A little while ago, Tex suggested that I reach out to a group of BattleTech players in a faraway place doing some pretty amazing things under pretty difficult circumstances. Despite having no local distributor, Ukraine has a small but thriving BattleTech community, and they won’t let a little thing like an invading foreign power keep them from having a good time.
This time on Community Outreach, we discover BattleTech Corps Ukraine. Ross shows us what these mad lads and lasses have been up to over the past 580-odd days, and provides some pretty good advice whether you’re living in or out of a warzone.
Sean (Sarna): So, how about you briefly introduce yourself?
Ross (BattleTech Corps Ukraine): My name is Ross, which is… Well, I ask people to call me Ross.
It is short for Rostislav, which is my full name. Slavic name, which is very complicated for people not from here. And I usually don’t make people suffer and just tell them it’s Ross.
And who am I is an interesting question. There is an inside joke going around our local Ukrainian community that I’m a minister of foreign affairs. We give everybody a minister position. We have a pretty small community and whenever somebody wants to be a minister of something, they just say I’m a minister of whatever.
Including the minister of being a smart ass. That’s also a position.
Sean: Well, it’s good to be organized.
Ross: Kind of. So, yeah, I’m mostly handling the communication with whatever foreign friends we have or foreign interactions that we might have as a community, and very proud of that position, really. It allows me to kind of use my real-life experience, so things that I do at my day job at my hobby, which is pretty nice.
Sean: Very cool. We’ll focus on you, Ross, for the opening questions. When did you get into BattleTech as a game universe?
Ross: Good question. I come from a group of people where some of the [sci-fi] universes passed them by in their youth.
So, our local community in my town is all made up of Warhammer refugees and we came in to play the tabletop game about two years ago. Exactly to a point this month, I think, even. Okay, so… Before that, I was familiar with BattleTech through HBS’s BATTLETECH computer game, and through some of the videos I saw on YouTube, including the BPL’s videos on the Mackie and Tex’s voiceover. Plus, some of the smaller channels with memes and whatnot.
Sean: All right, so you’re actually relatively new to BattleTech. Like, Harebrained’s BATTLETECH, that’s 2018? So four years ago is about as far back as you go.
Ross: Yeah, yeah, I think so.
Sean: Well, besides BATTLETECH and the tabletop game, is there anything else that you play that’s kind of BattleTech related, like MechWarrior Online?
Ross: I do play MechWarrior 5. I tried playing MechWarrior Online, but it’s a particular type of game, which is a different conversation entirely. It reminds me too much of a lot of time spent in World of Tanks when I was a student and I don’t want to do that. Kind of don’t have enough commitment to play the game. You got to grind there.
Sean: Yeah. It’s the same with World of Tanks and a lot of games that are set up, you gotta grind and spend a lot of money. It’s why I think PGI is moving towards the more traditional sort of premium game releases like MechWarrior 5 and away from the kind of microtransaction-filled games like MechWarrior Online. I think a lot of BattleTech players prefer that too.
Ross: MechWarrior 5, with its capacity for mods, is a thing. And I understand what the MechWarrior Online would give you, as in the constantly, I don’t know, moving, living community, whatever size it is. It’s people that you can connect with online but in terms of what you can get out of the BattleTech universe. MechWarrior 5 with mods is obviously something much more tasty, I think.
Sean: Yeah, same here. Well then, we arrive at maybe the most important question I’ll ask: What’s your favorite ‘Mech?
Ross: That’s a good question. I will say the Thunderbolt because it was one of the first I’ve seen, one of the first I’ve tried in the computer games, and it was the first ever miniature I got. First miniature I painted, and the first miniature I played on the tabletop, so I’ll keep it at that.
Sean: It’s a good ‘Mech. It’s a solid heavy. I think I have one in my current MechWarrior 5 playthrough, where it’s just so handy to have all those weapons. You have machine guns to tear down buildings, you’ve got all those lasers to pretty much take out whatever you need, and missiles to take out things that are just too far.
Ross: Yeah, it’s a solid all-rounder. It’s a solid weight, solid speed, solid set of weapons, which are long ranges, short ranges, and medium ranges. And it’s a big, burly, bulky machine that looks very, very good. What’s not to love?
