other convention more deserving of the title, but it implies that SOME
convention deserves the title. That I just don’t agree with.
I think it is great that we aspire to reach that goal, but in a
practial manner of speaking, I just don’t think it is possible. I
mean, seriously, how many of us would go if the con were held in
Australia or Japan?
In this day and age, I think a true "world championship" can only be
held in an online competition on Vassel, SBW, BSW, XBox 360,
Cyberboard, wargameroom, or the like. That way anyone in the world can
play with a relatively small barrier of entry.
The final of a just-completed Amun Re five-player tournament on Spiel by
Web had strong players from Australia, UK, Brazil, East Coast US, and
West Coast US. It wasn’t claiming to crown a "world champion", but if
the quality of the competition and the finalists was the determining
factor for such a title, it surely had more claim to it than the WBC
Any tournament that is location-centric will just never be able to
obtain as strong a field, because the cost of entry is too high and the
potential "reward" just does not justify the cost.
Back to my soapbox.
I’ve gone on record as agreeing with Eric that his above points are
undeniable. Anyone wishing to throw stones at a WBC "world champion"
can certainly score points with such an attack. My point is why would
anyone care to do so other than for the mean-spirited joy of raining on
someone else’s parade? This reminds me of the all too frequently
volunteered refrain of those intimidated by competition that they play
for "fun". Good for them, but forgive me if I do not subscribe to the
theory that competitive play and fun are mutually exclusive. I resent
the inference that those who find the "fun" level amps up another level
when competing are somehow inferior to those who don’t. To be sure,
I’ve had "fun" playing games in Open Gaming situations, but nothing on
the order of magnitude I’ve experienced when playing in an organized
I don’t mock others for refraining from competition, so
why must they go out of their way to decry those who enjoy it? I grant
you that any game worth its salt should be fun to play regardless of
the circumstances. But those who feel the need to defend their own
timidity by downgrading the achievements of others are just looking to
throw stones. Speaking for myself, I’ve had far more uncomfortable
encounters in Open Gaming situations than I’ve had in tournaments where
a certain sense of decorum is expected from the participants.
Last time I looked, BPA has never put down any other champion bestowed
by any other organization, or household for that matter. If convention
X or publisher Y proclaims someone else a world champion, you will not
get any argument from us. WBC champs are recognized by BPA as OUR
champions. These are the folks that cared enough to come to the
appointed time and place to compete and won their way to our title.
We’ll proudly proclaim them as such. Whether that carries any weight
with Joe Bystander is a matter of personal choice just as the winner of
baseball’s World Series must deal with the doubts of those Japanese and
Latin American baseball fans who wonder why their teams were excluded
from the process.
There I go…being presumptuous…comparing BPA
to Major League Baseball is certainly a stretch. Or is it? It’s all a
question of relative credibility. We’re certainly light years behind
Major League Baseball in resources, history, media coverage and
anything else that matters…but in the field of boardgaming what
better standard is there?
WBC came about because nature abhors a vacuum. There was no dearth of
gaming conventions in the US. Far from it. But there was a total lack
of conferences that gave competitive gaming its due. Tournaments were
relegated to secondary status (or worse) with corresponding dwindling
fields and stature. Gaming conventions became less and less attractive
to those with a competitive itch to scratch. WBC was born to provide an
alternative to that status quo. For those who liked to compete, WBC was
the only place that did it as a priority and not as a sideline. That,
in itself, is reason enough to earn the title World Boardgaming
Championships in my opinion.
At this point, we should look back at how we came by that name. Unlike
another prominent gaming convention, this one can’t blame me for its
name. When WBC was born, the name was collectively chosen by those
initial charter members—many of whose names still grace our patrons
page. Presumptuous? Perhaps … blame our members…they chose the
name…but who had a better right to it? Can you really blame them
for wanting to build something that fell to them virtually by default?
If it existed elsewhere, they wouldn’t have aspired to it—and in
those days internet technology hadn’t yet evolved widespread computer
aided gaming. Although to be fair, on-line gaming and "live" play till
you drop convention gaming are two very different animals. Just because
you excel at one, doesn’t mean you’d be much good at the other. And
while the geographic diversity of internet gaming is undeniable, I’ve
seen WBC finals which come close to matching the diversity of that Amun
Re example cited above. It is certainly part of WBC’s appeal that one
can experience a wide variety of playing styles by testing one’s mettle
against those from other gaming groups.
Every convention is regional despite its reach. You will find a
disproportionate percentage of attendees are drawn from local environs
for simple matters of convenience, time and expense. But a conference
that regularly draws a third of its participants from great distances
can certainly lay claim to greater credibility in being national or
international in scope. While WBC does not pretend to draw as many
international travelers as an Essen—the world’s largest game fair—
it certainly draws its fair share. Our 2007 laurelists alone hailed
from 41 states and provinces of the United States and Canada and 10
other conventions are bigger and draw from a wider
region, but none of them feature competitive gaming as their raison
d’etre or focus strictly on boardgames. And with good reason …
competition requires standardization, organization and acceptance of
uniform practices to establish credibility…and boardgames are the
very antithesis of that. Their rich and highly varied subject matter,
systems, and complexity levels defy categorization. Their following is
so fractured by individual preferences that relatively few games
develop a significant following even in a niche hobby like boardgames.
tournaments that rise to the level of "championship" class for the
public at large fall into one of two categories. Most common are games
which are so generic (poker, bridge, chess) that they have mass appeal.
