After the publication of this article, it has come to our attention that, after leaving the event in question, the author participated in other public activities in the community. The author’s decisions do not reflect the official position or policy of Goonhammer. As we have said before, safety in our community is everyone’s responsibility. This includes Tournament Organizers, but it also includes individual players. That being said, we stand by the content of the piece, and have made the decision to leave it up in its entirety.
Except I was mad. Standing in the cold rain outside of Wizards Asylum in Wichita, Kansas. I was on my own personal Crisis Mountain, and fellow Warhog Sean was doing his best to make sure to mitigate any damage I was going to do to myself or the things around me. I did drop a crushed can of LaCroix and didn’t immediately pick it up, but the saying isn’t “Don’t mess with Kansas” so take that, Kansas.
I was mad because I drove 11 hours to the last event of the 2020 ITC season and I dropped the moment pairings were posted because I felt unsafe in the venue.
I was mad because Narawife had a bunch of plans for the day that I interrupted because I needed a ride back to the Airbnb. I was mad because I had a real shot at best in faction for Space Marines and a top 3 spot in the overall standings in the ITC and I won’t even get a chance to try. I was mad at myself for spending as long as I did setting up my army and getting settled before realizing how packed the store was. Finally, I was mad that I assumed that the tournament organizer were going to maintain the standard they set at Flying Monkey and that I didn’t check to verify that standard was in place before traveling like I did for Iron Halo and Renegade.
Most of all, I was really mad at the event’s COVID policies. I’m paraphrasing here, but to the best of my recollection it was:
- If everyone at the table agrees, you all can play without masks. But if anyone disagrees, everyone at the table plays masks on. We can’t fuck this up, we have to be perfect.
That is not a direct quote – a few days after the event, I asked several players who were there if they recalled that opening statement and several mentioned that the TO used a restaurant analogy: Masks when not at the table, but if everyone agrees at the table you can play without masks. All the players I spoke with had slightly different variations on the statement. Some, but not all, remembered the restaurant analogy. What was a consistent through-line was a mask mandate with caveats.
There is a lot going on there, so let me unpack it.
If everyone at the table agrees,…
The reason this isn’t “if both players agree” is because the event was set up with two games to a table, with some of the mats placed so the players didn’t stand on the long edge of the mat and instead stood on the short edge, shoulder-to-shoulder with the next game – mats were about 8″ apart. I’ve played in a lot of tournaments, and even before the pandemic I’d never played on an event table where my only option was to stand on the short edge of the map.
…you all can play without masks.
Do I have to talk about COVID fundamentals? Because I don’t want to talk about COVID fundamentals.
Fine. No, you can’t play without masks. Six feet of Social Distancing is the lie we all tell ourselves because it’s literally the least we can do and it makes us all feel like we are doing something, like when we add “COVID strong” to our profile pictures or whatever. The real risk reducer is face coverings because of droplets and the surprising amount of disgusting fluids we spray on each other with when we speak. There’s already ample science around this and the bottom line is almost painfully simple: Wear a mask if you are around people you don’t live with, OK?
But if anyone disagrees, everyone at the table plays masks on.
Ah, yes – the social contract where we all agree to the risks involved. We are all consenting adults here, right? Just one problem: Peer pressure is real, and consent is a tricky concept that we were already having national conversations about in the Before Times. People in groups might consent to things they are not comfortable with because they don’t want to be “that person.” Forcing the decision onto individuals in a group setting is exactly how non-consenting-consent happens.
In other words: “SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS….YEEEAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!”
Except we’re not talking about shots, we’re talking about a disease that has killed more Americans in under a year than the entirety of World War II.
Even beyond that, let’s say we accept in good faith that these four individuals at a table all agreed that they’d rather not wear masks and accept the risk. We have multiple layers of guidelines for a reason. If the tables are spaced like they were at Monkey/Halo/Renegade, then best-case scenario (assuming proper ventilation) they’ve kind of agreed to create their own multi-household pod.
The table spacing situation wasn’t like that. The few places I measured the tables were around 3 feet apart and I don’t know if any table was more than 6 feet away from any other. That multi-household pod is going to be bigger then just those who consented to their social contract.
…We can’t fuck this up, we have to be perfect.
