Starting up a local tournament scene - need help

Hey all,

Me and a few others are really passionate about Vintage and would like to start up a monthly, bi-monthly or even just quarterly Vintage tournament. I'm thinking allowing (decent looking) proxies and then maybe setting aside a bit of the prize pool for best placed non-proxy deck or something.

We've over the past couple of years given it a few shots but it always seems to peter out very quickly after the first initial buzz.

I'm basically looking for inspiration and advice from anyone who has had succes in the past starting up and getting to thrive a vintage scene.

A few things to know:

  • I live in Copenhagen, Denmark which is our capital city with around 1 million inhabitants give or take.

  • Magic is very popular in Denmark.

  • We have a LGS (the biggest in CPH) that will let us use their facilities.

  • Non-proxy Legacy is very popular with the LGS hosting a weekly 5-round tournament for 6-7 years at least now and showings of around 20-40 players every week.

  • Whenever I (or others) have tried to instigate a Proxies allowed Vintage tournament it usually gets a decent turnout initially... maybe around 15-20 players. But then it has fallen apart quickly afterwards. For example we tried to do a twice a year tournament and got maybe 14 on the first go. Then six months later 4 people turned up and that just kills the motivation on behalf of those trying to arrange it.

  • Oldschool is very popular in Copenhagen

@nevilshute it's very "funny" to me that the final nail in Vintage's coffin is Old School...

Have you tried doing an yearly Sanctioned Vintage? How many people could play if you did?

last edited by fsecco

@nevilshute said in Starting up a local tournament scene - need help:

  • Whenever I (or others) have tried to instigate a Proxies allowed Vintage tournament it usually gets a decent turnout initially... maybe around 15-20 players. But then it has fallen apart quickly afterwards. For example we tried to do a twice a year tournament and got maybe 14 on the first go. Then six months later 4 people turned up and that just kills the motivation on behalf of those trying to arrange it.

I don't think this is often enough. What you've described isn't a tournament scene or series - it's a special one-off tournament that you happen do be running six months since the last one-off tournament.

We run twice a month for a handful of reasons:

  • Frequent enough that you can miss an event and not feel too bad
  • Regular tournament schedule so it can become part of your personal schedule
  • Frequent enough that you can play something bad and not be too bummed when you lose because the next event is right around the corner

I know it's also helped that we have a handful of regulars. We've got around 16 people that regulardly show up and average around 10 each tournament. This means tournaments always fire. I know people stopped showing up to events that had been held locally before because they wouldn't fire. You can be confident that our events will have enough to fire.

It's been a while so I don't remembers its exact contents but we did a podcast about how we built our community:

I haven't built a tournament scene myself, but things that always help build a following in any context (e.g. podcasts, streaming, articles) are consistency and regularity. People should just be able to know that if they show up to the shop on the first Saturday of the month or whatever, that a Vintage event is going to fire.

last edited by revengeanceful

A prize for best finishing non-proxy deck feels like a 'rich get richer' scenario if you are trying to grow a community. Reduced entry for no proxies and/or prizes for highest unpowered finish seem more in line with what you are trying to do.

@thecravenone We need to record another cast talking about how the Austin Vintage scene is going; we've taken a different approach from what you're doing in Houston, so it might be worth discussing the differences and what works/doesn't.

@nevilshute Good luck getting a scene going! Here's some thoughts from the Austin Vintage series I've been involved in this year:

We've been running events every 6 weeks, which I think is the right amount. For starters, it keeps us, as organizers, from getting burnt out. Likewise, it's frequent enough to stay on people's minds, but infrequent enough to feel special. With that, we've had 24, 17, and 27 players for the three tournaments we've run this year.

Regardless of frequency, consistency is super important! E.g. if you want to do it monthly, commit to that and let people know it's monthly.

In addition to consistency, the most important thing you can do is build hype! To that end, we've structured our tournaments as a year-long series, culminating in a year-end championship. Long story short, whoever comes in 1st for each tournament gets an invite to that year-end championship. I think this has helped build some enthusiasm and a sense of prestige.