Sean: Exactly. Okay, do you have a favorite faction in BattleTech?
Ross: Yes, I am a Magistracy of Canopus fanboy. I see it’s a popular thing nowadays, right? With a lot of new players coming in. And they see a catgirl faction and they grab onto it.
Sean: I mean, it’s hard to argue against catgirls.
Ross: Right, right. But I stayed with the faction because I dug deeper. At one point, I wanted to make–if only I had the time–a deep lore dive video that explains the underlying lore of the Magistracy of Canopus.
Because it’s not all sunshine and roses, as you say. There is a lot of darkness going on there, like the underworld of these old implants and people with implant rejections, it’s very grimdark. I dug into it in the old sourcebook, and this is like… This is tough. You read it and you’re like, oh, that’s uh, that’s very dark. And I stayed for that because that’s interesting.
Sean: Absolutely. I would call it like cyberpunk dystopia, honestly.
Sean: What about a favorite era? What kind of eras of BattleTech have you experienced?
Ross: So, we are a slowly developing group within our community. We started off, obviously, at the classic 3025, and we got stuck on it for a really long time. Some of the local community members behave like old people when they don’t want to try new things because they look scary. It’s like, what is your ER Medium Laser? Why? What? No, it’s too powerful. Double heat sinks? Ridiculous. We need to play tractors.
But no. We tried a little bit of Star League era, just the very end. Right after or right before Kerensky left, we played a role-playing campaign in that era, which was pretty interesting, I liked that.
Tried a little bit of Clans, a little bit of Civil War, but not too much. Still quite interesting, new ‘Mech designs, upgraded things. I think it’s the right era that the Omni Blackjack comes in with Rotary Autocannons. That thing is very nice. So the future, very cool.
But in general, the most popular era for here would be probably 3025, maybe Clan Invasion just to try some faster stuff.
In the entirety of the community, it differs because everybody kind of started playing at a different time and they were enticed to BattleTech with different materials. So somebody came in already on the Clan Invasion, somebody was into BattleTech for the last 20 years–very different people playing and you can’t pick just one. There is a lot of different kind of groups who play whatever. We have people playing IllClan, we have people stuck in the Clan Invasion, it’s everything.
Sean: Let’s move over to what you refer to as the Ukrainian BattleTech group. Do you guys have an official name, or is it just the Ukrainian BattleTech group?
Ross: We have several ideas on the official name where we call us: BCU is kind of a reference to our Ukrainian Armed Forces, which is written in the very same letters as it’s written in Ukrainian. BattleTech Corps, Ukraine. It’s a fun name, which is why we have it.
We have an official website where we post some articles. We have a big Telegram channel where we communicate and coordinate–if we want to have events, find people, invite somebody somewhere, sell something, stuff like that. And just also in general to discuss gameplay, the rules, whatever it is.
We have a lot of prominent personalities in our community, and the size of it is interesting. When I’m trying to explain to people from the West, although the West itself is very different. There are people from the UK, there are people from Europe, from the US, and everybody has their own approach to their community and their own style of the community. I try to describe it as if you take a couple of states in the US, remove the border between the states, and decrease the number of people playing by about 50 percent–if not more–because it’s not as popular, not as available.
All of those people would be all of your community. That’s it. So it’s a pretty tightly-knit group, and it’s an interesting feeling. Our group is about 140 people. The most active ones are about 30 to 40 people, plus 30 to 40 more of on-and-off players. That’s the ones that we have, which is not too much.
Sean: But not too little still. It’s certainly enough to get actual campaigns going. You probably even have like a few RPG games going at a time, right?
Ross: I think like for the entire country, it’s a couple. We just have one main one run by the guru of our community. We have one outstanding person who’s been doing BattleTech for, I think, 20-plus years. And this man is the man who knows all, sees all, and has read every single book, every technical readout, every page of Total Warfare. If there is a rule that you’re seeing for the first time, you ask this man and he has all of the answers. Plus the FAQ in his head. He’s the local BattleTech knowledge-based human person.
Sean: Well, every group needs one of those.
Ross: Yeah, yeah.
Sean: Do you know when the when the BCU got started?
