Hello and welcome to this week’s blog!
It’s a bit of a bonkers one this week so I’ll try and keep the intro brief!
First and foremost, I want to highlight the second year of the Isoplane (aka Isotinni!) Initiative!
Last year the unbelievably kind and generous Isophane worked with a few others within the community to put together some funds to help people get to worlds who might otherwise not be able to make it.
This worked incredibly well and in the end I think 17 people were funded to attend including the eventual champion Nicholas God.
This year it’s being run again with some funds in from Isophane himself and being supplemented with money raised by a raffle.
You can find more details at xwing.life on how to enter the raffle but also how to apply for the funds if you’re thinking you’d like to go to Worlds but it isn’t financially viable.
A quick recap…
Ok, before I get started I’ll just give a quick run down of some details in case you’ve been living under a rock and you don’t know anything about what the XTC is.
The XTC is the X-Wing Team Championship. It’s basically like the World Cup of team X-Wing where countries pull together a team of 5-8 players and a the end of the tournament one team is the winner.
With a lot of countries entering (27 this year), there’s a group stage (where 5 or 6 teams play each other) in order to bring that down to 10 finalists. The group stage ran through October and November and the top two teams from each of the five group qualified for the finals.
In the finals each of the 10 teams plays against the others across one weekend.
If you’ve not familiar with how team X-Wing works (and you should be because it’s awesome!), when one team plays another, the captains of the two teams have to work out pairings. In the XTC each country has 5 lists and up to 2 subs and potentially a non-playing captain. When the captains do pairings they will run through a blind process (which I won’t go into here) to end up with each of their 5 lists paired into the opposing country’s lists.
The players who play those lists then play the game out and the country that wins the most games wins the round. Simple, right?
Last bit of detail before I move on – I am the captain of Team Wales. We technically finished 3rd in our group, missing out by virtue of a single game win/loss against Ireland. However, Ireland were unable to get a team together for the finals weekend and withdrew, meaning Wales got the space and qualified for the finals!
Setting the scene…
So, who has qualified and what’s the deal?
Well, the final line up for the finals consisted of:
- New Zealand
With all this being posted out just 1 week before the event we didn’t have too long to plan but one of the most interesting wrinkles to navigate would be the time zones.
With the line up having a fairly even spread of -UTC countries (Canada, Colombia, USA, Mexico) central UTC European countries (England, France, Germany, Wales) and, unlike last year, two high +UTC countries (Australia and New Zealand), it was suggested and agreed that we’d basically be using a start time of 6am in French time. That’s a rather early but reasonably manageable 5am start here in the UK but an eye-watering 9-11pm Friday start for the US with 5 rounds of play through the night. Ouch.
The Welsh line-up remained unchanged from the bulk of our group stage:
- Phill Blackmore – Republic
- Rebecca Westwood – Empire
- Steve Boulton – Resistance
- Michael Upton – Rebel
- Peter Lake – First Order
- Dan Barringer – Sub
- Dylan Jones – sub/captain
There were no huge changes made to the lists from the group stage with 3 remaining the same. Rebecca changed out customisable Tomax for the new Standardised loadout one and Peter took out Vonreg and replaced him with Quickdraw.
Lists were submitted and we were good to go!
The main event…
I’ll tell you right now, 5am on a Saturday does not feel great.
My alarm went off at 4:25, I got up 5 minutes later and got the computer started up. With the player briefing starting at 5am UK time I’d asked everyone to be ready at 4:45 and jump into a voice chat on our own Discord server just to make sure we were all there, TTS was starting up and everyone was ready.
And it’s a good job I did!
The player briefing came and went and I started pairings with the opposing captain for round 1 but we were 1 player down. I promise not to pick on him too much but poor old Michael Upton had set himself three alarms but…
He hadn’t turned any of them on!!!
With no idea what was happening I thoughtlessly threw myself in to play the first game with our Rebel list. Why thoughtlessly? I’ll get to that in a minute…
So, pairings were done, it was time to get started!
Game 1 – Mexico – Salvage Mission
Let’s make no bones about this, all 9 other teams in the finals had more than earned their place here on merit but on paper, the teams finishing second in their group were the ones we could realistically target as win-able games. In my mind, this round was one of them and would likely serve as a litmus test for how our weekend would go.
