"A Brief Encounter With..."
I can never stress enough how surprising it is to interview a bunch of people playing a video game on the Internet. You get to encounter people you would probably never meet otherwise; and this might count double for the Big O due to the sheer size of its geographical area, and its unique mix of players. The limited number of coaches also helps, in that it gives more opportunity to harass the same guys over and over again, until they
cry and tap out gratefully accept to answers your questions.
My guest this week is someone I didn't expect to interview at first. But the more I thought about it, the more it sounded ... good ? And, on short notice, the interview was planned for a Sunday, over my breakfast.
My guest is Australian and hails from Sydney. I found in him an equal practitioner of the ":D" on Discord. Our discussion would no doubt subtitled "Dialogue between a Duck and a Cuttlefish". He coaches a Kislev ragtag band in Division 4B. Returning to the Big O with his "Clash of Comrades", please meet : Walkerthon.
Walkerthon was not playing when I joined last season. Hence, my knowledge about him was limited to a live broadcast of one of his games, and a name regularly brought up around the Big O. I picked a few more infos by interviewing Squiggy, but it was still with a mix of respect and curiosity that I engaged in this interview.
So, first and foremost, how did you pick Walkerthon as your nickname ?
Haha! I'm glad you asked, it goes back a bit. Long and short of it, my Surname is "Walker", and in Australia (and perhaps in other places I'm guessing) we used to do these things called "Walk-A-Thon's" in school. Essentially you'd get donations from your family and friends and do a 5-6 kilometre walk with your school group. As a 13 year old the pun was funny to me at the time, and it kind of stuck. Also it's pretty much a unique name for the purposes of signing up to various things so I never have to remember extra numbers or the like.
How did you get into Blood Bowl, and how long have you been playing ? Then how much of that in the ReBBL ?
So I originally picked up Blood Bowl through Blood Bowl: Chaos Edition, perhaps back in 2013? Or maybe slightly before. It took me a while to really get my head around the game, but before long I dove head-first into the old REL (which was the Reddit league for BB:CE at the time). About that time Blood Bowl 2 got announced and I preordered it, hoping to get on the band-wagon quickly (I didn't have any of the other hang-ups many coaches did with the new game at the time, I'm guessing because I had less experience than them).
After Blood Bowl 2 was released, I immediately signed up for the first GMAN league, now run through Reddit with REL and did better than I thought with a High Elf team, making it to Div 1 in the first season. After a few seasons I got sick of playing in European time-zones, set up the Big O with the help of Metal, and the rest is history.
I see that you set up the Big O and the Mentor program, anything else you established and we don't know ? Like the East India Company ?
Haha! In terms of Blood Bowl, only those things, besides getting the original [O] clan going when clan league started. But I can't really take credit for the success of any of those things. With all of them, after a season or two I made it my mission to get people who were better able to keep things growing and running smoothly, especially as my life was getting busier. I'm very happy to say that across all those fronts, I can't be happier with success of these people in all of these domains.
On a personal note, I absolutely refuse to take any more credit for the success of these initiatives than as the guy who took the first step. Purple Saber and Shadorra run the mentoring league spectacularly well, PapaNasty is a better clan-leader than I could ever be, and there are so many Big O admins now it's hard to mention them all, but I'll give a special shout-out to Lark, Miraskadu, and Morka. If I've missed your name, I apologise! But know that it's 100% you guys that make these things happen.
Squiggy mentionned Walkerthon being a founder of the Mentor program, I didn't know he was also at the root of our beloved Big O, and of Clan [O] as well. You have to admire such commitment to the community.
So what made you decide to get involved in creating the Mentor program, starting the Big O and clan [O] ?
Unfortunately the answers are probably more benign than you're looking for haha! With the Big O, the main motivation was that I wouldn't have to get up at 6:30 in the morning to play my games if there was an Oceanic Division.
The mentoring program.... well at that time I'd actually been recruited to run the Psychology Peer Mentoring program at my university, so I was learning a lot about how you can strengthen a community and make people feel welcome. I'd always realised that even though Blood Bowl is the best game in existence, many players are turned off by a high skill curve and a cold community. I saw mentoring as a way to alleviate both of these concerns, in conjunction with Squiggy's rookie league. We could get experienced players to ease the skill curve for newbies, and introduce them to all the great people in the community to keep them coming back for more. I'm particularly proud of Zuark, he's one of the mentees from the first set and he competes at the high levels now.
Clan [O] kind of evolved out of the rhetoric I'd used in the past to get people into the Big O initially. That is, intentionally creating a bit of friendly animosity between Oceanic players and the rest of the world, who'd always "Looked down on us, but no longer!". Clan league was an easy extension of that, especially when I really wanted to see it get off the ground. That line of rhetoric comes back to bite me some times, but I wouldn't change how I did it looking back
Keeps things interesting you know
I assume that, with your extensive experience inside ReBBL, you tried several formats of competitions (Big O, Lino league, Elfly Open, 1mn, 1 day tourneys). Do you have a favourite ?
