The Pestilence Open: Organizer’s Report

The Pestilence Open, a one-day webcam Old School Magic tournament, was held on Saturday, March 28. A total of 52 players representing at least six or seven different countries and more than a dozen U.S. states participated. The structure of the event was straight Swiss pairings, 50-minute rounds, just as one might expect at a “real-life” paper tournament. All of the matches for the event were played using Whereby, the video chat platform of choice for the 93/94 webcam scene.

a really good king turn

 

The story of the Pestilence Open is — at least partially — an obituary for the 2020 Hartford Old School Festival, which had been scheduled for March 28 at an Elks lodge in Manchester, Connecticut. More than 80 players had pre-registered for the tournament’s main events (Premodern and Atlantic 93/94). Unfortunately, given the rapid spread of COVID-19 in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, etc. by early March, the tournament was cancelled, along with so many other plans and events, as social and civic life in New England ground to a screeching halt over the week of March 9th and the days that followed.

Finding ourselves under a dark cloud of isolation in a time of “social distancing,” there was at least a silver lining for 93/94 players: the Old School community already had a very established custom of playing games of Magic via webcam. Pick-up games of webcam 93/94 have been played since at least 2015, pioneered by Italian players like Filippo Caccia and Andrea Braida, and the first more structured Old School events played on Skype and other video chat platforms began in 2016, with activities organized by e.g. Andrea Canessa, Gordon Andersson, and Markus Lundqvist. And from there, several webcam tournament series have proliferated and grown considerably over the past four years. The primary clearinghouse for webcam games on Facebook, the OLD SCHOOL 93-94 MTG Webcam Player Community, now counts more than 1,300 players among its ranks. If any group of tabletop gaming hobbyists could find a way to keep things moving in a time of digital-only social interaction, Old School Magic players would surely be leading the charge.

With the Hartford tournament cancelled, it only made sense to offer a digital replacement event. And so, the Pestilence Open was born.

ORGANIZER’S NOTES

This felt like a rather ambitious event, from a logistical standpoint. Despite having plenty of experience with organizing both in-person events and webcam tournaments, I had never attempted anything like this.

Why not? The reason is that it’s really hard, bordering on incorrect, to ask dozens of people to carve out a solid, six- or seven-hour block of time in their own homes, during which they must essentially be chained to their computers to play Magic. At a regular in-person event, you’re physically in a different space, and playing back-to-back Swiss rounds for several hours is what you signed up for. With a webcam event, you’re physically at home. Your significant other/your kids/your roommates/your pets/your other responsibilities are right in front of you, rightfully demanding attention. It’s almost impossible to fully commit. Previous attempts to do this (admittedly, in the heady early days of 2016) failed miserably.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the enabling environment for a one-day webcam tournament in two ways. First, the Pestilence Open was presented as an exact 1-to-1 replacement for a cancelled event, in this case, the Hartford Old School Festival. The webcam tournament was held on a day that players had already planned to travel and be away from home. And second, the self-isolation and “shelter in place” orders meant that players literally had nowhere else to be except home — stuck at home, with their cards, and their computers.

With those specific conditions, and some added commitment from each player in the form of a nominal $10 entry fee, I’m proud to say that we pulled it off. Overall, the event ran smoothly, rounds started on time and we kept a pretty tight pace throughout the day.

I can share two lessons learned from this event for other organizers:

The 50-person Whereby room isn’t worth the money. We sprang for the “Business” package from Whereby for this event, which provided 10 high-bandwidth rooms, including one that was supposed to be able to handle 50 participants. It didn’t. So the planned announcements, walk-through of logistics, and roll call from the players didn’t go according to plan. If I had to do it again, I would find another solution (Zoom or GoToWebinar or similar) to hold a kick-off meeting for all of the players.

Pre-assign Whereby room links to each pairing. This was the single most important innovation that I think made the event run smoothly. Each “table” pairing had a Whereby room assigned at the time that pairings were posted. So, the players simply had to find their name, take note of their opponent, and click a link directly next to their names in order to enter their room. This almost entirely eliminated the need for players to contact each other on separate messaging platforms. It also made it possible for me to pop in to check on specific “tables” to remind players to go to turns, after time in the round was reached. For future one-day webcam events using Swiss pairings, pre-assigning the rooms for each pairing should be considered a best practice.

The only other thing I’ll say here is that I really missed seeing all of the players in-person. I participated myself, and I enjoyed sharing matches with six of the players over the course of the day. But if I do it again, I want to do more to encourage players chatting/hanging out virtually in between rounds. I cherished every little bit of flavor from the day that players shared with me. For instance:

91195902_961839840900097_1770594198987210752_n
Ben Katz’s mission critical tallies for the day.

