Fire for Effect:”Give me the prize!”

This is the fourth salvo in Michael Rutherford’s regular column, Fire for Effect. Take it away Mike…

I’m trying to narrow my focus today.  I offer a very narrow thesis and I will endeavor to get straight to it.  But still… go get a beer… or two.  Oh, and before we start, I am curious: How many of you read this blog in the can?  A co-worker (and AFOL) told me that he habitually waits until he is in the can before he reads this blog.  Like he might have time when he isn’t in the can… but he waits until he is (is in the can)… and then he reads it.  I was sort of taken aback… but then I thought about it (yeah… I know.  Of all the things to think about, right?).  Is it a strange thing that only he does?  Or is it actually a new norm that I’m just not clutched into?  So, ummm… are “WE” in the can right now?  You, constant reader… and I?  Together, in the can?  For the record, I don’t read, or write for that matter… in the can.  Ever.  Just so you we’re clear.

Well, I guess that pretty much shot the notion of getting right to the point.  How about catching up by jumping straight to my point!

Thesis: Awards at Lego fests are good for the state of the hobby.

Supporting points:

Competition.  It is a culturally universal concept which, when controlled, can motivate innovation, improvement and excellence.

Limited competition focuses this potential but requires rules.  Rules equate to cooperation.  Obscure rules undermine cooperation.

Transparency prevents obscurity.

Transparency is lacking in Lego conventions.

Let’s get all Aristotelian!

  1. Competition fosters improvement.
  2. Awards are competitive.


  1. Awards foster improvement.

Thesis clarification:

Competition.  An environment and an event wherein participants try to get or win something that someone else is also trying to win: to try to be better or more successful than someone or something else (Merriam Webster).   Competition is broader.  It exists in a natural state.  Trash the normal rhetoric about gazelles competing with cheetahs on the savanna.  They don’t compete… they mutually support one another by perusing separate but interrelated agendas.  Remember that it is not the cheetah with whom the gazelle competes, but rather the other gazelles.  The cheetah is relevant to the gazelle… but the cheetah wants neither the limited supply of grass, nor to mate with the limited supply of hot gazelles.  Yes, cheetahs and gazelles run together, at the same place and at the same time…but they are running for DIFFERENT REASONS… running DIFFERENT RACES… often right after dinner for the gazelle, and right before dinner for the cheetah.  But the gazelles all know their race is not against the cheetah.  It is against the next slowest gazelle (the one who the cheetah is going to actually catch).  For the gazelle, it’s all about the grass and the mating (So what you’re saying is… Keith is a Gazelle?).  Getting what the other gazelles want.  That is the competition.  Be a better gazelle, get more grass and more ass.  Competition incentivizes gazelle to be BETTER gazelles.  This is what I mean when I say: Competition fosters improvement.  Take a look at gazelles.  Most of them are pretty good at gazelling.  The not so good gazelles?  They are harder to spot…  Usually busy feeding the cheetahs.

So its clear then.  AFOLs should run across the savanna until we catch one another, and then kill and eat one another (frequently wedging our dead AFOL victim up in a tree to protect the body from other conniving AFOL rivals).  NO!  Don’t be silly!  Most of us would stroke out from the shock to our cardiovascular systems!   Duh!

Here I say only that competition is part of natural life (and yes, I have a bias towards artificial systems that “borrow” from natural systems because nature pretty consistently kicks ass!) and that it fosters improvement.

But there is more to the VALUE of COMPETITION.  It is CULTURALLY UNIVERSAL.  War is competition.  Religion is competition (lots of overlap with war).  Commerce is competition (again, with the overlap).  Exploration, science, agriculture… almost every field of human culture (non-natural) has a competitive aspect.  Yea rowntRee… Art as well.  Further, all these fields overlap and interconnect.  It’s quite a weave actually.  All humans from all cultures do this stuff.  You might even say it’s universal.  Makes for some tough problems.  COMPETITION CAN ALL BE HIGHLY DESTRUCTIVE!   I mean… I started the list with WAR for god’s sake!   Let’s review the concept of LIMITS… Yea?

