How To Run Magic: The Gathering (MTG) Events, And Achieve Record Numbers, by Tu Nguyen

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Turning The Ship Around How To Achieve Record Breaking Numbers For Your MTG Events

Turning The Ship Around: How To Achieve Record Breaking Numbers For Your Magic: The Gathering Events

I was recently asked to put into words an account of how we’ve managed to turn our local gaming store (LGS) business around – from a downward spiral, to achieving record breaking numbers, and finally unlocking the very prestigious Advance Plus WPN status – all this in the space of just 6 months.

Being the type of person that I am, I wanted to leverage my time and resources, and maximise how much I can contribute to our gaming community. As such, I’ve decided to pen my thoughts and make them public, in case they are helpful to any budding entrepreneur, struggling business owner or someone who just wants to boost attendance for their Magic: the Gathering events. This is going to be of a long read, and I hope something that is worthwhile for you do. Please feel free to bookmark this page.

Please note that these are my personal views and opinions, based on a model that works for us and our unique place in the industry. Not all of these practices or philosophies will apply to everyone, though it would be prudent to try and understand why they worked for us, as something similar might indeed work for you.

Turning the ship around: Learning from your mistakes

So, let’s start by trying to put things into perspective. We moved to Worcester in 2009, I believe, because on paper it made sense; it was classed as a city, had a university and was situated in a central location in the UK. You also get a lot more space for your rent there than you would in a bigger city. To leverage our rent and high street position in the city, our LGS business was also attached to a newsagent, a complimentary symbiotic business that we also started up at the same time.

Our LGS was initially doing well and our other newsagent business by its very nature demanded a lot more attention. I took our LGS business for granted and didn’t properly address the many underlying issues. Consequently, the numbers started dropping. Once more competition started popping up in nearby towns and cities, our event attendances reached record lows, we often found it difficult to even get enough players to sanction an FNM – and we all know how quickly things can fold if players turn up to your event only for the event not to fire.

Tip: Do whatever you have to to make sure that your event ALWAYS fire. This includes offering incentives, physically going to pick players up yourself, etc. However, try to avoid bribing your players or doing anything that would devalue your event.

Unfortunately, the graph below doesn’t show the steep decline from the previous years’ attendances, but it does show how our numbers rapidly improved once I – as the business owner – made a conscious decision to exclusively focus on our LGS and give it 110%.

Manaleak Worcester Birmingham Events Stats 2016
Number of MTG attendances between Jan 2016 and Dec 2016

So, why am I telling you this? This didn’t all just happen overnight, and we didn’t just get lucky. Everybody has their own set of problems and challenges. Most importantly, I wanted to show you that with enough grit and creativity, anyone can achieve great results.

The lesson I learned from these experiences:

  • Don’t spread yourself too thinly. Make sure that you’ve organised your life in a way that will allow you to be able to fully focus your time and energy on your business. You own and operate a business and businesses require 110% of your time, day and night. If you are not comfortable with these commitments then you should reconsider this whole endeavour.
  • Keep your eye on the ball. You need to always be monitoring your attendance figures and never take them for granted. Always be thinking of new ways to improve your event experience, and always try to think of new ways to attract new players. Be creative!
  • In this day and age, running your LGS along a symbiotic complimentary business is – in my personal opinion – the way forward, but make sure that you are taking low-risk baby steps if you are entering a new market. Offering snacks and refreshments is a must and the markups are fairly decent (25-50% POR).
  • Learn to listen to your players, and take what they say seriously. If one person makes the effort to raise a concern or makes a suggestion, then assume that at least four other people feel the same way, but have not said anything to you about it. They will have, however, most likely talked to each other about it. Don’t fob them off, and definitely don’t assume that they don’t understand your situation. Do whatever you can to address their concerns and make possible their suggestions, and do it in a way that would benefit your business as well as your players. If its something that’s sadly not possible to realise, then at least make your players feel that they’ve been heard, and that you’ve sincerely tried. Do keep in mind that most of the best ideas for your business and how it evolves often start from a player’s suggestion.
  • Be VERY shrewd with your rent, rates and other overheads. See if you qualify for any special rate relief programs and apply for them. In many cases, your rent is holding your business back and you might have to consider relocating. If you do relocate then be creative and think outside the box; this often means considering non-conventional units.
  • If you are looking for a location for your store, then keep in mind that you do not need to be on the high street (downtown locations designed for pedestrian shoppers, for our non-UK readers). In fact, I’d strongly advise against this as traditionally an LGS is a destination business and not a walk-by business. This means that you need to be spending money on marketing and not wasting money on high street rates that will also not offer you the comfortable playing space that you’ll need for your players. You do, however, need to be near some sort of public transport hub (buses and trains), and nearby cost-effective car parking facilities. Most of your local players do not drive, and a lot of your out of town players will. You’ll need to be able to cater for both if you ever want to expand your player base.

As we move on, let’s make an important distinction. The act of running Magic: the Gathering events encompasses two separate activities: the event experience itself, and the marketing/promotion activities leading up to it. Both are equally important and your business will not succeed if either is neglected. More on that later, as there is yet another important task – making sure that people know about your store, and where you are located.

