Interview with Kieren Otton – Organised Play for Living Card Games Australia

LCG LogoIf you’ve ever read my bio at the bottom of one of my articles you’d know I used to own and operate a gaming store in Brisbane.  Because of this I was involved with the Living Card Game scene as it blossomed into something beautiful with the birth of Organised Play and Game Night Kits (Prize Support).  Prior to that both A Game of Thrones and Call of Cthulhu were just another game on the shelf that only saw play around the kitchen table.  Today I’m still involved in the gaming scene, running events for another gaming store in Brisbane.  Because of all this I’ve been intimately familiar with the procedures involved in purchasing kits, running events and applying for Store Championship, Regional and National events.

It occurred to me though that a great many of the players of these games are not.  As a result, when their local gaming store isn’t selected for a larger event they often become upset or angry.  Naturally everyone thinks their store is the best store and deserves the best events.  This then creates a difficult situation for the man who has to make those intense decisions.

So I thought, it’s about time the broader game public meets him.  It’s time to bring him out of the shadows, hit him up with a few questions and give him the opportunity to explain the process that Tournament Organisers have known about for some time.  Being that the National Events for Australia have just been announced and likely the same old questions are being raised again there really is no better time.

So without further ado, Living Card Game players of Australia meet Mr. Kieren Otton.

Mr. Kieren Otton

Mr. Kieren Otton

TOBY: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Kieren, much appreciated.  You’ve been involved in the tabletop gaming community for quite a while now, can you tell us how it all started? Can we get a brief rundown of your journey from then to now?  I know you worked for Wizards of the Coast for a while.

KIEREN: Yep. I have been interested in games for a LONG time, played D&D since my mid teens, got swept up in the MTG craze in the 1990’s, then started running monthly MTG events at Top Ryde City Bowling Club in the late 1990s (there weren’t many places running events in Sydney then). This was training for me to pursue my main goal to own a game shop. In August 2002 myself and the very cool Chris Foggin opened The Sydney Games Centre (now GGs Burwood) and in 2003 I quit my real job and worked at SGC full time. In Feb 2008 we sold the store to Paul and Scott from Good Games, and in June 2008 I gave up living like a rock star and started working at WOTC Australia. Apart from the last 6 months that was a fine thing, but when I had a chance to be made redundant in September 2011 I took it. GGs then needed a extra warehouse worker 3 days a week, so I took a working holiday for 3 months, until Jan 1st 2012 when I started in my full time role at GGs head office, which is elaborately titled Business Manager. Because of my love of LCGs, and my intense promotion of them, it was natural I should have the organised play role of the FFG games to my daily functions. And that is where we are at.

TOBY: So how did you become the Organised Play Manager for Fantasy Flight Games in Australia?  Is that even the correct title?!? Was there a selection process that you had to put your hand up for or did they approach you?

KIEREN: It happened organically. As you know, FFG produce Game Night Kits for bricks and mortar stores to purchase for the promotion of those games. I would solicit stores for these numbers and pass them on. When the higher levels of FFG OP came along, they asked the same thing of me (you remember a few years ago EVERYBODY could run a Regional event). It continued and grew from there, when I asked if we could organise National events for them, they asked what they could do to help. Its not really an official title, as ultimately FFG have the final say over how things go down, however they have made it fairly plain they have faith in our judgement and don’t feel the urge to second guess us in a market they have no first hand knowledge of.

TOBY:  So arguably the biggest part of the role is the allocation of Regional and National events for all of Fantasy Flight Games titles, both Living Cards Games and Miniatures.  Before we get into that though, are there more day-to-day or week-to-week activities involved in the role?  Is there much behind the scenes activity that the average player isn’t going to see?

KIEREN: The Regionals/Nationals thing is by far the most intense, however I believe the day to day building of player bases around the country is WAY more important. No point having BIG events if 3 goobers show for them. SO a lot of my time is spent soliciting stores to run leagues or game night kit tournaments, and promoting those events. I also cruise around showing stores how to demo the games to customers, organising demoers for conventions,  and doing the same myself. Making sure stores are switched on to LCGS/FFG Minis games, both sales wise and local event wise, would be my main priority.

