Friday, April 13, 2007

Gaming Hell

It turns out that I have an interesting work schedule for the next month or so... and my office has little to do with the proceedings. Strangely enough, it has more to do with my involvement in the tournament gaming scene:

April 15, 2007
I'm helping to run a Pokémon tournament again. And it's not just any Pokémon tournament, even... we're talking about the Philippine National Championships here. (Stop laughing, all you pundits -- virtually every country has had one for the last ten years.)

I would be taking this lightly under normal circumstances, to be honest. Game tournaments are actually pretty easy to run, once you get the hang of them -- all you have to do is make sure that the players are comfortable, that they don't have to wait long for results, and that they don't reach a point where they pack up in disgust and go home. Different games will have different thresholds, though: While you can probably afford to keep a roomful of chess players waiting for half an hour, you can't do the same for a bunch of Boggle players. There's a distinction between playing for two hours and playing for three minutes, I suppose.

Pokémon, however, isn't exactly a game that involves a significant attention span: When it takes about fifteen minutes to finish a game, you know that you're going to want some fast results. Complicating matters is the fact that this is a National Championships event: You'll almost certainly have thirty-year-olds hobnobbing with ten-year-olds here. Subtle intimidation may be a factor. Raucous adult conversation may be a factor. Crying kids may be a factor. Add all that to a tournament software application that slips a cog every now and then, and you'll see why this suddenly isn't the easiest thing in the world.

You'll notice, by the way, that this takes place on precisely the same weekend as the 3rd Philippine Blogging Summit. Because I don't quite like the idea of heading to three straight events on three straight days (because it's bad for my complexion), I'm going to have to skip out on this conference. I've been there for the last two years and will definitely consider going to the next one, though.

April 21-22, 2007
This weekend marks the pre-release tournament for the next expansion set for Magic: the Gathering. The set is actually slated to release sometime in May, but the stores usually hold tournaments like these to build up hype for the new cards.

Interestingly enough, I'm not lending assistance to the event organization staff here. Instead, I'm planning to plunk down about a thousand pesos (about twenty bucks in American currency) and join the fray. This, despite my absence from the formal Magic: the Gathering tournament scene over the last seven years.

Pre-releases like these offer an odd method of play: Normally people buy a lot of the cards for their collections, then sort through them at home and build the best sixty-card deck possible to bring along to the next tournament. For this pre-release and other tournaments like it, however, you instead come to the location and receive a limited number of cards there. Out of that limited selection, you're supposed to build the best deck you can in thirty minutes, and play it against other people in the same quandary. It tests one's skills, thinking processes, and ability to make decisions -- and I just happen to be reasonably good at it.

The best part, though, lies in the fact that I'm officially not supposed to be playing anymore... which means that I usually sell those same cards after the tournament is done. With all the hype surrounding a set that won't be released for another two weeks, I usually make back a good portion of what I originally spent.

April 29, 2007
Another Pokémon event takes place today, this one set at an unknown venue at the Fort. (For the uninitiated, imagine a place with high property values set right next to the area's premier business district, with restaurants and offices and nightclubs and everything. To say that the Fort is this kind of place would be a grave understatement.)

I'm honestly not certain if such a venue would be receptive to the younger gaming audience, mind you. On the other hand, you could virtually guarantee a cool, clean place for the kids to play in. In any event, I've seen few events that allow a gaming audience from the southern end of the metropolis to join up, so I suppose that holding one of those in this area would be somewhat justified.

The only other concern I have at the moment lies in the fact that I'd be unfamiliar with the venue. I don't ask for much when it comes to these events, of course... just give me a table, a chair and an electrical outlet, and I'll be fine. The real problem would take place once people started asking me questions: Where are the bathrooms? Where's the nearest restaurant? Where's the nearest gas station? (For some reason, if you're a guy who happens to be running a tournament, the players tend to think that you know everything.)

May 5, 2007
Nothing happening today for the first time in three weeks. Nuh-uh, nothing, nada, nix.

May 12, 2007
Another pre-release tournament, this time for the Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) collectible card game. This is a remarkably complex game, to be honest... experienced gamers looking for more strategic options and a more interesting backstory usually end up in the community here.

L5R pre-releases aren't as elegant as Magic: the Gathering prereleases. Simply put, there are some games that play well with a random card pool, and there are some games that just lumber along until somebody figures out how to make them work. L5R is an example of the latter: It's an elegant game outside of the box, but it stumps around so much in a limited environment that you could call it the Frankenstein of card games.

That said, I expect to see a good number of players for this one. It won't be around the same level as the Magic: the Gathering crowd (which can command up to a thousand players per pre-release weekend), but twenty or thirty should make for a good enough audience. The publishers of L5R have been playing the hype machine for a while now, and they obviously know how to market their product. The game will be a bit of a Frankenstein this weekend, but it'll be a handsome, Brad-Pitt-lookalike Frankenstein.

May 19, 2007
In a sense, it's tournaments like this one that are at the heart of L5R events. L5R, you see, has a unique distinction among games in that every tournament goes towards the creation of an ever-changing storyline. In effect, the players read the story, the players buy the product, the players bring their decks to tournaments, the players affect the events in the story, and the whole cycle constantly repeats.

Today's tournament -- planned well in advance, I might add -- marks one such storyline tournament. The fact that it takes place just before the release of the next expansion lends this a bit of status as well: Players will want to use their pet creations one more time before they have to work in all the new cards. That, and it's not a particularly high-profile event... which means that entrance fees will be kept at a reasonable level and player attitudes will remain less cutthroat and more friendly. As you can see, a summary decrease in environment tensions is always good news to any tournament organizer. Things like these keep us on our toes, but we do like to sit down every now and then.

And despite the slew of events I've mentioned above, that's not even the half of it. I'm most likely looking at a good number of tournaments to be held in the weekends past May, especially considering that it's summer in the Philippines right now and a lot of students will be looking around for things to do. The fever pitch most likely won't die down until the first days of school in mid-June.

Given that I've been doing this sort of thing for five or six years now, sometimes I give some thought to retiring. My case for this becomes stronger and stronger with every month, considering that I've got regular office work now that looks as though it'll only increase from this point onwards. But I'll admit that it's difficult to let go of the gaming aspect of life, especially when you enjoy both the logic of the games and the logistical challenge of the event handling.

In any event, I'm a little busy to think about such things right now. I'll check back with myself in about a month or so, and I'll see what I've got then.


Enrique said...

and don't forget every diehard L5R players play its role-playing game.

its been ages since i last played the card games. the good thing, we still had our frequent dose of rpg.

Sean said...

Enrique: Well... I wouldn't go as far as to say that every diehard fan has played the RPG as well. But I'll say that the numbers are pretty close; AEG just has to release more books. :)