This is the third instalment in the Level Up series. If you haven’t read the first two parts you can find the first one here and the second one here. Each one leads into the next but if you prefer to read things backwards I can’t stop you. Some people like jigsaw puzzles.
Let’s go over a few definitions.
Non Player: The first stage of the progression and development in a customer’s experience with Magic. Everyone starts off here when they are beginning their journey. At this stage they have not played a game yet and have probably no understanding of the rules or the community.
Casual Player: The second stage of the progression. Once a player has learned the basic rules of the game and has a small collection of cards they are in the realm of the casual player. They typically play the game with their friends and only occasionally come into a game store. Their buying patterns are unpredictable on an individual basis but as a group together they can be very profitable. These players are more likely to spend their money buying booster packs to add cards to their collection, going through your dollar rares, and purchasing introductory products. Casual players do not generally attend tournaments.
Casual/Competitive Player: The third stage of the progression. Magic is inherently a competitive game. When two players sit down to play a game, one will win and one will lose. No matter how casual and friendly the match this is true. As players become more comfortable with the game and more confident in their abilities they will eventually look for more competitive ways to play the game. This is the stage where the player will attend tournaments like FNM and prereleases but likely shy away from an event like a PTQ. They are also one of the most ideal player types you can have in your local community. They still buy booster packs but they are also interested in your singles selection. A wider array of the MtG products you carry are attractive to them.
Competitive Player: The fourth and final stage of the progression. Competitive players can vary greatly in skill and goals all the way from FNM ringer to the local professional shark but they all share the same mindset. Their motivation for playing Magic is simply winning. Competitive players usually only attend tournaments that have a higher EV since they have a greater expectation of winning. This means that your small weekly tournament won’t appeal to these players as much as a large regional event with $1000 in prizes. These players will rarely buy boosters or sealed product from your store unless it’s for a draft but they also tend to have valuable collections of cards. They will come to your store to play in your events and trade cards with the other players.
With that established, we are going to talk about how to create an effective system for encouraging an individual player’s progression as well as grow your player base as a whole. Ideally you want to go wide as well as deep with your community. The advantages of this are threefold. Each player will spend more money at your store, they will visit your store more often, and you will have more players in your community overall.
The strategies discussed in the previous instalments are used to acquire more Casual Players and turn them into Casual/Competitive Players. Once a player becomes an FNM regular you open up plenty of opportunity to help them grow and encourage them to bring in their friends to play too. One of the best ways to do this is to have a consistent and varied schedule of events for every day of the week. Your schedule should be displayed prominently in your store and on your website.
By offering a variety of competitive options you can appeal to larger group of players than if you focused on just FNM. There may be a number of Modern format players that are unsupported in your area that you can cater to and earn their business. The trick with a weekly schedule is you want to avoid stepping on the toes of other game stores in your area while also figuring out what your local community will support. It wouldn’t do any good to have your Standard event the same night as Dave’s Games, you will merely split the player base if you’re too close and both of you will suffer for it. It’s better to work together with the owners of other nearby game stores and figure out a schedule that gives players the most options without being too cut throat.
One of the toughest parts of getting a tournament schedule up and running is the initial lead up when attendance can be spotty. Nothing will kill a new tournament you have decided to run more than three people showing up and the event not firing. If this happens a few times in a row your event will gain a reputation and players will think “why bother, it’s not going to fire anyways”. New tournaments require a critical mass in order to succeed. This is generally around six to eight players. That is your seed target. If that many players show up consistently the tournament is probably a safe bet.
An easy way to make sure you have the minimum number of required players is to participate yourself or if not you one of your employees. This can be tough if you also need to operate the register and still conduct business but it’s worthwhile if you can manage it. Just consider the time spent invested into your customer relationships. Obviously this is not ideal, you want customers filling your gaming space, not employees.
The best way to get players into your store for an event is to simply ask them what they want to play. Poll your customers, if you care about your business you are likely already engaging your customers when they visit and have a good relationship with them. Asking them what formats they would like to see in the store is an excellent way to figure out what events your store should hold and build on your relationship. Magic players of all sorts are far more likely to attend a tournament they have explicitly told you they want to attend.
Weekly events such as the ones described above should be treated as a marketing expense and run at cost or even a loss. Their purpose is not to make money through entry fees but to encourage the sale of products in your store and create customer loyalty. A good way to look at it is this, games are about the customer experience and part of that experience is the social component. Players in your store and in your events provide the content for your community.
