How to Host Great Regular Events
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|Recommended for Level||judge candidates, 1|
|Abstract||Regina discusses ways to make community-level Regular REL events awesome, including discussing the role of judges and tournament organizers.|
How to Host Great Regular Events
I love big events. I'm a performer by nature, and judging an event with hundreds of players is a stage for me. There's an exponential energy boost. But as sexy as those big events are, they wouldn't happen if there weren't local tournaments running worldwide where people learn to play and hone their game for the big show. We need to not only support the people running those tournaments (which the WPN Organized Play system has done remarkably in the past few years), but we need to share some "best practices" of successful tournaments at the local level to help spread success among these smaller venues.
Know the Game
This is absolutely not saying that you have to be a Magic player to host Magic events, but it helps to at least work with someone who is. The best tournaments I've played in over the years had someone running the show who knew how the game works. When opponents disagree over a card interaction, someone has to make the call, and players want to have confidence that the call is correct. DCI-certified judges and rules advisors (RAs) have passed rigorous exams over card content and interactions, and they are your best option, if you have them in your area.
Becoming an RA or judge is not just about passing a test. Rules advisors are given access to a community listserv specifically dealing with various questions about rules interactions. Anyone in the community is able to post to the list and get official answers on how particular cards work together. The judge community is even more extensive, with even more resources available, including IRC chat, wikis, and more thorough discussions of policy and player interactions than just question and official answer. This is particularly good for isolated judges like myself – the nearest certified judge is more than 100 miles from me, but I talk to other judges via email, Facebook, and IRC on a daily basis. Even when I'm not actively contributing to a conversation, I'm absorbing a lot.
If you are interested, there are a number of resources on how to become a judge yourself. If you'd rather find someone to partner with, use your DCI number and password to sign in at https://judge.wizards.com/, and go to the "Your Community" link next to the "People" heading on the main page. The list is already filtered for your country and region, and I suggest adding the following filter: "Passed Magic Exam is containing Rules Advisor, or Passed Magic Exam is containing Level 1." From the resulting list, you can find someone on the list and click their row to view what test they've passed and when. Even with RAs, you may not have someone certified in your immediate area. In that case, work with your players – find someone who is a regular attendee (or customer, if you're just starting your tournaments), responsible, and holds a good reputation with other players. This is precisely how I started running tournaments. The local shop owner called me because he wanted to run a tournament for the new set coming out and because my husband and I regularly bought packs at his shop and talked about tournaments a lot.
Working with someone on tournaments does not necessarily mean they have to be a paid staff member. Many (if not most) of us work as volunteers or for store credit. Now that Tournament Organizers (TOs) and judges can play in their own Regular events, I mostly work in exchange for a free entry. If the event is large enough (or already has an even number of players – I don't like giving people byes if I can help it), my husband gets the entry, but that's the arrangement we have worked out with the owner. Feel free to adjust the terms as makes sense for your situation.
The biggest thing I can say in this area is that the person running your tournament needs to be able to focus on running the tournament. If they are also responsible for running the register or making sure merchandise doesn't wander out the front door, at least one (if not all) of those tasks is going to suffer. I once played in a draft (not at the venue I work with regularly) where the store employees running the tournament really had no involvement other than announcing pairings and recording match results. My draft pod got messed up somehow – packs were getting mixed up, and the pod produced one suspiciously quality deck. I try to presume innocence, but I (and several others) left the venue disgusted, when an actively involved organizer could likely have straightened the issue out early on. This is the kind of reaction that convinces people to stop playing, and that's bad for everyone. When players leave, the community suffers and can easily die when they spread the story of their discontent. It was a very preventable situation that could have been solved by having one person actually monitoring the draft.
Know Your Location
I live and play in a small town (pop. 13,000) in Missouri. When I talk to judges running tournaments in Advanced locations in Tampa, which has a huge player community, there is a lot of difference in what our shops and player bases can support. Realize that what I'm about to say is directly influenced by the size of my player base, and adjust it as appropriate for your situation.
Because I'm in a small town with a small player base, I knew from experience that we had to start small and start slow. This is the third or fourth time someone has tried to run organized tournaments in Moberly. To the best of my knowledge, running consistently for three years is a record. One of the previous shops tried to run Friday Night Magic (FNM) every single week. At first, things went gangbusters. But over time, we'd fall short of eight players because two or three would say "Not this week, I'll catch it next time..." over and over again.
When I started, I ran one tournament a month. As the player base showed they were interested, I moved to twice that. I generally keep a weekend empty between tournaments for those on bi-weekly paychecks. I run Sealed only during Prereleases, and usually draft once during the following month. My player base likes constructed and being able to build and tweak a deck over time. We started running mostly Standard because many of the players were new to the game. As sets we played began to rotate out, I added more Extended to the mix.
A year or so ago, I added FNM, first at a college an hour away. When it became apparent that the college students wanted to spend their Fridays doing something else and I was bringing half the tournament in my car, I moved it to a pizza shop in town, since the store sponsoring us closes at 6 PM. My player base has continued expanding. I now run an average of 14-16 players, with a high of 28 at a prerelease. I'm discontinuing FNM, but only because of location issues, not because of lack of interest or WPN policy changes.
Magic is a great game for so many reasons. The Johnny in me loves finding that one silly card combo and getting it to work just once. It requires strategy but still employs a measure of random luck. I'm happy to teach the game, and I frequently learn from my opponents' insights. The single greatest resource we have is our players. I've seen them come together to do amazing things, from raising thousands of dollars for charity to comforting a fellow player the day after his wife's funeral. None of these would exist if our local communities were not there. So the next time you walk into an Open Series, Grand Prix, or Pro Tour, remember that behind every one of those players is a local community where they learned to love this game. Let's make sure those communities keep producing new players.
Regina Cross has been organizing and judging tournaments since 2008, achieving certification at the St. Louis Star City Games Open Series in December 2009. When not judging, playing, or answering rules questions while grocery shopping, she hangs out with her husband and two dogs watching TV crime dramas or reading urban fantasy.