Marketing & Community Building

You are a local business, so target local players

This means making yourself as easy to find as possible. You can do this by finding out how local Magic players are finding local stores, and be in those places. For example, at a minimum, you’ll need to:

Have a Facebook page for your business

Make sure that you have a Facebook page for your business. If you do not have the resources to make your own website (you need a website!) then your Facebook page will act as your business webpage on search engines, and at the very least, prospective players can find you that way.

On your Facebook page, make sure that you include your store’s address, opening hours, contact details, and a rough itinerary of your weekly events. I would suggest that you include this information in your Facebook page cover image itself, as well as a post that you can pin to the top. Make sure that you fill in, in full, your “About” section.

Additionally, ensure that your business address is properly set up on your Facebook page, and encourage your customers to leave good reviews for your business page – if they’ve had a good experience in your store, they should share with others!

This is an example of our Facebook page; please note however that we’re not a traditional LGS: Manaleak.com – MTG Superstore UK.

Have a Facebook group for your local Magic players

You’ll need to make sure that you have a Facebook group set up for your local Magic player community. This is very important and I’ll go more into more detail as to why throughout this article. For now, here is a summary:

  • To build a community around your brand and the local Magic: the Gathering player base.
  • To allow you to auto-send Facebook event invites to relevant & event hungry players.
  • To communicate to your players any information relevant to your LGS and events, and to also get feedback back from them too.
  • To generate exposure and familiarity with your brand, especially to new players.
  • To use your members as a resource by encouraging them to reply to each other’s queries.

The group name should be something descriptive like “NameofLGS NameofCity/Town Magic: The Gathering Players Community”. Funnel all of your traffic into this group, and encourage as many local players to join it and engage in it as possible. This means directing players to your group in your social media posts, and on your website. You should always be looking to maximise the results of your time and effort.

Again, make sure that your group header image and description include your store’s address, contact details, opening hours, a rough schedule of your weekly events and a note to ask members to check out the pinned post for store and event information. Your pinned post will need to include all these information plus a detailed schedule of the events that are taking place in your store on a given week.

For marketing purposes, please make sure that you leave your groups privacy setting on “Public”. Unless of course you have good reasons to change it, e.g. many of your members explicitly ask to have the groups privacy setting changed to “Closed”.

Once the group is set up, go back and click on the “Edit Group Settings” link (top right, next to the Notifications tab, under your group cover image). Here you’ll want to click on “Customise Address” and give your group a short and descriptive URL name, something like “NameofstoreGame”.

Here is the Facebook community group for our local Magic players; it serves as a good example of what you’ll be wanting to do: Manaleak.com Birmingham (UK) Magic: The Gathering Players Group.

Google business page (location)

This is important because of Google Maps. Players need to be able to find directions to you on Google, and they’ll want to be able to Sat Nav to you on their phones.

Setting it up is relatively straightforward. Make sure that you also encourage good reviews for your Google business page.

Below is an example of what customers and players will see when they Google us.

Manaleak Birmingham Google Page

LGS business website

If you want your business to be taken seriously by prospective players, you’ll need an actual website for your LGS. Additionally, it will help prospective players find you. For this purpose, I would strongly recommend that you use WordPress as your website software. WordPress has an easy-to-use interface and offers the best search engine optimisation (SEO) results. It is extremely cost effective and easy to have a very polished and professional looking website using WordPress.

Your website does not need to have many pages at all. It does, however, need to have the following information:

  • Your store’s full address and opening hours. Try to embed a map if you can.
  • Your store’s full contact details including your telephone number. Players will want to call you up and ask on the phone about your events, and they’ll most likely call you up and ask for directions on the day of the event itself.
  • Include clear, well lit photos of your store, the space available (clean comfy tables and chairs!), what’s on offer, and most importantly of all, players having fun. Prospective players will want to see what they’re getting themselves into, so they can see if your business is compatible with their needs. Keep in mind that potential customers will most likely judge your entire LGS based on these photos and the photos that you post on social media.
  • Information about your weekly events: what they are, and when they take place.
  • A link to your Magic: The Gathering community Facebook group. This may seem obvious, but if you host an assortment of games, make sure you direct relevant players to relevant groups. Don’t, for example, direct Magic players to the Final Fantasy TCG group, and Board Gamers to your Magic group (unless, of course, they are interested in those games).

On your website, you’ll want to include relevant keywords wherever you can. This is so your website appears on search engines when prospective players search for Magic: the Gathering events in the areas that you hope to service. You’ll want to focus on local keywords, e.g. “Magic: the Gathering”, “MTG FNM” plus “your city/town/village/county”, and you’ll want to make sure that all your sentences read well (if that means utilising a proofreader, don’t hesitate to ask for help). Make a good impression!

Below is what prospective players will see if they Google “Magic: the Gathering Birmingham“. Please note that we’ve only been here for 6 months. This is our landing page, the page that we direct all our players to if they need information regarding our LGS and our events: Our Store.

Magic the Gathering Birmingham Manaleak
Magic: the Gathering Birmingham Manaleak.com

Getting such a website shouldn’t cost much, depending on how much of your time you want to commit to it, and how professional you want your site to look. If you do it yourself then you only have to worry about hosting, which should only cost around £10-£50 a year. There are many, many different website hosting options available to you, but I would suggest that you go for one that allows you to have your own domain. Domain purchase and renewal should only cost around £5-£10 annually. Don’t spend more than £200-£300 to get your site created.

