How to Organise a Tournament (Part 2/2) – Magic Perspectives by Crispin Bateman

How to Organise a Tournament (Part 2/2) – Magic Perspectives by Crispin Bateman

This is Part 2 and the final part of Crispin’s “Tournament Organiser” series. You can read Part 1 here – Organisation Part One – Magic Perspectives by Crispin Bateman

There are some things which are always done by other people. When we are children, those things are plentiful, and it is part of the joy of childhood that you can put absolute trust in your parents (or whomever might be looking after you) to just manage things in a behind-the-scenes way without your interaction. In this way homes are maintained and bills paid, food appears on tables, trips home in the car can be made shorter by simply falling asleep and when you have a birthday party friends just sort of ‘turn up’ without much fuss. Hopefully with presents.

Of course, in the background there is a lot going on. Having had to organise birthday parties for children I can promise that it is a lot more complicated that the stress-free façade shows. Depending on the number of children you have, however, a birthday party need only happen once or twice a year. Being a Tournament Organiser is kind of like diving into the organisation of parties every single week, or even more often than that and, like with children, it is at its best when the players don’t even see it happening – yet another stress-free façade.

Image by Anna Przywecka
Image by Anna Przywecka

Yes, that’s right, the Tournament Organiser is kind of like your Dad.

When players look at jumping from simply enjoying the game with their friends to wanting to be part of the ‘something more’ aspect of Magic, they usually look to the Judge program; and why not? It’s a high-profile way to be part of the organisation of Magic, with its own (very valuable) rewards, the respect of the community and even offers the chance to travel the world if you want to get serious about it. Being a Tournament Organiser offers a lot less – although there’s nothing to stop you being a TO and a Judge at the same time.

Often, modern Tournament Organisers are pushed into the role by virtue of being shopkeepers who want to sell Magic and see the profit and growth in running events in their shops, but this is not always the case. Though they are a dying breed, there still exists a large number of TOs who do it simply because they want to; people who see a gap in their local community and decide to step forward and gather players together for a weekly session of fun. They used to be called ‘independent Tournament Organisers’, though that title and what it means has fallen out of fashion. Today they affiliate themselves with a shop and work in close conjunction with those shopkeepers, but their attitude and drive remains the same – to provide a place for players to meet and play.

And they do it out of love, making them even more like your Dad!

Magic Players FNM Talking

There’s a lot of work that goes into organising a tournament. I’m probably going to miss some of it if I try to compile a list of everything it entails, but let’s give it a go. From the beginning then:

Steps to Organising a Magic Event

  • Analyse your player base and work out what sort of event they would most like to play.
  • Make a judgement call on how many players you would get – remember that getting too many means a venue overflowing with people who are squashed together and not likely to enjoy themselves, whereas a venue too large incurs costs which won’t be covered by entry fees.
  • Spend many hours, probably days, contacting venues in your area and working out the cheapest costs. Remember to check to see if they can provide chairs and tables and make sure they are willing to let you have the venue for long enough – Magic events often run later than you thought.


  • Work out the amount you would have to charge each player to cover venue costs. Then think about how much more you can add to that amount to cover prizes. Remember you cannot charge too much or people won’t come, but charge too little and you’ll be out of pocket personally by a potentially considerable amount.
  • Work out the best prizes you can offer based on your prize pool calculations from before.
  • Invest a substantial amount of your own money securing the deposit for the venue.
  • Invest more of your own money buying prizes in advance of the event.
  • Speak to local Judges in your area to make sure you have a Judge team. For a smallish event, you may get the Judges to come for free (or judge it yourself), but it’s likely you’ll have to offer them something.
  • Check your numbers again and again to make sure you aren’t going to be out of pocket.
  • Sigh when you realise you are giving up all your own time for free, but don’t worry, you love the game and your payment is the pleasure on people’s faces.


  • Advertise your event. Make sure you’ve done this months in advance if you expect people to travel to it.
  • Keep advertising and talking about your event constantly so people don’t forget.
  • Pray that you have calculated the numbers correctly and that the right number of people turn up.
  • Politely answer the many times people ask you why the prizes are so poor or the event is so expensive while biting your lip from screaming at them about how much time you are giving away for free, how venues in this country are ridiculously expensive and how you are doing the best you can.
  • Deal with any last minute dropping out of venue (being double-booked isn’t as rare as you think), judging staff, players you depended on, etc.


  • Realise you are going to be swamped on the day and ask your girlfriend, a trusted friend and ally, or one of the judges if they’ll help with the running on the day.
  • Make sure you have plenty of paper, pens, a working laptop, a working printer, extension cables, tablecloths, table number cards, the prizes, and more the day before.


  • Finally get to the day and get up stupidly early (after all, you’ve had no sleep from worry).
  • Go the venue as soon as you can to discover the problems – things like not enough tables, power doesn’t work, they want you out two hours earlier than you had agreed etc. Sort these problems.
  • Put out all the tables and chairs, set up table numbers, the laptop etc.


  • Open the doors and worry about how not enough people have come and your costs won’t be covered. Start calculating how much of your personal money you will lose.
  • Get everyone enrolled and sitting ready to play. Fix numerous ridiculous problems which crop up on the day.
  • Start the first round and sit back and relax for approximately thirty seconds before something else goes wrong (usually with the printer for results slips).
  • Go through nine hours of chaos where you have no time for a drink, a toilet break and end up hysterically laughing at the idea of something to eat.
  • Watch as everyone leaves. If you are lucky, one in ten players will pause to say ‘thanks’.


  • Clean up all the mess, put away the tables and chairs and pack everything back up.
  • Go home, knowing you are out of pocket, have a stomping headache and are crazily tired.
  • Get to bed and smile as you plan the next event :)

That last part is true, of course. It’s when the noise has stopped and the light is off, lying with aching legs and a weary back, that the Tournament Organiser looks up into the darkness and starts thinking about what improvements he can make, and what prizes might entice more people to come. Sure, he lost a substantial amount of cash running this event, but surely if he gets it right, the next event will be better…

Just like your Dad organising a birthday party.

GP Manchester 2014 1

The Tournament Organiser gets his joy though, even when the event is a financial disaster because without him there wouldn’t have been an event. Those people would never have been able to gather together and play the game, they’d not be friends, they’d not have had such a good day. It’s the joy in someone else’s fun which really makes the Tournament Organiser’s day all worthwhile.

So the next time you are leaving a Magic event, from the smallest gathering to a major three-day long Grand Prix, take the time to find the person who organised it all and say something nice to him, because that’s why he’s done it. For you. Happy Birthday.

Community Question: What is the biggest challenge for you as a tournament organiser? And what is the greatest reward?

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Useful Resources

Get your MTG events advertised for free on the UK Magic Calendar.

Need to help on a rulings or judging question? Or need to find a DCI judge near to you? Join and ask in the mtgUK Rules & Judges Questions Facebook group.

Need feedback and help with organising events? Join and ask in the UK & Ireland MTG Gaming Stores & TO Group Facebook group.

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Crispin Bateman

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