Hosting a Star Wars: Destiny Slow Grow League

At Covenant Tulsa, we’ve been regularly hosting draft events for Destiny since the game released. We actually even invented a draft format before the draft starters and official rules came along, knowing how fun and accessible the format can make the game. Even with regular drafts and an incredibly welcoming community, the gap between people who casually enjoy the game and those who play more competitively has been growing with every release.

I started seeing people in our community getting pushed out, unintentionally, by those taking the game more seriously. When I also saw people I consider veterans of expandable tabletop games struggling to get into our community, I knew we had a big issue.

The truth about Destiny right now is that the amount of product and knowledge it takes to get into the game is too high of a barrier for most people. This is really a shame, since Destiny is one of the most elegantly designed games I have ever played. It’s easy to learn and offers immense depth.

I started talking with the other local regulars week to week, considering ways we could make it easier for new people to join our community. One of our first steps was having extra decks with us that we would happily lend to new players. Still, it felt like there was more that could be done.

So, this past summer I created a new way to play Star Wars Destiny that I call a slow grow league. After I made a few posts on Twitter about our league, I started getting questions about the format and how to run something similar. Instead of sharing that information one person and 280 characters at a time, I decided the best way to share it would be through a blog like this!

Getting Started – Season 1

In the draft format, players all start with the same cards. These cards are essential to make sure every player at least has a functional deck. However, one of the down sides is that a lot of times you end up playing against the same characters over and over again.

For slow grow, I wanted players to be able to play with any starter they wanted. This simultaneously meant there would be a higher variety of character teams and also removed a potential barrier for new players. If they already had a starter or maybe even a favorite character, I didn’t want to put any extra barriers in front of them by requiring specific starter decks.

Since our weekly Destiny night was on Wednesday, I decided to launch the slow grow on the first Wednesday after a new set was released (in this case Convergence). I knew current players were likely to be there anyway and that interest in new packs would still be very high. I also didn’t want to compete against the excitement of release week, as players in Tulsa tend to want to draft… a lot.

We kicked off the league by drafting 3 packs each. Then, every following week, we drafted one more pack and made adjustments to our deck. Then we played a few rounds. This structure was designed to keep costs extremely low. If a new player walked in a month late, I wanted them to be able to join without a huge upfront cost. All they would need is a starter, 3 packs for week 1, and 1 pack for each other week they missed. Even if the league lasted the average 16 weeks between sets, the maximum cost would be $57 ($15 for a starter, $3 per pack for 14 packs).

I started talking about the idea for a slow grow a month or two before actually launching it. I posted about starting the slow grow league in our local Facebook group about a week before we started. I honestly wasn’t sure what kind of response I would get, so I walked into the store on the first night of the league and was thrilled to find nearly 20 players ready to participate!

Before we drafted our packs on the first night (pictured above), I made it clear that there was one primary rule above all others: have fun. The point of the league was to create a fun, low-barrier way for everyone to enjoy Star Wars: Destiny. If you weren’t enjoying your experience you could do whatever you needed to fix it. Do you wish you’d chosen a different starter? Switch. Do you dislike your card pool? Start over and catch up like any other player would who joined late.

While getting 20 players to the beginning of the league was great, what happened after was just as impressive to me. Since most players are already coming to our store on Wednesday, it was super easy for them to keep up with one pack a week. Our retention rate was incredibly high, with our lowest attended week at 10 players. Very few players completely dropped off from the league, as we had 15 players at one of our final weeks of the league.

Even though I think the first season went incredibly well, I learned a whole lot throughout the season. I watched carefully each week to gather ideas from my own experience and ask everyone else for feedback. After compiling all of the thoughts and feedback, I made quite a few adjustments as we headed into our second season.

Lessons Learned – Season 2

The first thing I noticed was that deck building was most interesting from about pack 6 until pack 12. I wanted to get to this point faster, so I decided this time we’d start with 6 packs instead of just 3. For new players this increases the upfront costs, but I also believe the extra cards will go a long way towards creating excitement and making sure we get a lot of unique decks in the league.

