The ENnies: Something Needs to Change

I attended Gen Con Online this past weekend, and overall I had a great time. The Rat Hole will have a whole article with everyone’s thoughts on this year’s Gen Con, so I won’t go into detail, you should go check that out if you want more of my thoughts on that. But one of the events I tuned in for was this year’s ENNIE Awards, and hooboy do I need more than a few paragraphs to talk about that!

If you don’t know, the ENNIE Awards are annual awards given out at Gen Con each year, meant to allow those of us in the hobby celebrate the best in the TTRPG industry. In their own words (taken from their website):

“The ENNIE Awards (the “ENNIES”) are an annual fan-based celebration of excellence in tabletop roleplaying gaming. The ENNIES give game designers, writers and artists the recognition they deserve. It is a peoples’ choice award, and the final winners are voted upon online by the gaming public.”

The awards are a relatively new addition to Gen Con’s fifty plus year history; this year was the ENNIE’s twentieth anniversary. Check out the About page on their website for more of the history.

Before we get any further, full disclosure time: I was an ENNIE judge for 2019, though I did not pursue the second of my two potential terms. And a book that I worked on as an editor, Uncaged Vol III, did win a Silver ENNIE for Best Electronic Book this year. You should know both those things because they inform my thoughts on the awards.

I’m going to take a deeper dive into the ENNIES overall on my site tomorrow, so stay tuned for that. Today I wanted to look specifically at the 2020 ENNIES, and talk a bit about the problems I’ve seen as a (now) outside observer, and issues I saw live on Friday night.

Let’s roll it back to the day the nominations list went live, shall we? *takes a sip of water* *hums to warm up voice* *takes another sip of water* HOW THE %$@& DID ANYTHING WITH MIKE MEARLS’ NAME ON IT GET ANYWHERE NEAR THE %$@&ING BALLOT THIS YEAR?! How in the year of #FireMikeMearls did anyone think this was a good idea? That it won is almost immaterial next to the fact it should never have been up for an award. And it was the only Wizards of the Coast submission made, in a year when they definitely had other products they could have submitted. It’s hard not to interpret that as either an enormous middle finger to the ENNIES, WotC’s testing of the water to see if they can put Mearls’ name on things again, or both. I expect this sort of bad faith horse shittery from WotC at this point, but I really hoped the ENNIES would do better. But in pursuing some ridiculous “Death of the Author” ideal, the ENNIES proved that the vulnerable portions of our community cannot trust them to care.

And real quick, let me address two arguments I know I’m going to hear:

  • “But Brent, the ENNIES are a people’s choice award, this is just what people wanted” – Yeah, people want a lot of things. Right now there is a significant portion of the population who, in the middle of a global pandemic, refuse to wear a mask to prevent the spread of disease because they think their personal freedumbs (not a spelling mistake, Dave, leave it! [can do -dc]) are more important than the health of folx around them. I have certainly voted for an ENNIES nominee in the past simply because it came from a game I played. And with D&D’s widespread popularity of course the votes were going to flood in for the only WotC submission. The point, already stated, is that it should never have been on the ballot.
  • “But Brent, Mearls didn’t do it all himself. Don’t the other folx who worked on the book deserve to have their work recognized?” – Short answer? No. Longer answer: I am very sorry that their name appears on this book alongside Mearls’. Certainly there would be folx who had no choice but to work on the book, because we are in an economic and political hellscape right now and no one can afford to turn down work or be out of a job. That doesn’t change that Mike Mearls enabled people in our hobby and industry, some of them industry peers to the folx who worked on this book, to be harassed, endangered, and hurt. He has never apologized for that or even addressed it in any meaningful way. Nothing he works on deserves any notice, certainly not over the overwhelming number of brilliant creators who don’t and would not do what he did, and if you were unfortunate enough to have to work on the project with him, then I’m sorry that affects you. Hopefully your other work will shine through.

Moving on to the next big oops of the night: it’s not the best look when a sponsor of the awards, Hitpoint Press, not only gets on the ballot but wins awards. As a volunteer run event, the ENNIES relies on sponsors to help keep it running. And they do address this on their website on the Awards Process and FAQ page, assuring us that sponsorship has no bearing on whether products are nominated. I can also confirm that in the year I was a judge we did have some sponsor products that we declined to nominate, and there was no attempt by anyone to attempt to coerce us. But all of that is invisible to the community; there is no, “Hey, look at all the sponsor materials we didn’t nominate!” post that balances out the optics of a show sponsor winning awards they sponsored.

Because the awards were streamed, that of course meant there was a chat. And there was a definite Indie presence in chat which I loved to see. Again, folx who might not otherwise have gone to the ENNIES were there in chat, making their voices heard. At least until the mods starting slinging the time-outs and bans, anyway, something which affected folx from the Indie side of the street a lot more than any of the more mainstream (*cough*Zweihander!*cough*) people present.

Those are some things from the event itself that turned my head. There were other things, but they fall into more systemic issues I have with the ENNIES overall, and so I will talk about those on my site in tomorrow’s post.

Were there good things? Sure! It’s the most diverse I have ever seen their presenters at any of the awards I have watched, so some credit for that. They dropped the musical cues for each winner they had last year, which would have been a cumbersome mess given the streaming format. Instead they showed short, pre-recorded videos from each winner, running the gamut from “talking head in front of bookcase” to “indie art film” in quality. All of them were sincere and some even rose to the level of entertainment, so it made acceptance speeches interesting; not something I would have ever expected to happen. And a few of the award winners took space in their acceptance videos (notably Daniel Kwan of Asians Represent Podcast and Tim Hutchings of Thousand Year Old Vampire) to call out inequity in the hobby and industry, something I would love to see more of even if we transition back to live awards.

And a plethora of hard-working folks in the TTRPG industry won awards and gained recognition for their work. Excepting the exception noted above, well deserved to all of you!

But the one thing I am most excited about from Friday night was the announcement of the 2021 ENNIES Judges. It was way too effing long in coming, but there is not a single person who look like me, a beardy white guy, anywhere on that panel! Halle-freakin’-lujah! I am well and truly excited to see what makes the nominations list next year, even if the overall structure of the awards gives me some misgivings.

But that’s my thoughts on this year’s ENNIES. As I have said a few times, I will have a broader look at the ENNIES up on my site tomorrow, where I will talk about some of the structural and systemic issues I see that I think keep it from following its own mandate, however much the individuals involved in running it may want to. If you have any points you want to make, drop them in comments here or track me down on Twitter, and let’s chat!

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