The year 2012 was very memorable for me. My wife and I moved twice that year, and I went through one of the more challenging phases of my career as I prepared to assume the duties of a submarine department head and return to sea. In addition to all of that upheaval, this year was also a big one for me as a gamer. It was in 2012 that I went to my first convention (and, incidentally my first Geek Nation Tours), played in my first 40k tournaments, met tons of great folks who I am friends with to this day, and in general greatly expanded the horizons of my hobby. This post is a little bit of a retrospective on the first of the two conventions I went to in 2012: The Wild West Shoot-out (WWSO) 2, held in Mesa, Arizona five years ago this month.
The Road to the WWSO
From the outside, the WWSO 2 may seem like it was an odd choice for my first gaming convention. Gwen and I were living in Virginia at the time, and there were all kinds of events that were closer than Arizona. However, I had been steadily listening to the 40k Radio podcast for the last couple of years, as that was the game I was playing the most of at the time. I got so much into it, that I actually put down the money to become a member of the official forum, the Freebootaz. It was through the show and the great crowd of folks on the forums that I found out about the convention in the first place. Romeo Philip, the founder of Battlefoam (which owned the show at the time) made it clear that the WWSO was intended to be a gathering point for all of the Freebootaz out there like me. I definitely wanted to be a part of that! Plus, thanks to the fact that I had tons of frequent flier miles saved up from all the traveling I’d been doing for work, the air fare for us out to Arizona was very inexpensive. As an added bonus, Gwen has family in Mesa, making it and easy sell to get her to come out with me.
Later, when I found out that Teras Cassidy was going to be running a Geek Nation Tour (GNT) to the event, I jumped on that too. I had been hearing lots of great thinks about Teras and the tours that he was running thanks to 40k Radio, and another little show called the D6 Generation. I was intrigued to say the least, and so I decided that if I was going to go all the way to Arizona to play 40k, I might as well do it in style! And so, it was decided. Gwen and I would be traveling to Mesa, which is not a bad place to go in January…
Leading Up to the Show
Teras had set up the tour so that the group would have a couple of days to see some of the area before the tournaments and gaming events proper started. This included a visit to a wild west town, a ride through the desert, a trip to a gun range, and a tour of the Battlefoam factory. These events were all great, especially for someone like me that had never been to that part of the country before. Gwen decided to back out of the desert stuff, since she burns easily, but she did go with us to the gun range and the factory tour. She was pretty accurate with the .22 pistol! These events were not only fun in their own right, they also gave us members of the trip a chance to get to know each other. I made a ton of new friends those few days, great guys that I am still in touch with. Looking back, this was the smallest GNT group that I have toured with; if I recall,we were only around a dozen or so folks. That gave this trip a very different feel that trips I’ve taken since, more like a family.
I definitely enjoyed seeing “behind the scenes” at the Battlefoam factory. The sheer amount of foam trays and other products there was impressive; some of the more popular designs, like the Space Marine trays, were stacked to the ceiling! The production process was also fascinating to watch, as we got to see large solid blocks of foam get turned into gamer-ready retail articles. It was like an episode of How its Made! That aside, though, what has stuck with me the most was getting a look at Romeo’s office and the room they used at the time for recording episodes of 40k Radio. I think the reason why these parts of the tour have resonated so much with me over the years is that it gave me a unique insight to Romeo and his crew; no longer was it a faceless voice on my iPod or a impersonal company. Being invited into those places and made to feel welcome put a very personal touch to all of that. All of a sudden, Battlefoam was a very real place with real people that work there. Romeo, Kyle, et al were revealed to us as real people, not some internet celebrity or podcast caricature. In the end, they turned out to be gamers like us!
Soon enough, the meat of the trip was upon us! I ended up participating in both a 40k Team Tournament and a 40k Individual Tournament. I had originally planned to also participate in a couple of Dystopian Wars events that were planned (DW was probably at the height of its popularity at the time), but those had to be canceled due to lack of participation. In fact, though Romeo or no one else ever came out and said so, I suspect the overall turnout for the show was somewhat disappointing. However, there were still plenty of folks to play 40k with! I ended up paired with Joe in the team event, with his Ultramarines joining my Imperial Guard on the field of battle. We even had a newly purchased and painted X-Board to display them all on! In the end, we wound out at the
bottom of the rankings, ironically with other members of the GNT group. We decided to just play and have a good ‘ol time (the tequila that Teras brought around helped in that regard!) and the heck with everyone else. It was kind of funny, even at the time, to look over and see the top table guys bent over their table in furious concentration (40k can be Serious Business, don’t you know!), while we were yucking it up over every flubbed armor save in the back corner!
Once I was on my own the next day in the 40k Singles event, I didn’t fare much better. I was running a list that I had played a lot with, so I was very familiar with it. I also had everything painted to the best of my limited abilities, so I was very happy to put it on the table. However, it was far from a min-maxed list, and I found myself getting put away fairly easily by some of my opponents who clearly had a lot more competitive 40k experience that me. I specifically remember one game against a Tau battle suit army that went…not so well. To be honest though, I really expected nothing less; this was my first tournament experience with 40k, and really my first miniatures gaming tournament experience period. As a result, I was not as accustomed to the challenges that come along with a time limit and unfamiliar scenarios. So, I wasn’t disappointed in any way by where I placed. In fact, I had a blast! All of my opponents were quite friendly and generous, so even though I might not have placed in the event it was still a ton of fun overall.
At the end of the weekend, I decided that, even though the Dystopian Wars events had been canceled, I was going to run some demos for interested gamers. I was going to use those minis I had brought with me clear across the country, darn it! The demo went well, as I was able to get several of the attendees to play a few rounds with me. All too soon, however, it was time to pack everything up. I had to clear off the table so that the hotel staff could break down the tables! It was a bit of a bummer, I have to admit, seeing what had essentially become a small gamer village get disassembled before our eyes. It’s a scene I’ve looked upon several times since at other shows, and it still strikes a melancholy chord each time I see it.
The Start of New Adventures
The WWSO was the start of gaming conventions for me. A few months after saying farewell to the GNT crew in Arizona, I found myself back with many of them in Chicago for Adepticon. This trip was a bit of a last hurrah for Gwen and me before my next assignment, which we both knew would mean I’d be busy for the next 3+ years, so we also sprung for the GNT on that trip. That is a story for another time, however! Thus, the WWSO was also the start of my GNT experiences (I’ve now taken 4 GNT trips, with a 5th coming up!). Since it was my first convention, I had no idea how relatively small the WWSO was; as I’ve already mentioned, this trip had a very intimate feel to it, something that I’ll always remember.
Sadly, the second Wild West Shootout would also prove to be the last. After a late night brain-storming session Romeo held with us attendees at the hotel bar, it was decided to re-brand the event as DuelCon, a play on words reflecting both the western setting of the event and the fact that there were dual main events at the con (the two most attended events from that weekend had been the 40k tournament and the Warmachine/Hordes tournament). The first DuelCon was held in the fall of 2012, and the second a year later in the fall of 2013. However, since then it appears that the event has died off, which is a shame. Battlefoam is still going strong, though in recent years Romeo has taken on a somewhat less visible role in both the company and the hobby in general. It is said that you can never go home again; this case is not nearly so dramatic as that, but I can’t help but feel a small sense of loss in knowing that an event that gave me an experience that has come to mean so much to me is no more.