Saturday, 24 December 2016

GBHL: Origins

“There was a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish, it was so fragile”
     
        -- Gladiator (2000) 

It's been a while since I've written about SBG. This article has been long coming. So long that it has evolved in my mind several times before I even started. I've been barely active in the SBG community for a while now, mainly due to a job that requires tons of travel, but slowly and surely I scribbled down notes over the last few months and managed to put it all down. It's pretty long, so you may want to grab a coffee and a snack!


4 months ago I attended my first league event in a long time, the Longbottom Carnival in London, partially due to being just an hour away on public transport. Last time I played at Longbottom was in 2013. Throughout the course of the event several people asked me about the founding of the Great British Hobbit League (GBHL). I've had questions about it from people all over the world in the past, so in case I get Transfixed, Chill Souled or Black Darted I decided to begin writing it at the end of August. But I just couldn't finish it. Finally, seeing the success of Ardacon 2016 has given me the inspiration to get to the end. Then another trip stopped me. But Christmas is here, so I have no excuses not to finish it... and neither do you for not reading it, right? Now that I'm done it happens to coincide with the 4 year anniversary of the start of GBHL, which is somewhere around Christmas 2012. It is long. Parts of it are nostalgic. Parts of it are critical/analytical, but hopefully in a constructive way. Parts of it are hopeful for the future to come.


Expect to see some very old photos with faces you may or may not be familiar with. You may or may not agree with everything I say, since I tend to have a lot more competitive perspective at the game (and a lot of other things in life) than most people, despite a 3 year break from competitive play. As always, happy to discuss in comments here or on the GBHL Facebook page in case questions arise.


Where do we begin... Before we begin, here's a challenge: Spot the still active players on these (colour?!) pictures of Team TLA (The Last Alliance) in their glory days:


Note: Clicking on the pictures will make enlarge them.


2009 Doubles GT - The "We all just got our TLA t-shirts!" picture

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2010 Singles GT  - The one attended by certain representatives of the United States. Not sure what that white blob is covering parts of 2 faces. I downloaded it from my FB profile and never saw that before.

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2010 Hunting For Trolls - The one where GBHL Jamie's afro was larger than mount doom. Was this Jay Clare's virgin LotR tournament?! He hasn't aged a day! It's also one where a certain Moore missed his train, missed round 1, but won the next 7 and still won the tournament...

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2011 Singles GT - Was Ed taking this photograph??

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Hey, I hear they replaced this scene in the Director's Cut...



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During the Longbottom Carnival one of my opponents asked me when did I start playing the game. I said 12 years ago. I looked around and there were at least Ed Ball and James Braund who came from roughly the same(ish) era. Like the last remaining dinosaurs we hang on and always come back to the greatest wargame ever made. I believe Dan Entwisle, Jamie Giblin and Sam Jeffery were around a bit later than that? I may be wrong. I remember reading Ed's 2005 or 2006 Grand Tournament (GT - yearly tournaments that effectively counted as UK/World Championships) report from when he took an army consisting of 2 Fell Beasts and a horse-mounted Wraith at 500 points and it blew my mind. My best performance by that time had been a few wins at my local GW in Manchester. The guy was a genius with Fell Beasts before most of you even had your first Aragorn. It baffles me when inexperienced players sometimes pick up his Flying Circus army and think they can succeed with it. It took the guy nearly a decade to master it. It is art in its purest form as far as this game is concerned.


Then there were the 8 Spider Queens at the 2009 Doubles of James Braund and Craig Johnson. Incredible to watch. Then there was the super-broken-biggest-mistake-in-design-ever Outriders with Gamling that broke the game so much the community united in its common hatred of it (for those unfamiliar Outriders were heroes with 0 Might, 0 Will and 1 Fate and Gamling's Banner gave 1 Might to heroes per turn if they started the turn with 0. They also didn't count for bow limit because they were heroes at 10 points a piece... oops!). The Polish Hussars ascended onto the UK for the first time in 2009 and placed 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th at the Singles GT. They would arrive again at doubles 3 years later to a podium finish and not return until Ardacon, which they again won in the team portion and with a fresh new team.


There was the incredible dominance of Wood Elf armies at the 2010 GT, with 6 of the top 10 placing with them. There was the 2010 Doubles when the 1st (Craig Johnson & James Braund) and 2nd (Me and James Knight) were tied in games and the winner was decided by a single point on a knowledge quiz (10/10 vs 9/10!). Anyway, that's not the point of this article, just some memories that came back after 2 days of awesome gaming at the Longbottom Carnival and recently browsing through posts and pictures about Ardacon.




