Recently, I have been wondering what really makes a Flesh and Blood tournament an 'event'. While large tournaments like a Calling or Nationals inherently reach event status due to the prestige and attention focused around higher-level play, recent Skirmish participation numbers have varied wildly, from the 40s to less than 10. Armories have some of the same issues. Are there steps that a small local game store can follow to bring more folks into their tournaments?
I recently attended a large, well-run Skirmish that got me thinking about this question, and about what makes an event ‘fun’.
Let me start out by saying that this isn’t exactly outside my experience. I am a musician who books, organizes, and promotes music events from time to time, and I have wrestled with this question for years! I saw some massive similarities between what I do setting up a music event and what an LGS has to do to set up a killer Flesh and Blood event.
I also need to give Martin Atkins credit here. His books, Band: Smart and Tour: Smart, are where lots- perhaps ALL- of these ideas come from. I am just applying his ideas for creating an “event” to our Flesh and Blood tournaments.
As we jump in, let me be very clear that building events and community takes time and does not happen overnight. Start small, then keep building! Word of mouth and excitement gain momentum over time.
Additionally, this article assumes two things.
1. that you want more people at your tournaments, and
2. that you have been creating relationships with your players and local FaB community drivers.
If you haven’t done that second thing, get to it! That comes before all else. Get to know the folks that come in regularly to play and build your community with them.
Following a Good Example
During week 2 of the 4th Skirmish season, I went to a Skirmish hosted by Mana Vault Games (MVG from here on out), a lovely LGS in Loveland, Colorado. Let me give you a quick breakdown:
- Event was at Gunbarrel Brewing (a large space... with beer!)
- Event was co-hosted by three other LGS’s from Colorado.
- On-site food truck.
- Free baked goods!
- Girl Scout Cookies.
- Two Armory events and the Skirmish (more play = more stay)
- Unique prize support- custom alters by a local artist!
- A Learn to Play event with extra support. (Free stuff for new players!)
- Cool stuff for entering! (Free stuff for experienced players!)
- A supportive and friendly group of folks running all the different events.
That's not an exhaustive list, but I think you get the point.
Since my son and I have to travel for most events, we cannot go to everything. (We live in Wyoming!) It takes time, money, and a lot of energy to get to bigger events. If we come away from an event feeling underwhelmed, it's unlikely we'll be back again.
But the opposite is true as well. After this experience, I will break my neck trying to get to every larger event that MVG hosts. Similarly, while the Calling Las Vegas didn’t have drink tokens for a free beer (or soda for the non-drinkers), it had a lot of flourishes that gave it a very electric and positive feel. There are a few things that MVG and the Vegas Calling had in common- and you don’t have to be running a Calling or a Skirmish to channel that energy for your event too!
Every show you do affects the next one, good or bad. - Martin Atkins, Band: Smart
Change the word “show” to “tournament”, and this should be at the heart of your decision-making. If our goals are to get people in the door and to get them to come back again, then this is the rule. The rule that drives all of your decision making. Just one bad tournament experience can turn a player off from your tournaments- and your store. Let’s be honest; players rarely forget the “bad” events, and will talk about them for years to come.
At every turn, the folks from MVG were working to ensure everyone was enjoying themselves. What this means in practice is that, at every tournament, your actions, your interactions, and all the other pieces are set up to create the most positive experience your LGS is capable of creating. Once you have that, everything else usually falls into line rather easily.
Now that we have our base, here are the other ideas, all taken from Martin Atkins' book and slightly adjusted to meet our needs. All of them are focused on our two big objectives: get people to your tournament, and make it an experience they want to repeat.
Assign a Theme, or Give it a Reason
If your LGS gets a Skirmish, Road to Nationals, or Pro Quest, your theme or reason has been given to you. But what about when you don’t have something like that? There is a lot of room to get creative with themes here. Prom? D&D? Anime Night? FaB players are gamers and fantasy nerds; we have a lot of fandoms, and this is a way to get folks stoked while reaching across the aisle to other fandoms and groups who may not know you, but should. Again, knowing your players and knowing what you can accomplish will drive how deep you dive into this.
Some stores do “Bounties” to up the level of competition and prize support. Other stores don’t have those resources, and have to go far more simple: perhaps a Pie Day Tournament for March 14th, where along with normal prizes, you get a pie! Get creative!
The nice thing is that a theme can easily be applied to your Armory or On-Demand events. It doesn’t have to be huge. The little things matter and again, review the First Atkins Rule. What kind of experience are you creating?
Use the Calendar
There are three things to consider here. Practicality, themes, and piggybacking.
First is the practical nature of hosting an event. Are there other people doing the same thing on the same day? Is there a huge event right around that date that would keep people away from my event? In the Colorado FaB Discord, we had a list of dates for when each shop was running a Skirmish. Most of us tried to lock in dates that would ensure no shop had their toes stepped on. One goal LSS has stated is to have a cooperative community of local game stores helping to grow the game rather than diminish each other. The calendar is your friend, and you can use it to build your community and even help other LGSs do the same. This can reap huge rewards in the future!
The second consideration for using the calendar is to create a theme. Is your event near a major holiday like International Star Wars Day? What about National Donut Day? While major religious or national holidays might keep people away (something to consider for sure)? Some of these other days on the calendar might be a source of inspiration. Do your players wear colanders on their heads on Sept. 29th? If so, you might want a pirate themed event! This can be applied to what you do in the store, deck building for a casual event, or anything that you can imagine. Just remember, do what you can do!
Lastly, piggybacking a non-FaB event is always an option!
“Hey! Did you hit up the farmer’s market? Do you have a receipt? Well, that is a free entry into our event today!”
