Age of Sigmar Spearhead Livestream Review

“What are we gonna talk about? We know what we’re going to talk about and then it just goes from there.” – Claudio Castagnoli putting over attending in-person events.

It felt like the result of a half-baked AI that was released without proper testing. All Elite Wrestling (AEW) wrestlers Kip Sabian and Claudio Castagnoli were going to livestream the first game of Age of Sigmar Spearhead. I watched the entire stream (multiple times at this point) and have some opinions on it. If you’re reading this website you’re likely familiar with the Games Workshop prerelease marketing that has involved an evolution from commentators saying “great model” to the well lit pre-recorded talk show style with creators and designers of the models and game. This is a positive change as it highlights the human beings who put effort into something we love and allows the people who directly worked on items to comment, as opposed to announcers reading off bullet points from a script. Having celebrities promote products and services they are tangentially related to is a time honored tradition but something as obtuse as Warhammer takes special care.

For this event Games Workshop cleared the decks entirely of all other preview content and devoted an entire evening to releasing the new Age of Sigmar box before going live to Dallas, TX for the first game of Age of Sigmar Spearhead played by celebrities. Many of the Sigmar crew at Goonhammer had the chance to play Spearhead in more controlled settings and shared our thoughts here. I want to point out that every single person who has played Spearhead that I talked to has also talked about the future Spearhead box they are buying to get ready for the new edition.

Should anyone watch a replay of this stream?

Absolutely not; it was bad content and I know a thing or two about creating some real duds. Nobody sets out to create something bad, and the setup — having two AEW wrestlers with an interest in Warhammer and minis — is a good idea. However, some of the production issues, like not putting a mic on people who literally talk as part of the job, made this look like a cheap mudshow where people get hit by lightbulbs for $50. This isn’t something you could flip through twitch or youtube and look at and say “this looks like fun.”

Was it a good way to disseminate and showcase Spearhead as a format?

Maybe the objective was to share a new game format and highlight it. Was this a good showcase the new format? It might have been. Kip and Claudio were great and the novelty of being the first public game being played makes it hard to not showcase the Spearhead format. The boards were attractive and using the new models, some of which had just been shown for the first time, was really effective at highlighting the new box as a true starter set that two people can play. However, by clearing out all of the non-Sigmar previews you created a mismatch between the people who are going to be around for the stream and the nature of the game and the participants. Only a real sicko with a specific and niche interest, like me, is going to set aside time on a school night to watch a product reveal that can’t even be ordered yet. This did no favors to the announce team who often used terms and references from the 40K rules set when discussing Spearhead. If the lead-in had been a new Space Marine sergeant/lieutenant they’d have been more likely to get purchase beyond a small niche audience.

Can you create K-pop style fancams lasting 30-45 second from the content?

Yes, or do a splitscreen with people cutting soap.

Wrestlers, Wrestling, and Fandom

I’ve seen some people say “What do AEW wrestlers like Kip Sabian and Claudio Castagnoli have to do with minis?” and apparently the answer is they’re both nerds like us. Professional wrestling is a live athletic performance art with predetermined outcomes that emerged from legitimate contests of skill that were boring to watch except for a esoteric target audience. Wrestling, like many sports including miniature wargaming, is more exciting when the outcome is fixed between the competitors (a “work”) compared to a sport like boxing, where the contest looks worse when two competitors work towards an outcome. This later developed into well-defined roles of the “babyface” – who would be cheered by the crowd, told the true, and ultimately had to triumph, and the “heel” who lies, gets booed, and may use underhanded tactics to win in the short term, but always loses to the babyface.

Despite what passionate fans who share a niche interest want to believe, Warhammer games of all stripes are not spectator sports. The average game is played for fun, with friends, and far away from the eyes of others. Even the most popular battle reports, with high production values and thoughtful edits, aren’t based on unlocking competitive tips and tricks but two (or more) people having fun.

