Up until very recently, when I thought about South Africa three things would spring to mind: Charlize Theron, Nelson Mandela, and great white sharks jumping right the f&%@ out of the water. If I really thought hard on the subject, I’d eventually remember that I have a friend who’s from there, and my mom’s uncle Danny (after whom I am named) lives there too.
That all started to change a few weeks ago. In my wanderings around Warseer, I saw a guy (Andrew) talking about his local gaming club. It sounded pretty cool, so I sent him a PM about it. As it turns out, there’s a very cool gaming group in Johannesburg called Warzone. I thought you might like to hear about it, so I asked Andrew to share some thoughts on the club. Little did I know he would write an essay on the subject! He covers their setup, their history and generally what makes their club work. Many many thanks to Andrew for doing all the work and letting me flex my cut and paste muscles.
As you all know, I have a tendency to ramble. Against all my instincts, I will cut straight to the chase. Take it away, Andrew!
Warzone is a typical war games and hobbyist club, where like minded people meet and play a number of different types of war-game, board game and role playing games. Warzone officially started in the early nineties. Warzone began as many other clubs do, in a hobby shop, also called Warzone. This was later bought out by Wizards, a books and games dealership with several outlets throughout the major city centers. Several of these shops maintained their own dedicated core clubs — some of which still exist, in one form or another, today. Warzone the gaming club became known colloquially as Wizards during this time.
Typically the club was and is largely an ad-hoc collection of like minded gamers, and really the connection to Warzone [the club] is via continued die hard attendance by a handful of members.
Tournaments were performed on an ad-hoc basis with an attendance fee that went into prize support. Some prize support was also provided by the respective store owners. Scenery and the like was partially donated by the store [remember that this was many years ago when there was little in the way of scenery apart from the model trains stuff].
Warzone as it stands today is an altogether different animal. This is largely due to the efforts of a few A-Type personalities who got together and decided that the club needed an independent identity. Store support was becoming constrained and the club had reached a critical size of around 30 attendees — who had to split their gaming between Wednesday evenings and Saturdays as the store simply wasn’t big enough to accommodate everyone at once!
Interestingly the split also evolved along games system lines. Wednesday nights were primarily Warhammer along with a smattering of BFG, Mordheim, Bloodbowl and the like, and Saturdays were the domain of 40K.
Along with the decision to become an independent entity came a slew of issues that had to be addressed. The lessons learned addendum to this history pertains to this. Firstly, the Warhammer gamers and 40K gamers had to be reconciled — there was an amazing amount of animosity between the two groups, largely because of view that one system was superior to the other. It sounds like a really silly issue, but it is surprising how defensive gamers can get over their chosen favourite system.
The issues were resolved via a lot of talking. The local pub served its purpose well in this regard. That sorted out, next came the issue of club fees and venue. As we were branching out and as a club started to have real expenses, fees became a mandatory consideration. Whilst first viewed by many as unnecessary, most came to accept and indeed advocate the idea of club fees over time. Clubs can achieve amazing things if they are empowered to do so. Fees go most of the way to making things possible; few clubs lack the will to do things, most often they merely lack the means. When voices become too loud over fee increases, point the dissenters in the direction of their local country club … see what green fees are there!
Back to Warzone as a club. The decision to break away from the store was made around 6 years ago. It was at this point that a member, Fabio decided to buy a house as an investment. He incredibly generously offered it to Warzone as a venue. It is seldom that clubs see this kind of dedication and means together in one member! Fabio branded the venue ‘Warfair’ and it is now the permanent home of Warzone. Warfair also hosts a chess and Go club, a Magic club and a Junior Warzone day on every second Sunday, where senior members teach the prospective new members the stuff or war on tabletops.
Warfair also has an eats and drinks area where one may buy soda’s, candy bars, hotdogs, hamburgers, crisps and the like. The proceeds of which, along with a small proportion of club fees, go toward the funding of the venue. The costs of the venue are in no way covered by this, but as they say, every bit helps.
To see how the Necron scenery was made, check out this Warseer thread.
Warfair and Warzone serve as host to the local ‘Warcon’ annual tournament, which is also either the regional or national championship, depending on which cities turn [either Johannesburg or Cape Town] it is to host the Nationals event that year.
Club Management: Lessons learned
Herewith a list of what should be considered by any club or tournament organiser. This is by no means an exhaustive or prescriptive list ,and it may not even be an entirely correct one. This is pretty much really a talking points topic list for any person wanting to start or maintain a club or just to take an existing club to the next level.
<disclaimer> Not all of these suggestions are employed or in use at my LGG, and the current Committee’s thinking may vary slightly from the author’s. </disclaimer>
Get a club name
This is your identity and your rallying point. This is your standard and colours if you will. It is very important that your club members have a unique identity with which they can associate. Get T-shirts made, wear these at your club, other clubs and tournaments, and participate in team events. Socialise together. Organise family barbeque or outings — we do this at least twice a year, and we are lucky enough to have a good venue for birthday parties and the like, so there are several of these events a year. We follow the old adage of “players that party together stay together” 😉
I really do agree with all these points. Our gaming club has made a couple of different T-shirt designs over the years, and everybody who attended our first tournament got one to take home, as well. This is a great way to advertise your club, it’s crazy how we actually had complete strangers ask about the club just because they recognize the shirts.
And on the subject of socialization, it’s another thing that sounds simple but is easy to forget. When you never hang out with your gamer friends outside the club, you’re really missing out. Becoming better friends will make the club days all the more enjoyable, as well.
