Unless you’ve been living under a very VERY large (and very remote) rock for the last six months, your life will have been affected by THE virus. Coronavirus, COVID-19, etc. You know the one.
Whether that means you’ve been working non-stop as a key worker (and if so, then from the bottom of my heart, thank you!) or been stuck at home on furlough/self isolating/shielding or something in between those two extremes, the effects of the virus and how different countries have dealt with it (or not dealt with it in some cases…) have, I’m sure, affected pretty much every human on earth. Even the thought of that still messes with my head.
So why am I here talking about it? Well, I’d like to try and look to the future and ask a question:
What does our beloved game/hobby/obsession look like over the next 3/6/12 months?
I thought I knew but now, I’m not so sure…
The main bit..?
Now, I know I’ve already done an intro (it even had a heading and everything) but I want to add a little sub-intro here before I get started on my main point.
I may have concerns about things but I realise that, at the end of the day, this is a game, a pastime, a hobby. Does it have extended connotations with mental health and social interactions? Of course! Are these things important? Incredibly so and I believe that this last few months has probably highlighted that.
A virus that kills people trumps all that. In a time when none of the options are good you have to go with the least worst option (which, in terms of X-Wing, is something I’ve had to face too many times!). Putting lives at risk, directly or indirectly, for less than vital reasons is not ok. I don’t know that many (any?) of us would have had need to think in terms of ‘social bubbles’ or ‘extended households’ before 2020 but here we are trying to estimate just how many people we’re indirectly in contact with by sending our kids to school (spoiler – it’s a lot!).
So yes, I’m about to write about the short-mid term future of playing physical X-Wing but let me just be clear on some things: I understand the need for caution, I’m not advocating ignoring rules/guidelines or taking unnecessary risks, what I’m talking about is a game. A very cool one which is close to our hearts (and wallets!) and for most of us is very tightly linked to our social circle.
But still a game. Not something worth risking lives over.
Ok, second intro/disclaimer/rant over with. On to the main point.
Definitely the main bit…
I love my FLGS.
For those who are not aware from my previous posts, my local store is Firestorm Games in Newport, South Wales.
It’s an unusual store because it’s actually a retail unit that’s inside a massive Tesco store.
As such it has some cool benefits such as loads of free parking, it’s open late, has a Greggs and Subway within meters and endless options for snacks/drinks/cereal/frying pans or anything else that you might ever want to buy from a massive Tesco.
The flip side of being a retail unit in a massive Tesco is that there’s no space inside the store to play. The shop itself is filled to the brim with miniatures games, card games, board games, toys, Lego, the list goes on. It’s great.
“Where, then, do you play?” I hear you ask. And the answer is, outside.
No, not THAT outside but outside Firestorm, but still inside Tesco.
Yes, we turn up on a Wednesday, some time between 4 and 5ish, go inside, say ‘Hi!’ to whoever is working, head to the back and pick up the folding tables to take outside and set up boards.
Is it strange to play just 6 or 7 meters away from beeping tills and shoppers who sometimes give strange looks at the grown men (and women and children, but mostly the men) who are playing with plastic spaceships? I won’t lie, yes, it’s strange. At first. After a while it just becomes part of the ‘normal’ of turning up somewhere familiar to meet with friends, talk about your shared interest and just generally have fun.
And so now, in a time where the word ‘normal’ very rarely means what it used to mean, what does that look like in the future?
When I became aware that Firestorm in Newport was opening back up, the next time that I was in Tesco Cai and I wrote them a little note and left it on the door for them telling them that we had missed them and looked forward to coming in.
I’ve called in twice since then, picking up little bits for the kids (not myself, honest!) and having chats with the guys who were working at the time. Both times the subject of ‘getting back to normal’ (in terms of playing X-Wing) came up.
The first conversation was with Paul, one of the guys that plays. We chatted about upcoming events (more on that in a minute) and various things related to the game. It was great to actually talk with someone about X-Wing face to face (not that I don’t love the chats I have with people over messenger!).
The second was a little more sobering. I chatted with the manager and, him knowing that X-Wing is my game, the subject of returning to gameplay locally came up.
Small detour before I go on (sorry! it’s relevant, honest!). A few months back I was booked to play in two store championships, one in Newport (in April) and one in Cardiff (in March). Obviously both were postponed. The Newport one until August and Cardiff until September. Recently they announced that the Newport tournament would still go ahead BUT would be relocated to the Cardiff store. This is because the Cardiff store is a) HUGE and b) self contained (i.e. NOT inside a Tesco). This means that tables can be moved further apart, ensuring safe distances are kept and don’t have any detrimental effect on other businesses.