I think picking two professional wrestlers who have an interest in Warhammer to be presenters is an inspired choice – Kip and Claudio can join Shana Baszler, Peter Cushing, and Henry Cavill as celebrity mini gamer reference points when we’re explaining our hobby to others. Being camera-ready quick-witted showman helped them show extremely well during the event and having experience at AEW helped them in performing in a room that had more empty seats than full ones. Like minis, professional wrestling an engagement in doing something extremely campy and taking it seriously at the same time. If you’ve yelled “Waaagh” or “TIIIIIMBER” at an event you get the joy and absurdity of the performance element of minigames. Fans of wrestling and miniature wargames have some things in common:

  • The average fan thinks they could do things better than a multibillion dollar corporation.
  • Often hooked as kids, as adults they return and get to spend too much money and express and act out childhood desires.
  • It’s a pretty common path to start enjoying the “mainstream” product before generating into more esoteric and niche parts of the experience.
  • Both like to fool themselves that they have extensive knowledge of “what is happening behind the scenes” and why certain decisions are being made. These “smart marks” are often the easiest to trick and if you have unopened and unpainted minis at your house that you paid for you’re a “smart mark” for minis.

Kip Sabian is a lesser known wrestler who is regarded as an underused talent at AEW. His

Kip Sabian – Credit AEW

best known gimmick has been to wear a box on his head saying “Underrated and Over It” while recovering from a lengthy injury. Cargo pants have big skaven energy and Kip was also wearing a skaven themed tee-shirt. He looks like a warhammer dude who will also talk to you about working out and and embraced his role as the skaven player during the entrance and carried some skaven related artifacts to the table. Based on his demeanor at the table it was no surprise that the dude is an Ork player. We can always spot our own. In an interview with Kip in 2023 at Dicebreaker he played as a kid, fell off, and now plays orks. He also collects a lot of stuff to the consternation of his wife – one of us.

Claudio Castagnoli is the more famous of the two, with a long run in WWE as Cesaro. Now

Claudio Castagnoli – credit AEW

in AEW, he appears as part of the Blackpool Combat Club and also wrestles in its sister promotion Ring of Honor. He frequently is involved in pay-per-views and recently challenged for the AEW World Championship against Swerve Strickland. He’s known for being both one of the best technical wrestlers and for being extremely strong. His entrance to the event, holding a warhammer, was great and he showed what a well-fitting suit at an event can look like. I’ve seen people in ill-fitted suits trying to play Warhammer and dress to impress and you all need to take some lessons from Claudio on how its done. “I don’t have enough time to paint” – one of us.

While it might have been a coincidence, Claudio looks like a Stormcast Eternal and the contrast between him and Kip, a smaller and sneaky looking dude with untrustworthy facial hair, couldn’t be have been a better fit. Both were great at moving models and Claudio complaining about rolling a lot of ones (when we could hear it) was great. At the end of the event, where Kip upset Claudio’s victory by unveiling cards and counting points, the face that Claudio made is the exact scene that plays out at a lot of tables during and event. As the event was to use wrestlers to promote Spearhead, and not to use Spearhead to promote wrestling, I understand why there wasn’t some cheating or other heelish action from Kip but it would have been pretty sweet if he moved his models with his drink or warpfire grenade during the event. Unfortunately, these performers were let down by the production of the event (being in AEW, some might argue they’re use to it).

Production and Presentation

It was a rough watch and a tough hang to sit through the stream. Without the novelty of having new models and a new game released I can’t imagine somebody sitting through, this or using it to show off something you were proud of. After watching the Saturday stream of the full Age of Sigmar game between Tom Mawdsley and Nicolas Tassone, I’m happy to report that many of the production issues were fixed or improved upon. Much like when I paint my own models I’d rather have something attempted, be a failure, and then be improved the next time you do it.

Having the Spearhead match occur right after an hour of slickly produced, well-lit, and in focus model previews served to highlight the poor video quality and production of the stream itself. For years, people have asked for Games Workshop to give us more access to developers and the model designers when doing previews and they’ve been doing a much better job. Adepticon was a real shift from “a couple of people talking over models and killing time before a video” to “informational where the people directly involved talk about why they made choices.” This is a big change that I applaud, but why couldn’t this have been done for the Spearhead preview? Is the live aspect of the release more important compared to showing the rules and providing compelling content?

