Running a Magic Tournament Part Deux

So GP Richmond is happening this weekend and will likely if not certainly be the biggest constructed Magic event in history. It may even cap out at 5000 players if the registration trends continue to hold. This is an absurd number of people in one spot playing Magic for a weekend. Even as little as two years ago this kind of turnout was unheard of, an impossibility. But with Magic’s incredible growth in the past few years we have seen attendance records broken multiple times. Not even GP Vegas had as many players in attendance and it was one of the most anticipated tournaments of 2013. Some of the questions you may be asking are “Why? What is causing this massive upswing in popularity? Is the awesomeness of Magic: the Gathering just finally catching on?” Those are good questions but a better one is “How can I take advantage of this?”

I see two ways to exploit the phenomenon of Magic’s burgeoning tournament scene. The first is to attend these excellent events and swell the ranks of Magic players vying for the coveted top 8 spots. Depending on your skill this strategy could have varying levels of success. Even the best in game don’t always make the cut. I’m sure with 5000 players starting at the beginning of an event, any one player’s chance of being the top 8 is terribly slim. But we’re Magic players and the odds be damned, they only serve to make the victory that much sweeter. Now this is a great way to take advantage of Magic’s fantastic tournament scene. Another way is to throw your hat in ring and run your own event.

Last time I talked about deciding on format, prizes, and the venue. That still leaves judges, promotion, vendors, as well as the actual execution of the event the day of. Altogether that is quite an undertaking. Getting judges to work at your tournament is probably one of the easier aspects of organizing an event but it is also easy to overlook or underestimate what kind of staff will be required. If you have too few the event will run slowly and they may be overtaxed. Too many (not very common) and you could blow your profit margin completely. Don’t skimp on judge staff. I’ve played in a tournament where the TO had three judges with 150 players signed up. As is the trend these days the TO underestimated how many people would turn out to play and they suffered for it with the event being delayed for an hour due to registration issues. It would have been a simple matter to look for one or two more judges to help smooth out the experience.

This is another important reason as a tournament organizer you want to know beforehand how many players will coming to your event. Attendance is your biggest cash  flow contributor. It determines how much you can spend on prizes, how much you can spend on the venue, how many judges you need, and how complex the day of will be. For judge staff a good formula could look like this. For less than 50 players, one judge will probably be fine. 51 or more, you should probably go with one judge for every 30 to 40 players. Part of the reason for this is to improve the flow of the event and to help manage the tournament. The other reason is because judges need to be paid for their time. They don’t do this for free you know. Luckily they usually work for Magic cards. If you can get sealed product at wholesale prices that’s great because it’s as if they are working for 60% -70% less than they think they are. If that’s not the case and you have to pay retail prices, well that sucks for you. It’s a cost you can’t escape and don’t want to cut corners with.

Vendors are an excellent source of supplementary income. Depending on your reputation and how many players you are expecting for your event, vendors can be a great opportunity to boost your profit margin. As my default position, I’ve been writing this as if you the reader are a freelance tournament organizer with no actual brick and mortar store of your own. If that isn’t the case, the rules you follow and the math for profitability is a little different. If you do run a Magic business than running a tournament of your own can be doubly effective since you get to be a vendor at your own event. You get to be in a unique market position and actually create the demand while providing the supply. What better way to sell Magic cards. Beyond the price of admission, I’m sure Star City Games generates the majority of their profits by selling at their own events. If you are able to be a vendor at your own tournament, you should take advantage of the opportunity. Another point is to share that opportunity with multiple businesses. Besides the fact that they will pay you for the chance to set up a table or booth, the more selection you have on display at your tournament the better. Magic players love to shop around for the cards they want/need so provide that to them, that way everybody wins. Another benefit to inviting other businesses to vend at your tournament is that they may return the favor next time.

And so we have come to promotion. Perhaps one the trickier aspects of running a tournament while also one of the most important. Obviously it doesn’t matter if you have the best prize payout in the sweetest location and all the other good stuff lined up if nobody knows about your event. No players = no tournament. Before we dive deep into promoting your tournament this is a good point to figure out your minimum turn out you require to break even. Add up all your fixed costs. Venue, prizes, judge staff, helper staff if any, advertising budget, all the facets of the event that will cost money. Subtract from that number any money you are receiving for selling vendor spots then simply divide by whatever you have decided to charge for admission. That is how many players you need to break even and should be your minimum target. Your actual target should be much higher than that since the whole point of running the tournament in the first place is to make money alongside the secondary goal of supporting the community. This is hard work and you deserve to be paid, don’t shrink from that. This is also another nice feature of fixing your prizes at a certain value like say $2000. You figure out your break even point and then every player beyond that number is straight profit so you might as well try to get as many players to come out as possible.

The actual promotion of your tournament really depends on your local community. Is there one central store for the city where all the Organized Play events happen or are there multiple stores each with their own community? Are you running a PTQ or other WotC OP program? These are questions you will have to answer yourself since they will likely be different for each area. The common methods that everyone should use are Facebook and word of mouth. Create a Facebook group with all the relevant details and begin inviting every Magic player in your local community. Reach out and expand to the surrounding areas. Sell it. Tweet about it. If the prize pool is big enough you may have players travelling quite a distance just to play at your event. Ask people to tell their friends about it. Ask the stores in your community (who are also hopefully vending at your tournament) to tell their customers about it. Make this a priority and get the word out. If this is your first time as a TO it will probably be the most difficult part since you will have no reputation to ride on. Getting Magic players to trust you as a TO is hard and it’s easy to screw up but once you have it you’re golden.

The day of the event is going to be long one. Think 16 to 20 hours kind of day so you better be really enthusiastic about this. And you will probably forget something no matter how well prepared you may be. Write down a check list of every piece of equipment and bit of stationary you may require. You will still forget something so have someone you can trust on standby to be a gofer when it inevitably happens. A few simple tips for a smoother event. Number 1 is to start on time. If registration closes at 10 and the tournament begins at 1030, you better stick to it. Number 2 is to keep delays to a minimum. Try to close out each round  as quick as possible and waste as little time as you can. Number 3 is to relax and enjoy the day. No one is going to appreciate a grumpy douchebag running things. Be the consummate host and make your players feel comfortable and happy to be there. It’s supposed to be a win/win relationship. If you’re players are happy, your next event will likely be even better than this one.

So those are some of the considerations when running your very own Magic tournament. It is certainly a worthy endeavor and I would argue there is perhaps no better time in Magic’s history to be running events. If you’re thinking about joining the TO club I would say go for it, it’s a hell of a ride.

For more information on the topic see Oops I PTQed – How to Host Magic Tournaments, an article on ManaDeprived.com on how to run the the biggest independent PTQ in North America.

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Thomas Traplin

@tomtraplin

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