[Edit: corrected some details 28 Dec 2018. I'd gotten confused who I was debating with!]
Recently I was engaged in a very wide ranging and multi-voiced discussion (verging on debate or argument at times, but civility won out unlike in politics) on the Ontario Wargaming Convention Facebook Group about that most terrible of monsters under our beds How to Grow the Hobby.
Earlier this fall a couple of shows had experienced some bad turn outs and one of the organizers started a discussion to explore possible reasons and ideas for moving forward. This discussion, which got very hard to follow as everyone chimed in with observations and replies on other people's posts, generated a few points.
1. the kind of gaming that I and my friends do, that is scenario based games, often historical but not necessarily, of the type that table top wargamers have been playing since H.G. Wells first knocked over a lead soldier in the library with his child's spring loaded cannon, the wargaming of Donald Featherstone, Charles Grant and Brigadier Peter Young, is considered "obscure."
2. much gaming now occurs in stores and these stores have set up tournament circuits of their "mainstream" games; i.e. Warhammer 40K, Hobbit Strategy Battle Game, X-Wing etc. It was noted that at the one show KEGSCON, there were some faces notably absent because they had instead opted to take in an X-Wing tournament elsewhere and also the Hobbit SBG tournament was under attended (growth had been expected in this) because another Hobbit SBG group had decided to run a competing event.
Stores naturally want to sell product, so some stores limit games played in store to what they sell, instead of charging a table fee for allowing a gamer to play anything they want. So it's hard to get the gamers out of the store, because they're already playing for free so why travel and pay admission to an event just to play again?
Back in the day, there was a gaming store nearby, with an open minded owner who let us come and set up games. Which we did, hoping to 'grow the hobby.' We just ended up playing with ourselves and often encountered sneers of derision from the Warhammer kids who thought my Burgundians looked stupid (this while pushing around an empty base because his Daemon riders of Slaneesh weren't even assembled yet).
3. the organizer of a local convention called Sword and Brush felt that everyone should basically join him. He's built a solid base of tournament events, but wants to attract traditional gamers too. Or to be honest, he just wants to attract their admission fees. His idea was that Hotlead, KEGSCON and Council Fires should all just join their banners to them rather than dilute the efforts. Or else we'd all just die out.
I observed that yes, if one wants to grow into a Very Big Convention (i.e. Adepticon or Gencon) then yes, build a base of mainstream tournament and RPG events adding scenario gaming after the fact. But you're going to have big overheads in a big convention center and will have to charge correspondingly bigger admission fees. Also I'm not sure that there is much point, since Canada doesn't have the population of dealers to be attracted to such an event, which would make the admission worth while for someone like me who isn't playing a tournament. And does one want the headaches organizing something like that? I know I don't.
4. much air was burned on the "but the tournament players will see the other games and cross over" to which I replied with a polite "bollocks." Honest, I said it nicer than that but they got my drift. I do know a few who have done this, my friend Scott is one. But I think that for 90% of them, they are locked in their tournament and won't have the time to try another game. If they notice the scenario based games they might think 'cool' but most likely they'll say "hey look at the weird old guys".
Your average Flames of War player, if he tires of FoW, isn't going to think "what other 15mm WW2 game can I play with these figures?" No, he's going to sell his army and use the money to get into X-Wing or Warmachine or whatever.
5. much discussion from me on the negatives of tournaments for shows like Hotlead. They take a lot of floor space and table square footage for players engaged, vs. scenario games. And the tournament players rarely cross over, so why make the effort? This was seen as me being bitchy.
But I see it as defending my turf.
To me scenario based games are what I want to play, What I want to see. What I want to encourage and support. Most tournaments (the Ontario Hobbit SBG guys who come to Hotlead are an exception, which is why I like them) have really awful tables to look at, so they aren't even good to view for the non players. Gamers like me need a nice show where we are the norm, not a minority of "weird old guys" on the fringes of Very Big Con lost in a sea of FoW, X-Wing and 40K tournaments.
I've tried to "grow the hobby" by going to stores, but it's like trying to convince people who like Top 40 to try listening to Jazz. I've tried having tournaments at Hotlead. I had Games Workshop Canada run tournaments for a few years. But not many of those players came back.
Tournament gaming and scenario games are two different hobbies that share the same medium.
Am I not worried about dyng out? The dreaded greying of the hobby? I've decided I don't really care. I'm not interested in growing Hotlead into something bigger and shinier or joining it to Sword and Brush and thereby lose control of the event and the money. I have lots of friends to play with, not sure I need anymore to be honest. The only person I want to convert into a love of wargaming is my grandson, and he's not even two yet.
Like Galadriel resisting the Ring I shall fade and go into the West.
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