“Fly Casual” is a common catch phrase in the X-Wing world, though what exactly is meant by the phrase can differ depending on the situation. It can be a reminder that it’s just a game, and that people and relationships should come before winning. It can be meant as a suggestion that you allow your opponent to take that missed action, or to change that maneuver when they say they meant to go the other way; a demand that you not take the rules of the game too seriously. It can mean that, while we approach the gameplay soberly, we also actively pursue community building in building up our opponents. There’s no single accepted meaning for “Fly Casual”. But recently I’ve been pondering the seeming dichotomy of this mantra of the X-Wing world with the (for many of us) very competitive nature of the game, and how these things affect us as players and as a community.
A few years ago, the St. Louis X-Wing community was disconnected and fairly casual in its approach to the game. Then we slowly started to become more organized, to talk to each other more, to have more of a “hive mind”, and to have a dedicated focus on making an impact on the competitive X-Wing scene. And I would say that we’ve largely been successful in those endeavors. I can’t say that many people at tournaments I go to recognize either my name or my face, but they do tend to recognize my Arch Alliance branded shirt. I can distinctly remember the sense of pride I felt leading up to the last Outryder Cup when several podcasters mentioned Arch Alliance’s team as favored picks for top place finishers. For good reason, as it turned out. I wouldn’t say that our goals have been fulfilled, or that we are satisfied with our few accolades, but we’ve made good progress.
For the most part, I would say that the impact of the commitment to become more competitively viable as a community has had a positive impact on us both as a community and as individuals. The X-Wing community at large has a well-deserved reputation for being welcoming, personable, and generally awesome; in part, no doubt, to the Fly Casual mantra. I always try to encourage people to go to tournaments if they haven’t before. It’s one of my favorite things about the X-Wing experience.
Our commitment to challenge ourselves to become better X-Wing players as a community has done some pretty awesome things for the St. Louis X-Wing scene. Lines of communication were opened, relationships built, and much fun has been had. Over the past few years I’ve formed many meaningful relationships with people I never would have met if it hadn’t been for X-Wing and Arch Alliance. Those relationships were deepened by shared experiences in road trips to and from tournaments in cities I’d never visited before – in shared hotel rooms and in crashing on the couches and floors of X-Wing players from different cities. I have friends who I only ever see at tournaments in cities that neither of us are from, and the same is true of everyone I know who travels for this game.
There are people from St. Louis who I hardly ever get to see because we generally play at different stores on different nights of the week. But we have a relationship because of X-Wing and Arch Alliance. We have become a close-knit community with, it seems at times, almost constant communication. We are involved in each other’s lives in a manner that never would have happened had we remained casual X-Wing players. And I’m incredibly thankful that I got into this game and into competitive play.
That being said, there comes with the competitive mindset a desire to prove yourself. To validate both to yourself and others the time and effort you’ve put into the game. We spend hours and days traveling to events. Hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars on hotel rooms, travel expenses, tickets to gaming conventions we’ll never really explore, and meals out on the road. We spend time away from loved ones, use up vacation time, and spend our weekends on our feet laboring over a gaming table, leaving us exhausted on Monday when we get back to work. This past year, I had multiple days that I was up for over 24 hours in order to get to a tournament without having to get a hotel and spend more time away from home. And by the very nature of possessing the competitive spirit that drives us to do all that crazy stuff, we strive to do well at the tournaments we make all that effort to go to. You can’t help but develop expectations for your performance; then you either meet your expectations or you fall short.
The times I’ve been the most burnt out on X-Wing and competitive play are times that I’ve either gone into a tournament with high expectations or times that I’ve far exceeded my initial expectations and started to dream big. Top 4 at a Hyperspace Trial. Final table at another one. 5-1 on my day 1 at the St. Louis Grand Championship and third overall in Swiss. All great days of fun X-Wing. All ended as my biggest disappointments in X-Wing. I went away from those events more disappointed in myself than the events I went 3-3. In the events I did badly, I realized I was out of the running and I was able to just relax and have fun, but when I did well I set higher expectations and set my hopes on unrealized goals. So oddly, some of my greatest successes at tournaments have been my deepest disappointments.