Ross: Hard to say, since I have joined pretty recently. The community itself has existed for a while now, I think for at least six years up to this point. So, say, 2017. Before that, I would assume that the community was kind of scattered, so whatever big city groups were playing together, they didn’t really communicate outside of their town and weren’t really looking for players in different towns across the country.
Sean: What do you think made all the fragments coalesce into a sort of a national group?
Ross: It’s a good question. I think it was a lot of different reasons and factors. Catalyst was one of them. BattleTech went through a bit of a renaissance within the last decade all around the world. It brought in new players and brought back the old-timers. And it had its own form of rebirth here.
Plus the availability of the internet, having all kinds of messengers and whatnot, also encouraged people looking for stuff. Even if they occasionally saw something of BattleTech being sold on local markets. We have about three larger wargaming and tabletop trading groups, and one of them is basically number one in the country. It has a bunch of people, most of them very involved with wargaming and tabletop in Ukraine. If somebody starts selling something BattleTech, everybody who knows what that is will notice it and be like, “Okay, this person from this city is interested in this stuff. We have more people than just two of us sitting in this town? Okay, let’s try to communicate with that person.” So the modern version of the internet really helped with that too.
Sean: You said there are a lot of notable personalities. Any of them you want to maybe name-drop here?
Ross: One of our guru people, Stas Zlyanka. Then there is one of our friends who is currently serving, which is Mykita Bondarenko. These two people have been running BattleTech.com.ua, our Ukrainian BattleTech website, where we have translated rules, friendly stores, game stores where you can play, and links to our Telegram channel. We also have an article section where our friend Stas does–kind of like Sarna–articles about the ‘Mechs in Ukrainian which we post there.
Sean: Uh oh, are you trying to compete with Sarna? Or is this like just a translation?
Ross: I think it’s really hard to compete because we’re doing this for a niche audience. The articles are in Ukrainian. So the audience we’re stealing from you is the Ukrainian audience.
Sean: Well, that’s okay I guess. So you mentioned that there was a collaboration a little bit between the Ukrainian group and Catalyst Game Labs?
Ross: We are trying to have one. So here’s the deal. In the past, if we wanted to get whatever BattleTech stuff, we had two choices.
Either get the original stuff, which is to go to the original website and order from outside the country. Or we had the Russian distributor here, which we, for obvious reasons, don’t really want to interact with or buy anything from at this point.
We’re looking to get a distributor’s license from Catalyst that would allow us to translate the books into Ukrainian, print, and sell them here. We obviously understand that this investment is mostly for our own benefit. We understand that we will probably not make money off this, because we’re a little niche market, and we are basically getting this just to make our own Ukrainian BattleTech rulebooks. We’re completely aware of that. But still, we want to go through with it in any case. Even if we have to fund it from our own pocket, and the only people who will have the books are us.
Sean: Well if you guys can get the money, I don’t see why they would say no.
Ross: I am yet to have a conversation. I’ve been trying to reach Loren for a little while now–it’s definitely months. I’ve tried to get, getting in touch through the Facebook page. Then I got hold of his email through an agent person that they have, and I’ve been following up, but I haven’t gotten a response yet.
I can completely understand that this stuff is not the number one priority especially with the Kickstarter going on. But I am hoping at some point to get to talk to him to figure out what kind of legal work we need to do on our end. I imagine that getting a license is not like somebody sending you a paper by mail saying, “Now you can sell.” There’s probably some legal paperwork on our end. Once I figure that out, we’ll try to work on it and do it as fast as possible.
Sean: Well, I hope that maybe this interview can provide you with a little bit of a signal boost.
Ross: Hopefully, that’d be awesome. I have to plug Tex, who has been helping and supporting a lot from the very beginning of the invasion. He was one of the first people to reach out. We kind of got to know each other in a weird way. I think the first thing that I sent him is we had a little BattleTech tournament right before the beginning of February last year.
I reached out to Tex, sent him some stuff, and said, “Hey, here’s an interesting thing we’re doing over here in Ukraine. If you like it, let me know.” He said “cool,” like just the one word and I was like, okay, I probably pissed him off or maybe he’s busy. So I just forgot about it. As soon as the invasion happened he reached out to me and asked if I needed any help. He has been a lot of help on fundraisers, on donations, on getting this signal boosted out there, giving us the platform on Discord, introducing me to interesting people like yourself, and doing all kinds of crazy stuff.