Oh God, well this is a bit embarrassing, but I've never really played in any of the other formats besides the main league and clan I love seeing people come up with these things and get them running them well. These are the things that make the league personal, make it breathe in a sense. There's always something happening and some crazy things going on. For what I do play (Clan and Big O), I love them both in different ways. The ReBBl "main" leagues are the best test of where you stand as a coach, all the way from the bottom divs to the finals series. Clan, well I'm so attached to all my clan members now that I can't not say I love clan and those guys (shout out to Morka, Papa, Sandune, and WesC!). I was really beating myself up this season over letting them down with my play because it means a lot to me that we get the best results we can.
From what I gathered you played High Elves, Orcs, Humans and now Kislev competitively, at least. Do you have any preferred race, and is there any you've been considering playing competitively but haven't got around to yet ?
I can also add a clan season of Chorfs to that list! I don't think I really prefer a race as such, I think I've just had different preferences at different times of my playing and experience.
When I played High Elves, I wasn't really comfortable with TV management, so I just wanted a team I could build on forever and never feel bad.
When I switched to Orcs, it's because I got sick of having some games lost because of bad injuries, and never having enough Guard, so I build a rough and tumble Orc team that wasn't afraid to get stuck in. I learnt a lot with that team and I'll always be proud of them (especially Harringzord's awesome video!)
Kislev, I think now I'm older and wiser, I wanted to give the High Elf idea a go again, knowing what to expect with injuries. I also really wanted to push myself to the limit as a coach and hone my positioning play to be the best, even when you're 5-6 players down. Kislev was the obvious choice there.
Humans... they don't fit nicely into that spectrum, because I've played them on and off for years. They were in fact the first team I played in the old REL in BB:CE. I think Humans I always come back to, because when they're played well they really keep your opponent guessing, and you have so many options open to you. The problem is they really struggle facing TV uphill, because they're not really great at any one thing enough to pull it off against a better developed team (unless you can induce Griff).
As a dummy who learned by playing Humans, I can say I like to get back to them every so often as I progress. They are a side that experience (as well as low cunning and ruthlessness) makes more enjoyable to play.
Talking about your actual Kislev team, how did you pick your theme ?
To be honest, I actually thought it was quite good when I picked it. In retrospect, it was so obvious it was silly. Right after I made them it was pointed out to me I was about the 3rd or 4th Kislev team to go with the Soviet theme. I think though the leaders just work in really well, because obviously there's some really famous leaders you can make into your star players, and some less well-known ones that become mooks. Of course, the bear has to be Marx (if I get one). This kind of convention is the case with all my ReBBl league teams really, you have the famous ones as your star players, and then some extra meat bags hanging around.
You never really know which of your throw-aways will step-up to be a star though Especially with Kislev...
I don't have any particular love for Communism, though. If that is important to mention, more just history They were obviously for the most part all.... terrible people, perfect to be punched around in Blood Bowl.
Now, looking back a bit, what would you say would be your proudest achievement as a Blood Bowl coach ? Can be on or off the pitch.
There's a lot of things, mostly fun ones that spring to mind. I could say the obvious and that is making it up to the semi's of the final, but I'm going to strike half-way in between that and something silly. My proudest moment was creating the best freakin' Orc Thrower in the whole league to spite everyone who said Orc Throwers were crap, proceeding to win several games by passing with him, and taking him all the way to the semi-finals. In retrospect to those people, I wouldn't take an Orc Thrower if I were building a new Orc team now, but also I couldn't be prouder of Armstrong, even though he never managed to get Strong Arm.
I was expecting a mention of him reaching the semi-finals in the play-offs of Season 7. So here it's done.
But I like this: build an Orc thrower to spite people, then forsake it! A true Blood bowl coach indeed.
So what would you say are your strengths and weaknesses as a Blood Bowl coach ?
Oh Jees, well I can tell you the weaknesses far outweigh the Strengths. I think my main strength is that I consider myself always focusing on winning at all costs. I don't really believe in giving up if you're 5 players down, and many times I have managed to eek out draws or wins because you just cause enough trouble that the opponent gets an unlucky fail on turn 16.
In a funny way, it is perhaps also my greatest weakness when I don't know when to give up, and I have definitely copped far too many injuries on low-percentage dice. More mechanistically, I'm still struggling with my offence with Kislev, but that will come as I practice more and they skill up a bit (I hope). I also tend to forget rules at times (but I'm a bit air-headed like that).
Do you have any specific preparation for your matches ?
