*Correction: In the account of one player’s experience at Game Zone Alpha, the entry fee was listed as $35, when in fact it was $25, as listed here.
This week is my follow-up to last week’s piece on a terrible PTQ experience. While I came off a little rantier than I meant too, I actually took steps to try and rectify the issues I ran into. When people have legitimate complaints and they are sobering enough to make one think, “I enjoy playing Magic. I enjoy it enough to spend a day playing tournament Magic. I wouldn’t want to do so at this location in the future,” you really should let people know.
At the bare minimum, you should share your experience with friends and consider writing something to your local community (Go go social media) . The next step would be to aim your concerns at the TO, preferably in such a fashion that they’ll listen to you and not simply write you off*, because loud angry people don’t always have a great track record in changing people’s minds. Finally, if you feel an event was irredeemably botched, or the TO is completely unreceptive to positive change, kick it up a notch and write to your regional coordinator, or WOTC Customer Support.
*Of course some people will do this even if you step back and apply only constructive criticism and ideas.
I was pleased to get so much feedback from players on this topic, and again I encourage anyone with serious concerns about how PTQs are run at stores to contact WOTC Customer Support. If you submit a reasonable write-up laying out your concerns, odds are they’ll get bumped up to WPN officials that will take it into consideration for distributing future PTQs. You’ll notice almost all of this content is anonymous, and nearly all of the players who e-mailed me asked for it for fear of repercussions by either the TO, the store management, or even local players themselves if something were to change.
First off, the event that became infamous, where the fire marshal arrived at a PTQ in Colorado Springs. Tom Ma pointed me to it, and it serves as the perfect example of what I want to eradicate. I’m glad someone was there and reported on it.
-@SAMGMTG: “Fire marshals came through during round one of the PTQ in Colorado Springs. #fireHazard https://twitter.com/SAMGMTG/status/216581713093074944/photo/1”
-@Y0stwiththeM0st: “121 people shouldn’t be in this store. Some having to stand and play on displays #mtg #twittercomplaints @TomMaMTG https://twitter.com/Y0stwiththeM0st/status/216571548339933186/photo/1”
-”I played in a Kansas PTQ this season and was unpleasantly surprised by a TO who decided to make his PTQ Top 8 best of five. Why? Who the hell knows. I sure would have liked to [have] known this earlier, at the beginning of the tournament at the very least.”
-”First off, let me say that I read and enjoyed your article. PTQ organization has gotten noticeably worse since TOs stopped being the driving force. I attended a PTQ at Game Zone Alpha in Jacksonville, Arkansas that was pretty poorly run and had some more troubling specific issues.”
-”Anyway, the PTQ was supposed to start at 11:00 but it didn’t get going until 11:45. I don’t really think that’s atrocious as I can’t remember a PTQ ever starting earlier than 20 minutes after scheduled. The event was $35, which is arguably a little high, but the stranger thing was that sales tax was assessed on the entry. I’ve never played in a Magic tournament before where sales tax was charged. A little bit of research reveals that in Arkansas, sales tax probably shouldn’t be charged on tournament entry (source), which leads me to question whether that money is actually making it to the government, but I am speculating at that point. Payout was pretty bad too, a box to top 8 and 10 packs to 9-16th place. I will say that PTQ prize payout has never (well as long as I’ve been playing) been close to good EV because at the end of the day, people at a PTQ are looking to qualify for the Pro Tour, not win a bunch of cash or product. I’m not saying that that is healthy for the game, but PTQ players don’t have the bargaining chip of threatening not to show up like they might for Star City or TCGPlayer events.”
-”The store also collected decklists before the player meeting ostensibly to check for careless errors (not putting name, etc.), which may or may not be a good idea, but it was the first time I had seen something like that. The issue was that store officials were going over the decklists rather than judges, and one of the store officials who was reviewing decklists beforehand played in the tournament. There were 91 players, so only 7 rounds were needed. The swiss ran reasonably smoothly and finished up around 7:30. The store was hot (~85 Fahrenheit) even when people had left in later rounds and during top 8.”
-”I hadn’t been to that many PTQs recently, but this one didn’t seat players based on record, so even with a good record, I would just be randomly assigned a table. Someone told me that this was now normal to cut down on scouting and collusion, but I’m not sure. It took them about 30 minutes from the end of the swiss until the top 8 started, which struck me as a little slow. They handed out boxes to top 8 at the beginning of the quarterfinals match. They told us that they had then given prize payout, so the boxes couldn’t be used in negotiating any kind of split in the finals. The finals match finished at about 11:00.”
