5 Things All Magic: The Gathering Tournament Organisers Worry About (And What You Can Do to Help)
As Magic: The Gathering players, a common place to hone our skills is at organised tournaments, be it a small local FNM or a large tournament hosting thousands of players from around the world. Magic judges are key to putting these events together, answering to the Tournament Organiser.
We owe our entire organised play experience to the Tournament Organisers of the Magic: The Gathering community. Theirs is a stressful but rewarding job, coordinating judges, overseeing registration and the overall tournament experience.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg. I talked to some Tournament Organisers and compiled a list of 5 Things All Magic: The Gathering Tournament Organisers Worry About (And What You Can Do to Help).
Without proper advertising, a tournament could be doomed long before it even starts, especially if the tournament is at a small store with a struggling player base. How exactly do you advertise for a tournament?
“Paid-for advertising is tricky,” says Alex Schagaev, Tournament Organiser of Lost Ark Games in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, “because not many people look for Magic stores advertising like that.”
Most stores are able to utilise online tools as an alternative. “The store locator and Manaleak’s calendar are great,” says Schagaev, “but not everyone knows about them.” Manaleak.com hosts the UK Magic Calendar on their homepage where stores across the UK can advertise their Magic tournaments and other events for free, and players can find nearby events. Wizards of the Coast has a store locator search function where players can find stores nearby.
“The store I work at is quite small,” Schagaev explains. “The best way to advertise a store is through word-of-mouth, but if a store is small and struggling, it may be hard to grow a player base.” While larger stores might get a lot of word-of-mouth advertising through things such as larger prize pools, small stores struggle to keep up. “For stores that can’t offer those kinds of prizes, environment, atmosphere, and location are vital.”
An option available to stores wanting to maximise their event turnout is to coordinate with other stores so that their events don’t conflict. In addition, stores can attempt collaborative events and alternate hosting events, sharing their player bases for such events.
What we can do to help: Quite simply, if you enjoyed an event you should tell your friends. If you enjoy a local game store, bring your friends to the next event. If a store is doing a good job and maintains a positive atmosphere, you can do your part by spreading the word.
Also, did you know what when you respond to a Facebook event invite with either “Going” or “Interested”, the event will appear on your friends Facebook feed? Not only will this help the tournament organiser plan spaces for the day but it also goes a long way in helping give the event more exposure on Facebook. If you want to help, please always select “Join” or “Interested” on an event you would like to take part in or are interested in taking part in.
It’s the day of the big tournament. You’ve advertised the event as much as possible, and it’s time to set up.
If the tournament is not taking place at your local game store, one concern is getting the computer equipment hooked up.
“[There are] things I make sure I have covered for a stress free event on the day,” says Becky Ottery, Co-Owner and Tournament Organiser of Eclectic Games in Reading, Berkshire. “[I make sure the] laptop connects to internet, printer works with laptop, printer has enough paper, there is a power supply for both.”
If you are hosting the event at your home store, there are other concerns such as whether the store is hosting concurrent tournaments for multiple games. “Sometimes, there’s a bunch of things going on the same day,” says Schagaev, “which makes guessing available space difficult. If we, say, have a Vanguard tournament, we can write off 20 seats.”
In addition, casual players not entered in tournaments need to be accounted for. Sometimes a group of friends will take up an entire table with their decks, collections, and other belongings. Sometimes the best solution is to have a designated space for casual play, but just as in the case of conflicting tournaments, space is limited.
“People just playing casually in the store can take up a massive amount of space,” Schagaev says. “We have two rooms. If we can, we move the casual players into the smaller room.”
What we can do to help: If a tournament is planned for the day and you are getting ready to enjoy an afternoon of casual games with friends, be considerate with where you set up to play. Ask the store staff or the Tournament Organiser where it would be best for you to play. Try not to take up too much space with your personal belongings, especially if the store is getting a little packed and please try not to make too much noise. Often there are new players and new faces attending these events, and the tournament organiser will need you to help make a good first impression.
If you are at the store to play in a tournament, be considerate of the store’s efforts to set up for the tournament. Be ready to move your belongings at a moment’s notice. If players not in the tournament are playing at an inconvenient location, don’t “help out” the judges by telling them to move. Trust the staff to take care of their tournament. You may think nothing of being rude to “casual” players, but driving away business will do more harm than good for the store in the long run.
Some people may have difficulties moving for whatever reason. Tournament organisers and judges are generally already aware of such individuals and will have made special seating arrangements for them. Please be as considerate as you can. Similarly, if you have any special requirements then please do try to let the tournament organiser know in advance so that they can try to accommodate your needs on the day.
The doors have opened. The players have begun filtering into the building. Now begins the arduous task of registration.
The best way to alleviate this process is to start it long before the tournament starts.
“As much as possible, pre-enroll players,” says Ottery. “Make sure people give their DCI numbers when pre-registering. Have decklists already printed to hand to players if the tournament requires it.”
Whether the tournament is a small FNM or a Grand Prix, the judges play an integral role in making sure everything runs smoothly. “If you have organised your judges ahead of time, then actual running of the tournament should not be an issue,” Ottery explains.
“When costing tournament entry fees, remember to include judge compensation, venue hire and prize support costs, and make sure you know what your break even number is on player attendance.” (More on the “break even” attendance number in the next section.)
