Before the event, while most of the players are still sat in their cars or on slow-moving public transport, there is someone already at the venue. He works to ensure that those who are coming are able to enjoy the game without worrying about any of the nitty-gritty details which come with making sure a Magic event runs smoothly. He is the Tournament Organiser.
T minus sixty minutes
He is alone. The first few times he did this it felt strange, being in a pub just that little bit too early in the day when only the bar staff and the hardcore regular drinkers are there. Now, it is just a normal afternoon. A nod to the owner of the establishment (he remembers his name, at least), a second nod to the barman who has never shared his appellation, and then through the doors to the back room to begin the evening.
T minus fifty-five minutes
The first few tables have been rearranged, some of the chairs have fallen over, and now he remembers he needed the toilet. A walk back through the bar (nod to the regulars), and around the corner to a toilet which looks like it was last updated at some point in the early nineteen seventies. Still alone.
T minus forty-five minutes
The tables are in place, the chairs have been picked up and are at least somewhat in place. He glances at his watch; a few minutes behind his best record for this point. Timing how long it takes to arrange tables for thirty-two is hardly the highlight of his life but it helps put a little fun into an otherwise boring activity. Speed up now and maybe he’ll be above average. The toilet break didn’t help in this regard.
T minus forty minutes
Tablecloths on, chairs in place and the one which wobbles has been swapped for a better one at the back of the room. Loads of time to go; why on Earth did he turn up so early? Probably because if he hadn’t there’d be a new player here already looking very nervous and possibly believing this wasn’t the right place. Being a friendly face here to greet people is all part of the job. A big part. Time for a pint.
T minus thirty-three minutes
The first ‘guest’. At least it is someone he knows, even if he can’t remember his name. The single player asks if he’s free for a game, but no, there’s a bit of paperwork that needs doing first. The laptop needs setting up. How many people are due tonight? Only one person with half an hour to go? It’s probably going to be quiet. He hates quiet nights.
T minus twenty-six minutes
There are now two games of Commander going. One of the participants is new and is playing with a preconstructed deck; no way he’s going to win. Maybe he should get out the new DCI number forms. Why not? It helps to kill time. There are people here but it still feels lonely.
T minus twenty minutes
The room is filling up. Looks like it won’t be that quiet after all. At least three draft pods and then there are the casual crowd shuffling up things in the corner. He’s seen a few proxies and should probably say something negative to them but why bother to come down on them, it’s not like they are trying to enter a tournament with fake cards; besides, the new players like it more when they can see different things going and new players are the lifeblood.
T minus fifteen minutes
Well, technically fifteen minutes to go, but already he’s sitting there taking registrations. Some familiar faces, a couple barely recognisable and that new player who tried out Commander with a sub-standard deck did need a new DCI number. The pint is all but finished, but thankfully one of the draft regulars has offered to buy him another. Should have bought some food on the way through; now the only choices are to get the same old pub rubbish. Even a packet sandwich would have been better. Or just a multipack of Snickers.
T minus ten minutes
A text from someone saying they are going to be five minutes late. Great, now he has to hold off a pod and not make it look like he’s running late. Why can’t everyone just get here on time? Still, much better to be running a little late and get a decent number for each pod – an couple of eights and five in the third so far. Likely to fill. The casual gamers could always be persuaded to join in if it became absolutely necessary. That new player is going to be slaughtered; should probably pass on the drafting tips.
T minus five minutes
Eric, the new player, is quite a nice guy really. Around for a year due to studying and if he enjoys tonight he’ll become a regular. So many of them started the same way – something to do on an evening in a foreign city, or foreign country. They come, they play a block or two, then they go back with some memories. All good. He really shouldn’t have had that second pint because now he needs the toilet and the last few stragglers are lining up to register.
T minus two minutes
The latecomer texts again to say he’s five minutes away. That’s fair enough then. The general hullabaloo in the room is reasonably high now – it’s always like this in the first few weeks of a new block and this one looks like it is going to be a crowd pleaser. The drafting has been quite fun, actually, with plenty of variety for coming to week after week after week. Is that someone eating a sandwich? Really, people have no respect. He stands up and shouts across the noise some polite words to the extent of ‘put the sandwich away’. Well, not entirely polite.
Three boosters per player. Three pods; two of eight, and one of ten. That’s fair enough – he’ll play in the ten pod and let some of the more serious players get their perfect eights. Mr Late is probably running now and will come in all sweaty and filled with apologies. It doesn’t matter; his place has been saved. God, someone has spilled a drink all over a tablecloth – that’ll have to be cleaned. Yes, it is pass to the left for the first pack. Pods one and two can start, pod three is just waiting for a couple of minutes, it shouldn’t be long.
T plus two minutes
There he is – sweaty as expected. One planeswalker opened in pod two and a foil mythic by one of the casual players who decided to join pod three. The new player is taking ages pouring over his cards but that’s fine. Not so lonely now the room has filled up. The Tournament Organiser looks around him; just another week with friends.
The Tournament Organiser. Of all the Magic Perspectives out there, this one is probably the most diverse, and perhaps consequently the most interesting. Tournament Organisers are players who love Magic so much that they find themselves in the position of wanting, nay needing, other people to come and play the game. So much so that they are willing to go through difficulties, even misery, in order to make sure other people are having fun shuffling up cards. Not every day is the same, and although the hour described in this article will resonate with many TOs across the world, it is by no means a ‘usual’ day if such a thing exists.
When I reached out for a perspective to write about this week (and apologies for my absence in the recent past, but moving house has been fraught with more complexities than I first imagined!), I knew that I wanted to write about being a Tournament Organiser, but I also knew that I’d never fit it all in to the space of a single week. Instead, I’d like to invite you all to return next time for a second part and maybe a third the week after that as we look, from multiple angles, at one of the most underrated and under appreciated jobs in the Magic community.
T plus four hours
He is alone. Tables put back to their usual configuration. The room looks like a pub again. The staff are cleaning up. The key is already in the lock waiting to be closed behind him. And now to travel home and to bed.#
Are you a tournament organiser or gaming shop owner? If so then you may be interested in this peer-to-peer support group – UK & Ireland MTG Gaming Stores & TO Group