Dan Rowland: Proper Tournament Structure

Organized Play 101: Proper Tournament Structure

There are many ways to run an event.  The topic of this article will be for the Local Gaming Store (LGS) level though.  This is the key to growing a community of players that will stay around and play and buy the product.  This is essential to the game as a whole and not just to the LGS.  However, the LGS has a huge impact on the local scene.  So the first thing that is needed is someone who loves the game, it can be someone at the store or a player that is willing to put in the time to help grow it.

There are a lot of factors on why a game might grow or decline on a local level from the power level of the cards to the attitude of the players.  These are things that an LGS cannot really control, but there is something they can do that can have a HUGE impact on the state of their local community.  That is the way they run their events.  The first and foremost thing is to follow the rules laid out by the company as much as possible for running events.  In the case of FoWthese can be found in the Floor Rules and Tournament policy documents, links here:



Like most policies there is also a lot of room to maneuver.  All you have to do is let your player know before the event starts what changes you are making.

The next essential step is using something to track the event.  One could use existing software from another company or websites that offer similar logistical services, again though let your players know how it is being ran.  Most won’t care but certain sites using different scoring models, like .5 pts for a bye instead of 1 pt or 3 pts for a win, which is what most players are used too.  Even those that don’t care might get confused if they get a bye first round, end 4-1 and finish 3rd.  Make sure that whatever you are using it is as close to what your players are used too as possible.  This will hopefully be alleviated with the appearance of official software in the near

Now we come to the actual event structure.  This is essential for long term survival, consistency is key.  There are several ways to run an event as far as the structure goes and I have seen all of them.  The most popular are:
1) Straight Swiss – based on number of participants.  Actual numbers are given in the tournament policy.

2) Set Rounds – You play X rounds regardless of the number of players and usually payout based on record.

3) Swiss with Top X – Same as straight Swiss but with a cut to a top 4, 8 etc based on attendance.

The software comes back into play for #1 and #3 as tiebreakers become important.  One of the worst feelings is being 5th in an event with a cut to top 4 and having the same record as 4th place and not understanding the tie breakers.  So once you have a format you and your players like, stick with it.  No one likes to show up and get blind sided with something totally new.  If you do change it, give warning a few weeks in advance.

Now we come to the important part, payout.  This is the part where an LGS can make it or break it.  Rule #1 – DO NOT try and make money off of your weekly events.  I am not saying give out packs at cost, but the most you should do is payout based on what you charge for a pack.  So if you charge $5 a head for entry do this, (X*Y)/Z=P(rd).  X is the entry fee, Y is the number of players, Z is the price you charge per pack and P is the total payout rounded.  Along with the promos you get, if an official tournament store, this should be your MINIMUM prize payout.  Divide your promo total per card by the number of events that month and that is how many of each you give out.

Shops that use this as a basic formula for the total prize payout will not have it as a factor is they see a local crowd go into decline, this is mostly for the Swiss formats too, the set rounds is different.  The fact is you should NEVER make money off of a local event from entry fees.  You make your money by having players in your shop for hours buying snacks, accessories and playing.  If people are excited to play every week they will likely buy packs and singles as well.  If you give them a purpose to buy stuff, they will.  It also provides you with people regularly coming in to sell cards that you can use as singles and move online as well.  The additional benefit is that an LGSs best advertising tool is happy customers.

I have been playing CCGs for over 20 years, have played in over 20 states and many countries, and the fact is, that shops that try to make money off their local events all eventually either kill that game or close up shop.  Players are not dumb and know you are exploiting them, and if there are other options to play, like a rival shop, they are gone.

Seems simple, right?  Well not so much.  Here is the next factor that many shops do not take into account.  Their player base.  For the rest of this section lets revisit our formula based just on packs.  You get 8 players at $5 a head, so $40 and you charge $4 a pack.  So you put 10 packs into the prize pool.  Nice and simple.  Now what do you do with those packs?  Pay out to top 3? 5,3,2?  Maybe.  What if all your players are new?  What if you have those 2 players that are competitive as heck and always finish first and second?

You have to consider two things at this point.  Your player base and the state of the game in your shop.  If you have 8 players that are all super competitive, then pay out to the top 3 or 4.  If you are trying to grow your player base then consider this, instead of using those 10 packs for the top 3, give everyone a pack, then give first and additional pack and 3 promos, second gets a pack and 1 promo, third gets a promo.  Will this upset your top players?  Probably, but you have to look at the overall health of the game, not just a small group of players.

This is how it works.  If new players feel they have no chance at winning prizes, they will stop coming.  This is life blood of a shop, new players.  You also need those more dedicated players as well.  Finding the happy medium is the tricky part.  The best I have seen is this, instead of adding up your total entry and dividing by your pack price, just put 1.5 packs into the pool per player.  You might have to charge $6 a head, but most players won’t mind.  This gives you an amount of packs where you can give everyone a pack and still have a good amount for the top players.  Again this is mostly for shops that have a lot of new players and casual ones.

This is the scope of most shops though, unless you want to run separate events for casual and competitive players.  To make an event even better, use half of your promos as door prizes, players always love random free stuff.  The fairest payout I have seen is the set rounds model, usually 3 rounds, usually offering a pack per win or 4 packs for 3-0 and 2 for 2-1.  This is okay, but a lot of players just like to play and want to play out at least the number of rounds required. New players especially, the ones that are likely to of 0-4 are just there to have a good time.
So in summary the best payout model is players * 1.5 = pack payout, with everyone getting a pack and the rest going to the top X.  Of course people that win most of the time won’t like this and will say stuff like, “They should get better then” about the other players, but as a LGS you have to look out for the group as a whole.  You know that most of your player base is there either casually or just to have fun, giving them a pack means they see you as a good person letting them have a good time for a buck or two, this is good for business and the game as a

Events are your best advertising and usually your best time to make revenue.  You need to maximize the fun that those that come to your shop have so they want to come back more and more and tell their friends.  In the end it comes down to this, who enjoys opening packs more, that player who has everything of the new player who wants more?  That is what will drive your business and the game’s future forward more.