The Fyre Festival of Warhammer 40k?

by | Aug 5, 2019

Get ready to drink all the Monster and Rockstar because Esports is coming for tabletop gaming with Warhammer 40k being the first target! A group called ProTableTop has emerged with the backing from a mostly regional Esports company called SkillShot Media. As is, the goal of ProTableTop is to bring Esports style events/tournaments to Warhammer, with a focus of monetizing Warhammer 40k through professional streaming. ProTableTop has dipped its toes by streaming ATC 2019 a few weeks ago.  The result was a high quality, disjointed stream unsuccessfully trying to emulate an Esports experience, but wasn’t bad for a first go.

Fresh off the ATC, ProTableTop sent a survey out to see how many people would be interested in a tournament with money  payouts totaling $10,000. The results of the survey were probably inconsequential, as ProTableTop seemed dead set on going ahead with this dangerous proposition. The result will be the first Atlanta Open with a goal of having 144 players. In the past I have railed against the Nova Open and ITC for offering cash prizes for a game that shouldn’t have a money motivation. It is one thing for a more controlled environment like video games or professional sports which place much of the monetary incentives on yearly individual performance, not if you win the World Series or Superbowl.

So ProTableTop is taking the highly variable and byzantine rules of Warhammer 40k, and involving $10,000 thinking it will be a good idea. This is about as futile as backing a Juggalo face painting competition with meth as the swag. We have seen bad actors cheat without any incentive what so ever, but with $5,000 on the line for 1st place you can expect awful outcomes. On top of the toxic prize support is the price tag to even attend the event, at $200. You do get some generic branded swag, the equivalent you would find at your next Amway convention minus the Garfield mug. This doesn’t include, cheese and bread sandwiches or lodging, instead you are dropped into the middle of the videogame share space of Axis Replay. Still, the Atlanta Open is nicely situated near the heart of Atlanta making it quite accessible.

To help get a boost on credibility the top 8 ITC players and 16 unknown “influencers” will get free tickets to the Atlanta Open, but who will actually show up to an event is anyone’s guess. This is smart for marketing purposes, but it also does reek of favoritism, that can lead to nepotism, which can lead to colluding, which can lead to the Dark Side. In truth, 144 players shouldn’t be that high of hurtle, but being a first time event back by an untested group of organizers is fraught with danger. For instance, the Atlanta Open is just one month after the amazing Warzone: Atlanta tournament and a few weeks before Christmas, that looks like bad planning.

To get the best idea on exactly what you can expect from the Atlanta Open pop some Zoloft and watch the six part video series about the tournament on the ProTableTop channel. There’s is a lot to cover in these videos. Once you get past the shocking knowledge that man buns still exist in 2019, the self flagellation can begin. 

I don’t know the level of experience ProTableTop has in organizing Warhammer 40k tournaments, but from watching the videos it seems like I am entrusting R. Kelly with my daughter’s sweet 16 birthday party. The videos are on one hand a ketamine laced shot of Jäger and on the other is a bloviating back and forth deciding who is the best Brostep DJ. The smoke blown up everyone’s asses is borderline cringey and a Me Too moment waiting to happen if vagina ever got within 1 mile radius of the studio. As for the actual substance of the event it is clear, the intention is to build credibility and growth by dangling large cash prizes, but like all attempts at disruptive techbro dorm projects the end goal is to create a palatable stream environment, so your weeb cousin crying into his waifu pillow will tune in and subscribe. 

The actually cost is the nothing less than the sterilization of the Warhammer 40k competitive community, and don’t think for a second this is not also about both replacing the ITC and BCP down the line. While they will reluctantly, use the ITC missions for the Open, the plan is to eventually take Warhammer missions into a FPS mirror universe, where nightmares of editions past return for the sake of being more incel friendly.

In the meantime, while we are still only at One Child Policy level of stupidity, lets look at the other goodies coming for you at the Atlanta Open. 

