Welcome to this week’s blog!
First of all, sorry that it’s a bit later than normal. The last Monday in August is a holiday in the UK and my family went out and we took full advantage of it, not getting home until very late leaving me not much time to get this finished. We had a GREAT day though!
There’s not going to be too much of an intro today as the biggest news is actually part of what I’m going to talk about so I’ll get to it in due course.
This could be a big one today so go and get that cup of tea or coffee, find a comfy chair or (let’s be honest here) make sure the toilet door is locked and settle in. We’re going on a journey!
The main bit…
Part 1 – The backstory…
Backstories are always fun, right? No? Ok, well I’ll try and keep this as brief as I can. Maybe.
Now that the dust has fully settled I feel like it’s time to really talk about the XTC.
In case you weren’t already aware, let me start at the very beginning.
The XTC is the X-Wing Team Championship and, as you may guess from the title, it a team event. It started out as part of the ETC (European Team Championship) which I believe (never having been to it!) covered several game systems and typically took place at the same time as ‘Euro’s’ (under the old FFG OP structure).
The idea is that countries can enter a team to represent them, giving the tournament a sort of ‘FIFA World Cup’ feel.
Team size has varied over the years but the general idea is that countries play each other with the captains basically playing a mini game to pick the matchups. Players from opposing teams then play each other and there’s an overall winner for the round (most of the time, anyway! More on that later I guess!).
So for example, when teams have 5 players there is typically a score of 3-2, 4-1 or sometimes even 5-0.
With me so far? Great.
The last XTC to take place in person was in 2019 in Poland with Spain (??) coming out as winners from the 20ish teams that entered.
With the Pandemic knocking in person play into touch, the event2020 didn’t happen but by 2021 online tournament play was very much established and the XTC came back with a bang.
Expanded to include 7 players (one for each faction) plus subs, the removal of obstacles getting in the way of people attending such as time off work and travel costs meant that the tournament was more accessible than ever before and that was reflected in the fact that 38 teams signed up.
This led to the introduction of a group stage (much like the World Cup) played over 5 or 6 weeks to whittle the numbers down to 10 finalists who all played each other over the course of a weekend to find an eventual winner with Italy taking the title this time.
The level of hype was huge and even just as an observer it was fascinating and entertaining to watch the whole thing unfold over the course of 6 weeks followed by an intense weekend final.
And so we reach 2022.
As it turned out, rather a lot happened between the finals in 2021 at the end of August and May 2022.
AMG announced, teased and then released a whole new rule set which, unfortunately, turned a significant number of players off the game. Some communities lost the odd player, some communities (very sadly) died off completely.
The other significant thing was the ‘end’ (or maybe easing) of the pandemic, in turn leading to the widespread return of in person play. Fantastic news, of course! The knock on effect of that, though, was that online tournaments seemed to really take a hit. Many people (myself included) who preferred in person play now prioritises that over joining online tournaments.
The net result of these factors (and more, probably) is that XTC 2022 sort of snuck up on most of us.
Part 2 – The, uh, pre-story..?
Ok, so while part 1 was a brief history of XTC then part 2 is about how I got involved. This will be shorter. I promise.
I didn’t even really know that XTC was going ahead until maybe early-mid May this year. While I’m pretty up on following various X-Wing related Facebook groups and pages, I’m FAR less active in Discord and not active in many servers there.
When the odd bit of XTC chatter started popping up on Facebook it made me think about something.
With my FLGS (JARGON ALERT!!) being the slightly eccentric cousin of the main Firestorm Games store in Cardiff, I’m on friendly terms with some of the regular players there and more like faces/names with some others depending on how often we’ve seen or played each other over the last few years. Admittedly, I’ve only ever done 3 tournaments in Cardiff and somehow I’ve managed to mostly play other Newport based players so my opportunities to get to know Cardiff people have been a little limited!
One of the Cardiff based players is the lovely Mr Stephen Gage who also happened to be the captain of Wales’ XTC team. Now, we’ve actually only played each other once, a VERY long time ago (back in the 1.0 days) in Newport where he absolutely annihilated me off the back of making top 8 at Nationals in Birmingham the weekend before.
There has been a small crossover of players between Newport and Cardiff and as such I was painfully aware that X-Wing in Cardiff had taken a HUGE hit with the changes to 2.5.
