As a youth (well, young adult), I was MASSIVELY into GW miniatures games. I once flew to Nottingham to attend the GW 40K Grand Tournament (didn’t win it); I was a good enough painter that I won a Golden Demon back when there was only one Games Day in the US; and I did some freelance writing/reviewing for them - minor stuff, but my name was in a few of their book’s “authors” lists back in the mid-90s.
I say this not (just) to brag, but to establish my GW miniatures-nerd bona fides.
Back in the GW heyday (1990s), there were some big names associated with GW… assuming that you were into tabletop gaming to start with. Rick Priestly, Jervis Johnson, Andy Chambers (now with Blizzard), Bryan Ansell, and John Blanche were all rock stars. I agree that the new company doesn’t seem to have any “heroes” outside of their Black Library authors.
First, WHFB was never as big here in the US as it was (is?) in Europe, where WH40K was the second-rater. We Americans love our competitions, and winning-is-everything attitudes. Despite building a game around their miniatures, I don’t think that the competition aspect of the hobby was ever foremost in their minds or hearts.
I personally loved the competition part of the hobby, but even as a red-blooded American, how my army looked was always more important than how well it played. I may have been a rarity though.
Anecdote time, partially because it illustrates the differing mind-sets of US and European players, and partially because I love the story:
GW developed the (really good) game Space Hulk, in which creatures that are suspiciously similar to the xenomorphs from the “Alien” films attack space marines. In the game if an alien got into close-combat with a marine, chances were that the marine was going to die; there wasn’t much chance that they could ever break away. The marines were armed with guns but also flame-throwers which were area-of-effect weapons.
During play-test, they gave the game to a few US players to try out. Almost immediately, the Americans started to position their flame-thrower troops in the second row, which struck the Brits and being silly given the relative range of the weapons. But what happened was that the US marine players would use their first-row guy as a sacrificial piece to “stop up” the charge of the genestealers… then they would hose down the entire area with the fiery wrath of the Emperor’s promethium.
The Brits were flabbergasted - why would you sacrifice one of your precious few marines like that? No one in their weeks of previous playtesting had done something so stupid, but it was a standard tactic with all the Americans in all the disparate groups.
The US playtesters were likewise confused - why wouldn’t you? The armored marine had a great chance a living through the flame-thrower burst while the aliens did not, and if the aliens had gotten that close you were going to lose that guy anyway. The flame-throwers were a great second-line point-defense.
Eventually, the friendly-fire concept was allowed and this became a staple of the game, though I think they had to re-jigger the “cost” of the flame throwers to take this kind of thing into account.