-”On another note, you did mention running a good event in your article. I’ve played a couple PTQs at The Next Level Games in Nashville, and they have all been excellently run. Donnie Noland, the owner, put up a fairly extensive introduction to running good events recently. It can be found here“
I got more than a handful of e-mails from up north, primarily from Ontario players, talking about how bad their own PTQs are. A couple of other people told me I should stop complaining since they have it so much worse, which I find funny when they won’t even go to WOTC with their complaints, but hope things will change.
This was a community thread multiple people linked me too, which was an interesting read, pages 4-6 especially.
The primary complaints I got from Ontario residents were that their PTQs are essentially monopolized by one TO, Marv.
Multiple other complaints include:
•Poor prize payout relative to what the TO takes in:
-”Our TO charges 30 dollars for Constructed and even with that only top 16 get paid.
16-9 get 8 packs.
The top eight get one box each MSRP: ~$100/person.
He gives out barely over a grand in prizes and takes in $6,000 dollars. How fun.”
-”1st: Plane ticket
2nd: 2 boxes
3rd-8th: 1 box
9th-16th: 18 packs
17th 6 packs
Total: 438 packs”
•Venue choice, including parking and travel distance:
-“In addition, this past PTQ, which I attended, was held at a building with vastly insufficient parking. PTQs usually draw 150-200 people, since we have so few of them. The building’s parking lot has parking space for maybe 30 cars, if even that much. Here in Toronto, we have a bylaw where you can’t park on the street for more than 3 hours, or you get a ticket. The TO didn’t notify the police that there would likely be parking overflow from his event (sometimes the police are lenient if you tell them), and I got a $15 ticket for attending the PTQ.”
How to Run a Better Event:
•”Tip Number One: Prize support should be consistent between stores, events, and seasons. This will require some research on the part of the TO, and possibly some coordination between stores. Assistance for this can be found in the Magic Judge Regional Coordinators. They are awesome people who are tremendously knowledgeable about Organized Play, and have the players’ and TOs’ best interests at heart. A list of Regional Coordinators can be found here.
Players will know what prize payouts were at events, and expect some sort of consistency between them. Competitive players will understand things like varying costs for TOs due to venues, staffing needs, etc., but expect that Top 8 gets rewarded no matter what, and that similar records should yield similar results.
Additionally, prizes should be from the latest set. Giving out old packs is a great way to alienate your players. Even in a case where the older packs are sold for the same or more as the newer set, players will value them less, largely due to their use as limited fodder. Don’t even get me started on MBS Faction packs as prize…
•Tip Number Two: Use high level judges — not only to run your events, but to help make your events better. Level three and very experienced level two judges have a ton of hands-on knowledge about running events. They can help your events run faster, begin on time, and will provide the best customer service to your players. Nothing replaces experience when it comes to things like room setup, round turnover, and smoothing over the bumps of the scorekeeping and registration systems.
Additionally, appeals, difficult player interactions, and disqualification investigations are difficult situations that can go terribly awry without training and experience. There is a reason there are recommended levels for the head judge of events (L2 for 36-50 expected players, an experienced L2 for 51-120 expected players, and an L3 above this number).
•Tip Number Three: Pretend you are a player. Before the hall fills up with players, step out and ask yourself some questions. Will I be able to get to my seat, no matter where it is?
If I call for a judge, will I be seen, or will I be stuck in a corner behind a pillar?
When it’s the afternoon and the hall has been filled with players for several hours, what is the temperature going to be?
Does the loudspeaker work? Do you even have a loudspeaker?
Is there drinking water available, or will players need to leave the venue for hydration (to say nothing about food)?
Care about the player experience and you will be rewarded.”
“Running events on that scale (Qualifiers) should be part of a long term set of objectives, not an end in itself if your long term vision is ‘become the best store in five states’ then building to that scale of event makes sense but if you’re looking to make a steady buck and pay some bills with a hobby store, go no further than the IQ circuit, please.
PTOs were good in some ways, bad in others, teaching this new crop of stores is going to take some time, especially as the opportunities get cycled around to different stores. If a store can rely on the regularity of a PTQ, they can do things like build a singles stock, maybe even hire a “Magic guy” and they’ll smooth out the bumps eventually. If Qualifiers are moved around too much, stores won’t see them as an opportunity to build their bases and instead they’ll just engage in skimming profits right out of the entry fees, not committing to the long term.”
My top three personal considerations:
1. How comfortable will this venue be?
If I’m going to spend the day playing Magic at your venue, I really hope I won’t be playing in the equivalent of a back alley. Please give consideration to other factors like every other store does — such as excessive heat and limited space. If you have a PTQ or other high attendance event like a prerelease, it’s of the utmost importance to have enough space to house your players. They should never be playing on displays, and if your tournament is standing room only, I’d much rather have the tournament be capped at that point. It sucks to do that to players with money in hand, but your options at that point are disappointing a few players versus making everyone in your tournament (including judges) suffer.