Since this is how many packs you get in a standard draft, it also meant current players could take any draft pool they had and launch right into the slow grow league. Since most of our locals draft several times throughout the first week or two after release, this actually reduces the cost of participation up front to practically zero for them.

The second thing that became apparent was that drafting a single pack each week became less exciting as the league went on. With only 5 cards, it is likely you would have at least a few weeks where you draft 5 cards and put none of them in your deck. I decided to increase the weekly packs drafted to 2. Drafting a stack of 10 cards with 2 dice cards would create more interesting choices and ensure that even late into the league you are getting cards that you actually want to add to your deck.

Of course, this is a fine balance. With 6 packs upfront and 2 packs per week, the initial cost is higher and the pacing is faster. The barrier to entry needs to be low enough that new players aren’t overwhelmed while also not being so slow that current players get bored. Striking the right balance here is one of the most difficult and critical elements of a successful slow grow league.

The third change came from something I noticed later in the season. There was a natural point where most players in our community were ready to play constructed, including the new players. After the first five or six weeks, interest waned – in part due to the issues that led me to make the first two changes. Based on what players were telling me from week to week, the slow grow was standing in the way of their desire to explore constructed.

Instead of letting the league drag on until the next set, I decided to set an end to the league at the seventh week. This would give our community time to explore constructed together before the next set, but it also came with a few other benefits.

Having a finite timeline meant there was a specific amount of product each player needed. Since we start with 6 packs and draft 2 packs a week for 6 weeks, players need 18 packs. This is exactly half a box, which makes it super convenient for players to split a box up front and have everything they need for the league. It also let me schedule a finale to celebrate the end of the league, which I think is a fun way to wrap things up.

While my version of a slow grow league is a work in progress, the results have been really promising. In the first season, we were able to add a few new players to our local community. I also saw a lot of players that I felt were drifting away from the community turn back into weekly attendees. We launched our second season last week and actually had 7 totally new players participating!

Hosting A Slow Grow League

Whether you have a local Destiny community or play at home with the same people, if you are interested in the idea of a slow grow league I definitely encourage you to host one. Not only has this been a great way for us to keep our current community engaged and provide a low barrier of entry for new players, but it has also been incredibly fun for me as a veteran player. I definitely gained an appreciation for cards that I otherwise wouldn’t have touched without doing a slow grow league.

If you’re not sure where to start, the rules for our second slow grow season are below (these are the exact rules I posted in our local group). I have no doubt that we have a long way to go before we run out of ways to make it easier for people to join the tabletop gaming community, so if you host a league like this one I’d love to hear about your experience on Twitter!

Current Slow Grow Rules

As was the case previously, the most important rule is to have fun. The goal of the slow grow is to be a fun, accessible way to play Destiny. Here is a run down of the structure for our Spark of Hope slow grow league:

1. Each player starts with a Starter Set of their choice. This starter can be changed at any time.
2. We will draft 6 packs of Spark of Hope on Wednesday, July 17.
3. We will draft on Wednesday nights, starting no later than 6:15pm.
4. We will draft 2 packs per week, starting July 24th.
5. The league will last six weeks, starting on July 17th and ending on August 28th. If you start late, you need a starter, 6 packs, and 2 packs for every week missed.
7. There will be a finale event on August 28th! This will be a celebration of the community and I’ll be giving away some cool stuff (based on league participation).
8. You will need 18 packs for the entirety of the slow grow season. The most cost effective way to get these packs is to buy a booster box, so I recommend splitting a box with someone else!

Slow grow has been a super fun and affordable way to play Destiny, so if you’ve been out of the game for a while or considering trying it, I definitely recommend checking out this league.

Covenant Tulsa is Evolving

This week, we are launching a number of changes to our Covenant Tulsa retail environment – particularly Events and Memberships – and these changes represent a philosophical shift in our understanding of how best to generate deep connections and long-lasting friendships over tabletop games. This is by no means a declaration that “alas, we have solved the retail puzzle!” but instead one of many steps toward a better model that serves a greater proportion of the Tulsa community.

So, let’s take a look at what is changing and why.