Our LGS is right next to the University! When college sports games wrap up, have an after-the-game event- give players a place to hide from the event that has taken over your town! This is very dependent on your location and what is around you.
All of this is to say, check the calendar. Understand how other tournaments and events will impact you and your players. Use it to your advantage; even for a small Armory or On-Demand tournament. It makes a difference.
In gigging, this means to not play too many shows in the same market or near-by markets. People only have so much money and time that they can give to your event. For MVG, they ran their Skirmish in week two of the Skirmish season. Looking at the Colorado Discord and other sites, it became clear that by week 3, many folks were really burnt out on Skirmish and the Blitz format. The more saturated players are with events, the greater the incentives have to be to get them in the door.
From what I have observed (and experienced booking gigs and running events), this equals more money spent up front by the LGS. But this is also something to consider with On-Demand tournaments and Armories. How many events is your LGS running in a week? How many other tournaments are going in nearby stores? This might be the primary reason for trying to make your weekly event stand out. That makes it more than just a tournament. It does not have to be big. It just has to give folks a reason, especially in a very saturated play community.
If you are losing core players to other tournaments or events, saturation might be the problem. Go back to the calendar, take a look and, as always, talk with your players.
Co-Sponsors and Partners
This is the place where the MVG Skirmish stood out! Getting other businesses onboard can help with costs, organization, and management of your event. MVG had two other stores running events that day. Stores get one Armory a week, so they had Gryphon Games and Comics (Fort Collins CO) and Heart of Gold Games (Longmont CO) run their Armory events before the Skirmish and after top 8 was announced. This kept more people at the event longer, which was really good for their other partners- Enchanted Realms (Colorado Springs CO) and Gunbarrel Brewing (Longmont CO), which is where the event was held.
While similar businesses are usually in competition for customers, this is an area where LGSs can partner up for everyone’s benefit. Having problems with attendance? Partner with another store and run two Armory events! Community and growth are where it's at. Folks who love to play will find places to play- and by teaming up, an LGS can solve possible saturation problems. Use this to your advantage. It helps with prize support, and LGSs that are wanting to run bigger events off-site can split and spread out costs. At the end of the day it is a win for the shops and a win for the players.
The other thing about partners is that you have all kinds of folks you can showcase. MVG got a local artist who does card alterations to do a bunch of card alterations for the event! Players could purchase these cards with prize wall tickets (gotta have a prize wall!) and got a customized rainbow foil Heartened Cross Strap for playing! Players got unique prizes, and the artist got paid while reaching a new audience. (FYI- for artists, exposure is great- when it is paired with money! It's tough to pay rent with exposure… and possibly illegal.)
Where are the other places your players spend their money? Hip brewery? Run an event there! Local independent movie theater? Host a movie night! How you partner up is all about knowing what exists near you and knowing your players. Want to grow your FaB community? Have FaB touch more parts of the community you are in as a whole!
Large scale or small scale, partnering can add a whole new dimension to your events and keep players coming back.
Location, Location, Location!
This is maybe a no-brainer, but there are things to consider.
First is the practical nature of the location. Is it your LGS, or are you going bigger? What is the restroom situation? The parking situation? How about food and beverages? Hey, what will your location be like by round 4 if the AC goes out? Do you even have AC (or heat if we are talking Wyoming and Colorado)? Seriously, how about personal space between players? Places to put bags? Do players have enough room to track life totals on a little notepad?
This list could go on for days and really, the questions are directly connected to the size of the tournament you want to run. Know your players, be connected to their needs, and plan ahead.
If you are partnering with a place like a brewery or a convention center, make sure you are clear on the “rules” they have in place. There are so many logistics, and again, the size and type of location you use will dictate some of this. Make sure that your location can handle the amount of people you are planning to host.
One more thing about your location, especially if it is not at your LGS: have a clear idea about what you need to run an event in that space. At the Callings and at Nationals, there were PAs (that you couldn’t always hear), the phone app, clearly labeled table numbers, and clearly visible round clocks. Knowing what kind of people-power you need to cover the logistics is super important. In a small LGS, maybe you just need one person. The larger the event, the more people I want on hand. From judges to folks running the sales counter, an event needs people.
My rule of thumb? After the basics are covered for an 8-person event (check-in/reporting, judge, and sales), I want at least one person for every 8 beyond that. So, for a 36 person event, I want about five to six folks on hand. Having partnerships can make this doable, and gives your TO time to catch a breath or a head judge to handle more serious issues properly.
Lastly, your event type and location will also dictate the times for rigidity and times for flexibility. Knowing which is which can save you a ton of heartache. Little things can, and do, make a huge difference.
Folks, let me be clear: shops cannot run big events every week. Very few stores, TOs, and players have the time, energy, and/or money to keep that up. Remember over-saturation?
Still, what are the little things you can do week-to-week? This is all about building a community of players. Prize support will only get you so far. If your tournaments are not fun and do not bring something else to the table, another shop can just up the ante- and then it becomes a prize support arms race.
What keeps players coming back is the community, and the overall environment the LGS, TOs, community leaders, and players foster. One or two big events a year can make a huge difference. My son and I love to play FaB, and we love being part of the larger community. Now that the nice weather is back, we will be traveling. In addition to our local LGS, there are several Colorado stores- like MVG- that are high on our list of places to travel to. I know their weekly Armories won’t have the panache of a Skirmish, but what they have created with the bigger events gives me a huge incentive to keep supporting them and the communities they foster.
In the end, it is all about the relationships you create with the players that walk through your door. By having events that draw people in, you have the opportunity to create new relationships and while strengthening the ones you have already made.
Will Plumb is a former LGS owner who now spends his time teaching history, playing drums in the band Sunnydale High, spending time with his family, and playing Flesh and Blood with his son… who crushes him routinely.
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