Being that we are in Wales, we currently have a different set of government guidelines than other UK countries. Our pubs, hotels and restaurants are still closed/have limits and we still have a 2m (6ft) social distancing rule. England’s rules are different. I’m not going to debate the pro’s and con’s or which I think is better, they are what they are and there’s not a lot (i.e. nothing) I can do about it.
Back to the conversation.
After talking about the Newport tournament moving to Cardiff I asked about game night starting back up. I regretted it shortly after.
I can’t say that I’d thought very much about how things might work ongoing other than ‘there’s a 3ft table between me and my opponent’ and ‘don’t touch other people’s stuff’. He, though, very clearly has.
Lots of things were mentioned which I won’t go into here, mostly because nothing is set in stone, guidelines and circumstances change weekly and the store hasn’t made any firm decisions. Also I’ve probably forgotten some of it.
That said, it was implied that game night as we know it (knew it?) may not be back for quite a while. Maybe not even this year.
I was devastated.
Yes it could be sooner. Yes it might be like before eventually. But, especially in times like these, does your mind automatically go to the best case scenario? No, mine either. Not immediately anyway.
Having thought about things since then, some things are obvious. Of course we can’t have as many tables out, we need more space between. Of course we have to move our own ships and not share any components.
So here is the question I pose to you:
What do you think your (physical, real life) X-Wing future looks like over the next few months?
The (sort of?) conclusion…
At my FLGS we are slightly hamstrung. Being inside another store means there are things outside of their control but I also trust they are doing everything they can to bring back local play. It’s a big part of what goes on at the store and the sooner it’s back, the better for everyone.
In terms of the future of local play more generally, there are some things I believe we can do.
First and foremost, the store needs our support. Organised Play (not just X-Wing of course) is a significant part of the store’s life and, therefore, it’s viability as a business. Not just for ticket revenue but in terms of building and connecting with the customer base, encouraging repeat purchases and nurturing a community to grow (and therefor increase sales). If you don’t think that losing a store is a big deal then I might suggest speaking to the people who have lost their local stores in the last year or so. It’s not good.
Secondly, our players need support. Locally we have a messenger chat where every so often someone will post a question or a list or ask to borrow something which then sets off a bit more conversation. That now is the main connection we have until we return to whatever ‘normal’ will be in the future. Yes X-Wing is a great game but the best thing about it is the people I play it with.
Lastly, and possibly to a lesser extent, FFG needs our support. When I think back to earlier this year I’m still slightly shaken from the announcement that SW Destiny had become a ‘completed game’ and that it had effectively been discontinued. Now, I know that FFG have new products on the way (Cai can’t wait for his LAAT!) and some more in development that were leaked but they, like pretty much every company in the world, will have taken a hit financially during this pandemic. By buying product and keeping up related online interactions we show that X-Wing is still alive and well and it’s not in their interest to pull the plug on it.
Having got to the end of this post, it feels a little ‘doom and gloom’-y. It’s not my intention to bring anyone down and if that’s how you’re feeling right now, I’m very sorry. I guess the point of my bringing this up is to get people thinking, to spark conversation and maybe even inspire people to action.
The second conclusion…!?
In order to not end on a downer I want to highlight something positive that has come from this really terrible worldwide situation.
Within days of lockdown coming in to force there were posts about tournaments on Vassal and TTS and these things have helped people to stay connected and to have something to focus on other than hand gel and whether or not people should wear masks.
I’m sure there are many, many tournaments I’m not aware of but in particular I want to mention Steve Boulton of Vagabond Squadron who initiated the first (and second AND third!) Vagabond Open. I took part in the first two and it certainly challenged me as a player having to fly factions and ships that I’ve never used before.
I also want to mention the Sith Takers. They have run both a league (which I’m joining up for season 2) and a knockout tournament (which I am/was in, depending on when you’re reading this and how the game goes!).
I’ll also mention the Fly Better Jank Tank tournament (the second biggest tournament EVER I believe?!) and Gold Squadron Podcast’s FOUR Space Jam tournaments, held in 4 different time zones.
The work, time and effort that people voluntarily put in to make this community what it is leaves me in awe.