by Dorian Love

Ireland has been crowned Diplomacy World Champions by virtue of their stunning win in the Diplomacy World Cup. The USA came second, and France picked up the bronze medal in what was a hotly contested and often controversial tournament played on the Stabbeurfou site. The tournament was played over two rounds, the second round being a final play-off between the seven best sides from the first round, which was played in three pools of seven teams. The twenty one teams that made up the field included seven player teams from the USA (3), France (4), the United Kingdom (2), Ireland, Italy, Germany, Romania, Russia, Argentina, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. There was also a European Union team and a Rest of The World team as well.

This was the second Diplomacy World Cup, the first having been won by France, and the third will be starting shortly. As a team tournament, and particularly as a team tournament where all the players on a team are representing their nation, it was meta-gaming that became the major topic of conversation. The tournament is defined as one in which meta-gaming is not only legal, but encouraged. The rules allowed captains, for example, to override the orders of their team-mates, to replace players and rotate their positions on the board, and in the first round the manner in which some captains chose to do so caused problems, with friction within the team, and between teams. For this reason, this type of tournament is not everybody’s cup of tea.

Some players felt they were merely puppets in the hands of their Machiavellian captains, and as Tournament Director I had all kinds of appeals made for me to intervene. My attitude was that teams should sort out their internal differences by replacing their captain if necessary, and differences between teams by simply playing in a different way. If a team really objected to meta-gaming, they could simply play each game on its merits. Nothing in the rules forced a team to meta-game. I felt that by allowing teams to work through these issues, it would best give us a healthy discussion around what kind of tournament would make for a better third World Cup and allow players to come to terms with what a truly team tournament really means.

In the first World Cup, I captained the South African team, which gave me a perspective on what team captains were going through. Our team then did meta-game to an extent, but as captain I gave the players a free hand to do their level best in their own games. I only entered orders when the player would otherwise have NMRed and the two meta-game alliances we did discuss were both done with full participation of the players concerned. Clearly this was not enough, as my team did not get through to the finals.

As Tournament Director for the second World Cup I must have seemed a bit heartless at times as my mantra was always, just sort it out on the board – the equivalent I guess of a football referee just waving play on despite what many felt were horrendous fouls. The end of tournament comments are still being written and discussions ongoing on the list. The individual captains will have a far more insightful perspective than mine, and I hope that they will be writing their own reflections on the tournament.

Nevertheless, I have one or two general observations which might add to the overall perspective. Firstly, it seems to me that this tournament is coming of age. More of the teams entered the tournament with a sense of wanting to win it, as a team, rather than as a collection of individuals out to play in a tournament. To my mind this is a huge step up from a few years ago, and indicates that the tournament has a place, and an important place in the hobby. There will be people who see no point in such a tournament, but I sense a growing number of people who see in it something that helps elevate the hobby as a whole. We have a World Championships, face to face, but since the demise of the World Masters tournament we have not really had anything that gives an opportunity for good team play over the Internet, and nothing that allows for team play with national representation. To my mind we cannot be taken seriously as a hobby without something like the World Cup in place.

With Mind Sports generally gaining a higher profile after the Games in Beijing, the idea of International, top-flight tournaments for mental sports, face to face, and over the Internet, is gaining traction, and it would be a pity not to see Diplomacy becoming one of the codes represented in these tournaments. To get this kind of recognition the hobby needs a really good face to face tournament circuit, and a strong set of Internet tournaments.

Secondly, I sense in the discussions following the tournament a far greater engagement with how to improve it rather than bad-mouthing the concept. It was hard to persuade people that it would be a good idea to stage a first World Cup. Believe you me I tried for several years before getting any support for it. It was quite hard to get teams signed up for the second World Cup, but I sense an optimism about the third World Cup and an imperative to get the rules right this time round which is encouraging. After the first World Cup a number of people seemed to feel that the interface was wrong. The World Cup Charter envisages a rotating tournament, with host sites bidding to stage the tournament. To date, only Stabbeurfou has hosted the event, and been successful thanks to the enormous energy of Jérémie LeFrançois. I know that there are those who dislike the Stabbeurfou interface, but all interfaces have their supporters and detractors, and you are never going to please everybody. Thanks to Jérémie’s efforts things have run smoothly on the site. A particularly pleasing feature has been the internationalism of the Stabbeurfou site, which many others cannot match, and this has been crucial. I sense that people of all nationalities have felt at home on the site in ways which might not have been the case on other sites, and this is a very important consideration. I, for one, would be happy to see it played on Stabbeurfou again.

On the subject of internationalism, as Tournament Director, I often sensed different cultures of play were in contention. Some players felt that deadlines should be seen as absolute; others seemed to feel that holding up a deadline for the sake of full opportunity to negotiate was quite fine. It is important that a World Cup expresses some of this divergence of opinion rather than imposing one set of cultural expectations on everybody else.

Thirdly, and perhaps most crucially, I would like to share my own suggestions for the way forward. I would like to see a dedicated World Cup site, although the games themselves could always be hosted on other sites. This site would be able to record player rankings and track team positions over time, something Stabbeurfou cannot do.

I would like to see the World Cup site running a series of ongoing tournaments in which players enter as individuals to gain rankings which will see them selected for their country. Every two years there would then be a World Cup made up of national teams consisting of the best ten or so players from each nation from the individual rounds. This tournament would then produce the seven best teams to contest the finals.

I realize that the pool stages, where players play as individuals contradicts the team composition of the World Cup itself, where different values are rewarded, but I feel it would still make for a very engaging process, and give a sense of legitimacy to team selection. The process would in effect add an individual aspect to the World Cup, and some players might value this part of the process above the Team tournament stage. It would, to my mind, give a sense of a more complete test of what makes for a good Diplomacy player: a good individual and team player.

I would like to end off, then, by calling on all players of all nations to start preparing for the start of the Third Diplomacy World Cup. Recruitment will begin after the holiday season — so you can expect to start receiving calls to form a team very shortly!

Dorian Love

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