Implications and thoughts about the announced Organized Play changes
Written by FILIPPO BOSI
January 2019 was a pretty interesting time for all Fantasy Flight Games players, be it tournament addicts like me or kitchen tabletop players that enjoy their weekly game over some beer. The whole scene was shaken by an abrupt announcement made on the FFG website: Massive changes are incoming for the Organized Play Structure.
After a somewhat lackluster 2018, 2019 is starting FULL FLEDGED already!
One thing to notice: there have been massive changes in FFG – Asmodee North America recently, and these changes seem to have interested the Organized Play department as well. The more attentive players will have noticed some changes in the composition of the teams during the last year, culminating with Alex Watkins becoming the Global Director for Organized Play. For those who do not know him, Alex has been the Tournament Organizer and facilitator for some of the largest events here in the old continent, starting with the two European Championships (2017 and 2018). Alex and his European team have been running amazing events – and I’ve had the honor to work with them both as Judge and Marshal multiple times – so from my perspective, you might understand that my hopes are pretty high.
Bare with me: I do not mean to detract from the work done by former members of the Organized Play team(s) whatsoever. I’m just saying that honestly, these guys set my expectation bar really high and I firmly believe they have the potential to bring the change that many players recently advocated so much, especially for Destiny
1. ORGANIZED PLAY SO FAR ...
First things first: Where are we now? Destiny has seen ups and downs since the beginning, due on the one hand to production issues in the beginning that kinda hampered the initial player base growth and on the other on an Organized Play Programme that had some inherent flaws.
By “flaws”, I want to address one specific issue that I’ve raised in the past: Pretending to use the same structure FOR ALL GAMES was kinda hard, mostly because gaming communities are wildly different from title to title, different in size and expectations.
In the years, the OP offer has been enriched with new initiatives such as the parallel circuits like Galactic Qualifiers, but it was still based on Game Night/Season Kits and the Store/Regional/National/Worlds pyramid. Now, this has always been functional, but with OP KITS so bound to keeping production numbers across different product lines “the same” and standardizing production – for obvious scale reasons – you can imagine that both for organizers and shopkeepers (I'm one myself in addition to being an avid player. This is why I tend to offer both points of view!) it was kinda tough to find the right balance between kit investments, resources invested in engaging players, but mostly finding the way to tailor the LOCAL Organizes Play offer to the local player base.
The kits were about tournaments. Tournaments. We had some “launch promos” in the beginning, but as you have seen, those small kits struggled to get the interest of players.
Add this to some – honestly – weird strategies in selecting prizes (almost unplayable cards, the same tokens all over, questionable “elite prizes” like cards first revealed 2 years prior...) and it becomes obvious that something had to be done.
Now, fast forward to early 2018. #RallyAid becomes a thing: started by some of the critical issues that I’ve briefly outlined above, some of the more influential content creators and playgroups around the globe initiated a more formal campaign advocating for changes.
You can read about it here:
#RallyAid – Let’s save Destiny
Some of the proposed measures were changing radically the OP structure, the kits, the prizes, the way OP interacted with local player bases. As far as I remember, no particular feedback was offered by the mother company. At least in the beginning.
Slowly during the second year of Destiny opinions became more vocal. And in the end, it seemed that Fantasy Flight Games started taking corrective measures!
3. 2018/19 in a (brief) review and OP restructuring
So, jumping to mid-2018. The season kits starting from S3 and mostly the Store/Regional Championships announced during summer and fall were strange.
Like, very strange. Strangely EXCITING for the player base.
Usable cards. Cool tokens. Amazing playmats. MORE PRIZES! BETTER PRIZES!
We can all agree that the general reception were much better than the previous kits! Good sign, right? And although it was generally good for Destiny, looking at the bigger picture, 2018 has been, in my opinion, a weird year for FFG Organized Play.
With the release of some new games like Legion and X-Wing Second Edition, new type of kits were added. New naming for events, apparently new composition of kits, new championship pyramid, new hierarchy of events. The same changes applied to other FFG games like Legend of the Five Rings, sporting “stronghold” tournaments instead of store championships, and KOTEIs and GRAND KOTEIs instead of National Championships and Continental Championships. At one point, it also seemed that the Destiny Galactic Qualifiers could take over Regionals and Nationals. It was actually all a bit unclear ...
And while more experienced players could navigate in the sea of formats, events, names and general information… New players had a hard time wrapping their head around all the peculiarities of the events.
In addition to this what happened from time to time was overlapping time frames for tournaments being wildly different from country to country, missing future release schedule, large international events occurring at the same time making planning for travels a bit too hard. Well, 2018 was a wild ride.
Enjoyable and exciting, but really wild.
P.S: How about we start having some information regarding European championships 2019 announced almost one year ago?
4. JANUARY 2019 ANNOUNCEMENTS
But then on January 30, 2019, this post appears on the website.
Besides Alex Watkins' presentation as new Organized Play Global Director and the new OP coordinated image graphics, the most striking point of the article is the following declaration:
…The events you enjoy in your favorite local games stores are the bedrock upon which all of Organized Play is founded. In-store events are critical for welcoming new players, growing communities, and providing regular gaming nights for your favorite games.
