Here at Goonhammer, we love 40K so much that we’ve effectively turned it into a second job.
Whether it’s throwing down with friends over a kitchen table, heading to local clubs or going for glory at tournaments, playing this game is a huge part of our lives and something we’re tremendously passionate about, and the last thing any of us wants to do is stand up and say that people should play it less – but unfortunately that’s what we’re here to do today.
By all available evidence, our societies are about to face one of their largest challenges in recent memory in the form of responding to the emergence of COVID-19. Very few people alive today have lived through a global pandemic, and the reality of what’s going to be asked of all of us in response to it has, for many people, not really hit yet. Predictions of just how bad things could get are changing daily, but they’re almost universally getting worse with each new bit of information.
This Monday governments around the world, including in the United Kingdom and United States, massively stepped up the severity of measures they are planning to introduce to curb the spread of the virus. This has likely been a particular shock to readers in the UK, since as recently as last Thursday the government were advising that those without underlying risk factors could continue to socialise and attend gatherings, and there was some hope on that basis that 40k events might be able to continue (and indeed several at the weekend did).
That has now changed, and it has been credibly reported that the driver of this change is data emerging from Italy, one of the worst hit countries thus far. This suggests that the rate of hospitalisations among those infected with the virus is drastically higher than predicted in the models informing previous government advice, and effectively makes risking wide-spread infections untenable – the number of patients requiring critical care would simply overwhelm health systems. The majority of 40k players live in countries where we are not used to the idea that a vital part of society can simply fail, but this is now the reality we are likely to be confronting.
In response to this, the overwhelming direction of government policy is to encourage everyone, not just those in vulnerable populations, to minimise social contact through policies collectively known as social distancing. Whether it’s working from home, avoiding pubs and restaurants or avoiding public transport, the message is clear – if you can avoid situations where you might spread the illness, do so. The majority of people who catch the disease will suffer only mild symptoms, and there are strong indications that some may not even notice it, but that doesn’t matter – those people can still pass the infection on to others, propagating the spread through the population and hampering efforts to keep it under control. We strongly believe that following the government guidance in this instance is the right thing to do.
That, sadly, presents a huge challenge for Warhammer and Games Workshop’s other games, because they are at their core social experiences. Even more so than other traditional games, many of which have an increasing online element, participating in our hobby of choice means meeting up with like minded hobbyists, and events that bring together tens or hundreds of players happen all across the world every weekend. The majority of UK events taking place in the next few weeks have been postponed, including our own Corrode’s major in April and even the LGT which has now been pushed back to September.
Tragically, for now, the right thing is for that to stop and we believe that tournament organisers and, in particular, the coordinators of the ITC and other leagues (such as the Lord Marshall’s Conference we looked at last week) have an opportunity to do their part in making that happen. Adepticon has already made that call, and Games Workshop have also suspended their own events and play at Warhammer World as of Monday.
Bluntly, no one wants to be in the situation we are in. Several of our editorial staff are heartbroken that events they have been looking forward to, either as participants or organisers, are not going to be going ahead, and don’t doubt that countless others are in the same position.
It’s natural when faced with a painful decision to look for any excuse not to make it, and to absolve ourselves of the consequences. In the current situation, events continuing to run and prestigious leagues such as the ITC continuing to accept scores will give the community that excuse to avoid the hard choice to stay at home.
They will see a tournament running, and tell themselves that if there was a real problem then it would be cancelled.
They’ll see their friends talking about an event they’re going to, and tell themselves that if they’re going them it must be OK.
They’ll waver on cancelling an RTT they’re running, and see that one the town over sent in scores only last week.
In short, they’ll silently put the burden of responding to these awful choices onto someone else whose answer they like – and the worst thing is that as soon as they do so they become another datapoint for those who want to do the same. It seems likely that gatherings the size of GT and Major events may shortly be banned by force of law, but smaller GTs and RTTs could easily slip under the radar, and that will tempt people to run and play them, even though in their heart of hearts they know they shouldn’t.
At this time, everyone with a platform in this community has an opportunity to help people make the right call (and indeed some such as Salty John have admirably already done so). Cancelling events hurts both emotionally and financially, but it is something that should be done because it will save lives.