Limited competition is all the competition that happens within agreed upon parameters.  Sometimes vague, as with underlying cultural assumptions, and sometimes specific, as with… wait for it… rules.  If ANY participant in a limited completion abandons these parameters, these rules… then the competition becomes unlimited again.

In fact, when a party abandons the rules in a limited competition, the entire competition becomes meaningless.  Ponder the delightfully absurd narrative in the above clip.  Once the gun is out… the game is in fact over.  The exercise in moving the ball down the field is mechanical.  A meaningless act.  A pantomime of football which will not result in victory.   There is no scoring.  No win.  I don’t just mean morally… or ethically… I mean legally, scientifically or any other way!  Any actions taken on the field after the gun is out are not part of an ongoing game.  So transitioning between limited and unlimited competition during the event equates to an unlimited competition.  Competition without limits.  That’s precision daylight bombing, that’s WMD, that’s ethnic cleansing, that’s salting the earth, yadda yadda yadda… all stuff on our big list of things we should try to avoid.

Ok, so limits prevent chaos… but why competition at all?  Why compete?  Even within limits… why create a zero sum game when we could work together instead?  Why not cooperate?

This question is illusionary.  It’s an artificial dichotomy.



Remember, to reject competition is to reject a powerful motive for improvement.  Competition occurs in nature for a reason: because it works!  Also, remember, in nature at least, that competition is a sustainable behavior in a self-adjusting system.  (Bias alert: I like systems that are sustainable and self-adjusting… call it a character flaw).

When we add limits (rules), we make room for other important things, like human dignity, fairness, the consistency that lends itself to our logic and our method.  Let’s not forget that cooperation also means we can plan ahead, and put stuff on a calendar… and that is a big deal for most of us!

So, we have the power to improve that resides in competition, and the power to mitigate destruction that resides in limits.  Is that all it takes?  Rules and limits?  That doesn’t sound so hard does it?

Examples of the model at work.  The NFL, AFL, NASCAR, Nobel Peace Prize, the Olympics, Wimbledon.  All examples of highly organized competitions that have resulted in incremental improvement, sustained over time, in various activities.

Look at the Olympics.  Would there be athletic competition without it?  Of course.  Would it be as intense?  Nope.  Not at the local, state, or national level.  Not the intensity, not the attention, not the support, and in the end… not the defining metric of the entire effort: commitment to attaining individual excellence.   Would world records exists?  Yes, but not with the clarity we have today.  Different agencies would employ different methods (and apply different rules).  The world record in any given sport would be listed in several different places, and would be attributed to several different athletes.   The Olympic system (flaws and all) is a unifying effort which provides one clear and unambiguous standard.  Comply, compete, conquer, and take home the hardware.  No excuses, no do-overs, no safe zone.  Just the achievement and recognition of excellence.  Clarity.


And are the limits enforced in perfect, consistent, objectivity?  Nope.  And are the precious rules often violated?  Yep.  But the CONCEPT is embraced by the participants, and to the greatest extent possible… protected (enforced).  We have referees and over watch committees because cheating is a given, not because they dress so sharp!


I don’t even like to watch the Olympics personally.  But I do think the endeavor is an excellent example of how limited competition fosters improvement, and it would not be possible without cooperation of the highest order.

Great, Jesse Owens shames the master race… by following the rules…Could we please connect this to awards at Lego conventions?

Yes.  Yes we can.  That is an excellent question, and I’m glad you asked.  Lets look at awards.