This is a mantra that the Midwest circuit has repeated at every major event I’ve attended in Covlandia. But it was twisted at Wizards Asylum. At past events, this phrase was used after a preamble about mask usage being mandatory and red cards being handed out for non-compliance – because we couldn’t fuck this up. If anyone got COVID from Flying Monkey the circuit would have been done immediately. It was that statement and the attitude behind it that got me to tentatively go to Iron Halo and enthusiastically attend Renegade. The Flying Monkeys set the standard for modern 40k in the US: large venues with hand sanitizer and 6 feet+ of distance around all the tables and a mask mandate with immediate consequences.
You set the standard, and you are running this.
It took me a while for all this to dawn on me. I arrived at the venue with only about 20 minutes to get my ducks in a row. I had to tray up my army, hit the restroom, check in, say “bye” to my wife, and do the usual meet and greet with the rest of the guys in the room, and resolve a question that came up the night before with how obscuring works with based ruins. The room felt crowded with everyone waiting for announcements but you probably couldn’t hear from the back gaming room, or the basement we are all going to win up in. I thought the tables were a little tight, but there is probably more around the corner or something. But then I noticed the table my army was on had two mats and the terrain was indeed setup for both mats on that same table. And the next table was real tight, and the next.
And there was no back gaming room. There was no basement.
But even then, dear reader, I didn’t just walk out the door. Pairings went up and I had to know how many players. Will there still be a GT if I drop? I mean I have my morals and responsibility to my family and co-workers to not bring in the COVID to their lives, but I also didn’t want to hang the whole room out to dry. I’ve been there, and it’s real disappointing when your event didn’t make GT status. Yes, Warhammer is among the least important things. But to this room it’s the most important least important thing, particularly at this moment.
Turns out they had 30 players packed into the space. After our drops (thanks for dropping as well, Sean), they were still fine with regard to meeting the 28-player minimum. The TO came over and wanted to ask if his answer to my question about how the ruins will be played was sufficient. I told him “oh I don’t care I’m dropping.” We talked a bit and he did try to accommodate me, giving me my own table away from other people and he asked if the event had been misrepresented. I told him I didn’t check because 1. I’m off Facebook and don’t even own a tv and 2. I trusted him to put on a safe event because he set the standard with Flying Monkey and was putting his name on this event.
Narawife checked out the Wizard’s Asylum’s Facebook page and took these screenshots of the photos they posted on Friday. At 4pm Friday we had been on the road for about 9 hours.
I don’t love it. And had I seen them the moment they were posted I might have avoided some pretty heavy sunk costs – 9 hours of drive time in and 2 days of vacation spent. Even then, though, none of those tables pictured are doubled up games on the same table. I may not have bothered to look beforehand, but had I known in the days before that there would be two games to a table, I certainly wouldn’t have gone.
Guys, this isn’t a fuckin’ joke
This event was irresponsibly run and a black mark on an otherwise excellent and safe organization. I’m embarrassed for the Midwest tournament circuit. Gaming in person AT ALL is a risk to the players and their households. And like any vice, it’s about risk mitigation. Playing in this event could have presented an unnecessary risk for the tables that chose to play without masks, and by the nature of this airborne respiratory disease would also have exposed everyone else – regardless of their choice – to additional risks in a crowded and still open to the public retail space.
I certainly have a takeaway. The big one for me is that I need to get pictures of venues and written policies about guidelines before I’ve crossed three state lines on my way to the event. For TOs, be clear in your communication about your event’s layout and what COVID-related precautions you’ll be taking up front so that people can make informed decisions before sunk costs and peer pressure combine to make their decision harder than it needs to be.
We can’t have events like this and expect to have in-person Warhammer. The leadership at the top of the ITC chose to punt decisions like this to the regional reps instead of ending the season. Because of that lack of leadership, I expect event safety and regulations to be as wild and varied as regions they are hosted in. I was proud of the Lord Marshal Conference, and specifically the Flying Monkey crew, because they worked hard to set a world-class standard for how events can be run, despite the it-would-be-laughable-if-it-weren’t-so-sad response to COVID from state governments in the Midwest. But COVID fatigue is real, I suppose. Being vigilant for so long is hard. Having a last-minute event to fill the hole LVO was leaving in the schedule apparently leads to compromise. And chasing end-of-the-year points is a rush that I’ve enjoyed for as long as I’ve been playing this stupid game. I don’t blame the players who stayed. I don’t really even blame the TO: there are pressures and forces beyond us and sometimes all we can do is sell ourselves some small lies to keep ourselves sane. We stared into the face of adversity and blinked. I’m not mad. But I am disappointed.
