15 Minutes... about Charity Gift

If you’ve been playing Netrunner for a while or have been actively following the event scene in Europe, you may have heard the name “Charity Gift” and good stories about previous editions. I am very happy to inform you this year that Richard Hammond’s brainchild is still going and growing stronger from year to year, entering its fourth year with a truly international reach.

As part of showcasing some of the most heartwarming and inspiring goings-on in the world of European Netrunner, Richard kindly agreed to be grilled a bit by yours truly and shed some light on what it takes to make a great idea work well.

Giraffe Power!

Vesper: I have not had the chance of being a part of the UK meta at any point in Netrunner’s history so far, so allow me to start with the most basic of questions… How does one wake up one day and decide to combine Netrunner and charity? Cute giraffes aside, of course.

Richard: It’s a good question, and like a lot of good questions, comes with a pretty long answer.

I’d done some charity fundraising events in the past, and my partner, who is generally a far better person than me, spent 10 years as the chairwoman for a local charity for women who’d be victims of domestic abuse in our area, so I spent a lot of time with her explaining quite how difficult fundraising for charities which don’t have big national exposure is.I also know a couple of people who work very long, very demanding jobs at the Sheffield Children’s Hospital, which is another local charity that always needs help, especially around the end of the year.

So the concept of doing something for charity had been rattling around in my head for a while.During that same while, quite by accident, I ended up becoming the local TO for Netrunner in my area by process of elimination; other, more veteran players had dropped out of the scene and being the busybody that I am, I just started organising things when no-one else would.So I had the means, and the motive.

In the summer of 2015, me and my partner went on holiday to Italy.We were sat on a coach, driving towards Sorrento, and she was reading a book, so I was listening to Run Last Click on my phone. Coincidentally, the theme of the episode (episode 36, found right here) was about Netrunner community events and what they could be. By the time our bus had pulled into the station, I’d started writing notes on my phone for what would become the initial concept for the first Charity Gift.

Vesper: That’s quite a poetic origin story - the coastal beauty of Sorrento mixing with a history of doing good things, and fresh inspiration whispered into your ears by digitized spectres of the RLC crew (featuring Quinns). Where did the notes on your phone take you to from there? Who were your other partners in (absolutely charitable) crime?

Richard: If I were going to name all the people over the years who have supported me in this endeavour then this article is just going to end up being a long list of names, but the reality is that from an organisational standpoint, Charity Gift has always been a one-person operation, mainly because I’m a control freak who absolutely has to know where everything stands at any given time.

I guess my biggest initial collaborator (for a very loose definition of the word) did so entirely without realising it. Adam “Keits” Heart is an American fighting game TO and now developer with Iron Galaxy working on the modern incarnation of Killer Instinct.My competitive background before I got all old and slow and started playing card games was in Fighting Games, mainly Streetfighter. For the team-based fighting games (Marvel vs Capcom and the like) I’d seen Keits organise these “pre-picked team auction” tournaments at events, and always loved the format (here’s Keits in action if you are curious), and thought what a great fit it was for Netrunner, where you essentially have “teams” of Corp and Runner in the form of ID pairings.

The notes on my phone were me trying to figure out how ID pairings would work, what the format of the event might look like. After a couple of posts on Facebook to the Netrunner Players group to see if I was totally crazy, I came to the conclusion that I might be able to pull it off. The next step was to figure out the how, where, and when of it all.

Vesper: From trading virtual punches to trading janky combos for a good cause, not bad :) And that auction by Keits looks intense.

What were the biggest challenges and lessons you can still recall from the very first time Charity Gift became reality?

Richard: For Charity Gift, there were always a few considerations that were top priorities for me. One was what the ‘tone’ of the event was; I wanted to try and use the event not only as a chance to bring together the regular tournament players in the area, but also create an event that someone would see as a safe way to experience their first Netrunner tournament without being incredibly intimidated. I spent a lot of time thinking about the prize structure, and how to make sure that everyone who attended got something out of the event. The mix-and-match ID pairings meant that there was a feeling amongst players that everyone was on a level playing field - instead of going into an event expecting to face variations of the same two or three decks all day, players were guaranteed a day full of matches with a lot of variety, and very little judgement. I’m really proud of the fact that every single one of these events has (so far) been someone’s first ever Netrunner tournament - bringing people into the community is an incredibly rewarding thing, especially because I know how great a group of people this community is once you take that first plunge into the tournament pool.