So yeah, I’m really thankful to the man.
Sean: And same here for all the work he’s done and for putting me in touch with you as well for this interview. So, what kind of events? You mentioned that the BCU had a tournament in February. What kind of tournament are you talking about here?
Ross: So, since the Warhammer refugees from my little town dropped into the community and decided to make some noise, we have a lot of experience organizing events, and we have a lot of experienced people here with mode-building who are really good at making terrain, painting miniatures, doing whatever. They’ve been doing all kinds of things. The Horus Heresy, the Necromunda, Saga, and all the GW products are also very popular here. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it.
Sean: I mean, I recognize some of the words you said.
Ross: That experience was applied to organize this first event by our local community. And as far as we figured out later on, I think it was the first event for BattleTech in Ukraine in general. We didn’t know. We didn’t really care either. We just wanted to have a good time and organize something for the people. So how it went is we rented a house outside of town with a little road to the river and a lot of space. It’s basically a house with a pool, sauna, and a pool table.
And people have a good time. They’re usually like making barbecue and whatever, wrangling it out. But it’s a good space to play BattleTech if there are more than 10 of you. And there were 12 active players, I think. Plus some friends, support staff, wives that came over, and whatnot. We invited people from all over the country. People from the capital, from Kyiv, from Zaporizhia, from Dnipro. Basically, whoever wanted to take part, whoever could come, did come.
We had a narrative sports event. We didn’t want to go for a full-on tournament where you have to be a super-good player. We came up with a narrative idea that… A noble somewhere on the periphery is organizing the tournament between mercenaries and whoever wins gets an Atlas, a million C-bills, and a contract for 10 years for guard duty. We even had a little flavor piece written out: an official letter sent to everybody who took part.
We played 3025, up to eight ‘Mechs with a lot of limitations. You could only bring ‘Mechs because it’s a proper tournament for people who drive big robots. No little tanks and planes and whatnot. No copying ‘Mechs, so no like 10, 12 Locusts of the same model. You could only bring two of each chassis. And you had to be painted.
We came up with some interesting missions where you have to capture stuff, steal stuff, carry it off the table, all kinds, with a secret surprise prize at the end where the first four places got a painted miniature. Everybody got a little patch and a pair of dice with the Atlas head on them.
The winner got a championship belt, like a wrestling champion championship belt. We’re very proud of making it because we basically ordered parts and then assembled it ourselves. And yeah, that was a pretty crazy and cool moment and a cool prize.
Sean: I’ve seen it. It looks very cool. It looks kind of heavy, but it also looks kind of like an authentic wrestling belt.
Ross: It is heavy. It is very heavy because it’s steel and belt leather. It’s no joke. When I asked the person who’s holding it right now to bring it over on the last tournament that I had a week ago in Kyiv, he said, “Please don’t make me. Please, it’s heavy.”
Sean: Where did this tournament take place? You mentioned it wasn’t in Kyiv.
Ross: It was near the city of Poltava, which is a place where I live, and we have a little village near the city called Kavalovka, which is like, I don’t know, suburbs. It would be hard to call this part of the country the suburbs because the city I live in is really small, it’s 300,000 people. Not too many buildings taller than 10 stories.
Sean: I mean, that’s not the smallest city. I’ve been to smaller cities than that.
Ross: True, but it’s still like a pretty small town.
Sean: Getting back to the BattleTech renaissance that’s been sweeping the world and also in Europe, have you reached out to other European communities to do any kind of cross-national gaming event?
Ross: Well, we would be happy to, but. For now, we unfortunately can’t. You can imagine that 99 percent of the players we have in our community are males, and males cannot leave the country right now. It’s martial law–you can’t just cross the border. We’re hoping when we get our victory and everything’s done, we will definitely travel to Europe.
I think the first stop would be Poland. I believe they have this very close relation to whatever we have in terms of the community size and organization. Yeah, the Poles are friends.
Sean: Do you have any plans to do more events in the immediate future in Ukraine?