THE FIRST AND SECOND AGES

It did not begin with the forging of the Great Rings and I really couldn't care less who they were given to. It began with The Last Alliance. Well... I lie... actually, it began with Games Workshop forums, which closed circa 2005 and forced mass migration of players onto The Last Alliance and One Ring. Time flies. It felt like yesterday when I thought the game was going to die! The competitive bunch moved mainly to TLA and everyone else split between the two. Somehow One Ring ended up having the most amazing collection of painters and sculptors ever assembled. At the time, the game was extremely popular. Both TLA and OR had thousands of members around the world and were the two main resources for everything LotR: SBG related. Throughout 2005/6/7/8 the Grand Tournaments were increasing in scale, up to the epic 144 player event in 2008, which has only now, 8 years later been overtaken by Ardacon as the largest SBG event ever held anywhere (I say event, because as far as tournaments go, it had exactly the same number of players). 


When I looked on this blog the other day I noticed I have an unfinished 2008 GT report that I started translating a couple of years ago from my original I wrote in Polish after the event - all with army lists, scenarios, opponents, pictures. I'm still aiming to one day publish it :)


When I say the forums were popular I mean it. At one point I reached over 4,600 posts on TLA and I don't think I was even in the top 5 of the most active posters on the site. That averages 4 posts per day over 4 years. It's possible I may have had a problem... but just like any other person with an addiction I would not admit it!


In the glory days, circa 2009, Craig Johnson (UkRocky) and I had a number of discussions about seizing this opportunity and creating a league. He tried organising a few small events, but they didn't attract many people. I mean like 7 or 10 players would turn up. Hunting for Trolls in 2010 was the most successful one with about 20. We talked with others, TLA managed to get 2 tournaments in London in 2007 and 2008. Yet, because of the introduction of Doubles, the general consensus was that we had a massive Singles GT every year, we had a massive Doubles GT every year, we had a couple of random events here and there. So there was really no need for a league or more tournaments. People were happy with the choice they had. The idea got abandoned.



I sort of mark the First Age as the Pre-LoME (Legions of Middle Earth) time of release of the game until release of Legions in 2006. Second Age therefore is Legions of Middle Earth era up until the release of the Hobbit: SBG rules. 


Fast forward to 2012. The year that I felt was the year when everything began to collapse. Games Workshop finally touched LotR with its "Throne of Skulls" and killed the GTs. The 2012 event was still an all-out competitive grind many of us loved and spent weeks and months preparing for. It was glorious. But then something happened that the Ring did not intend... 


When the events team finally announced the GTs would stop being competitive and would be run solely for the "fun" side of things, all I saw was the approaching meteor that would inevitably wipe off most of the dinosaurs. I understood that the sales were dropping, the game was slowly dying through less and less players playing it and it seemed that the voices of those calling for "fun" play were given more attention than the rest of us who had committed thousands of hours of our time discussing and playing the game we loved. What we all found fun differed on a person-to-person basis. When that happened, and with the new rules coming out, a large portion of the old players left the game to play systems that supported their desire to compete - Flames of War, Malifaux, Warmachine/Hordes, etc, etc.


The GW-run events were already dropping in popularity and were about to reach its bottom. Over the next few years, the Warhammer World Events Team still provided a thrilling experience for everyone that attended and the events were as far as I've been told an absolute blast, so don't take this the wrong way. I wouldn't criticize the outstanding work of Nick and his team. It's the politics and the description of what 'fun' supposedly meant that I've always had a problem with, but I'll come back to this.


THE THIRD AGE


Let's just say that the future looked really grim and Sauron seemed stronger than ever. I discussed things with others and the general consensus was 'this is it... game over... lack of support, lack of tournaments, lack of incentive for a lot of us to keep on playing and therefore caring'. If we stop playing, we won't buy as much, therefore more things will go out of production and eventually GW will drop the game. Considering the lack of major immediate releases at the time of the films other than a rulebook we were pretty convinced the Hobbit wasn't exactly on the priority list for our Masters. It came down to the fans to save their hobby from extermination. Surely, as we've become friends over the gaming table, we couldn't just end it there and stop talking to each other and just move on with our lives. So the idea of the league came back. This was as good a moment as any to seize this opportunity as the Hobbit movie had just been released. We didn't have a rules set and the now 2,500+ member GBHL Facebook page had maybe 50 people, not very active, with a 'Hobbit Events' title or something like that created by Dan Entwisle. 