If you are stuck on this step and need help getting started, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

 

Creating a Facebook event listing and promoting it

Focus on the new players!

When designing and creating your events, always focus on the new players. The more experienced players will already know the score, understand that the game need new players and will mine the event listing for the information that they are looking for. MTG clubs are like gyms; it is all about acquiring new members. Try to put yourself in the shoes of a new player, identify their needs and fears and address them.

Tip: Keep it as casual and fun as possible, include short “What, Where, How” information, avoid top heavy prize structures for casual events. Even players at competitive level events will appreciate a more fun and lighthearted approach, although always make sure that you offer a professionally run and timely service.

Formats: The more the merrier!

We operate on the philosophy that the more formats that players like the better. The main reasons for this are:

  • It will help you sell a greater selection of products.
  • You will attract a greater range of players.
  • You will keep your players in the game for longer as players can jump from format to format rather than just quitting the game altogether.

This is not to say that you should force any particular format on your players. Instead stick to your core formats and actively keep your ear to the ground, try to identify what formats your players may want and give it a go! Try the format a few times, and if it’s not popular in your local area then move on, if it is popular then grow it!

Cast the net out and see what sticks.

Booster Drafts – A note about booster draft and sealed deck events. Limited events by their nature are more costly for players to participate in and less profitable for you to run than constructed events. That said, our personal philosophy is that the more Magic: the Gathering cards there are in local circulation the better. This is because it will encourage players to trade amongst themselves in your store as well as to and with your store. Activity in your store is good, this is how you can add value! Having a larger card pool will also allow players the resources they need to cost effectively (via Limited events) build new decks and take part in your events.

What we do is run our official store booster drafts at £12 per person, which includes 3 x booster packs per person for the draft, and players get 1 x booster pack per match won. These are popular just after the release of the new set, or whenever players ask for a FNM/weekend draft. In addition to this we also run a player-led non-profit booster draft every Wednesday. The entry is £11 per person and that puts 1.5 x booster pack per person into the prize pool and players can use their own booster packs, or trade old ones in so that they have packs from the right set for the draft. This is run by a local player and thus avoids staffing costs. Players benefit from a lower entry point and being able to use their own products, the store benefits from in-store activity and complimentary sales (refreshments, snacks, sleeves, etc), not to mention increasing the circulation of Magic cards in your local area. Win win!

Please note, however, that the draft being run at your store will represent your business in some way, and players attending the event may not be aware that it’s not an official store event. This means that you must work to ensure that the quality of the player-led event is still ran at a good standard, and that you inform your local community that it’s a “community-led non-profit” event.

Standard – A note on Standard. If you do not specialise in MTG then I would strongly recommend that you stick with Standard as your constructed format, or at least start with that as your core format. This is the most promoted, supported and therefore relevant format by Wizards of the Coast and therefore the most supported and relevant format for your players and for you. The marketing and promotional support is already there, and it’d encourage players to buy products from the latest MTG set. Use the path of least resistance.

Where to create the Facebook event listing

Generally speaking, you’ll want to make a Facebook event listing for all your non-weekly events. You’ll want to create the event listing itself in your local players’ Facebook group (see above “Have a Facebook group for your local Magic players”, example here). This will have a large and relevant audience hungry for your particular event and is one of the main reasons why you’ve created the group. When you create an event in a Facebook group you will also be automatically presented with an “invite all members of this group” option. This will save you a lot of time and reach players whom you would have not been able to otherwise.

*Please note that as of 10/03/17, Facebook as changed this feature to “Invite all your friends in this group”.

For weekly fixed events, events that you run on a fixed day every week e.g. FNM, Wednesday Night Drafts, etc, you’ll want to have the information on the website’s store page. This should include which days, what is happening, a sentence or two explaining what it is e.g. what booster draft is, what FNM is, etc), the starting and ending time, and the entry cost. This will help provide you with extra relevant information for search engines, act as a place to direct all your players for fixed information, and avoid spamming your players’ Facebook feed with information they may already be aware of.

When to create the Facebook event listing

You should try to always create your events as soon as possible so that both you, other tournament organisers (TOs) and players have plenty of time to plan for and around your events.

Try to create your events between the hours of 11am and 11pm. This is because you’ll want to catch players with your invites while they’re online and not have your invites drowned out by all the overnight notifications.

Always try to plan your events at least a month in advance. This is an important step in the process, you should sit down, find out what other events are happening that month in your area and try to avoid clashing formats. If you know that another LGS is running a popular competitive Standard event on a certain weekend and you also want to run an event that weekend, then run a casual Commander event and appeal to different players. Network and befriend other TOs within a one hour drive of your store, it is always better for everyone when you work together than to work against each other.

To give you a rough idea, I sit down with my TO for about 30-40 minutes every month and plan out our events for the following 1-2 months. We use the UK Magic Calendar, which we’ve set up to help promote MTG events in the UK and to also help LGS owners plan out their events better. You can find information on how to have your events added to the calendar on the page itself. We also continue to think of events throughout the month too.

Here is a list of all our upcoming nonweekly MTG events: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Manaleak/events/

This is a helpful area (URL), and you can direct players here for information on your upcoming events. To get yours, simply go to your MTG Facebook players group and click on the Events tab (top, middle, under your group cover image).