TOBY: Beyond allocating events and ensuring that stores have prize support, is there a more authoritative part to the role?  Are you able to, for instance, change events standings, remand tournament organisers or ban/suspend players?

KIEREN: Generally speaking no. My role is more making sure those running events know what they are doing before the event starts. Changing event standings is beyond my level of influence, as is banning or suspending players. I am expected to reprimand judges/event organisers if they don’t follow FFG guidelines. FFG are pretty clear (and passionate) about making sure ALL participants of their events have a enjoyable time. If a player was reported to me for doing something untoward, I would contact the event organiser of that particular league/tournament and ask them to take appropriate action.

TOBY:  So basically every store is able to run a ‘Store Championship’ event but stores must apply to you for the running of Regional and National events.  This application includes a variety of selection criteria that you then mull over.  I can imagine there is quite a bit involved, more than simply rolling a dice to see who wins.  Can you take us through the process in detail so that the average player can understand what’s involved in determining which stores receive events?  Australia is a big place so I imagine that makes things even harder?

KIEREN: Yep, it’s a tough cookie. So, in no particular order, factors that influence stores getting Regionals and/or Nationals – local player base, Store Championship numbers, Regional numbers (in the case of Nats), Game Night kit orders, regular event frequency, sales, seating capacity, event promotion capacity, frequency of previous BIG events in that area and a gut feel for which applicant will get the most players attending this year. There are probably other factors floating around, but I can’t think of them currently.

TOBY:  Typically when announcements are made regarding these larger events, especially National events, there is community outcry.  It’s a bit like politics, where you can’t please everyone.  You’ve also copped a bit of flak from the gaming community about your choices.  Is it simply a case of ‘it goes with the territory’?  Do you tend to take it all on board and weigh it into consideration for the next round of events, or do you simply hold steadfast knowing that you’re making the right decisions?

KIEREN: Yep, it is a fun, but also VERY tough time. Not everyone, come Regional or Nationals time, will be happy. That is something I just have to deal with, and former AU WOTC OP manager Rob Teirney showed me that when he was faced with similar decisions, you make the one you think is the best and go with it, knowing that someone, somewhere will likely be unhappy. I do that now, and am about to do it again!!! It comes with the job. I do ask all involved though to consider because of my job, I get to see and interact with ALL stores who apply (and they are the windows to their respective communities) regularly. So I am basing these decisions on information that other people may not have access to, or have only part of. I don’t make these decisions lightly, hopefully the amount of disappointment is kept to a minimum.

TOBY: Some of the criticism I’ve seen fired in your direction is due to the allocation of events to Good Games stores.  Being that you yourself work for Good Games Distribution what do you say to the claims of ‘Conflict of Interest’ and ‘Favouritism’?

KIEREN: It’s complete bullshit. All cases are looked at on their merit, regardless of what name they have on their door. If anything, it works slightly AGAINST a GGs store because I am at pains to avoid these type of misguided assumptions. If people don’t believe me, that’s fine, I can sleep at night knowing that I make the best decisions for the big events with the best possible info I have at the time without bias.

TOBY: So what can a store and it’s players do to improve its chances of being selected for a Regional or National event in the future?

KIEREN: Stores can run regular leagues, game kit events, stock a strong range of that games products, run regular demos for those games, and achieve good store championship numbers. Having a venue (or access to a venue) that can seat 50+ people for Regionals (in some cases) and 100+ people for Nationals (in some cases) also helps. Players can help by playing events at their local regularly and buying their stock from them (ie not buying gear internationally online). Buying locally also means the chances of your local store being there whenever you’d like a game increases massively, which is good for all.

TOBY:  The Living Card Game scene has grown steadily over the last few years.  I’ve noticed that flights are now being offered for the winner of certain National events.  Is that organised and paid for by Fantasy Flight Games?  Is it likely to expand to cover more games in the future do you think?

KIEREN: The LCG scene has grown, which makes me happy. This year the flight criteria from FFG was that a Nationals event had to guarantee at least 32 people play. The games I felt I could do that with, based on past National and Regional numbers, were X Wing, Netrunner and Conquest. The other games, whilst cool (Call of Cthulhu is the BEST LCG in my opinion!) would struggle to get 32+ to Nats, so won’t get flights this year (Star Wars Armada was a tough call, as at the time no major events had been run for it, so I went with a “no” this time around). Perhaps next year, other games will hit the required sales and attendance numbers, or the criteria may change. All flights are organised by the competitor travelling, and they are then reimbursed by Good Games Distribution. FFG then reimburse GGD 50% of those costs.