Just before Christmas 2012 I was talking to Sam Jeffery about army lists for the upcoming 2013 Throne of Skulls. Sam was going to attend, but he didn't seem too surprised I wasn't. I had been to 12 previously organised GW Singles and Doubles Grand Tournaments. I hadn't missed one since 2006, but the new format just wasn't for me. I said to Sam I would write a rulespack for some sort of a league over Christmas and maybe we could convince some people to help out. The idea came out of necessity. I loved the game, but I wanted a platform to be able to compete, since ToS wasn't for me anymore and it looked like the competitive side of things may become completely unsupported by GW. My initial idea was to have 4 or 5 tournaments in a year and crown a champion at the end. Then see what happens and how we can take it further.


Some time around Christmas 2012 the Rulespack got written...

Around New Year it got published...

To the sound of fanfares...

To the 'ahhs' and 'ohhs' and the applause of thousands of fanatical, bewildered spectators boasting mighty roof-tearing roars at the top of their throats...

The eyes of the Valar looked down upon us as we stood in front of the greatest challenge any race of Middle Earth was ever to face! In the words of President Whitmore we were "fighting for our right to live... to survive!"

And then...

Nothing happened...

Literally...

Maybe 5 people took notice. Maybe 8 at a stretch.

Well... Rome wasn't built over Christmas either!


I contacted Chris and Damian at Titans Wargames Club in London. It seemed like the first logical place to start. After all we lived in the same city and their club was about an hour away on the tube for me. They keenly organised an event in March and despite heavily advertising on the OR and TLA forums a whopping 18 players turned up. The winner was none other than GBHL Jamie, the member of the 2017 ETC England Team [insert applause]. It's still saved deep in the league rankings, check it out if you want. 


About 2 months later Sam Jeffery and Dan Entwisle organised a tournament in Stockport under the super humble title "Grand Hobbit Championships". The championships were in fact so grand, that entire 10 people ascended from the distant lands and James Braund was crowned the unofficial UK Grand Hobbit Champion, winning this really strange and I'm not entirely sure if in any way, shape or form relevant to the Hobbit, trophy of a Samurai wielding a sword or two. I don't know where to find a picture of that, so if anyone has it or if James wouldn't mind sharing, it would be great to see it again!


Sometime early that year I got in touch with Leonardis and Sam Page from the East Grinstead gaming club over One-Ring forum as I remembered coming across a blog about their gaming group. They liked the idea and got together with others and got a tournament going which attracted 14 players and was won by a certain GBHL Damian. Before that even took place I reorganised the rankings from the GW's Throne of Skulls and used them to add more players and scores to the league. Just to make it more shiny for people to look at. I then did the same with Doubles. I didn't ask Nick from the Events Team if that was OK, so I kinda regret not asking at the very start, but I fixed my mistake later on and clearly he's been cool with that ever since :)


Some time after East Grinstead and the GW Doubles, Sam and Dan chose to organise the Grand Hobbits Defence (so grand!), a tournament that attracted 9 players and was won by Alan Liddle.


Based on the success of their first tournament, Chris and Damian decided to organise the 2nd Longbottom Carnival (apparently there had been a 1st a year before that, but I didn't even know about that at the time). That would become the largest independent tournament of 2013, with 26 players. Some random Polish guy won that one.


Things were beginning to look nice. We still had 4 months to go till the end of the year. I talked with Charles Sims and David Reid to see if maybe they could do something further up in the north, since so far there had been a lot organised in the south. It turned out that they were both able to organise events. First up, Preston ran by Charles attracted 11 players for what was known as the "Battle For Middle-England". It's worth noting however, that out of those 11, I believe 7 or 8 were in contention for the top spot in the league and it was probably the toughest tournament most of those players had to play up to that point and possibly one of the toughest ever in GBHL history. When the dust over Middle-England settled, Tom Harrison stood victorious for the 2nd time that year. After that, Stirling Wargames (David & The Scots) organised an event that hosted 12 people with Jamie Giblin picking up his 2nd win of the season. 


I thought this was enough for the first year. It was already more than I had hoped for, but I felt like it needed an ending and partially because of it beginning in London (and partially because of my laziness of not wanting to travel outside of London for toys at the time) I decided to announce that the final tournament of the 2013 season would actually take place in 2014. It was a weird event, since it counted towards both 2013 and 2014 rankings. Anyway, we crowned our first league champion, Ed Ball. The picture of that event (which gathered 32 players!) is still the group picture of the GBHL Committee (a secret group for everyone working behind the scenes to ensure the calendar works, the rules work, the FAQ is up to date, the league prizes are there, etc, etc. ;) ).

