So, soft scoring.
For those of you who don't know what the term means, it generally applies to two main catagories - Painting and Sportsmanship. It can also be applied to other minor areas of organising and running a tourney such as having your list submitted by a due date, having your list in the correct format, arriving on time etc.
"Soft scoring" simply means adding or taking away points from your tournament score based on the above, so to take an example from a tournament I recently attended, their score system looked like this:
Points for Games
Points for Painting
Painted (3 colour minimum): 5pts
Detail (highlighting/washing/drybrushing): 3pts
Cohesive Scheme: 3pts
Extra Effort: 1pt
9pts for handing your list in on/before the deadline
1pt for having your name on your list
If, after adding all these together, two or more people were tied, total VPs from all games would be used as tie breaker. Sportsmanship was awarded on a seperate basis.
This seems to be a pretty standard setup for small-to-middling tournaments going by events I've been to and what others have said about theirs. This leads me to a few logical questions:
What is the purpose of a tournament?
Well, to my mind, it's to give people a chance to compete for a prize, by being the best player there, with the measure of "best player" being determined by how many games you win, and how much you win each game by. That's a pretty standard definition of a tournament for any sporting or gaming event, and I would hope that most people would say something similar.
So why do our tournaments feel the need to grade you on your painting and behaviour?
No other sporting or gaming event does this. What if football tournaments gave points out for "Grace and Aesthetic Appeal"? What if athletics gave out points for "Being a really nice guy"? Can you imagine?
"But painting is part of the hobby, so it should be taken into account"
If I wanted to be judged (and win or lose) based on my ability to paint models, I would enter a painting competition, not a tournament. In the same vein, if I enter a darts tournament, I don't want to be judged on how pretty my darts are.
"Everyone prefers playing with painted models, instead of unpainted plastic and metal"
Fair point. But surely the best way to make that a certain thing is simply to state "All armies must be painted to a basic standard or you will not be allowed to participate". That ensues that everyone has a painted army, without having it affect the final result.
"No-one wants to play a complete tosser"
True, and I laud the attempt to make good behaviour and sportsmanship a central part of our hobby. However, almost every single other sport does it the other way around - you get points deducted for being a dick, or even banned. You argue with the ref? You get sent off. You foul someone? You get sent off. You are a good player and a nice person for the whole match? You don't get an extra goal for your team. Being a pleasure to play with should be the basic level of entry, not something that can alter who comes first, second and third.
On a side note, when was the last time you saw the "Most sporting" award also go the person in first place? Almost never. That's because for most people, getting their army massacred is a negative experience, while smashing someone else into the ground is a positive experience. Basic psychology says we are more likely to reward someone who gives us good experiences than someone who gives us bad ones - ergo the "Most Sporting" award can often be paraphrased as "The person who got his ass kicked repeatedly, but with good grace" or even possibly "The person we felt most sorry for".
"If you put extra effort into building your army and making it look nice, you should get a benefit from it"
Yes, you get the satisfaction of having all your playing pieces looking nice. You can enter "Armies on Parade". You can have people come up to you and say "Hey, I really like your army". However since we don't give race car drivers points based on how much they waxed and polished, I don't see the need to give you points in gaming tournaments.
"If you don't like it, just run your own tournament or go to ones that don't soft score"
Bollocks. This isn't about me, personally, it's about changing the opinions of people too lazy to do anything except mindlessly continue with the tradition of allowing your ability to paint to interfere with your ability to write good lists, play well with few mistakes on the day, evaluate matchups, and ultimately win games. Why are we the ONLY hobby or sport that insists on factoring a judges personal bias regarding what makes an aesthetically pleasing army into the outcome of a competitive event?
Does soft scoring even affect who comes first?
Well, yes. If you have a W/L/D system like the one above, there are always going to be big leaps in points, for example:
Bob: Won 6 games. 120pts
Joanne: Won 5 games, drew 1. 110pts.
Rico: Won 5 games, lost 1. 101pts
So those are gaps of 10, 9 and 19 separating the top three players. There are 15pts available for painting, and 10pts available for having your name on your list, and submitting it on time, so 25pts in soft scores. If sportsmanship was also soft scored, that would be another 5-10pts.
Let's say Joanne and Rico both have the same painting scores, but Joanne forgot/didn't know to submit her list on time. Suddenly she's tied with Rico, and he may very well come out on top depending on how many VPs he garnered during the games - which can be easily affected by matchups (Kill Point games with Draigowing vs Mech IG, for example) rather than player skill.
In another example, you might be tied with someone else on tournament points in every single regard, but for some reason the judges decided to give him the "Extra Effort" point in painting. You would miss out on first place (and maybe second and third as well, depending on how closely tied the front runners are) simply because you forgot to highlight a biker, or you don't quite have a "cohesive scheme" in their opinion, or just because you're playing against last years Golden Demon winner.
With sportsmanship it's even worse depending on how people do it. I've seen people give marks out of ten (which are then added to your score), I've seen the "Voted most sporting" get anywhere from 1 point to 10 points.
Not only that, but if you move away from a W/L/D system (and just go by VPs, for example) then the gaps between players tend to narrow incredibly.
So why does all this annoy you so much?
Because you can have your empirical performance rendered useless by the subjective opinion of someone else.
It's like working your ass off to pass your A-Level Maths exam, but being told by the Invigilator "I think that girl over there is pretty, so I'm going to give her the answers to question 1 and 2" and as a direct consequence she gets an A* instead of an A. Just how cheated would you feel?
You spend two or three days under a great deal of stress, sweating over every decision you make on the table, and scrape win after win against increasingly more difficult opponents, before being told "Sorry old chap, we're giving the prizes to this guy instead because people said he was a little bit nicer than you"... Excuse me if I'm not at my most social while I'm trying to pan someone into the ground as hard as I can. Maybe if you wanted to judge my sportsmanship you could do so while I'm having a beer with my mates over a pool table?
So that's why I hope eventually, TOs will stop soft scores altogether, and instead say "If you want to come to our event, your army needs to be painted and based. If you act like a tool we'll kick you out or knock points off your score." Instead of allowing their personal opinions of your skill with a paintbrush or your ability to smile and make small talk with strangers to affect the result of an event that purports to reward winning games.
What do you guys think?