14 Jan 2022

2021 Who Played What - a weird half year for the UK Ancients circuit

Competition gaming in the UK to all intents and purposes was rendered illegal in early 2020, and did not return (barring a few rule-bending 'private social events' held in back gardens, all of which are probably best brushed under the carpet!) until July/August 2021, meaning my regular updates on the state of the UK Ancients competition scene have been somewhat thin on the ground over that period too.

All of the various Ancients rulesets competition circuits have however surged back to life over the second half of 2021, with events taking place across the length and breadth of the country and feeding into various ranking systems. 

This has in turn allowed me to produce a rather truncated (and inevitably as a result even more meaningless than usual!) part-year snapshot of where things stand as of today across the UK in terms of player numbers and engagement at UK competitions held in 2021.

As usual, this data has been assembled from rankings and results published by the leading lights of each of the rulesets themselves, and further checked against event results shared online across various forums and social media. All of the numbers are for "players who've appeared at an event in 2021", with any comparisons being made against the equivalent "calendar-year" numbers for 2019. There were a handful of events pre-lockdown in 2020, but they were so few in number, and inconsistent across rulesets I've just gone for a straight 2019-2021 comparison for simplicity. 

All of the official ranking listings are consistent in that if an "event" hasn't been promoted or discussed online widely enough for people to notice it, it doesn't get included - so, intra-club events, invite-only gatherings, or get-togethers between groups of friends don't and won't make the cut, and so the definition of a "competition" is an event where the entire community has the possibility to enter, and where results appear online afterwards also. 

I've also - somewhat debatably - left out the online event played over a number of weeks by the TTS! community on Tabletop Simulator, as the main question to be answered here is "are people getting back to face to face events?". Clearly an online tournament does indicate an ongoing level of activity and interest - arguably more so than sets which didn't get around to doing something like this themselves - so there is a clear case for including it, but I've opted to do so by it being "honourably mentioned in despatches" rather than putting it into straight into the other numbers. 

In looking at UK vs Overseas players I've (inevitably) had to make some potentially uninformed calls on who is an 'overseas' player, so apologies in advance for any errors on that front - the numbers of overseas players this year has been so low that it seems unlikely any mistakes end up being particularly significant - but if you spot any, please let me know and I'll fix them (as I've already done having  somehow missed the 2 TTS! events held last year first time around!).

So, on with the business...

Competitions Staged


From July to the end of the year 49 competitions took place across the major Ancients rulesets, compared to 107 in the last comparable "full" year of 2019. The well-organised and keen DBM community were quickest off the blocks, managing to squeeze in a very impressive 2/3 of their normal annual schedule into the last 6 months of last year - a feat equalled by TTS! with their two face to face competitions compared to three in 2019. 

Whilst not approaching the efficiency of DBM, the UK ADLG community were also very  keen to get playing again, running just over half of the prior year's full roster. The other 4 rulesets in this survey staged around 1/3 of a normal full-year circuit.

Competition Attendances


Even with a truncated calendar, attendances at those competitions that took place were solid across all sets, and broadly in line or in many cases stronger than seen in prior years. 

With only a small number of events to draw upon in most cases the average attendance figures are rather uneven - often being impacted as much by which (traditionally well-attended) events didn't take place in 2021 as those which did. 

TTS! was most badly hit by this, losing 3 of 5 events from 2019 and also seeing far lower than usual attendance at the ruleset's hastily-rescheduled "Worlds" in Chalgrove, where just 16 players competed against 2019's total of 38 (and an early 2020 outing of 37).

The TTS! online competition also ran in 2021 using Tabletop Simulator, and gathered 19 different players from around the world, of which about 1/3 look to have been UK based. PLayed as a pick-up leage, some players managed to fit in 14 online games, with others only appearing once - a very creditable initiative and one which it'll be interesting to see if it continues as an option for international play now that face to face gaming is also back up and running again .  

DBMM also suffered from scheduling issues, missing the Milton Keynes 1-Dayer (which attracted 43 players in 2019) whilst counting three 1-day Northern League events (historically attracting 10 or less players) in its tally of 6 competitions in 2021. 

Warfare, the last major multi-ruleset event to take place in 2021 and with the longest lead-time after the lifting of restrictions in July saw especially strong attendances across the 4 of the 6 sets covered, with the biggest attendances of the year for 3 of them - FoG, ADLG and DBMM. The latter two sets in particular saw a turnout for Warfare than surpassed the entire full-year attendance totals of some of the other rulesets.

Total Unique Player Numbers


The number of different UK-based players who took part in at least one UK competition in 2021 across these 6 rulesets reached 362, compared to 521 in 2019, a very creditable 70% of the 2019 full-year total. This total does include (literally) a handful of players who took part in more than one circuit, but as such the numbers involved were not material. 

