Over the weekend, Ludkins Media attended the 2021 UK Games Expo, the UK’s biggest hobby and tabletop gaming convention, held at Birmingham’s NEC Arena. Although the Expo focused on tabletop gaming as a whole, the fact that a large scale event was safely executed following months of restrictions is incredibly exciting for all gaming communities, including TCGs.
Back In The Thick Of It
Stepping into the vastness of the hall felt surreal after a year of having no large scale conventions, like Comic-Con, to attend because of the pandemic. In fact, it almost felt wrong freely roaming the tables of incredible game displays, rubbing shoulders with other keen visitors. That feeling of uneasiness soon dissipated as I found my convention feet again and realised that health was at the forefront of the organiser’s priorities. Before entering the hall, everyone had to provide a Covid Passport that proved they did not have the virus. While inside the venue, everyone was required to wear a face mask, including the vendors and creators.
What truly eased any lingering anxiety when stepping into real-world exhibitions again was how welcoming and friendly the exhibitors were. It was clear that they had been bottling up their passion and excitement for their games for some time, especially as last year’s UK Games Expo was unfortunately cancelled due to Covid-19. It was also apparent that many of the developers and creators had utilised the time by fine-tuning their games, resulting in some astonishing end products. One that really stood out was ‘Shadow of Mogg‘ by Manic Productions, which was a post-apocalyptic board game set in the London underground. In ‘Shadow of Mogg’, the reason for the global catastrophe is only known as ‘The Event’, which leaves the back story down to the imagination of the players who get to play hilarious satirical characters.
Communities Driven By Passion
After speaking to a number of design teams at the Expo, I learned that communities had to find alternative ways to replace aspects of tabletop gaming when full restrictions were underway, such as playtesting and promoting. Martin Harper, the Designer and Artist of GMD Core RPG, told me how he kept his community thriving by the use of Discord, where backers for the game were able to play the game via stream. In fact, the GMD Core RPG community not only helped fund the development of the game but also significantly impact the story of the campaign. Backers get the chance of designing their own characters, which are then introduced into the campaign, as well as a series of comic books which bring all the characters to life.
Social media groups, Discord servers and webcam events became some of the only sources of interaction for most TCG players across the globe during the pandemic. One silver lining of the restrictions is that remote tools were developed in a short period of time. This has been seen with the Bandai Online Premier TO events that allowed Digimon TCG and DBS CG players to compete via webcam to win prizes. Although it is likely that more in-person events will start up again following the success of conventions like the 2021 UK Games Expo, online events will still offer accessibility to those who may struggle to get to venues and will not be affected by capacity restrictions.
The biggest convention in the world, Comic-Con San Diago, made the decision to hold the 2020 and 2021 convention online, which marked the first time the in-person event had been cancelled since its creation in 1970. ‘Comic-Con @ Home’ offered the same panels, exhibits and contests expected from SDCC, but lacked the thriving environment, stalls, human interaction and cosplays which make up a large portion of the Comic-Con experience. According to a statement on their website, the main in-person con is expected to return next summer, with a smaller version of the event, Comic-Con Special Edition, taking place from the 26th to the 28th of November 2021.
The whole world is trying its hardest to get things back on track when it comes to in-person events, with entertainment industries finding ways to restore the live experience. This was seen with last month’s Download Festival pilot, which held a 10,000-capacity outdoor venue with strict entry and spacing requirements for camping and performances. When it comes to TCGs, Pokémon seem to be making strides by attempting to host next years Championships in London. If everything goes to plan, the ‘Play! Pokémon’ tournament will achieve a huge milestone for all TCG communities, as it will prove that large scale in-person events can safely take place. This will restore an aspect of TCGs that has been sorely missed by many collectors and players over the last year and a half.
Nobody can be sure about the future of in-person tournaments and conventions, but as the world continues to develop new ways of keeping people safe during the pandemic, the chances of seeing our favourite events returning look very positive. Hopefully, more large scale TCG events can take place in the future so that passionate collectors and players can interact with their friends and fellow fans within a thriving offline environment.
We thank Ortis Ignis Photography for coming along and taking pictures on behalf of Ludkins Media. To keep up to date with all the latest TCG related news, make sure you follow us on Instagram and Facebook.
Mathew Parkes – Ludkins Media