Honestly - it means whatever the hell you want it to - and that includes not giving up or thinking they simply aren't competitive. Nick over at The Brown Paintbrush beats massive face with his 'nids (except vs. Dark Eldar - haha). I've seen him play and finish in the top slots in just about every venue, no matter what army he brings. Aaron, aka Hyvemynd, from Synaps3 makes some great points over on Terminus Est that I'll recopy here as it captures an absolutely critical part of the hobby, especially in that weird crossover zone that includes the 'net:
We play who we can when we can. Internet readers may judge the people we play, but at the end of the day, they are real people. Real people who collect armies they like because of personal reasons since not everyone strives to build an optimized spam list. Real people who may play once a week or once a month and who make real mistakes. These people make up a vast majority of the tournament attendees. Only a few cities and clubs support a player base that would provide us with games the internet would approve of as competitive.
My city (Rochester NY) is interesting because we're home to 2 of the 2011 ETC team (Shaun, Jay). We're also home of DaBoyz who are mainly a comp club. Something interesting happens as a result. We have 2 players who almost always place above our ETC heroes that most of the country haven't heard of because they don't travel to many big events and don't speak out online. Oh yeah, and they ALWAYS play compy lists with no spam.
On of them ("Courtney") took Best General at last year's ATC out of 70 players, beating out Darkwynn, Ben M., Goatboy, Sparks, and all the other 40k celebs. He even gave TPM his only loss of the event. This was a no-comp event and he did it with an Eldar list without any unit duplication except two units of guardians.
The other player I mentioned has won our local annual invitational two years in a row with diversified Nids including warriors, lictors, and shrikes.
Optimizing and spamming up a list can get you so far, but it's also my belief that the final evolution of the competitive gamer is competitive mastery of diverse and balanced lists.First - some mad kudos to Aaron for laying down some truth. The above links are hardly the only ones with similar stories. With as much objectivity as I can muster as a Tyranid-focused blog, it remains clear that it's possible to play and win with Tyranids in any sized venue. It's also clear that it really isn't easy. There simply aren't many first order optimal strategies for less experienced players to fall back on. I've seen numerous variations of the basic theme that Tyranids are a thinking army - in a nutshell, it takes an inordinate amount of thought, pre-planning, and precise movement execution to be successful. Just like any other army, and the player on the other side of the table matters more than his list or codex, any day of the week.