Mike Brandt has the initial results of his NOVA surveys up, and according to him they're showing overwhelmingly positive feedback for the event. Such that he seems to feel that the Hotel was NOVA's only real failing.
Well, that's great. But I don't think the NOVA was so perfectly rosy myself. If you went to NOVA and had a 99% perfect time, then stop reading right here. Because over the next several posts I'm going to level some honest criticisms at NOVA and compare it to this year's Adepticon, which I also attended. With the goal of helping to improve both events.
To quote Mike's post:
"Other than a few more complaining sorts, the response to terrain, game hall, and sportsmanship was overwhelmingly positive!"
"So are the handful of negative blog reviews reflective of the majority? Not even in the slightest ways imaginable."
I guess I'm one of those more complaining sorts, due to my criticisms of the terrain and Mike's responses to that here on the blog. But I like to think, as opposed to the Bill O'Reilly of 40K, that I offer constructive criticism. Meaning that I not only point out the problems I see, but offer up real solutions to them in an attempt to improve the thing that I'm talking about. Call it building bricks instead of slinging mud.
So let's get on with the comparisons. I don't think that Mike will argue with these first few. :)
Comparison 1: Location
Adepticon was held at the Westin Lombard Yorktown Center, which is located in Lombard, IL. A suburb of Chicago.
As you can see, the hotel is located next to a shopping mall, a movie theater, and a Target. It also has a parking lot, which lets you come and go as you please without much hassle. It's a little bit of a drive down 294 from O'Hare Airport. But there was a Hotel shuttle available, so no big deal.
Anyway, there were places to go within easy walking distance for cheap food, a large department store for things you forgot (like camera card readers or pop), and even some bars. I took off on Saturday night to go see Dethtron's band play several miles away and had no issues with parking back at the hotel afterward.
Now let's look at NOVA:
NOVA was located in the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, in Arlington, VA. Literally right across a highway from Ronald Reagan International Airport.
Parking was valet-only and expensive. Though Spag found that they'd drop the price by almost half if you complained about it. Regardless, it took almost an hour for them to retrieve our car when we were ready to leave on Sunday.
From the top floor we could see the nice part of downtown Washington DC, including the Jefferson memorial. But while it was pretty, it wasn't that functional a location.
This will come up again when I start talking about the Hotel and the Schedule, but the big problem with the location was that it was too remote from low-cost places to eat.
Given that the hotel food was bad/expensive, you basically had 2 choices. McDonalds (across the Jeff Davis Hwy and up 2 blocks), or a small Sandwich shop that could fit maybe 10-12 people standing. Lines at both were quite long during breaks. For sit-down food/drinks, you had to walk under the Airport Access Ramp and up 4-5 blocks. At times, there were literally players running in and out of the Hotel for food. I personally know of some players who wouldn't have eaten at all if friends hadn't run out to get them food when their games ended too close to the breaks.
Comparison 2: Hotel
Adepticon's hotel, The Westin Lombard, was quite nice.
Every one of it's ballrooms was large, with high-ceilings.
Even filled with tables, vendors, and the judging stand, the 40K hall felt bright and open. With plenty of entrances and exits from the room. And... Because the ballroom was at ground level, we never had any issues with cell phone reception. Wi-Fi was available, free, decently fast, and reliable.
At all times, you could buy beer, mixed drinks, or pop from a small hotel concession stand outside the main doors. Beer was about $6, while mixed drinks were about $8.
Here's a room:
And here's Harry Carey's, the hotel bar/restaurant:
I only ever ate breakfast there, but I think I paid about $12, with tip, for a breakfast made to order. Served by a smiling, friendly, and attentive waitress. While that was a bit more expensive than the breakfast cafe in the mall, I felt like it was a good deal for not having to walk outside. I saw plenty of other attendees in there too.
Now here's the Hyatt Regency Crystal City:
Here's the top half of the central atrium:
The bar is on the ground floor, while the hotel restaurant was on the 2nd, overlooking the atrium from that balcony.
The breakfast buffet was $16 before tip. That's only a few dollars less that what I've paid for much better buffets in Hawaii! I saw maybe 5 other gamers eating there all weekend long. The service was piss-poor on Saturday and Sunday. I often had to get up and get my own water from the waitress station. Twice I had to either follow my waitress into the back to ask for the check, or go up to the hostess station/cashier and ask for it. There were plenty of employees milling around, but none of them seemed the least bit interested in serving a customer unless they had to.
The Hyatt's room rate was a little lower than the Westin's. But they more than made up the difference in nickel and dime charges. Internet? That was $10/day. I ended up paying for 3 days on Friday night, only to have their internet service stop working on Saturday night. Even on Sunday night it still wasn't back up. Did they volunteer to drop the charges from the bill? Nope.
Need copies of your list? The minimum charge on the copier in the business center was $8.
Dash says he paid $35 for a lousy room service steak. I believe it.
I didn't have any problem with the bathroom itself. But it had a frosted glass entry door. WTF? That's privacy?
