“A Fireside Gathering is a Hearthstone community event that is open to anyone to come along and meet other players and play games in a friendly and welcoming environment.” Those are the words of Tom, the founder of Nottingham’s Fireside Gathering.

A former student and graduate of UoN, he now works at The National Videogame Arcade, running The Toast Bar. I asked him a few questions about the event that I and so many others have enjoyed.

What made you want to set the event up?

“I really liked the idea of being able to play in tournaments but there didn’t seem to be anything local I could show up to.”

“I’d been playing Hearthstone since beta and really enjoyed it. The tactical decisions, the collecting shiny things, it’s just a great game. I used to play Magic the Gathering as a kid, but had stopped when I moved to Nottingham as I didn’t know anyone that played. It rekindled the fun of MtG, but with a really very impressive client.

“Super slick and intuitive, in a way that makes Magic Online pale by comparison. I really liked the idea of being able to play in tournaments but I didn’t really know how to go about it, and there didn’t seem to be anything local I could show up to. It wasn’t until I started working at The National Videogame Arcade that I realised I was already in the perfect venue to host one of my own!”

How did you go about organising it?

“We didn’t run a tournament at first, it was just a casual meet-up. I had the venue sorted already of course, so aside from that it was just a matter of promoting it. Facebook is the key one, as there are a few Hearthstone groups like Hearthstone UK that are great for promoting your event, and it is also definitely worth submitting the event on Blizzard’s own site battle.net, where they keep a listing of upcoming events people can search.

“Everyone that came seemed very keen to have a tournament though, so we got on that pretty quickly. I was a little nervous at first having never run anything like that, so Google was my friend! We had 42 entrants to the first one, which was a little overwhelming, but it went really well. The key there is to have a good tournament management application, and to understand how it works. I use Challonge, which is browser based and does the job very well!”

Who are the people who attend the Fireside Gathering?

“As I run the tournament Swiss style, people get to play every round regardless of whether they win or lose”

“It’s a pretty diverse mix! Pretty big range of ages and backgrounds, and also play skill. We have a few regulars who often reach Legend, one of which is currently in the top 8 for the Hearthstone event at Insomnia, best of luck to him! But there are also much more casual players. As I run the tournament Swiss style, people get to play every round regardless of whether they win or lose. Most people just want to play games, so that works really well for us.”

Is Hearthstone your favourite game? What else do you enjoy playing?

“It’s one of my two most played games, the other being Heroes of the Storm. I probably log more hours on HotS at the moment, it’s the first MOBA I’ve played but I’m really enjoying it. Particularly like playing Zagara and Jaina right now. Aside from videogames, I’m also in a Pathfinder RPG game that meets weekly.”

What is your favourite deck in Hearthstone?

“I play all kinds of decks, and the meta changes every time a new set drops so this is quite difficult! I think one of the things holding me back from being a better player is changing decks too much actually. While I often end up playing more aggressive decks when playing ranked, my real love is for heavy control decks that play the fun big cards.

“One archetype I do keep coming back to over the last year has been Dragon Priest, I think that’s a really fun deck. And it gives me an excuse to use Ysera, which might be my favourite card! Big dragons are already very cool, but the dream cards Ysera gives you are just awesome.”

Does Blizzard know about your Fireside Gathering?

“Yes! I had the amazing opportunity to go to California and meet some other Innkeepers (which is what Blizzard calls people who run Hearthstone community events) as well as some of the community team and some developers who work on Hearthstone.

“Blizzard take community events very seriously for Hearthstone, it’s vital to the life of the game. Their community team are fantastic, and very supportive if people need advice or help. I did get to meet Ben Brode too, though admittedly very briefly. Got that selfie though, he’s a very cool dude!”

Tom and Ben Brode

Would you encourage other people to organise gaming events? Any advice for them?

“First of all: just do it! It’s not as difficult as it might seem, and there are surprisingly few regular Hearthstone events in the UK. As for the event itself, the venue is really important. I was lucky enough to already work at a perfect place, but this can be tricky for others.

“Just make sure the internet is sufficient! That is REALLY important. Also, listen to your players. It’s their event really. If they don’t like bans in their tournament for instance, don’t feel like you have to have bans just because pro-level tournaments do. This is casual fun after all!”

When some people think of gamers, they imagine people alone in their basements. How important is the community/social side of gaming to you and how relevant do you think that stereotype is today?

“I think the best response to someone who thinks that would be to get them to come to The National Videogame Arcade and have a look around! It’s a vibrant and exciting celebration of the cultural importance of videogames, and the enthusiastic gallery crew here have a brilliant record at converting the sceptical!

“Some games are visceral fun, some are deep and meaningful. Some games are a personal experience, some are social group experiences”

“Basically yes, I think it’s an outdated stereotype. Sometimes games are played alone, but reading for instance is also a lonely activity. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. Like any medium, that value varies from case to case, but people don’t write off film as an artistic medium because trashy b-movies exist, and people shouldn’t do the equivalent for games either.

“Some games are visceral fun, some are deep and meaningful. Some games are a personal experience, some are social group experiences. It is a rich tapestry.”

Fireside Gatherings at the NVA are usually scheduled for the last Wednesday of the month. Details of all the events at the NVA can be found on their site: http://gamecity.org/

Tom Evans

Images courtesy of Tom Wintle

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