Wednesday, December 16, 2015

EDITORIAL: The Death of a Community, The Birth of a Community

There's no denying that the release of Age of Sigmar had a huge impact on the Warhammer community as a whole. Whole swathes of gamers left, a whole new group joined, and a flame war the likes of which hasn't been seen in our hobby since I can remember erupted online. What does all of this mean for the future of the AoS community though?

First things first, let me define what I mean when I'm talking about the Warhammer community. Everyone has their own local community, the group you game with, the "regulars" at your gaming store, and so on. While these are great communities in their own right, they are really to self contained to mean much in the broader scope. This is why you will hear people talking about how Age of Sigmar (AoS) must be failing because their group of friends abandoned it. While it may be true for their personal community it is not really an accurate reflection of what's going on with everyone else.

For better or worse the Warhammer community largely exists on the internet, allowing groups of hobbyists from Australia to connect with gamers in the U.S., to painters in Europe. This is what I mean when I am talking about the community. Those of us who populate the forums, Facebook groups, Twitter feeds, podcasts, and blogs. This in itself is something fairly new when you think about it. I started in the hobby back in 2000 when the internet didn't have as big of a presence and social media didn't exist outside of MySpace, Livejournal, and chat rooms.

Back then the community really was more local. The information was controlled by Games Workshop (GW), and much of what you learned about what was going on around the world came from White Dwarf or the GW website. As the hobby grew more and the internet evolved, dedicated forums began popping up, the most infamous of which may be Warseer. These allowed everyone to get online and share their opinions on their armies, tactics and painting. This led to some great things such as new painting techniques developing at an amazing rate. Once everyone could share how they did something, someone else could take it and improve upon it.

If someone asks how to paint now, most people will point them to YouTube which has a plethora of painting tutorials. Cool Mini or Not allowed everyone to share their work and inspire younger painters to try new techniques. A real sense of community really started to grow around individual armies for both Fantasy and 40k. Before you may have been the only Dwarf player in your area, but now you could connect to hundreds of other gamers who share your fondness of short, bearded men. I know I loved, and still love visiting, sites like Bolter and Chainsword for my Space Marines, and was very happy when someone directed me towards the Tomb Kings Forum.

There were also several things that came out of the internet community explosion that weren't the greatest. The most immediate that pops to my mind are net lists. The effect they have now has died down a bit, but when they first emerged it ran rampant through the community, destroying fun everywhere. If you have played 40k for awhile you may remember the Leafblower list. This was a net list that focused on a lot of mechanized firepower for the Imperial Guard and was generally seen as being the most miserable thing to play against ever. It only takes one person to figure out how to break a codex or army book and make it into the cheesiest thing imaginable. Once the genie is out of the bottle there's no putting it back, and anyone else out there who values winning over ensuring a fun game for both players will latch onto it.

Another negative aspect that came out of this was the rumor mill. Now, GW is partially to blame for this, withdrawing from social media and keeping everything secret. This left the future of our games open to speculation. While I enjoy rumors as much as the next person, a vast majority of them never pan out. Sometimes this is because the person who created the rumor was straight up lying through their teeth just for kicks, other times it's because GW changed their plans after the original rumor monger received the information. Just recently with AoS there was a whole shedload of rumors about what the lore was going to be like that was straight up, 100%, completely false, and did nothing but stoke the fires.

There are a handful of rumor mongers who tend to have a pretty good track record, but there are a few of them who are extremely negative. While what they are saying may be true, they deliver the information with an extremely negative spin on it, which influences how the rumors are reported on, interpreted, and digested by the masses. Honestly, I would rather these people just stop supplying rumors. I would rather be left in the dark longer then have to read their griping about the hobby. The only real reliable rumors are from a week or so ahead of time when White Dwarf starts leaking.

So what does all of this have to do with the community? Well unfortunately the rule of the internet is who ever is loudest wins out over everyone else. This led to an online community that at times could be negative, salty, and intimidating to newcomers. It could also lean heavily towards favoring list building and tactics over all other aspects of the hobby. This last point is not meant to be negative. If you love these things then that is great and more power to you. It does inform what happened with the release of AoS though.

So now we come to this past summer and the flamewar that swept through the internet. The Warhammer community that existed online, or at least the ones who posted the most, were usually interested in list building and tactics. If you went to any of the forums for Fantasy you would have seen that the tactics and army lists sub-forums were always active, where as the painting section was usually a little more dormant. Posts could sit there for a week before a single reply, where as everyone had an opinion on what the best units to buy for a newbie were. Like I said, I am in no way saying this is a bad thing. It is, however, not the best suited to Age of Sigmar. So about two months leading up to its release we really started to see the rumors fly. While a lot of the gameplay ones ended up being true, they were for the most part delivered to us with disgust and malice. This coupled with the outright lies we were fed about the lore created a sense of anger and hate towards a game that hadn't even released yet.

Artist's representation of Warhammer forums during AoS' release.

