Different Tones of Flesh and Blood Communities
In my experience playing local Flesh and Blood events in three different countries and across about a half dozen separate communities, I’ve seen a lot of different expressions of the game. Some communities run like pressure cookers for competitive play and deckbuilding. Showing up to an Armory event at these stores will pit you against highly-rated players practicing their top decks against other competitive players. Here, only the most invested new players stick around to become competitive enough to compete. Other communities run very casually with formats rotating between Blitz and sealed deck to keep barriers to entry low and the tone casual. In these communities, local competitive players tend to be less prevalent and tend to do their hardcore playtesting at home. In between these two extremes is a whole spectrum of communities that create and cater to players of all different types. None of these communities are better or worse than the other, but they all have different growth and maintenance patterns.
Something that many people are saying will now impact these growth and maintenance patterns is the switch from XP-based National Championships invites to ELO-based invites. I don’t think that this will be the case. In the vast majority of communities and countries, anyone who can show up to two Road to Nationals events and have a winning record will likely accrue enough ELO to get their invite. Historically, these same individuals would likely have gotten enough XP in the same manner, since Road to Nationals wins are worth bonus XP. Based on current numbers, the vast majority of people with a positive ELO should receive an invite to Nationals. This is compounded with the fact that most countries have had their Nationals player cap expanded for 2024. I think this is a nice side effect of the ELO system still being relatively new. Whether this will carry forward into next year when the average player has a more established ELO rating is yet to be seen. In short – the math works out that if you have a winning record at two RTN’s, you should get an invite to Nationals. The only people I can see losing out from this change are those in communities that are geographically isolated and have only one RTN. I am sad to see the elimination of Cold Foil top 8 prizing though – that was one of my favourite previously-consistent things about RTN season. With the Gold Foil introduction for first place, the prizing skews even more top-heavy to align with every other FaB event and drive pure competition.
Having been around a few nascent local FaB scenes, I’ve noticed that they tend to start off in similar ways. A multitude of formats and many different player types (casual, competitive, new, and experienced) all show up. Over time, the community shapes the nature of the events and the community composition to their preferences. With time, one notices more consistent attendance from one of either the competitive players or the casual players with minor overlap. This also tends to shape the formats that run at the store in the future – with competitive communities skewing towards Classic Constructed first and Draft seconds. More casual communities will run any format with frequent rotation. Broadly, I’ve noticed that competitive communities tend to have more consistent attendance from the same players, but not necessarily a higher average attendance. The less-competitive communities tend to be a bit larger, but with less consistent attendance. The different communities also have very different ebbs and flows of attendance. Competitive communities will be a flurry of activity in a new metagame then slowly die down as the format becomes more stable, or as people learn/get bored of the latest draft set. More casual communities are much less phased by the “staleness” of a meta and will keep showing up with new, barely-viable and increasingly jank decks each week,
Another major factor in this evaluation of community evolution is the availability of other stores to play at. If there is only one place to play FaB within a commutable distance (usually in smaller cities), the community tends to either hybridize or die. Hybrid communities are where I’ve had some of my best FaB experiences – some weeks I can bring a full-power deck and try my hand with the more win-focussed folks at the event, and other times I can bring Genis to Blitz night. It’s hard to create this sense of community that appeals to a wide range of players when alternatives are available, but I do recommend trying to do so through varying formats with regularity.
Having talked about the past and present, let’s talk about the future. New players are the lifeblood of any game, and FaB is no exception. No game can keep 100% of its players around forever, the door needs to revolve at some speed to avoid dying from attrition. LSS has really done all it can to court competitive players, and I don’t think that anyone is claiming they’ve not succeeded. A more in-progress courtship is happening on the casual side. LSS has tried to introduce social play events to FaB through the Social Play Melody Kit, thereby divorcing these events from the more competitive Armory-to-bigger-event ladder. I tried and failed to track down some of these events to play in and experience. There was a restricted amount of kits to go around and many stores with casual scenes may not have been invested enough to file the required paperwork to get the kits and run the events. Hopefully these kits and events become more widespread, as it can likely attract some new blood to the game, even if it is in peripheral formats like Ultimate Pit Fight. FaB has always been a multi-format game (mainly draft and Classic Constructed), and has a tendency to attract multi-format players. Maybe some of those players will be UPF and draft players, or UPF and Classic Constructed players instead of draft and Classic Constructed players. And, like all casual play discussions in the world of Rathe – it must end with the obligatory question of “I wonder what PvE will be like and when we’ll see it?”.