Club membership is a paid service
There is no such thing as a free lunch. Whilst every member is expected to contribute their time and skills for free, there are many things that cannot be achieved without a steady and robust cash flow.
Fees should reflect the means of persons to pay. I.e. scholar, student and working person’s rates must be provided [We have sadly never had a pensioner member so we have not had to consider this eventuality]. There are a number of ways to raise and bolster club funding:
- Ways to raise funds:
- Club fees;
- Fund raising events;
- Charging non club members attendance fees for intra club tournaments;
- Ensuring that large extra club tournaments can pay for themselves;
- Invite retailer presence to large tournaments;
At no time should club members be financially reimbursed for time and effort. If you are not willing to donate at least this you shouldn’t be a member.
Another excellent point! When you get paid to do something you would normally do for free, you can actually lose your motivation once you aren’t being paid anymore. Yay for psychology 🙂
Get a public presence
It is vitally important to have a virtual club presence of some kind. Some means whereby new members can find you as there will ALWAYS be a membership turnaround. Yes there will be the old diehards and stalwarts who are the backbone of the club, and equally, due to social pressure and just life in general, there will always be the itinerants as well. It is critical that with this ebb and flow of membership there is a net gain. It must therefore be easy for people to find you and to communicate with one another. A public presence makes interclub exchange and support far easier. If there are no web skills available, use Facebook — that’s what it’s there for! Also make sure that your internet presence is easy to find with generic search handles such as ‘war gaming’ and ‘your city name’ for example.
Get known by, and get to know the other clubs in your city, province and country. Offer assistance at their events in the form of tables, scenery and manpower, this will serve to increase the strength and persistence as well as serve to promote the growth of the hobby overall. Further reinforce these relationships by organising city, regional and national tournaments on a rotational basis. Create a floating trophy — in my LGG’s case this is a sword donated by the Cape Town clubs for a national annual North vs South event, the winner gets bragging rights and get to display the sword in their trophy cabinet for the year.
Code of conduct and mission statement
Believe it or not, every club should have these. If you accept that you should have a public presence, the actions and statements made by your members could have a very real impact on the image and therefore the ongoing success of your club. This is especially true when you are trying to expand club membership across a wide variety of ages, genders and ethnic groups.
The code of conduct must also of course cover in-venue behaviour as well. This means both at home and away. There is nothing sadder than seeing prospective gamers put off by extreme behaviour by fellow club members, along with the in jokes that alienate the newbie. Remember there is a time and place for all things, I am not advocating that we all exchange our nerd raging tirades for monks’ habits, far from it. All I am saying is that viewed from the outside, some of our gamer behaviour [as you are all no doubt aware] can be quite ‘strange’ to some. This is natural, but try not to scare people away!
Setting a good example is a big deal, especially when there’s new members or people thinking of joining. If you make an ass of yourself, people won’t want to pay their hard-earned money to game with you. Especially when they can game with assholes for free elsewhere.
Systems require champions. These are the dedicated, usually veteran, gamers who champion their preferred system within the club and in the community at large. These people are critical in organising tournaments and campaigns and just generally getting gamers to try out ‘their system’. Without these people, good systems like BFG for example don’t often get to see the light of day. Most often these people are allowed to just appear on their own. I suggest that at the beginning of each year someone is nominated to own each oddball system. All too often the ‘natural’ Champions leave for some or other reason, or just need to take a break, and as a result everyone just stops playing the system.
The sound of one hand clapping
Club organisation is not a one person show. Every dictator needs their inner circle! It is a great idea to have a club chairman, but equally a committee should be appointed. Sometimes this is even voted for, but most often the people who volunteer are the ones voted in. The Chairman role and committee usually does need revitalisation after a year or so, as even the most energetic person can get burned out.
Organising gamers is much like herding cats and can be very tiring! One way to get more life out of your leaders is to assist them as much as you can, volunteer for stuff and don’t complain or weasel out when tasks are delegated!
Have stuff planned
Every club should have an events calendar. This is an example gaming calendar with links to the relevant tournament packs. Each of these tournaments has a dedicated owner that updates the pack and runs the tournament on the day. Many of these organisers are not on the club committee, but are simply club members who design/adapt these and get committee permission to run them. The committee ensures that there is prize support and enough assistance for the TO should that be necessary.
The most important rule:
Above all the purpose of our hobby is to provide relaxation and an enjoyable experience for members. In other words, to have fun! There have been several articles written about this, so I won’t harp on about it. What I have learned in my experience, if you are going to run a club league, run it like a sports league. By this I mean everyone has a chance to play everyone else once or twice [home and away style].
Do not turn every game that is played in the club into a league game. This kills your ability to experiment with new things, try interesting scenario narrative type games, Forgeworld rules and the like. Every game starts to become a competition and frankly that’s what tournaments are for! Casual gaming has its place, too.
Remember if you have fun at your opponent’s expense on an ongoing basis, that is probably one gamer that won’t be back for membership next year.
Thanks a bunch for the fantastic write-up, Andrew! I really like what you guys are doing down in Johannesburg, and I can’t thank you enough for sharing.
If you want to check these guys out in greater detail, you can find them on http://www.warhammergenerals.co.za/. This forum has clubs from all around South Africa. The specific Warzone thread can be found here.
Andrew’s handle on Warhammer Generals is Azmodan, and Fabio the club leader goes by Trance. By all means shoot them a PM if you have any further questions about this very cool group.