You may also find the following Facebook group helpful for competitive UK events: Competitive Magic UK & I (RPTQ/PPTQ/WMCQ)

Tip: I would personally try to avoid making a Facebook event listing for every single weekly event, e.g. for every FNM. Doing so is more likely to do your events harm than good as your players will start to treat your event invites as spam and not engage with it. People are more likely to attend events that seem popular, and conversely, people are less likely to attend events that seem unpopular. Having an event listing that regularly only shows 3-4 people going will not make a good impression for your business, especially if you are regularly getting a lot more players turning up than that.

What I’d do instead, is to create an event listing every now and then, maybe every few months or every time a fundamental aspect of the event has changed, or if you are planning on doing something special that week. Do it when you have a new message to convey. An example would be to create an FNM listing every 3 months or if your prize structure has significantly changed, or if you are adding something a “gunslinging” promo at a certain FNM, etc.

In your event listing for a weekly or recurring event, make sure that you let players know clearly that it is a recurring event, and how often it takes place e.g. “Every Friday from 6pm!”. This is the important information to get across.

Make sure that you sanction all your recurring MTG events well ahead in advance so that they show up on the Wizards website and prospective players can find you.

Magic players want to feel that they are part of a larger experience

What we’ve noticed, is that each Magic player will identify with a certain format and it’s an emotion connection, they also like the option of jumping formats every now and then (this is starting to happen more and more), and they especially like playing Magic around other Magic players, in fact the more the merrier!

Let me give you an example.

Wizards of the Coast does not (yet) have a regular event or series of events specifically catering towards Commander players, nothing branded like FNM for example which is an experience that every Magic player wants to be a part of. We notice that more Commander players like to turn up when they know that there’s a large MTG event on at the store (we always actively invite Commander players so that they do not feel left out). As a result of this observation, what we did was re-branded our FNMs so that they include Commander players in the pitch too. This has significantly increased our overall attendances on Friday nights, and not only that but more importantly it has helped cultivate a very friendly community atmosphere! Incidentally Commander at FNM became an official WPN thing the week after.

Note to WOTC: Please consider an event or series of events designed specifically for Commander players. Something like Standard Showdown, Game Day, etc, but for Commander.

How to create your Facebook event listing

So as I’ve already said, you should be creating your event via your local players’ Facebook MTG group (click on Events, then “Create Event”).

  • Event cover image – Make sure that you use a large clear image (minimum 913px x 352px), something that is relevant to your format. Alternatively a large clear and well lit image of your store, ideally one that shows a lot of players playing Magic and having fun, as well as your product. Make sure that your cover image in the centre has the following information in bold:
    • Event name and your town/city
    • Your branding
    • Headline prize and special incentives

Keep it simple and uncluttered, especially as you’ll want to be boosting these events via Facebook ads which will handicap your ads performance if the header/cover image itself is covered in 20% or more text.

Tip: You should save an editable banner template with the correct dimensions and your default information and images. All you need to change is the background image, the headline text, and the prizes/discount text. Keep your font (brand) consistent. Here are some examples.

Standard PPTQ Kyoto Manaleak Birmingham 8 Boxes & Discounts
An example of our PPTQ event banner. Note that for qualifier events, you may want to appeal to the players emotions and play towards the players aspirations e.g. use appealing images of the final destination of the qualifier.
Manaleak Birmingham Board Game Night Banner
An example of our board games event banner. Here we want to communicate what its like playing board games and miniatures in our store. Note that the text information is centralise as to avoid being cut off when Facebook resizes the header image on peoples Facebook feed.
Aether Revolt Game Day At Manaleak Birmingham Only £5 Entry
An example of our Aether Revolt Game Day banner. It’s an emotionally charged image that also shows what players can get for taking part.
  • Event name – The event name should be concise and descriptive. You have 64 characters to play with and your keywords should be: format, event type, your name store, town/city, headline prizes or incentives. Here is an example of our PPTQ event headline, “Standard PPTQ Kyoto Manaleak.com Birmingham 8 Boxes & Discounts!”
  • Location: Select your store as the location. This is one of the benefits of having a Facebook page for your local business, and making sure that the address is properly set up on it.
  • Select your start and end time. We normally start our events at 12pm as to not rush players, as well as allowing players who are using public transport enough time to get to us. For larger 40+ player events with top 8 play-offs we start at 11am. Always try to include an estimated event end time as players will want to know. Your event end time should indicate when you expect the Swiss section of your event to finish.
  • Event description – Your event description should be saved as a template so that you can just copy and paste the information for all your events, and then edit specific event information. In the event description you should have the following information:
    • Your event title right at the start. Just copy and paste your Event name here.
    • One sentence about the event to personalise it. Include heading information.
    • Event Time & Address – The date and time of your event, the venue’s full address and your full contact details. Please make sure that you include this information in text in the description area. Putting it in the location field of the event listing is not enough, especially as Facebook does not always show the full address. Include information on parking where possible.
    • Entry & Prizes – Entry fee, special offers, preregistration link for larger events, prizes. For prizes, our model has always been to convert all entry fees taken in into store credit and that becomes the prize pool. For larger events e.g. PPTQs, we then deduct judges and marketing costs from the prize pool. This works because it is completely transparent and fair. Players can use their store credit on ANYTHING in the store, and on our website. Any store credit not spent is saved on their file for future use.
    • Tournament Structure – Very short information about your event’s rules enforcement level, whether or not decklists are required, the event structure itself, etc.
    • Preregistered Players List – If you are taking preregistration then this is where you should add the preregistered players’ names.
    • Posting – Select “Anyone can post” as you’ll want to encourage engagement, and nobody wants to wait a day for their post to be approved. The moment (opportunity) would have passed by then.
    • Invite all members – Make sure that you have the “Invite all members of yourgroupnamehere” box ticked. It should be ticked by default.
    • Keywords – Once you’ve created the event, you’ll need to go back and edit it. When you do, you will be presented with a new “Keywords” field. Here you should enter relevant keywords such as, “Magic: the Gathering“, “Grand Prix (Magic: the Gathering)“, “Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour“. You are limited to 3 keywords.