The second consideration was to try and offer players something outside of the norm as rewards - since the very first event, I’ve deliberately sought out interesting and different prizes from inside the Netrunner community which aren’t usually offered as part of your normal tournament rewards; I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have cultivated a relationship with an incredibly talented and generous group of people who have contributed signed Netrunner novels, art prints, created custom art for IDs and playmats, and donated other, more esoteric prizes to the pool.This year we are giving away a recipe book as one of the prizes. A huge part of the success of the event so far has been that combination of the philosophy of “everyone gets something, and quite often they get a lot of things” and “the things on offer at this event are weird and wonderful”.

Vesper: A recipe book? Now I have to wonder whether it contains one for the famed Wyldside pancakes I keep hearing of…

It is quite an achievement to take your idea so far and keep it going really strong for four years. Are there any new goals or ideas that you think you will try to incorporate into future editions of Charity Gift?

Richard: This year has seen the most radical change to the Charity Gift structure in the four years its been running, mainly brought about by the transition away from official FFG organised play support. While OP existed, Charity Gift was a small side project, and as a result, I could cap the event at 32 people and not feel like people were missing out; when I went to Nats this year, just from the few conversations I had with people on the day made it very clear that the interest in this year’s event had far outgrown the original constraints of a 32 person event.

This meant a lot of changes from my perspective;A bigger venue, more prizes, a second additional event on the Sunday to try and give people a full weekend of Netrunner fun. But the biggest change was figuring out how to keep the structure of the auctioned IDs being unique but still cater for a larger pool of players.

So this year, the gloves came off. First, every single ID was put up for grabs - rotated, banned, and in one case never officially printed, it was everyone into the pool to make sure I had as many auctionable pairings as possible.Unfortunately, because there are 5 more Corp IDs than there are Runners, I then had to come up with 5 custom Runners to pair off with some Corps to reach the full 47 available pairings.

However, 47 still wasn’t enough places to contain the community excitement, so this year I’ve also introduced a way for people who didn’t win a pairing to play at the event. By soliciting a whole bunch of crazy, janky theme decks from the community, I’ve created The Jank Tank, a collection of fun but questionable decks for people to play if they want to attend the event but didn’t or couldn’t get one of the main Charity Gift pairings.

The whole process of redefining the scope of the event this year has been very tricky, and there are definitely things from this year that I’ll probably reexamine for next years event, based on some of the feedback I’ve already had so far.

Vesper: I am glad to hear that you’re eager to experiment and expand on the original idea - and that you’re confirming next year’s event already.

Could you imagine Charity Gift branching out (similarly to King of Servers, originating as a community side event at Worlds) into an international format taking place for different charity causes in different countries? Or maybe a version of it taking place fully online, via jinteki.net?

Richard: It’s funny you should mention that - a friend of mine from the UK scene who moved back to his native Australia is working with me and one of the TOs over there to see if we can coordinate a Charity Gift Australia; and to be honest, it’s something I am happy to work with people to support elsewhere in the world if there was an appetite to run it internationally. In many ways, we’re lucky here in the UK that we have such a large and tight knit community who are willing to travel the relatively short distances to come to community events - I am certain that for larger landmasses like Australia and the US, for example, the challenge would be getting the player base to come and support it.

I’m not sure the Charity Gift format would work as well as a purely online tournament - a lot of the fun of being in a room with people and going “oh, you got those IDs” and sharing stories (as well as the non-standard prize structure) would be pretty hard to replicate online; you could certainly use some kind of variant of the ID Auction idea for a Jinteki.net based event, but I suspect you’d have to change it substantially to fit that platform.

Charity Gift playmat art by Cat Shen!