Awards are object, tokens that symbolize a formal recognition of excellence.  They are presented by the agency that hosts any given activity.  For the purpose of this discussion, let us limit our definition of awards to those tokens given out ONLY TO THE BEST performing participants of any given competition.  Participation awards are not relevant to my thesis.  They exists… but they do not foster improvement.  The Olympic gold baby!  They are common in many competitive arenas we have looked at already.   Athletic events, state fairs, pet shows, debate tournaments, car races (no…  NASCAR is not an athletic event… just stop)… just about any competitive endeavor eventually results in EVALUATION and STRATIFICATION.   A gold, a silver, and a bronze (Hey!  Who’s booing the bronze?  You better shut it! The only thing you ever brought back from the Olympics was a program!).   Lots of Lego fests (but not all) also present awards.  Remember, the award (in this model) is not the motivation to excel.  It is only an object that symbolizes, that fixes in time and place, a public recognition of that excellence.  It is the recognition of excellence (What?  Like credit?) That is the real juice here.

OK… so what?  We should compete, follow the rules when we do it, and the winner should get an engrave brick… you are really using a lot of words to explain these basic concepts!  Wouldn’t emoticons be quicker?

No.  Shut up.

Here is why MOST Lego fests fail to capitalize on the motivational aspect awards.  The RULES for the distribution of the awards are OBSCURE.   First, let me own something.  Most of the time, I don’t think the rules are obscure.  Most of the time, there are no actual rules!  But… in the name of saving face, let’s just go with the notion that they do exists…  and that they are just unclear, unpublished, or… that most participants don’t know where to find them.   Same thing man.

In the Olympics, all of the rules are PUBLISHED.  All people involved: Athletes, coaches, commercial sponsors, trainers, Mas, Pas, pets, and neighbors… ALL know (or can research in detail) the rules.    It’s important.  It prevents “accidental cheating” and wasted effort, and it facilitates strategy, planning, and deliberate preparation (all that classical tricky thinky stuff).  And… when the award is presented… everybody who shared the honor of striving to achieve it, can look upon the winner and say: “Way to go man…”  Equality before the law.  Level playing field.   No home team advantage.  Ringing any bells?

There is a fancy word for this crazy notion of everybody knowing the rules (you will recall that along with sentences and paragraphs I do love words…).  Transparency.  Business Dictionary. Com defines transparency thusly:

  1. A situation characterized by a lack of hidden agendas and conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision-making.


TRANSLATION: Awards are not reserved for members of the local lug, or guaranteed in advance to “celebrity registrants”.


  1. The minimum degree of disclosure to which agreements, dealings, practices, and transactions are open to all for verification.


TRANSLATION: Each award category is defined in advance.  All criteria for selecting the winner of any given award is published in advance, and easy to find.  Publishing this information on a link from the fest home page for example.


  1. The essential condition for a free and open exchange whereby the rules and reasons behind regulatory measures are fair and clear to all participants.

TRANSLATION: Really?  No, I’m not going to translate “fair and clear”.  If you don’t get this concept by now, you probably just don’t care.  That’s a thing by the way: Not caring.

This is the part of the article where I was going to insert a few narratives regarding questionable awards protocols at this con, that con, and the other fest… but fact is, that if you have been to more than two conventions… you have war stories of your own.  So no collections of stories from band camp.  But I will say, I have been robbed, and I have won when I had no business winning.  Cronyism and back room politics have soiled the notion of awards, and robbed them of any merit in the eyes of many.  When I argue in favor  of awards, I argue for what they could be… not what they are.

On that note, who cares?  What does any of this matter?  We go to conventions to have fun, and to meet other AFOLs.  Awards?  Like, little MOCs… made out of Lego?  That’s not why I go, so why should I care… and why should people who run fests care?

It’s a good question.  I mean it’s valid.  It’s not obvious, or intuitive.  And basically… I am writing a long article telling OTHER PEOPLE how they should run their conventions?  What gives me the right?

First… nothing really gives me the RIGHT.  This is all just opinion, not fact.  No laws are being broken.   This is not about any scam, or trick, or rip-off.  This article is not about righting any wrongs.  This whole article is only about how to make something BETTER, and how to do it on the cheap (cause awards made of brick are simply not that expensive).


Second, you SHOULD CARE… because awards at fests CAN foster improvement on a level HIGHER THAN YOU OR ME.  We often tend to evaluate a recommendation in terms of how it affects us personally.   This is generally short-sighted.  The hobby has not grown by virtue of your interest in Lego… or my interest… or even Keith and Simon’s interest…   We are talking about things that motivate LOTS and LOTS of people.  Maybe mostly younger people… maybe more than a few older (though they deny it!).