ADLG remained by quite some margin the most widely played UK competition ancients set in 2021, racking up more players than the 2nd, 3rd and 4th most popular sets combined for the second time in a row in these stats. The 19 ADLG events, running right across the country from Inverness to Devon, and Cardiff to York, saw 141 UK--based competitors take part, equivalent to 75% of the 2019 UK year-end figure.

As has been flagged earlier TTS!, DBA and DBMM player numbers did not quite recover as robustly as for most other systems in 2021 as a number of their traditionally better attended events didn't happen due to normally being scheduled for the first half of the year. When they did get the opportunity however the Milton Keynes/Reading/Guilford DBMM powerhouse managed to turn out in force at Warfare, which recording its biggest DBMM attendance in a decade, with player numbers up 1/3 on Warfare 2019.

Mortem et Gloriam saw 54 UK-based players at 7 events in 2021, as a flurry of new players joined the circuit offsetting many of those who failed to return after playing in 2019. With scheduling challenges impacting numbers for DBMM, DBA, and TTS! in 2021 MeG has (for the moment at least) snuck ahead of those three systems to end 2021 as the 2nd most widely played Ancients competition set in the UK.

New Players (players first seen on each circuit in 2021)

In a truncated competition calendar and with relatively little chance to play any form of face to face game over the last 2 years it would have been encouraging to see "any" brand new players, but in fact the majority of rulesets chipped in with a few new faces appearing in the second half of 2021 for a total of 40 new UK-based players and a smattering of first-time (and exceedingly brave!) overseas visitors too.

As has been the case every year since the first English-language edition was published, L'Art de la Guerre again drew in more new players than any other ruleset in 2021 with 18 UK-based players taking up the rules for the first time as the revamped v4 replaced v3 on the ADLG competition circuit, with a mix of players moving from other sets and totally new-to-ancients competition players. 

A new hardback PSC-published edition of MeG also landed around Easter 2020 and (no doubt assisted by the associated social media marketing barrage!) has helped draw in 14 new UK-based players for the MeG competition circuit in the subsequent 18 or so months. Around 1/3 of these were FoW circuit regulars, joining the many current and former FoW players in the MeG ranks, the rest being new to Ancients competition (at least in recent memory).

DBM also had a good year by any standard, adding a very creditable 5 new players over the Covid interregnum, underlining the depth of interest in those clubs where DBM remains the first-choice ruleset and where almost all of the events in the circuit originate.

(note - this section measures players who were completely new to each circuit in 2019. Someone who'd appeared prior to that, skipped 2019 and then appeared again this year will not be counted). 

Players Not Yet Returning in 2021


Roughly 1 in 3 UK players who participated in competitions in 2019 are yet to  return to the UK tabletop of battle, not being seen at any events in the second half of 2021. This proportion is consistent across every ruleset in this year-end survey, with DBA and TTS! the only real outliers - the non-reappearance of some historically well-attended events being largely responsible for this.

The first column of the table shows the fall-off if overseas players are included, disproportionally impacting MeG, ADLG and to a lesser degree DBMM and TTS!. This will surely come as no surprise to anyone given how severely international travel was severely curtailed throughout 2021.

3 of the "non-returning" FoG players and 1 DBMM player appear as "new players" in the 2021 ADLG totals, with a further 2 current FoG current players also doubling-up and starting to play ADLG this year. MeG gained one overseas player who had appeared in the 2019 ADLG figures, with one of 2019's UK MeG players joining the ADLG circuit in 2021 - but other than that I've struggled to spot any other movement of players between sets over the past 2 years. 

As a result, almost all of the 'new' players across all circuits are in fact completely "new", and almost all of the lapsed players have simply stepped away from Ancients competitions last year.

So, what's the conclusion?

The biggest take-away is probably the headline stat that the total number of players is already at around 70% of its pre-pandemic level, on the back of a severely truncated part-year competition programme which saw less than half of the regular UK calendar taking place. So, things are healthy and there's no real indication that there will be any material long term impact on Ancients competition attendance once things (hopefully..) start to return to normal. 

All 7 sets in this update continue to attract solid and loyal followings with almost no movement of players between them. It's also worth bearing in mind that most of whatever small differences this end-of-year review has thrown up remain, well, "small" - with most sets running with between 30-50 players the (non) attendance of only 2-3 people at a single event will generate a 5% swing in almost any of the comparative %ages I've cobbled together here. 

Put another way, "Dave & Steve didn’t make it to the competition in the end as they both have daughters who recorded positive LFT’s the week they came back from Uni just before the rearranged competition took place" is far more likely to be the cause of any of the differences seen between any of these stats as anything even remotely resembling a “meaningful trend”!

The mix of "who plays what" also hasn't really changed significantly in the last 2 years either, so once a number of accidents of scheduling work their way out of the calendar in the first half of 2022 there seems every chance that things may well end up almost exactly the same as they were at the end of 2019.  Which would frankly be a really great result all round, all things considered! 


(As usual, if you do see any mistakes please let me know and I'll correct them)

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