Events

The dissonance lurking just under the surface of standard tabletop gaming events is something that has been bubbling up in recent years. Like many of you reading this, we mainly grew up in the “tournament” culture and never questioned its merits. We put together our best decks, sat at a table for 8-12 hours straight, and assumed that the pinnacle of gaming was the adrenaline rush of competing.

But in the past 7 years, this assumption about competitive play has been fully and uncompromisingly deconstructed. Competitive events play an important and valid role, but they are not the preferred style of event for most players (by a longshot) and they are among the least effective at growing and sustaining a player base. Data in this industry skews heavily toward those who are self-reporting in local store environments, but it does not (and perhaps cannot) account for those who choose not to play locally, or at all.

This is a problem, specifically because it leads to stores asking “how can I entice my established players to play in more tournaments and buy more products?” instead of “how can I reach new players and non-participating players and turn them into active community participants?”

These questions have dramatically different answers, and the changes to our events are an attempt to answer the latter and the former. It is crucial to solve for both.

The changes:

  • Standard weekly events no longer link prize distribution to performance, allow for deck/list switching between rounds, and rotate through a variety of formats – including official prize kit events, new player events, release events, limited events, and custom non-official formats.
  • Competitive events (Store Championships, Regionals, etc) remain a key component of the event calendar, and now serve as a more significant and unique opportunity for players to compete. These events will be run according to all official rules and requirements.
  • Social events are now a more common fixture of the schedule. These are events not tied to a specific game but instead aimed at more universal themes (paint day, chili cook-off, etc.)
  • Weekly game days have been adjusted to better promote community crossover and reduce conflicts. Of course, you can still come in anytime and play anything you want.
  • The quarterly, universal league is no longer active in favor of better per-event prizes. Current league points must be cashed in by May 12.

 

This shift better balances the incentives for store attendance by adding more events that every type of player can attend and enjoy. The majority of events allow for the exploration of new decks, lists, and themes without worrying that they might not be “the best”, while the more serious, competitive events still satisfy the need for players to test their mettle in a more high-stakes environment.

All of this stems from our belief that game nights should be a relief from the day-to-day stress of modern life, a time to connect with new and old friends and get lost in universes that we all love, together. Even so, this is undoubtedly only the beginning.

Membership

One consistent chorus that we’ve never deviated from when it comes to local retail is the hazard that shops face when their model relies almost exclusively on MSRP product sales, or product sales at all. In response, we’ve had some variation of a membership model from the beginning. The problem with memberships is finding the perfect balance between value gained for members, revenue gained for us, and the level of scale needed to actually create a sustainable store model.

At the same time, when you start restricting access to tables or games by making them members-only (or heaven forbid, start charging table fees), you risk alienating players new to your store or, more importantly, new to the hobby. We want more people to be involved in tabletop, and the reality is that you are going to lose a lot of would-be community members if you are expecting to make money on those early interactions.

These changes to membership incentivize new players getting involved in the community with free starters, discounted events, and referrals, while also giving member-exclusive benefits for investing in the space.

The changes:

  • A new member, at the time of sign up, receives one free Starter for the featured title of their choice (up to a $40 value).
  • $5 discount on every in-store event hosted by Covenant
  • $10 store credit for membership referrals
  • Exclusive seasonal token distributed at special monthly events
  • The return of member-exclusive events, ticketed and catered
  • Free in-store pre-orders and special orders for any tabletop game or accessory, regardless of if we normally stock it.

 

If you want to get a friend or co-worker involved in a game that you play, it is now easier than ever. For $15 upfront, they can start playing right away with their free starter set and jump into any weekly events for free the entire month – and you get $10 in store credit for getting them involved. These changes are all about making it easier to get more people involved in the games you play – which should be the critical value proposition of every local store.

Stop by!

This new store environment is a response to the feedback we have actively gathered over the last year, both objective and subjective. We are determined to make Covenant the best place in the world to connect over tabletop games, and that includes bringing new people into the hobby.

As we continue to gain insight from our incredible locals, speak to those inside and outside the industry, and ask ourselves hard questions about what we are doing and why, Covenant Tulsa will keep evolving. Come in and experience this new approach for yourself, and let us know what you think!