Awards, when part of a system that is TRANSPARENT and CONSISTENT can result in increased competition and IMPROVEMENT ACROSS POPULATIONS AND SUSTAINED OVER TIME.   That means more and better builds.  Period.

And the cost?  Hmmm… I’m having a tough one here.  We are already buying awards with our registration money.   We are already giving them out at conventions.  The artifacts are in motion.  I guess the cost resides entirely in the realm of ego, habit, and responsibility.  Maybe that coin is more precious than I imagine.

I do want to make it clear that this issue rests squarely on the shoulders of those who run conventions.  If awards are given out in a foolish manner, and their potential is squandered in exchange for short-term ego boosts and local political gain, then yea… I presume to blame the hosts.

I guess there is no way I can leave this topic without once again stating in unambiguous terms that I for one, love awards.  In the most pathetic way.  When I take one, it’s because a competitor failed.  When I lose one, it is because I’ve been bested.   Two men enter… one man leaves!  I saw this part of Chicken Little, and I wanted to stand up and yell “Oh hell yes!”



22 thoughts on “Fire for Effect:”Give me the prize!”

  1. Competition should never be overlooked as something as trite or beneath all of us. It is a driver. It propels us to better ourselves and each other in the most animalistic and arcane way. The prize is just the proof. And it is delicious. I want to come back to this with some more time, right now, not so good. Fantastic hit here Mike and worthy of vetting out further. Especially the grass and ass part, might describe many of our high school days, but also your fallacy of auto racing not being athletic. Oh, you went there, didn’t you? Back soon.


    1. Oh yea?

      Well hurry back you putz! This thread is filling up… quick!

      Sheesh! Looks like I better start posting cat memes or something!


  2. I guess the lack of replies comes from the fact that there’s not much to debate here. Competition? Good. Competition with reward? Even better.

    I can easily say that most of my better builds happened in contests and the likes. And it’s simple really, it just gives me the incentive to go the extra mile, to try and polish the littlest detail as well as I can… whereas I tend to skip that part when building for no reason, especially if I’m not very happy with the result or not too involved with the subject.

    As for the con part of the discussion, I have nothing to add there since I’ve never been to one.

    Maybe post some food pics next? Preferably something with mushrooms. Matango!


    1. Absurde,

      Always good to hear from you! I’m not so sure about the dip in comments being due to agreement. I think it is more about people being busier now then they were in JULY. School, work, everything that keeps us busy until the winter holidays. And maybe people getting tired of reading “and here is another complaint about AFOLs and the way we mistreat our hobby!” I mean, how much grumpy old man can any reader take?

      I don’t say that competition is the universal one and only motivator… but man, it sure is a basic one! Some of my best building has been for my own personal amusement… but given the chance to build and compete against others? Yea, it’s just plane fun.

      I think the topic jibes well with Simons article about Shiptember. The competition is less formal there. More open ended. But even the notion that your work will be looked at along with many others can be enough to get that extra commitment out of you. I’m still to chicken to try it this year. But soon, maybe next year… I’m there. Shiptember is emerging as a strategic benchmark for me. A goal.

      I’m thinking food pics, and links to American Idol… or maybe an article about something that I think is good instead of bad (crazy talk I know). As for food AND the mushrooms… You fool! Have you not watched the film? DON’T eat the mushrooms! It gets awkward… very very awkward!

      In the mean time….

      wait for it…



    1. I think we all have won awards that we can’t really understand what the hell just happened. It seems to be a rite of passage for the con crowd. Take the money and run. 😉


  3. I…am…Porcelain Man (cue Black Sabbath)!
    Where is Part 2 to your latest saga, I mean blog (does Keith pay by the word?)? An interesting topic but in the end we are standing here (or sitting on the toilet) admiring the problem. Solutions man! Where are they?