You can find an example of our event listing structure here: Manaleak.com 2017 Summer Championship (Modern & Legacy £1K)

Tip: Once you have created an event, make sure that you also share it in the last Facebook event that you ran that is relevant. So for example share your new PPTQ event listing in your last PPTQ event listing. This will expose your new PPTQ event to an existing and super relevant audience.

Discounts and special incentives

Reward the drivers! Many many many Magic players do not drive, this means that they are exposed to the follies of public transport, which– in the UK at least –is absolutely awful, especially on Sundays, when a lot of Magic events take place.

Drivers are the key.

Every driver that attends your event is an opportunity bring another 2-3 players. MTG road trips are also one of the memorial aspect of any MTG experience, there is so much good that can be said about these, much more than I can go into detail here. All you need to know is that you want to encourage the road trip experience to your events, and drivers are the key.

The driver is normally the person in the group in charge of rallying up the team, coordinating collections and drop offs, leaving earlier than everyone in the group to go pick up players, stay awake at the wheel, wait around at events till the last person in their group has finished (which can be the top 8!), then drop everyone off afterwards, and is always the last person in the car to finally get home and crawl in bed.

Drivers are the unsung heroes of our community. You should show drivers that you recognise and appreciate their efforts, and reward them accordingly.

You can reward drivers by offering a hefty discount on their entry ticket (and a free coffee!) if they take 2 or more players to your event from another city. Offer this discount in the form of store credit so that it’s a win-win for everybody involved. If you are offering driver incentives then I would recommend offering between 50%-100% discount on the entry fee, depending on how much you want to promote the event to non-local players. Avoid offering completely free entry if you can as you risk devaluing your event brand, and only offer discounts if you expect your event to be less than 50% full.

You should also use your offers and incentives as a means to encourage aspects of your event that you wish to promote. For example we want to encourage fun via spectacular plays and sportsmanship at our FNMs, so at every FNM we announce that we will give out a bonus FNM promo for free to anyone who did something that was really cool, however they can’t nominate themselves, the play must be nominated by another player. This encourages spectacular brews and moves, good sportsmanship, and togetherness and everyone publicly recognising and celebrating a player’s accomplishment.

Offer online preregistration!

If you are running a large event e.g. a PPTQ or a prerelease then there is no excuse for you to not offer some sort of online preregistration option. You can do this via your website or just providing players with your PayPal address. Many TOs in the UK use MTGEvents.co.uk. This service will allow you to offer online preregistration as well as help generate more awareness for your event.

The reason you need to take preregistration is to tie players into your event, in the same way that store credits do. Get them to commit as early on as possible so that you can be ahead of your competition, and you need to understand that your competition isn’t necessary just other stores, it can be other pastimes, hobbies and activities. People are inherently lazy and shortsighted, you’ll want to make preregistering as easy and as rewarding for them as possible. You can do this by offering large discounts if they preregister early, and scale back on the discount nearer the time of the event e.g. stagger your discount rates. Make it clear that players can always change their mind if they do so, although I would recommend offering them store credit over cash refunds and only if the cancellation is made at least 1 day before the event itself. People rarely cancel their place once they’ve preregistered, much in the same way that people don’t switch bank accounts very often.

Once a player has paid and preregistered then post up their name in the event listing itself and say thank you. This will act as a way to notify the player that they are now preregistered for your event and also encourage other players to preregister for your event too. You’ll want to do this only once a day and just edit and update that post when more players preregister for the event.

At the bottom of your Facebook event listing, assuming that you have offered preregistration, there should be a “Preregistered Players List”. Here you’ll want to add the full name of the players whom has preregistered along with their DCI number. A day before the event itself, you’ll want to make a post asking players who have preregistered to post up their DCI numbers in the comments so that you can preregister players on WER in advance of the event itself. This will also help give your event more exposure and that last minute push for preregistration.

Some players will definitely want to go but can only pay you on the day. It’s up to you how you want to handle this situation, what we do is add those players to an “UNPAID preregistration list” as we want to help players out as much as possible, however we do not encourage unpaid preregistrations.

Only offer prepaid preregistration options on your larger events. Don’t bother offering them on your weekly events with low entry fees. If your weekly events are regularly reaching maximum capacity then you’re “going to need a bigger boat”. If necessary, just allow players to preregister by creating a “Preregistered Players List” in your event listing (as shown above in the Facebook event creation section) and adding preregistered player’s names to that list.

How to promote your event

Let players know about the events taking place at your store that week at the beginning of the week. Make a weekly announcement ideally either on the Sunday evening between 9pm and 11pm, or on Monday between 11am and 9pm. Players would have finished the current weekend’s events and will want to plan their events for the following week.