Once the game was out a massive knee jerk reaction took place. Where was the list building? Where were the points? I will admit, it was a very drastic change from what we were use to. The community exploded in that moment. The hobbyists who enjoyed the list building and the minutia of the old 8th edition rules over other aspects of the hobby felt like they just had the rug pulled out from under them. Those who hated it, really, really hated it, and they wanted to make sure everyone knew it. To say it was an openly hostile environment for those who held any kind of favorable opinion towards the game for the first month was an understatement. The loudest voices were winning, shouting until their opinions were interpreted as fact. They may have only been a small minority of those who disliked the game, but they made up for it with their toxic attitude, belittling many around them. Here was a community built upon discussing the rules of a game more then any other aspect of it, and suddenly they had a game that favored and praised storytelling, narrative games, hobbying and non-competitive play.

I saw an excellent video on YouTube by Vince Venturella discussing what happened, and essentially it boils down to the fact that Warhammer Fantasy catered to a crowd who enjoyed specific aspects of the games over others. Age of Sigmar on the other hand caters to almost the exact opposite side of the spectrum. Neither group is right or wrong, they just like different things. A lot of people would actually fall somewhere in the middle, a little bit from column A, a little bit from column B. It's the small vocal minority though that fell on the extreme end of the spectrum, the end that was most catered to by 8th edition's gameplay, that became the ones shouting for the death of AoS. On the other hand, the so called fluff bunnies were finally on top.

The forums either fell silent or were shouting matches between the two sides of the argument. I saw countless AoS topics derailed by a troll who decided to pop in for no other reason then to make sure that you knew that they hated the game and if you don't hate it as well than you're stupid and childish. The people who liked AoS were called fanboys, and with the haters on the offensive they went on the defensive, sometimes the overly defensive. A pervading sense of negativity began to dominate the online community in the traditional places. For the most parts the forums became a lot less active as those who enjoyed AoS retreated elsewhere and the forums began to splinter into the many different options of games now available. Twitter and Facebook became the new safe havens. On Twitter you could block someone if they wouldn't stop harassing you or only posted negative Tweets. Facebook became home to multiple invite only AoS groups, allowing hobbyists a place where they could share their models, tactics, games and thoughts without a fear of being ridiculed. When I say invite only I don't mean they are exclusive at all, this just allows the mods to kick out people who don't bring a constructive attitude to the discussion. If you want to join they will let you. The similarity of this to Sigmar retreating within Azyr and barring the gates is actually kind of amusing.

We are now more then five months into Age of Sigmar, and the hate seems to be dying down. The different forums' AoS sections finally seem to be recovering with more and more posts and less trolls haunting the recesses. Some places are still radioactive like Warseer, which seems to be an AoS haters only club. Those who disliked AoS have generally moved on to other things such as 9th Age, Kings of War, or even just sticking with 8th edition. I honestly love the diversity in the fantasy gaming community now. Kings of War (KoW) his piqued my interest and I wouldn't turn down giving it a try. The amount of creativity this whole thing has sparked within the community is great. Whether it be AoS fans creating new rules and scenarios, hobbyists creating entirely new gaming systems like 9th Age, or people adapting their models to work in new systems like KoW, it's all great.

The Warhammer community is rebuilding, slowly. It doesn't look the same as it did before. There are plenty of new faces and plenty of old faces now gone. The tournament scene is growing again, and a ton of new ideas have sprung up. In those that stayed and those that came new, AoS has sparked a multitude of creativity. The modeling opportunities offered by the vastness of the Realms has really allowed people to flex their hobby muscles and try out some really cool ideas. Comp packs, which were before largely the domain of tournaments and competitive players only, are now tested and played by pretty much everyone in one way or another.

AoS provided us with something unique, a reset button. This is a chance for us to purge all of the negativity and bad habits that had become engrained, to build something new. There are plenty of people coming into AoS right now that don't have any of the baggage that many of us carry with us from The-World-That-Was, and it's up to the community as a whole to ensure they find something positive and supportive when they take their first steps into the global community. This is a hobby, something we do for enjoyment. It means more to some then others, but no one wants to spend their free time dealing with negativity. There is enough of that out there in the world as it is, we do not need it in Warhammer. This requires us to be more constructive with our criticism, to accept that others may not like "your hobby", but like their's instead. Don't try and force your ideas of whats fun on to someone else and definitely do not try and force your ideas of what's not fun on to anyone else. There needs to be more self policing of rumors before they are spread. Is this rumor worth sharing when it will do more damage then good?

It's still early stages, but I'm optimistic about what I see. The AoS community seems healthy and robust, expanding quickly. Despite what the few remaining haters say, AoS isn't going anywhere soon. I think the worst is behind us now and we may even begin to see people who quit the game over the summer start returning as they see AoS presented in a positive light, out from under the shouting voices of the disgruntled. I think there will be a lot more cross pollination between AoS, KoW, 9th Age and 8th edition going forward, which can only bring good things.

The community as we knew it still exists inside the AoS community, but it's broken and fractured. It's almost like the burned up core of a once beloved world, enshrined and cared for, giving birth to new and wondrous things. A foundation for the future yet to come. I think Sigmar would approve. He would also probably rename it the Sigmarunity.

The community is dead, long live the community.

Tyler M.

PS, please be nice :)

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