    Whenever I register for a convention and look at the categories I feel like I am sidling up the bar at Bob’s Country Bunker with Jake and Elwood. What categories do you have here?

    But is the juice worth the squeeze for an organizer? Are the masses clamoring for more than trains and space (wait, what about… space trains)? With only four conventions for a small sample size I concur that there is little thought beyond categories for awards. And I would suppose that most bring what they were building anyways and not focused on building towards a specific convention category beyond the standard fare. But I could be wrong. In the end there are usually catch alls for the rest of the non conformist MOCs. Fan Choice and Pop Culture come to mind. I would say attendees should take some responsibility in category choices by voicing their opinions at each convention with organizers. But perhaps organizers should try a ‘Wild’ category each year (with incentives- prizes or additional raffle tickets) to generate interest. It seems that most cons ignore the different product lines that Lego put out when they determine categories for awards. Could we have a Graphic Novel or Superhero category at a convention? I think so but I am biased and will continue to register my MOCs with Alex Trebek under Potpourri for $200.


    1. Joe,

      Yea… On the whole I’m down with your observation. This article was almost entirely about “framing the discussion” or “paving the way” for the discussion. It was hard to write because every time I tried to pick a place to start, every time I tried to open with an assertion that most readers would agree with… I realized that I had already made a bunch of assumptions. So I felt the need to go all the way down to the very foundations of the issue. Reviewing the role of competition and rules. Well that is such a broad topic that by the time I had covered it… I found myself wanting to wrap up the article.

      But there is no discussion of possible ways forward. Not even examples of what “right” might look like.

      It pains me to admit it, mostly because you are such an annoying cat… but you make an excellent point.

      I think the next FFE will be a follow on to this one. The underlying assumptions have been laid out, and this will allow me to get right to specifics. Recommendations and discussion of important questions. What awards SHOULD exist? Public choice vs board of judges. Trophies vs Trophies with kits as awards. Should Joe really read the blog and write feedback from the can? The role of trophies in incentivizing builds in alignment with TLG agenda (Best Friends/Star Wars mash up for example).

      This is all good stuff. Less philosophical and more operational in focus.

      Right on.

      Also remember, washing your hands before returning to your work station is more than just a good idea Joe… It’s the LAW!


      1. Oh, and just so everybody knows… when Joe speaks… he actually does sound a little bit like Elwood Blues.

        Yes. Really.


  4. I feel Joehead’s pain, country or western.

    As for solutions, I don’t think that is possible in this respect. Here’s the problem. The builds are so varied even in a single category that to have an award for one outdoing the other would rely completely on a subjective point of view. It would be asking if the gold should go to the 100m hurdler that didn’t come in first place but looked better doing it. The metrics will not ever be precise in a world of artistic interpretation AND the interpretation thereof. Best in Space? What does that even mean? Best ship? Best base? Best bus stop? Best futuristic car? Best hover train? The categories are so broad and encompassing that there can never be any sort of set criteria to judge the builds FAIRLY and EQUALLY.

    Problem number two: How many categories will be needed to cover all the specifics? Best Futuristic Bus Stop? Best Brick Buddy? Best Space Train with a Coke Sniffing Emoji? This will NEVER end. And if you thought that awards ceremonies at cons were unrelentingly painful, wait until this trend takes over. And then each category for each age group! When there’s alcohol to be consumed with Lego buddies, THIS is not how I will spend my time.

    So, what is the solution? Eliminate categories? Eliminate the prizes? Eliminate competition? Eliminate reading and writing on the shitter? Well, yes to that last one. But hell no to the others! It cannot be done even if you wanted to. We are animals, competition is an integral part of life. We are human, recognition and booty are quintessential to our psyche. Show me the money!

