M.E.R.P. – MACE East Research Protocol

I feel like I need to write a report on our trip to Wilmington since we had such an incredible response on Facebook when the idea popped up.

Here is a little background for those that do not know.  For a while now (6 years or so), Jeff and I have have been toying around with the idea of a MACE on the east side of the state, in particular Wilmington.  Off and on, JustUs has been approached by a hotel from that area which really put the idea in the back of our mind.  When MACE left High Point, there were some people that thought that a drive to Charlotte was a little too much, so we really wanted to bring back a piece of MACE to those folks.  MACE West was born first as people in Hickory (and subsequently Asheville) had a stronger presence at MACE in Charlotte and were more persuasive.

With MACE West a considerable success in Asheville, our minds have returned to doing something in eastern NC.  When we got a huge influx of ECU students at MACE West, that also threw up some flags.  When I made a post about a German destroyer being used as a location for a live action role play (on February 2 2015 in the MACE FB group), I was more or less joking about doing something on the USS North Carolina.  But the feedback we got from the idea was incredible and so we started pursuing it.  Of course, thanks to contacts he gained over the years of doing these things, Jeff knew somebody in the Wilmington CVB and things started lining up pretty easily for us to make it happen.  Prices looked good.  Hotel opportunities looked good.  So all this lead us 3 months later to a site visit with people in Wilmington on May 2 of this year.

Jeff and I have gone back and forth on ideas for a MACE East over the years.  I am fairly sure we have settled on a good concept for the first year, at least.  Our idea is to have a 3 day weekend event (Fri, Sat and Sun), like everyone is used to but with a slight twist (at least for the first year).  It would be in late January or early February, depending on space availability. Friday and Sunday  would be a normal convention day at the hotel we choose.  But Saturday, we would have everyone move over to the battleship for a one day gaming event at the battleship (preferably using a shuttle system).  We were really concerned about the logistics of getting people there, of registration on Saturday for any one day passes and generally getting around on deck.  Of course, we thought of Artemis on the ship but there are some logistics concerns for that as well.

We lined up 6 hotel visits and a visit to the battleship.  We met with the CVB rep assigned to us, Bree Nidds and she graciously drove us around every location.  For a young woman just out of college and only living in Wilmington 2 years, she knew the area pretty well.  Starting with the closest locations to the battleship and going further out, there were a lot of pros and cons to all the locations.  The one I like the most may not have the dates available and the one with the most growth potential might be too expensive.  The one furthest out is a great deal and very interesting.  MACE Golf tournament, anyone?  There is a lot to consider.

The end result was we liked a majority of the locations but it is going to be up to rental rates and room rates to decide.  Jeff is crunching the numbers now but things look really good.  We will be putting out a survey soon to get opinions on what our potential attendees would be willing to pay for this new event.  Stay tuned for further updates on this project as we work on it.

There are two key things that came out of this trip that really were (1) pleasantly surprising and (2) scary in a good way.  The logistics surrounding the battleship were collectively the first surprise.  They are not going to be the issue we thought.  First, the mess hall is much bigger than either of us ever thought.

They were serving 300 Free Masons in there that night.  It is right off  the main deck so it is easily accessible.  Of course, the stairs are tricky (they are more like ladders) but that can be overcome.  Some of our more physically challenged gamers might have to settle for gaming in the auditorium in the welcome center.  The auditorium was also a nice surprise, giving us an option to game off ship but not far away.

Finally, the big surprise was the ward room.  We could not see it because it was under constructions but it is on the main deck, easily accessible.

They are restoring it right now to be used as meeting space, and we can fit probably 25 to 30 tables in it.  That got our attention.  There was also an admirals room one level up that we could use for special games.  We also looked at the bridge for a possible Artemis game.  We will see about that. Jeff has to talk to the Artemis guys.

There are a few catches involved.  First, this will be January.  Although we were assured that weather is less an issue in Wilmington, it will still be winter.  Secondly, we won’t have the run of the ship until after 5 pm.  Tourists, if any, will be walking around.  But we are not sure what kind of traffic they will have in January.  The physical challenges of getting on board and around the ship are enough to note for some of our attendees.  Getting gaming stuff on board will also be a challenge for some.  But nothing stood out for us as a game changer.  The sheer experience of gaming on the battleship outweighs everything else, as far as we can see.

Needless to say, the USS North Carolina has a lot of potential with very little down-side.  The staff is very excited about the opportunity.  Jeff and I are also excited.  We are going to make this happen one way or another.

The second key factor that both pleasantly surprised while at the same time scared us was the gaming community.  Wilmington basically has one gaming store – Cape Fear Games.  I was not sure what that said about the gaming community in Wilmington.  When we walked into the store, a whole new light was shined on the Wilmington gaming community.  Simply put, it is hopping! We met several cool people and it is quite obvious the community is hungry for a local gaming convention.

Our greatest fear was we were going to be seen as carpetbaggers coming in from out of town and stepping on other peoples’ toes.  That could not be further from the truth.  We were warmly welcomed and encouraged to make MACE East happen.  They told us that there was a strong desire for a gaming con but no one wanted to take the reigns.  I have not felt more welcome in  a gaming community since our efforts in Asheville started or when I ran games at StormCon.

What scared us was the sheer amount of energy and desire for a gaming con.  We might have too much!  We may have underestimated the local support!  That does not scare us away though, it only gets factored in to our planning.  Bottom line – the local support is going to be good.

Thank you to John Fox of Foxhammer Games, T. Julian Bell of Raex Games and Bree Nidds for making us feel welcome in Wilmington.  It was incredible and we are going to do what we can to make this happen.