The notepad in my hand was what I used to calculate the final scores in a battle between Ed, Tom and Damian, all of whom had a chance to win the first season depending on the outcome of that tournament. Damian won the tournament, but he needed Ed to finish outside of top 6 and I think Tom somewhere outside top 8 to claim the trophy. It was a really complicated setup that depending on their perspective finishes, any of them could have won it. Ed finished 5th and Tom 7th, giving Ed the season triumph. 


The 1st season's Independent Tournaments had the following attendance:

1. Shadow & Sorcery, aka. League Finale, London - 32
2. Longbottom Carnival, London - 26
3. Close Encounters of the Third Age, London - 18
4. East Grinstead Event, East Grinstead - 14
5. Scouring of Stirlingshire, Stirling - 12
6. Battle for Middle-England, Preston - 11
7. Grand Hobbit Championships, Stockport - 10
8. Grand Hobbits Defence, Stockport - 9

Average players for the indie scene in season 1: 16.5
A total of 81 unique players participated in the first season, with only 11 of them attending the required minimum threshold of 5 counting towards the final league score (that got changed to 4 in season 2 and stayed the same till now). 


Years later GBHL Damian recalled how initially he went to the first London tournament it was all going to be for a day rolling dice and laughing with friends, but when later he saw the ranking he thought "wait a second, I could win this thing!" A lot of players clearly thought the same and so within a year we'd run 8 independent events and crowned the first League Champion. Season 2 saw the rise in popularity of the GBHL channel with James, Jamie, Tom and Damian taking the hotseat, a total of 14 tournaments counting towards the league and almost twice as many unique players attending.  I suppose all is history now, but if you'd like to have a detailed look of the results and rankings from years gone by, just follow this link: League Rankings


After being in charge of 2013 and 2014 seasons I decided to pass the reins to someone similarly or more passionate about the hobby than me, but most importantly someone I trusted would be committed to taking this project and making it better. My suggestion to the TOs was the eventual 2015 and 2016 coordinator, SBG magazine co-founder and the GBHL Youtuber Tom Harrison. Over the years the league has grown at an incredible pace and the work the TOs have put into ensuring great atmosphere and experience has generally received a very positive feedback from the community, which is great for both the organisers and the players.


I suppose the hardest thing was the beginning and figuring out what makes it all tick. I'm afraid I'm going to say something controversial here, that many will probably disagree with, but I will explain my reasoning. It is the competitive side that really was the reason it all worked in the first place. The very thing that GW abandoned and the very thing many players slacked for lack of 'fun', made GBHL what it is now and allowed it to expand enough that we can now have all sorts of events organised and can guarantee that people will turn up - something that 4 years ago would have almost certainly failed. In all honesty, the reason for that is...


The (oh so evil!) Power Gamer!


This chapter is less about the league and more about what I, as a player with 12 years of experience of attending dozens of events have figured out. Obviously, this is not be-all and end-all, but this is the basic idea upon which I wrote the initial rulespack for GBHL and why I think we managed to pull it off in the first place.


To make events worth running, you need a core group of players who will keep attending most or all events. So how does one attract players to regularly come to events? People need to come because they care and because they want to come. You need to first understand what makes people care and since this is a game and we're mostly geeks/nerds, there is one thing that a lot of people definitely care about - beating the cr*p out of their friends in front of a larger group of friends. Yeah... it's a nerd thing... we just do it because we do it. Admit it - there isn't a greater feeling in life than defeating someone with a model last week they argued was worthless (like back in the day people thought Spider Queen was useless "because it's defence 4 and dies to bowfire, boo"... then Spider Queens dominated the world and had to have FAQ change them to a named hero and then still had to have its points increased by a whopping 40 to stop it from being on every table). Well... ok, maybe there are better things in life, but they're few and far between!


On a more serious note competition is the very basis of our society. It drives our civilization. It drives progress. We compete for jobs, for partners, for schools, for trophies, for money, for everything. Hell, we even compete in who's got a cuter cat or whether your or my cat's hair looks more like that of the US President-elect. True story. Google it. It's called "Trump Your Cat" and whether you voted for him or not I don't care and don't wanna know, but you gotta admit it's the funniest thing to come out of this election cycle. 


There are essentially two types of people who play SBG - competitors and casuals. Competitors play the game for the challenge. They want to be good at it and they want to win. As such they are the people who are willing to prioritise the game above other things in life. They are the grinders. There is a weekend tournament - a grinder has a choice of going to play or hanging out with his mates - chances are he will go to play. A casual player will think about what's going to give him more pleasure, and inevitably more often than not will choose the mates (of course, ideally mates play toys too...). Competitive player will look at costs and decide often he'd rather play toys than eat that cake in the shop, whilst a casual player will usually just eat the cake and then have another one. My point is... In any borderline situation you can count on the grinder to turn up and make a guess whether the casual will. As such, despite there being more casuals, they will attend a smaller number of events and not really be bothered about them. For events to ensure that they can run, they require a core group of players you can always count on turning up, if only for the reasons of the cost of hosting events. 