    Now, as far as our responsibility here, I think that this is where everything will increase legitimacy. Prizes, categories, recognition, king of the goddamn hill braggin’ rights, all of these only become valid when there is someone that loses. Second place is first loser according to Ricky Bobby, and he’s right. So if you are not going to win, then make the winner work their damn ass off for it. Second place should never be the goal, but if you’re destined for it then make people think twice about voting for the other build. Drive that first place winner to their breaking point and beyond. That’s serious damn respect across the board. And it is what makes competition vital. There can be more pride in losing than winning. This is where that competition evolves into cooperation, transparency becomes unnecessary, and prizes become meaningless. As far as incentive goes, sure why not get some booty for your efforts. But it should never be the goal in as much as second place ain’t that bad.

    I hate to bring it up yet again, but it is still art. It is expression and it is individual and personal. Being judged in comparison seems a bit demeaning and pointless. But if it falls into a category just as Phillip Dick novels get lumped into science fiction because they might have a Replicant as a main character regardless of the plot, story, and theme, then so be it. Does it clarify it as an exemplar to be laud and magnified as a perfect representation of any cataloguing? Let’s hope not!


  5. Yea…

    “It would be asking if the gold should go to the 100m hurdler that didn’t come in first place but looked better doing it.”

    True. With MOCs (outside of some performance oriented category like robotics) it will always be subjective. And that fact really kills the appeal of awards for many. There is no way to KNOW in advance where you stand, and many people HATE genuine risk. They hate uncertainty.

    Remember the point at which DA2 stopped being a game and became a mere pantomime of a game? A group of players opted to stop trying to win, so that they could gain control of the outcome. They traded narrow odds of winning (there can be only one) for a guaranteed outcome (none of us will lose). My point here is not to evaluate the rightness or wrongness of their decision. But to highlight that there is almost nothing people will not do in order to avoid uncertainty. For some, control and predictability are bedrock concepts. For them, a truly open and level playing field is nothing but a needless foray into chaos.

    But there are other obstacles.

    Applying a competitive mechanism to a creative process will always seem a bit like handling orchids with giant metal robot claws. Clumsy, and probably good way to kill orchids.

    Open and fare competition calls for metrics. Those metrics should be easy to find, and easy to understand. I really like the sprinter metaphor you invoke. It captures one of the challenges perfectly. An athletes performance can usually be measured by a machine (and often is). Speed over a known distance. Machines start the timing with absolute precision, from the moment the runners foot leaves the starting blocks until the moment any part of his or her body crosses the finish line. The Cylons tell us who won, who lost, and sometimes who cheated.

    But Cylons (the old chrome ones, not super sexy nerd bait Cylons who are basically humans with more emotional baggage) cant judge gymnastics, or all that odd stuff with the ball balanced on your shoulders, or that deal where you twirl the ribbon on a metal rod (what the hell is that called?). Nor do they decide who gets Emmys Grammys, or Oscars… although frankly, if Cylons killed and then replaced the entire Motion Picture Association of America… I doubt anybody would notice. Well shit, if it came down to it… Daleks could kill and replaced the MPAA and nobody would notice…bad example I guess.

    Point is that despite the challenges to publically judging Art, in the end, most people like to watch, and or participate in competition, and I think it’s a good thing. And although it’s always going to be subjective, I think Art is to precious to give it a by. It’s hard to judge well… but it must be judged. Beyond the internal judgments that we all make every time we experience Art. It must be judged publically. It is true, that the highest Artistic thought occurs in the same wrinkly brain as the basest of human motives. We can not separate them, and I say we should not try. We should judge out loud. That is how Art increases communication, maybe even… dare we hope… strengthens a culture!

    I was really taken with your take on the role of 2nd place. It resonated with me. 2nd place, everybody below 1st place… they are all the reason that the 1st place guy had to bust their ass to win! Make sure the bar is raised HIGH! Make sure nobody WALKS across the finish line in the 100m! It is a benefit that only manifests at the collective level though. That Artist who takes 2nd place? Not the best feeling in the world… but for the state of Lego Art? 2nd place is an unsung hero. 2nd and everybody else… the stormy waters into which each and every competitor launches at the start of the race. How many times have you looked at the people around you and thought: Jesus! What am I doing here between these titans? I don’t stand a chance! I’m in the wrong race! There has been a mistake… which way to the kiddy pool? And then… 2nd place? Really? Here, today, in this group? I took 2nd? Yea baby! Next time, your all going down fools! And cue the smack talk…

    But more importantly… you are the reason the winner had to build as well as they did! You are the reason the winner is tapped out and running on empty! And when any participants in any competition, high five one another, they share an understanding that is unique to them in all the world. They know the difference between a competitor and a spectator, and they know, for an absolute fact, the absurdity of the claim “WE ALL WIN!”… They all understand a truth is much sweeter than that. And that truth is where the positive aspect of competition resides.


