Complaining About Nats

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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.

Judging

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.

Photos

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.

In closing

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.

24 Comments Add yours

  1. Joe Stricklin says:

    I went last year to the on in Chattanooga. Wound up costing me a membership and a fee to get in. Why? This doesn’t attract kids or families that want to see what is going on. Why do I have to join IPMS to even go to the vendor section. Insane.
    I went to one year’s ago in Marietta GA with my dad and I swear we paid nothing and it was packed. Chattanooga, not so nuch.

    1. Donald Schmitz says:

      You do not have to join IPMS or register to shop the vendors – pay $10 at the door for a day pass an in you go.

      1. Corey R says:

        Donald is correct, unless someone wants to enter a model in the contest, you only have to buy a day pass to enjoy viewing the contest room or to enter the vendor room.

  2. Mark Bugeja says:

    My comment relates to the judging topic. I ‘m not familiar with the IPMS judging system and I may be looking at this overly simplistically, but wouldn’t it be fairer to just split a given build into execution of various disciplines, apply a score to each discipline executed, add the scores up, then the model with the best score wins? Maybe I’m missing something? I’ve never entered a kit into a comp. Anyway, just my 2c worth. Cheers!

    1. Doogs says:

      That’s how it would make sense to me, but that’s not how I’ve seen it applied. Although I suspect the alignment stuff may also be a bit special to aircraft.

  3. Tim Wilding says:

    Some idiot used the American Flag as a table cloth under his ship models. That is very disrespectful to the flag and is against the flag code. I am surprised a veteran did not set him straight.

  4. breni says:

    IPMS San Diego have some better photos on their page, at least they got the lighting exposure right https://www.facebook.com/groups/416990891673587/

  5. Eugene DuBey says:

    The Photos are really awful. The judging criteria is really awful. I guess folks are too lazy to judge paint decals, details etc etc. And afraid of being told they’re color blind etc.etc. I’ll never go there, or enter any IPMS contest based on this report.

    1. Corey R says:

      Decals and paint quality ARE judged, however, like Doogs mentioned, the emphasis is on basic model construction.

      I think you are really missing out if you decide not to ever attend a Nats for the above stated reasons. I’ve been to at least 7 or 8 and always have a great time. Also, I’ve never placed in the contest despite entering every time. Still love it though.

    2. Doogs says:

      I certainly wouldn’t advise NOT going. It’s fun to geek out with other model nerds, to “socialize” your models, and treat the contest portion more like a party game. Outcomes are so inconsistent that it’s hard to take them seriously after a while.

  6. Brett Traynor says:

    I was pretty keen to have a look at the results after all the hype on the podcasts . Plus for about 12 hours I thought I was going to get the chance to go (a rare opportunity for an Aussie these days) until I found out I was going to Alaska this August for work rather than Nevada. But that presentation was so awful I gave up before I even got to the sci fi section. It is the worst experience I have had on mobile in years. It made me want to chew on my own iPad. The fact that the images are not categorized and are in on lump is the worst ( but by far not the only) crime. So for me Nats may as well not have happened.

  7. Bruce says:

    The nats were awesome, and the judging is not nearly as bad as some people pretend it is. Yes there is an overemphasis on build vs finish, but that is on a judge by judge bases. Most judges really do look at the whole package. But if you have two excellent models but one has slightly crooked gear then the other one will beat it – even though both are excellent models. But when you tell someone that he lost because his gear was crooked he is going to whine about the judging being only interested in build, when that wasn’t the case at all. Sometimes I lose to models I think I should beat, and sometimes I am surprised that I beat other outstanding models on the tables. But the judges work really hard for many hours judging the entries.

    Yes the pictures could be way better, but they aren’t any better for Telford – which as far as I know doesn’t post pictures or winners at all. So much for the “Big European” shows Your best bet is to find the pictures some attendee took. Lots of people will post them in the coming weeks.