To me personally the most horrific is the terrain, if you follow the link you will find a beautiful set of terrain, oh who the hell am I kidding, this is terrain for people who straighten slinkies. All I want to do is laser cut it into pieces and give it back to the London GT. This idea that uniformity is the key to competitive purity has always been asinine, even in the video they make reference to video games with balanced maps being the goal. I know the best video game maps don’t come from uniformity, but from play-testing and immersive elements, that provide equal advantage and disadvantage to those who know how to use them. It might sound like from the videos that the goal is the most balanced and competitive game environment, but the truth is everything about the terrain and mat is about having the best lens flares backgrounds for the pregame cinematics.

Speaking of the battle mat, I didn’t know Ikea housewares was a sponsor. Taking the video game analogies all the way, why doesn’t League of Legends or Dota just strip away the map skins, and have everything look like a game of connect the dots? Last time I checked style and design were a critical part of the success of the video games no matter how competitive it ends up being, take Sakura Clicker for instance, what would a Cam Girls barely wear, if it was made equivalently devoid of cat ears?

It is just all lazy, but importantly the goal for ProTableTop is making things look “good” for the camera, with the funny juxtaposition of forcing players to have 3 color minimum. Why even bother, why not tell players to only have specific colors for their army, so underdeveloped streamer eyes can stay focused.

Next is the judging, which is actually something I have always wanted, but only if applied correctly: active judges. The plan is to have active judges patrolling a row of tables, but unless you a judge stationed at every table you will barely catch anything. Instead, he will be an armchair general of the highest order.

Worse, who is going screen judges, so they don’t have personal vendettas or bias for certain players? What about a judge’s competence, with such large sums of money nerd rage is always one bad judging call away. I do like the Discord judge ticket system, but the idea that everything is going to be seamless is farfetched. Who is also going to protect players from being bullied by there opponent, who is going to decide when it is appropriate for a judge to come in and how does it all work the time clocks? Things just seemed as well planned out as French WWII strategy. I get it, from the videos they make it clear that all these things are supposed to speed up the game and avoid awkward cheatable situations. This still makes things exploitable, just now in new and creative ways.

Finally, we have the Coup de grâce of hubris, a bundle of the morning after pill called Format. Thankfully, the original plan of using ITC rankings to determine who goes first has been ditched, but now a convoluted morass takes it place. As an update, ProTableTop plans to now have a day of bracket play where no matter how shittastic you did on day one, you can magically still win the event. Expect, day 1 round 3 to be a cavalcade of players trying to figure out the best ways to avoid a bad matchups and top players to find the right field of seal pups for the bracket rounds to cull on day 2.

What about colluding you say, I just wonder how I could convince other players to split such big pot with me?

ProTableTop is also determined to make seeding play an important role in the event with lower seeds almost certainly being able pick the exact deployment they want. Now unless my opponent knows exactly what I want; I can build a list designed specifically for 2 deployment types, and since everything is so predictably uniform, I can easily figure out the best combinations. ProTableTop also had a hard 5 minute deployment time for each player, that meant most horde armies will be in for a world of hurt. Well, ProTableTop saw the light and boosted this to 10 minutes, but it is still not clear on exactly how enforceable this is going to be.

It comes back to what I know is a tired trope, but Warhammer 40k isn’t Chess and will never be. I have seen this story before too, Nova Open was suppose to be the competitive end all be all, even flying out toxic 40k celebrities at the time, and for those who can remember things like Torrent of Fire was suppose to monetize competitive play as well. In the end one failed and the other has mostly seen the light by focusing on community building than hardcore competitive play. What ProTableTop is doing isn’t new, Warhammer 40k just isn’t built for it, just as MTG is realizing the same with a focus more and more on digital play.

Creating an event that strips out large portions of what makes Warhammer, Warhammer, is shortsighted especially when holy grail goal of futility is to bring the average Twitch viewer to watch a game Warhammer 40k. Throwing large sums of money for your first event is only going to attract a certain level of villainy that won’t end up looking good for anyone in our community. Honestly, though is ProTableTop goal really about building the competitive community, is it more about making a buck on a house of poorly cut MDF.

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