I ran through the pairings with Fernando Kerubus (captain of Mexico) and we had our games set
All in all, based on our own pairings matrix, we only had one poor matchup here. Two were 50-50 and two were positive. I think I did alright…
The (slightly unexpected) batrep… (JARGON ALERT!!)
I set myself up in TTS without much time to consider exactly what I was doing or how to go about it. I know the Rebel list pretty well and I actually know the majority of Mexico’s Resistance list even better. Aside from Venisa Doza instead of Lulo, it’s pretty much what I won my invite with.
We placed objectives, obstacles and ships and were ready to kick off!
I was fairly certain that Gilberto was going to hard turn in and joust me and in all honesty there’s not all that much I could do about it. I didn’t lose too much offence by keeping Sabine out wide and hopefully picking up a crate would be worth it.
Gilberto did turn in with 4 ships but started to flank with Temmin. Interesting. I think that would maybe benefit me in terms of the first engagement. Maybe.
We engaged here and I got something pretty right but something else very wrong. Luke was outside of range of the rearmost Resistance ships meaning he wasn’t a good target for focused fire. Cool.
The bad thing? Han wasn’t range 1 of the rocks so no rerolls. Ouch.
I traded Wedge for Jess (favourable for me I’d say) while Luke lost shields and Han did too.
I decided to disengage and regroup but bumped Sabine into the back of Han (initiative is a thing, guys!) which left her tokenless and stranded in three enemy arcs.
She died, of course but now Luke had picked up a box to replace her dropped one and Keo followed suit soon after.
Han managed to stay out of range of the approaching trio of ships but I’d taken too long out with Luke to regen his shield.
With Han ready to Trick Shot, Keo and Luke come in from the rear once the trio of ships turned at Han I think I was ready to take out the already bleeding Ello when it dawned on me.
I had to take my son to work.
So at 11-8 up with 20 minutes to go, I conceded the game which I should never have offered to start.
Not the start I wanted for us.
Final result: 11 – 23 loss
Results came trickling in and, well, it wasn’t great news…
Ironically, it was Rebecca’s matchup that we had as a poor one and yet it’s the only one we won. Interesting.
Now, nothing is quite as cut and dried as looking at the scores (my game being the prime example) but one thig was for sure, this was going to be a long, tough weekend.
Round Result: 1 – 4 loss
Game 2 – England – Assault at the Satellite Array
Moving swiftly on to round 2 then! This was against… the neighbours!
The good news here was that not only had they had to wake up as early as us but also, Mr Upton had woken up! Yaaay!
He stepped back in to play Rebels while Phill, who now needed to step out for the rest of the day, handed reins of the Republic list over to Dan Barringer.
Interestingly, the pairing process for this round was streamed by the lovely Nic at Firecast Focus (starting at 02:30:00). Nothing too ground-breaking but maybe worth a look if you’re interested! It’s quickly followed by one of our matches too.
Overall this pairing was very even for us. Two negative, two positive and one 50-50. Would the results bear out?
It didn’t look good starting off…
Close games were played but the scores were looking anything but as the rest of the results came in.
A win for Steve pulled back a little pride but the result was settled before he’d reported back anyway.
Round Result: 1 – 4 loss
Game 3 – France – Chance Engagement
Ok, time to shake it off and go again! This time against the French. France had a very tough group and just about came out ahead of the Pirates, finished 4-1. I was not expecting too much from this round to be honest!
Aurélien Coudray and I met for pairings…
Overall I was happy with these pairings, only having one negative. Of course, those matchup ratings haven’t always played out as expected so far!
Despite being round 3 it was still just 9:30 in the morning though it felt like early afternoon! For better or worse the French were just 1 hour ahead time zone-wise so were likely feeling the same.
Around 75 minutes later results started to trickle in and the theme was similar…
A glimmer of hope maybe? The next message was slightly unexpected though…
Funwok had been streaming a game from each of France’s rounds and Rebecca vs Erwan was on there so I’d been following that. It was super tense and right down to the wire but came in at a 19-20 loss (you can watch the stream here from roughly 03:30:00 if you like!).