    Joe, you don’t have to buy an IPMS membership to go to the vendors – just to enter models

    Doug – Your a marketer? I would have never guessed

  8. Don Schmitz says:

    There are multiple approaches to IPMS judging; what you’ve described is one of the stranger ones but admittedly its somewhat widely used, especially in aircraft. As near as I can tell it comes from someone taking the old Competition Handbook way too literally (construction issues were listed before finishing issues, so “basics first” == “construction first”). Mostly it still works – because if you do a good job on construction you probably do a good job on finishes too.

    IPMS is not rich, the floor space at a nice hotel is expensive and modelers are cheap as shit; there is real pressure to keep registration around the $50 mark. Practically all the work is volunteer. Not many clubs have the enough IT people and software-engineers to put up a nice website, or take professional pictures, or whatever. Telling people that are working for free that they are doing a bad job will not make you any friends.

    But hanging out with other modelers, talking over beers and food that is bad for you, and spending too much in the vendor room. is a blast The social side is what keeps people going back year after year.

  9. rjray says:

    Hi. I’m an IPMS Nationals judge in armor, a former AMPS national-level judge (haven’t been able to keep up with their conventions, so I’ve lapsed there), and one of the photographers for the awards-photography team.
    First I’d like to address the photography. We don’t wait to shoot until Saturday, we do in fact shoot Friday night as the category sheets come in. We cannot shoot a category without knowing the winners. Some categories have over 20 entries even after splits. And the ability for the person preparing the slideshow to actually complete the slideshow in time for the awards presentation hinges on things like having the three winners shot in the order of presentation. If, for hundreds of categories, the guy had to wade through 20+ images there is little chance of being done in time. And if you DO shoot all 10-20 of the entries in a very narrowly-defined split, how do you know which ones are the winners? Are you sure you can correctly pick out the winners from a field of all Me 109s, based just on the name the entrants listed?
    You make some good points about the outdated gallery software, and I can tell you that such opinions are being taken to heart. Other packages/hosting providers are being evaluated. But here’s a news flash: the gallery you loathe so much? It isn’t the official IPMS gallery of winners. It’s part of the website of our local club, and we post the winners as a courtesy to others. IPMS/USA does not reimburse us for the cost of hosting so many pictures, no one does. Wanna know why the gallery software is so old? Because the website is a side-project for those of us who work on it, and we all have jobs, wives, etc. BEFORE we try to set aside time to actually work on models. But don’t worry, we’re looking into that. We’ll have something new in a month or two that you can create fresh new complaints about. As for the photos themselves, we have good equipment but we have to work with the lighting and other factors in the room. Someone on Facebook suggested that winners could be carried to one of a series of stationary photo booths with better lighting. Setting aside the danger of judge-inflicted damage that would carry, doing that would take the time for shooting one category from 4-5 minutes to 15-20. Multiply that by 250-275 categories. How many volunteers do you think we have, to work on the photography?
    Now, to the judging. I often speak up when people long for the Chicago- or AMPS-style judging systems to be applied to IPMS. What ideas some other commenters have suggested (numerical scoring, for example) are basically the crux of those systems. But here’s the thing: to do that, *every* team judging in a given class (aircraft, armor, ships, etc.) has to be trained to judge those numerical values identically. That takes time. Applying the system itself takes time. At an AMPS national show, they’ll have rotating teams of judges, 4 teams at a time, 4 people per team. And it takes over two days to fully and fairly judge 600-800 models. This particular IPMS show had over 2600 entries across the categories (with over 3100 models when you count the individual elements of collections, etc.). The numbers just don’t add up; even with a small army of aircraft judges, it already takes them close to 3 hours (sometimes more) to get through all the categories, verify their results, and select the Best Aircraft winner. There’s a reason we’re there so late. Because we DO, in fact, consider all aspects of the models we are judging. Yes, as an armor judge I start the consideration in a category of tracked vehicles by looking at track alignment. But if I find that such elimination leaves me with too few contenders, or that paint/finish issues in something with perfect tracks are too egregious, I (and whatever team I’m on) go back and re-examine the others. I can’t speak to your experiences as a judge, but I’ve been an IPMS Nationals judge for over 15 years and what *I* have seen is a rigorous effort to consider all the models in the categories each time. When a team finishes an armor category, we have assistant head judges who come and check our work. In fact, in Vegas one of my team’s set of 1-2-3 got rearranged because the person checking us out found something we had missed. We take this seriously, believe it or not.
    Now, you may be poised to reply about how this is just another case of someone saying, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. That’s not the case. We as judges, the Nationals Content Committee, all the people involved are always looking for ways to improve things. When I trained as an armor judge, the head judge didn’t have any assistants and it took us a lot longer to verify the categories. We fixed that. The airplane judging team has streamlined a lot of their processes over the years as well. Categories get added, sometimes removed, based on trends in the hobby. People seem to assume that because THEIR suggestions are not taken and immediately implemented, that the “old guard” is against change. But you never seem to consider that maybe we’ve already looked at some of those and figured out that they will make things slower, create more barriers to entry, things like that.
    Randy

