Today I want to cover how to run a good event. For those wondering why I’ve decided to cover this topic (While possibly coming off as preachy) on this, and to stem the, ‘WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT RUNNING EVENTS?” allow me to give a little back story. I’ve played at Superstars/ChannelFireball store for years, which has had a dramatic effect on how I view every other tournament. Instead of just being happy I had a store to play at, I had options. I purposely went to Stars because the events were so much better. And it wasn’t because of the prize support or how much it cost to enter or the venue itself, it was because I knew the people running the event cared.
I got used to running everything short of a Grand Prix by helping Eric Levine during downtime and training when I wasn’t playing, and later when I was working for the store directly. He cared, and as a result everyone who wanted to work on an event best care as well if they ever wanted to assist or judge at the store in the future. It helped the alternatives for local larger events were poorly run, and I could rarely justify going to them. Only now do I even know the amount of work he put on the judge staff in order for the event to run smoothly.
I’ve gone to some really horrific events with staff that just didn’t seem to care, at least to a reasonable degree for a for-profit event. A handful of stores can also be thrown in as well, though thankfully the bad ones don’t stay in business for long. What I found is that most players care about two things as much or more than what they spend on the tournament itself: how much fun they had (which directly relates to service), and how much you value their time. If things go wrong and people understand what you’re trying to accomplish or you’ve preceded this with many events run smoothly, they give you the benefit of the doubt and keep coming back. Obviously you can’t entirely control how much fun players have, but you can do your best to prioritize player and store needs in the appropriate order.
Even when I’ve had a terrible day or I’m sick or something else, I always make it a point to try and run the most efficient event possible. It may not always be the quickest, otherwise I’d run 40-minute rounds, but I want to it to be as fast as possible while doing everything else right. That’s why when we have 80 people show up to draft at FNM, we cap our tournament at three rounds and many players thank us for giving them an option that starts after 7:00 P.M. and still gets them out of the store around 11:00.
While it’s good to be nice at all times, realistically that won’t happen if you judge enough events. Eventually there will be a time when you are tired or frustrated, and even if the players don’t love your attitude that night, they could still appreciate the event humming along. Plus, sometimes you need to lay down the law, and being nice is just going to be a hindrance when you need to deliver bad news to a player and customer.
Step One: Make Sure You Actually Have Everything Necessary to Run the Event.
No, I’m not kidding with this first point. There have been many, MANY events I’ve attended without the basic considerations necessary to run a good event. These events are doomed to failure from the start, or at best a lot of extra work done by judge staff or TOs. Basically anything where logistics issues barely held together for the tournament, you can probably thank someone on the judge staff who managed to pull it off with no resources. I went to the TCG 5k a few weekends ago and the package left for the judges/TO failed to include table numbers or other important items necessary for the event. Instead we raided Superstars for supplies in the 11th hour and managed to fix everything in the nick of time. If that hadn’t happened, the alternative would have been to go to the local Walgreens and buy a whole lot of index cards to be written on. Oh, and a paper cutter. Relevant, when you print anywhere from 30-70 pages per round depending on the size of your tournament. Even for smaller tournaments, you’ll still go through 20-30 pieces of paper if you use match slips and printed pairings every round.
• Cash Box, Cash, and Change
• Product and Prizes
• Table Numbers
• Ring Holders (For table numbers)
• DCI Numbers
• Paper Cutter
• Pens. Lots of Pens.
• Trash Cans
• Working Bathrooms
• Proper Lighting
Other useful resources:
• Working AC/Heat (This becomes a necessity for certain areas depending on time of year. Use common sense.)
• TV Screen for Timer/Announcements/Pairings
• PA System for Larger Halls
That’s a loooong list.
Some of this can be dropped off depending on the size of your event. One could simply call out tables/pairings and have them report to you when they’re done, or mark it on a single piece of paper. You don’t really need table numbers for a 16-player draft tournament, and you don’t need a dedicated judge for a local 8-man, even though it’d be nice to have. Most of this stuff is required if you want to run a larger event with speed and cleanliness though. I can’t stress how important it is to have everything on this list, and how much it can hurt an event without even some of these basics. I don’t care how well an event ran if I have nowhere to go to the bathroom, or if the event starts an hour late and ends three hours past a reasonable time with no explanation.