We were now waiting on Steve’s score which took another 13 MINUTES to come in…
Would I have preferred a win? Of course! But a draw against a team normally fighting at the top of the table and who went 4-1 in the group stage is pretty decent!
Round Result: 2-2-1 tie
It was at this point that some news started to spread. Colombia, suffering from time zone trouble and some sickness, had decided to drop. Wow.
Since they had already played 3 rounds it was eventually decided that each team would get a 5-0 win (with scores adjusted for the teams they’d already played). A tough decision to make for sure but one I can understand. They’d started around midnight for them and it was now coming up to 6am. Not a choice I’d make but one I understand.
Anyway, on to the next!
Game 4 – Canada – Scramble the Transmissions
Ok, here we go, one of the big guns.
In last year’s XTC finals Canada went 9-0 to clean sweep the entire event and were very much among the favourites to take the crown again. During pairings I joked with Cam Murray that while we might not win I’d like to at least bloody their noses!
We made the parings and honestly, going by the matrix I think I did well. We had 2 good, 2 ok and 1 awful. Of course, there’s no guarantee it’d play out that way.
I know we were all a little tired at this point but compared to the Canadians who were now approaching dawn having started at around midnight, we had it easy.
Still Canada pressed on and bad result after bad result was starting to take its toll on the players
Dan was playing on GSP (starting at around 02:10:00 if you’d like to watch) and, well, it wasn’t pretty. Defender Vader, what a jerk.
Rebecca picked up a win for us (nose bloodied!) but Steve’s result sealed our fate:
A loss, yes, but in all honesty one I’d expected given the strength of the opponent.
Round result: 1 – 4 loss
At this point we’re at 1 win (from Colombia’s drop), 1 draw and 3 losses and staring down round 5 against another strong contender…
Game 5 – Germany – Chance Engagement
Third game of the day against a fellow European country and at this point I’ve no idea if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
We go for pairings and this is how we end up
Going by our ratings I had heavily screwed this one up. I had one good matchup, the rest were bad. Maybe we could buck the trend?
Nope, apparently not
I’ll admit, my poor pairings likely had a significant impact here and for that I’m very sorry. Losing 0 – 5 was not how I had wanted to finish out day 1 but alas, here we were.
Round Result: 0 – 5
With day 1 now firmly behind us I got everyone on to a voice chat. We were never likely to even get close to winning the XTC but there was something I had always wanted to achieve and we were still on track for – to never give up and to keep smiling no matter how bad it was going.
We had a chat and a laugh and rounded out our day at around 3:30. Time for sleep, right?
There was no briefing this time, just straight into round 6 but I got everyone together for a voice chat on Discord just before hand to check we were all there (mentioning no names!!), had TTS open and so on.
Were we ready for day 2 to begin?
Game 6 – New Zealand – Scramble the Transmission
Of all the games over the whole weekend, this was the one where I felt the time difference really worked against us. We were tired and groggy and the jolly fellows from New Zealand were roughly 13 hours ahead of us and had had all day to wake up.
These pairings went well I felt. We had three good matchups, one ok and one really bad. Of all the rounds we had left, this was likely the most winable. Could we turn the tide?
In a word, no.
Some real fine margins were not going our way and in games where things had been really close, it was feeling like it was always swinging away from us and not towards.
Perhaps the most deflating result of the tournament so far. Some very close games but no wins. Sad times.
Round result: 0 – 5
Game 7 – Australia – Assault at the Satellite Array
By this point our fate was pretty much sealed. We’d been beaten by any team we could have realistically caught and so were almost certainly finishing in 9th place. However, with Colombia having dropped and were supposed to be our round 8, our last 2 rounds would both be against teams riding high and gunning for the title.
First of those – Australia.
I had a nice chat with Akhter as we did pairings- and would up with the following:
Our matrix indicated that we had two ok matchups, one awful but two good. Hopefully we could capitalise on this.
Things were off to a rocky start though with tiredness and fatigue very much taking its toll.
