The 50th Gen Con took place last week in Indianapolis, attracting thousands of gamers from around the world. It is the perfect chance for people to get together and play the hottest new releases, get sneak peeks at what’s coming out in the future, and just spend time with people who share their passion for the hobby. However, big gaming events also provide an opportunity for organized play (OP). This can include anything from tournaments, to league play, to special scenarios of favorite titles.
For this week’s CMON Feature Friday, we got a chance to talk to CMON’s OP Coordinator, Heather Sauer-Hart, about some of the events that took place at Gen Con and what goes in to running a thriving OP community.
“The goal of CMON’s OP program is to open the door to a much more expansive world of gaming and get fans playing their favorites more often,” said Sauer-Hart. “We love creating new and exciting experiences for players that they can share with friends, and make new friends in the process.”
In the tournaments area of Gen Con, there were a number of different events every day during the show. Players could take to the high seas in the Rum and Bones Big Boat Battle, or face their fate in the Riders of the Apocalypse scenario for The Others, or take on Evil Troy’s Army in a Zombicide: Black Plague special event. That’s not to mention all the tournaments and learn-to-play events that attendees had access to.
Sauer-Hart enjoys the different challenges that running OP events presents, and finds the ability to be creative with her approach to the games that she loves one of the most rewarding aspects.
“My favorite, by far, are the special scenarios that are created for the conventions. We get some game crossovers and new storylines that players definitely wouldn’t expect. I truly enjoy hearing the players’ reactions and even getting to listen to some of their own ideas and campaigns they’ve engineered for our games. They get so creative and passionate, and seeing that kind of excitement is part of why I wanted to be in the gaming industry.”
Sauer-Hart gamed a bit in her youth, but it was a family connection that really sparked her love of the hobby.
“My brother was a large contributor to it. After he returned from Afghanistan, we bonded over card games that he had learned on his tour to pass the time, which quickly turned into board games, and then I ventured into RPGs as well. Eventually, I got a job at a local game store, and it ignited my passion for them even further,” she explains. “My brother and I still get games to the table when we visit during the holidays, but I don’t let him cheat like he did when we were kids.”
One thing to keep in mind if you’re considering running OP events, and especially tournaments, is the different mentality those dynamics can bring to games. When there is an organized nature to a competitive event, the stakes are raised in the mindset of the participants. Even if the only prize is bragging rights, some people will take their intensity up to the next level. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but something to be aware of.
“Tournaments really bring forth the competitive mindset in our players, especially when some great prizes are on the line. We try to keep a good balance of tournaments and casual events to cater to every type of player.”
Running OP events can be a lot of work. So, how can you make sure you enjoy organizing them as you do participating in them?
“The most important thing is to have fun with what you’re planning, and don’t stress the small things. I think players can really sense when an organizer doesn’t have their whole heart into an event, and it can really change the way they feel about it,” advises Sauer-Hart. “The scheduling and organizing is the easy part, it’s what you actually present the community that matters. Another tip that I always have to remind myself of is that it’s okay to ask for help!”
Playing board games is meant to be fun, but they are competitive by their very nature. OP events allow players to put their skills to the test and compete with some stakes on the line. It can make for a really fun experience. But keep in mind that no matter what, it’s still just a game. If you’re interested in running OP events yourself, check with your local gaming store, community center, library, or see if there are any conventions nearby that could use your support. The hobby always benefits from a stronger community, and organized play is one way to build that community.