I spent the weekend at the "Derby Worlds" playing in the Impetus Competition on Saturday and just browsing on Sunday. The event has come in for a lot of negative comments on line and on the days, mostly from traders and customers so I think it would be useful to give a tournament player and organisers view. The main complaints aired can be summarised as location, size, and cost, so I'll look at each of these in turn
1. Location. Rather surprisingly the venue this year for the "Derby Worlds" was actually in Leicestershire, out at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground near Lutterworth. Leaving aside the fact it wasn't actually in Derby, or even Derbyshire, this was pretty much as rural as you can get. Initially I didn't see much of a problem finding it - satnav - but that was because we had been staying in a hotel on the outskirts of Leicester and as it happened we were almost in a direct line to the venue down main roads - pure luck. I was a bit puzzled by all the "hard to find, windy roads, middle of nowhere" comment, til we decided to head home on Sunday and because we were heading for the motorway rather than the hotel we were directed into the middle of nowhere down those winding country roads I had heard so much about. Thankfully we were doing this fairly early in the afternoon so it wasn't too busy, but I'm guessing if you tried that as people were leaving or were in a van carrying your stock it would be "interesting" to say the least. Parking was ok for the competitors who arrived early enough to get a spot in the car park but if you were in the overflow (aka a field) it was less than ideal. Something this shares with Vappa in York. The other facilities - ie toilets were ok but badly signposted - in fact I didn't realise there were actually 2 sets of toilets until I saw some of the other comments. The shift South seems to have discouraged some attendance too - although overall I don't have anything other than anecdotal evidence I'm told visitor numbers were very much down on last year, and I understand takings were similarly down with all but one trader I managed to speak to on Sunday. More specifically I know of a half dozen players based in the North East who have been regular attendees at the old venue but who decided the new one was too far.
2. Size. For the tournament players it was cramped. I can't really quantify the amount of space we had at Bruntingthorpe compared to the previous venue at Donnington Park other than to say it felt like we had a lot less room. We were lucky that we were situated on the end of the rows of tables so we didn't have to try and squeeze past a long line of players and their associated bags and boxes. All my games were interrupted pretty much constantly by people trying to get past to their tables further down the rows - not something I recall from other venues. The other notable effect of the spacing was there were far fewer interested or otherwise members of the public walking around to see the games. At every other venue or event I've had chats with the wandering public explaining what the rules were and why we liked them etc, but there was no chance of that because the public were clearly discouraged by the obvious cramped nature of the tournament area. This was probably just inconvenient for the tournament players, but at the other end of the hall the traders were suffering somewhat more. They were packed in very tight, and this had a number of effects. Firstly, it meant they couldn't get their full "pitch" set up - I was told they were operating on a 25% smaller area. Secondly, the isles were too narrow. Any sort of group around one stall blocked the aisle to anyone passing. It is difficult to explain how tight these aisles were, but to give an idea a wheelchair user wanted to pass down between two rows of stalls, and this could only be done by everyone moving back out and then moving back in after they had come through. That cramped and tight location has two effects on me. Firstly I was discouraged from browsing or even just chatting with the stall owners because I was aware I was either being constantly jostled or needing to move out of the way to let people get past. Secondly I just didn't bother trying to get through the crush to some stalls. Obviously this cleared up later in the day, but it was a far from comfortable or relaxed situation. The other problem with the lack of space was clear from the demo \ participation games. Again they were too tightly packed to allow easy access and circulation, so in my case I didn't bother trying. I should add there was a fairly spacious entry atrium with a couple of demo games, and these did seem to have plenty of room. Actually the space in the entrance was if anything wasted as it was full of "event special" KR backpacks and "Aeon One" game apparently being sold by the Organisers. These backpacks were full of "stuff" - mugs, keyrings, etc. all ok but hardly "gucchi". As for Aeon One - I'll get to that later.
3. Cost. The actual entry fee was the same as last year (£15), and as a bonus we got a voucher worth a fiver if we spent a tenner (IIRC) or more at any stall. On that count although it could easily be argued we got less for our money because we got less space, it wasn't bad. The food costs were very high. It cost more to buy a Mars Bar at the makeshift food area than to buy one at a motorway service station. Luckily I had packed some sandwiches etc - or rather bought them at Sainsburys so this wasn't really an issue for me.
OK having dealt with the stuff the main body of commentary was about I'd like to throw in a couple of other points. Firstly organisation and attitude. We queued up for some time to get in on Saturday morning, unlike previous years. I'm not 100% sure what the cause of this was as it didn't happen at either Donnington or the other venues but I suspect that it was simply lack of staff on the entrance and lack of a specific tournament player queue. They were also taking money on the door which seemed to slow stuff down, particularly as the tournament guys had already paid. Once in we got zero involvement from the organisers, no directions or similar, no visits to check if there were any problems. OK you could argue we didn't need them, but in the past we've always had some contact throughout the day, which is appreciated.
I mentioned Aeon One. I cannot for a moment understand what the **** the organisers thought they were doing here. It's some sort of fantasy \ Sci fi boxed game they have commissioned. It looked stunningly meh - basically reboxing already available stuff with some new rules and the now obligatory cards. This was retailing (if you can call it that) at £60. I have no idea how much this cost to produce but it looked nothing more than a vanity project. Some traders I spoke to pointed to that as being one of the reasons pitch prices were so high. I cant say if this is correct or not, but given the amount of material, time and printing that went into it, not to mention the ridiculous amount of column inches they have paid for suggests this is probably true.
All in all I think the organisers need to have a rethink. Actually I don't think its just them who need a rethink, its everyone. Why are tournaments married to trade events? I doubt the tournaments attract visitors in any significant numbers over and above the players. I also doubt the players themselves spend that much with the traders - we usually don't have that much time. Given the space the tournaments take up in comparison to the revenue they generate, organisers would be better advised to give more space to traders and demo \ participation games rather than trying to do all three and failing badly. As a tournament player I need some reasonable facilities and time \ space. I like the option of shopping and browsing, but I'm there for the tournament. So where does that leave the tournaments ? Actually I think there is plenty of opportunity to organise tournament only venues, smaller perhaps, and maybe with limited trader support - ie if its a Bolt Action Tournament maybe Warlord ? That sort of thing.
Derby this year was not great. Given the failure and apparent demise of the other great "Northern" shows Sheffield Triples, this is a bad time to drop the ball. The overall impression was the organisers tried to do too much with an inadequate venue, plus the whole questionable "Aeon One" vanity project. Lets hope they manage to do something about it next year.