From time to time, people of various persuasions wonder aloud about that millenial day when there'll be an organization that regularizes wargaming in the same way that the Chess Federation oversees chess and the PGA organizes golf, etc. My response is usually a loud snort and a "not bloody likely." When pressed for more rational comment, I answer as follows:
1. All the leagues, unions, federations and whatever that have professionalized and regularized other sports and games are dealing with only one game with one set of rules...In wargaming, one is faced with hundreds of games...
2. Wargaming is even less a spectator sport than chess (its closest professionalized analog). Chess only penetrated the public consciousness when Bobby Fischer managed to up the ante into the hundred-grand class. Incidentally, the buzz over chess (in the U.S.) died out pretty quickly once Fischer went back into the woodwork. Relatively few people are really interested in chess; even fewer are interested in wargaming. And chess has been around a lot longer than conventional civilian wargaming.
3. Much of what motivates people to play wargames has nothing to do with games and competition, per se. Many people play simply for information or as an exercise. I play for competition (I'll play almost any game with a grim determination to win), but that doesn't mean that I'm the archetypical wargamer; a sizeable number of people don't much care who wins - they just play.
The preceding, by Redmond A. Simonsen, was printed in Moves in the February/March 1976 issue. (Moves was a house magazine of Simulations Publications Inc., at that time the leading commercial board wargame producer in the world.)
Given that no overseeing regulatory body has even been set up for either wargaming, or as far as I know for any single wargame title, one can conclude Simonsen was quite correct in his conclusion.
As for the "whys", they may be irrelevant, but he thought them worthy of discussion, and so do I. For what it is worth, I feel he makes a good case.
Point 1 - too many titlesThe real issue
His first point is obviously apt; there are far too many titles in existence to imagine any kind of "regularized" oversight of the entire wargaming hobby would be possible. His "hundreds" of titles have grown into "thousands" as a look at boardgamegeek.com will prove.
Point 2 - spectators
Simonsen may be underestimating wargaming's appeal here. At least one commercial television program pitted amateurs against each other in military strategy games. Arguably, reality television like Survivor or The Amazing Race could be easily transitioned into a military theme (and Combat Missions attempted to do exactly that). The popularity of celebrity Poker on television suggests that while Chess may no longer be a large draw, games of skill and chance can still be successfully marketed to an audience, even if the participants are doing nothing more than sitting at a felt table. To date, however, a literal translation of board wargaming - or PC gaming - to a television series has not occurred.
I wouldn't invest my own money into such a thing, but I would not be surprised to hear of someone making a go of it, either.
Point 3 - people don't play to win
I think Simonsen makes an incredibly important point here, but again, it doesn't necessarily preclude the formation of an over-arching organization. Not everyone plays golf or chess to win, either, and that didn't stop the PGA from being formed, or from a professional organization forming.
There are many wargamers who play solely to exercise the imagination - especially now that battlefields can be experienced in simulated 3-D worlds. I've caught myself in the mission editor for Operation Flashpoint or even Combat Mission simply "walking" or flying through one of the stunning maps, or playing through a scenario against the AI just to experience it, without giving thought to the competitive aspects of the game.
But there is no reason to believe that wouldn't be possible if there was a "wargamer's league" either.
Simonsen missed the main point entirely - what need is there for such a league? Avalon Hill did do an admirable job with setting up the AREA rating system, and individual games have grown their own communities with competition circuits and now "gaming ladders" for PC titles. These all operate well on their own, aided by the level of interaction afforded by the internet. One has a hard time understanding what possible benefit a "league" would have. The idea of anyone professionally playing wargames - that is to say, making money doing so - is too absurd to contemplate. But I suppose people said the same thing about football players once upon a time, and they now make more money than doctors, lawyers, policemen, mayors, firemen, paramedics, CEOs, prime ministers and presidents.
Simonsen does dismiss the perceived need for legitimacy that he felt was the root cause of talk about a national PGA-like organization, saying that any desire for public/media recognition (and one would presume acceptance) would matter little given that "there'll always be some ignorant fool standing around to cheap-shot your hobby." If credibility as a hobby is the only reason to form such a league, I'd argue that insecurity simply isn't reason enough.
My final word
Simonsen theorized in his editorial that magazines like Moves, of which he was the Editor, were already a form of international organization that knitted the hobby together. One can conclude that sites like gamesquad now serve the same function. I can understand the desire for greater public acceptance/awareness, but I don't think an international federation could achieve that goal. The involvement of more celebrities like Curt Schilling in the hobby, however, might be a way to draw favourable attention to the hobby and its devotees.