Why Were Games Delayed At The Largest Prerelease Ever?

Last weekend, Your Move Games ran the Boston Mirrodin Prerelease. The turnout was fantastic: With a total entry count of 1,262, this event was the largest prerelease ever held in the United States. But after discovering several player complaints on the StarCityGames forums, I decided to address their complaints publicly to help show people how I run these events, that I hear and care about their feedback, and that I am working to improve things for future events.

Last weekend, Your Move Games ran the Boston Mirrodin Prerelease. The turnout was fantastic. We ran a Midnight Madness tournament Friday at Midnight with a hundred and ten players. On Saturday, we ran thirty-three flights (with thirty-two players in each) and four Team events (with eight three-man teams in each).

With a total entry count of 1,262, this event was the largest prerelease ever held in the United States.

I’ve been working for years to try and make prereleases more efficient and enjoyable for the players. While there are areas that still need improvement, I feel my staff did a very good job handling this extraordinary turnout.

As is the case with all big events I run, I got both positive and negative feedback. I had several players (a few of which come from other parts of the country and had not attended Boston events before) say that this was the best, most efficient prerelease they had ever attended. Unfortunately, some players had the opposite experience.

After discovering several player complaints on the StarCityGames forums, I decided to address their complaints publicly to help show my players how I run these events, that I hear and care about their feedback, and that I am working to improve things for future events.

The Afternoon Delay

  • Got there at 11:50 a.m., and they tell us”Sorry, not taking any more people right now, maybe by 1:30 or so”…

  • 1:30. We sign up.”It shouldn’t be more than a half hour before you get cards,” the guy says…

  • I go up to Rob D and ask,”When will flight 21 start?””Oh, at least another hour,” he says…

This complaint covers the biggest problem for the event. We had seating set up for a little over six hundred and forty players (which is the most seating we have ever had). By around 10:45 we had worked through the morning registration line and had eighteen thirty-two player flights running, and two more being entered in the computers.

By 11:30, we had filled every seat in the house. The first flights started at around nine a.m. It takes six hours to run a five-round Sealed deck event, once you allow time for deck registration, so we weren’t going to have space opening up until around 3 p.m. (but at that time, lots of space would open up very quickly). This meant that any latecomers showing up at Noon were in for a three-hour wait. Believe me, that kind of delay is the last thing in the world that I want at my events. It upsets the players, making them less likely to come to my next event, and makes it difficult or impossible for them to join more than one flight that day. In short, it annoys my customers and costs me money.

What I Did About It Then

All I could – which, sadly, was not much.

I didn’t want to give people the false impression that more flights would be starting soon, so we stopped taking individual signups until 1:30. We did take team sign-ups at 1:00, because we didn’t run any team flights in the morning, and wanted to give those who had been waiting for teams the first available tournament space.

After trying to make sure that people knew that they were in for a wait, I kept checking on the early flights to make sure things there were going smoothly.

What I Plan To Do In The Future

I plan to do two things to minimize the negative impact of the afternoon delay for my players at future prereleases.

#1) More tables. I’ll try to either get a bigger hall, or get more tables in the hall I’ve been using.

#2) I plan on recommending to players that they either show up at 9 a.m. or 2:30 p.m. This will match their arrival time to when we have free tables.

What About Those Unused Seats?

"They said we were waiting because they had a table shortage. Why are all these people playing casual games and trading all over the place? We start looking around a bit harder, seeing many tables with stuff other than sanctioned prerelease tournaments going on…"

Each flight starts with thirty-two players, which takes up sixteen table numbers. After a couple of rounds, you often get some players choosing to drop from the events, creating empty seats.

In the past, I’ve tried to constantly move flights to fill those seats in an attempt to get a sixteen-number gap which we could fit a new flight into. There are several problems with this:

  • Each flight is on a different schedule, so you often have to wait thirty minutes or more each time you attempt to make a shift.

  • Moving tournaments can confuse players and cause them to miss their rounds.

  • It’s easy for a scorekeeper to make a mistake with changing table numbers and overlap events. The pairings have to then be re-posted, and large delays ensue.

  • You can’t predict how long it will take to get the necessary opening (because you don’t know how many players will drop). This means players waiting for a new flight to start have to keep checking in every half an hour or so (annoying for the player and hard on the staff).

  • By moving other events into the unused seats, you create a scenario where when the old flight ends, it doesn’t open up enough room to put a new flight in its place, and you have to do more table juggling.

Having tried both methods, I discovered it’s faster (more tournaments get run) if you just leave the empty seats and wait to start new flights until your old flights end.