Our Organized Play program's support for these in-store events has come primarily in the form of Seasonal Kits, which are going to become far more accessible in 2019. Historically, Seasonal Kits have focused on tournament play, providing stores the materials they needed to run tournaments that awarded prizes based on performance.
Going forward, stores will still be able to use Organized Play Seasonal Kits to run tournaments; however, we are also going to emphasize our support for casual play and for players who want to play regularly, but who would prefer not to enter a tournament.
In 2018, we introduced several new naming conventions for our events and corresponding kits. This experiment proved unsatisfactory for many of our customers, so in 2019 we are changing our naming structure to something more intuitive and consistent across all of our games.”
Fantasy Flight Games is going back on its steps, resetting the OP pyramid naming convention and streamlining the Organized Play Programme in general. Let’s see the major changes and the new structure. For the sake of practicality, we’re gonna refer to Destiny only, but similar changes will happen across all FFG games.
- First of all, it seems that all the confusion tied to unintelligible names such as “Maximum Firepower”, “Hyperspace Qualifier” and such is gone. No more wrapping our head around weird names. This is GREAT for prospecting tournament players and casual players as well. Just to provide you an example, I’ll present you the graphics of the X-Wing OP Pyramid for 2018 and early 2019 on how to get to X-Wing Worlds (graphics 1 made by Asa Graf for the content creator backtodials.com). Well, good luck trying to remember all of that! I assume you can agree this is really, really complicated! Let’s look at the same graphics for Star Wars Legion (graphics 2 made by Imperial Discipline). You see where I’m going, right?
- Secondly, emphasis seems to be on non-competitive, casual play. This point exactly was advocated largely by the community. Running only competitive tournaments (even the friendliest of the tournaments is still a competitive event!) is kinda detrimental towards that part of the player base that would rather not engage in tournaments, but just have fun. Therefore, FFG decided to even out the rewards of the Seasonal Kits, offering equal prizes for all participants, with the option for the stores to acquire Premium Kits to enhance the prize wall in case they wanted to also run a competitive tournament in addition to the community based activities.
Anyways, let’s delve in the changes to the OP structure: the FFG article addresses this from the point of view of "what kits can be acquired", but I prefer to see the new structure from a “geografical” point of view instead, and what it means to both players, stores and organizers.
I’ve broken down the structures in the THREE MAIN CIRCUITS:
- The "LOCAL CIRCUIT"(fully run by the local store)
- The regular "COMPETITIVE CIRCUIT" and
- The “OPEN SERIES CIRCUIT”, that on paper at least has common features for all FFG's game systems.
These 3 PARALLEL CIRCUITS – now that they are formalized – are a big improvement over the old pyramid. This structure ensures a much needed scalability for events and allows players to orient themselves much better around the plenty of events being advertised on social platforms!
5. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE PLAYER BASE?
Not so long ago I wrote an article about building a local player base from scratch and maintaining it. As already indicated, these prospecting changes to the OP Program are meant to affect more the local community building rather than competitive playing. And this is GOOD!
It is the competitive players that keep the player base constant, but the key for growth are the casual players! The local communities are the real heart of the broader Destiny community!
One the biggest lacks of FFG organized Play – as pointed out by others – was the limited scope of the PRIZE KITS, especially the “locally aimed” Season/Quarterly Kits.
Usually, those KITS (image 1) were composed by:
- 16 (common) participation cards (+ 1 extra copy for the TO/Judge)
- 3 “rare” prize cards
- 2 premium prizes (usually a small set of tokens)
- Participants entering in these Season/Quarterly Events would receive one or two cards, with only the top 1 or top 2 players earning more consistent prizes.
Image 2 (above) was recently “leaked” on a distributor site. We’re wondering what marvels are gonna be inside this KIT!
As pointed out by the initial quote in this article, the recent announcement brings back the spotlight on LOCAL organized play. This improvement is twofold, not only from the players’ side, but also from the organizers’ side:
- It will be easier to create recurring events, as players will be motivated to conquer all the different cards and also,
- It will provide the occasion to run fantastic in-store leagues!
Organizers and local community leaders: Be smart and listen to me. Start planning your early 2019 demo events preparing for Convergence!
These modifications could fall under the STREAMLINING category, but to a more Cunning (HA-HA! Destiny pun!) eye it is evident that the Destiny Competitive Circuit is not gonna undergo major changes. Ok, the nomenclature change is sweet but it's nothing that we haven't already seen, it just makes it easely understandable by the large audience.
The above example is based off the content of the new X-Wing Kits and I really wish Destiny to receive a similar treatment.
Having something that motivates people to go back to the store every fortnight for an event is something that should have been done long, long ago. And while possibly a set of new cards is still not enough to "fix" the situation in some local communities, maybe the addition of premium kits will do it! build up a store league and top it with a small tournament! Take players by the hand from the first starter deck to their first tournament win!
