KeyForge Community Building in the Face of Covid
Written by Michael Georgiou
Crazy Killing Machine Network
How do you know you belong? Is it about the language you speak? The country you were born in? The music you listen to? The clothes you wear? Each of us is a tapestry made up of many different threads, but what you can’t deny is that it is hugely important to feel like you belong to something.
For me, my identity is shaped by the fact that I belong to an awesome local KeyForge community. We play together in our LGS, chat online, take part in the national Vault Tour at UKGE or even Prime Championships. Or, we did. Covid-19 has hugely impacted our face-to-face community and I want to reflect on what that has meant for my personal identity and love of the game.
What Makes a Community a Community?
This could have been a really short article: I might have concluded that because there are no LGS tournaments taking place, so there is no longer a KeyForge community. Different countries around the world are in different positions right now. Here in England, “you should only invite close friends and family, up to a maximum of 30 people where this can be safely accommodated with social distancing in place”. [Currently can’t have more than 2 households in the same house in England.] The reality then is that unless you are fortunate enough to live in a large home, you can’t safely accommodate more than a couple of friends with social distancing and only then if they are part of the same household. “Not to worry,” my friends tell me, “We can play online.” That’s one response to the challenge we face – an entirely online KeyForge community. Nevertheless, I want to write about this topic as I have problems with the idea of purely sticking with the great online communities. My primary reason for this is that I value human relationships and human contact above the disparate Discord groups and forums that we have. I am not for one second putting down these online communities, but for me, KeyForge must evolve in such a way that includes better support for the casual, non-competitive community who primarily choose to play in person at their local LGS.
I learnt to play KeyForge when the game came out at my LGS. The local community was excited and the tournaments at the LGS were well-attended. There is a real power in playing the game face-to-face, particularly because, in my view, people tend to build stronger and more fulfilling friendships in this context than online. Now, I struggle to make friendships and relationships due to a number of issues but that does not mean that I don’t value them highly. I am worried that the members of the casual community we have are not playing anymore as a result of the restrictions in place due to the pandemic. These communities, I fear, will fall apart if neglected as they need nourishment in the form of local tournaments, prize support that is currently only accessible at your LGS, as well as the passion and dedication of the people who work at the LGS and are dedicated to making everything work. Transitioning to online play is the logical move, but I am not aware that many LGSs set up local online leagues that reward local players with their stock of organised play. Perhaps, though, we need to be wary of becoming over-reliant on the LGS to create that sense of community – as if a community came ready-made like a microwave meal. I like to think of this as unacceptable because a community’s well-being is more dependent on quality relationships among the people present including feelings of belonging. It is presumptuous to expect the LGS to do the heavy-lifting when it comes to community building and I feel strongly that it should not simply be delegated away. Face-to-face communities depend on the quality of the relationships among the people present and it is this that creates feelings of belonging. So, this is a clarion call for those who prefer to play in person at their LGS – how can we exercise our own will and show our initiative to ensure our casual communities stay alive? We need to evolve in the face of Covid or else we will struggle to include new non-competitive players, to educate them as well as ourselves and to keep learning this great game.
So what can we do to keep the casual communities going when we can’t meet face-to-face? Perhaps the community needs to work alongside the LGS to think more strategically about its own survival. When I discussed this topic with my LGS manager, Tim who is also the author of the Marvel Champions articles on https://tabletoptimesinks.com/, he said utilizing Aembershards may be a way to keep the community nourished. Currently, the only way to spend Aembershards to get prizes is by participating in person in a Vault Tour. He suggested that it could be possible to spend those shards online or via the app for prizes supplied by the LGS from their stock of organised play prizes. LGSs get their organised play prizes from their local Asmodee; it would not be hard to set up a position where prizes could be sent out to players locally. The community, then, could organise and co-ordinate online tournaments, asking the LGS to provide prizes that could be purchased using the Aembershards owned by the players. This would encourage more people to participate in local tournaments when they do start up again, as well as having a side-effect of encouraging people to buy more decks. It enables the community itself to show initiative and contribute to its own flourishing in the short- and long-term. Most importantly, it is a way of helping a casual community survive in a ‘Covid-resistant’ way.
The Online Communities
What I love about CKM is that it unifies the disparate things that different KeyForge communities are doing and hosts it all in one place. This is great for everyone as you have so much you can talk about whatever kind of player you see yourself as. The online community is diverse and supportive: we have KOTE, the KeyForge Premier League and I know that Sanctumonius and SheForge have leagues going on too. There is a lot to be excited about! However, I'm not convinced that the online community is the sole key to the survival of the KeyForge community. One issue I have with the online communities is that they do not necessarily reach every kind of player. On top of this, there is the risk that an online community can become an echo chamber for its own thoughts and ideas if it does not actively reach out and engage with difference. The online KeyForge community can be quite limited in its use of platforms so that, for example, things discussed on Discord are not shared on Facebook. This means that knowledge and passion, ideas and content are not always shared equitably. Discord groups are shaped by content and they rely on significant numbers of people being interested in a certain type of content in order to set up a forum for discussion. This potentially shuts out those with more niche interests in the game. Moreover, for someone to even join a Discord group, they need to be invited.
All this can lead to some players feeling excluded, particularly those who respond most passionately to the face-to-face interaction that is currently unavailable. I believe that what we are doing with CKM can address this by offering an open, welcoming platform for everyone, no matter their particular interest or level of engagement in the game. This is only the beginning for CKM; in time we aim to become the “mother-ship” of all things KeyForge for everyone in a way that is future-proofed against issues like Covid. We cannot provide human contact, but we can definitely give you all the tools and content you need to keep you excited, expectant and nourished. This will outlast Covid, so when we can all start playing paper games again that too will feed into more content for us and for you as well.
A Brave New World?
In this article, I have outlined the key problems faced by the LGSs and online communities, particularly in the face of a global pandemic. I have sketched a hopeful vision for an open and connected community that extends its welcome to all players and seeks to use initiative to evolve in changing circumstances. I am confident we can create this community by working together,creating content and ensuring product can reach everyone.
Communities work when they create knowledge and promote the collective intention. As much as I thrive on human contact, I am going to have to do other things to support my community. I have set myself the challenge to write up content that I hope will reach and help a lot of people. My hope is that by unifying our content under one roof and revising how we use aembershards, we can keep everyone connected and engaged until we can (finally!) get back to our LGSs and play face-to-face.
Everything evolves; the key is to have the courage to fight for what is worth keeping, the wisdom to let go of things that no longer work and the vision to enable our community to thrive.
Written by Michael Georgiou