Ever wondered about what it takes to run a big event for your game? With less than a week before our big $500 cash prize tournament happens at Pacificon, it’s the only thing on my mind, so I figure it’s the easiest thing to talk about.
A couple of years ago, I started what has now become a grand tradition of annual cash prize tournaments for my first title, Ars Victor. It’s designed from the ground up as a competitive game, with a heavy emphasis on strategy and army building. I wanted to showcase this in an appropriate environment, so instead of waiting for players to start a competitive scene, I gave it a little jump start.
For these tournaments, we team up with a local game convention and run our tournament as part of their con. We run three days of open play on around ten tables with an average of six crew members. We usually get around a hundred players over the course of the weekend. We’ve run three of these events so far, and learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Some of this is obvious to those who have run events before, but some of it is unique to gaming events.
Advertising and News Releases
Spread the word! Pump your social media channels with news and updates about the event. Let the appropriate news sites know about it. Not all of them are going to cover it, but some are.
There are a lot of cool promotional materials that you can get that don’t cost a lot of money. Some of the things we’ve done are:
- Vinyl stand-up and table banners. You can get something for as cheap as $50, and spend more if you like. We just bought new banners to match our new branding and spent around $100 for two stand-up banners and a table banner.
- Printed Flyers. It’s cheap to print up a bunch of quarter-sheets to distribute at the con. We used ours as a conbook insert, left them at the registration tables, and carried them around to hand out to people.
- Plastic table standups. I haven’t found a great price on these, but you can get clear plastic standups that fit an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet and sit nicely on the table. You can reuse them for any event you run by simply replacing the insert.
Make sure you structure your event so that everyone has fun, no matter what their skill level!
For Ars Victor, I learned that cash prize tourneys have something of a bad rap. A recent discussion on BGG brought up a number of things that people don’t like about cash prize tournaments: bad sportsmanship, stress, and arguments about rules. To counteract this, we’ve focused on:
- Referees. Having well-trained and friendly referees really helps new players. It also helps to mediate disputes.
- Stress-free play. Structuring the competition so that every game you play gets you closer to the prize, whether you win or lose.
- Newbie materials. The video tutorial has been the most helpful, but we also have all the starter scenarios printed out and extra pre-built army lists ready for new players who want to just jump in.
Start a “pack list” as soon as you start thinking about running your event. This is a “no duh” for anyone who’s ever run an event, but it bears mentioning for those who haven’t.
A pack list contains everything you think you might need. Start building it weeks in advance, before you start stressing about the event. You’re going to be creative and inspired a month or so beforehand. If you wait until the week of the event, you’re going to be stressed. Your pack list should include things like:
- Games and promotional materials. The obvious one, yes, but writing it all down will help you think of related things you need. Spare parts? Do players need pens and paper?
- “Oh s&*%!” bag. Tape. Scissors. Pens. Rubber bands. Superglue. A stapler. Paper towels. Basically all the little things that you take for granted when you’re in your well-stocked office, but will lose your mind over when you’re a hundred miles away in the middle of an event.
- Food, Snacks, Drinks. An army marches on its stomach! While you’re probably buying meals for your crew, don’t forget to keep a supply of field rations on hand. Different people get hungry at different times. If one of your team is starving an hour before dinner, you can feed them a yummy mango or something.
Even with a relatively small crew, it’s really nice to have a crew schedule. This is good not just for letting your team know where they need to be, but it keeps them informed of everyone else’s whereabouts.
NICE is more important than EXPERT. Yes, your crew should know how to play the game. Yes, it’s good to have knowledgeable people who know the ins and outs of every part of your game. But presumably, YOU will be there, so you’ve got that covered. What you really need are friendly people who are going to enjoy helping out newbies.
This was a hard one for me to figure out, because it’s different from non-gaming events.
Most folks at game cons are sitting at tables, intent on the games they’ve come to play. I respect that, and I did *not* want to disrespect anyone by walking up to tables and interrupting their game. I developed a routine for “low-impact table cruising”:
- Two people walk around carrying our leaderboard (see pic) and a handful of the quartersheet flyers.
- Smile and make eye contact with everyone you pass, but be QUIET. No newsboy impressions here.
- If someone makes eye contact, watch them for interest.
- If they read the leaderboard, silently hand them a quartersheet.
- If they ask a question, give them a quick, short answer, and tell them to stop by to learn more. Never take more than a few seconds of game time.
- If you speak, always apologize to the group for interrupting when you’re done; depart quickly and let them back at their game.
If you can produce a video tutorial and bring the hardware, this is one of the most helpful things we’ve done for the grand tournament.
For $100-200, you can get a little hardware that lets you run a video tutorial in the middle of a huge, noisy space:
- Everyone has a display of some sort: a TV, a desktop flatscreen, whatever. If you don’t have one, borrow one.
- A small dedicated mpg video player with three critical interfaces: video out, audio out, and USB. I found one about the size of a deck of cards.
- A USB stick on which you can put your video. Again, everyone has one of these, right? Otherwise you can get a cheap one for $20. Check the size of your video to make sure it will fit.
- Wireless headsets. At least one, with as many as you think you’ll need. You plug these all into the audio out on the video player.
And voila! For only a couple hundred in cash outlay, you can have a travelling video tutorial!
Most Important: Have Fun
It’s a lot of work to prepare for an event like this, but if you do the work, it’s worth it: it lets you actually ENJOY the event! To attendees, that makes all the difference. As Patron said: “A pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood.”
Have you run an event like this, or are you considering an event like this? What other things should people keep in mind when they’re planning an event for their game?
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