Welcome back to our Start Competing series. Previously we’ve talked about how to do well as a player, whether that’s getting better at maths or punching up your army list. Today we’re covering the other end of the tournament world – organising an event of your own. I’ve run a ton of tournaments in the past across multiple systems, currently as Black Heart Wargaming Events. Over that time I have made a ton of mistakes and learned a lot about how best to put on an event which will run smoothly, be as un-stressful as possible, and of course most importantly, which your players will love attending.
Why run a tournament?
Before you start, it’s worth thinking about why you’re running the event in the first place, because that will have a strong influence on what your tournament looks like. This will of course be up to every individual TO, but I’ve outlined a few broad archetypes below:
- You want to run a big, competitive event to join the pantheon of great 40k majors in the world. You’re looking at using the tightest rulespack possible with the most up to date rules, ITC qualification, and packing in as many people as possible.
- Your area rarely has events, and you’re the madman (or madwoman!) who takes a lead in organising things.
- You’re an FLGS owner and you’re looking to drum up some business by getting people in your store. Your priority is bringing in locals and getting them in the building, where hopefully they spend some money on top of their tournament ticket.
- You and your gaming club want to run a more formal event than your regular gaming night, where you anticipate a large number of the players will be club members who already know each other with a few out-of-towners along for the ride.
There are of course as many reasons as there are people organising tournaments. After the why, the next thing you need to consider is the what.
What do you need to think about?
The answer is: a whole hell of a lot. Luckily, this list will be able to help! I’m going to write all these out in one near-exhaustive list of bullet points for easy reference, and then discuss them in more detail afterwards:
First up, we have the when. You’ll obviously need to pick a date to play on. Try and avoid other local events or national majors if you can – there’s no sense pitching up with your idea for a brand new 200-person grand tournament on the same dates as the Las Vegas Open, nor is there much point in splitting the dozen local players with another RTT being held across town on the same day. Of course, you’ll also need to consider your own availability, plus the dates available at your venue (of which more in a moment). In the hectic world of 8th edition 40k it’s nearly impossible to totally avoid other events – the trick is just to minimise the clashes as much as possible.
This leads us neatly into the who – i.e. who are you expecting to show up, and how many of them? Do you want just you and your buddies to get a day’s gaming in, with maybe £10 down each to cover some costs and no prizes awarded except bragging rights for the next six months? Are you aiming to be the next great ITC major, attracting players from all over the country or even the world? Are you planning to play yourself, or are you purely the organiser? It’s certainly possible to run a small event and play in it, but it gets exponentially more difficult when it’s not mostly you and your mates, and when there’s larger numbers of people. Answering these questions will inform the next two items, where and how, so it’s best to think about them early on.
Next up is the where. You’re going to need a location for all this gaming to happen in. Exactly what is appropriate will depend on the size of your event and your local resources. Popular choices include back rooms of pubs, parish halls, school gyms, hotel conference rooms, and of course your very own local gaming shop which may well be glad of the business. Your venue will need to scale with the size of the field you’re expecting to come, so again, the “who” is vital here. You don’t want to be on the hook for a giant hotel conference room you have no hope of selling out, but you also don’t want to end up having to last-minute book an extra room because you underestimated how many attendees you had. Personally I am enormously privileged to have the excellent Bristol Independent Gaming right down the road, with space for 80 players and a no-nonsense booking policy. For the size of events I’m looking to run, this is just about perfect.
How covers a myriad of things. I’ll discuss some separately, when I talk about gaming aids on the day, but there’s some key questions you’ll need to answer right away if you’re going to make this a success. Terrain is a big one, and where many events fall down. 40k, particularly 8th edition, is a terrain-heavy game, and your boards need a lot of stuff on them to make it work. Do you have enough? If you don’t, where are you getting it from? In the past, I’ve bought, built, and painted about 30 tables worth of 40k terrain, which was a total slog and also meant I had to store 30 tables worth of 40k terrain. I do not recommend this course of action unless you’re planning to be in it for the long term, organising multiple events per year every year. Alternative sources of terrain may include your local club or your local gaming store. In the old days of Warhammer Fantasy, many events asked players to bring their own terrain, which was much easier given that WHFB had far lower terrain requirements.
