Foto: Nastya Sapunova

ArctiCon 2016: The beginning of an adventure

Hey gamer guys and girls, guess what you missed out on this month? Or maybe not! The 5th, 6th and 7th of Fabruary was the occasion on which the first edition of Tromsø ArctiCon was held at Tvibit, and to celebrate, we went and asked one of the main organizers, Øystein Prytz, a bunch of questions, all while trying not to look like total noobs. So don’t be a Gelatinous Cube, grab your d20 and bow down before Kyuss the Wormgod (next time I promise to work on some M:TG references as well, but D&D is all I’ve got so far).

Text: George Stoica

Tell us a bit about yourself, and what your role is here.

My name is Øystein Prytz, and I’ve been organizing Magic: The Gathering tournaments here in Tromsø since about 2010 and I am also one of the judges of the M:TG community here. I’ve been playing board games for most of my life, it’s my hobby. I’ve been playing Magic specifically for about 20 years.

Since this is the first edition of ArctiCon, so what were your biggest challenges? What required the most work in order to make this convention a reality?

Well, the way it all came about was a bit random: there was a weekend where it looked like we would have several large M:TG tournaments, so wad this idea to make something big out of it and to invite all the other gaming communities in Tromsø, mainly the student organizations. So we, the Magic organization, knew how to organize that but we needed to bring in the other people as well, those with the board games, role playing games, things like that. So the main obstacle was basically to get everything organized as a whole, since none of us had done this convention-style event before.

Photo: Nastya Sapunova
Photo: Nastya Sapunova

Whenever something like this is planned, you always have some ideas that don’t work out, ideas which you might keep for a next edition. What were some of the things you wished for but couldn’t achieve this year?

You learn a lot, that’s why we’re really looking forward to next year, when we can get an even bigger selection of games. We didn’t manage to get RPGs, we’d also like to get miniature games, wargames, and we’d like to get more time as well. We had this whole idea in mid-November, so time was relatively short.

I also heard that Tvibit is switching to a new location. Are you considering holding the next edition at the new location?

No, we have different plans. What we want for next year is to rent something like a high school or a similar location, where we can have people stay at the convention overnight, free of charge, because that’s kind of necessary in order to get people to come.

Is it because you have people coming in from many places, some of them far away?

Yeah, I think relatively few people came for this edition, but when we have a sleeping arrangement in place, I would expect a significant amount of people to come in from Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, places like that.

Photo: Nastya Sapunova
Photo: Nastya Sapunova

What is the gaming community like here in Tromsø? Is it a solid one, where people communicate and meet often outside the convention format?

Well, I can speak mostly for Magic, because that’s where I’m mostly active. We have a really good community here, we meet at least once a week, sometimes even more, we have a very active Facebook group and I consider all these guys to be my friends.

There is of course a much larger gaming community in town, people who don’t really attend tournaments like we do here. We do see them on more special occasions, when we hold one-off events like pre-releases, stuff like that, and people kind of crawl out of the woodworks.

Have you been to any of the big cons, like the ones overseas, and what were some of the lessons you took away from them in order to help you here?

I haven’t been to any big ones outside of Norway. I’ve been to Arcon in Oslo and Hexcon in Trondheim, which I would say is the whole inspiration for holding something like this here. The whole structure, how the tournaments are set up, how the board games work and the kinds of games we have, all that is more or less inspired by how they do it. We also keep in touch with the parent organization, Hyperion, who have been helping us throughout the process.

Photo: Nastya Sapunova
Photo: Nastya Sapunova

So today is the first day. What’s in store for the next two? How are things going to play out?

The board games work on an individual arrangement, with several games going on throughout the weekend. Back there in the café, we have all these games that are available, so anyone can come in and play. For Magic, it’s a bit more structured: we have three different tournaments throughout the weekend, with smaller matches going on after those and in-between.

Are the tournaments structured according to skill, like beginner-medium-advanced?

Yeah, kind of; the one we’re having today is called the Grand Prix Trial which gives you an edge in a larger tournament taking place in Barcelona. Tomorrow there will be a qualifier for a pro-tour, a sort of pre-qualifier, so you can go on to another regional tournament, the closest of which would be in Stockholm, and if you win that one you can go on to the biggest Magic tournaments of the year.

Photo: Nastya Sapunova
Photo: Nastya Sapunova

So you mentioned being a judge here today. What does that imply?

