NISEI European Championship 2019 Recap

Public media would have you believe that the UK was on high alert due to a pompous political visit happening in the country’s capital, but we will tell you the truth…

83 participants, two days, one mission – claiming the top spot in Europe for the 2019 season of NISEI’s Organized Play. Now that’s what you call a good reason for a bit more adrenaline than usual coursing through the veins of people attending the UK Games Expo in Birmingham.

Many European fans of the game could not make it to our first (admittedly timid) attempt at running a continental event. Those who did may tell you tales of high adventure and hard-earned glory – a feverish futuristic dream smelling of freshly unfolded neoprene and melting polypropylene sleeves on cards shuffled so fast that at times they glowed. All this shared by members of a travelling tribe of players and artists, bent on cancelling the apocalypse one more time.

This was also the first time several members of NISEI’s Organized Play team met in person – and we were as nervous before the event as we were happy and relieved after it was (sadly!) over. As we lacked the resources and staff available to any major gaming company, we could only do so much – but thanks to your presence and support, this turned out to be just enough to make our first foray into serious Organized Play a solid success. Yes, we could have done some things differently, but for a first try we did quite well, I think :-). And yes, we could not have done all this without the community participating in the event being absolutely great and without UKGE’s support and hospitality. Massive thanks to both everyone attending as a participant and the UKGE crew.

As most of us have finally fully recovered from the excitement and rush of that action-packed weekend, it’s high time to take a very short stroll down memory lane. Let’s jump in!

DAY 0

Having spotted a few fellow players around the venue while I was waiting for the rest of the organisational triumvirate, I knew I was at the right place. The density of people in the NEC was steadily rising, The wait was long, like in any good thriller – but definitely worth it, as we had a few setup hurdles to clear before kicking off on Friday. Getting everyone in the same place was only the first one ;-)

As previously mentioned, Akira, Austin and myself met in person for the first time since we all joined NISEI’s efforts (with guest appearances by other NISEI members who were smart enough not to get 100% involved in organising the event, but instead decided to have a good time competing in it – lesson learned ;D). This involved trains going in interesting directions, names and tickets missing from registration desks, and a lot of coffee (at least for some of us). Not to forget, first-ever official, limited edition, vantablack-but-not-quite NISEI Judge t-shirts (cheers, Aki)! We also had a lot of fun figuring out where we’d actually be situated as part of the convention and realising we’d be next to a bunch of other friendly tournaments (more on that below).

As Euros tradition has it, we finished the evening (and inaugurated Euros properly) in Purecraft, one of the many pubs in central Birmingham, where we could finally hang out with a few of the participants, nervously wondering if their meta predictions and decisions for Euros would pay off the day after. Many chats and laughs were had and then the night mercifully let us recharge at least a bit before the big day. I even took one of their menus as a backup playmat in case someone needed one on Day 1, but maybe I shouldn’t actually mention that… Whoops, too late. I’m definitely being traced by the pub’s owners right now.

DAY 1

“Dragon Ball Z” was the way the day started… but not the way it ended, fortunately. As we were sharing the organiser area with other umpires and I apparently resembled Vegeta’s final superform on the day, we attracted quite a few people trying to submit their DBZ decklists to us. Nope, thank you. Also, a big “no, stay away” to the DBZ-playing person who unceremoniously strode off with a handful of pens and decklists we had prepared for our participants. Oh well, at least that was the worst thing that happened to us during the whole event.

One of the many non-standard playmats present at the event

One of many unusual playmats spotted during the tournament

The registration was going rather smoothly and it was amazingly great to meet people face-to-face with whom I’ve exchanged only emails or slack chats in the past. You know who you are – and if I met you for the first time only during registration, I hope I wasn’t too quirky and awkward (and I got your name right, eek) – you see, I’m very bad at remembering names, I used up all the MU alloted for names (aka “NameStrips”) while reading The Silmarillion in my early years.

As cobr.ai was slowly getting filled up with participant names (huge thanks to @johno for making software without which we’d be stretched pretty thin while trying to run it all on paper), the excitement was slowly rising, the GDPR confusion subsiding… and then we realised that in a rather noisy hall that was also filling up with people who were there not to compete in our event, it may be quite challenging to get things rolling in the right direction. Enter S4NJ4Y 1.0 (or, simply, Sanjay), whose booming (and helpful) vocal presence made getting everyone focused on the tournament ahead an easy task. (Thanks, Sanjay!)

IndeeD!

Indeed!

So... we were ready, all the latecomers (all one of them, and I generally discourage anyone from using this tactic in order to secure your place in the top cut, unless you’re that person) were in place and we kicked the whole tournament off with Round 1 (of 7)!