The post should link to the big event that you are promoting, so that players can see and click on your headline event. In the post description itself you should include a very short headline list of all events for each day in your store. Each event should be the Event Name of your Facebook event. Where possible, make sure that each Event Name is a hyperlink to the event itself. You can do this by putting an “@” sign in front of the event name and tag it in. Make sure that you also include a link to your store’s “About” page on your website, the page that has information about your store’s location, parking, weekly events, contact details, etc, e.g. this.

In the weekly announcement post, and every time you share an event, make sure that you encourage players to click on “Going” in the event listing itself, if they are planning to attend, or “Interested” if they are interested in the event. This will help you plan and manage your day much better as well as help spread awareness on Facebook, and encourage other players to also attend.

Tag in relevant staff and pin this post in your local players MTG group.

Repeat this entire process on your Facebook page and also in any local community groups set up for the promotion of local MTG events.

MTG events weekly post
An example of our weekly MTG schedule post.

Facebook Ads/Boost

On your Facebook page, you’ll need to promote your event post by using the sponsored post feature. Yes, you’re going to have to spend money to accumulate money unfortunately.

Create your weekly event schedule post on your Facebook page, exactly as you have done above and publish it. Then click on the Boost post button.

When you boost your post, you’ll want to make sure that your player targeting is as relevant as possible. This means creating a new “audience” if it’s the first time that you are setting one up, selecting relevant MTG related keywords and make sure that your location setting is your town/city plus a 50 miles/1 hours drive radius. Set the promotional boost to end the day before your event starts. By doing it this way, you are not only promoting your actual event, the event being boosted, but also all your other events taking place that week too. You’ll want to spend between £5-£10 per week on these event schedule sponsored posts.

Tip: When you create your new audience for your Facebook ads, remember to give the audience a relevant and descriptive name. Something like “MTG – England” if its MTG and you’re targeting the whole of England, or probably more relevant in this case, “MTG – 80 miles”

Social media posting credits and reminders

You’ll want to be able to remind players about the following day’s event the night before, or if it’s an evening event then post up a reminder in the afternoon. Be creative, make sure that each post adds value, and be relentless.

Please be mindful of your social media posting credits. There is a fine line between reaching out to as many of your players as possible throughout the day with helpful information, and coming across as a bit spammy. You really do not want your players to be desensitised by your posts so that they just become background noise, and you definitely want to avoid being blocked all together.

In our experience, this means not creating a new post within 1 hour of the last, and not creating more than 4 new times a day. That’s your posting credit. Definitely do comment and engagement with your audience as much as you can and as quickly as you can however, and proactively encourage your players to post in your groups and events.

You’ll want to also share your events listing on social media and on Reddit, again without being spammy! Find where your audience hangs out (Facebook, Twitter and Reddit) and hang out with them. Be as helpful as you can. Generally speaking, the popular time to post are: 11:30am, 3pm, 7pm-9pm.

If you are trying to target non-local players and/or new players to your event, or if you know that they are attending, then it would be a very good idea to make a post the evening before the event in the event listing itself. This post should include a link to your “about store/us” website page which has all the information on parking, directions, address, contact details, etc. In this post you should also include your phone number and encourage players to have it at hand in case they need direction or are running late on the day. Always encourage players to arrive an hour or so before the event start time so that they can socialise, test, trade, make purchases, avoid traffic, and avoid that last minute rush.

A note about social media platforms. Each social media platform house a different type of person, and they act differently too. Please make sure that you understand how each platform works from a technical user perspective and also what makes the users on those platforms tick specifically. Reddit users, for example, tend to be very different to Facebook users and will respond differently to the same post. Equally, Twitter users will engage differently to both Reddit and Facebook users. Please be very sensitive to this.

Andy from Chimera Nottingham does a good job of this on his Facebook page, and Abïgaelle from Leeds does a great job on her Twitter page.

Tip: When you make a social media post. Consider using the opportunity to also include a call to action for your big upcoming event after the main message too, and tag in your event. Below is an example of this.

MTG-social-media-post-Manakeak

The event experience itself

OK, so you’ve created and promoted your events, and all your players have found you. Time to address the final piece of the puzzle, keep and grow your playerbase.

Your TO, and the people at the front line, is your business

We regularly ask players on a personal level what it is that they like and dislike about an LGS, if they said that they used to play at an LGS then we will always ask why they are no longer patrons of that store. The number one reason, every single time, is because they did not like the store owner/TO/staff, and to be honest, as a player and consumer myself I know exactly how they feel. People do business with people.

The person at the front; you as the business owner, your staff, and certainly your TO should be as approachable and as friendly as possible, especially as Magic is such a community based game where almost everybody knows each other to a degree. Always be smiling, and always let the players feel that you will go out of your way to help them. Get this right first before you do anything else.

You do not need to be a Magic player to run the event itself (although it would certainly help!). You do, however, need a Magic player at hand on the day. Make sure that you have a judge in the room, or at least a rules adviser. If you do not then encourage your players to take their judge’s test and become a judge. You will find that there’s always someone in your group that was planning on becoming a DCI judge anyway, or at least a rules adviser. Alternatively you should look into being a judge yourself. The running of the event itself is mostly admin work and the person in charge needs to run a tight ship, but that said, you do need someone who knows the rules of MTG around on the day. They might or might not be the same person.