I’d been told that out of the 15/16 regular players from the store, around 12 had bought into Legion and over the course of several weeks I noticed that X-Wing had completely dropped off Cardiff’s weekly play schedule.
So what did this mean for XTC? Well, as it happened, a certain Mr Oliver Pocknell was coming to our May tournament in Newport and I took the opportunity to find out what was happening. The answer, as it happened, was nothing. Stephen was one of the players who had lost interest in X-Wing since the changes and, after a little asking around, was not intending on organising a team for XTC as there had been little interest from past XTC players.
So what happened next?
Long story short, after a chat with Oli, a chat with Steve, another chat with Oli and the joining of some Discord servers (and in the absence of anyone else stepping forward) I was now captain of Team Wales!
I felt proud, humbled, excited and terrified all at the same time.
So, Wales is now entering a team. What’s the next step?
Part 3 – Team Building…
Yes, actually getting a team! But where do I even begin?!?
I’m vaguely aware that different countries pick their players in different ways. Some are based on recent tournament results, others hold specific qualifying events, others simply pick those who are willing and available. I think a major reason for differing methods is (much like international football) down to the size of the pool of players you’re picking from and how much interest and availability there is.
While it’s clearly easier for people to be available for 1 game a week played online than packing bags and paying for flights and accommodation to go abroad, there’s still quite a commitment to being involved and it isn’t for everyone.
While I had an idea in my mind for how I’d ideally go about selecting a team (more on that later on!), the biggest factor I was facing was time.
It was now the 30th of May and the team’s entry fee (€10 per person) was due on the 8th of June. Plus I was on holiday. Camping. With no laptop or Wifi.
Still, I wasn’t about to let details like those derail this opportunity. I really wanted there to be a Welsh team in this year’s XTC.
I started to reach out to some people that I already knew before quickly realising, in the broader scale of the country of Wales, that wasn’t actually a large number of people.
At this point I made a conscious decision to reach out to people I didn’t know. Given that Wales almost didn’t have a team at all, my priority was more about making connections and building bridges than worrying about finding the best performing players based on results. It was more important to me to develop the community across the country than to do well at the tournament.
Since I’d never been a captain before and had no idea how the pairings would work I figure we’re already set to struggle. If I could make some new friends, kindle some new connections and start the process of building then even if we lost every game we’d still be in a better position moving forward.
And so I did it. I did the thing that I’m SUPER terrible at in real life but actually not bad at on the internet – I talked to strangers.
I instigated contact with one person which then led to introductions and conversations with some more.
A few (ok, a LOT) conversations later and even after a couple of drops, we now had a team:
We did have the option of approaching mercenaries (players whose countries weren’t enter teams or who hadn’t been picked for their country) but overall it was more important to me to get as many people as possible who were local. Not that I’ve got anything against teams who did that but as I mentioned before, I was looking at building community over getting results.
Being that I’m not exactly a top tier elite player, I opted to make myself a substitute, along with Dan Barringer (since he joined after factions had been assigned). The rest of the players lined up like this:
Adam Shipley – Rebels
Paul Westwood – Resistance
Martyn Gruffydd – Scum
Alex Whitehead – Imperial
Phill Blackmore – First Order
Ok then! Roster done, now to the next step…
Part 4 – List Building…
Now, being a player of average (or maybe below average!) ability, I wasn’t about to go telling people what they had to do. We needed lists for 5 different factions and I was looking at making myself a sub since the captain’s role would be taking up a significant amount of time in itself.
I asked each of my players what their preferred faction was and, quite fortuitously, with Paul giving a couple of options, we actually were able to cover 5 different factions without pushing anyone into one they didn’t know too well.
Now, if you’ve been reading my blogs for a while, you’ll already know that I’m no list building expert. As such, there was no way that I was about to demand that my players fly specific lists or pilots.
We discussed options, of course, going through each faction together and weighing up various options but when it came to it, I’d much rather each player be using ships that they’re familiar with rather than whatever the current ‘top meta‘ (JARGON ALERT!!) thing was.
It just so happened that, in a few cases, our lists did contain some of the ‘good’ things so I guess that worked out alright!
Part 5 – Getting started…
So, entry fee paid, players selected, lists submitted, it was time to get ready!
