The US IPMS Nationals went down this past weekend in Las Vegas, and a surely as the rumble of thunder follows the flash of lightning and hell follows the rider on the pale horse, internet drama has inevitably followed Nats.
Is anyone really surprised?
This time, the drama isn’t just over one or two things though. It’s fucktangular. Completely fucked from multiple disparate directions.
To my mind, most of it has shades of almost every other internet donnybrook. And franky, thinking about it makes me tired. Some people don’t want anything to change. Other people say they want things to change, but they really don’t. And others want things to change but are dismissed as complainers. Sure, contest drama has its own little flavor. Stuff about nobody volunteering or “if you weren’t there you don’t know”.
But it’s all the same shit.
I don’t want to wade into or relitigate any of that stuff here. Because I’m lazy.
Instead I want to talk about two things that I think either turn off would-be attendees, or that leave massive cards just sitting on the table. Judging and pictures.
I’ve written about judging before. And a lot of what’s coming up in the sludgy tsunami of post-Nats internet clownfighting is the exact same shit.
“If you don’t like it, why don’t you judge?” Because I have judged. And I didn’t like it. I didn’t like having to box into the eliminatory, cull-the-herd approach. It felt like collaborating.
Here’s the thing. I’m not opposed to the IPMS system in general. Trying to break down creative output into quantifiable elements that can be compared against one another? Okay. That’s cool. That’s one way to go.
My problem is the fervor for eliminating models, and doing it through one order of attack, starting with construction.
If you’re not familiar, the way judging typically goes in, say, an aircraft category, is you first look at construction. Any alignment issues with stabilizers or wheels or whatnot? Eliminated. Any ghost seams? Eliminated.
And since IPMS loves to do category splits, you end up judging something like a dozen aircraft per category, and if you eliminate 7-8 on construction technicalities, you’re left with only a handful in contention for hardware. And it’s likely that among that group you will find at least some finishing flaws that – in my opinion – are equal or greater sins to a small misalignment or a missed mold seam.
Depending on the day and the show, it can then become a matter of choosing the least bad.
Nevermind that there’s a stunning Frogfoot or YF-23 or whatever over there that got knocked out because one tire was toed out by a degree or two.
This method is stupid.
Theoretically, within this whole eliminatory approach, you could build a model perfectly, make sure everything is exactly, properly aligned, all the seams perfectly filled, then NOT FUCKING PAINT IT, and still have a chance at winning your category. Provided the other entrants had minor construction flaws.
Here’s why it is stupid.
- It is not a fair assessment of the entire build
- It provides little of value for the competing modelers to learn from. How useful is it to learn that your model didn’t place because a stabilizer was a hair off?
- True or not, it sets up an impression that IPMS judges don’t care about paint and finish.
- It rewards playing it safe and disincentivizes risk-taking and boldness. You wonder why US modeling shows are so much more bland than those we glimpse in other parts of the world? I think this is a big part of why.
Let me be clear.
Because I’m sure someone will try to misrepresent this, either through bad faith or bad reading comprehension:
I am not saying construction flaws should get a pass.
I am simply saying they should not be given pride of place.
The whole model should be evaluated and scored as such.
Using construction fuckups to eliminate builds out of the gate skews the results. If you started eliminating through paint and finishing fails, the winners would look different.
How can this be fixed? Simple. DON’T USE A SINGLE CRITERIA TO ELIMINATE CONTESTANTS.
Or at a minimum, maybe develop a tiering system, so like red-level fuckups in either construction or painting get you booted, but yellow keeps you in play.
Alright. Time for the second part of this complain-a-thon.
Let’s talk photos.
For anybody not attending Nats (the overwhelming majority of modelers), photos and some videos are the only real window into the event. And because marketing, awareness, and engagement efforts out of IPMS seem largely to not exist, said photos are the ambassador to the contest for casual modelers and even the modeling curious.
And if those outside the event looking in want to check out the winners and see the awesome caliber of modeling on display? They’re greeted with this.
I keep hearing IPMS wants to shake the perception that it’s out-of-touch.
This? Is not how you do that.
This looks, to borrow Julian Hosmer’s phrase, “old-timey”. The user experience is bad. Really bad. And from what I understand borderline unusable on mobile. But who looks at things on their phone in 2021?