Just something else to keep in mind; Magic players, like any other hobby games player, enjoy and want to talk to you about their game, something that they are very passionate about. This is a large part of the LGS experience for customers and players. Yes it can be very time consuming, but if you are not interested in listening then you should reconsider your line of work.

Make a great impression!

Magic is a much more diverse and mainstream game now. When I first learned to play Magic, it was in a dark and dingy hobby games store that smelt of damp and with one small table in the corner hidden away. Thankfully those days are well and truly gone.

You need to make sure that your store is clean, tidy, well lit, airy, and comfortable. Your products should be organised, priced, and on display. Your tables and chairs should be wiped down and clean daily. Your players should be the centrepiece.

Make sure that there is a logical and intuitive flow for your customer when they first come into your store, and make sure that they are always welcomed with a friendly face on their level.

LGS Tip: Always make sure that there is a deodorant can in your bathroom for players to use, for free. You will be surprised at how often it is used, and everyone will appreciate it. I would recommend using a generic supermarket brand to keep costs down, and to avoid the risk of theft.

Make sure that players are as comfortable as possible

Its all about the players experience. This is your time to shine.

Consider offering free coffee, tea, donuts and fruit (banana) and add this to your marketing budget. If you like, put a “contributions jar” next to the free coffee so that players who feel that they should contribute towards the freebies can do, although make it absolutely clear that nobody should feel obligated to. Don’t expect a lot of contributions.

The cost/benefit ratio is fantastic. For relatively very little cost you generate a lot of community good will. You’ll also keep your players fed, hydrated and happy. This is what they’ll remember as part of your LGS experience.

As a business person you’ll already be questioning the costs involved, so please let me explain. You can buy a pouch of grounded coffee beans from the supermarket for around £2, a large cafetiere should cost around £20 and last you for a very long time. For £2 you can make around at least 20 cups of good filtered coffee. Don’t offer instant coffee. You monster.

A large tea pot will use 2 tea bags and produce 4 cups of coffee. Sugar and milk use is negligible. Just make a pot of coffee and a large pot of tea and leave them out with cups till they run out and it seems that people would like more.

You can get a packet of 5 freshly baked in store jam-filled donuts for just 50p from Morrisons, or 6 ringed ones for 50p (get the jam filled ones). If you go after 6pm then they are half price or less as they need to be sold on the same day that they are made due to store policies. Note that they do not have to be eaten that day. We get about 4-6 bags, depending on the event, this will cost between 50p and £3.

You can get a large pack of bananas for under £1. They should last you 1-2 weeks. Players will appreciate something fresh that isn’t filled with sugar or carbs.

As you can see, the financial costs are relatively insignificant, however with a little bit of effort you can generate a lot of goodwill and vastly improve the quality of your players’ experience.

It should be noted that we do sell drinks and snacks in store too, and offering free coffee and donuts has not decreased sales, if anything it has conditioned players to stay and spend more in store. I believe each player has a set budget in mind when they plan their day out and will use it in one way or another. Offering coffee and donuts is just another reason for players to not have to leave your store.

Please make sure that you are constantly keeping your store and the playing space clean and tidy. This means picking up rubbish off the floor, collecting used cups, wiping down the coffee table, etc.

Adding to the experience, be creative!

If you’re not going forward, you’ll be left behind. Always be thinking up new and creative ways to enhance your players’ experience, and if it can act as a marketing tool then even better!

  • Gunslinging – Do things like “coolest play award” or “beat the boss/good player/reigning champ and get a prize”. Last Friday, our TO was preparing for a PPTQ the following day in Leicester. He suggested that it might be a good opportunity to put into play the “beat the champ/staff” idea that he put forward a few months before. The idea is that if a player beats him in a game of Magic then they’ll win a bonus booster pack, and in this case he also gets to pressure test his PPTQ deck. We changed our staffing rota around so that he can play and not have to run the event that evening, although he’ll still be around to help.

If you do the maths, and providing your staff is a good enough player, and even if they are not, the exercise still offers a great cost/benefit return. You’ve added another new fun element to the evenings experience, risking very little costs. It won’t attract any new players that evening, but it will certainly add to the memory of the ones that were there and help bring them back to your next event.

Incidentally our TO went undefeated.

  • Live Streaming – We are currently live streaming our FNMs on Facebook. It’s not high end production stuff at all, but again it does offers a great cost/benefit return. For a bit of effort and hardly no extra cost, you show off your LGS to the community at large. There are always new players who wanted to go to your event but didn’t because they weren’t sure what they’d be getting themselves into, you can now proactively show those prospective players what events at your store are like and break down that first big barrier. In fact we sometimes stream our entire tabletop gaming nights for this reason. Streaming matches can also give local players another reason to attend your events as well as increase your store’s social media reach that little bit further.

Just a thing to note about streaming. Please remember to let your players know during the announcements stage that you will be streaming matches, and that no faces will be recorded. If anyone does not wish for their game to be on camera then they should let the TO know and the option will be passed on to the following table, and so on. Players in the store in general should also mind their language.