Vesper: Here's to hoping your project and its story will inspire others to do good in the name of Weyland, Jinteki, and Reina Roja. Hmm, on second thought, maybe we'd need some other mascots to promote Charity Gift internationally.

Having freshly wrapped Charity Gift 2018 up, what are your fondest memories and biggest surprises from the latest event?

Richard: The final weeks before Charity Gift are always slightly wild and amusing; yesterday I confused the Amazon search algorithms by ordering a cheap handbag, a plush giraffe, a can of gold spray paint and some glue, which I am certain has put me on some sort of watchlist. The total raised this year has been so staggering that I’m looking at getting a giant novelty cheque printed.

There’s no doubt that the amount of money we’ve raised this year is a great reason to feel good about the success of the event, but this year, like every year, there’s always a little thing that makes me exceptionally proud of what this event has become, and this year was no exception. A week before the event, I got an email from someone asking a few questions about the event from one of the attendees; Tom wanted to come to the event, as he and his wife play Netrunner, but had never played at an event before, and had their one year old to care for. Tom asked if him and his partner could play as a team, trading off responsibilities for child care and running nets equally. And so, Tom and his family came, played Netrunner between them, and went home with a big collection of Netrunner goodies, including a two-person playmat for them to continue their Netrunning at home. Being able to do that, to be the safe space where people dip their toe in the tournament community for the first time, that always makes me feel very special.

Vesper: Now we all know you’re great at shaking off potential behavioural traces. And that “Netrunner family story” is quite something, indeed. Kudos to everyone attending and making the event fun and engaging for everyone else!

Let’s take a fun turn for a second. I have a question coming from my previous interlocutor, Steve: “Despite the end of Netrunner, FFG is still producing further work in the Android universe. What would you like to see next for this setting, whether it is a book, game, or other format?”

Richard: That’s such a good question, because the setting is so ripe for exploration, and I’m going to give a pretty nebulous answer. I’d like the next Android property, whatever it is, to be something as surprising and unexpected as Netrunner has been. I’m sure you could make all manner of interesting board and card and video games and novels in the Android universe, and I’d be totally interested in them, but what I really want is to see an announcement for a concept, be it game or otherwise, where I read the description of it and say “Oh, of course, that’s amazing. How did I not think of that?”

Vesper: I can only hope it’s something we will all be able to enjoy at least as much as Netrunner itself. There was a video game in the works at some point, after all. But if things got really crazy, Keanu Reeves could play Geist, just think about that!

As we’re nearing the end of this interview, is there a question you wish I had asked? Also, is there anything you’d like me to ask the next person on “15 Minutes”?

Richard: I’m not sure how you could have worded it exactly, but a question that let me enthusiastically compliment all the people in the Netrunner community who have supported this event would have made me very happy - this whole endeavour comes down to me politely asking demanding and impossible things from people for no compensation in order to make it work, and the people I ask universally and without question agreeing to devote their time and effort to the cause. It’s really something.

As for a question for the next guest, let’s see... As someone who, for this event had to throw together some custom IDs with inspiration from card flavour text, how about “If you were going to bring in a character that’s been referenced in the Android universe, either in fiction, in flavour texts, or other Android products, who would it be and how would you want them represented?”

Vesper: … and that’s a wrap! Now, I wonder who’s going to answer that question... Thank you so much for your time and sharing your thoughts and experiences with the community, Richard!

By the way, that's not the end of the action - you can still get involved (and score some positively smashing alt art cards). Take a look at this Facebook post and give it a go.

 

Now I really have to start making plans for attending Charity Gift in 2019... For greater glory and happier pet giraffes! Those of you interested in playing a game or two against Richard can hopefully find him on jinteki.net or StimSlack, where he usually appears as highwire.

If you've read all the way here and have attended or helped out with Charity Gift, please use the comments section below to share your experience with us - thank you!

“15 Minutes” will return next week with quite a lot of round (and sometimes tasty) questions. As always, you can let us know who you’d like to see interviewed here and why - and if you’ve got some questions to suggest, go for it! The comments section is all yours.