Hopefully, you have some idea of how you’re getting hills and ruins on the tables. You also need to think about staffing. This doesn’t need to mean anything formal – you aren’t forming a company and hiring people right now, unless your name is Mike Brandt (in which case hi!), but for all but the tiniest events there’s going to be too much for a single person to do. In the past I’ve drafted in friends, girlfriends, hotel staff, and indeed the attendees themselves to assist. This can be as simple as helping set up or tear down some tables, or checking the army lists, giving you a hand with scoring results, or making judge calls when they inevitably crop up. At the BIG Bristol 40k GT in April, our very own Wings was a huge asset in the prizegiving, taking on the task of totting up all the painting votes (146 of them!) and taking all the pictures with the winners. Two very simple jobs, but having someone else do them took a huge weight off me and let everyone get home that little bit earlier.
As well as all that, you need to think about the big question, money. Presumably you’re going to have costs involved here, whether that’s venue hire, van hire, paying for prizes, or whatever else. Unless you’re independently wealthy and doing this all from the good of your heart, you’re probably going to charge for the event. No-one ever got rich from running wargaming tournaments, but you do need to think about charging a price which at least covers the costs involved. Relatedly, how are you going to take payment? Paypal is an ever-popular option, but I’ve also seen people use Eventbrite, and I think one guy even used Meetup. For bigger events, you might consider your own online shopping cart, although this is a significant investment more likely to be useful if you have an additional related business to service instead of just a one-off event. You also need to have some way of tracking all this, so that you know who’s coming.
A critical thing to sort out right up front is cash going the other way – how will you handle refunds? A certain percentage of your costs will be fixed and non-refundable, so the last thing you want is five people getting to the day before the event and deciding they’re dropping out and want all their money back. Personally I have a set refunds policy in place which lines up with when things are irreversible for me, which means that I’ve protected myself while also being fair to attendees.
You might be looking at all of this and thinking it sounds a bit tedious, and to some extent it is. Getting this stuff right is important, though. If you do this well, you will significantly reduce stress to yourself, and set out a strong foundation for a successful event. Once it’s done, you can really concentrate on the what – that is, the gaming part!
The best way to set all this out is with a comprehensive rulespack, which both you and the players can refer to. Here’s an example one, for my Peaceful Negotiations event. This sets out everything you need to know – dates, times, location, price, how to pay – all of the stuff you’ve just read about. It also establishes what missions people are going to play, what kind of deployment, how the winner is decided, and all the rest. If you’re running an event using the ITC missions, a lot of this work is done for you, but for other styles a little more effort may be required. Besides its utility for players, writing it all down in an ordered way is a great way to figure things out for yourself. Don’t be afraid to change or update this – just because it’s written down doesn’t mean you can’t fix things if you need to! Just be sure to let people know when this happens, so that they don’t turn up on the day expecting to be playing 2,000pts of ITC missions and being confronted with 1,750pts of ETC.
So you’ve got yourself a venue, and boxes full of terrain. You’ve written the killer rulespack that’s going to make this the most competitive event ever, and 400 people have signed up. Surely you’re done?
Not by half. This topic is a combination of all of the above, because it’s all about the movement of people and things. First there’s the set-up of the event itself – how are you getting all the stuff there? How are you putting it all out ready for gaming? Can you do it the day before, or do you need to be in at 6am unrolling gaming mats and repairing trees? Are you gonna be doing it solo, or do you have help? Hopefully the answer to that last one is not “on my own” unless you have a lot of free time and very little respect for it.
Once it’s all out there, when are players going to show up? The other thing that should be included in your rulespack is a timetable, which needs sticking to reasonably strictly if you’re going to have things happen when they should happen. Give this some thought beforehand and make sure it’s actually realistic. No-one is playing 90 minute rounds of 40k at 2,000pts, so don’t even bother trying it (and yes, I did once see an event advertising this – surprisingly, I didn’t bother buying a ticket). 3 games is fine, but not if all the rounds are 3 hours long and you start at midday. Need to keep lunch short so that you get through it all in time? That’s ok, but if you’re gonna do that let people know so they can bring their own food, or make sure there’s easily accessible food options near the venue. On a personal note, do also try and cater to us vegetable botherers in the world – and please, for the love of god, not a fucking salad.
On the same subject of accessibility, make sure your venue is accessible if at all possible. It’s no good booking an event held over 3 floors if someone rolls up in a wheelchair and you don’t have a way for them to get around. Sometimes the shape of your venue is unavoidable, in which case you need to be able to accommodate in a different way – for example, by having tables available which are accessible, and making sure they’re able to play on them, preferably more than one so there isn’t a “disabled table” and one person gets stuck playing on it all weekend while everyone else gets to play on a variety of different boards and terrain layouts. This is one of those things which may never happen, but it’s worth having in the back of your mind just in case it does.
