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The War On Byes

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My store's attendance is in a constant state of flux. At one point we consistently drew 10-16 players, but as of late we've been lucky if we exceed 6 on regular events, but we can pull in 10+ on special events. I believe from the start our store has suffered from an issue of contrasting play styles with some very good, very competitive players squaring off against minimally competitive and very casual players. When you have a larger scene such as Friday night magic, there's more room for these contrasting styles, and even when these competitive vs. casual face-offs occur, the competitive players quickly tend to bubble to the top and the casual players can usually salvage a fun night of it in the later matches.

This brings me to the point of this post: I have recently taken over Tournament Organizer (TO) duties at my local game store and I quickly noticed what felt like a bit of a problem. In small events, WizKids does not discourage TOs from competing in their events. That being said, if there is an odd number of players, I would strongly encourage TOs to sit out of events for the good of their store and the health of their player base.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of a new player. You created your first team and you're off to your FLGS to give it a try. Your first match you take on a seasoned veteran and you get absolutely crushed. You come away from the match unsure of what you did wrong or if your team is even remotely viable and generally feel like you didn't even get to play your team. The next round of pairings are put up and tragedy occurs as you find that you've gotten a bye. You are now sitting and staring at your failed team for 30 minutes trying to figure out what went wrong. When the next (and possibly final) round comes up, over an hour has gone by and you've still learned nothing about your team. You may now finally get the one match you were hoping for to really give your team a workout, but it's already hard to not feel like you've wasted your time even bothering to come out.

Situations like this are why I feel it is important for TOs to sit out when there is an odd number of players. You want your events to be welcoming and your players to feel like the event is worth their time regardless of them being competitive or casual. This also makes you more available to those new players, so they can ask the questions to hopefully help them grow as players. I'd only decided to start this personal war on byes in the last couple of weeks, so it's too soon to know if it will make any difference on attendance or not, but it can yield other rewards.

I put my money where my mouth is for our DC Rainbow Draft Weekend event and despite really REALLY wanting to compete for that full art Joker card, I sat out to keep our numbers even for the draft. One of our seasoned veterans walked away with Joker, but our second place full art Robin prize went to one of our very young, more casual players. Seeing the pride in that boy's face, the joy he got from his father's pat on the back, and how thrilled he was to of done that well made my sitting out sting just a little less.
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  1. Indy Mon's Avatar
    Have you chatted with players who haven't been coming lately? We're byes an issue for them? I find it super helpful to collect info to help address declining attendance.
  2. IsaacBV's Avatar
    Great read on the post! Agreed on byes being difficult. At our events we often ask if someone wants a bye and adjust if anyone does. Some people welcome a round off, or some of the younger players take a bye openly just to have a free round to take in the rest of the matches. You never know who may be ok with a break
  3. Flexei's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Indy Mon
    Have you chatted with players who haven't been coming lately? We're byes an issue for them? I find it super helpful to collect info to help address declining attendance.
    I've talked to a few former players and while byes weren't specifically mentioned by name (I think they're largely seen as a fact of life) feeling like they're "wasting their time" has been one of their issues. Other issues include dislike of specific cards because they are seen as too powerful, not wanting to keep up with and pay for the constant influx of new cards, lack of variety in our meta, and the fact that they're virtually guaranteed to play the same competitive people every week since our numbers are low and they feel like they just never have a chance against them. Of course that last one is a bit of a chicken and the egg problem.

    Looking back at our events over the last season, we had 3 different people win almost every event which doesn't seem healthy to me. By sitting out when we have an odd number, I also hope to help that some (humble brag) and it seems like it might have made a little bit of a difference in our Rainbow Draft Weekend event.

    For the issues with specific cards and stagnant meta, we've been trying to mix up our formats a lot, but it sounds like some flat out won't play Unlimited anymore (unless certain cards are banned).

    For the "wasting their time" bit, I can prevent byes by sitting out. Then even if they do have to play that same competitive player they play every week, hopefully their other 2 rounds will make up for it. Basically, I'm trying to improve the overall experience and keep the players coming back despite the issues that I don't have control over.
  4. Indy Mon's Avatar
    Feel free to check out/join my area FB group (Dice Masters--South Puget Sound) to get more format ideas of that would be helpful. I think the issues you describe are fairly prevalent and I see more and more stores moving away from unlimited constructed as the go to format (we only run it once a month and we run 8-10 events each month).
  5. timbowyer's Avatar
    What format do you run? If people are worried about certain powerful cards (my guess would certain avx super rares) have you considered running events which restrict people to rares or less? Or you could do uncommons or even commons or less? We recently ran a starter & commons only league for 6 weeks which has shaken up our standings a little. Not massively as our number 1 player is the kind who will happily spend hours at home researching and honing his team vs the majority who pretty much wing it.

    We've also played a good few draft games recently which by consensus have been the most fun for everyone and in draft games we got a genuine shake up with our perennial number 1 generally finishing outside the top 4.

    We only have a small player base, 8 or so regularly who will play anything we put out, another 3 or so who will play some things for various reasons (availability, cost, prizes etc) and 1 who doesn't do much of the competitive stuff (mainly down to availability and free time) but who comes down for our weekly casual night.

    I feel our group is just short of being a self sustaining size, with even a modest 5 moresemi regular people making a big difference for things like ops as well as in group trading (something we fall a little short on given some of our small group are single property players, some naturally have lower budgets etc). And this is something the core group of us are actually going to spend some time discussing in the near future.

    How do we reach out to new players? How can we get them in?

    We have a few ideas... and this could well form the basis of my own blog in the near future. But yeah, growth and sustainability are two big question marks over most groups I imagine.
  6. timbowyer's Avatar
    Also were trying to bring in non win based prizes for players. To give those less competitive (through personality or card availability) players something to aim for. If anybody has any recommendations for these that would be GREATLY appreciated!!!!!!