October 21, 2021

Local gamers stay connected at home

Sam Feeley/sports reporter

Stephen Vincent, co-owner of Heroes and Villains on East Court Street in Cortland, organizes merchandise on July 31. Normally, the store would see 20 or more gamers playing, but with the coronavirus pandemic, they’ve had to take the games online.

During the coronavirus pandemic, people have been trying to find any way to keep themselves occupied with normal social outlets shut down.

Emphasis on social.

On a typical Friday night, as many as 20 people will gather at Heroes and Villains in the Corset Building on East Court Street to play games and socialize to kick off the weekend.

But with restrictions on in-person gatherings, those games have shifted almost exclusively to online, and late Friday afternoon, shop co-owner Stephen Vincent was alone in the store, the tables behind him empty of players.

Playing games online is a great way to pass the time, but some games aren’t the same without being able to get a group of friends together to play.

Take, for example, the card game Magic: The Gathering. There are ways to play against people all over the world from the comfort of one’s home, like the programs Magic Online and Magic Arena. But the game that has been going strong for close to 30 years isn’t the same without its traditional in-person, tabletop setting.

The lack of in-person events also puts a damper on the local economy, as the owners of Heroes and Villains on Court Street in the Corset Building can attest.

“A good portion of our business depends on our in-person events,” said Vanessa Mielke, co-owner of Heroes and Villains. “We had to cancel all instore gaming and our Heroes and Villains (convention). The events help to boost sales. They also keep us relevant and fresh in people’s minds.”

In the meantime, Heroes and Villains has been organizing tournaments on store, enjoys the games, but says it just isn’t the same.

“While being able to play with everyone online has helped a lot from feeling distanced from everything, it’s still not the same as being able to play in person,” she said. “And on top of the lack of in-person contact, when playing at the shop, we will often play with new cards that we get to keep, bringing profit to the store.”

“We miss the people. We miss our community,” Mielke said. “They’ve told us they miss the in-store gaming and they tell us that they miss us.”

The ability of gaming stores to have in-person events again relies not just on local and state regulations, but also directives from companies like Wizards of the Coast, which publishes Magic. Wizards has suspended all in-store play through at least September.

“Our store is unique in its size and where we are located,” Mielke said. “Since we share a building with other businesses, they too are at risk of being forced to shutter their doors if a COVID19 case was found in our shop.”

But Mielke is hopeful and eager to get back to normal.

“As soon as we can resume in-store gaming, we will yell it from the rooftops,” she said. “Also, we are beginning to plan the fifth Heroes and Villains Con for Saturday, April 3, 2021.”

Conway shares that optimism.

“I am however grateful that the shop is at least open for business, even if gaming isnt available,” she said. “To know that the shop is open and gaming will hopefully be possible again in the future, to me, is uplifting in these trying times.”