The Nova Open and the Future of Large AoS Events

By Aaron Newbom

The Nova Open is a longstanding and large scale Warhammer convention with some of the biggest tournaments in the world. Held in Washington DC, it attracts players of all types for painting, competition, reveals, invitationals, and more.

I decided to fly out to the East coast and give it my all. In the end I dropped at 4-2 due to a back injury but had an absolute blast, playing against many of the best players in the world and meeting a ton of great people.

The event featured an experimental 8 round structure, consisting of the classic 5 rounds followed by all players who chose to continue being split into 8 man pods for a final 3 rounds. Any new structure will of course have its growing pains and be met with mixed reviews, but I personally felt it was a definite improvement over the classic structure of 5 rounds and cut to top 8 as it allowed anyone who chose to, to continue playing a full 8 games, but let those who wished to drop do so with minimal disruption.

Another key note is that the nova invitational, a 4 round Rtt on Thursday, gave all of its players a 19-1 bye round 1 to help compensate for the exhaustion of having to play for 4 straight days.

I took it up on myself to reach out to the head judge, T.O., and some top Players to get their viewpoints and opinions on how the whole event went, and am also going to voice my own thoughts at the end.

I reached out to Gareth Thomas, a high profile T.O. and head judge at Nova, James O’Brien (Head TO) and Gavin Grigar one of the best players in the world.

Nova was an experimental structure that could be used in the future for other large scale AOS events. As one of the TO’s/judges you experienced it all at a high level. What would you say really worked about the event?

Gareth Thomas (Head Judge): By experimental structure, I’ll assume we’re talking about pods. The 8 round pod system is a format new to AoS, but has been used in some 40k events for a while. I can see some obvious advantages.

The first is that, after 8 rounds, you are left with a single undefeated player. There is no need for seconaries to determine who was the “best” player at the event. One undisputed champion.

Secondly, everyone who wants to can play 8 games of warhammer. Traditionally, large AoS events have use a top-cut system where only the top players play after the 5th round. Which means that the vast majority of players are left with a day without a game. Now for some players, that might be a good thing – they may only want to play 5 games and spend the extra day seeing the rest of the convention or the surrounding city. The pod system allows players to decide, after 5 games, if they wish to continue to play or not.

James O’Brien (Head TO): Overall structure worked very well. I wanted to achieve two things; firstly, feedback I have been given on a ‘top 8’ cut is that it is not inclusive or particularly enticing to new players as they see ‘the best’ players getting 8 games for their entry fee, whereas everyone else only gets 5. I also wanted to give players flexibility to play as many or as few games as they wanted, so that they felt they could have the event be tailored to what they wanted. Nova is a great convention with a lot of other events players want to be part of, and DC has a lot for people to go visit too- I wanted something that gave them the opportunity to do that. The format worked for both of these things – the top and bottom brackets had all players complete all 8 rounds, suggesting that the new folks did get what they were looking for, as well as the elite folks doing their thing. I was also happy that some people chose to do other things on Sunday; for example we had three players drop after 5 rounds to play in the Underworlds GT.

Gavin Grigar (Player): I really liked the pods as an idea for Sunday, as it allows people to opt in or out at their leisure. Player choice always feels nice.”

What were some of the areas that you felt fell short of what they could be, and how might you change them?

Gareth Thomas: I think the pod system is great for large events, but is often beholden to the restrictions of the larger convention/event. I think a “better” structure for 8 games would be a 3-2-3 format. Play a traditional 3 games on day one, a traditional 2 games on day 2, and then come back on day 3 for what essentially becomes a traditional 3 round RTT, but only against players of the same skill (or who had a similar win record to you). If you don’t want to play that additional RTT, then you still get the traditional 5 round GT system.

An issue with the 3-3-2 format that was used at Nova is that there are two obvious places for players to drop – after the 5th round when pods start, and then again at the end of that second day. So you have two rounds of players dropping, which can upset the pod system.

The massive, obvious, downside to this is that players are forced into 3 games on day 3, which is often the day that players will be travelling home and so wish to leave early, and the day that the TOs need to pack up etc… So perhaps sticking to only 2 games on the final day is better. All depends on the event calendar.

James O’Brien: Setting defined pods of 8 was a bit too structured and led to byes when people chose to drop in rounds 6-8. BCP developers suggested that in future we do ‘soft pods’ outside the top 8, with all the players in a given record being put in one group (eg all the 3-2 go into one pod). This then means that you would only ever get a max of one bye per group (and 4 total). Players can still be incentivized to win their pod by giving a prize to everyone in each pod who goes 3-0 in the last 3 rounds.

Gavin Grigar: Not having player placed terrain was a let down, I think it adds quite a bit of skill expression to GTs and it also cleans up the placement of terrain in between rounds. I would’ve also have liked to see at least one more 6 objective mission in the first 5 games, the mission choices early felt inundated with condensed boards.

The Invitational players getting a round 1 bye was met with a lot of mixed opinions. What are your thoughts on it?