Well for this tournament I’m the head judge, which means that I run the whole thing, I keep the records correctly, making sure that everyone plays using legal decks and that no one cheats. If someone commits an error or forgets to go through a pace, our role here is to maintain the integrity of the game and make sure that the rules are followed.

As a long time M:TG player, what would you say to a newcomer, someone who is interested in the game but is somewhat intimidated by the extensive card sets and complex tactics?

Well we do have a new player course for those interested, and I would say that anyone who likes a mental challenge, fantasy in general, and interactive gameplay will find that it’s a lot of fun. It is fairly complex, but it is also completely manageable. So for the people interested, all I would say is “Let’s play!”

Learn by doing, right?


So are you a fan of video games as well, and that aspect of conventions?

For me it doesn’t matter if it’s digital or analog, the point is to have fun.

And to win?

Of course, the two things are usually connected

Photo: Nastya Sapunova
Photo: Nastya Sapunova

The tightly-knit game community of Tromsø really did shine through these days, and it was a pleasure to see the spirit of fair-play alive and well. Add to that the extra pleasure of seeing a few cosplayers (my favorite being the Fallout 4 dude who at one point was fixated on elaborating about the Leadership skill, and who was the proud possessor of the Limited Edition Pip Boy, jealooouus!) and you have the perfect recipe for what could become a mainstay of the local scene.

But you may be asking, what is all this about judging and oversight during Magic: The Gathering matches? Is it really all that serious? We talked to Epesn Skarsbø Olsen, who told us about what it means to be a judge and how to get there, so if you’re considering becoming more serious about your passion for M:TG, Utropia has got you covered. You’re welcome!

 So Espen, what do you do in relation to tournaments such as these?

Well, today I’m just playing, but in general I travel around judging events, from grand Prix Tournaments, with 1500 to 2000 players, to smaller ones such as this.

And what does it take to become a judge?

Within the judge program in Magic you have 5 levels. To become a level 1 judge, such as for events like this one, you of course have to know the rules really well and also to get 70% on a rules test. For level 2 the general requirement is to not be a dick.

Photo: Nastya Sapunova
Photo: Nastya Sapunova

Hahaha, that may be an insurmountable barrier for some.

Yes, well in order to go up to level 2 you also have to have judged at least 3 high-level events with other judges and to get 80% on another test. You also need a recommendation and some other written stuff. The last level you can get to by yourself is level 3, which implies even more testing, including an interview with a panel of high level judges. After that, there are the two higher levels, but getting there is invitation-based, because the only need for level 4 and 5 judges is at really large tournaments with several thousand players, of which there is a finite amount. The need for them is therefore lower, and currently there are only about 20.

Is it a very time consuming activity? Do you have to travel a lot?

Well, not really, it is volunteer work after all. In the Judge program in Norway we have 53 judges, some of which only do it once a year, and others which have 2 to 3 every week. It depends on how much time you want to put into it. Level 2 judges such as myself do at least one game every week and then a big one every quarter, but the minimum is two games a year.

So it’s not a full time occupation?

No, it’s basically like a football referee; you don’t get paid a lot, not as much as a player would if they win a big tournament. For example, this weekend there is a pro tour in Atlanta, and we have two Norwegian players there competing for the grand prize which is $ 40,000.

Photo: Nastya Sapunova
Photo: Nastya Sapunova

How long have you player Magic: The Gathering?

I played casually in elementary school, and like many others of my age, I put them away and rediscovered them in high school, then put them away again and found them once more when I moved back into my hometown, where they had a M:TG community and needed someone to step up and organize and judge events such as these. Therefore I’ve been able to help out Øystein and the guys with this event as well.

What about the Dungeons & Dragons community, is it strong here?

There is a large role-playing community which usually gathers at Arcon every summer. There are even those who make indie role-playing games, such as Itras By and Draug.

Always nice to see players getting creative. How has your game been so far tonight?

Well, I’m undefeated so hopefully I’ll get my money back and then some!

Alright, well I see you have to get back to the next round, thank you very much and good luck tonight!

Thank you!

Well, there you have it folks, the world of card games, role-playing games and board games is out there, the veterans are more than glad to see newcomers who want to learn. The antiquated image of the basement troll playing obscure games which discourage outsiders is pretty much dismantled. The game community is vibrant and, much like a Titanic Growth card, becomes stronger with every occasion. Roll the dice and come on in!