Step Two: Pre-Tournament Stuff
This, for myself, and for most people, is going to be the worst and most stressful part of running a tournament. Why? Because it has the greatest chance of something going wrong either on your end (human error) or the tournament software end (The joy that is Wizards Event Reporter).
So here are the steps I recommend to make this process the least painful.
1. Have sign-up sheets.
Put them in a clear and obvious area and have everyone pay immediately unless you have a system in place to allow delayed payment. For example, we have a store credit box you can check if you want to pay with that. Since looking up store credit is a pain when there’s a line, this saves us time and allows people to sign up quickly. If they lack sufficient credit it isn’t hard to track them down and have them pay some other way. Make sure the sign-up sheets are clearly marked for what they’re for, the event time & price and what information players need to write on them.
These also give you the fun bonus game of, ‘What the hell is this guy’s name?” or the classic, “Find the DCI Number that doesn’t exist.”
1A. Double-check that everyone is entered correctly (if possible).
I can’t stress this enough. It’s much easier to change before the tournament starts. Obviously this is not really a possibility when you start getting into triple digits, otherwise a good habit to get into. Won’t always work, but it’ll save you a lot of hassle in the long run.
1B. Be familiar with WER.
The more you use it, the better off you’ll be. If you’ve got an extra 10 minutes, make a fake tournament and play around with the program a bit. Finding out what you can and can’t do is invaluable when problems crop up.
A few things that pop up a lot that are easily avoidable.
A. WER’s podding is actually pretty good.
Don’t mess with it unless you have too, this isn’t like DCI-R where it purposely liked to give you the maximum amount of seven player pods it could. Usually the default is best.
B. Adding someone late is very easy.
As long as you left the WER draft screen open, tab back to players, add the player and when you tab back to rounds it’ll default ask you what pod you want to add that player too.
C. Always change the default from pairing outside pods to ‘No’
Seriously. This is a pet peeve of mine and it’s easily avoidable if you take two seconds to change this setting to no before you click on the make pods button.
D. Never drop someone after podding, but before pairing. This sometimes locks up WER in an infinite state of telling you players aren’t podded, even if they all are. You need to rebuild the tournament at that point unless it let’s you re-add and repod entirely.
1C. Don’t let people who aren’t there sign up.
I know, people breaking the laws of time and space shouldn’t be a big problem and yet here we are. In seriousness though, don’t let people call in and sign up and then delay the entire tournament for them. Don’t let friends sign other friends up—when they aren’t there at the draft, you have to go back and fix it, and everything gets delayed. It also gives the late player a built-in excuse of, “BUT I’M HEEEEERRRRRRREEEEE NOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWW! Why did you let my friend sign me up if you weren’t going to let me play!?!”
2. Seating everyone.
Have all the tables for play clearly marked. People should be able to see them from across the room and other people should know that these are tables being used for a tournament, so people not playing in the tournament know they may have to move on short notice.
Post seatings/pairings in places that are easy to find and not natural chokepoints. The worst thing is putting them on a pillar in the middle of the main walkway which means everyone takes three times as long getting to their seat and bumps into each other. You can’t eliminate the crunch at pairings time, but you can mitigate some of it.
Make sure you’re clear on what the pairings are for if you run multiple tournaments at once. People won’t read what they are, and will just look for their name. If they don’t find it, they come to you or a judge and take up time trying to clear it up.
When starting, I prefer the classic, ‘Yell really loudly and then help stragglers’ strategy I learned from Eric Levine. If you speak at a normal tone or don’t have a strong voice, expect half the attendees to mill around while half try to find their seat.
Have a noticeable timer set up or clearly shout out the time that the round will end, and add the occasional verbal update.
If you have a large enough TV, RTools can post pairings via the screen and save you a lot of hassle and paper in the long run. It also works great as a placement for the timer, especially if it’s elevated.
