The WIL Fringe
For me the most rewarding aspect of FUMBBL has always been scheduled leagues. I’ve found it a great way to get to know new people, develop ongoing rivalries and on FUMBBL it is the closest to how the Bloodbowl rules are designed to be played. The great thing about playing in a scheduled league is that your team and individual players develop a history and character of their own. You can’t just restart at the drop of a hat or play a bunch of soft matches if things are going badly.
Anyone who has run or helped administer a league will know that recruitment and retention of coaches is always difficult. Drop-outs are common as real life gets in the way or some coaches prove to be unreliable. By their very nature scheduled leagues usually have a fixed deadline and number of teams required, so it’s difficult to accommodate new coaches who express an interest in joining the league. There’s also the issue of reliability and how a new coach proves themselves if they have never played in a league before.
I’ve been a member of the WIL since early 2007 and performed various roles throughout that time, assisting with stats, division admin and providing new trophy and seal images for the league. There were even rumours I was in the running for the job of WIL commissioner at one stage. But after receiving some disturbing messages from a group only identified as “The P Brotherhood”, I declined.
In early 2009 we were struggling with how to cope with replacing drop-outs. We had been using a simple waiting list, however this caused issues as it could be months before a spot opened up and in the meantime that coach may have gone inactive. All too often a short notice replacement would be needed and we’d have a dilemma on how long to wait for a reply before going to the next person on the list.
In addition we had no way of vetting new applicants, if they were already known to league members through open games or other leagues it was no problem, but a new joiner was a complete unknown. It made sense to give preference to someone we knew would play all their games rather than risk messing a league up by having someone prove unreliable to drop out mid-way. But it seemed unfair for a reliable but unproven coach to be left waiting for months whilst people we knew jumped the queue.
The solution was to create a feeder league. As with all great WIL ideas we shamelessly stole it from the SWL and adapted it to suit our purposes. They had a more casual league called the SWL Fringe, being a bastion of originality I therefore created the WIL Fringe, aside from stealing the initial concept and name the league itself was very much our own.
The concept was that this league would be able to cope when people wished to join mid-season, and had to be robust enough to handle when coaches dropped out or were called up to the main league at short notice. I wanted to keep to the main league’s 9 day schedule of 7 games as well as a few weeks between for friendlies and recruitment. The aim was to get novice coaches used to arranging games and playing on time. To offer more flexibility I split the league into two parts, the first being as many 4 team leagues as possible that would be played at the same time as games 1-3 of the main league. The 2nd was a knock out cup featuring all the Fringe teams, this was usually 8 teams but occasionally 16 from games 4-7 of the main league. There would sometimes be a 9 day gap between these to allow more recruitment.
To maximise the number of games in the knock out cup played the round 1 losers (4 or 8 teams) are put into a smaller knock out plate, meaning everyone gets to play at least 2 games. Each, league, cup and plate has its own trophy image that can be added to the team bio to give extra incentives to play and help quickly build up a history for the team and players. There is also a seals for each season, echoing the main league.
As the main league follows crp as closely as possible the Fringe did the same. The only diversion was the Fringe keeps the same 1600 TV cap as the regionals of the main league. The idea behind this is to avoid rookies facing off against huge bloated TV monsters than might destroy them before they get started.
The aim of the Fringe is to be slightly gentler on coaches who were new to Leagues, FUMBBL or Blood Bowl itself, but still be competitive and be able to handle experienced coaches who had played thousands of hard fought games in B, R or other leagues. The main league only allows starts after the season is over or if a team is utterly destroyed, but as the fringe has a mid-season break then a coach can replace a badly beaten up team or switch if they dislike that particular race. This does allow people to try out a team for 3-4 games before getting stuck with them for a full season.
The difficulty of what to do when there is an odd number of coaches still occurs with the smaller and shorter leagues/cups. I anticipated this and that there would often be a need for filler teams due to having an odd number of coaches at the start of a season or people dropping out/being recruited by the main league. I could have used the standard filler teams and give forfeits but preferred as many games as possible got played. To that end I brought in the concept of secondary teams for coaches in the main league, limiting them to the dynamite races (Ogres, Goblins, Flings, Vamps and Underworld). The initial idea was that they would encourage main league coaches to try out these races and allow them to swap them in for their other WIL team. But there was little interest in this so they ended up being teams where existing WIL coaches would help fill out the numbers.
Coaching a filler team is a rather thankless role as you’ll often get asked to step aside and make way for someone new or have to jump in at short notice. I ended up having three teams myself for when numbers were tricky and sometimes was using all three in the same cup. This did have the benefit of giving me the chance to get to know the new coaches better, meaning I was able to give a more informed opinion of them when asked for new recruits.
Running the Fringe
Whilst admining the Fringe I tend to chase coaches more than I would in the main league. Giving more warnings about deadlines and contacting both coaches direct if their game is still outstanding.
I adopt a very simple scoring system, assigning a number based on when a coach joins the league. Everyone who joins at the same time is assigned the same number with coaches joining afterwards being 1 number lower. The closer to 20 the longer they have been in the league and at the start of a new season the numbers are re-organised. So if the league starts with 3 coaches they would all be number 19, if another coach joins after game 1 they’d be no 18 and if 2 join after game 3 they’d be number 17. Should someone forfeit a game without giving me a reason then I will reduce their score by 1. Missing several games in a row or continual forfeits risks them being moved to the back of the queue or removed from the league entirely.
The Fringe has been running for 24 seasons now and been a great success. Mid-season drop-outs from the main league after only a couple of games are rarer as the Fringe tends to weed out those who find leagues play is not for them or prove to be unreliable. New coaches also get a bit of a boost before they are thrown into the highly competitive main league. This gives some of the squishier teams a chance to develop a little and encourages more variety.