  6. Hmm.
    This is always a contentious issue, and tough to objectively talk about as losers will gripe about not winning. And winners will defend cause they win.

    And judges well… they’ll defend the process.

    Thankfully I’m all three, repeatedly.

    I am one of the nominators at a convention, and anyone that sees me on Friday afternoon sees how seriously I take it. I have had the honour of being nominated quite a bit, and loss most of those. And there’s been times where I felt it really did deserve at least a nomination. And more often than I should expect have taken home a trophy.

    Trophies. They’re the goal of a lot of building, the so called carrot. Even I don’t win it’s the inspiration to try, to do your best, to contend. And trophies are sadly my third most important things at cons. After friends and gifts.

    (so the prize + trophy discussion in my mind is mute. Lego is easy to get, but trophies it’s sweat and tears and triumph. You can’t buy that.)

    So as a normal afol, of course I strive to win. And I have spent some time figuring out the different processes at each convention – and across the board, and even within a convention it varies differently.

    And the main commonality is that there is usually someone or someone’s that have to make a subjective call. This is further complicated by sometimes unwritten laws (ie can only win one award) and sometimes lacking in context to award the trophy to, hence inclusion of… odder choices. and sadly there are times when this is purposefully unfairly awarded in the name of fairness (you heard me)

    And for the most part these people that are put in charge and are fantastic, and I think we need to put faith that they aren’t abusing their power. Much like there is implicit trust in Olympic judges, we should have the belief that they know what they’re doing and odd choices happen. Cause they had to make it happen for reasons we may not get.

    Then again, Olympic judges can be equally corrupt.

    And sometimes you give the trophy to the kid, cause you’re got enough and we’re not trophy monsters.


  7. I just remembered that when I am serenading Mike at his work with “Rawhide” that he has two Con trophies sitting at work at eye level where everyone that wanders back near his cubicle can see and query him about these small lego builds. That’s usually when the spider smiles at the unwitting insect and begins to draw them further into his web of lego tales. These aren’t at home on the mantle for him to look at. No, they are at work where he will get the most attention and adulation from an unknowing public.


  8. The awards at cons are less like the Olympics and more like the Grammies (that Tom Petty rip-off won 4?! Seriously?). They often just turn into popularity contests and as Rowntree pointed out, categorization is always gonna be arbitrary and any decisions are inherently subjective. The awards may give new builders something to aspire to, but I think they already get plenty of inspiration just from looking at all the amazing shit other builders bring to the party and feeling the pressure of having their work displayed and compared alongside it.

    Where I think the points in this article apply more is contests. Most of those prohibit entering preexisting MOCs, so everyone builds for the sake of the contest, unlike the way convention awards work where most builders just happen to fall into one broad category or another as an afterthought, not having built their MOCs with awards in mind (usually). With contests specific goals are agreed upon before building even starts (depending on how clearly the rules and parameters for judging are defined), which eliminates that pesky categorization issue. It’s also vital that judging follows through with what was agreed upon. There was a contest I entered a couple years back that was an absolute shitshow in that regard (some of you spacers out there might know which one I’m talking about).

    The most positive experience I had with a competition was the Lego Speederbike Contest from earlier this year. I entered after being inspired by Ted’s entry last minute and ended up placing right behind him. And I 100% understood why I lost to him. Ted’s was a dynamite concept and build to start, but I had also neglected one of the parameters by which we were judged: the stand. Mine was a boilerplate 6×6 dish with no adornments. I got lazy, I ran out of time, whatever the excuse mine just wasn’t up to snuff based on a clearly defined rubric. Rules and parameters not only keep unlimited competition in check, but in our case add a little bit of objectivity to make the winners clearer.