Imagine a situation where Longbottom Carnival was to only attract casuals and not the competitors - look... this is a Bank Holiday weekend in August, it's hot outside (and that happens once every 7 years in London) and it's Notting Hill Carnival weekend... I'm pretty sure there are more interesting things to do out there than sit in a boiling room surrounded by sweaty people rolling dice and shouting quotes from some fantasy book... or are there? Depends on what your mindset is and how much you care about those dice rolling well. This year pretty much all of the grinders turned up, yet the event wasn't even sold out, despite being in the western Europe's largest city on a long weekend off! Grinder might not seem like the nicest way to call these people, but they are probably the most passionate group of players there are in this hobby. They are always there, willing to fight. You can always count on them and you know they will be there when the TOs need them to be there. They not only attend every 100pt tournament they can, they also attend every 80pt (also known as casual tournament) they can. They simply care that people play and other people see people play. 


Most grinders or competitive players are to some degree power gamers. Enter the mind of the power gamer. I didn't have to look far, I just looked at myself...  Think about the core and the most basic way that a competitive player thinks:

- There's a tournament in my area. I'm going to go and smash it.
- I came to 1 event... perhaps I failed at smashing, but smashing was awesome and adrenaline was kicking!
- I want to smash more... there's a second event I know of... smash smash!
- Someone made a ranking and I'm just behind that guy who I smashed the other day! Whoah... I'm not having that... So I need at least 4 tournaments to get into the proper ranking? Fine, let's do that... I'm committed to smashing him now anyway.
- 4 tournaments in, I'm either 1st and someone is so close to me I can't risk them taking over, so I will go wherever they go! Or if I'm not first, surely I gotta be first! Smash... This is so addictive!
- Before you know it, you have a group of players who got tricked into attending way more tournaments than they expected because of the feel of always being so so so close to being the best. And of course, they like to smash.


Smash! Smash!


I'm simplifying this as I think humour is the best thing at explaining many things within our society.

In my own race to win a GT I took a beating after beating, came home, re-evaluated, practiced and didn't give up until I finally got what I wanted. 

That might sound basic, but men are basic. You get the point. Eye of the Tiger. If you're willing to work for it, you will get there. I strongly believe in putting in the 10,000 hours to achieve success and not relying on luck or talent. Winning at SBG is exactly that - an exercise in deliberate practice, which taken into real life can help you succeed in many other areas. 


This is relevant, because to sustain a league you need motivated players who will play. Once you've built your core group of players, that's when you can really take off and think about something bigger. The year 1 of the league was essentially that - the core was built over the course of 10 events that averaged about 15 or so players by the end of it. 11 players reached the threshold required to try and win the league. Once the core was there, we knew that the following year is going to be easier because we can count on these guys to turn up and once that happens, others will follow.


Competitive players have a drive to succeed. To do it they need to practice. To practice they need other people, often resulting in convincing someone outside of the game (fellow hobbyists playing a different game, or as in the case of some - their partner... and you know who you are... Yes, I'm looking at you Ed Sheeran of GBHL :) But I know you're not the only one, sir!) to come and play with them - this could be someone who played in the past or someone completely new. The new player will then often come along to the tournament - whether as a grinder or a casual doesn't matter as long as they come and enjoy themselves.


Depending on the sort of people they are, the new players will either follow the same route or come as casuals because they really enjoy the atmosphere and want to get the experience. At this point it is the responsibility of the the community to make sure other players are welcome - something the Hobbit community has been incredible with. My own example, coming back to a tournament after 2.5 years break I get hugged, cheered and exchange hours of stories with people I used to hang out with years ago. We may initially connect through the game, but once the game stops it is up to us to open the conversation on other subjects and meet the people behind the mighty generals.


So you've catered to the competitive players. You've just guaranteed yourself that you will have people coming to tournaments regularly. But now some of you are probably thinking "this guy is boring and sounds like a competitive douchebag". But hold on, we're only half way there, grab another biscuit and re-fill that coffee with some hot water. Go on, I'll wait... to wake you up also check out this video of funny cats.




Well, I understand and respect the fact that there are casual players out there, who don't care about winning. Guess what, the league is for them too, whether they want to compete or not. The competitive playing is just the foundation of something far greater, of something that brings together all sorts of different people and puts them into one place to share their love of their hobby. Competitive players are in no way better or worse than casual players. We are equals and both sides should respect the other. Politicians around the world on both sides of the spectrum have already done a sickening job at dividing the society, so I don't think we, the wargamers should come down to their level.