Higher Price On Repeat Flights

"All three of us, as well as many people we talked to felt that the organizer had pushed the profit envelope just a bit too far and the players are now getting hurt by it big time."

I used to charge $25 for the first flight a player entered, and $15 for all additional flights. The idea was to give a discount for repeat business.

Wizards of the Coast decided that a premiere event like Prereleases should never cost less than the retail cost of the product, so they imposed a minimum $20 entry fee. It’s their show – I just run it for them – so I of course had to comply.

To lessen the blow to my customers, I asked Wizards if it would be all right if I gave out a $5 coupon for the dealer tables with the $20 entry, and they agreed to allow it. The cost of the coupons is borne by the dealers and I, not by Wizards of the Coast.

Two Boosters Instead Of Three

"I get a tourney pack and two boosters (hey, I got three at the past prereleases)…"

This complaint comes up with every Standalone, and I’ve passed it along to Wizards.

Nothing has changed. With every Standalone set (the first of the block), you get a Tournament Pack and two Booster packs; every Expansion, you get the "old" Tournament Pack and three of the new Booster Packs. The numbers are mandated by Wizards of the Coast. I have no say in the matter.

The idea is that they are giving you an extra Booster Pack (three instead of the normal two for a sealed deck tournament) with the expansion so you will get enough of the new cards for it to feel like a Prerelease. The problem is that two out of three prereleases are expansion sets, so instead of three feeling like an "extra" pack, two feels like one less pack.

I’ve suggested to Wizards that it might be less confusing to give away three each time, and they are taking it under consideration.

$70 For The Team Flight

"Turns out the price for team sealed was a complete hosing, and people weren’t biting. Seventy bucks for two tourney packs and two boosters?"

This one was my call – so if it made you angry, I’m the one to complain to. Wizards gave us a very large range of prices we could use for the team flights, and I chose the maximum of $70 per team (with $5 off and a $5 dealer coupon for each player on the team who had played in a previous flight). I chose the highest price for the following reasons:

  • Team Sealed is staff-intensive. It just takes more judging time per player to run a team event.

  • Space problems. For reasons I explained above, we had the room set up for flights of thirty-two. Eight teams is twenty-four players, so we ended up with eight wasted seats.

  • I wanted to keep the team portion of the event small for this first run. We had never run team flights at a pre-release, and there easily could have been unforeseen problems. By keeping the number of team flights low we could work out the bugs without risking ruining the prerelease experience for hundreds and hundreds of people.

I’m sure we will be able to bring down the price for next time. I can solve the unused space problem by running booster drafts in those 8 seats. With the experience gained at this event, I feel comfortable handling a large number of team flights.

Warning For Leaving Before Round 1

"When we went up to complain about the time, and ask for our cards so we could leave, WE GOT A WRITTEN WARNING from the DCI."

This was new for this event.

Wizards (and the DCI) want Pre-releases to be places where people play, not buy cards and leave. They instructed me to have my staff to enter a warning in the database for any player who left before round 1.

I’m fairly confident that the DCI won’t mind if the reason the person left was that they had been waiting for hours, or something else came up. My understanding is that they want the record so if they see someone is doing this every event, they can ask them to stop.

No Prizes At The Last-Chance PTQ

"…at the last chance qualifier for PT Boston a few weeks ago, Rob announced during seating, long after players had paid their entry fees, that there would be no prize support for the entire PTQ. Fifty teams at $75 each and not one prize aside from a single PT slot. He was kind enough to allow anyone wishing to get a refund to drop out before deck registration began. Thanks, Rob."

This was obviously from Pro Tour: Boston, not the Prerelease, but it came up in the same forum, so I felt I might as well address it here.

The prices and prize support for all Pro Tour: Boston side events were determined by Wizards of the Coast. They simply hired me to run the events for them.

Wizards chose not to have any prize support at last-chance PTQs to eliminate the possibility of qualified teams playing, then conceding in the late rounds in exchange for product.

I neglected to remind the first several teams to sign up about the lack of prize support. As soon as I realized my error, I made a sign about the lack of prize support, told all the teams signing up about it, and announced it before we handed out product, offering a refund to any team that wanted to drop before deck registration.

I want to thank all my customers who gave me feedback, both positive and negative. The positive feedback encourages my staff and I immeasurably, and the negative feedback shows me where I need to improve my events and communication to my players.

Please feel free to give me your suggestions on events. I can’t promise I’ll act on them, but I promise I’ll consider them. I can be reached at [email protected].