  10. Kevin Kelly says:

    Totally agree with your spin on judging. Having judged a few times at both 1,2,3 shows, and GSB shows, I much prefer GSB for many reasons. Mostly because it really doesn’t take much time, and your only judging “that” model. I have my general idea in under 5 min. Usually closer to 2/3. The only time I’ve seen it take a long time is when someone who’s used to judging 1,2,3 can’t stop comparing the model they are judging to others on the table. Once they stop saying “this one was silver and it’s better than that one, how can it get a silver too? “ and just judge the model against a standard it really moves.

    Better yet. How about just judging a show as a total people’s choice show. It should be that hard for someone smarter than me (that’s a lot of people btw) to make an phone app that would allow everyone to vote with their phones. You could make it complicated, but how about everyone gets one vote for each general category and let the damn app tabulate the results. One vote each for favorite airplane, tank, car, ship , figure, diorama. Even with sub categories by scale the app could sort them and tabulate them and the darn thing would spit the results out as soon as you close voting. Since we insist on 1,2,3 placing it would sort the categories by number of votes and voila.

    Just my. .02. Nice column, especially having a photographer take the pics during judging without interference.

    1. rjray says:

      Kevin,
      It’s always good to hear from other people who’ve worked with both judging systems. Like I said, it’s been a long time since I judged at an AMPS national show, so much of what was procedure then may have been streamlined or outright changed since. We used 4-person judging teams for 2-hour shifts. Each team had only about 4 (5?) minutes to fully evaluate the model, including writing down their scores and comments on the judge’s card. And another 1-2 minutes for the “runners” to pick up the judged model and give you a new one to judge. Teams were expected to judge 8-10 models per hour. If I recall correctly, there were usually 4-6 teams in each two-hour shift. I’m too lazy to do the math in detail right now, but using optimistic numbers (6 teams, 10 models/hour each) gives us around 60 models judged per hour. Judging is spread over just more than two days, and a model is not out on the table for the public to see until it has been judged.
      (If someone who is a current AMPS national-level judge is reading this and can either corroborate or correct me, please do!)
      But AMPS generally gets less than 1000 models. The IPMS Nats regularly break 2400, and this show had over 2600 entries (I’m not counting collections or triathlons as separate entries, here). To switch to a GSB format would require retraining of all the current judges, and a significant influx of new judges. Not to mention the reaction of the convention attendees if models were only showing up on the display tables in a trickle.
      I also think that a massive-scale “people’s choice” voting system might sound good as an idea, but in practice you would have entire categories that don’t get any votes because people either never look at them, or don’t really care enough to vote. And there are factors like placement on the table: a model farther from the edge cannot be seen as well by the viewing public and may not get a fair shake. Judges are allowed to move the models around while judging; the public isn’t.

  11. Bruce says:

    Randy – Good post. I had written a long one like that and didn’t post it.