Tournaments are key. By covering the tournament circuit you automatically cover all aspects of the hobby - people want to break out, so they will show off their paint jobs, conversions, or wicked list ideas. The tournaments award prizes for outstanding painting, for sporting behaviour, even for coming last, which in itself is a challenge worthy of fighting for! Everybody enjoys a few likes on Facebook... yes, Facebook was a godsend to the success of the league. Thanks Marc. Without it, I can guarantee GBHL would have failed because Facebook is the biggest and easiest platform to reach out to like-minded people. As soon as there is talk about tournaments, there is talk about the game and all aspects of it. That attracts more casuals and more competitors. Both groups are happy. Casuals start to appear on the league circuit more regularly, not only because of all the cool hobby, non-competitive things you get awarded for and the awesome experience of the tournaments, but because there are other casuals who they can play there instead of just competitors. You are building a core of casual players without even realising it. This worked well for us and it was further improved when the Hobbit celebrities James, Jamie, Tom and Damian setup their GBHL Youtube Channel, which then led to even more people finding out about the league.


The thing that worked so beautifully about the old GT system was that despite a lot of moaning from a certain small group of people, it actually catered for all. Competitive players spent most of the tournament playing other competitive players on the top half of the tables. Casual players spent most of the tournament playing other casuals on the bottom half of the tables. The people on one side of the hall had fun because they loved the challenge. The people on the other side had fun because they had a laugh. As far as I know, this is exactly what happened at Ardacon. Of course, you then had players once in a while playing opponents who didn't match their desired competitiveness level and that created issues. Well... no system is perfect and I have a feeling (I may be wrong of course) that the GTs were dumped in part because of the complaints of those who didn't like this mixing. Those who are unhappy are always the loudest. Vast majority of people I talked to absolutely loved the GTs for everything they provided. In my opinion they were the best thing that ever happened to the game. Yet, I had a situation at least once, when I got to the table and the opponent on the other side literally stood there and began to moan in my face from the start how my army wasn't themed and how they were going to hate playing me because I was there to win and not to have fun. Nope, it probably wasn't themed (although, considering it was all made in the same factory, I think I may have a case!), but thanks for manners. Whoah, who said winning isn't fun?! Somehow GW decided (by following the feedback or not) to strap the competitive community of a platform to play, enforcing their own idea of fun. Luckily we proved afterwards that we loved the game enough that now it doesn't really matter.


So let me summarise what I think were the key things that made the league a success and something that other people can take to create or improve their own leagues:
- A simple rulespack that made sense
- A group of players looking for a platform to play
- A ranking system that motivated players to dedicate themselves to the game, thus building the core of gamers, the so-called grinders. In other words a reason for them to stop doing what they're doing and choose to enter an event over chilling with their friends. Once the grinders are there, others will come too.
- A very good relationship between Tournament Organisers and their willingness to support the idea despite its bumpy start. In this case they've all been stars from the beginning till now.
- A marketing system - ie. Facebook Page / Youtube Channel / advertising at events or venues. Did I mention that when the GBHL first began I personally went to multiple Games Workshop stores, talked to managers and told them about the league and tournaments we were organising? They didn't let me leave leaflets and I don't think it led to anyone actually turning up from those GWs, but if it did bring at least 1 more player in, then it would already be a success considering my hopeless marketing skills. That was 4 years ago. Last Sunday I went to a GW store in central London and mentioned GBHL... everyone knew what it was and a sales assistant was even a member of the group. How awesome is that?
- Probably the most important - not giving up. After I wrote the rulespack, the first month of the league had 0 tournaments. The second had 1 that wasn't even organised by the league. March, April and June had 1 tournament each. It really wasn't a fast starter. Honestly I hoped to maybe have 4 events in the first year. We got 8. 200% of what I aimed for. Anyway, let's get to the fun part...


Fun


That's probably a pretty random heading for anyone who hasn't read up to now. If you haven't, go back!


It's a funny subject (pun not intended...). Controversial, one might say. I wasn't sure if it's worth putting it here or making a completely new post about it, but I thought it's too important to put it somewhere else and for it to get lost. Its analysis requires an approach that is 0% emotional and 100% logical and unbiased, even though the core idea of fun is an emotional one by definition. 


Before we get into this, I think we need a parallel example from the real world to explain my thinking process. I love AC/DC (the rock band). I've been to 2 of their concerts. I have a friend who loves Beyonce and thinks AC/DC is noise. I can't stand Beyonce - I find her music pointless and lyrics shallow. AC/DC is awesome. It's super fun. I couldn't care less about Beyonce. But my friend is the opposite. My friend finds Beyonce fun and AC/DC boring and pointless.


