Thoughts from the 2022 Nats

Well, I’ve made the trek out to Omaha for the 2022 Nats, and I wanted to share some thoughts and impressions while they’re fresh in my mind.

The Hype

If you follow almost any podcast (and let’s face it…some more than others) or are in any way active in the online community, you’ve been subjected to Nats hype. You never forget your first one, the vendor’s room is the world’s largest hobby shop etc etc.

The hype sets it up like moving from some scruffy minor league game out in the sticks to the Super Bowl, World Series, or Stanley Cup.

To me, it feels more like the step change from a Target to a Super Target. There’s more of it. And maybe a few different things. But it’s generally familiar.

That’s not a bad thing. Local and regional shows are fun, too! But I do feel like the hype oversold it somewhat.

The Lighting

As long as I’ve been going to contests, lighting is always a point of frustration. And while the La Vista Conference Center isn’t the well of darkness one finds at the Travis County Expo Center, it’s not great either. I had to crank my Fuji X-S10 to 12800 ISO in order to shoot handheld, which is bullshit.

The indifferent lighting does no favors to the entries. It mutes colors, it obscures tonal variation, and it darkens colors. Fine for a gray or a lighter green, but not great for darker blues or olive drabs or what have you.

The People

The people are hands down the best part of the Nats experience. Getting to finally meet several friends and fellow modelers in person, like Ian Bonner, Jonathan Anderson, Sam Dwyer, Aaron Kuck the rest of the PPP, OTB, and Modelgeeks (and waaaaaay more). Getting to reconnect with Will and Justin and Gabe and yeah…spending several days nerding out with some fellow travelers was 100% the high point.

And that’s one point where Nats is markedly different from a local or regional contest. You don’t have people traveling in from Europe or Australia to go to Modelfiesta.

Mirror Bases

It took until this show for the gears to all click together, but here it is. I don’t like mirror bases.

Yeah, they let you see the underside of an aircraft. Okay. They also let you see the ceiling, which you have no control over. And the result is a base that’s super distracting and that can swallow the subject with a bunch of visual clutter.

I’m of the school that thinks a base should help present the model. Show it in the best light, use colors intelligently to help the colors of the build leap out, and visually separate it from its surroundings.

A mirror base doesn’t do that. At all. It drags in colors that may clash with or mute out your aircraft. It adds visual clutter that can crush tones as the eye tries to sort through everything.

There are plenty of base tropes that I’m just not a fan of (light colored wood, little league trophy-inspired font choices…), but the mirror base is a hill I’ll die on. It makes models look worse than they are. At least in these venues.

Figure Tables

Lots of good figures and busts but I barely looked at them and barely took any pictures. Why? Because figures and busts are best studied at about eye level. And the tables were several feet below eye level. Between the light and the elevation, I just couldn’t muster it.

At Modelfiesta, they’ve been using table risers to get all subjects a bit higher. I don’t know if you really need that for everything, but for figures, you absolutely do.

The Shermans

There were ultimately something like 70 Shermans in the PPP Group Entry. And it was awesome to see so much variety among a subject that people often bemoan for its lack of variety.

I can’t think of a better modeling tribute to the M3 and M4 platforms.

Vendor Tables

Vendor tables have been a decreasing priority for me at contests for the past several years, due to me mostly not being interested in crumpled boxes of 40 year old kits, and many vendors not being interested in bringing newer or more esoteric stuff.

But I expected Nats would have a bit more going on. The vendor area was surprisingly spartan and I probably would have been better served just getting frisky on Sprue Brothers or Kitlinx. I was looking for one or two kits in particular, and didn’t find them at all. Yet somehow I’m bringing six kits home.

The real kick in the nuts though was the number of sellers only taking cash.

It’s 2022. Even if you don’t want to deal with a Square card reader, there’s Venmo. Or Paypal.

If you sell on eBay you’re literally already set up for digital payments.

To not accept them is lame for some random seller, but it’s inexcusable for a large manufacturer like Eduard.

While I didn’t buy anything from them because they’re in my backyard, I did like the selection LionHeart brought. Great mix of tools, books, and interesting and smaller-sized kits (like Arma Hobby 1/72 kits).

And I would’ve liked more time to dig through the various resin bits and decal sheets…but even with three days it all blurred by.

Contest Thoughts

Oh, look, I found a can of worms!