The best view of the board had an interesting lighting choice.

The event itself felt “squeezed in” with the streaming of the GT event taking precedent. Instead of having a closer, and louder, crowd, they used the same tables and setup that would be livestreamed the next day. Both players made occasional gestures to the crowd and having people in the shot reacting would have added to the look and feel of the event.  The camera work like it was a shakedown for the real event, livestreaming, from a weird blue tinge to models at the start and the board frequently being out of focus.

The best part of the production, and one that I loved to see, is the guy who grabbed the warhammer from Claudio selling how heavy it was. That was a great detail that served to put him over and more things like that would have lead to a more entertaining program.

The worst production decision was to not put mics on Kip and Claudio and let them talk. From time to time the ambient mics would pick up a bit of banter, but you’ve brought in two people that talk for a living to create scenarios of conflict that can only be resolved with physical violence honorable combat in the mortal realms…and most of the time, no one can hear them actually do that. Without knowing the time constraints, I’m less critical of not getting a pre-match promo from each hyping up the match.

I’m not sure if having a live event that lasted over two hours is the right format to show off a game that should be able to be played in an hour. It was an honest and authentic experience but it might have been better served by showing the match in a condensed and controlled format. Live production, with a dedicated and experienced crew, is EXTREMELY difficult and the number of viewers for live battle reports doesn’t justify a full time live streaming crew.

The Announcing

Paul and Adam have been part of the multi-game livestream commentary at several events and covered the Age of Sigmar livestream at the World Championships of Warhammer. Both of the announcers are fans of Warhammer in general, but not Age of Sigmar specialists.

In talking about this stream, and the Saturday stream, I’ve heard a lot of complaints from long-time Sigmar players about Paul and Adam and I think that some of the critiques are well-founded. It’s clear, from the way they cover and talk about Warhammer, that Age of Sigmar is a side project and longtime players of the game want people in those seats who live, breathe, and care about Age of Sigmar. I think that the specific design of this event by Games Workshop set them up to fail. By putting Age of Sigmar on its own night with previews followed by a livestream you cut out the majority of Warhammer fans who might not be tune in for a Sigmar specific release. Paul and Adam can play to an audience that is Spearhead-curious and familiar with 40K, as they did when discussing “sticky objectives” in Spearhead, but you’ve set up an event where that audience isn’t tuning in. As they had during the Saturday stream they would have benefited from having a traditional “straight man” to assist in the commentary and describe the action in relation to the new rules. It wouldn’t have been a bad thing to have one of the designers on with them to walk them through some specific moves and abilities.

Forge the Narrative is one of the few podcasts that I listen to about 40K and a big part of it has to do with the soothing and pleasant voice of Paul Murphy. I don’t particularly care for 40K, but there are much worse choices if you’re driving to an event and want somebody to talk about something related to Warhammer in the car.

The best part of the entire stream was when Paul interviewed Claudio and had him discuss the game right after the event. If you had watched nearly three and half hours of stream you were rewarded with some genuine excitement and discussion about the game as opposed to the production taking away from the presentation.

The Total Package

People have always looked for ways to promote new games and products. Sometimes, like DJ Khaled performing at Overwatch, it’s a disaster because of an extreme mismatch between the community and interests of the hired gun celebrity. Other times, like the worked outcome where Lupe Fiasco defeated Daigo at Street Fighter 5, it’s a perfect match in getting a celebrity and a member of the community to work together to reach out to a larger community and draw interest to the product being shown. Despite my criticisms of the production and presentation, this falls in the middle because of how well Kip and Claudio worked. Would it be better to have had a 30 minute highlight package of the game bookended by both of them passionately talking about the hobby? Probably so. Certainly better than this iteration of the full event.

Instead of saying that people should lose jobs over this or that this was a total failure, I’m looking at it as a weird transitional artifact that we can talk about in the future. The best parts of the hobby are where people can authentically talk about the fun, comradery, and shared interests we have in a pretty niche and specific product. Unlike wrestling, with its warnings to not attempt the moves you see, Warhammer is completely different: Something that shouldn’t be watched but that should be done.

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