It felt weird, exhilarating, and just a tad magical to start the first round and see people shaking hands and slamming their first cards down in style. It was almost a year after the announcement, with many people putting in a lot of effort and resources to get the game to this point... and yet there I was, smiling and still not believing that the Championship was actually on. The downside is that I can’t say I played in three European tournaments in a row, gah ;-)

Being officially a Floor Judge (I’m still planning on adding the “Floor” bit to my tee), I got to walk around a lot (around 31,000 steps according to my pedometer), shout announcements and time updates a bit, and judge a little. I would hereby like to express huge thanks to everyone calling for judge help across both days, as you were all absolutely splendid, friendly, forthcoming, and ready to provide the fairest possible solution to your opponents if needed. The tournament basically judged itself, however weird that sounds. I would also like to extend my heartfelt apologies to anyone spooked by my unexpected and badly telegraphed shout-nouncements. I learned a valuable lesson that day – attention is earned through being direct and personal, not by being big and loud ;-)

The floor, about to be judged

The floor, about to be judged

Being a judge also meant I wasn’t really following any single game in particular, so if there were any brilliant plays, stonking comebacks, and generally fun times taking place at the tables, you should probably hunt them down in decklist descriptions or Stimslack chats (before they are sacrificed to that most invasive of digital predators again).

We did keep running a tad late with the start of each consecutive round, but we still managed to have a decently scheduled lunch break and finish well before the venue had to be shut down for the night. There were small software glitches, terribly bad photos taken by yours truly just before the end of the lunch break (I do sincerely hope someone else has decent photos of the whole gang in the garden square!), and this little video that I would like to dedicate to everyone who couldn’t make it…

Not pictured - the sun totally blinding yours truly holding the camera and making it harder to get everyone in the frame. Don't hire me as a videographer, please!

The atmosphere was brilliant from my first to my last step that day. I saw a lot of exchanged or simply gifted alt arts (thanks to everyone who rained their goodies on me, I am not worthy!), with many people showing just how generous and welcoming a community we are. It felt great back then and it still feels great while I’m writing about it. And don’t even get me started about the donations you made to Mermaids UK, our tournament’s charity of choice for 2019 – starting with the entirety of the entrance fees to the tournament itself all the way through to the end of Day 2… But let’s stick to Day 1 for now, shall we?

Shortly after 8pm, after seven smashing rounds of competitive friendliness (I wonder how many new connections across various European metas were made on that day!), several daring 2-4-1s, and quite a few intentional draws (carefully calculated and agreed on by everyone involved), we announced Day 1 results and shuffled out of the hall still glittering with streaks of data trickling out of deck boxes and traces of all kinds of damage the Corps tried to land on the Runners. What a day...

I hauled my tired bones to the hotel room, hoping to take a break – it was time to retreat, recharge, and reload for an action-packed Day 2, after all. Well, I totally failed to do any of this, but can’t complain after all the splendid socialising that’s probably an even better part of any event in this community than the games themselves. Needless to say, apart from hanging out and sharing stories and jokes, people kept playing in bars, hotels, and probably on public transport, because why not :-) You lot, it’s a dead game ;-D STAHP! (Kidding, don’t you ever, please).

DAY 2

After a surprisingly short (but heavy) slab of sleep, I managed to not derail Day 2’s start and showed up on time to see Akira taking complete and coherent control of running the Top Cut for those who made at least 30 points on the previous day (including the tiebreaker round – all the explanations can be found on the ABR page), while Austin was bravely keeping players of other games away from our mobile Tournament HQ (promptly relocated closer to where the action was). Sadly, no further DBZ enquiries were made in my direction, (I must have washed that convincing Vegeta expression off my face in the morning, together with the remains of my sleep).

Top cut action

Serious top cut action

It wasn’t just the top cut that needed taking care of, though – many of you went for the side event pods to duke it out for exclusive prizes, including some pretty awesome playmats and alt arts befitting the two formats used for that part of the tournament. One more occasion to thank Pat and the Creative team at NISEI for putting a megaton of time and effort into making great prizes a reality – they definitely kept players on the edge of their seats until the final cards hit the tables and overall scores were tallied.

 

Some of the side event winners with some of the mats

Some of the side event winners, clearly not tired with MOAR PLAYING ;-)

 

All in all, the second day was an interesting experience for me, as I got to juggle between one and five different countdown timers at any given moment for the side events, while trying to get a decent glimpse of what was going on in the top cut. I inevitably failed to keep my focus split evenly enough to get a good idea of the latter, but hey – we had nine different mini-tournaments taking place while the top cut action was quietly raging. I consider this a success, independently of Day 1 and the top cut, personally. A great performance from everyone involved, serving as additional evidence that some games are more addictive than others and there’s never enough (too much?) of them ;-)

By the end of the day, Akira had navigated the intricacies of tiebreakers and double elimination and Aaryn emerged victorious, bringing two previously uncrowned IDs to the top: Freedom Khumalo and Blue Sun proved their mettle in the current meta by taking the top spot through Aaryn’s expert application of some serious dead-card-game chops. Congratulations once more! Aaryn got to be the Witch-King of Angmar, while the nine winners of the side event pods got to be his Ringwra… Ahem, so yes, there were some other bonuses including the event trophy, the top 16 playmat and cards, and the chance to design a card for the game as a non-capslock-intern to the Game Development team. More details on that once we can share them.

