Inside the Villainous Lair
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“Deep crushedness is the general feel around here,” said Matt Bantelman. “I’ve gone out of the way to not mention it this evening because everyone’s trying to play [games] and have fun, and then inevitably I make eye contact with another player and ask, ‘Where you gonna play after this?’ and the other person kinda looks down.”

Villainous Lair Comics

3220 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights

(No longer in business.)

Over the weekend (January 14–15) hundreds of gamers like Bantelman congregated at the Villainous Lair Comics & Gaming store in Normal Heights, paying up to $30 to score the Ixalan cards from the newest Magic the Gathering game set.

On Friday (January 12th) at midnight, “over 70 gamers” lined up for first crack at the new set. But the exhilaration of obtaining the latest creatures, artifacts, sorceries, enchantments, instants, and mana (land) wore off as the gamers spoke about the fate of their local gaming hub.

“A message from the Evil Overlord of the Villainous Lair,” posted Alison Flynn on the store’s Facebook page on January 3rd. “The Villainous Lair will cease typical operations at the end of this month.”

Chris Mitchell

I visited the store during the tournament on Saturday (January 13th), and Flynn was not available for an interview; however, I did find Chris Mitchell, who was managing the tournament for the new set. “I’m sad because Allison and myself helped put this [shop] together — we were the founders of it [six and a half years ago],” he said. “We did everything we could to keep the doors open but finances are what they are and we can’t keep it open anymore.”

Mitchell blames their slow sales on collectors being able to buy the card games at Walmart, Target, and “then Barnes & Noble’s saying, ‘We are doing game night so you guys can do this over here [too]’; and Amazon is opening up stores that cater to this type of stuff, too….

“Freakin’ Walmart is selling [some stuff] at our cost,” Michell explained to me as he gave the tournament winner a bag of goodies. “It’s not just the internet [eBay and Amazon] hurting us, it’s also more competition and the big-box stores are getting in on this stuff.”

Bantelman is a 36-year-old roofer from City Heights. “When I saw the [closing of the store] news on social media,” he said, “I sat down and got emotional because there’s a lot of memories here at their ‘cavern of gaming.'”

Matt Bantelman

Many of the gamers played at the 4700-square-foot facility for hours and some went on weekend binges, continuing the duels at their homes. Caffeine and snack breaks at the nearby Starbucks or Lestat’s was common and a comic-book read in front of the venue “counterspelled” the monotony.

The other gamers I spoke to said that they have “nowhere to go” and feel displaced.

Bantelman says otherwise: “That’s the one upside to the closing of the store, is that we can go out there and explore [just like the game] — it’s like losing your home and having to stay at hotels for awhile, you know?”

“That’s why everyone’s so sad, because these are the people that did come out and play Magic,” Mitchell said. “These are the people that met, made friends, and they got to form bonds with others. That’s the thing you are gonna miss when these type of stores are gone.”

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Comments

dwbat Jan. 15, 2018 @ 11:17 a.m.

Here's an idea: Those gamers need to take their smarts, motivation, energy and focus, and apply it to become expert coders. Then they can get well-paid jobs, and maybe even start up their own company some day. Today, the business world is the best "game" going out there. So get out of the fantasy world, gamers, and do something realistic and productive for a change. Also, it wouldn't hurt to get out of your gamer chairs, and go run a few miles outside. It would be a lot healthier. And eat healthy food, instead of Cheetos and Cokes.

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swell Jan. 15, 2018 @ 12:40 p.m.

Dave, these appear to be card games like Dungeons & Dragons; no computers involved. I think these games are more about social interplay, emotional content and fantasy than the kind of logic and reasoning used by programmers. But yes, if they have good imagination there may be a place for them in the world of working adults.

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dwbat Jan. 15, 2018 @ 2:48 p.m.

Barely looked at that photo, sorry. Since no computers are involved, it's even worse. Back in the day before computers, I enjoyed playing old-fashioned cards, poker, gin rummy, etc. Then I played computer games when I got my first computer. But I soon found that life, especially a career, is the most challenging game of all. At some point one needs to stop the hobby games, and jump into the real world, ready or not. That's where you make your mark, and where you learn the important things.

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swell Jan. 15, 2018 @ 4:02 p.m.

I agree. Survival is the ultimate game and one way to keep score is watching your bank balance. But also keep track of your health and your reputation among your peers.

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VikLee Jan. 15, 2018 @ 6:20 p.m.

How do you know that this isn't their equivalent of watching a football game at the end of the week? How do you know that they're not already engrossed in the game of life? People are allowed to like different things and want different things out of life. This isn't meant to read as snarky as it sounds.

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Woodweaver Jan. 16, 2018 @ 6:10 a.m.

Dave,

All the activities you mentioned are not mutually exclusive. Many people have the capacity to work, exercise, raise a family, enjoy hobbies, and play games. It's all about balance and personal happiness.

Remember: "Work to live Don't live to work."

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dwbat Jan. 16, 2018 @ 1:15 p.m.

Agree. Too much work or too much play is not the right way to exist.

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swell Jan. 15, 2018 @ 12:42 p.m.

The comic store on University, just west of Park Blvd, seems to be closing too.

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Epicrpgblog1138 Jan. 16, 2018 @ 12:01 p.m.

Many gamers are programmers, coders, succesful artists etc. I work a full time salaried position as a designer at an engineering firm. I game when I can. I run a blog and patreon on the side. I also publish my own game zines. I work out with a max supine bench of 315...

Remember many gamers are on the fringe because high IQs and social awkwardness...don't presume we're all basement dwellers.

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