Oh, and there were aggressive hookers in the hotel lobby on Friday night. Right across from the check-in counters. Gotta love DC eh?
There were no hookers in the atrium. SandWyrm's not seen too many girls dressed up for a night of clubbing. -farmpunk
Oh please... I lived in downtown San Francisco for 4 years. I know what a hooker looks (and sounds) like. -SandWyrm
But back to the atrium...
Real estate is expensive around there, so the Hyatt's convention facilities are all below ground level.
The NOVA was held on the top level, immediately below the lobby. The entrance to the gaming hall was that double door on the far-right. There was some sort of minority expo going on down on the bottom level below us. I heard some people complain about the attendees being rude, but I never saw anything like that. They were always polite to me in the elevator and showed some interest in what we were doing.
This is the widest part of the landing that led to the gaming hall. The Vendors all fit in nicely on the other side of those pillars. Cell phone reception here was pretty bad. Walking behind a pillar would cause your calls to drop. The worst thing though was that you couldn't hear anything that was happening in the gaming area. So if you came out to use the restroom, buy stuff, or make a call, you had to guess how much time you had left before the next round started. At Adepticon, it was easy to hear when announcements were being made because the Vendors and the players were all in the same big hall, or just outside of it within easy earshot.
And here is the gaming hall. Dark, with low-ceilings, and utterly cut off from the world. Sort of like The Mines Of Moria with red carpets and plastic plants. :)
There was zero cell reception down here. Someone had set up a free hotspot in the registration area, but you had to go sit on the floor to use it, and it still had problems. Which was probably due to the hotel's crappy data connection to the net. Because things didn't improve much when I finally caved and paid for the Hotel's Wi-Fi so I could sit anywhere I wanted.
Now to be fair, there were some advantages to these rooms over Adepticon's one big hall. While the spaces between the tables in each row were about the same, there were much larger spaces (by necessity) between the rows. Like highways with feeder streets, or a big river with smaller tributaries. So that when everyone was moving their armies around we had very few traffic jams of the sort that plagued Adepticon. Since most of the tables were laid out along the outside of the hotel's doughnut, there were groups of round tables available to just sit and talk at close by.
That was nice to have (hint hint Adepticon). But you couldn't sit there and pull out a Cell Phone or Laptop because of the connection issues. So... meh.
There were no refreshments available down here. The NOVA staff set up some water pitchers in 2 locations and kept them filled (HUGE thanks for that!). But to get anything else you had to go up the escalators to the main floor where I heard the bar prices for even pop were outrageous. There was a gift shop that sold sodas in bottles (for $2-$3 each), but it was small, cramped, and frequently had long lines.
Did I say no refreshments? There was a cash bar available during the Whiskey Challenge, but nobody was drinking anything from it. Why? Because bottled beer was $9 and mixed drinks were $12. I WANTED to drink that night, but not at those prices. I'm pretty sure this hotel was used to serving Investment Bankers or something.
Oh, there was a lovely (and free) dinner buffet for the Whiskey Challenge. The food was awesome! But I know that Mike paid for that out of pocket, so the hotel gets no points for it. While Mike gets HUGE FREAKING THANKS!!!
In closing, the best thing that I can honestly say about the Hyatt was that I hardly noticed the Hurricane that was raging outside. Except for the one time I went outside (to get food) and got rained on, the weather was never an issue for me. The room was quiet throughout the storm, the power only cut out once, and hey... that's worth some praise. :)
Location/Hotel Winner: Adepticon (by a mile)
NOVA did well on it's closeness to the airport and it's table arrangement. But Adepticon's hotel/location wins on total price, service, amenities, parking, atmosphere, and it's proximity to a Mall with low-cost food choices. Having a Target right behind the hotel is a huge plus too.
In NOVA's defense, Adepticon has been at this longer and it's sheer size/budget gives it a lot of bargaining power with it's hotel. But hey, that's the competition. :)
I know that Mike is already looking for a new location. I'll suggest that he simply copy Adepticon. Find a hotel in the greater DC metro area near the burbs that's about 20 minutes from the airport by shuttle; and which has a mall (either strip or walk-in) close by with some cheap food choices. Make sure also that the Wi-Fi is free, cellphones work, and that the hotel food is just a little expensive instead of outrageous. A public parking lot or garage is also mandatory IMO.
What This Also Tells Us...
Only 17% percent of the respondents in Mike's survey were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the hotel. While only 42% were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the food.
Were a majority of the attendees really satisfied or neutral about those issues? I don't know. I heard plenty of complaints on the game floor and outside on the way to McDonalds. So I'm inclined to think that some folks were being a bit too nice based on either their loyalty to Mike/NOVA, or their unwillingness to criticize an event that went to completion despite there being a Hurricane in the middle of it. Or maybe it really was better than any other GT they'd ever gone to. Regardless, you can calibrate your own opinion of the survey results accordingly, based on what I've presented here.
And again... I'm not trying to beat on Mike or the NOVA. I want this event to continue, fix all it's problems, and be the standard by which all other competitive events are measured. It's just not quite there yet.