In Defense of A&S Competitions

Every now and again in a discussion about A&S regarding how one can share their skills, be seen, passively teach, and get feedback, the subject of A&S Competitions arises. It always starts with something along the lines “oh, but I don’t like competitions,” followed by all the reasons why. The “competition” aspect of it. The “judging” aspect of it. In many cases, the person had a negative experience with a competition, and are now shy of every entering one again.

I’m not going to try and rebut all those things. Feelings are feelings. What I want to do here is share my own experience both as an entrant and a judge in A&S Competitions. I’ve entered in competitions in both Northshield and Meridies, and helped as a judge in the latter. I can’t speak to how A&S Competitions work in other kingdoms.

I’m writing this for people who aren’t sure if they should enter, but I’m also writing it for judges – because we need to always remember and keep in mind what it is like to sit on the other side of that table.

One more caveat regarding the “competition” aspect of things. Yes, some kingdoms (like Meridies) have “regional” and “kingdom” labels for their competitions, and rules about how often you can enter the same thing. Yes, there are competitions at big war-events (Gulf, Pennsic, etc.) which are used to determine War Points. In this context, an A&S Competition is a lot like a Science or County Fair. You enter your project in a lower level, then progress up until you get to State (Kingdom), then Nationals (War). But this is such a small sliver of what A&S Competitions are or can be, that I don’t really want to address it (nor do I have any real experience with it), so we’re going to acknowledge it (in this paragraph) and then set it to one side.

So, why do I like A&S Competitions?

My hand-sewn Banbi at Magna Faire (2019), image courtesy of Mistress Ellen DeLacey

For me, an A&S Competition is a framework in which I can get specific feedback about various aspects of a project – my research, execution, substitutions, and scope – without feeling like I am monopolizing someone’s time. It’s a way for me to get actionable comments on my work – things I can go and fix – as opposed to “oh, that’s neat!” Yes, there is a number associated with those categories, but personally, my reptile brain loves a number. If that’s not you, I still encourage you to put your work out as a display and try to arrange a time to meet with someone at the event to discuss it with you.

It’s also a way to passively teach. At Magna Faire (2019), I put my equipment for my Tang Dynasty Games class in for display, so that it wouldn’t just sit in a bag the rest of the event. Also, that way people got to learn about games even if they weren’t able to come to the class. Win-win!

Yes, anytime you put your stuff out there for someone else to view and comment on, it can be scary. But I promise you – the only person you are in competition with is yourself. And while that perfect score is something my reptile/completionist brain loves (and received at Menhir 2020! Eek!), it’s still just a number given by people on a day, subject to all sorts of variables.

When it comes to judging, as both a judge and an entrant, I 100% recommend sitting down with your judges during your time slot. You get the chance to talk to people about your entry, answer any questions, and offer clarification for confusing points. And take notes on this! Yes, the judges will write down comments for you on their form, but taking your own notes on things that come up (maybe that need a bit more clarification or fleshing out) can be very useful later once you’re out of the post-event haze.

Judges want to learn. We want to geek out with you about your project. We want to help you grab the next rung in the proverbial project ladder to make your Thing even cooler than it already is. We’re cheering you on! Are there scary, mean, or intimidating judges? Sure, because we’re people. But that’s also why I suggest face-to-face. And if that’s still scary, ask someone (your Laurel, if you have one, or a friend) to sit with you during judging to be some emotional support. If someone asks why they’re there, be honest. Sometimes someone who has a sharp edge doesn’t realize it is sharp until someone says “OW” loud enough for them to hear.

It’s also important to have a network of support for your A&S – people you know well and who know you well, who can give you honest feedback without being mean. People who want to see you do well, so they will let you know what you can do to improve. Sometimes this is a single person (your Laurel, perhaps) or a group of people standing in your corner and cheering you on while also helping you get better. These are the people who you can check in with before and after a judging session so that you’re not left gutted and raw.

That being said – JUDGES. Read documentation – and ask for it ahead of time if you want more time with it. Talk to the entrant – encourage face-to-face judging in your kingdom if you don’t do it already. Understand that even negative feedback can be given in such a way that it encourages and builds up the entrant rather than tearing them down and making them regret entering at all.

I encourage you to take the leap and enter a competition. It’s a great way not only to improve your work but to share it. Sure, they’re not for everyone, but neither do they deserve the bad wrap they often get.

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