When Second Edition launched, our game stores saw a resurgence of X-Wing activity. People who had given up on the imbalance and power creep of First Edition started showing back up to see if FFG had managed to restore balance to the game. It was an awesome time. New players, returning players, and long term dedicated players were all coming together and having fun. But over the last year and a few months, we’ve begun to see another effect of the surge of competitive spirit in the St. Louis area. Little by little casual players have dropped off and moved on. The Monday night crowd of 20 plus people has largely dropped down to the same few of them you would be mostly likely see at a Saturday tournament. And a similar drop-off has been seen in other game stores in the area. Where once you could find people playing X-Wing in St. Louis game stores pretty much every weeknight, now Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays are your best bet. Granted, the X-Wing scene is still quite strong, but it isn’t quite what it was.
Of course, some attrition is inevitable. And the dedicated tournament player is probably more likely to stand the test of time as life gets busy, but it’s becoming increasingly rare to see someone out regularly on a weeknight who isn’t also known to frequent tournaments. It seems to me that the players who were looking to play their “Star Wars Rebels” themed Ghost plus Rebel Tie Fighter list and getting slammed again and again by people refining their tournament lists have given up and returned to their kitchen tables. Which is not how I, or any of my fellow competitive players wanted things to go. It just kinda… happened. Negligence, feverish desire for that elusive World’s ticket, a seemingly unending competitive season, not being prepared with a more casual list for casual situations…all sorts of things probably contributed. But, speaking for myself, all of those things boil down to a self-centered attitude. I was more worried about getting my practice in than about the experiences of others and the growth of the community.
In a recent episode of the Midwest Scrubcast, while we were discussing the various cast members’ self-imposed list building restrictions, we came to the realization that Matt Cary’s rather lame “restriction” was that he could only bring himself to build lists that he thought would be competitive in the meta. He made it clear that he had ships he loved and would love to put on the table, but if he didn’t think they were the best available, they didn’t make the cut. Which is fine, and there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be the best. But when that desire begins to keep us from getting enjoyment out of playing a game, an evaluation might be in order.
In a similar vein, fellow cast member Clint Hewson has often spoken on the Scrubcast about playing lists that he describes as “fun for one”; lists that, while he is winning, he’s having fun but his opponent likely isn’t, because the nature of the list removes his opponent’s agency. But if the tides turn, and his opponent gets ahead, then immediately Clint isn’t having any fun, because he feels he’s lost any hope of winning, but his opponent is suddenly having a great time. And that’s a phenomenon I’ve often come across as well.
And what do we play so hard for? We play a game where our prize for doing well at events is alternate art versions of game components we already own. Winning is fun and, of course, it’s own rewards; and sure, there’s the pride on the line. The bragging rights, the possibility of becoming one of the few, the “X-Wing Famous”, if we do well enough often enough. Popularity is always sought after, even if it’s popularity for how well you move plastic space ships. And, of course, there’s the simple thrill of the competition itself. But the prizes are relatively meaningless. So why in the world do we get so focused on them?
Obviously, there is a fundamental difference between a casual night at a game store and a competitive event, and I’m certainly not someone who will tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t play. Whether you prefer meta or are anti-meta, love aces or think generics should rule the X-Wing world, whether you are a kitchen table casual or a hardcore tournament player – I don’t much care, and don’t think anyone should tell you not to do what you love to do. But, whatever our preferences or situation, I do think that we all have a responsibility to try to make our games the best experience for our opponents that we can.
I distinctly remember a game that I played last December at the first Missouriclorian against Kansas City’s Alex Smittle. I was playing a Boba/Guri list when it was already past its prime, and he was playing a Quadjumper Drea swarm at the height of its prime. It was an extremely uphill match-up, made tougher by the fact that Alex is a superb player. I was behind almost the entire game, and finished the game also solidly behind. A seemingly inevitable loss. By all accounts, it shouldn’t have been much fun, but I still count it among the most fun games I’ve ever played, because Alex made it SO much fun to lose to him. He laughed at his (few) mistakes, he commiserated in mine, he exclaimed at the twists of fate in the variance of the dice. Not everyone has the type of personality to pull that off. But everyone can offer a congratulatory fist bump when an opponent “natties” out of taking any damage, everyone can offer their appreciation for a turn well played, everyone can recognize what an insult it is to their opponent when dice are blamed for a loss, and everyone can offer congratulations on a victory. Everyone can make the choice to be a good sport. And that, I think, is what “Fly Casual” is all about.
For more Midwest Scrub content, you can also find us on our podcast: The Midwest Scrubcast. A more conversational take on X-Wing topics, featuring all the same scrubs, but in your ears!
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