Twenty Years of Memories is a series of interviews (mostly of World Champions, GenCon/North American Champions, and European Champions) by Aaron Frede to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of Legend of the Five Rings (this interview is not from one of those categories). This is the fourth in a series of them that Strange Assembly has hosted this week (the first three featured Eugene Earnshaw, Bryan Reese, and Tolis Koutsikos). You can find a full introduction, and links to more of the interviews, on the AEG forums.
by Aaron Frede
Twenty Years of Memories: Tales from a Tournament Organizer
Mike Colson has been running successful L5R events for longer than most people have been playing the game. He served as AEG’s Events Coordinator for five years.
How did you first hear about L5R and what drew you to the game?
In 1995 at Gencon, they did some L5R demos but Imperial was months away still. I was there for Magic. On the last day, they were just giving the Pre-Imperial demo cards out. Dave Williams handed me a Pre-Imperial card pack as I walked by the booth. I said “great, thanks” and then tossed it into the garbage at the end of the aisle. Probably $300-$400 worth of cards at this point.
A few months later, Imperial had released and the local shop had been sitting on a box of starters and a box of boosters for a few weeks. They cracked a starter box and gave them out to the adults in the store. Within a couple of weeks, we had all bought multiple boxes and the kids in the store had all started to play so it was a pretty savvy business move.
Where are you from and tell us a bit about your playgroup?
It’s easier if I just say Chicago, but I’m 10 miles southeast of the city in Northwestern Indiana. Imperial arc, we had 30 player tourneys with just Indiana locals. Now, there are about 10 players city-wide. I get together with my gaming group most Saturdays. It used to be L5R night, but now it’s mostly board games. But three-quarters of us are Kotei winners, and at least 4 of us are multiple Kotei winners
As a player do you have a loyalty or love for a specific clan?
I was a Lion player in the Imperial arc. I left for story reasons after the Day of Thunder (stupid Tsanuri [ed note: I think that’s what this was supposed to be]). I played 2 arcs of Shadowlands after that, followed by whoring out to whatever was good and/or fun.
How many GenCon’s have you been to, and how many of those as a player versus an AEG staffer?
2015 will be my 21st Gencon if you don’t include 2 SoCals. I didn’t play L5R at Gencon in 1996, but I was 17th at the Day of Thunder in ’97. I played every year thru 2001, which was also the first time I helped out the event team. At the time Joe Keyser was the TO, AEG employees took a hands off approach back then. I judged thru 2004, and took over as TO in 2005 and then became Event Coordinator in 2006. My last was GenCon 2011. I played one qualifier game in 2012, hung over and conceded to Amanda Lau and went back to bed.
What are some of the challenges of running an event that is the magnitude of an L5R World Championship.
I went to Belgium to run the first European worlds in 2006, I didn’t know any of my staff and at the time the game was printed in 4 languages, 3 of which I don’t speak. It was … stressful? Gencon is easy.
Of the events you ran at GenCon what year was your favorite?
I live about 2 hours from Indy and about the same distance from Milwaukee. People used to fly into my place about a week early to playtest. The first year Reese showed up, 2003, was the year he won. That was pretty special. Don’t tell him I said that. Also, right up there is any year one of my friends won, Rixson, Aaron there are a bunch. I wish Danny Walker had won when was still running things. We did a bunch of in-house playtest for Score together. I didn’t know he was even playing until I saw him in the finals and I was stuck watching from the outside. It sucked. He’s genuinely one of the best people I know.
Do you have a favorite story moment from GenCon?
That’s easy, Day of Thunder. I’m playing Lion, John Wick reads the story about the spirit of Tsuko picking Toturi up to fight Fu Leng. I was not crying. No really I wasn’t. Shut up.
As a Head TO, what was one of the hardest calls you have had to make at an event?
Not at GenCon, but at the Worlds in Brussels. I double-lossed a T8 match that went to time.
What is the best moment that you have experienced while running or playing in an event at GenCon?
I judged at the L5R LARPs for a few years, that was fun. The first time I did it i was Kaukatsu and Rich Wulf’s instructions/ pep talk was something close to “He’s a huge [jerk], you’ll be fine”
You were one of the first people in the modern era of L5R to use alternate formats at big events when you ran the Topaz Championship finals as a draft. What are some advantages to using alternate formats at big events?
If you want to find out who the best players are, test more skills.
You spent some time as AEG’s Event Coordinator what was it like to go from running single events to being responsible for all L5R events world-wide?
At 5 years, I was the longest running EC at AEG I believe. When I played I traveled quite a bit. I have multiple seasons where I attended 7+ Kotei (6 or 7 years) . The year I hit 10, it was the most anyone had attended (since eclipsed by Dan Jacobson and Jim Chatham and possibly others). When I took over as EC, I knew the US player base, I knew the US TO’s and I knew how to run a great event. Kotei attendance was high. You could expect to run a great event and make some money. So I could be demanding on TO’s because I could replace them, and when I had to, I did. I had great resources in Europe (Pablo, and Nico) and just as I took over I was running World Championships in Belguim and I met a ton of Euro TO’s. I had a harder time getting to know TO’s in the rest of the world. I eventually did make it down to South America and Mary from South Africa made it to Gencon. But when I started, that was the hard part.
What are some of the challenges and benefits of working with TO’s all over the world?
Challenges: Communication and shipping. I guess at some point, you are just trusting that the events are actually happening. I have actually had a lot of evidence handed to me since I left AEG that Moscow doesn’t actually happen. Early on it seemed like about 50% of the boxes shipped to South America disappeared.
Benefits: Travel and I got to met a whole bunch of great people
Any other experiences or stories that came from GenCon that you would like to share?
I will not tell the Toturi the 3rd story.
Thanks Mike for chatting with us and for your years of service not only to the game but to the L5R community as a whole.