2. How much do they value my time?
A well run event is going to make me forgive a lot, since ultimately I’m there to play Magic and have fun. Keeping a tournament running smoothly, on-time, and with staff available for questions is going to let me play more Magic and feel like I’m not wasting my day.
3. How much does the TO value making a larger short-term profit over providing an excellent experience that makes them some money?
Really this point is what it seems to come down to for many TOs at the store level. They got this new shiny event with an actual base of players pre-built, and instead of figuring out how it works and how to maximize what they just received, they decided to just take all the cash they could. Part of this can be blamed on how the system is set-up — where you could get a PTQ for one season and have it taken away the next. With that said, you shouldn’t run a PTQ if you can’t expect to get a reasonable profit for your troubles. With the biggest expense gone (the venue) for many PTQs, this should be easy, and yet I’m reading of a bunch of basic errors that would’ve been avoided if people had cared to do any preparation the day before.
Unfortunately a good chunk of these complaints can be traced to TOs not bothering to do the research for their area and having no idea of what player base exists. Another complaint I saw far too often in these e-mails was that TOs were cheaping out on basic comforts to save a hundred bucks — these cost-cutting measures effectively ruined the tournament. If even one car of people chooses to not come back to your establishment, that’s likely at least 100 dollars in entry fees out of your pocket — not counting any singles or other items they would have bought at the store, or the profound ramifications of a tarnished reputation.
Of course, the opposite can happen. Judges became very competent at running the events themselves, as the TO basically rented the venue and took the cash — his role effectively stopped there at every PTQ for a good four years. Now that stores have access to events, and judges can more effectively advise owners, I would suggest trying to build rapport with local L2′s, and as Louis put it, ‘Hire a Magic guy’ if you’ll continually get PTQs. Even if he only helps out with tournaments and the prep work behind them, it can be a great help to those looking to run the best tournament they can.
Not to toot our own horn, but the PTQs held at Superstars are among the best many players have attended in years. Ryan Reynolds, the TO at Eudemonia, holds similarly well-run events with reasonable prizes, and they actually finish at a reasonable time. The Goddards consistently hold solid Magic events and though I don’t agree with all their decisions, I do know they care very much about the community and holding the events to a high standard. Tim Shields is another TO players and judges adore.
It saddens me to hear of all the issues players are having with non-WC venues, and I’m glad a few places like Next Level Games and Star City Games all have a high standard for their events.
What Wizards Play Can Do
Establishments that set a certain standard for excellence should be rewarded with consistent PTQs, and there should be a selection of floaters that can be handed out to other stores. This feels like what is happening now, but then you get reports about how badly some stores have botched PTQs — and they’ve already begun advertising their next one. For some areas, this is their only way to PTQ unless they travel a massive distance or decide to take up playing online, which has its own set of issues. Back when we had PTOs, I thought our PTQs were run decidedly average to below-average, and it was just what you dealt with season after season. The only way to attend another PTQ was to travel six hours to LA, or eight to Vegas. I don’t want that to be the case again, so I really want those who care and put the effort in to be rewarded.
I hope there’s a distinction made between TOs for certain stores that consistently have high standards. There are certain locations that should never be without a PTQ, and I hope in the future that if other TOs in the area have troubles meeting a reasonable standard, they have those PTQs removed and given to the TOs that can run them properly. In fact, I’d love if we had a 2nd PTQ, even if we had to run it in a different area, because I know we could still make money on it and we’d be able to promote ourselves and the store. Which, contrary to how some think, is actually worth something.
Of course, I think a fair amount of Wizards’ actions can be chalked up to people neglecting to send their complaints and suggestions to a place Wizards actually sees them. I’ve been assured by multiple people, including my regional coordinator (who will now be running the next PTQ in Sacramento — thanks Sean) that things will be better in Sacramento the next time. I hope this is the case and that organizers get real help if they need it. There aren’t a huge pool of candidates in many areas, so just yanking qualifiers isn’t necessarily an option — I just hope it applies more liberally than it did in the past with PTOs who had practical monopolies on higher level events.
Additionally, prize standards need to be applied across the board and publicly known at this point. I’m tired of the TOs from store to store making it up as they go along, and only fixing it if they get caught and enough people complain. While, for me, the Qualifier is a 1st or bust tournament, it still feels like absolute poop to lose the bubble round, or miss on tiebreaks, and get six or eight boosters for your trouble. To me that’s just insult on top of injury.
I hope any players or TOs who read this learned a thing or two, and that all PTQs become better events in the near future.