The group draw was done live on Oli Pocknell’s Twitch channel and our group had been decided:
Things were getting very real!
With lists published too we were now able to start doing some homework ahead of what would be my main job in the tournament – getting decent matchups.
Now, I’m not gong to get into the whole matchups thing right now because I’ve actually got that planned for a deep dive in a whole other blog.
What I will say though is that it’s always interesting to see what people see as good/bad matchups and how that can feed in to the game itself.
Anyway, we got about the process of testing our lists against those of our opponent’s with myself and Dan Barringer (the other sub) taking on the role of opposing player.
But what about the pairing process? Well, thankfully, I got a little help here from several sources.
The first was the schedule. Since there was an odd number of teams in each group, there would be one team not playing in each week and in the first week that was us. That allowed us a little extra time to try out matchups and for me to get my head around pairings.
The second assistance I was offered was from Mr Pocknell. As a long standing veteran of the tournament (and therefore the pairing process), I asked for a little advice and he responded by going above and beyond. We did a dry run of the pairings for our first match up so I could get a real idea of what I needed to do.
The third helpful thing was that our first match was against Malaysia, captained by the incredibly lovely Louis Leong. Louis had also offered to a dry run or two of the pairings before we did it for real but, feeling that it might end up being a bit weird and ending up with some regret on one side, I declined. Still, I really really appreciated the offer and he made the pairings super easy and stress free to do.
So, we now had our first pairings and it was time to start properly!
Part 6 – Down to business…
So, full disclosure, we’ve now hit the point I mentioned right at the start where I’ve run out of time. Combined with the fact that I’ve also covered some details in various blogs as the games happened, I’m not planning to go into huge detail here but I think a quick breakdown of each round is worth a look.
Round 1 – Malaysia
Scenario – Assault at the Satellite Array
This round was looking to be our trickiest in terms of the time zone challenges but in the end we managed to get our games scheduled pretty well.
I managed to not totally screw up our pairings in my first ever attempt at it (phew!) and in the first game were rewarded with a win with Adam’s Rebel list eeking out a 1 point victory. The second game pulled things level before Paul (Resistance) and Phill (FO) pulled out big wins, sealing the round in our favour!
Result: 3-2 win
Round 2 – Spain
Scenario – Chance Encounter
After a win to start us off, we now faced a big test. Spain had been champions of the last in person XTC win 2019 and I didn’t hold out much hope here.
Again (at least, going by our matchup ratings) I managed to get us reasonable ratings and I went in hoping we could at least make it close.
When we started with a win in our Rebels vs Republic match I got a little spark of hope. The next game (which was streamed) I think actually aged me as Phill took his FO against Rebels. In the last roll of the dice, Spain’s Arvel rolled all paint to dodge a Proton torpedo. A single blank in that roll kills Arvel and we win. Instead, the game is tied. Wow. Ok.
Alex then gets a win with Empire and suddenly we’re 2-0-1 up. Spain then rally and win the last 2 games to give us a tied round. Crazy.
Result: 2-2-1 draw
Round 3 – Czech Republic
Scenario – Scramble the Transmission
By our calculations, given other results in the group so far and a somewhat unprecedented draw in the last round, we believed this was our make or break round. Win and we can’t be caught up (since Czech Republic had played 1 more game than us by this point and the next week was their break), lose and we can’t get enough points.
A real ‘win and in’
Again I think I managed a decent job with pairings and again we started off with a win to set us up. Nice! Some tough losses followed though but by the time we got to Sunday night we had won 2 and lost 2. Martyn’s Scum vs Scum match would decide it.
It wasn’t streamed but also, due to scheduling issues, the game had been pushed to the Monday night (meaning I’d already done pairings for the last round. More on that in a minute).
Messages flew back and forth in the Whatsapp group while we waited for the result and for the possible awkward conversations that might follow if we did actually qualify (no, none of us had really fully checked with partners/work schedules!).
Then we get a message:
Ok, well, that’s ok. My brain settles a little but before I can process any further, a second message pops up:
WE TIED ANOTHER ROUND!!?!?!
If the first tied round was unprecedented then I don’t eve know how to describe what was going on now. Absolutely crazy.