Why did I just write that? Because I find different things fun than my friends, my parents, my girlfriend, my teachers or even my cat (although, we both find lasers fun, so my cat is probably more similar to me in that sense). It doesn't mean I'm right and they're wrong, or vice versa. We're just different. I accept that and I expect my friends to accept that too. I respect their idea of fun and I hope they respect my idea of fun, because fun is subjective.


When someone says "this event/game is meant to be fun" and thus implies that competitive events/games are not fun, it really confuses me and makes me not angry, but sad. They are fun, just perhaps not from your personal biased perspective. There is a large group of people in the wargaming community, who believe that what they see as fun is the only "right" and "correct" fun and anything else isn't. It's pure and simple discrimination against players who see fun differently to them. It saddens me that there is a portion of the SBG community, who think that competitive players are basically scum who destroy fun for everybody. It's like saying you listening to Beyonce is wrong and me listening to AC/DC is right. If it was up to me, I would refrain from using the word 'fun' to describe events and instead use the word that I have been using throughout this article - 'casual' or 'relaxed'. As an example:


GBHL's Seven Stones Doubles tournament. It's a relaxed, casual tournament, but at the end of the day people are competing. People still want to win. Nobody really cares about winning that much because the 80 points the tournament provides does not allow anyone to actually win the League. It's there as a motivator, bragging rights and a reward. At the end of the day it makes a difference in the race to reach the top 20 of the league. It's a tournament. It's competitive by definition, but because of the attitude of the players and the TOs it's a relaxed and casual competition. It doesn't mean it's wrong in any way. Imagine a situation where Jay plays against Ed on table 1 in the final round of a World Championship tournament. I expect the battle to be as stiff as they get and I expect for them to argue over every roll, point out every single discrepancy and measure every single inch. But when Jay plays Ed on table 20 in the same round in the same tournament (in theory, since in practice they don't know where table 20 is located), then I expect them to have a relaxed bash. If I'd be watching that game, I know I wouldn't get bored because these players will challenge each other to the maximum of competitive capability. On table 20 they will still try their best, but won't stretch every rule to their advantage and won't press for every half-inch, because there is no need for that. Regardless I'm sure they are having a lot of fun and I'm sure that I would be having a lot of fun if I was in either of their shoes, or even just spectating. This is exactly the same in any other tournament. It comes down to players attitude. Any game in any event can be fun, it's up to you and your opponent to make it fun, whatever level of competition you are on. Even if you see that your opponent has decided to bring a very 'filthy' army and you have a Fellowship, it isn't really what's on the table that determines if both players have fun, it's your attitude to what's in front of you and the person you are playing against. 


Let me be honest, whether Aragorn is a model of Viggo Mortensen holding a sword, or a yellow pebble on a 20mm base makes 0 difference to me. I really don't care. That's not why I play this game. I treat it like chess with dice rolling, a measuring tape and a set of obstacles. You could put a cat on a dragon's base and I wouldn't care as long as I knew it hopped 12 inches and was badass enough to require a lot of my attention to defeat it. But please don't do it, cats don't want to play SBG, they want to be cuddled and they want to scheme to destroy the world instead. A model to me represents a set of statistics and the game is about mathematics and visualising a set of optimal plays. You can play chess with beautifully crafted set of marble pieces, but at the end of the day it's just chess. I may be the only one, but I don't think I am. To me 'fun' is playing the most broken army against the other most broken army and playing out a game that is as close to perfect in every move as possible. The aesthetics are cool, the theme is cool, but really it's all about the rules and gameplay for me. And I hope that this is ok, because for me it is ok for other players to want to play completely themed forces and not pay much attention to every inch and every detail of every rule. As such when someone complains in front of me that my army is not themed I'm not exactly bothered by that. Why do I say this? Because there are other players like me and when we play the game, what we find fun is trying to outsmart each other within a set of rules laid out in front of us. We don't break the rules. We just use them to their maximum level and the models to their maximum potential.  


The point I'm trying to make is essentially 'live and let live'. That's been my motto in my life for many years now. Play the game however you like and let others do the same. To me the biggest virus of wargaming is the idea that 'my fun is better than your fun'. It's just like saying 'my type of music is the best type of music'. It's nonsense. Live and let other people live the way they want to live. Let others be who they want to be and believe in what they want to believe and the world will be a better place overall. 


