The history of the stele open
An idea for more of what I enjoyed about tourneys...
A few years ago I realized that while I enjoyed competing at FLGS tourneys and game nights, the real draw for me was the hanging out and joking around with my friends. As local tourneys would wind down, so would the fun, social aspect that really was my first reason for being there. Here in the DC area we have no shortage of hotel and event space, and a particularly active group of X-Wing players, so I got to wondering if we could rent a small venue from time to time and have a little tournament in our own space that would encourage more of the social aspect of events.
Why Maarek Stele?
It's important to remember that early on in X-Wing, right up until the TIE Advanced got buffed with the release of the Raider and then when he got his new (correct) ride with the release of Imperial Aces, Maarek Stele was little more than a punchline in competitive play. He was sort of the poster child for useless pilots that just couldn't cut the mustard in a viable tournament list. Add to that the fact that the only real image anyone had of him was some goofy, Edward G. Robinson looking thing, and the fact that I was a die hard fan of TIE Fighter on PC back in my youth (yes, Maarek Stele is the pilot you are controlling in that game), and I was sold. Maarek Stele became the face of my event!
First attempt... Stele Open 2015
So, back in late 2014, I rented some space in a small, business hotel near Dulles Airport in Herndon, VA and set about setting up a private X-Wing tournament that had all the stuff I wanted in an event: great competition, a fun crowd of players to hang out with, and unique prizes to bring everyone out to play....oh, and tacos... gotta have tacos.
Well, the first Stele Open was attended by about 65 players (almost exclusively from the DC Area NOVA Squadron). Some things worked, some things didn't, but most everyone had fun and I was able to give away some cool stuff. I offered up some unique things that weren't terribly common at the time like custom event challenge coins, event specific custom game mats and unofficial alt art pilot cards printed on plastic. These have all become pretty standard at bigger events now, and people really dug them at the time.
While not without bumps in the road and a few warts, the first Stele Open proved pretty conclusively that players liked the basic formula and wanted me to expand on it...
Moar? Stele Open 2016
Encouraged by the good time that seemed to be had at my 2015 event, and armed with a little bit of experience, I set out to expand the Stele Open in 2016. I got my hands on a bigger (if not necessarily better) venue in Manassas, VA down the road from my house. I decided to go with an "all-inclusive" model that included food and drinks, but that turned out to make registration sorta overly complicated. I went fairly bananas trying to one-up my own event in terms of prize pool and odd swag. I commissioned a legit comic book artist, Mike Mayhew, to give Commander Stele a new face, and upped my game quite a bit with nicer coins, cool game mat art, a slick pilot card, event posters, a VIP registration option (All. The. Things.), and moar tacos.
Like 2015, some things worked, some didn't. We had a bigger turnout, with about 100 players showing up on game day to play X-Wing, but the event itself was a bit clunky to manage. It still wasn't really what I'd imagined...
Stele '17 - The event as I always thought it should be
So that brings us up to date and to the upcoming 2017 Stele Open. Hosting an event of this kind is sort of a leap of faith. I can generally gauge interest and be confident that there is enough demand that I should put the thing on, but there are literally a hundred different variables that could conspire to prevent any event from being a success.
This year I decided early on that I wanted to move the Stele Open into a premium venue. I did the math and as long as I got just as many attendees as in 2016, I could manage to host the event in a first-rate venue and really give my guests the experience I had envisioned back in 2014. It was going to cost a bit more, and I wouldn't be able to give players quite as much stuff for their money. I also had some concerns about "event fatigue" and an ever-crowing event calendar. I was, however, fairly confident that I could swing a really nice event in a luxury hotel that would likely break even, or, if it lost money, not lose a LOT of money.
My goal defined, I went ahead and secured a gorgeous venue, the Dulles Hilton, and determined to put on the premium event that I imagined, and just let the chips fall where they may. I commissioned noted Star Wars portrait and comic artist Dave Dorman to do some art for the event, and I pared down the swag to just what I thought people really wanted...oh, and tacos... I caved early and added free tacos to the mix...gotta have tacos.
Well, as I type this in early December, it's clear that my concerns were entirely unfounded. By the end of the first day of registration it was obvious that the 2017 Stele Open was going to be a huge success and potentially a transition into something much larger than anything I'd initially envisioned. There were almost as many players registered after only three days as attended Stele 16 (crazy).
I'm excited to see how this year turns out and what the future holds for the event! I hope I see you in April so that I can add you to this story!