The running of the event itself

  • Registration – When players turn up to your event, make sure that you address and welcome each and every single one of them, by name wherever possible. Have someone welcome players with a smile and get them to find a table, get comfortable, do some trading, have some coffee and donuts, get settled and clear the way for other players and customers. You’ll want to avoid long queues where possible. Do this while registrations are taking place. When there is nobody else in the queue to register then go and let more players know that they can register. Keep doing this till everyone is registered. Let everyone know what the plan is about 10 minutes before the event is due to start. If the event looks like it’s going to be starting late, most likely due to latecomers, then let the players know.
  • Announcements – Once everyone is registered, then print and post the pairings. Let the players know so that they can find their tables and take their seats. You are now ready to make your announcements, this is the single time when you will have all your players’ attention. You should take the opportunity to:
    • Welcome everyone to your event, and thank you for attending.
    • Let everyone know what the tournament format and structure is.
    • Let them know about any promotions that you are running.
    • Let players know about upcoming events for the next 7 days.

Keep the announcements short, project your voice, use a friendly tone and make sure that you get and hold the room’s full attention. Once the event gets underway then it’s really just a simple matter of getting results and printing pairings.

Take photos!

During the event itself you’ll want to try and take some pictures. As always, these pictures should be clear, well lit and show players having fun. Post this picture up in your players group to encourage other players to attend the next event.

Below is an example of taking pictures of the players at your events.

Manaleak.com Birmingham Modern SCG IQ January 2017
Manaleak.com Birmingham Modern SCG IQ January 2017

The photo below was designed to show off how sociable, warm and friendly Magic events can be, its actually one of my favourite MTG pictures. Just look at those warm and kind faces!

People like to be recognised for their accomplishments, and see their name in lights. You as the business owner should thank players for attending your events. At the end of the event, also take a picture of the winner(s). Again, make sure that the picture is clear, well lit, and make sure that they are smiling and in front of the products that you offer in your store, or a nice area that shows off your store. When the event is over, make sure that you post this picture up on Facebook, on your Facebook page as well as the Facebook players’ group. In the post, include a few sentences thanking everyone for attending, congratulate the winner by name, include any funny/cool moments, and use it as an opportunity to let players know about your next event.

Alexi of Dark Sphere London does a great job of this, he even posts up graphics that include deckslists as well as the winner holding their prizes.

Below is an example of our winner’s picture.

Manaleak.com Birmingham Modern SCG IQ Winner Niklas Ek, January 2017

If you’ve ran a large event that attracted a lot of out-of-town players, then you may want to consider posting up the top 8 decklists for your event. There are always players who will find this information helpful, and you should get some social media shares. Make sure that you include a short thank you message and use the opportunity to let players know about your next event. This is great content for your website.

When players leave, make sure that you thank them for coming, say goodbye and smile!

“Banter” and diversity

Just a final but very important point that I feel should be mentioned. Friendly “banter” is all good, but not all banter is friendly, in fact some by their nature can be quite discriminative and offensive to someone who is not part of the conversation. By no means should you let players feel that they are being censored, however do make sure that you cultivate a fully inclusive and diverse community, and that your players are fully appreciative of your store’s values.

If someone is repeatedly speaking out of term and it’s being picked up by other players, then make sure that you have a courteous, casual but stern chat with the individual in private. These things can get out of hand quite quickly if left unchecked and we as TOs and business owners want to avoid that tipping point at all costs. Be proactive.

*** Edit ***

A commentor recently asked a very good question, and I thought I’d add it to this article in case the information also helps others.

Q. I’d love to see a short, rough list of suggested priorities from the suggestions in this article. What would you say is the most important if a businesses has to prioritize?

A. That’s a really tricky question to answer as I personally feel that its about getting all those things that I’ve mentioned right in order to grow your community, and consequently your events. If resources are low and you absolutely had to choose, then I would say:

  1. Create a local players community group for your brand and the game (e.g. Magic: The Gathering Players Community Group Manaleak.com Birmingham). Funnel prospects here, look after members, especially look after new members, crowd source.
  2. Create Facebook event listings via your players group (above), make sure that the prize/entry/model appeals to your target audience. Promote this listing and find creative ways to get players to engage in it. Remember that you are offering a fun experience, not a “serious” tournament (even if it is a serious tournament).
  3. Make sure that your business is on Google Maps, otherwise nobody is going to be able find you easily. A lot of prospects will search for your business on search engines or Facebook to see if its the type of place they’d like. 1st impressions matter.
  4. Have a great TO/face representing your business, genuinely look out for your players and make them feel that you have their best interest at heart. People do business with people.

The biggest and most common criticism I’ve heard from players regarding their LGS is that their LGS owner/TO just doesn’t care and doesn’t listen. You can see this being echoed in the comments generated by this article. From the point of view of someone who has been in the business for close to 20 years, I would say that people often get into the business for the wrong reasons, and that they need to treat their business as a business (that they enjoy), rather than a pastime or hobby.

 

Thank you for reading!

That’s all I can think of from the top of my head right now. I’m often available on Facebook and Twitter so please do not hesitate to reach out.

I hope that this has been helpful to you in some way, and may we wish you the very best in all your endeavours.

Tu Nguyen

Manaleak.com

How To Run Magic: The Gathering (MTG) Events, And Achieve Record Numbers, by Tu Nguyen
I was recently asked to put into words an account of how we've managed to turn our local gaming store (LGS) business around - from a downward spiral, to achieving record breaking numbers, and finally unlocking the very prestigious Advance Plus WPN status - all this in the space of just 6 months.

Please let us know what you think below...

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