When GT was turned into Throne of Skulls and rebranded as a 'fun tournament', that's when SBG went into cardiac arrest. The WHW tournaments have always been amazing regardless and they've had the most extraordinary Events Team led by a cool guy named Nick, but a lot of players in my opinion have lost interest in this game in large part because of this specific rebranding. The GTs were always fun. They were fun for vast majority of players. Why change it when it clearly wasn't broken? Frankly if not the league, the passion of the TOs, the amazing support of players and hobbyists and the awesome job of the GBHL podcast team, I don't think there would even be any more Thrones of Skulls because the game looked pretty dead to me 4 years ago and the base of players was very quickly disappearing. Players and TOs should be proud of themselves. You all did what needed to be done - supported your hobby. Really, it's the hard work of the players, TOs and of all the hobbyists that paid off in the end. People credit me with founding the league, but the only thing I ever did was write the initial rulespack, talked to some really enthusiastic people and created a structure for the first 2 seasons before letting it go. It's all of you who made sure that the game grew back to what it once had been.


The Fourth Age


I look back at that Christmas 2012 and I wonder how did we manage to get this far. How did we manage to bring back the former glory. It feels as if the 3rd Age is coming to a completion. A new book has just been released, sold out, restocked, sold out again (and I missed my opportunity to buy it both times...) and the community of active players is not only massive, it is also constantly growing. James Clark organised a truly outstanding event in Ardacon, that looks to set an example of great things to come, and all other TOs have been exceptional in their passion and commitment to putting Great into Great British Hobbit League. The next big international step will be the European Team Championships in Germany at the end of April this year. Even the Grand Tournament in Nottingham is coming back and it's the best hobby-related news I've heard in half a decade. 


The 2017 calendar is ready with staggering 23 events scheduled in the year. But there are still more than 20 free weekends in the year when people are welcome to organise any campaigns, non-league events, big battles, community get-togethers, really anything that supports the hobby. I can guarantee they will receive amazing support from the GBHL in their effort to infest other gamers with SBG. So... sky is the limit guys and girls. Let's show GW which is their best system and their best community! 


The success of the Great British Hobbit League would not have been possible without the following people. It is them who truly are the heroes of this tale and I hope their names will one day shine in the halls of our forefathers, never to be forgotten by fans of SBG, for not only resurrecting this great game, but for lifting it above and beyond its former glory. In no particular order...

Chris Young
Damian Grantham
Thomas Harrison
Damian O'Byrne
James Clark
James Braund
Jamie Giblin
Dan Entwisle
Sam Jeffery
Ed Ball
Dan Bird
Dave Nolan
Jay Clare
Adam Troke
Sam Page
Charles Sims
And probably many others I cannot recall right now, but who should get a shoutout in the comments section below and on GBHL page!

If the Valar exist, I'm sure they look kindly upon you. 


Games Workshop have created an amazing game that changed my life. It actually had a major positive impact on me and helped boost my confidence enormously, considering that I moved to the UK at the age of 14, didn't know anybody here and barely spoke English... I kinda had this dream that the first book I would read in full in English would be Romeo and Juliet, but instead it turned out to be the RotK rulebook. So romantic... When I won the GT it was a major stepping stone in my life. It was a confirmation that if I really put a lot of hard work into something it will pay off. In my professional life the last line on my CV includes my GT wins... I actually got at least 2 jobs in large part because of that. It shows the employers that you are willing to commit and achieve the best results. I work freelance though, so every little thing may suddenly change your potential employer's mind. Without SBG, I would have been a completely different person. 


And yet, SBG will never be the same, at least not to me. The 12 GTs I attended at Warhammer World will forever stay with me as the greatest time I had whilst playing this or any other game. One of my opponents at the Longbottom Carnival asked me when did I first start playing. I said "12 years ago". I looked around the room and I felt sad. Other than Ed, Jamie, James and a couple of others, none of my old friends were there. The setting outside of Warhammer World just didn't feel right and didn't inspire me in the same epic way. I really didn't care anymore about whether I won or lost. I didn't feel like I belonged anymore. The world has changed and my life has changed. I plan on returning for the next season, at least for the GT and then see what happens. I don't expect to win again anymore. A couple of months ago I made my first GW order in 5 years and just a week ago I painted my first model in about 3... a hobbit militia... the first ever hobbit I painted in my life. It looks pretty awful :D


I suppose the last thing to say is thanks to everyone for being such awesome supporters of SBG in the last 4 years and long live GBHL. I leave you with a cool tune, my brothers in arms.




However you're spending your Christmas break. Have fun. Happy gaming and a prosperous 2017 full of 5s and 6s!


See you at the tables in 2017,
BlackMist

PS.
In fact, you came here to see cats, so I leave you with that rather than some silly song!






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