Coming back to timings, chess clocks can help a lot here, since it means the round is over when the time runs out rather than people trying to play on through lunch or whatever else. As well as the actual playing of games, you should leave yourself some time for admin, and the players a little time to take a break – rolling straight through round 2 to round 3 is a great way for people to be burnt out from continuous gaming, and for you to get caught out because a problem cropped up that you didn’t foresee and you have no time to deal with it.
With all that set, you’re in the home stretch. After the event you will of course need to pack your stuff up and take it home again (or wherever it’s got to go), but hopefully this is just the reverse of the unpacking and easily managed – although I’ve always found that it’s ten times harder to get the stuff back in the box as it was getting it out in the first place.
What can help you?
There are a bunch of tools available to help you on the day. There is of course the humble Excel spreadsheet, which with proper set-up can be as flexible as you need it to be. Investing some time up front can give you a pretty powerful tool to run things with. Do make sure you’ve cross-checked all your formulas, though.
For the more app-focused, there’s three common options out there.
The first is the inevitable Best Coast Pairings, or BCP. This has the advantage of wide currency thanks to its association with FLG/ITC. On iPhone, I’m told it’s pretty flexible and a great way to run an event. On Android, it sucks and I hate it. It also once went down in the middle of an event for me, because a big US event was on and 200 people started all logging in at once. So that’s great. It does make submitting to the ITC fairly simple, and from the player end it’s insanely easy to use, but I can never bring myself to like it.
Next up is Down Under Pairings, or DUP. This is what BCP should be, except it has way lower take-up among the player base. It’s a real shame because it’s a way better app which tracks tons of interesting game-state stuff (if the players want to use it), which is way more fun to follow as an outside observer.
There’s also Tourney Keeper, which I personally know very little about, but which seems to be very common in Europe and as far as I understand things is used for the ETC. If they’re making it work it’s probably decent.
The advantage of all of these to you as the TO is that they do the pairings automatically, so you don’t have to. They also function as a way to track who’s arrived at your event, and upload lists for players to be able to easily compare instead of relying on their opponent to bring something on paper. When they work, they can make running things hilariously easy compared to the mad rush of paper and spreadsheets that a more traditional method can entail.
Besides apps, there’s useful stuff like PAs and projectors. If you’re in a giant hall, people are going to need to be able to hear you, and if you have something to show them, it can be hard work to have 100 people cramming around a single sheet of paper pasted up in the corner. A lot of this will depend on your venue and what’s available to you, but if you can get them and make use of them, it can be a huge help.
Gimme the loot – awards and prizes
It’s finally happened. Hundreds of games of 40k have been played. Some have won, some have lost. Mostly people have done a bit of both. Now it’s late in the day on Sunday and it’s time to hand out some prizes.
First up, let’s hope you remembered to get some! These might be things you’ve purchased yourself, or you might have managed to secure some sponsors for your event – a local store, or a games company, or the ever-popular KR Multicase. But what are you giving them out for?
This really depends on your scoring system. Are you awarding significant points for soft scores, so that the person who scored best on gaming might not have the most points? Then you probably want a “Best Overall” and a separate “Best General.” Almost every event I’ve been to has a “Best Painted”, whether that’s picked by judges or voted on by players. “Best Sportsman” can be common, although I’ve never thought that the common way of doing it is satisfactory.
Other than those, there’s often some “Best in Faction” awards – how you want to subdivide these depends on your expected number of players. At the other end of things, there’s the “Wooden Spoon” for the person in last place. Then of course there’s the 2nd and 3rd places for some awards.
That’s a big stack of prizes! As with everything else above, you need to determine what’s suited for your event. At smaller scales, you probably don’t need to be handing out awards for every single possible subfaction, especially since many of them probably won’t even be present. At an event with cheap entry, you’ll probably get away with a couple of trophies; if you’re charging a premium price, then your players are likely to expect more significant prizes – whether that takes the form of cash, hobby stuff, or just more extravagant trophies.
With any luck, reading this has inspired you to run a tournament of your own – which is great! 8th edition is a fantastic time for the game, with more players and events than ever before. The above is a lot of words, but it should set you up for a successful event which people will love. There’s plenty more that could be talked about – setting up streaming on something like Twitch, or running an ongoing league based on tournament results, or team events, or running at a larger convention, etc. etc. but for now, I think this is plenty to be getting on with. If you think there’s something vital we missed, or if you’re running the biggest, coolest event in the world and think we should attend to learn from your mastery, then we’d love to hear it — shoot us an email at email@example.com.