What we can do to help: Always do your best to pre-register in advance if you can, and when pre-registering, please always include your full name and DCI number. Most tournament organisers in this day and age will provide players with the option of pre-registering in one way or another. Please take full advantage of this service as it will help the tournament organisers plan their staffing, products and optimal seating arrangements for the day.
Pre-registering will also help tournament organisers know if an event is fully booked up or not and they are then able to relay the information to the community. This way, they can avoid having to turn away players on the day of the tournament. Nobody wants to turn players away from events, and nobody wants to be turned away either.
As stated by Ottery, please have your DCI number and any other relevant information handy when registering. It can be incredibly frustrating to be in line behind somebody at a fast food restaurant who hasn’t even looked at the menu when it’s their turn, and the same can be said for someone who is at the front of the registration line but does not have their information ready.
But most of all, be understanding. Not everything will go perfectly, but chances are the Tournament Organiser and judges are working hard behind the scenes to make things go as smoothly as possible.
So registration is complete, and players are sitting down to play. You look over attendance numbers.
Did you advertise well enough? Did you meet your “break even” number? How many players showed up?
Ottery outlines her policy on attendance: “If you don’t expect to attract enough players to cover your costs, you shouldn’t run the event. A rule of thumb I sometimes use for entry fees is that I would like to make the same margin from the event as I would on selling booster packs to that value.”
“The store I work at is quite small,” says Schagaev, “so event attendance is a big part. If we don’t bring in [a certain amount of] players, the event makes a loss.”
Stores in small towns sometimes get low attendance on normal events, only getting a large influx of players for larger events such as prereleases. The store’s location is one factor, but there are many.
Sometimes attendance is low for no discernible reason. Sometimes local players simply don’t play Standard as much as Modern, draft, or other formats. This makes it hard for some stores to meet the minimum attendance for FNMs. Fortunately, stores and Tournament Organisers have a say in the format for tournaments and can change formats based on the player base.
A Tournament Organiser has so many other things to worry about, but the sad reality is sometimes all their hard work is undermined by low attendance.
What we can do to help: Do you drive? Or do you know anyone that can help with carpooling? A common challenge for many Magic players trying to get to events is the transport. Most Magic players simply do not drive and have to rely on public transport. As we all know, relying on public transport to get you to an event on time and back home again once its over can be a very difficult task, sometimes an impossible one. If you can drive then please post up shout-outs in your local Magic group or on Facebook. Most players will also be happy to contribute towards the travel expenses which mean you’ll also be saving a lot of money each trip.
And I know it has already been said once, but it is worth repeating. If you enjoy events being held at a location, you can do your part to ensure they continue to be successful by spreading the word and telling your friends.
If more of your friends come to the next tournament, it will be more fun for everyone, and it will increase the chances of the store being able to host events months or even years down the road.
1. Player Satisfaction
The tournament has concluded, and it’s time to hand out the prize support for the event. How the prize distribution is allotted plays a vital role in long-term player satisfaction.
“Prize distribution is a really tricky thing,” Schagaev explains. “If I go 4-0 at FNM, getting two packs after my personal investment is a bit of a joke.”
The biggest struggle regarding prize support is distribution between the casual and competitive brackets, or at smaller FNMs, how the booster packs are distributed among the Top 8. Do you heavily reward the competitive players, and upset people who play for fun? Do you reward people who play for fun and risk upsetting the competitive players?
On one hand, competitive players have sunk a lot of time, effort, and money into their decks, and to receive a handful of packs in return may seem paltry.
On the other, the casual players might be able to use their prize support to build up their collections. However, offering a generous prize support for casual players, even if it is slightly less than that for competitive players, might entice competitive players to attempt to enter in the casual bracket for “free packs”.
Now the players have received their prize support, and as you are breaking down your equipment and planning for the next tournament, you ask yourself:
Was the event a success? Did the players have fun? Will they come back for the next tournament?
Dove Milhon, Tournament Organiser of The Gathering Place in Abilene, Texas offers insight on the stress of running a good tournament. “Tournament Organisers try really hard to do things flawlessly. If they make mistakes, players make it worse.”
“[Event attendance] ties into player satisfaction,” says Schagaev. “If people enjoyed the event, they’re more likely to come back.” This ties into the word-of-mouth advertising that is so crucial to building up a store’s player base. If players do not have a positive experience, the player base could potentially suffer.
Now that the event has concluded, you start the process all over again. The following week the players show up once again, ready to have fun playing Magic: The Gathering together, and you remember why you love what you do.
If everyone is having fun, it’s all worth it in the end.
What we can do to help: Provide the tournament organiser with feedback! Like a good business owner, a good tournament organiser will value your feedback, and even better, they will act on it. Please make sure that your feedback is constructive, and remember that you may not have a full understanding of the decisions that the tournament organiser might have had to make behind the scenes. However, if you provide the tournament organiser with feedback then at least they will know for next time what to prioritise for their events.
The worst thing you can do is to not say anything and just not come back. Always inform the tournament organiser of any issues that you may have had and allow them the opportunity to address those issues.
Here are some MTG resources that you may find useful:
- The UK Magic Calendar
- mtgUK & Ireland MTG Gaming Stores & TO Facebook Group
- mtgUK Rules & Judges Questions
- Competitive Magic UK & I (RPTQ/PPTQ/WMCQ)
- Wizards of the Coast store locator
Community Question: What do you think could be done to help address these 5 issues?
Thanks for reading,