Monday, June 20, 2011

Sports Scoring At Tournaments

Soft scores always generate angst in relation to tournaments. My feeling is that people feel that they lack control over this area and that they are likely at some time to get shafted.

From what I gather most of the Northern Hemisphere tournaments prefer a yellow card/red card system where players are ejected for only the most heinous of crime. As most people, competitors or TOs, hate outright confrontation this sanction is about as prevalent as individual accountability by a Hurricanes player (NZ rugby reference) – i.e. not very.

The biggest complaint I hear about Sports Scoring from jurisdictions that don’t use it, is that it represents an avenue a sore loser can utilise to “punish” someone who beat them fair and square.

I don’t buy this line of reasoning. If that is what is happening then the system you are using requires modification.

At the outset I believe it is important to lay down some ground rules as to what you want a system to achieve. I start from the premise that a tournament is meant to be competitive HOWEVER it is also supposed to be enjoyable for all participants. This means that there is a requirement that you behave with more than the minimum of acceptable social graces.

There are various systems that you can employ and I’m going to run through the most common types you see.

1. Sports Marking

This system marks a person’s behaviour on a scale of 0-5. It is fair to say that this system is the one most open to abuse by the unscrupulous.

Common complaints are that it is little more than a popularity contest where ”fun” or “celebrity” opponents get free points relative to the rest of the field; where mates can “buddy boost”; where the “chipmunk” (smiles throughout then marks you down) comes out to play; and where the arseholes of the world can sabotage anyone they feel is a threat.

There was one Australian 40k player who gained the name “Twin Torpedo”. This person took every opportunity to mark down opponents, especially those that were a threat. Pretty sure this person’s Day 2 default position was the double zero (Sports/Comp). Thankfully such persons are generally few and far between.

However the opportunity for abuse demonstrates the system’s main weakness…subjectivity – my “5” may be different than your “5”. As such your final mark can be unduly affected by the personality of your opponent.

The other problem is the descriptions of the various levels are suitably fuzzy to justify any score if you have a mind to do it.

2. Checkbox

The first evolution of this was checkbox marking. Here the aim of the system is to punish bad behaviours, rather than reward good behaviours. This system grew out of a realisation that there should not be a requirement for you to entertain your opponent. Instead you should ensure that, apart from tactically ripping their face off, you don’t do anything that reduces their enjoyment of the game.

To this end there is a checkbox system with normally five characteristics e.g. dice etiquette, move measuring, demeanour, rules resolution, speed of play. Here if you only lose points if you fail to reach an acceptable threshold.

This system has a number of benefits over the 0-5 system. Firstly, it focuses the sports questions on behaviours rather than personality. Second, it provides a feedback system for players e.g. if you lose three sports points and they are all in the same category then you probably have a problem.

Done well this is probably my favourite system however I do think it has potential for somebody to punish an opponent if they have a mind to, thereby gaining a personal advantage.

Which leads us on to the second evolution…..

3. Limited Checkbox

This system builds on the previous system but clearly works on premise that your opponent’s behaviour was acceptable.

Generally you will find the system has three grades. The first which earns full points is acceptable behaviour with potential for a few niggles but nothing that compromised your enjoyment of the game. The second where you typically score 3/5 is used where any problems were more than minor and did compromise enjoyment of the game. The final grade is 0/5 and here the guy is a total a-hole and should not be at the event.

Both the second and third of these categories require interaction with the Umpire. Generally if you award either of these marks then the Umpire will talk to you and want some justification. Expect to have to provide specifics.

A good umpire will be walking the tables and should be aware that there is some tension building so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to him. However he may also want to speak to the other participant. The key thing here is that any points reduction needs to be considered and justified. An umpire must always accept your right to award a reduction but if you are constantly marking people down don’t be surprised if he suggests you are the problem!

I think the final system works very well for experienced tournament goers who have an understanding of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behaviour. The second system works well for mixed fields but again it is important that the Umpire question people when they give out penalties. As always the umpire should do this with some discretion.

So these are some of my thoughts on Sports systems. I think they work when they send a clear message of what is acceptable behaviour. In this they are IMO better than a single ultimate sanction system, especially the second system which can provide actual feedback.


  1. In Australia this year I have experienced both sliding scale and checkbox. I am a fan of the checkbox system, as it stops people from commiting crimes againt sport, but as you said, does not allow for sniping/buddy boosting and the turning of 'sports' scoring into a popularity contest.

    The tournament my club runs is Mechanicon, and we shamelessly stole the tickbox System from FoB 2009 which I experienced and thought was excellent for our tournament for the last few years, and it has achieved exactly what we wanted to see.

    It just seems that in Australia there are still tournaments that want to run 'whole hobby' events... where sports is marked on a sliding scale and directly is based on the enjoyment the other person provided to the game.. apparently thats what sports to some people is about and is part of the 'whole hobby'... not me though. I didnt get into the hobby to have to entertain and monkey someone elses enjoyment for 2 hours at risk of getting a lower sports score, but then, I am not a total ass, so I just accept and play under this sort of system, not to my liking, but it wont prevent me from attending an event completely. However I certainly wont run an event that way!!!

  2. The approach I don't get is when people see a tournament where everyone gets max sports scores, and go "what was the point in even having sports at that point? It might as well have not been there!"

    Like, really? You're asking what the point in having the category there was - when the results show that everyone behaved themselves and played above board? Surely the aim of the category is to act as encouragement to keep everyone honest, rather than to provide yet another differential.

  3. And that is a really common complaint. There is an expectation that sports will be a differentiator based not on accepted behaviours but on popularity.

    For me the ideal competition is where Sports and Painting Scores are maxed out by all participants as they have reached the acceptable threhold limit.

  4. I don't mind painting either being a "everyone whos army is painted is max" or having a bit of variation and a minor effect on placing... but I think in the interest of fairness its always extremely advisable to be up front in the players pack about which it will be.

  5. The problem with sports scoring is that the more nuanced it becomes the more easily it can be exploited. After all most opponents can be marked down for something if you try hard enough.

    Unfortunately there is no alternative to that except a binary "person cheated/did not cheat" option.

    I do know of tournaments where people missed out on a best sports prize or a placing because they were torpedoed by someone with a grudge against them or other people were buddy boosted or won what amounts to a popularity contest.

    Sports scores are a curious conundrum. I really wish they could be done away with but I don't think they can.

  6. I agree with most points, also about the negative feedback I hear about 'all perfect scores' at events that use a checkbox system. I too see that as mission acomplished.

    I have also seen the reaction from people when they are the only 1 or 2 people at the tournament to get a less than perfect score... they tend to get the picture pretty quickly that they were doing something wrong and correct it, and thats the whole idea behind the system imho!