Every player, whether they spend money at your store or not, is valuable to your business because they make up the player base and provide value to your other players. In the same way that content on your website brings value to your visitors and drives sales on your site, players in your events do the same thing for sales in your store.
Another way to look at it is tournaments create a reason for players to buy new cards and build new decks. You can create the demand for your products and singles by running well organized, cheap, and consistent tournaments.
The entry fees you decide on are up to you but they should be on the low end of the scale. Most stores charge $3 to $5 for a weekly tournament which is a good number to start with. It’s low enough that you won’t alienate your younger players and it creates a prize pool of the right size to attract the Casual/Competitive Players.
Do not pay out in cash. All prizes should be paid out in store credit. Store credit keeps your tournament expenses low and keeps your players coming back into your store to spend it. The best part about store credit is the difference in perceived value between you and the customer. That booster pack may be valued at $3.50 to the customer but only cost you $1.20. Store credit in this way makes both sides of the transaction happy.
The exact numbers you use are up to you. They are the dials you can turn to figure out what works best for your community. As with all aspects of your business you should tweak and adjust your numbers in order to optimize your strategy.
The exception to this rule of thumb is larger more competitive tournaments like Pro Tour Qualifiers and Grand Prix Trials. Theses types of events draw the Competitive Player type and their motivation is winning matches and gaining value. The payouts can be much more top heavy and are typically cash instead of credit. It is also common to have the entry fee drastically higher than other events by an order of magnitude in order to support the prize pool. These are the events where it is acceptable to profit from the entry fees.
Build towards the next level
The next step to implement is a system that encourages your players to keep coming back to your store and your events. Consider two very successful tournament circuits, Wizards’ premier play program and the Stay City Games Open Series. They are structured differently but use similar tactics to invest players in the circuit.
Planeswalker Points reward players for participating in sanctioned tournaments with byes to larger, more important events. The PTQ system funnels players into one of the most prestigious events in Magic, the Pro Tour. Professional players collect Pro Points to earn better rewards.
Each Star City Games Open qualifies its top 8 players for the corresponding Invitational tournament. On top of qualifying, points are awarded to the top performing players over the course of a year which culminates in the Player’s Championship.
Both systems have one specific thing in common. Each event leads into the next as building blocks along a path towards greater rewards. They escalate and get players invested. You may not be able to put up the same kinds of cash for prize support but you can certainly use the same model to achieve similar results.
Here are some sample versions of this idea.
A weekly Standard format event that awards byes to first place. The byes go towards an end of the month event with a larger prize pool.
Keep a running tally each month of a player’s performance in your store’s weekly events. Create a leaderboard and display it prominently. At the end of the month or at the end of the season, hold an invite only event for the top 8 or 16 players for free with a unique prize for first place.
Hold a tournament each weekend where the winner gets an invite to an exclusive event at the end of the month/season.
The variations are almost endless. The most important details about such a system however you decide to implement one is that they focus on Constructed formats. Limited events are great for selling sealed product but constructed events drive the sale of singles. A mix of both is important for a varied weekly schedule but your featured events, the ones that have the highest entry fee and biggest payouts should be Constructed. Most likely Standard or Modern since they are the most common formats.
Having a system like this for your business rewards the players who are already regular players at your weekly tournaments but it also gives the players who aren’t regulars a good incentive to show up consistently. Each event will no longer stand on its own and instead be a part of something more exciting. It also adds value to your weekly events without necessarily adding cost which is always an opportunity you should look for in business.
Similar to the first two examples from WotC and Star City Games, this can be extended a tier further into even more exclusive and valuable tournaments along the lines of World’s or the Player’s Championship. A once a year marquee event to cap off the whole thing.
This is the kind of tournament structure that draws in the Competitive Player type since it aligns with their motivation to win and earn rewards. It is also a training ground for players who are developing along that path but are not quite there yet and it appeals to the casual tournament attendee since they can drop in as they please just like before.
The Competitive Player is the next level to explore which is what we will diving into in the next post. We will discuss what makes Competitive Players different from the rest of the community as well as why some game stores try to avoid them.
As we move into 2015, I’d like to ask you a few questions and read your response in the comment section below:
What you think of the Level Up strategy so far?
Do you own a game store and have a different strategy for community building?
What do the other LGS’s do in your area?
Share in the comments down below. I look forward to hearing what you think.
Cheers, thanks so much and I’ll see you in 2015.