Ross: Yeah, absolutely. The first tournament we had, the reception was outstanding. Everybody was absolutely happy that it happened. And they were like, “Oh, old man, you set a very serious bar because whoever has to follow this up will have a tough time because you did a really good job.” And we had a team of about six people working on it. It was me and a couple of friends who are doing the Ukrainian-painted ‘Mechs, which became very popular. I’ll provide the link, but it’s one of the things that Tex helped us promote.
First, they painted Javelins in yellow and blue, and part of the proceeds went to the defense of the country. I checked in with them last November and they said they already sold over a hundred ‘Mechs. By now it’s even more than that, and they told me it was about $10,000 in donations at least.
Which is a lot of painted mechs. And a lot of money. That’s a really good job. But not without the clients, which 99 percent of them come from abroad. People from all over the world just ordering the stuff. And I think people like it, which I’m pretty happy about. They are a very talented couple.
So yeah, they were helping with the terrain, and with the organization and a couple more people helping to assemble the belt, rent the place, organize the food, organize the missions, and print the maps. We did it all together and everybody was really happy.
We thought that we’d be able to follow it up with an event in summer, which would be Clan-oriented instead of 3025, but the invasion happened. Everybody got lost and confused and we lost our schedule completely. At the end of that same year, in December, we had our first tournament after the invasion, which was held in Kyiv.
It was a smaller group, about eight people, I think. And after that, we had another one, which I unfortunately missed, and the one after that, just now, about a week ago in Kyiv, which was also a small tournament where we had seven players. But we still had a really good time.
It’s quite hard to organize something right now. Not everybody’s able to travel. Everybody’s schedules are mixed up, but we’ll still keep trying. Hopefully, we will be able to announce something well in advance so that people align their schedules and we will have a bigger group and hopefully maybe we will actually do our Clan event.
But who knows? The future is very murky.
Sean: Fair enough. I had a few questions related to the war, but it seems like you’ve kind of already covered them. Everything’s still kind of up in the air and you’re doing the best you can under the circumstances. What would be the biggest challenges you have faced in trying to get these kinds of events going?
Ross: Well, I know for a fact that amongst wargaming communities in Ukraine, most people from our community serve. A lot of our people are serving either directly at the front or maybe in the headquarters and you can’t always get them to travel to an event.
So we lose that part. Plus some people got their lives turned over. They had to move, change towns, change cities, and find a new job. General chaos influences the ability of people to travel and get together in one big town. Plus, in the first year of the invasion, everybody was very scared since the missile strikes can get you anywhere. People didn’t want to be near any big train stations, really.
Sean: I think now we should probably do like a big link dump. You mentioned the website. Do you have any social media pages or anything you want to promote that way?
Ross: Well, mine, I can only promote my Discord (—#1888). If anybody ever wants to have a conversation with me for any reason whatsoever, whether you want to help, you want to interact with the Ukrainian community, come over and meet. You can use my discord and message me directly. I usually try to respond to anybody who’s reaching out within at least a day.
I’ve been graciously invited to a BPL podcast by Tex. There’s an episode with me that you can listen to, which was made early in the invasion. I was quite excited to be there, and it was a very pleasant experience.
Sean: I think I may have listened to that one.
Ross: For the miniatures people, they have their little YouTube channel that has a couple of videos of our battle reports in Ukrainian, and some of the miniatures they made with cool spinning camera shots. There’s one thing that I can promote from there; our guys made a lance based on the Hired Steel ‘Mechs, and they made a little diorama that we then sent over to people.
Sean: Oh, and the latest one is of course. I remember seeing this on Reddit. It’s the Hunchback and the Sentinel, but they’ve all got little reactive armor plates on them.
Ross: I don’t know if we started it, but we definitely played into the trend, that’s for sure. Somebody from the general BattleTech community came up with it, but we definitely played up to it.
Sean: It looks cool, but it also seems like it would be so time-consuming to just have those itty bitty plates and just glue them on every couple of millimeters.
Ross: That is why all of that is 3D printed. God bless 3D printers. You make a 3D model with that and you only spend time gluing them on in the 3D model editing program and you run that into a printer and it looks very nice.
