Saturday, April 30, 2016

The biggest myth you’ve been taught about contests

On Hyperscale last week someone asked how a blatant inaccuracy on a model would be assessed in a contest, and those familiar with IPMS rules quickly assured him that accuracy matters less than basic construction. One of the discussion participants summed up IPMS judging when he said that IPMS rewards technical competence not artistic excellence, and he’s right.

But in a subsequent comment in the same thread he continued to perpetuate a huge myth about contests when he said, "Too many people are too heavily invested in chasing those little plastic pots,” by which he means awards.

He’s wrong. In my 30 years attending contests I've found that the majority of entrants are not driven by winning awards. They simply enjoy building models and sharing them with others, which is among the most important reasons why you should enter contests, too. That so many modelers don’t “win” yet continue entering contests year after year is evidence that most of us don’t place great value on awards. Of course we like winning, but putting a trophy on the mantel isn't the reason we build models.

I’ve known only two men who chased awards, who were “heavily invested” in winning. One, I’ll call him Michael, is very talented, building models with a high degree of that technical competence mentioned in the Hyperscale discussion. I attended the IPMS Nats with him many years ago, and when his models didn’t place as highly as he believed they should have, he was dejected, and I had to listen to his grumbling on our six-hour drive home. Mind you, Michael is an outstanding modeler by any objective standard, but at that one show, the judges deemed other models better than his for one reason or another.

The other modeler, I’ll call him Richard, is one of the best in the country. He scratchbuilds amazing models with a high degree of detail and fidelity, and often with functional components. He’s won his fair share of gold and bests of show. Fortunately he takes losses with more grace than Michael; however, he's entered models in local and then regional contests before taking them to the Nats in an effort to learn about their weaknesses and fix them before competing at the national level. Richard, I think, likes winning awards.

I don’t judge either man. Competition drives them in their respective pursuits of excellence, and I’m glad it does, because both men inspire me. On a personal level, I can’t identify with that; I’m not a competitive person at all. But they engage in the hobby in a way that meets their needs, even if they experience a degree of disappointment when judging doesn't go their way.

The vast majority of modelers don’t care about contests, so IPMS contest rules have little effect on how most of us build our models. It’s time we admit that contests aren’t about competition.


  1. What can be bad, and it happens more often than not. The younger builders are often taken aback at what's known as "rivet counter" judges. These "adults", and I am using THAT term loosely, all too often don't take into account a persons age and skill level when judging. As for me, when asked to judge a contest, I do NOT judge an eight year olds model on the same criteria as an adult. These "judges" only cause these younger people to lose interest because one decal might be applied the wrong way.

    1. From where I'm from, and I assume it's the same in most countries, contests are categorized by age group and skill level so we don't have that problem. Here's a sample if you want to read through it:

      The judges are very well aware of the age and skill level of who they're judging so you can't really say they won't take that into account. But, these judges are also just human and are not immune to biases and error.

      Maybe you ran into a few bad eggs?

  2. I still prefer the UK model for shows, where 95% of the show is club stands, with people doing just what you describe - showing off their work. But, because they are stands behind which you can sit, rather than anonymous competition tables , you get to spend ALL DAY talking about models with passers by.

  3. Harry: Perhaps you're mistaking two separate issues? I've never seen a model contest where an 8-year old's model is pitted against a seasoned modeler's entry and the judges are asked to pick 1-2-3. If so, then those show hosts are idiots. You correctly cite the situation where know-it-alls bluster their "knowledge" w/o regard to others' feelings (young or old, novice or intermediate). That's simply rude and we can recognize it for what it is. However, back to shows -- in the normal IPMS 1-2-3 judging, the judges are asked to rank what's in that category on that day. The age/skill level of the kit builder of what's on that table is not considered. In a Gold/Silver/Bronze "open" judging event where people can state their own skill level which carry weighted standards, then the judges can more accurately assess and reward. The AMPS contest rules do a good job at this. But to be frank, you'll always get people at shows who have little idea that their own "masterpiece" is actually very middling to poor when brought into the daylight of a model show. I've seen grown men stomp out when their crappy models with seams and glue stains and drooping decals don't get any award -- when sitting next to their kit are several superior models. It's like when awful singers would audition for American Idol. They have no idea -- b/c everyone around them tells them how good their model is. You can't fix that.

  4. AMPS has a far better judging system than IPMS. When I go to IPMS shows its the same people over and over winning. It gets to a point where judges recognizes their work and almost automatically gives them a award.

  5. The article is spot on. I've judged at IPMS shows. I've seen people get upset when their model didn't win, and on occasion, I've actually agreed with them; that doesn't mean they are trophy chasing, it just means that they thought their model deserved to win. Most of the time though there's flaws. Sometimes it's simply a toss-up, and that's the hardest to judge. One time when I was judging the class there were two models with an equal number of flaws and an equal number of plusses, we ended up giving one third place and one Out of Box for the simply reason that one brought the instructions, that way both won an award.

    Certain car-only shows are notorious for poor judging, and knowing who is going to win beforehand. One show I went to, there was a beautiful road-racing Porsche. It had no flaws in the paint, decals, or construction, it should have been 1st place in class. I watched the judges from afar- they didn't even LOOK at the model, or the NASCAR models in the class, one of which was mine. (it should not have placed, I know I'm not that good a builder- of the 6 or 7 entered in the class it was by far the worst). They only looked at the drag racing entries, none of which came close to the build quality of the Porsche. It didn't win a single award. I don't know who the builder was but they have every right to be annoyed. It frustrated me so much I have not returned to the show since 2008.

    That's why car modelers have the NNL format- no awards, just modelers getting together and having fun looking at models (and shopping) The format has been going on for more than 30 years now and has no signs of slowing down, the NNL East in Wayne, New Jersey last month had more models and people come through the door than any of the 16 years I've been attending the show.
    I posted multiple posts about it on my modeling blog, Scale Model History.

    As for the comment above mine, the same modelers win numerous awards for two reasons. #1 is because they have reached a high level of skill, and #2, in many cases it's the same people entering the classes year after year. Our show- the HVHMG show ( is a small enough show that we know for instance that the Albany guys are likely going to win all the aircraft awards- because literally 95% of all our aircraft models are entered by members of the Albany club. Nobody else can win if they don't enter. And the few times other people have won the aircraft awards- the Albany guys were cheering them on. It's not a closed circle, you only have to try.

    1. I went to an NNL show in Wayne a few years ago and was blown away by the number of entries. I could've spent all day looking through the models! If only IPMS contests were as heavily entered.