The name's Champion, European Champion ;-)

The name's Champion, European Champion ;-)

The other big winners of the day were the folks from the Mermaids UK charity, who not only got all the entrance fees donated to their cause, but also a hefty extra boost of donations from all of you, as we were definitely not going to let Austin haul our prize support reserves back States-side. Cards and playmats from the event went into local meta prize pools all around Europe and your generosity made a glorious day even better. I know I may be repeating myself, but you are all awesome.

The day wrapped up, I managed to whisper or shout a few more times to announce this and that, Akira could finally take a break from calculating everything, and Austin got a chance to catch up on their jetlag… Once the final pod finished their neoprene smell-fuelled strife (come on, admit it, it’s OK, we all have an overwhelming addiction to it now), and the last agenda points were scored or stolen, the current commonly known as Euros 2019 stopped flowing through our veins and could be gently dumped into our collective memory archives...

Cache & cookies to be cleared ;-)

Truth!

Well, not before more games happening in planes, trains, automobiles, pubs, clubs, churches, grassy knolls and dangerous swamps… you get the idea ;-) Just a bunch of happy gamers sharing the last hours of their celebratory long weekend, paying homage to our hobby-cum-lifestyle choice ;-) You people never, ever stop, do you?

Once more, final thanks to everyone who could make it to Birmingham and who made our first big event such a great time! You know who you are, even if I can’t take a good photo of you :-) And thank you for all the kind and encouraging words, as well as your helpfulness and shared mirth. I get to carry many a great and cherished memory in my mind thanks to you. You rock!

Mascot time!

IN YOUR OWN WORDS

I could write more, but I wouldn’t be able to convey everyone’s experience of the event, so… let’s hear about it from you – the people who participated in the event!

Drop a line (or a dozen of them) about your Euros experience into the comments below, on the Stimhack forums, Reddit, tweet it at us or ping us about it via Facebook. If you’ve got Instagram, we’re also there since not so long ago (millennials, the whole lot of us, I’m telling you). Send us the good, the not-so-good, and the photos as well!

…and please claim your spot if you haven’t yet on ABR (and thank you so very much if you already have :-))!

LESSONS LEARNED & NEXT STEPS

The Euros experience left the OP Team excited and energised for the future of the game in Europe – but we also learned a few things along the way and figured out some of our next steps to make future NISEI European Championships better, more accessible, and more fun for everyone attending.

Lesson 1: Communication ahead of, during, and after the event needs more structure and pre-planning. And yes, it goes without saying that the 2020 season can only be better than 2019 – we hear you!

Lesson 2: Things will change almost last minute or go wrong at unexpected moments and you will have to adapt and keep going. Fortunately, we were ready enough and you were patient enough with us :-)

Lesson 3: Three people are enough to run a big tournament with some side events... but not enough to do almost everything else that would make it even greater. We sorely missed a live stream with commentary, a big and well-placed time display would make it easier to keep track of time left in each round, and more... We will be slowly ramping up big event organisation this season, hopefully involving more people who are OK with organising rather than playing (well, at least from time to time).

Lesson 4: Big events are a great opportunity to solve a lot of challenges for organising big tournaments, but that comes at a price. UKGE being the biggest event of its kind in the UK meant a lot of bystanders to manage and (unfortunately) keeping an eye out for everyone’s belongings, because some people on this planet can’t stop being jerks. Fortunately, nothing critical went missing, speaking of which...

Lesson 5: A Lost & Found needs to be organised and properly announced before the event, because it’s a very practical and useful thing to have!

Lesson 6: We definitely should get a microphone for the next big one… or just keep making sure that Sanjay is around for it ;-)

So, what’s next? The North American Championship taking place at Gencon quite soon (that I wish I could attend, but I can only wish all the best to Austin & crew running it), and then Worlds! Yes, we still owe you the big announcement and we know many of you would feel much better being able to start planning your holidays and trips to attend “The Biggest Global Meta Event This Year”. Trust me, I am in the same boat and I know that’s not a nice feeling… We are working on it and you will know all the necessary details as soon as we can share them.

In the meantime, I do have an announcement to make – we are starting the hunt for a good location for Euros 2020. We will not be returning to UKGE next year, that’s certain (well, maybe for the Nationals) – and we are open to hearing what you think would be a good place to invite you all to next spring/summer season to celebrate this crazy little thing we’re all a part of :-). Drop us a line at projectnisei+euros2020@gmail.com if you have a solid venue or an interesting (and accessible, please!) city in mind. We will also be approaching the regional/national meta-makers among you later this year to scout for potential places.

That’s it for now, keep being the amazing bunch of people you are and…