 

CHARITABLE ACTIVITY

Giving back to our community remains a focus for New England Old School, and charitable contribution is part-and-parcel of the Old School Magic experience. Our designated non-profit partner for the Hartford Old School Festival was Boys & Girls Clubs of Hartford. When the event was cancelled, entry fees were refunded to the players by default, but about half of the players opted to convert their entry fees into donations to the charity. As a result, I’m thrilled to share that $1,097.80 will be donated to The Boys & Girls Clubs of Hartford. This total exceeds last year’s contribution to BGC Hartford from the same event… not bad for a tournament that didn’t happen!

For the Pestilence Open, entry fees were collected with the goal of making a modest contribution to The Boston Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund. In an act of unheralded and spectacular generosity, one of the players from the event anonymously volunteered to match, dollar-for-dollar, all entry fees collected for the event. With that incredible gesture effectively doubling our take for the day, I’m humbled to report that $1,050 will be donated to The Boston Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund on behalf of New England Old School.

And so, our grand total across the two events — one cancelled, one virtual — is an amazing $2,147.80 donated to charities in Connecticut and Greater Boston. To our friends near and far, from everyone who is a part of New England Old School, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

 

FINAL STANDINGS

pestilence open standings

 

TOP 8 DECK PHOTOS

8th Place: Jason Beaupre

08 Jason Beaupre.jpg

 

7th Place: Mark Evaldi

07 Mark Evaldi.jpg

 

6th Place: Blake Burkholder – “Sylvan Keeper” pepper

06 Blake Burkholder.jpeg

 

5th Place: Brett Attmore

05 Brett Attmore.jpeg

 

4th Place: Seth Roncoroni

04 Seth Roncoroni.jpg

 

3rd Place: Mike Frantz

03 Mike Frantz.jpg

 

2nd Place: Danny Friedman

02 Danny Friedman.jpeg

 

1st Place: Christopher Zach

01 Christopher Zach.jpeg

 

 

ALL DECK PHOTOS

(alphabetical by first name)

Andrés Hojman

Andres Hojman.jpeg

 

Andrew Mattus

Andrew Mattus.jpeg

 

Andy Baquero – “Dark Orders” pepper SPICEMASTER AWARD

Andy Baquero.jpeg

 

Ben Katz

Ben Katz.jpg

 

Brian Bogdon

Brian Bogdon.jpg

 

Bryan Manolakos – “Hurkyl’s Storm” pepper

Bryan Manolakos.jpg

 

Carl Bjornstad

Carl Bjornstad.jpg

 

Charles Klein

Charles Klein.jpeg

 

Chris McCubbin

Chris McCubbin.jpg

 

Christian Aguanno

Christian Aguanno.jpeg

 

Christian Reinhard

Christian Reinhard.jpeg

 

Chuck Lignelli – “Dingus Deck” pepper

Chuck Lignelli.png

 

Danny Kelly

Danny Kelly.jpg

 

Dave Firth Bard

IMG_20200329_170324

 

Dominic Dotterrer

 

 

Duncan Devlin

Duncan Devlin.jpeg

 

Edo Hoksbergen – “Powerless Gentleman Robots” pepper

Edo Hoksbergen.jpg

 

Gerard Siatkowski

Gerard Siatkowski.jpeg

 

James Lebak

James Lebak.jpeg

 

Jason Dorman – “Unstable Goblins” pepper

Jason Dorman.jpg

 

Jason Schwartz

Jason Schwartz.jpg

 

Jeff Grasso

Jeff Grasso.jpeg

 

Jimmy Cooney

Jimmy Cooney.jpeg

 

Joel Bowers

Joel Bowers.jpg

 

Jon Dittert

Jon Dittert.jpg

 

Jon Patton – “Everything’s A Dollar” pepper

Jon Patton.jpg

 

Jonathan King

Jonathan King.jpg

 

Jorgo Vanhees

Jorgo Vanhees.jpg

 

Koos Cramer

Koos Cramer.jpeg

 

Levi Baumgardner

Levi Baumgardner.jpg

 

Luke Zinnen

Luke Zinnen.jpg

 

Matt Mucci

Matt Mucci.JPG

 

Michael Scheffenacker

Michael Scheffenacker.jpeg

 

Noah Keating

Noah Keating.jpg

 

Patrick Quinn

Patrick Quinn.jpg

 

Rich Bourque

Rich Bourque.jpeg

 

Ron Dijkstra

Ron Dijkstra.jpg

 

Ryan Rudolph

Ryan Rudolph.JPG

 

Scott Bradley

Scott Bradley.jpeg

 

Tim Moran

Tim Moran.jpeg

 

Tom Swindell

Tom Swindell.jpg

 

Will Magrann

Will Magrann.jpeg

 

Will Parshall

Will Parshall.jpg

 

Wouter Jansen

Wouter Jansen.jpeg

 

 

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One thought on “The Pestilence Open: Organizer’s Report

  1. Awesome Event!
    Great people!
    Shout out to DFB for running the son bitch.
    Looking forward to the next tournament.
    Let the good times roll!

    Like

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