Every now and then, I shake most of the cobwebs off and go around engaging myself in a hobby that doesn't involve creative writing. For the last three or four years, that hobby has involved organizing and running tournaments for the Legend of the Five Rings card game.
If you're one of the uninitiated, Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) is a relatively popular "collectible card game" that centers around a Medieval Japanese-type setting. Enthusiasts purchase packs of cards, which they use to create 40-card decks to play in tournaments against other players. Good performances in these tournaments drive the storyline for the game, which in turn affects the cards that are released in future expansions.
You've probably seen this setup before; It's the same one employed by Magic: the Gathering, Pokemon, and a number of other games that are most likely more popular than L5R. L5R, however, is unique in that it has one of the best ongoing storylines in a game universe, and in that its player community is as helpful and as trustworthy as you can probably get.
Personally, I like running L5R tournaments as opposed to playing in them. It feels weird, taking on the task during my free time when I do similar things for work to begin with. But there's a distinct difference between doing project management for a paycheck and doing event management for a hobby, and that's the fact that you get a lot less pressure during the latter. Where the office offers the most subtle of stressful environments, the mall offers a strange sense of satisfaction for contributing to your own choice of leisure.
Yesterday saw the largest turnout for an L5R tournament in recent memory: 59 players, all looking to try their long-tested deck builds. A substantial cash prize drew not only the usual tournament crowd, but quite a few veterans and newbies as well. The result was what we call a "deep pool": an unpredictable environment where literally any deck (and any player) could be sitting across each table.
The best thing about a deep pool is that it tends to punish inflexible deck design and reward flexible play strategy. I liked to imagine that quite a few people searched the Net for powerful deck builds the previous evening, only to fall to situations where those decks simply couldn't adapt. If anything, the few players who came out on top could easily be recognized as the finest strategic minds in the game.
And at eight in the evening, when the mall was closing, the remaining players and judges were treated to one of the greatest games ever played. Most players are no stranger to the unwinnable situation -- generally, a point in any game where one's chances of victory are so miniscule that they can fit on the head of a pin. Very few people, however, are privileged to see someone dig his way out of an unwinnable situation through sheer stoic reasoning and quiet planning, and I'm glad that I helped make such a game possible.
I'm aware that there are quite a few people who do this for their own hobbies as well. These are the people who put together charity fund-raisers, leisure gatherings and sports tournaments; sometimes without such incidental things as sponsors or giveaways. They do it for the sheer joy of seeing their activity come to life, I think, and for the pleasure of some of the best moments they can experience.
No money, no exposure, no immediate gains -- I suppose that it can be characterized as a thankless job. You'll have to excuse me, though, if I don't stop doing it just yet. :)
And now I return to my usual management work and independent writing. It'll take a couple of months for the cobwebs to come back, after all...