6. WORLDS: IS IT FAIR THEY ARE INVITE ONLY?
I've been to Worlds and it's a fantastic experience. Getting to know people, playing games and having a blast. It's something that I would recommend to any player, even to just feel the sense of camaraderie between competitors and spend an amazing weekend of playing at the FFG Center.
I'm not a "top table" player myself (well. MOST OF THE TIME I am not. I've had my good share of results) so you might imagine how this news was perceived by my ear :
"Filippo, possibly you won’t be able to attend the World Championships anymore".
The fact that Worlds are becoming invite only (from 2020 for Destiny, to be exact) was at first glance really bugging me, especially considering the hassle that is flying to Minnesota (US) from Italy and the overall cost of the whole travel!
Then, I internalized the information and started processing, realizing the following: It is actually fair that the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS gather the most skilled players that proved themselves at the top tables all around the world
- Is it optimal FOR ME? Nope!
- Is it fair and square for the global competitive scene? Definitely yes!
So as you've read above, I went to Worlds to have FUN! I had an horrible run in X-Wing (1-5, picked the wrong squadron...) and a fairly decent run in Destiny, missing the possibility to enter the cut by 1 win. But what I enjoyed the most, was the community part of it. In the end, since we now have FORMALLY 3 different circuits (local, competitive and "open" big events), I've made peace with the idea of Worlds being invite only. I'll work hard to get an invite though!!
On the other hand, I have a few wishes that I would love to become reality:
1). Itinerant World Championships, with enough advance notice to prepare properly. I understand that the FFG centre it's an obvious choice, but it would be awesome to have worlds in the old continent for once, or maybe travel somewhere different!
2). An invite only main event, BUT with PARALLEL open events: I wanna go with my buddies who got an invite and take a break from work! Offer me something more than 8-man pods. A "store" championship maybe? a small Galactic Qualifier? Give me something cool to do even if i'm not the top dog of my country ...
8. GEM SOFTWARE:
Last but not least, the latest announcement included something extremely important for all Store Tournament Organizers: the Global Event Manager (GEM). Here from FFG's announcement:
One of our key initiatives for 2018 was the development of a new tournament software platform known as the Global Event Manager ("GEM" for short). GEM has already been soft-launched and is a crucial component to the Organized Play program for KeyForge.
GEM allows us to track player results, award digital prizes, and offer an improved tournament experience for stores and tournament organizers. It will also power our Store and Event Locators, making it easier for retailers to communicate their support of local gaming communities and for players to find all the events nearest them.
Our development of GEM will continue throughout 2019, and we will be adding to and evolving the feature-set all year long.
GEM is already central to our support of KeyForge Organized Play, and retailers will want to talk with their Asmodee representatives to make sure they are positioned to take advantage of all the ways GEM will improve your Organized Play experiences.
With many store organizers coming from the experience of Magic The Gathering and their WER software, this new resource for Organized Play management was advocated SO MUCH. Already introduced for Keyforge with success, we can’t wait for GEM to be expanded to Destiny as well.
You’ll notice I’ve added some bold/underscore to the above quotes for emphasis. Just imagine the possibilities! Here’s my wish list for this software:
- Track your own results and see the results of others and their decks!
- An “official ranking”
- Winning DIGITAL REWARDS – or PHYSICAL REWARDS to collect at large events!
- Content creators could have an unbiased platform to collect decks!
- A global and COORDINATED calendar, providing more useful information than the Facebook events!
- GEM to be integrated with FFG apps
- (why not) a real deck building app from FFG!?
9. MANAGING EXPECTATIONS
Players nowadays expect a lot from organizers, especially when corresponding upfront not only their time, but also in most cases some sort of entry fee - be it products purchases or tournament ticket.
One of the responsibilities of the Organized Play System itself is providing organizers with enough flexibility to address players’ expectations in an event market with always increasing offers and somehow manage these expectations. Widening the array of possibilities (hence - OP offer, hence – OP kits) it’s a brilliant way in my opinion to provide organizers the so needed flexibility.
10. CHANGE IS SCARY - CHANGE IS GOOD!
So far, we've only seen small, but significant changes. I've read players complain about some of this, but there's one thing that should not become second to others: Fantasy Flight Games Organized Play is now communicating SO MUCH with the player base. Be it on Facebook, email, or various forums, the renewed company branch seems to be much more responsive and is quickly adapting to the LOADS of feedback gathered in the two past years.
Possibly, the changes at the top of the OP chain management have something to do with this, possibly not. I work in a fairly big company, and I can say that strategies are usually long in planning, but short in execution! All I can say is that it was extremely gratifying to see the community finally being heard and receiving almost immediate feedback!
This creates an interesting and welcoming environment also for the newcomers. #RallyAid started from the fact that..
… Destiny grew quite a bit as a game, but FFG did not. The issues raised by #RallyAid are as relevant as ever.
Now Fantasy Flight Games is offering proof of its growth. So, let's see what happens. The premises are really good and we should not be scared. Let's look forward together for a brilliant 2019. These OP changes coming together with the first rotation make up an exciting time for us Destiny players.
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