The Future of Regional Championships?

by Roy Rogers

What makes for a good Regional Championship season?

Over the last few weeks Fantasy Flight Games has dumped a lot of information on us about the future of their Organized Play. FFG has separated Star Wars™ games from the rest of their competitive games, retooled the competitive season, instituted new levels of play, and issued new tournament rules. They even adjusted the number of Swiss rounds, for better and for worse. Tommy, Will, and I discussed these issues at length on a recent podcast episode, and I hope to return to a few of these issues in future columns.

What I want to talk about this week is the future of regional championships and their place in the community.
According to the Organized Play structure, Regional Championships make up the middle tier of the FFG’s official organized play – situated between your trusty Store Championship and the sweep of national and continental championships. Regionals have very solid swag and winning one is an important accomplishment in any competitive Thrones player’s career. Most importantly, however, it is the highest level of competitive play that most members of the community (particularly in North America) will attend. Despite what one might hope, the number of players – even highly competitive ones – who have the time, resources, or interest in traveling to Columbus, Indianapolis, or St. Paul for the highest tier of FFG’s pyramid, remains rather unknown most years.

Image from FFG Official Organized Play site

What is certain, though, is that Regional Championships are generally well attended, seeing as FFG purportedly places them according to geography, thereby raising the stakes of getting Regionals right. However, as most folks know, history does not bend in FFG’s direction on this question. There are two basic principles, to me, which are necessary for a well-designed regional season: consistency and accessibility.

Part 1
Are Regional Championships located in places that consistently support the game? Also, is the location known for having well-attended SC’s and community-run events?Does that location have local community members who are capable of judging and running a highly competitive event like a regional championship? This final point will be remedied, at least somewhat, by the upcoming judge program. That said, this type of consistency is central to a successful Regional, which needs to build from an established, local player base.

FFG has a history of screwing up big-time on the consistency front. Take last year’s Standish, ME Regional as an example. At the tail end of first edition Standish did not have a particularly large meta; yet it received a Regional nonetheless that was attended by just over a handful of people. That turnout looks particularly sad when juxtaposed with other regionals in the northeast of North America – from Montreal to Washington DC – that drew much larger numbers.

Part 2

There is another aspect of consistency that is important: by keeping the regionals in the same general vicinity, planning (for those traveling) becomes easier. Being able to say that there is a “Chicago” or “Springfield” regional allows people to make plans, even in advance of the official announcement. In my dream world, FFG would also keep the timing of specific regionals relatively static as well, which allows for additional advanced planning and people keeping their calendars open, for example, in April for their local regional or May, again for example, for a neighboring one.

Accessibility is equally important. Regionals need to be hosted in places that are readily accessible – by car and other local transportation options. Putting championships in places that are far from population centers creates logistical pains and drives down attendance. Having more than one way to reach a regional – not just by car but by bus, train, or subway – is preferable to the alternative. If a region has several big communities it is also important to try to place regionals in locations were multiple metas can attend. FFG has gotten somewhat better in the latter aspect of accessibility about this recently. This year, for example, they placed a regional in Newington, CT – which is about a two and a half hour drive from both New York and Boston, which both have highly competitive metas.

And though Fantasy Flight has made some improvements on this issue, this year’s regionals map and calendar is far from perfect. Let’s take Chicago as an example. Despite FFG’s oversight, the Windy City is a perfect place to host a regional. Chicago is, probably, one of the most accessible cities in the United States – with a variety of transit options. Chicago also has a long-standing Thrones community from 1.0 that has carried over into Second Edition. The Chicago meta hosts large Store Championships and well-attended, community-run events, like the Windy City Cup. The Windy City’s consistent support of the game and accessible location hits both of the criteria I laid out above.

Granted, not all of the problems with the regional championship map and calendar can be entirely laid at FFG’s feet. Some stores in key locations do not apply for regionals or botch their application. Organized Play also has to manage the scheduling of multiple games so that their dates and locations do not overlap. It is easy to take for granted the hard work that the employees at FFG sink into what must be a logistical nightmare year after year. That said, if next year Organized Play takes into consideration at least some of the principles I laid out here, it should put a damper on the negative reaction that is inspired with each year’s announcement of the regional season.

In closing I want to ask readers: What improvements could FFG make next year to ensure that its regional placements are the best they can possibly be?

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