Having recently been pulled back into being a Cultist from the beyond, and subsequently committing myself to hosting the first ever Finnish Store Championships next year (here in the middle of nowhere!) I've been thinking a lot about CoC, it's competitive state, it's health as a game and whatnot. As ever, the first thing I figured would be useful to know were... numbers.
Here's what I managed to glean for GenCon/Worlds participation:
2009 - GenCon: 12 players (source)
2010 - GenCon: 16 players (source)
2011 - GenCon: 16 players (source)
2012 - GenCon: ~20 players (source) & Worlds: 13 players (source)
2013 - GenCon: 22 players (source) & Worlds: 12 players (source)
2014 - GenCon: 24 players (source) & Worlds: Not held yet
2011 - 26 players (source)
2012 - 22 players (source)
2013 - 32 players (source)
2014 - Not held yet
Ok, so that's not at all bad, apart from Worlds 2013 and European Championship in 2012, there's a slow but clear growth going on, ever since the LCG began. Australia looks to have had 9 players in 2013 for Nationals (source), and 16 for 2014 (source). According to the Facebook page France had 14 for Nationals in 2014 (source), UK had a Regionals, which pretty much corresponded to a Nationals and that got 16 players (source). And... I figured I'd save a bit of my sanity and cut my delving there.
Overall, based on those numbers i find all the doomsaying with regard to the game quite unfounded.
Then there's the comparison to Warhammer: Invasion, which I guess is where all of the rumours of the game "ending" have sprung from. And the facts there are that: 1) both CoC and WH:I were moved to the "only Deluxe Expansions" model at the same time, 2) WH:I got discontinued in 2013. But it also pays to mention that simultaneously AGoT stopped receiving any more Deluxe expansions (which did not get an announcement, but still happened all the same). So, it was actually a concerted effort in slowing down card input for the longer running games, as the cardpool was reaching it's optimal size. Now, I think it pays to have a look at *what* was printed in those Deluxe Expansions for WH:I and CoC. For CoC, the Deluxes started pushing individual faction boxes, which are really a kind of "new starter" type of element, if you look at them. Decklists for new players, offering easy entrypoints etc.
For Warhammer they pushed... Cataclysm, which is pretty much a "get added multiplayer value from your existing cards" (without coming up with a new Multiplayer format for Competitive) and then Hidden Kingdoms (which fleshed out some of the existing mini-factions that were kinda too thin). Both of those are clear "end game" content, if you look at it.
Meanwhile, it's also good to look at what FFG came out with close to the time they discontinued WH:I. There we have two things happening: Diskwars (which uses the exact same IP, in a more "fresh" way but with a similar expanding/competitive aspect) and Warhammer: Conquest (which also overlaps quite hard due to the 40k/WHFB IPs sharing a playerbase). Further, it pays to remember that FFG most likely needs to pay quite a bit for licencing the Warhammer, so they need to try and maximize it's potential, which I think Conquest is trying to hit on quite hard, and possibly even succeeding.
Now, from what I followed with WH:I, the number of players on the Competitive side was in a downward spiral for a while near the end, and the game didn't seem to have gained enough of a Casual following either. CoC on the other hand, largely due to the nature of the Mythos to begin with, has one of the clearest Casual followings (fed into by the boardgame players coming through Arkham/Eldritch/etc.), does not incur licensing costs and actually any art produced for it can be re-used in their board game line, making it a much better investment from a company standpoint. I'm not saying I know any of FFGs plans for the game, but... neither does anyone. Hell, it's quite likely even FFG might not at all be sure of what they'll be doing... and when!
I guess it all boils back down to LCGs being a whole new thing, and understanding the "health" of one is pretty hard. Very different from CCGs for example, where there's usually a much clearer correlation between Casual and Competitive players. And in the end, the Casual side is what brings all the profit for FFG, Competitive is more of a way of offering vested fans additional support, as well as raising the profile of the games. When I look back, AGoT was pretty much in a similar state as CoC is now on the competitive side, back in 2009-2010 when I started playing it. A lot of things happened, to kick it into the growth it ended up getting, but player enthusiasm in growing metas and increase in online play were what was done on the community side. But most of all it was the game being good, and HBO happening.
There's probably not going to be a similar stroke of luck with CoC as with HBO, but from what I've been following since the beginning of the LCG, the game is now (post Yithian bombardment) in one of the best states it's ever been in.. and offers much better entrypoints than AGoT, for example, where FFG is needing to look at solutions for lowering the entry barrier for new players (building a 60+7 card deck where most cards need to be 1x, each from a different pack... can reach pretty silly costs, especially with the House-specific Deluxe expansions not having a solid enough power-level or otherwise functioning as a secondary entry point). So, if the game is good, all we need are people enthusiastic for growing it (and luckily there seem to be quite many of them), and maybe dragging more people into playing online, so that people have an outlet where to play while working on building a local meta.
That's one of the things about LCGs, nobody will build the metas and groups for us, we need to go out there and gather them ourselves. Why's that different from CCGs? Well, the profits to be gained from LCGs are smaller, hence there's less money to go around for marketing, offering cash prizes etc. In a way, it's the "fairness" of the whole model biting back at us. In CCGs it's easier to just "be a player" - you get a good deck, go to a Tourney and maybe even get prizes. The shops run the events, since the company's can afford to push them, you don't need to worry your pretty little head about that one bit. In LCGs, people need to be more like Ambassadors to the game. Go out there, show people how much fun it can be... and you can (hopefully) end up with a playgroup. It might not be all competitive at first, most likely more of a combination of Casual and Competitive people, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Just a different one. You'll probably need to pressure your local shop to get a Tourney hosted, or host on yourself. It can be a bit time consuming, but... it can also be hella fun.
It's interesting how wide an effect Ambassadors to a game can have. I got drawn back in by: Danigral's articles, Tom's Tourney videos and mnBroncos enthusiasm... well, and Terror in Venice art looking so appealing. Meanwhile, while growing the game locally recently, I ran into local Netrunner players, who had been really interested in CoC, but had read online forums with people saying that "it's dying" and "completely broken game due to Yithians" etc. That had been enough to dissuade them from even trying it out casually. That's a whole other way of being an Ambassador, if you think about it. End's up, the Netrunner guys loved the game when they actually tried it, and somebody wasn't whispering portents of doom into their ears. More Cultists for my Cult...
NOTE: I did a lot of digging up of information here online, without talking to people who might know better, please let me know if I misrepresented something so I can get my story straight!