LVO weekend really is cursed. At least this time there was no technology or app to blame.
A message from the TO
I reached out to the TO for a response before publishing this piece. His unedited response follows:
“I first off want to state that I appreciate Goonhammer and Cyle for reaching out for a response in regards to the Wizards GT. Covid invokes many different emotions and feelings in many people. I respect and acknowledge that those fears are completely valid, should be considered and treated with respect, and players be ultimately capable of making decisions in regards to their own comfort levels in safety while attending events. While some of my being quoted is close, it’s not entirely accurate or the complete sentiment. I appreciate the chance to clarify those points here.
While our event followed the local health and safety guidelines, Cyle stated he felt these precautions were not enough. I respected that. Offered additional accommodations. Offered an unsolicited refund. 28 other players felt the event was safe. Including some from his own team. We serve food and snacks. And just like restaurants if you are seated with someone at a table you are allowed to take off your mask and eat or drink if everyone agrees to do so. For what it’s worth I saw one player without a mask on all weekend and he was eating food and having a soda at his table.
There are lessons in this situation to be learned about communication on both ends and people who may not have done their due diligence. I am always readily available to address concerns or questions regarding events in advance, but addressing concerns the day of an event after it has started is problematic at best. Addressing them when someone is angry or in a hyper critical state is even more difficult.
I could spend a lot of time splitting hairs or arguing things stated in this article. It makes a lot of logic leaps and assumptions about motivations with things such as posting pictures or statements made that quite frankly weren’t as convoluted as they were made out to be. It was simply pictures taken so players could get a decent idea of terrain saturation. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Covid is serious. Covid should be taken seriously. Not everyone has the same standard of feeling safe in this environment. And that is fair and they are free to have their beliefs and the ability to protect themselves and others in a way they feel is valid. Not everyone is going to agree on the level of precaution with Covid protocols, and it is ultimately up to the player and if he or she feels safe.
I support Cyle in his decision and don’t begrudge him one bit. I don’t however agree with the perception of events and what was quoted and delivery of its context in this article. I hope my response is printed in entirety.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is serious, and must be taken seriously. While there are those of us here at Goonhammer who disagree with Cyle’s decision to play in-person games during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are unanimous in our opinion that, if someone is going to play a game in-person, that game needs to be played under conditions that are as safe as possible. This means at a bare minimum: No-excuses mask mandates, 6-foot social distancing minimums, regular hand washing/sanitizing, and swift and merciless enforcement of these rules on any bad actors unwilling to comply.
For these reasons, we have been hesitant to report on any events taking place in the United States or United Kingdom, due to the high rates of infection in those countries and what is, in our opinion, an inadequate response from public authorities. However, following Cyle’s trip to the Iron Halo event last year, we were impressed with the precautions taken by the Tournament Organizers and the seriousness with which they appeared to treat these issues. Based on that, we were willing to include those organizers’ data in several of our meta analysis posts, and even thanked them for their assistance in gathering data.
To the extent that those posts were an explicit or implicit endorsement of those organizers or their events, it is now clear that that endorsement was a mistake.
If events are going to happen any time in the foreseeable future, it is the responsibility of everyone involved to ensure that those events are safe. That being said, special responsibility rests with Tournament Organizers and other individuals with real authority over those events, and we firmly believe that efforts to shift the TO’s responsibility to attendees are inappropriate and wrong. There is no amount of “due diligence” that can be performed by players that makes it OK to have tables closer than six feet apart, or to permit players to play at tables without masks, even if they all agree. This goes double for events held indoors, as most are.
Safety for everyone in our community is paramount, and it’s critical to recognize that safety is a community responsibility, not merely an individual one. While individuals may be able to make decisions about what they are personally comfortable with, the wargaming community is more than the sum of its parts. Now more than ever, the decisions that each of us make as individuals can have momentous and potentially life-changing impact on everyone else.
We’re all in this together. It’s time to act like it.
Below are the remaining screenshots from the Wizards GT 2021 post on their Facebook page
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