The community response to events that have chosen to do this already in the UK has been very uplifting, with players being very understanding of requests by TOs to re-schedule events or roll over tickets rather than refund them. We all understand that margins in this hobby are tight, and plenty of us would rather write off an entry fee than see our local event go bust.
If you’re a TO with an event scheduled in the next few months in a country where the virus has spread, we encourage you to cancel it, and realistically if you have one planned any time in the next six months you should open a dialog with your players about the risk of a cancellation, and set a deadline for when you’re going to make a final decision with plenty of time for people to change their plans. If you run a regular club or meetup that brings lots of people together, cancel it. TOs and community organisers have a voice and (well earned) respect in the community, and it’s time to use that for a good cause.
That brings us to our final point, which is about the ITC. The enormous success of this circuit has had an electrifying effect on the competitive 40K world over the last few years, causing unprecedented growth in the number and size of events – and along the way it’s earned the organisers a platform and voice in the community that’s unrivaled except by Games Workshop themselves. They have an opportunity to use that platform to send an unequivocal message to the community by suspending the submission of ITC scores. No one can look at the latest advice from the UK and US governments and say that tournaments should be happening – and suspending score submission would amplify that message within our community, and support anyone who is wavering in making the right choices.
There are plenty of possible objections to this that we’re sure will be aired. What happens to the scores accumulated thus far? When does it re-start? What about events in countries less affected. Ultimately, we don’t think having immediate answers to those is as important as the good that could be done by sending a clear message to players in countries where a difference could be made now. The (Soccer) Premier League in the United Kingdom, which is worth billons of pounds annually, has suspended fixtures immediately while still in discussions with participants about how to proceed. They’re being vocally supported in this decision by Jurgen Klopp, the manager of the current leaders Liverpool (who are having a season even better than Richard Siegler’s 2019 ITC run).
His whole statement is worth a read, but the bit that’s most important is as follows:
“Of course, we don’t want to play in front of an empty stadium and we don’t want games or competitions suspended, but if doing so helps one individual stay healthy – just one – we do it no questions asked.
If it’s a choice between football and the good of the wider society, it’s no contest. Really, it isn’t.”
Encouraging tournaments to close down now will save lives, so the decision should be no contest. Make the call then talk to the players – we’re sure a plan can be arrived at for what to do when it’s safe to reopen things.
How long should events stay suspended for? We don’t know. Some predictions suggest things will ease up towards the end of the summer, but no one can know for sure right now. The only answer we can give, and we think the only right answer is “as long as needed”, because what really, truly matters is that when the virus is finally brought under control and the phenomenal events that have grown out of this community start up again, as many of us as possible are there to see it.
The other argument we want to address is whether the ITC, or indeed any group with a platform, has a right to instruct events not to run. Ultimately, of course, the answer is no – the ITC itself doesn’t run most events and some don’t even submit scores to it. Even with scoring suspended we would be relying on individual TOs and groups of players making the right decision based on their assessment of the risks. However, keeping scoring open in this time doesn’t send the message that event participants should make an objective risk assessment – it provides them with a temptation and excuse to go against their better judgement. We encourage the ITC to recognise this and do what’s needed.
While events need to close down, the hobby obviously isn’t going to stop completely, and this community isn’t going to go anywhere. Armies are still going to get painted (maybe even more than normal), new rules are still going to be published and analysed, and podcasts, videos and articles will continue to help people stay in touch with the game even if they can’t play as much as normal. Games Workshop have led the way by moving their Adepticon previews online, and we’re sure plenty of others will follow suit with new content plans.
We’ll certainly be doing our best to keep you entertained throughout, but the hobby is so much bigger than just us, and we want to see the community continue to thrive despite what’s being thrown at us. With that in mind we’re ready to practice what we preach – if you have any initiatives planned to help the community enjoy the hobby safely through this year and think that a signal boost from the platform we’ve built here will help, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see how we can help.
Stay safe everyone, and let’s all pull together to get through this.
The Goonhammer Editorial Team