Rules are standardized, not open to interpretation, and qualified
officials can be easily found. Whole organizations exist to service one
game with regional tournaments qualifying champions for higher level
play. Their counterparts are the faddish commercial successes whose
publishers yield so much economic clout that they can afford to sponsor
big cash prize tournaments for the publicity windfall it will generate
(Monopoly, Magic, Pokemon) and hire officials to administer them. In
the boardgame business, this is the equivalent of hitting the lottery
and happens just about as often.
For fans of the less successful niche games which encompasses nearly
everything in the Adventure Gaming and Euro realm, this degree of
organized competition simply does not exist and most likely never will
outside the realm of internet play. Heck, many, if not most, of the
events played at WBC are for games which are no longer even published.
The selection of games offered at WBC is eclectic at best and certainly
open to errors of omission when contemplating what games are most
deserving of inclusion. And while I cannot guarantee our champions are
the best players in the world, I feel relatively safe in saying that
for a few of the older titles, our champions are certainly among the
best players in the world of those games if for no other reason than
they enjoy the advantage of annual tests against other players with
For many other events, it is true that the level of play is often less
than stellar—especially in the preliminary rounds. Like everything
else, competition at WBC is a compromise between the ideal and the
practical. Most tournaments serve as a form of scheduled Open Gaming
for many attendees—offering a chance to play a wide variety of games
and opponents at a set time. Whether an event offers a veteran player a
chance to knock off the rust of a game long forgotten or allows players
a first chance to play a new game, some tournament participants are
there for one round only, win or lose. Such encounters may be enjoyable
learning experiences, but are rarely the stuff of legend. The further
one advances in a tournament, the stiffer the competition and the
greater the sense of achievement. Truth be told, few events at WBC are
structured to be true tests of skill which crown the best player. Time
simply does not allow for the pure swiss formats required to minimize
the luck of the draw. Instead, most events are structured to
efficiently crown a fairly selected champion as quickly as possible and
speed the players off to enjoy other pursuits.
As for complaints about conflicting schedules, as hard as I try, I just
can’t muster much sympathy. I’m sure Wilt Chamberlain would have been a
helluva tight end too. Life is full of tough choices. Make one.
So where does WBC get off daring to proclaim itself the World
Boardgaming Championships? Sorry, I couldn’t fit "The Better Than
Average Boardgaming Championships" on a plaque. At the risk of
offending those who take being politically correct more seriously, I
think the name quite appropriate. To me, it gets the message across
quickly that this is a convention where competitive gaming is given
first priority with no apologies. The brand says to me—and I hope to
others—that if you attend you will be rewarded with the greatest
likelihood that the event of interest to you will draw a reasonable
field of like-minded players sharing your interest in that game who
come prepared to play it to the best of their ability. If one
investigates further they’ll discover why.
- We don’t offer an unlimited number of events. We turn events away
because we want to focus on a number that we can properly support and
which will offer the greatest likelihood of drawing a reasonable field.
And while there are undoubtedly those who would be quite content
playing in eight-player tournaments, if we ran unlimited events, yours
would probably no longer be drawing those same eight players. So we
cull our events every year and allow our membership to vote on next
year’s attractions. We’d rather you not attend, then come and be
disappointed by a listed event which failed to provide you with a
satisfying experience. While there are exceptions, for the most part
our tournaments are the most highly attended of their kind in the world.
In a niche hobby with a diverse following that defies categorization
and relies on volunteers, we attempt to bring some small measure of
standardization and quality to the tournament gaming experience. As
standards go, ours are pretty minimal, but we labor mightily to see
that they are uniformly applied. Our attendees can be confident that
their events have been explained in advance on our website, that a
uniform system of behavior is expected of and by our GMs and that all
promised prizes will be forthcoming. Afterwards, the achievements of
the winners will be made known for posterity as we record their feats.
Frankly, when it comes to whether WBC is appropriately named or not,
I’m far more concerned about whether it comes off as being too serious
than I am about it being too presumptuous. The grandiose title is more
apt to reinforce the newcomer’s common mistaken stereotype that this is
all about super serious types out for blood. In truth, whatever their
reasons for attending initially, most who make the return pilgrimage
every year do so out of a desire to renew old friendships over the
nostalgic background of a favorite game. Playing for "wood" and
bragging rights is about as serious as we get. While other "championship events" inevitably use prize money as the draw, WBC
disdains all cash prizes. Even our metagaming champ, Caesar—symbolic
of our Gamer of the Year—wins nothing but respect and another plaque
while the "money" prizes are reserved for our Sportsmanship and Best GM
So, sorry, this probably won’t pass for a Mission Statement, but it will
have to do. WBC is many things to many people, and I can’t speak for all
of them. But in my humble opinion, we certainly have nothing to
apologize for when it comes to the validity of our name.