    I appreciate you guys taking pictures of the winners and posting them.

    The truth is, I didn’t hear anyone complaining about the judging this year. I think most were just happy that the event happened.

    I judged 2 categories with 20+ aircraft in each, and it took us over two hours. It takes a long time to measure all those crooked landing gear.

  12. Brian Tomasin says:

    Having attended 2021 IPMS Nationals in Las Vegas and participated in five aircraft categories, will keep my commentary to those areas. I was fortunate to win a Second place with one of my entries. Of my entries, my most basic won recognition in Category 120 Med Prop, Out of the Box. The convention competition tended to award bland uninspiring works. Objectively, a winning model should be visually and technically superior with construction, decaling, finish and overall effort. Subjectively, an award winning model should implement painting techniques, weathering and additional detail work implemented with clear technical skill. When additional construction and finishing techniques are used, those techniques do get additional credit, but they are judged for their competency and impact. Models awarded at recent 2021 Nationals did not meet this criteria or even get close to superior effort or superior visual impact.

    There were models awarded in 1/48th Med Prop category 113-B that did not have panel line detail, weathering or superior added detail. The second and third place winners did NOT have these attributes. The second place Do-335 and the third place KI-45 Nick were far inferior with objective and subjective qualities.

    An example of a model not awarded with superior workmanship and visual impact was a Tamiya He-219 with engine compartments, multiple gun bays, cockpit opened up with great detail added and superior finish and workmanship. This was not my model, but technically and visually fantastic. It made me want to go out and build that kit with that detail! It did not even win any award.

    The first place in 113-B was a Tamiya He-219 also with a great paint scheme, landing gear detail added and antenna work but not the best amongst its competition.

    As a modeling enthusiast, my inclination is to keep building to a high level of quality and visual impact. My studio workshop, the 918th Fighter Factory, will keep working on subject matter that inspire me from the model shows. I did walk away from the 2021 IPMS Nationals with inspiration, just not always taken from the works that were awarded.

    Brian Tomasin
    918th Fighter Factory
    Los Alamitos, CA

  13. Bruce says:

    I have a solution to the pictures issue. Doug – you like going to the conventions, you appreciate a well built model, you don’t like judging, and most importantly you take pretty good pictures. Next nationals why don’t you volunteer your Friday night to take high quality pictures of the entries? I bet the SVSM guys would help you correlate the pictures so that they can be used in the awards ceremony Saturday night.

    I’m not a big fan of the phrase, but it seems like this would be a win/win.

    1. Doogs says:

      If I go (scoring a long weekend by myself at the end of summer is no small feat), sure. On a show the scale of Nats it’d take a small team (2700 entries at 10 seconds per is 7.5 hours of shooting), but yeah if I make it I’d happily contribute.

      1. Bruce says:

        You only have to shoot the winners, so maybe only 3 hours

  14. Michael L Krizan says:

    Alignment. This is a clear way to judge something in a contest against pretty things. Figure skating if one blows a move but has the pretty outfit does he/she win? To me this is an easy and non debatable way to make a cut. If one has the ability to paint a masterpiece alignment issues are on the builder. In a contest where results are based on what people like, something like alignment is cut and dry. I am not a judge. Thanks, Mike Krizan

  15. Brian Tomasin says:

    The IMPS Nationals were disappointing and many months ago. Construction is key but should not be the sole attribute used as sorting tool by judges. The issues with poor judging, simple model builds winning over more complex and technically superior models, poor photography, etc……..Begs to ask the question, what show in the world of building scale models is worthy of our attention? Which show has best representation of truly superior models, judging, photography, staging of the show and why can’t this be duplicated or better supported by model builders from the U.S.

    If IPMS USA wants to get relevant to a larger audience and consequently more membership and revenue, see what shows world wide work well to the standards of our craft in the 21st century and duplicate them for IPMS USA Nationals. Until that happens, they national event will just languish as it done in recent years..

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