3. Dealing with people who show up late.
My general rule of thumb is to let people sign up after I’ve taken sign-up sheets away, but caught me before I’ve paired the first round/seated the draft. I’ll tell them to try to be more on time in the future and move on with our lives. If they’ve come immediately after I’ve paired, I’ll add them if there’s a bye or they even out the pods, otherwise that’s too bad, unfortunately. The main reason for this is that adding people to the draft can be a pain depending on how slowly WER is working, and in general it encourages people to be late. They aren’t going to get punished, so they will continue to show up whenever they want to. I do this because waiting for people to show up just delays the tournament for everyone who had the courtesy to get there on time.
Yes, every so often this means you’ll leave someone out who had a legitimate reason for being late and it really was just this one time. A fair number of people I found were just chronically late and then somehow their commute (since inevitably the excuse in CA is traffic) got a lot better when I was starting the drafts as close to the stated time as I could.
4. Opening Announcements.
Get all the players attention—speak clearly, loudly, and with purpose. Hit on the basics of what the players are actually playing* and what your tournament specifics are. I was unpleasantly surprised to find out once upon a time that a store was doing the rare-draft after and didn’t know until I had already played round one. I know some stores have different amounts of time instead of the typical 50 minutes. Cover time, number of rounds, judges, who’s running the tournament, prizes, and anything else that comes to mind. This is also a good time to talk about related issues like upcoming events and other such nonsense. Most importantly is to ask whether or not anyone is new to drafting.
*I’ve been shocked by some of the players signing up for the wrong event even after multiple announcements.
This is how my basic announcements go, I’ll do a regular REL Draft since that usually has longer opening announcements and is the most common tournament. Add REL level if appropriate.
“Welcome players to X night of Y event. I’m Josh and I’ll be your judge this evening. If you have any questions during your draft or during your games, please raise your hand, yell JUDGE! and keep your hand raised until I get there. Does everyone have product? Has anyone here not drafted before?
OK! Rules are pretty simple. You’ll see three packs in front of you. You’ll open one and take out the basic land (non-foil), tip or token card inside and place them aside. Those are yours to keep. From the remaining 14 cards in the pack, you’ll take one and put it face down in front of you. You can use any criteria you want, could be the rare, could be the sweet removal spell, could be the best art, whatever you want. You’ll take the remaining 13 cards and pass them to your left. You’ll receive 13 from your right and repeat the process until pack one is complete.
For the next two packs the only difference is pack two gets passed to the right and pack three gets passed to the left. At the end of this you’ll have 42 cards face down in front of you. Using those and any number of basic lands, you’ll construct a 40-card minimum deck to play against other players in your pod. If you need any help with this, let me know or come see me when your doing drafting.
*If no or after giving the new player talk*
Alright, so tonight we’ll be playing X (3) rounds of swiss with 50 minute rounds. Prizes are X (A pack per match win). Here at Superstars we do a little thing called zone drafting (See below). Does anyone have any questions? (Insert any upcoming events or announcements here.) Please clean up your trash when you’re done, and begin.”
I like to throw in a bit about zone drafting as well, but that’s entirely optional. For our number of drafters it helps keep things a little less confusing. For those who don’t know what zone drafting is, it means if a pack is waiting on the table for another player, you don’t put another pack next to it. Simply hold it until the pack has been taken by the player, then place it down. With only one pack between players at any given time it reduces the chances of two packs getting mixed together or one getting pushed aside on accident.
Well there you are—a basic guide to getting your event started. Of course, this isn’t the end of it; you still have the pleasure of running the event for the next X hours, judging it, and dealing with anything unfortunate. That’s a topic better covered on another day though, one with some wisdom from other TOs as well. Additionally I went over a lot of the basics, but if people are interested in other details then I may go further into it for the next article. Hopefully within the next two weeks I can finish this up with Running a Better Event: The Running.
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom
Extra – If you enjoy Magic streaming and being entertained, watch The Modo Show: http://www.twitch.tv/bigborts