Oscar Garza is a name many V:TES players may recognise. As Vampire’s organised play coordinator for a number of years, Garza was one of the main bridges between White Wolf / CCP and the Vampire Elder Kindred Network fan organisation. Garza’s credits as a White Wolf staffer go further than V:TES; he also contributed concepts and design to Promethean: the Created, as well as playtesting and contributions to numerous other titles. After leaving CCP in 2011, Garza has held senior roles at Electronic Arts and a number of marketing , advertising and media firms.
B: So to kick us off, what was your introduction to V:TES like?
Growing up I knew I had the nerd gene. The problem was growing up in a small town where there wasn’t much of a community of gamers and even fewer hobby shops. I ended up teaching myself Magic in high school and getting my brothers and neighborhood kids to get into it. After a few months I happened upon a table of gamers at my local coffee shop; guys from my high school. I asked if they were playing Magic and they kind of gave me this look like “of course not”. They sat me in one of the seats and showed me how to play V:TES. I was a moth to a flame. I obsessed over it for many years. I was able to catch cards from the tail end of The Sabbat at the time and made a sort of hybrid Malk/!Malk deck with what I could get together. I played it non-stop in many one-on-one games against a Brujah deck. I lost more times than I can count but I loved it.
Later in high school, I started following the V:TES activity on Usenet and read all about the global community. My local guys had no idea the reach of the game and we played with several misunderstandings of the rules: “didn’t pay 1 to see 1” among others.
B: How long did it take before your scene started to open up? Did you travel for tournaments, for example, and did you find other cities had different playstyles?
My first playgroup started small. We would get together on the occasional Friday, buy a bunch of beers, and play in games as big as we could muster. Sometimes it was 3, sometimes it was 8. It was enough for me just to play cards. When I went away to college I knew I would have more opportunity to play V:TES in the groups I had only read about on Usenet. I remember driving to Austin to play in my first tournament. I had arranged for me and one of my hometown guys to play at a DoubleDave’s pizza on Duval. A location I would play V:TES at for some time in the future. I brought my janky bleed deck and my buddy brought an Assamite deck. I registered with Ethan “TexasJusticar” Burrow and sat at my first table with Mike Ooi and Jeff “TheLasombra” Thompson. I was starstruck, truly. These were expert-level figures in the game for me and I was ecstatic to play in games with them. I ended up in the finals that went to a weenie animalism deck that shredded the table but I think I picked up a VP.
I went to school in College Station, Texas about an hour and a half from Austin. There were no players in CS so I would drive to Austin to play games with these folks, every Sunday for nearly 4 years or so. I became close friends with many of that crowd and we started to travel to tournaments together. We did DragonCon a few years, we drove to the last GenCon in Milwaukee for the first Week of Nightmares, and we ran/hosted various tournament in Texas for quite a while.
The Texas playstyle was fighty but quite varied outside of Ethan’s Presence and Jeff’s Lasombra. We had close affiliation with the Louisiana crowd and would get out to Lafayette to play every so often as well. The Atlanta folks would meet us in the middle.
B: It’s funny, so many of those names are like a ‘who’s who’ to me – they were all such a vital part of V:TES, as experienced through the eyes of a Usenet reader like myself. Having begun during the First Torpor, White Wolf getting the licence from Wizards must have made your scene explode. How did your experience of the game grow over those early years?
Access to new cards by way of that group and the release of Sabbat War opened a ton of opportunities. I was pretty solidly entrenched in Sabbat decks but there was a lot there. There was quite a bit of combat in Texas so you typically carried a lot of red cards. I tried a number of archetypes but the !Malks had a lot to explore and I dug into all areas of the clan. I even wrote the newsletter for a short period of time. In fact, one of my groomsman read one of the newsletters at my rehearsal dinner. It was embarrassing and confusing to many in attendance.
The second age of V:TES was incredibly fun. So many new cards and new life was injected into the community. It was about the time I started traveling to the big tournaments and met so many wonderful people.
B: How’d you get the role of Organised Play Coordinator? You held that position for an incredibly long time, as I recall. Do you have particular highlights of your time at the helm?
I was in my ~7th year of college working on a degree in Geography so my prospects were somewhat limited. The position was open for some time as they had trouble filling it. Anyone who knew the game well wouldn’t take it for the money, and anyone who would take it for the money didn’t know the game. I was the perfect combination of college dropout with no job and V:TES nerd.
It was a position I held for several years before we put V:TES back in torpor. I’ve put considerable thought into what I could have and would have done differently. In the end it was the right time for V:TES to take a rest. The sales lagged and there was considerable competitive pressure in the CCG/hobby space. We were stuck in the spot between the direct-to-consumer revolution and the onset of social media. Usenet and IRC were fine platforms for the time but weren’t approachable platforms for most of the player base so the core community remained that: core.
Working with the V:EKN was always great. I worked closely with LSJ and Robyn for a long time. Influencing the tournament and championship structures from a seat at White Wolf and coordinating with the V:EKN could have gone much worse but I think we did a good job listening to the player base and making changes when we saw stuff not quite work out the way it was intended. I remember making some in-the-moment decisions about the 2-day championship format and qualification that may have not always been popular but I think we did the right thing most of the time.
I can’t say I’m responsible for much in terms of shaping V:TES. I was mostly a steward of the community and made sure LSJ got what he needed. Although the only card I had any sort of design impact on was Trophy: Revered. I suggested a +4 bleed card since the mechanic was hard to pull off. We compromised 🙂
B: As you intimated above, V:TES struggled to expand outside of its core community. What changes do you think the game would need to make to build itself – and do you think the core community is ready for those changes?
It’s hard to say. It’s a great game and the market is looking for complexity beyond Hearthstone and Magic. The relationship with local retail will be quite important to get visibility of the game back up to par. Events in stores and exposure will go a long way. The demographics of the game have shifted more mature and I think that can be a great opportunity to bring in new players, even potentially a new generation as we’ve already seen in places.
B: Do you remain engaged with the game and continue to play? What’s been your experience of the V:EKN and Black Chantry sets?
I played a couple games at GenCon in 2017 but other than that I had not played since 2012 or so. I had the opportunity to join the Denver crew as they visited Seattle a couple weekends ago. We rented a house and played games all weekend. I finally broke out my collection and built a couple decks with the new cards. The game is great, obviously, but the real joy was reconnecting with some folks I had not seen in many years and sharing a couple of drinks. Lots of the new cards are really strong and bring new elements to the game. I do like how Black Chantry is going back and tweaking problematic cards. I look forward to how they handle the game going forward. I have all the faith in the world.