Tournaments and turnout

Today I went to a tournament, unfortunately due to numerous factors only three players showed up. This was pretty disappointing as I brought 4 of my custom boards and a bunch of counters/tokens to give out as random prizes. I felt bad for the organizer since there is a sizeable (20+) Malifaux community within the Metro-Detroit area. But that sad the three of use who showed up played a 30SS three-way slaughter game and had some fun. I brought McMourning, some Belles, Canine Remains and Bette Noir; my opponents were Leviticus and Perdita. I'm getting the hang of McMourning, using him with Belles can set up some interesting situations. The Leviticus player won, in part because I lured the Desolation Engine into combat with Perdita when she had Quick Draw up, which meant she couldn't use it and Leviticus could summon the Hollow Waifs he needed to survive.

Given the turn-out for this event and the low turn-out for another event last month I thought it would be appropriate to talk about what it takes to run a successful tournament. Before i begin that discussion I think it's important to talk about why store run tournaments and how they benefit from them. Obviously any retailer is in the business to make money, when they run tournaments it is expected that players will come in and buy stuff while they are at the store. If they don't then the store needs to generate money through the cost of the event. It's important that players realize this ahead of time.

I've seen several hobby stores in my area go out of business because their player base bought everything online (ebay, discounters etc.). While it is great to be in the hobby for the love of it, if you're not covering the bottom line then there's no point in offering gaming space. The moral of the story is to support your store. For stores offering a discount on the days you run an event for a system is a good way to generate more sales.

The other reason stores run tournaments and leagues is to show off the community of gamers for a particular system. When a customer comes into the store and sees 10+ guys all playing the same system, they feel more comfortable dropping the cash on a new game because there's obviously lots of of people to play it with. they can ask existing players questions and get a feel for the game, maybe get a demo and hopefully get hooked. 

Players enjoy tournaments for a variety of reasons the competition, playing against new people, prizes all are valid reasons for playing in a tournament. When they decide they are going to play it's a commitment to 6-8 hours on a Saturday or Sunday. When they make that commitment if the event goes poorly for whatever reason, they will feel like they've wasted an entire day. For people with families or girlfriends (face it, the majority of your players are guys) creating the time for that commitment is a chore in itself. 

As a tournament organizer (or Henchman for Wyrd) it is you duty to do everything in your power to make sure that both the store and the players are happy with how the event goes. If you don't the parties involved will most likely not make the same commitment in the future. For those of you that listen to podcasts check out World's End Radio they've done some excellent segments about running events. Some of what they talk about is very GW-centric but lots of it pertains to all game systems. Some of the advice is duplicated below

So how does one go about fulfilling the needs of both the store owner and player-base to run a successful tournament? I would start with the following:

• Make it affordable. Entry fees are needed to pay for the prize support and or cover the costs associated with the event. For a Malifaux event I would cap it at $5. Prize support should hinge on the actual turnout for the event. Maybe the organizer makes a cool trophy, terrain piece or something to give away. I think far to many stores just offer store credit, which means you have to get enough players to cover the full cost of what you're giving away. Ideally the game company would offer an event package with cool pins, coins, or other swag that could be purchased for $25-$30. That then gives you an easy button for prize support. If they don't, then be creative; take some time and make something cool or ask someone else to. I've been working on making "best in faction" pins, when they are done I'll post pics.

• Advertise. Posting on one forum does not count. There are numerous yahoo groups, game clubs and other sites that you should be posting on. Make some flyers and distribute them. Work with event organizers at other stores to cross promote your event. Just because the stores may be competitors doesn't mean your events have to compete. A healthy player base and good turn-out will result in better sales for all parties involved. Post pictures of prior successful events, a good photo will generate more interest. Google Image search brings this site a ton of extra hits each week. If you have good photos people share them and drive traffic which will equate to more interest in your events.

• Terrain. If you use the same crappy terrain that a store has for general use, your event doesn't feel special. Even it if means just making one new board or terrain piece, doing something special makes the event more then just another day at the store. If you have system specific terrain then just bring it out for events. When you do there is more interest from bystanders as well as players.

• Plan ahead. Do some research. Malifaux in particular is a very rich game that offers tons of possibilities when it comes to game size, type and events. Those possibilities make the game fun for players and keep things fresh, but can make life hell for the organizer. You have to make sure people play on a relatively even field, this means they should be getting the same or similar missions, play in a variety of locations that have similar events. If you go with a straight VP system and allow players to flip for events some players will flip Mysterious Effigies and have access to 4 more VPs that could swing the field. Is that what you intend, if so how much player backlash with you get? What happens to the player that flips slaughter or recon. all day long? Since there isn't an official format you need to work all of this out ahead of time. I would suggest meeting with other event organizers in you area to work out a standard system, that way if there are complaints they can be addressed and corrected so the same misunderstandings don't continue to happen.

One thing I've been considering is a system that links three strategies together. The players flip a card or draw from a hat to get their "story" prior to the event starting. They then have 20 minutes to build three lists, chose three schemes and submit them to the organizer for registration. Once they are paired against an opponent they may chose a second scheme and announce one or both if they wish to. The winner is determined by total VP's and scores event points as follow 3 win, 2 tie, 1 loss; VPs are recorded for tiebreakers. Locations and special events are determined prior to the event starting and remain fixed throughout. This gives players enough variety while maintaining a constant throughout the event. The "story" allows event organizers to control the missions while sticking with the idea of character driven combat. Ideally the strategies would follow a flow that allows the player to write a narrative about what happens. For example Recon., Treasure Hunt, Assassinate: the master is looking for something, they find it then an opposing master threatens to take the prize. Simple things like this add to the enjoyment level for all players and make for better battle reports to share on the web.

• Confirm the date. If you're going to be running an event make sure your player base can make it. If half of your players are going out of town for a Con. probably shouldn't run an event the same weekend. Check to  see what could interfere with players availability. If a big portion of your players are students, see when exams are; if you have a bunch of single dads check to see what weekends they don't have their kids; sports fans don't conflict with major games. If you want to have a good turn-out, plan around things that may deter people from coming. Nothing is worse then spending time and money planning an event, and getting a small turn-out because half your player base is at a huge convention or the local team is in the play-offs and your players are avid fans. 

• Registration. Start a sign-up sheet and keep it public and limit the spots available. Gamers will flock if it seems like an event will be fun and they may not be able to get a spot. You can always add more later if need be. If you get to a week before the event and only have a few players signed up, then you need to make a push to get more players. Contact your player base directly to see if they know it's going on. Stores that keep track of purchases and email accounts have the upper hand here. Take a look at your database to see who has purchased product for that system within the last 2-3 months and email them an invite (if your store doesn't track that info, you should). If that doesn't work warn the players already signed up that the event may be canceled due to lack of interest. If they really want to play they'll find more people. If you don't have a minimum sign-up by a few days before the event, cancel it. If players have a real interest in playing and you've done everything you can to accommodate their needs, then they should return the favor by registering. You may get some negative backlash, but it's better then running a mediocre event and having it taint what you can do in the future.

I think by following some of the steps detailed above event organizers will be able to see a better return on the time they invest in running events for their players.