Result: 2-2-1 draw
Round 4 – South Africa
Scenario – Assault at the Satellite Array
So, this final week, having previously been a bit of a ‘dead rubber’, our qualification now hung on the result of this round.
At this point I wish that I’d known that before the pairings were done. Out of all our matches, this set of pairings went the worst for us. Which was unfortunate.
Still, it wasn’t impossible.
Before we started arranging games Adam asked me to sub in for him to play Rebels for the week so I was actually going to have to play!
We started out with two losses but pulled a win back to make it 1-2. A busy weekend meant that I was scheduled to play next. A win and we’re still in the running, a loss and we’re out.
The game starts out ok but I’m suddenly unable to push damage with Luke Skywalker having to take down either Finn or Kaz for the win.
Finn is on 1 health while Kaz looks at the time to have 5. I was mistaken. Kaz actually had either 3 or 2 health left AND a panicked pilot crit. Luke chase Finn and, despite Luke rolling enough paint, Finn just spent 2 turns rolling exactly the right amount of paint to not die and I lost by 1 point.
Dan also subbed in, playing the Scum list and won to keep the overall score respectable but the die was cast, we had not qualified.
Result: 2-3 loss
So, after weeks of preparation, practice and banter, we very very narrowly missed out on qualifying but virtue of a couple of dice rolls.
It felt a little harsh and was pretty disappointing in the moment but, having had time to reflect since those last games, we were actually FAR closer to qualifying than I could have expected when I first took on the task of getting a team together.
More than that, though, I’d got to know some amazing people, building friendships and started the process of building a wider community where I live. I KNOW it’s cheesy but honestly the whole ‘it was the friends we made along the way’ thing really applies here. I’m looking forward to seeing all the team in person at some point or another in the future. Speaking of which….
In amongst the jokes, memes, congratulations and commiserations, we started discussing what a ‘Welsh Nationals’ in person tournament might look like and where it could be held. Whether it’s something we can get organised or not is a whole other question but even the prospect of doing something like that in our relatively tiny country to pull together our players feels like it would be something really special.
Maybe keep your eyes peeled for something in 2023!
Getting back what I mentioned earlier about how a team is put together, I was actually directly asked how I selected the team on a Facebook comment on one of my blogs.
My general feeling is that the process should be transparent (or at the very least, explainable or justifiable) and earned. Now, I’ve already talked about not especially going for the ‘try-hard’ route but at it’s core, X-Wing is a competitive game. The people who want to succeed and get better are those who will put in the time for planning, learning and strategising and, more often than not, that work is reflected in the results they get.
To my mind, effort like this should be rewarded and celebrated.
At the same time, I feel that more casual players (which I class myself as, rightly or wrongly!) should also be given an opportunity to be involved with events like this. Since the pandemic hit, I’ve had the chance to play against some really REALLY top players and every time I’ve done so, I’ve learned a lot and made a new friend.
So, what’s the best solution? Honestly, I’m not sure that there’s one ‘best’ way to get a team selected. Personally, for next year (if I’m still captain!), I’m thinking along the lines of an online qualifying tournament. Perhaps even in a couple of stages. My goal would be to make it available for anyone who qualifies for Wales to take part (meaning that they actively want to participate) and to get to a pool of players who are keen to take part and then look at faction preferences to find a balance.
It’ll take some forward planning, sure, but more than that, it’ll take the building of a community with whom to communicate. And so I come back to the X-Wing Cymru Facebook group. If you are originally from Wales or have lived in Wales a year or longer, you’d qualify to play on the team and I’d encourage you to join the group. It’s not the only place I’m planning to promote any qualifying tournaments in future but it’ll probably the default.
In terms of the XTC final stage, well done to Team Canada who pulled out a very impressive win 8-1 . Congratulations guys!
Well, that’s it from me for this week, I hope you’ve enjoyed my tournament summary (sorry if you haven’t!). While the XTC hype for this year perhaps hasn’t reached the heights of the 2021 edition, I believe that the X-Wing scene overall will be a bit more stable by the time XTC 2023 rolls around.
Will it actually happen? Will it be online or in-person? Will I still be captain? Could Wales qualify this time? Who knows. What I do know is that if all goes well, the Welsh X-Wing community will be well placed to give it our best shot and have a great time trying.
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