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Report on Dixiecon 2020 - by David Hood
Well, by God, we couldn't let the bloody virus win!
That was the thinking behind changing the Dixiecon format this year to being a one-day, online tournament instead of the usual Thursday night through early Monday morning gamefest that it has been since 1987. Virtual Dixiecon was certainly a blast for me, and I hope for the participants as well.
As Memorial Day weekend approached here in the States, it became very clear that having a normal Dixiecon in Chapel Hill, North Carolina would be out of the question. I first discussed with the venue the idea of moving the date to late August, but ultimately we jointly decided it just was not to be. Luckily, once I said publicly (kind of impulsively) that we would just have an online Dixiecon, I was able to get the help I needed to actually make such a thing work.
My first thought was to have one round on Saturday morning and then a final board that night, but Brandon Fogel and others convinced me that was kinda stupid. My theory was to keep things modest, not bite off more than I or the hobby at large could chew with the first virtual FTF tournament, but only one round with a subsequent top board was just too weird. I think we ended up striking the right balance by having two rounds on one day, for our first attempt as a hobby, but I also think it is likely that this model for having tournaments will continue post-virus. At that point, I believe having multiple days would be good - for one thing, we did lose some of our Australiasian participants from the ungodly hour of the Rd 1 start. Experimentation with this is needed.
At any rate, as our plans began to coalesce, I got invaluable help from Chris Martin in determining how best to structure the technology involved, and to organize things in general. He did a lot of work, particularly in getting everyone onto the Webex Teams platform that we used for announcements, to organize non-Dip gaming during the event, and which many folk used during the Diplomacy games themselves for negotiation (in addition to the press function on Backstabbr itself, as well as telephone/text/Discord and other things folk used.) He also made some special videos for his otherwise-already-awesome Diplomacy Academy series, specifically designed to help players get ready for vDixiecon. I also had great input from lots of folk, really too many others to mention. Michael Lowrey did my scoring, as usual, with Cori Neslund and Mitch McConeghey helping out as GMs during both rounds (andChris also GMing in Round 1.)
Speaking of Chris, perhaps one of the coolest things that happened at vDixie was the livestream commentary put together by Brandon Fogel and using both Chris and Siobhan Nolen as color commentators to Brandon's play-by-play. If you have not gone to Youtube to watch the full streams, or the individual videos by game name later spliced together by Chris, stop reading this right now and go do that. Totally awesome. These video feeds, I think, are here to stay and they are a great addition to the hobby.
Alright, enough about all that. What actually happened in the tournament? Well, we had 11 boards of Dip in Round 1 and 9 in Round 2. We had folk participate from all over North American plus countries in Europe and Asia, along with several Australians. (We had a rep from South Africa who had to cancel at the last minute, unfortunately.) We had only one solo, from member of the Chicago Weasels Christian Kline as Turkey in Game 1K, the game called King's Mountain. So yeah, he won the tournament. Andrew Goff of Australia took second place with two strong three-way draw results, with the rest of the top seven finishers being, in order, Jonathan Saul (Colorado), Russ Dennis (Michigan), Jason Mastbaum (California), Dan Pollock and Randy Lawrence-Hurt (both Massachusetts.) Doug Moore and Nicolas Sahuguet, both former world champs, missed the top board by just 1.2 points each, so less than one-center of points in our scoring system.
As for "Kings Mountain" I should explain that each game was named for a person, group, place or event that is important in the history of North Carolina. Yes, I am that kind of geek.
Best Countries were taken by Mike Walsh and Jonathan Saul (Austria), Russ Dennis (England), Randy Lawrence-Hurt and Melinda Holley (France), Doug Moore and Andrew Goff (Germany), Greg Fairbanks (Italy), Maxim Popov (Russia) and Christian Kline (Turkey.) We had other awards at Dixiecon of which you can find the winners of online, but I did want to point out the winner of the Players Choice award, for the person folk enjoyed playing with the most, went to our only entrant from Portugal, Andre Janeco.
One quick aside about Andrew Goff - I have not really talked much about this publicly until now, but one of the players at vDixie was actually playing with us because he is writing a story for Popular Mechanics about the game of Diplomacy, with a focus on Goffy as an exemplar for what makes a terrific Dip player tick. Be on the lookout for that article!
As far as things other than the Diplomacy itself, Dixiecon always has a cadre of attendees who come to play games other than Dip, so that occurred for vDixie also. In addition, we had three Webex Meetings events for the attendees as well - an Opening Ceremony, the Virtual BBQ between Rounds 1 and 2, and the Awards Ceremony broadcast the next afternoon. The video recording of the Awards Ceremony is another thing you can find online, but let me just say that I think everyone enjoyed those events as well. It was a wonderful chance for us to "see" each other and share some experiences which were memorable and hopefully will build relationships between the many experienced players who participated but did not know each other before, and importantly, relationships between the many new faces at vDixie and those who have been around before.
This leads me to my final paragraph before I shut up about all this. I think we all realized even before the event occurred that we had somehow struck paydirt with this virtual FTF tournament business. There will certainly be improvements going forward, but I think this format is here to stay. It will not replace the sheer fun and insanity of a real face to face event, but such an online event can scratch an itch we did not even know we had - facilitating real-time Diplomacy play for folk who cannot go to FTF events, and/or between folk who cannot be at the same events with each other. The short answer is, the thing rocked - and I believe will help inspire (along with the preexisting live online games already being done in the Chicago and Minnesota clubs) a whole new way for folk to enjoy playing Diplomacy in the future. And that's really exciting!