4,500 players came together to play a Magic tournament in Las Vegas this weekend.
Let that sink in for a moment.
4,500 players came together to play a Magic tournament in Las Vegas this weekend, and even more showed up to battle in side events, trade, watch, or hang out. If the main event hadn’t been capped, the tournament could have hit 5,500 or even 6,000 players. At one point on Saturday, between side events and the main event, it definitely felt like we had about 5.5k in the room, if not more. We’ll never know the exact numbers for it, since unlike normal cons, not everyone showing up gets counted in the final numbers. Still, it was a momentous occasion for the game and organized play.
The tournament structure illustrated a bevy of flaws with the current structure, which is to be expected when the original design was set up for tournaments of 300-400 players total. Despite the unprecedented size, the known flaws with the structure, and limited judge staff, the last swiss round on Saturday ended at 11:30 p.m. For a tournament that I figured could easily fall apart at any moment, I have to call that a success by any metric.
I can be pretty pessimistic about the prospects of running larger tournaments, and the number of people I spoke with that were unhappy with the tournament were basically nil. They were annoyed by certain aspects of it, sure — but on the whole, players understood what a massive undertaking into the unknown this was, and after round 3 everything went very smoothly. I know some aspects of the tournament were screwed up and probably ruined some people’s days (cancelled side events are not fun). I’m sure there will be plenty of individual issues that pop up in the aftermath, but everyone pulled together and got it done at a reasonable time.
So before all the dissection of what could’ve been done better, changes to implement or complete clusters—and I’m sure all those are coming down the pipe—I just want to say thanks to everyone involved who made Grand Prix Las Vegas happen. Tim Shields made a lot of tough decisions, and I feel that he made the best ones under the circumstances. I’d like to give a huge shoutout to the judge staff who overperformed every expectation for the event. If you couldn’t make it out, for some idea of the scale of GP Vegas in the grand scheme of things, check out the Nate Price and James Arnold infographic.
As for my tournament? I got to the venue site on Friday afternoon, took one look around and made the snap-decision to drop from the main event and get a refund. As I mentioned above, despite having an amazing staff and the cap in place, I was worried that there was a fair chance a total disaster would occur. Having played at similarly precarious tournaments, I was not in the mood to chance it, especially in a locale as amazing as Vegas. So I abandoned ship and don’t regret it. Even though part of me would have loved to play in the event, I enjoyed the extra free time, and got to hang out with more people.
As a result of not actively seeking out side events, I was conscripted by Sean Catanese along with my friend Roberto and a handful of other judges not on staff or on shift. We spent a couple of hours helping tables of judges register decks for the sleep-in special as quickly as we could. I just want to stress how much effort was put in to get the tournament to running, and I was happy to be a part of that. I’m glad I didn’t sacrifice my entire trip to judge the GP, but helping out clearly exhausted friends and other judges, even in a small way, was a fine use of my time.
This weekend reminded me that it’s the community and friends that drive me at this point—and the game, great as it can be, is second to that. I did only two team drafts and a Winchester, and still would rank this as my 2nd or 3rd favorite GP of all-time.
If GP Vegas becomes a yearly thing, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be, then it could very well become the idea of a “super Grand Prix” weekend kicked around some years ago—handling it more like a convention spanning 4 days, with the GP taking two of them and the other two committed to other fun happenings. Heck, when a Modern Masters 2 comes out, I wouldn’t be surprised if they could run back-to-back Grand Prix* events if enough judges, product, and space turn up for it to happen. The players needed? Doesn’t feel like much of a major hurdle anymore.
*One teams and one individual perhaps? A man can dream.
What reinforced this for me was seeing the sheer number of newer players, friends of serious players, and significant others that all came along to the GP. Vegas has enough to do that it is much easier to plan a trip and make it a vacation with non-players than any other venue in the U.S. This was as much a social event as a massive tournament, and it drew so many people who normally wouldn’t show up.
It seems like this is the perfect approach to a major gaming event built around Magic, instead of a really big tournament which has some cross appeal among players. How about setting up the Players Championship, infinite side events appealing to the non-hardcore crowd, a GP-level event, and a host city for entertainment to others and post-event shenanigans? Clearly this is going to take some thought about what has the broadest appeal, but I feel like this event showcased a perfect opportunity to ponder the possibility.
As for potential improvements for future Grand Prix events, I plan to explore that in a future piece along with why some of the decisions at GP Vegas were made. Briefly, I want to run down the one main issue I hope everyone can agree needs improving—communication. Communication at basically every level in Magic Organized Play could use some improvement. I feel like almost everything that did go wrong at GP Vegas can be traced back to inadequate communication.
The massive line and ensuing confusion on Friday morning would not have happened with proper communication. From secondhand accounts, I have a pretty good idea what caused the issues to begin with, but I’ll wait until I hear back from a handful on both the player and staff side before coming down on anyone. At its core, I do know it was a misunderstanding on the part of a handful of staff, which spread through the players, and wasn’t immediately corrected. As a result, the point of pre-registering was destroyed for a significant portion of players who waited in line because they believed they couldn’t play Saturday without checking in first.
You should never turn your Grand Prix into Line-Con, because that makes all your customers feel like you don’t value their time. Not to mention the loss of trust if you force them to make decisions in the dark about future events. I’ve definitely attending gaming and anime conventions where weekends were ruined by onerous lines.
Oh, for those of you upset about the lack of on-site reg on Saturday*, that horrible line scenario on Friday would’ve easily carried over to Saturday. People would still be playing in the main event as I write this with my guesstimate start time of 4-5 p.m.
*I do agree that this should’ve been decided long in advance.
A lot of this rolls back around to simply not having enough staff on hand, and the staff having insufficient information or communication lines to fix issues. I heard plenty of other complaints where events were pushed back, changed, or cancelled and the communication was poor at best or non-existent. Moving forward, improving communication with a clear structure should be the number one priority before the next colossal event.
While I work on a total breakdown and suggestions for future events, I want to open this up to the players and staff of GP Vegas. If you have a piece of feedback, good or bad, that you’d like to send to me I’d love to see it. Particularly good feedback will likely be featured in full in said, or as a companion piece depending on how much I get. I definitely recommend spreading your experience directly to Wizards and Tim Shields, but if you feel like sharing with me and the readers of ChannelFireball, go for it! Ship me an email with GP Vegas Feedback in the title and I’ll give it a once over. It could be ideas for future events or purely a story about your experience at GP Vegas.
So let’s hear some feedback!
Subject: GP Vegas Feedback
See you next week.