TOBY:  Plenty of other card games host major events around the world, moving from city to city.  Do you think we might ever see World events outside of the United States?  While still expensive, a plane ticket to South-East Asia might be cheaper than one to the USA.

KIEREN: I have thought about this scenario a bunch. I think Cthulhu Worlds had 20ish players last year. If Worlds was in Australia I would do my best to ensure we SMASH that number. However, my perception is that Worlds is the jewel in FFGs OP crown, and they have a fantastic facility to host it, so it’s their party and they won’t be moving it anywhere. By all reports, they do a fantastic job, so from their point of view, why would they move?

TOBY:  Each year I look at the list of Regional events on the Fantasy Flight website and from the very beginning Australia took up a very large chunk of that page.  It seems we’ve adopted the games from very early on. Have you heard any feedback from Fantasy Flight Games themselves specifically regarding Australia?

KIEREN: No, other than we are doing a good job.  I think they think of us as an autonomous region that is low maintenance, and if its not broken, don’t fix it. They did extend a LOT of courtesy to our Worlds representatives last year, whether that was because of where our guys were from, or that’s how they normally roll, I am not sure. But they were cool, I’d like to think that’s an acknowledgement of a supportive region.

TOBY: Most other card games have an official Judge program and in many cases a Tournament Organiser program.  While the community appears to have settled on certain individuals to fill these positions unofficially, are there any plans to your knowledge to bring in certified positions, especially for judging?

KIEREN: None I know of. FFGs OP program is getting pretty close to needing this type of document/certification, and from players/the internets I have heard it’s being worked on, but haven’t had any news directly from FFG myself

TOBY:  Prize support.  The game night kits have being going strong for a couple of years now.  We saw a change very early on where in first season we had deck boxes, tokens and cards, and now we have the now familiar deck boxes, cards and playmat.  Any word on whether FFG are planning on mixing things up again in the near future?  One idea put forward by the community was a monthly card similar to Magic: The Gatherings ‘Friday Night Magic’ card.  An envelope in the mail wouldn’t cost a great deal but would keep players coming back into stores every week to win those cards.

KIEREN: Again, I haven’t heard anything. The current game night kits have been a while evolving, I cannot see them being altered in a hurry, but then again, I’d find out when the goobers do.

TOBY: And finally, on a more personal note, which of the Fantasy Flight Games products do you play? Which one(s) do you enjoy the most and why?

KIEREN: That’s easy. Call of Cthulhu is such a fantastic game, its one of my favourite games, LCG or not. Great mechanics, amazingly cool flavour, it is criminal that more people don’t play it. I play A Game of Thrones, a bit of Conquest, and the old Warhammer Invasion as well. The board games? Blood Bowl: Team Manager is my go-to beer game, and in the Android Universe the game Infiltration hits the right buttons for me. Nothing like pushing your luck. And if you are looking for a role play system that is incredible, the Star Wars Edge of the Empire RPG is just that-incredible. I started a fortnightly game with my friends in the office at the start of the year, some who had never played a pen and paper RPG, none of whom had played SWRPG (I’d only had 2 sessions as a player myself at time of starting). 6 months on we all still look forward to every second Tuesday night when we try to avoid the Empire and their lances or minions!

TOBY: Kieren, thanks again for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us.  Hopefully the broader LCG community of Australia now has a better idea of who and what is happening.  Thanks for all your hard work in helping us enjoy the games we love to play.

KIEREN: It’s a pleasure and a labour of love. I get a great feeling looking at game night kit orders for this upcoming Summer season and comparing them to the earlier orders we made. To all those who play FFG games, many thanks, and keep on playing. They are all well made, well balanced and well presented games. And are made for your enjoyment!

 

If you have any questions that you’d specifically like to ask of Kieren, post a comment below and I’ll do my best to get an answer for you.  Otherwise I hope to see many of you across a table at a National event soon!

~ Toby

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One Comment
  1. jasonconlon
    June 28, 2015 | Reply

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