In the absence of any modelling contests, much talk has predictably centred around, well, modelling contests, and more specifically, the IPMS. Both On the Bench and The Scale Model Podcast have devoted feature segments to it, and within the last couple weeks, so has the third podcast in my holy trinity, Plastic Model Mojo. Each has provided interesting perspective, and while I was tempted to add my two cents after each episode, every effort just devolved into a keyboard quagmire. Following PMM’s feature, however, my thoughts finally clicked. 

First, a disclaimer before I launch off. I don’t know specifically what goes into running a contest on the scale of IPMS Nationals, but I do have the experience in similar events to make an informed guess. It’s Herculean, and it’s easy to sit on the outside and armchair quarterback it. 

And second, Joe Contest Organizer can run whatever kind of contest they want. The conversation around the interwebz has focused on IPMS, and so shall I.

I realized my thoughts focused on two specific issues. The hobby has evolved far beyond what  modellers were churning out when the 1-2-3 format was out into place. Second, I believe the IPMS, as an organization dedicated to fostering a passion for scale modelling, owes it’s membership a contest format that benefits the greatest percentage of members.

Lets tackle the evolution of the hobby first. One doesn’t have to go back far to remember the hobby being, well, I won’t say cookie cutter, but there was definitely a consistency to finished builds. Hell, anyone who dropped out around 2000, and returned 10-15 years later (as I did), will say the same thing, “What the hell happened?!” Suddenly, the hobby was about the multitude of stylistic approaches and schools, weathering was now a thing (for most), the aftermarket went boom in a good way, and most importantly, the internet took all this global.

So, how does one judge this? Mike Baskette at PMM likened it to a running race. If only it were that easy. And it was… back then. You showed up , you ran, the best won. Easy-peasy. Now? Let’s say we have several technically perfect builds on a table — Mig Jimenez, Kristof Pulincx, Mike Rinaldi, and Adam Wilder for shits and giggles (wouldn’t that be something) all roll up with killer Stugs. Does the outcome hinge on whether one build meshes with the judges artistic sensibilities? Or, does a slightly inferior build sneak into first place based on a resonant style? Does our fastest runner get bumped off the top step, because the runner in second made it look easier? Or, do you simply acknowledge your embarrassment of riches, declare that 4 builds took the day, and marvel in the craftsmanship and kinship over beers, while you wear out the night.

The IMPS has, as part of its mandate, and pointed out by David Knights, the … and as much as you may agree or disagree with the need to single out the top dog on the day, this is where I believe a Gold, Silver, Bronze format is a deal-breaker for the IPMS. The opportunity for IMPS members to compete against themselves, year over year, is an incredibly important one. I’d wager an overwhelming number of members don’t compete simply because their not that skilled, so why bother? And aside from the novelty of being in the big show, who can fault that? A contest format that recognizes the growth, in skill, of your membership means thousands of modellers across all categories, leave with a standing, rather than 3 from each divisions. They earn a measure of their work they can choose to be satisfied with or improve on, and a watermark to measure against and better in subsequent years. I won’t suggest that the format used in AMPS where I understand there’s even a degree of constructive feedback returned with each grading is feasible at the scale Nationals operates at, but just for grins, imagine even being told one thing, oe suggestion that would take a Bronze to a Silver, or a Silver to a Gold. Is there any more valuable or personal takeaway that an entrant could leave with?

Certainly as a metric for the IPMS to gauge the success and growth of its membership’s collective abilities, there’s far more to be gained by a record of how many modellers achieved which performance levels year-to-year, rather than simple attendance and entry numbers.