No. I’m not going there. Overall, my take on Nats in person isn’t too far off from what I’ve thought from afar in previous years. There are some truly standout builds. Like…really good. But in general, I don’t think the IPMS rules or judging paradigm reward risk-taking (with the exception of scratchbuilding).

All the mild IPMS annoyances at local and regional shows (interminable awards ceremony…) can be found at Nats as well. But when you’re at Nats and you hit an afternoon lull, you can go back to your hotel room and take a nap. When the awards ceremony is droning on and on, you can talk with more people, or go eat somewhere. The luxury of a multi-day affair.

Category Suggestion

This is not my idea…but I’m going to champion the shit out of it. For each major category (aircraft, armor, auto, figure, ship, sci-fi), there should be a single kit, single subject challenge category.

This would be a category where everybody builds the same kit. And where the judges have to have built it as well. Part of my philosophical annoyance at the IPMS rules is that they try don’t do a great job accounting for differences in kits. So if you strip out that variable and you’re judging the SAME EXACT KIT, well, that’d be interesting.

And it’d be the sort of thing where the year before, you announce what the kit will be. Maybe something like a 1/48 Kinetic F-104, a 1/35 Tamiya KV-1, and so on. Switch up scales and manufacturers each year.

Hmm,

10 Comments Add yours

  1. All Points Well Taken.
    Myself Being a Recovering IPMS
    President San Diego ca, 1984 – 1994 and hosting the 1989 IPMS
    National Convention At the Towne and Country hotel Mission Valley
    Yeah the Lighting And Mirror bases and The HYPE was there as well.
    Too bad it’s Just Build a model Do your best, and Not Rely on the Glitter To Get You through..
    Being involved in IPMS Damn near Ruined The Hobby for me…
    Some Well Put together models sure…But Great to Look At but
    In many ways Heartbreaking to
    Participate in…
    Build On!
    Darrell.

    Us

  2. Paul Moore says:

    Doog:

    Your missives fascinate me! I didn’t go this year (definitely going next year), but your insights usually make me think, “yea ….that’s a great point! Why didn’t I think of that!” You should have a table at NATS so we all could meet you. 😎

  3. Don Schmitz says:

    I’m writing this while riding in a minivan with 4 other modelers driving 800 miles home from the Nats. Gotta agree with most everything you’ve said. The vendors were a little light – I think some of the big dealers are still recovering from covid restrictions and supply chain problems. But I still had a great time because of the people – that’s what keeps the long timers coming back year after year.

  4. Michael OBriant says:

    As usual your report on the nationals is well spoken! My experience with local shows has been….the club or group never has enough people to judge and are always asking people to help judge. The problem with that and the local shows……people judging that do not know how to judge nor see the really hard and extra work went into a build. They usually vote for the best paint job or general appearance or their favorite subject. I really enjoy this hobby and really appreciate your Honesty in your views. Well said! Keep up the great work!

    Michael OBriant
    Rocky Mount, NC

  5. Bill Gormley says:

    Great points, Matt. I have long shared your thoughts about lighting at shows being subpar. And I would probably participate in a single subject challenge – especially if the judges had to build it too. As a ship modeler it pains me how little attention they seem to get. I know ships aren’t your sweet spot … but anything to note there?

    1. Doogs says:

      There were ships there. I’m probably the wrong person to ask but none of them had me gasping or bringing people over to see. But I at least walked down the row a couple of times. Can’t say the same about autos.

  6. Mike Driskill says:

    Thanks for the excellent report and analysis Doog! I don’t get to Nats nearly as often as I like, so much appreciated.

    One comment – I’m an architect in Tennessee, and helped lay out the 2019 Nats for my buds in Chattanooga. Those guys were one of the pioneers of table risers at their innovative annual contest – taking the tables from the typical 30″ dining table height up to about 42″ which is marvelous. BUT…it legitimately brings up building code and ADA issues with accessibility. In my opinion there are provisions in the ADA that would allow tables to be taken up to 38″, or at least the 34″ allowed for kitchen counters, but the Chatt guys couldn’t sell that to IPMS for liability reasons.

    1. Don Schmitz says:

      At the NCC meeting the representative from San Marcos said they were planning on using risers, not sure what height they will be.

    2. Paul Moore says:

      The devils in the details! Very interesting.

  7. Hey Matt. I like your category suggestion. I’ve been judging at the Australian Model Expo for years now and am well aware of some of the issues facing judging these days. Yes, a category where the judge has to have built the kit is an excellent idea.

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