Gareth Thomas: I can see why the invitational players were given a first round bye. They had played, potentially, 4 rounds of warhammer the day before an 8 round GT. Of course they need a bit of a lie in. I do think the scoring for that bye was a bit unfortunate. Any player who took the bye received a 19 point victory. Of the 16 players in the invitational, only Tom Guan decided to not take the bye. He played the first round of the GT instead, and won with a 13 point victory. Therefore the players who did not play recieved a 6 point leg up on him.

Tom failed to make the final 8 cut at the end of 5 rounds by 2 points.

So, I think, in short, a lower points tally for the byes would be better. If you really want a big first round score, you have to play for it.

James O’Brien: I am fan of doing it, but will re-evaluate exactly how it works in future. We gave them a ‘max win’ for round 1, which was 19-1 in this case. That was probably too many points, evidenced by the invitational players (3 of them IIRC) who chose to play R1 being disadvantaged by doing so. I’d probably do 15-5 next time, and maybe only offer a bye to the 8 x players who won R1 in the invite

Gavin Grigar: I think giving a bye and a 19-1 differential to all 16 players of the invitational was a little much, if they had scaled the differential to their placing in the invitational I believed it would’ve worked better as it would’ve incentivized the players that got knocked out early to play in the first round of the GT.

Across a long event, differential scoring can cause dramatic scoring differences between players in the same win bracket. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on perspective. How do you feel about this as opposed to something like the West Coast pack or battle points?

Gareth Thomas: That’s a can of worms, and probably worthy of much deeper discussion than we can have here. But in short…

There are three main tournament scoring systems that are used in Sigmar, at least in the US. Battle points (i.e. just add up all the points you score in the games). Differential (a sliding scale point system based on how many points you win (or lose) by). And then there’s OTTD (or West Coast) scoring, which is a scoring system that doesn’t care what the points in the game were, you just receive points for winning, for scoring battle tactics, for scoring grand strategies, and then denying your opponent from scoring BTs and GS.

The issue with Battle Points is well known. Not every mission scores the same as others – so winning one round is not the same value as winning another (although this is less of a factor with the current GHB – the missions are much more consistently scored). Also since all that matters is your own score and not that of your opponent, there is no difference between winning 32-0 or winning 32-31. You often see players say “well we both agree I win, let’s just say that I get max points, and you get max points minus 1”.

Differential alleviates that issue somewhat by scoring based on how much you beat your opponent by – there is incentive to prevent your opponent from scoring. An issue with this is that if you are drawn against an opponent who, for whatever reason, totally counters you and blows you out, you are effectively out of the running (even for the 4-1 bracket).

I’m obviously quite biased, but I think OTTD scoring is a nice compromise. Since the in-game score doesn’t matter at all, there is no punishment for getting smashed, but equally because you receive points for denying your opponent’s tactics, there is incentive to not give them free tactics/strategy.

James O’Brien: From my perspective it does not create dramatic differences. The BP differential is applied after your W/L record so is only a tie breaker within the same record. It serves the same function as any other form of tie break; GW events use W/L, GS, BT, VPs for example. Players expecting to do well should come into an event having read the pack properly, understanding how the specifics of that event work, tailored their list to the event and practiced with the missions and terrain details provided.

I think this system has several advantages over the West Coast scoring system. The West Coast systems places too much weight on certain aspects of scoring whilst undervaluing others. With no specific reward for scoring more primary points than your opponent, it overlooks the standing on circles part of the game. It therefore leans too heavily on battle tactics and grand strategy, both scoring yours and denying your opponent’s. This is problematic; dedicated points for denying specific things (BT, GS) leads to poor player behaviour/NPE/feel bads around these things by creating a point of conflict. Secondly it further reinforces the meta into armies with easy BT and GS (looking at you, SBGL and OBR…).

Both scoring mechanisms (BP diff and West Coast) are designed as anti-collusion measures to stop people giving out points to their opponent ‘I’ll concede if you give me…’, which steps them up from the basic VP or BT/GS scoring systems. BP diff just better captures all aspects of game scoring, rather than zeroing in on only some of it.

I’d also add that my system is designed to make it really hard to get 20-0. One player basically has to walk away in battle round 1 for it to happen; that’s deliberate. It doesn’t feel great to score zero for something you have put time and effort into. In this system, 20-0 are sufficiently scarce that we can audit each one – very often ending up having coaching conversations with one or both players.

Gavin Grigar: The differential scoring was an effective way to create separation in win brackets, which is one of the really challenging things of a huge tournament like NOVA. I think it did a fine job, but it does marginalize some of the armies designed to win small and it did push a lot of the invitational participants directly into the first 2 pods which feels like an oversight.

Overall it was a great event and I plan on attending again next year. Big thanks to everyone who made it possible!

In conclusion I think the biggest takeaway from the whole event is that our community, events, and competitive circuits just keep getting better and better. With people like James and Gareth, plus many others across the world, forging forward and trying out bold new ideas, we all end up better for it. Nova was one of the best events I’ve yet to attend and I’m excited to return next year and see what they have in store for us.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences at/about nova, as well as any other events you found to be interesting or exciting!

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