Sean: Do you guys have a lot of 3D printers over there?
Ross: Most people here are running 3D-printed models rather than Catalyst ones. But that’s a question of availability. It’s not something that you can go to a local game store and just pick off the shelf.
Sean: I imagine that it’s a little difficult to get these kinds of imports with the whole conflict going on.
Ross: The conflict going on influences things, but it was hard before. It’s the same hard right now–you have to order something from abroad and wait for at least a couple of months for it to arrive.
It’s not something you can get on store shelves. I think we have 13 people pledged to the Mercenaries Kickstarter from Ukraine. Which is a solid number, considering that our total community is about 140 people. That’s 10 percent, so that’s a good outcome.
Sean: But you’re still gonna get an influx of however many boxes those 13 people were able to order in the Kickstarter.
Ross: Right, right, true. And a lot of people organize through one person to buy a bunch of stuff and then just divide it when it comes over.
Sean: I actually coordinate purchases with my brother a bit so that we get all the ‘Mechs that we want. I want all the really bad ones, he wants all the really good ones, so it works out.
Ross: Hey, come on. I still like the Assassin because it looks cool.
Sean: Oh yeah, absolutely. I don’t think it’s the worst ‘Mech you could get, you still have something that’s fast and can generally out-compete the light ‘Mechs it’s supposed to. It’s just that a few dinky missile launchers and a medium laser don’t seem like a lot of firepower.
Ross: Yeah, yeah, that seems very sad for a weapon loadout.
Sean: There are very few truly horrible ‘Mechs. Even the ‘Mechs that are 40 tons and have an AC/5 and no reason to have it because it’s just strictly worse than having four medium lasers and a couple of heat sinks. They’re awful, but they have a lot of flavor to me. I like those ‘Mechs the best.
Ross: I like them because–mostly in the context of the universe–they make sense. People use those parts and those weapons to assemble those ‘Mechs in those conditions and situations where they have to use them for whatever. Was it graft? Was it a necessity? And that paints a picture of a ‘Mech for me much more than just the table of his abilities and that’s cut away from the lore itself.
Sean: Absolutely. And that is something I have been keeping up with–the latest ‘Mechs that are being produced. And I feel like there needs to be more deliberately bad ‘Mechs. Because those are the ones that have that sort of flavor to them.
Ross: I agree. There are a lot of very powerful, new, cool machines that come out. And I think that there is a lot of space to create bad machines with really expensive technologies.
Sean: Yeah, it gets harder to do, but I think, I think it’s possible.
Well, was there anything else you wanted to give a shout-out to? Anything else you want to bring attention to? The mic is yours.
Ross: That’s a good ask. In general, I just wanted to give people advice, which I did in the BPL podcast: be nice to each other. Do good, which is very hard. Being nice is very hard. As a representative of a people who had their life values re-evaluated in really intense stressful conditions.
Just wanted to remind everybody to hug your loved ones. Be nice. Plant the plants, feed your dog, and help the granny cross the street. It just helps you smile and live another day in a happier state.
That’s one important thing. The other is whatever ways you can to help the war effort– whether you want to help the refugees or just want to help the animals. There are charities for that. If you are not sure where to donate and everything scares you because everything is Cyrillic, just reach out to me, and I’ll try to translate for you.
Sean: Well, it was great talking to you, and thanks again for doing this interview.
Ross: Thanks so much, man, for taking the time to listen to me. I hope this was interesting. I hope you have stuff to tell to the world community. And thank you for doing whatever you’re doing, Sarna, because it’s one of the links that we’re opening very often when we need answers to questions.
Sean: Thank you. I just mostly do the news, but there are other people on the Wiki side of things. They’re the people who really deserve the shout-out.
Ross: Right. Oh, also one last thing. My partner Helen, my lady who’s a digital artist. She has done arts for BPL’s charter. There are five house lords. One of them is Minoru Kurita, I think, in black and white in front of the Kuritan emblem. One of the best arts that came out of that.
And yeah, if anybody needs any character art, human, humans made for BattleTech, she can draw stuff.
Sean: All right, awesome. Thanks again. And take care.
Ross: Yeah. You too, man. Thanks so much. Bye.
And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.