Again, averages and mathematical theories count for nothing when the dice just won’t go your way
What comes after tiredness and fatigue? It’s disappointment and being disheartened
Once again, fine margins not going our way was meaning that rounds where we could have maybe snuck a 3-2 win end up with what looks like a convincing loss.
It’s hard to take over and over but we keep on going!
Round result: 1 – 4 loss
Game 8 – Colombia – Salvage Mission
Ok, as mentioned earlier Colombia had dropped the previous day. This meant that we now had an extra 2 hour break before going into the final round of the day that we were all very thankful for.
No pairings and so on and just a nice easy 5 – 0 win to give us a psychological boost.
Round result: 5 – 0 win and a nice rest.
Game 9 – USA – Assault at the Satellite Array
I feel like this last game needs a little context.
At this point, USA have just beaten Canada 4 – 1 to put them in pole position for the title while simultaneously heavily denting Canada’s chances. Australia have beaten France by the same margin to keep things tight at the top.
The thing is, Australia are scheduled to play Colombia now so have actually already finished and can do no more (plus it’s stupid o’clock over there)
At this point I start getting some messages…
Let’s start with Brendon from Team Canada…
Now, the complication here is that I wasn’t personally able be present to finish out the tournament as there were some unavoidable and time sensitive plans that I couldn’t change.
Mr Upton stepped up to take on pairings (as, and I quote, ‘I’ve watched them being done in WTC’. That’ll do lad)
And he did alright, pulling in one good matchup and two ok ones. It certainly could have been worse! (I’d certainly done worse in the group stage!)
Could we do it? Could we cause the upset and be king makers?
I’m feeling a similar theme here….
Other than Steve pulling out an 18-17 win, the other results went against us and with that, the XTC was over.
Round Result: 1 – 4 loss
First and foremost, a huge congratulations to the USA!
I have to say, 9 rounds of X-Wing over two days is a tough slog but starting late and doing it overnight and still coming out on top is really, REALLY impressive.
Props to William Haigwood for putting together and organising the team and to all of the players for the effort they put in.
Also worthy of some shouting out are Brendon Osmann-Deyman and Matt Deering (of Canada and Australia respectively) who both went 9-0 over the weekend. Considering the time zone challenges for both of them that is SUPER impressive!
So what about us and our performance?
Well, a few things really struck me about this weekend.
First off was the level of play. Unlike when you rock up to a massive tournament (and there were 70 players registered for the finals which is fairly big in my opinion), you might hit someone new to the game or someone who is bringing a list for fun.
Every list was top meta and every player top of their game. Full try-hard mode all round. I listened to GSP’s podcast episode covering all XTC finals lists and as well as there being ZERO Scum or CIS lists, it was quite clear what the perceived strongest lists are for each faction as there was very little deviation from what we’ve generally come to expect.
The second thing was the level of preparation. Granted, we were only in the finals because of Ireland dropping out (and on slightly shorter notice than other finalists) but realistically we were just 1 swing result in any of three different rounds from qualifying. However, the level of prep that some teams appear to have gone to I feel really put me to shame.
I learned that there is a formula for how to get the pairings you want (but not what it is!!) or at least, to get mostly what you want. I think I did ok getting what we wanted (which was an improvement on the group stage!). Getting the matchups is one thing, how well they go are totally dependant on knowing how good those matchups actually are.
I think perhaps more thought and discussion could to go into checking matchup ratings and how to try and measure those ahead of the tournament. Test games with various lists into other meta lists, that sort of thing.
The last thing though I think is one we nailed.
Team spirit. Camaraderie. Encouragement, support and keeping our heads up in challenging circumstances.
In other words, good character.
I’m biased, of course, but I believe I had the perfect group of people to take into these finals and have fun with. We all supported each other through two long hard days of X-Wing and I’m proud of the way they represented the team and our country.
- Dan Barringer
- Phill Blackmore
- Steve Boulton
- Peter Lake
- Michael Upton
- Rebecca Westwood
You are all total legends.
So that’s it for the X-Wing Team Championship for 2023, now we rest (get some sleep!), dust ourselves off and get ready to do it all again next year!
Pop back next week for the last blog of 2023 ahead of the Christmas break!
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