The category cards? I don’t really care about feelings on these – they’re awful. Outlines, gradients, different colors, weird weights? I now have something to send to graphic designer friends who I want to fuck with.
The pictures are…not great either. I get it. Shooting models at shows is the suck. The lighting is bad, the background is cluttered. Time may be an issue.
But that’s no excuse for dark, underexposed pics or not filling the frame. The images are workmanlike at best, and honestly fall way short of what I saw attendees posting over the weekend.
Go have a look for yourself if you like.
Why this is not good
Again, the vast majority of modelers do not attend Nats for a variety of reasons. And again, these photos are thus, for them, the representation of it.
As a quick aside, there’s a lot of snark and shittiness about this. A lot of “if you want to see the models got to Nats” and similar unhelpfulness. Traveling to some random place that’s probably at least several hours away for a long weekend isn’t an easy swing for most people. For some, it’s too big of a lift physically. For others, it’s not financially feasible. Others have family and work considerations.
I would imagine the organizers, IPMS, and fans of Nats in general would want the show to look awesome and to be represented in as compelling a manner as possible. To get more people excited about next year. To draw more people down off the fence. To raise the thing’s cachet among the big global model events. You know – the kind of stuff that brings in more attendees, more sponsors, more coverage, and creates more possibilities.
Ways to improve things
I’ve worked in marketing for over 20 years now. I know content marketing and event marketing. I’ve been to trade shows and industry conferences. And there is so much possibility that’s just being left on the table.
Like…why aren’t seminars livestreamed? Or even archived so the people on the ground who can’t make the seminars for whatever reason can check them out later? CES was doing this 15 years ago. These days it’s stupid easy.
But we’re talking about photos.
So, from someone with direct experience promoting events as they’re happening, here are some ideas:
Build as much of the winners’ gallery as possible in advance. First, set up a gallery that was last updated in this millennium. Go with a full provider solution like SmugMug or one of many self-hosted options like Chevereto. Configure the folder and album hierarchies by genre (aircraft, armor etc) and then individual categories. Add a few extras where you know there will be splits. Snag someone with graphic design chops and great a template for the category cards. Make sure it all works and sort out your upload process.
Take pictures early. Judging happens on Friday night and apparently it lasts for hours. Take pics as it’s going on. Yes, this will involve taking pictures of more than just the winners – a lot more. But there won’t be the rush to take pics AND upload everything all at the same time on Saturday. I’ve always found it helpful to snap a picture of the category placard before taking pictures of the builds, so when you ingest them, you can easily batch tag photos to their relevant categories, which will make going through them to pull the winners a lot easier.
Take better pictures. As for volunteers early. Bring decent cameras. Assign photographers to genres or specific categories. Coordinate settings (and dial them in during the day on Friday so there’s less faffing about when it’s go tie). Collect SD cards and ingest.
Take better pictures, part 2. Get more compelling angles. Most of the “official” photos are taken from human height. Get lower and closer. Give the models some soul.
Now, if you want to really do something special, here’s a wild idea.
Rethink the entire registration process. Move it online. Encourage people to upload photos of their entries as part of the online registration. Then source those for the awards photos and just skip the whole trying to catalog everything step. This would also provide a great bank of photos that could be used in the run-up to Nats to tease the event and what’s coming on social media. Put QR codes on the table sheets that attendees and even judges can use to look up said pictures.
None of these things are a herculean lift. Hell, the out-there wild idea would actually take a lot of work off of the event staff. But they would require changing the way some things work.
There’s a lot of talk out there about growing the hobby and attracting younger audiences and pulling in people who don’t normally go to shows. And then it inevitably seems to slide back to “let’s be more accepting of gundams”.
But you dare to suggest that the online experience could be – and should be – worlds better, and there’s this wall of instant defensiveness. “You’re not there so you can’t say anything”. Because I’m not there, because I’m following from the outside, I can see how clunky and antiquated that side of this looks. And so can those younger modelers you so want to attract. Because they’re rolling their eyes and moving on to something more interesting.
The pushback feels like it’s coming from people just not even seeing a problem with state of things in the first place. And because of that, getting super defensive about it.
Personally, institutional inertia isn’t the hill I’d choose to die on.