    After that, all those speederbikes got the gears in Ted’s head turning and he decided to pull together an impromptu speederbike collab for Brickworld after some prodding from Simon (yes, he really is everywhere. Does that make him God?). Cue a couple more speederbikes from me, this time with better stands. Now Ted has been talking about another collab somewhere down the road based partially on my high-altitude speederbike concepts and the way they were framed by my spiffy new stands. Feedback, improvement, and cooperation spurred by competition; I’ll raise my glass and give a hearty MATANGO to that.

    P.S.: Rutherford, I studied evolutionary theory and its many applications in college and the way you frame your views with nature and its impact on the human psyche and the cultural phenomenon continue to scratch an itch in that part of my brain. Thanks for that.


    1. An itch that needs scratching, eh? I think we can all relate.

      The prizes really are a display of popularity to some extent, I would like to hope that there is some level of validity as with all contests and competition but as you pointed out, they tend to turn into the Grammy’s or worse, the Academy Awards. If anyone can explain how Dances with Wolves was a better movie than Goodfellas or prove that Costner is a better director than Scorsese, I’ve got a bottle of Macallan Rare Cask for you. Conventions are the same which lessens the whole idea of the award in the end. Who cares and is there a cash value I can redeem somewhere?

      I won’t turn one down, but that’s just because I’m a whore like Mike.

      And yes, Simon is god. Of what, we’re not entirely sure, but feel free to genuflect when you say his name.



  9. So THIS is where all the cool kids were hanging out… Since I am the “Ted” that Hoffmann-sensei mentioned above, I figured I could be forgiven for necroposting on this one.

    Interesting article, and thoughtful commentary; Nothing tastes sweeter than sinking your teeth into a well defined, well judged competition. They have been good measuring stick in my self-improvement as a MOCker. They also pull you into to exploring building themes that you might not normally build in, and expand your mad skilz. As Christopher pointed out, with a little self reflection you can usually you can learn from the experience, and even gain a comrade-in-arms and a collab partner…

    Simon’s point of “sometimes you give the trophy to the kid, cause you’ve got enough and we’re not trophy monsters” is an interesting one; Giving other people a chance to win. I definitely see both sides. I retired from the “Speederbike Competition” circuit this year because I thought it was time to “give back” and be a host/judge, and give others the chance to win… but that also deprives Christopher the opportunity to exact his revenge. “WHO DOES NUMBER 2 WORK FOR?!”… I’ve often thought “What fun is it to enter a Steampunk competition, if you are not going up against Guy, Rod, Beau, et. al.?”

    Guess what? I am also for the poorly defined, WTF-judged competitions too, as long as you know that it’s WTF up-front… Having finally attended my first con last year (and hastily hosted the aforementioned BW16 collab at Simon’s urging), I got to see this in action… Another apt comparison is the old “polls only” system of deciding the NCAA College Football championship. One of the reasons fans justified the old system was that 1/2 of the fun was all of the debates/discussions on who deserved to play/win… When it comes to attending cons, I think that is true. The nominations provided excellent fodder while walking the aisles of BrickWorld with Rountree and Halliwell; Critiquing non-random rockwork (but its Yuuge!), people rolling out the same unimproved MOC’s year after year, and discussing the merits of butcher paper (Hint: I learned I committed one of Cardinal Rountree’s 7 deadly LEGO sins).

    Now back to reading… Hopefully I’ll get caught up on the Manifesto by the time Keith is back controlling the action…


    1. Keep commenting as you see fit, Ted. Some of us still obsessively check back here every day. And I think you hit the nail on the head regarding the best builders becoming judges. I’ll admit I’m not as motivated this year since I’ve yet to be so motivated by the competition, but the month is still young. Logically I should be able to take first this year since you’re not in my way anymore, right? RIGHT?!


  10. Pingback: Convoluted

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