The Art of Warhammer: Interview with FSU History alumnus Dr. Richard Siegler

Fri, 09/16/22
Richard Siegler

Richard Siegler defended his PhD dissertation entitled “Privatizing the Public in Revolutionary France, 1789-1815” in the spring of 2022. He had been at FSU History since 2013 working under the supervision of Dr. Rafe Blaufarb. For the last two years, Richard has also been professionally involved in esports.

What is your job? How did you start?

I am part of an esports gaming company called Art of War. We teach those playing Warhammer 40K how to play at a higher level. Warhammer has been a passion of mine since I was 9 or 10 years old. I have been interested in strategy games all my life.

Warhammer 40K is a table-top game – not a video or computer game. That appealed to me. I see playing the game as more of a conversation between people. If you blend ancient Greco-Roman history, medieval history, and sci-fi, then you get Warhammer 40K. I love history and I love sci-fi, so the combination of the two was perfect for me. I often read the books that provide background to the game, and I enjoy immersing myself in the Warhammer lore.

I only recently got back to Warhammer 40K. When I was in France doing research for my PhD in 2015/16, I was looking for ways to speak with people to improve my French. As I did not have any friends in Paris, I went to local gaming stores to meet people. Instead of just going straight home from the archives, I would stop at Games Workshop to socialize, and over time I became more passionate about playing Warhammer.

When I came back to Tallahassee, I started going to tournaments, and it was at tournaments that I met other top players. These players became friends, and when they started the company, Art of War, I was able to join.

I particularly like the community aspect of the game. When you go to the game shops, you’ll find people painting their figures, and others playing. When you go to conventions, you’ll meet hundreds of people who are all eager to meet each other and talk.

Warhammer 40K was founded in the UK in the late 1980s, inspired by D&D. Warhammer 40K is a global game, very popular in North America, Europe, and Asia. Players are ranked globally; about 20,000 people play the game competitively. To become part of the international rankings, you have to win a minimum of six tournaments. I am the two-time world champion. I only competed in two seasons in 2018/19 and 2020/21, but I won both of them.

What has given you the competitive edge at this game?

I have a long history with strategy games. You have to understand how to build a strategy, and how to read your opponent’s strategy. It’s a bit like writing. When I taught students writing in “Historian’s Craft,” I taught them that writing is a strategy, that is based on an argument, and you need to learn to structure that argument and also how to read someone else’s argument.

I have a natural affinity for this type of game. My particular style is a very defensive way of playing. It is more chess-oriented. I wait until opponents make mistakes and then I use that. I am known to be very patient and to be able to wait until my opportunity comes.

The first season competing I did not expect to win. I played in a number of tournaments, most of them local, and then I travelled to a few larger events. Halfway through the season, I had moved up to be in the top twenty ranking globally. Then I was lucky, and I won four major events, including the season’s finals. The finals are in Las Vegas in January. There around 800 to 900 people compete in the tournament, the Las Vegas Open, and I won in 2019. And again in 2021.

How many figures do you have?

A lot. I have a shelving unit full of them. When I travel, I have special containers in which the selected figures travel with me. Inevitably during airport security checks, TSA agents will start talking to me about the figures and the game.

I only bring a small number of models with me to tournaments, maybe 50 or so. Rarely do I need to take a horde. I know the terrain I will be competing in, and I select only those pieces that will win in that particular setting.

What does the company you work for do?

Art of War started out with the aim of helping those members of the Warhammer community who want to play competitively at a high level. While there are other companies whose aim is to introduce the game to new players, we are specifically focused on coaching advanced players who want to improve their competitive skills. We have now branched out to teaching people from all skill levels. We are thinking about further expanding and providing support for all aspects of Warhammer 40K. Becoming a community center for all types of players, hobbyists as well as those interested more in its narrative traditions, the Warhammer lore.

We provide a range of tutoring services. We have live sessions in which we show how to play a particular matchup between two armies, we have sessions where we go over rules of a particular army or game-wide rules, and we have personal coaching. We have a public side, a YouTube channel in which we familiarize people with tournament play. And we have a private side, the War Room, in which we provide training material exclusively for our members. The War Room is like an online university; members can choose the content they want to engage with and watch it.

We were able to gather together some of the best players, sportsmen, and community members in the company. We have ca. 20-30 people working for Art of War now. That means also that members of the company win most of the tournaments they play in. However, when we go to tournaments, we don’t really go there to win, we go to engage with the community.

What do you do specifically?

I focus on livestreaming and content creation. I created our website and organized the content so that there is material for every level of playing, for every single army, for every tournament package, every format.

I do a lot of different work. I make sure that our staff interacts successfully with the community. I produce around three different types of content each day. I schedule and plan events. And I also write all our media content and press releases. I am the person in the company who interacts with new members first, making sure they understand everything.

I also provide training for the staff of Art of War, so that we are all on the same page with regards to attitude towards members and community engagement, presentation of knowledge, and the use of visuals and graphics.

How much of your training as a historian is coming in useful now?

A lot. I am the person who manages all the content and how it should be organized. I make sure that there is a structure to the organization. Just like a lecture, an article, or a book. Our content needs to be organized in a logical manner. My teaching background helps me to break down complex information and explain it in an accessible manner, so that our members can understand the course of instruction easily. It allowed me to create courses, and series of courses, that build on each other, and follow similar templates/ formulas.

What has surprised you about working in esports?

I did not think that I would get this deep into Warhammer 40K. That was a total surprise.

Another surprise is that I am now known in the community just by my last name, Siegler. And since winning the world championships, I have become very well-known among players, and people ask me for autographs. I meet a lot of people when I go to conventions.

What were some of the challenges you had to overcome?

At Art of War, I am the writer, the organizer, and also the tech expert. I had to learn how to stream. I had to learn how to operate high quality cameras. I designed the website. I had designed the History department’s website back in 2016/ 17, that gave me some experience. But a lot of the tech stuff I learned by myself on the side.

Drawing on my historian’s skill of reading and assimilating a lot of information and then condensing it to what I really need to know, I was able to teach myself and teach the other members of the team what we needed to understand. For example, video editing. I did not know anything about that, but we needed video editing, so I learned it, and then taught the others how to do it.

I am the big picture person.

What advice would you give others?

If you have a passion for something, don’t let not knowing something hold you back from doing it. Set out to learn what you need to know. I am a much more rounded person now because I have acquired all of these skills in different fields. Be flexible and use your research skills to learn new things and apply them.

What advice would you give your pre-esports self?

I would reassure myself that I will find a niche in which I can be successful and use the skills I learned at university, especially my teaching skills.