I used to when I started playing, I'd read about the team they had and think about their strategy. Now it's a bit more natural for me to see what they can and can't do, or what they've likely to try and how I should respond. Still now I spend time looking through the team beforehand to see the danger players and what to expect (lots of blodge, lots of guard, lots of MB, etc), but other than that I play a lot on instinct now (more than I should to be honest, YFGAS has taught me the value of taking your time to think through decisions). While I'm actually playing, well, I can't play without my cup of tea.
I guess to all the players looking to get better, do your research on the team your about to face first. I used to read all their pages on bbtactics.
Is there any coach around you'd like to pick a card from their deck of skills ?
Definitely Sandune. No matter what I try he's beaten me over and over again in big matches, even with the most beat-up team. Over the years he's also been a bit of a mentor to me and helped me cope not always with playing Blood Bowl, but how to manage your life around your hobbies and keep your head level and cool when you're getting beat on or beating on someone else. He probably taught me my most important piece of advice that everyone should know: If you wouldn't do it standing across the table from the person, you shouldn't do it online.
Another great piece of advice he taught me: Try all the teams.
So, regarding to your own experience, and adding on what you said, what advice would you give to people in order to get better at Blood Bowl ?
Well, definitely those two things: Read about the teams, and play all the teams. You're never really sure what a team is capable of until you have played a season with them yourself. Don't neglect theory! Read things, I'd recommend the 1000 losses playbook as a starting point and ask other coaches for advice when you're not sure what to do with your team next.
In terms of in-game advice, I try to live by the logic of "What is the move I would like to make if I were in their position now", and then "What is the second best move I could make if I were in that position now?" because you can't guarantee they'll take the first move, but you can be pretty sure they'll take one of those two. This is obviously aided by trying the different teams. It also helps you be as annoying as possible.
I guess my only other rule is that the real secret to Blood Bowl (as I see it) is simply making your opponent roll more dice than you. The more they're rolling, the more chance they'll fail.
And try as hard as you can not to blame the dice for your loss, because you'll never improve.
Ok, Ok! I started reading the "1000 Losses Playbook"!
I should have done that a while back, in retrospect.
Ok we now reached the last part of the interview, with my amazingly original questions. Buckle your seatbelt ! Which player skill do you have the most fun with ?
At the moment, Leap obviously but it changes depending on what I'm playing at the time
The kick off event you hate with your guts ?
The only ones that I genuinely dislike are ones that you have the least control over and they're game-changing, so Pitch-Invasion, Throw a Rock, and Sweltering Heat.
They all add to the fun of BB in their own way though.
That's a way too see it, yes.
Do you have a favourite stadium enhancement ?
Depends on the team for sure. I think generally the one I like most is the Ref Rest Area or the Wizard's Tower, just because it makes the game hilarious. I don't think I'd ever take one myself though...
I'm thinking Elf-Turf at the moment for those sweet GFIs.
Ah those crippling GFIs, aka the Deez.
If you could change one thing, only, to BB what would you change ?
To be boring, probably the interaction between Claw, MB, and PO. I'm not really sure how, perhaps something small, like not being able to use claw when you pile-on, or not being able to take both skills together (how can you protect yourself from your claws if you jump on someone!)
Only because there are teams which rely on this combination, I don't want to nerf it entirely, just make it so that cpomb teams don't just end up dominating Div 1
Hopefully those ideas would be better than GW's solution haha! That nerfs the teams that don't need nerfing.... like Norse, they rely on MB/PO.
Oh oh, maybe if you pile-on with claw you have to take your own armour roll !
That is something I would back: PO with Claw and roll your own amour roll too !
Do you listen to any music or podcast when playing BB ?
Always, but never anything in particular, just whatever comes up on my library. If it's a big game I might get some G-up music just to get me in the mood, but mostly it's just chill-out music to keep me sane
And would you recommend any snack to go with that cup of tea for those long Blood Bowl games ?
Nah, Cup of tea is all I need.
What kind of tea ? Give up your secret !
Usually Australian Afternoon tea, which is one I think they only sell here haha! Otherwise Darjeeling or English Breakfast.
And now, dear reader, you too know the terrible secret of Walkerthon.
And finally I always ask people to do my job or me and provide me questions I should ask. My previous guest offered : what is the largest player you missed behind a treeman ?
I would probably ask something like... "Despite Blood Bowl's fickle nature, why do you keep coming back to play?" I can never work that one out.
[Referring to Serj's question] Oh lol that one is awesome! Probably a Chaos Warrior.
A question most of us asked ourselves at some point or other. I think it's the frustration making the victories and the BS plays shine stronger. Like gems scattered in the mud.
As always, my deepest thanks to Walkerthon for taking the time to answer my questions. My apologies for making him late for lunch on Father's Day.
Talking to him, I discovered the importance of his engagement in the community, as well as a top notch Blood Bowl coach, on so many levels.
Next interview, coming up on Monday!