"Advertising" is another important piece, both for hype and general attendance. Post all your events 3 weeks beforehand on here, on the local Facebook page, twitter, etc. Then try to update people on something every week. Our marketing timeline is:

  • 3 weeks out: announce the event
  • 2 weeks out: announce the 1st place prize playmat
  • 1 week out: post a reminder

Likewise, if you have someone who knows how to do it, make a flashy poster! This will help the event feel legitimate and fun. Here's the poster from our first event:

Re. prizes: we are paying out all the cash we take in, and buying some door prizes out of pocket. These include a playmat for 1st place, and smaller prizes (e.g. sleeves or a deckbox) for Best Brew and Last Place. Obviously this is a loss for us organizers, but we're all adults who work full-time, so we can afford to spend $70 or $80 every 6 weeks. If money is a concern for you, don't offer additional prizes but just pay out the cash you take in. An unfortunate reality is that Magic players are little bitches about EV; if you either take a cut of the cash, OR if you offer cards and keep the cash, they might get upset.

Per @JonHammack's comment, I would avoid giving prizes to "Best non-proxy finish," because that could just encourage people who are already into it. Prizes like Best Brew and Last Place help out people who are in it for fun, and they're the people you want to keep coming back.

Re. venue: we've been running our tournaments at breweries, instead of game stores. I think this helps recontextualize the events and make them more "special": instead of being a normal tournament, it's a chance to hang out and drink beers with friends, while you're playing Magic.

Anyway, I hope that helps. If I think of anything else I'll let you know!

I just went for a run and more thoughts occurred to me:

  • Before each event, I put together a binder that includes: a signup sheet (it's a grid that has Name, Decklist, and Paid boxes to check), deck reg sheets, and a list of announcements for the player meeting.
  • Figure out your REL/judge situation and communicate it clearly. We do not have judges available for our events, and at our last tournament, a rules dispute came up that we didn't know how to solve; it ended in one player dropping and shit talking us on Facebook. If you want a judge but can't afford to pay them, maybe offer them free entry into the tournament and pick up their beer tab? Alternatively, make sure during the player meeting that you say "We don't have a judge! This is friendly REL! Please work out all your differences on your own! If you can't, the TO makes the call!"
  • I highly recommend that you keep your proxy policy as basic as possible. Magic players are extraordinarily lazy; if you put in a policy like "proxies must be full-size and full-color," they might not show up. I would just tell people that anything goes.
  • To that end, I put together a gauntlet of 11 proxy decks I can loan out. This was a huge pain in the ass, but has been immensely helpful. I loan out 2-6 decks each event, because people either couldn't get their shit together, or they have never tried Vintage and didn't know how to start.
  • We use MTG Arena for pairings. It's free, which is nice, but it isn't perfect. Specifically, we've had issues with being unable to edit results if we entered them wrong (e.g. if we didn't mark someone as dropped, we can't go back and change it, which messes up pairings). Whatever pairings software you use, I recommend familiarizing yourself with it before the event starts.
  • Contact your venue 4-6 weeks before the event. Getting them to commit to a time/date can be difficult, and you certainly don't want to just show up the day of the event and expect they can accommodate 20 or 30 dudes all day. If they're on the fence about hosting, remind them that that's a lot of guys buying beer, cards, or whatever.
  • Evangelize your tournaments in person! When you're at Legacy/Modern events, tell people it's happening. One of the biggest reasons no one plays Vintage is the price, and when they hear there's a Vintage tournament their eyes will gloss over. That's why it's important to talk to them in person: when they tell you they can't afford Vintage or they're intimidated by the format, that's your opportunity to clarify that it's 100% proxy and is super fun.
  • As you can probably guess from all this, running tournaments can be a lot of work. Don't do it alone! Romancing The Stones is a group of 5 of us, which lets us delegate work. It also means we have a core group, so we don't need too many people to show up each time.
  • Vintage gameplay can be intimidating, so we've started running 1-2 testing sessions between our events. This is helpful for players, and also keeps the hype going during the weeks you're not playing.
  • Lastly, and most important, I want to stress that EXPECTATIONS ARE EVERYTHING. For yourself, you need to decide what type of event you want to run - weekly? monthly? friendly? super competitive? proxies or sanctioned? - as that will inform everything you do. For players, the more information they have, the better than chances they'll be satisfied with the event. Set expectations up front and communicate them well, and you can't go wrong.
last edited by Stuart

Thanks everyone for taking the time to ponder this and comment.

@Stuart I especially appreciate the time you took to write up your thoughts on this. It's certainly food for thought. I think your point about being a group of organizers is super on point. I think I will try and see if there is interest from others to form a group to be stronger and so no one or two people end up with everything on their shoulders.

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