New York City: as Frank Sinatra sang in “New York, New York,” “If I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere.” The high rents of New York City and the famously thin margins for game stores add up to a fierce retail challenge, but Kings Games in Brooklyn has made it work since 2002.
Event Horizon Games may be a newer store, but already it has an impressive track record. Even before it opened its doors, owner Paul Coulter contacted StarCityGames.com about In-Store Programs in the summer of 2013.
How did FNM promos lead to Jimmie Johnson co-founding a popular game store? The Store Spotlight shines on Across the Board Games in Mount Airy, NC!
Mr. Johnson ran events even before the store opened. In 2010 he founded a Magic: The Gathering club he describes as “Nothing formal at the time, just enough to get FNM promo cards.” After Wizards of the Coast discontinued the club program, Mr. Johnson and Edison Floyd pooled their savings and co-founded Across the Board Games, opening in April 2011 “primarily as a Magic store.” Since then they’ve added other games, including miniatures, RPGs, TCGs, and board games, but as Mr. Johnson puts it, “Magic has been here since day one.”
Once Across the Board Games was open, Mr. Johnson felt another pull, toward judging. Though becoming a judge would let him give his players “the final word” during events, he said, “I was in school as well at the time and did not feel I had the time needed to devote to judging, my store and my family.”
Once his schedule had cleared up, he had more time to study. “I read as much of the rules, Infraction Procedure Guide, and Tournament Rules as I could. I [also] took practice tests online.” When he was ready, Mr. Johnson worked at an SCG Open in Charlotte as a Level 0, shadowing a more experienced judge, and passed his Level 1 test during the weekend.
Becoming a certified judge had immediate benefits for Mr. Johnson and his store. While he cannot be head judge of a Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier yet—that requires a Level 2—his experiences with the judge community have been invaluable, giving him insight into what it takes to run a major event and how the principles apply to his in-store tournaments.
There are more perks: “Other than not having to find judges for IQs and other events that require L1s, our players like to run competitive events to practice for Opens, Invitationals, GPs, etc. It’s also very helpful to be able to answer most questions that customers have.”
Mr. Johnson’s advice to tournament organizers thinking about becoming judges: “Just do it. If you need a deeper rules understanding, you will gain that. It adds a level of credibility to your store as well. Would you rather play in a store with a judge or one with a judge?”
“I would urge all TOs to at least get to know your local judges. Realize how much work they do when at events and what they do just to run FNM or IQs smoothly. There is a deep and welcoming community in the judge program that can benefit anyone that puts in the time and effort to get to know these great people.”
The Store Spotlight is going international! Midway between Detroit, Michigan and Toronto, Ontario lies the Canadian city of London, where Brad Ashton-Haiste runs StarCityGames.com In-Store Programs and other tournaments at his store, Worlds Away.
For a city that may not be familiar stateside, “London, Ontario has a huge Magic scene, one of the biggest per capita in Canada,” said Ashton-Haiste. “The population of the city and surrounding area is about 350,000, and there are six stores that run competitive tournaments, plus the clubs at the university and college…it’s remarkable how vibrant the scene is.”
Ashton-Haiste was among the earliest players of Magic, and he started selling the game in 1994, the year after its debut. Tournaments came soon after: “I ran my first Magic tournament in late 1997. It was at another location, it was freezing out, the furnace was broken and two space heaters were in overdrive, but everyone had a blast.”
Ashton-Haiste and Worlds Away have come far since then: “I’ve run more than 3,000 tournaments, seven or eight a week at this stage, and I’m about to stage my first Preliminary PTQ. I’m also very fortunate in other ways; one of the guys that volunteers at the store on weekends, Rick Miles, is my best friend and a Level 2 judge. I never have to worry about finding a judge for any of my SCG IQs, GPTs or PPTQs. That’s very special.”
As a longtime tournament organizer who’s never far from the leading edge of in-store play—he ran midnight “Sneak Peek” tournaments before they became a Prerelease tradition, and after Wizards announced Friday Night Magic, Worlds Away started Friday night tournaments two weeks early—Ashton-Haiste has held his share of cool and unusual tournaments. “I’ve run Halloween events where everyone had to play mono-black; red, white, and green Christmas tourneys; and other goofy combinations. … The best thing I’ve ever done was starting a store championship. Players earn points at all sanctioned events and the Top 32 are entered into a free five-round tournament at the end of the year. After cutting to Top 8, they draft for free. Everyone in the Top 8 receives a glass mug and the winner a stained-glass trophy. It has generated enormous interest.”
Ashton-Haiste believes the small things really aren’t when it comes to running a store. Take the life-total pads he purchased from StarCityGames.com: “Earlier I had store pens made, so it’s cool to give players a free pen and life pad before a tournament. I haven’t given them all out, but one day I’ll need more!” He also saves commons and uncommons that his regulars would throw out and gives them to youngsters starting out or players who can’t afford to buy many packs. He adds, “After I’ve opened several cases of a set, I have tons of extra cards, so I give a lot of them away as well.”
Other small steps that help: “The most important part of running an event is having an attractive prize pool. Adding a few extra prizes goes a long way in building customer loyalty. And sell cheap junk food…gamers love cheap junk food.”
All those tournaments and perks come down to Ashton-Haiste’s one big rule for organizers: “Just listen to your players. Ask what tournaments they want…and be nice. You can’t keep everyone happy, but you have to try.”
For the November store spotlight, we’re going to the famous Thanksgiving state, Massachusetts, home of TJ Collectibles. Owner Tom Shea is one of New England’s most prominent tournament organizers, and we’re glad he took the time to talk with us about the regional Magic scene, the joys and challenges of organizing, and one remarkably clever tip for finding just the right venue. Read more
Tales of Adventure and its owner Mike Caffrey ran one of the first Premier IQs in the country. What makes the accomplishment even more remarkable is that this time last year, Tales of Adventure hadn’t opened yet. Before becoming a store owner, Mike worked in another shop and was a Magic judge.
Top Deck Games, a brick-and-mortar store in Westmont, New Jersey, has been in business less than three years (it opened its doors on Black Friday in 2011). In that short time, though, it’s emerged as a force in Magic tournament organizing. Nick Coss, a founder of Top Deck Games and its online counterpart Card Titan, answered some of our questions about TDG’s rapid rise and the challenges faced by new organizers. Read more
CM Games in eastern Tennessee has run StarCityGames.com Invitational Qualifiers since the program began, part of a fourteen-year stretch of running Magic: The Gathering events. Their six stores and player bases have grown along with the In-Store Programs. I asked Mat and Steve, the tournament organizer and owner, respectively, how our program offerings have benefited them over the last three years.
I began asking about the pros and cons of running so many Magic tournaments at multiple stores and there were surprisingly few cons for CM Games. While they had some issues when they started running events at more than one store, things are now running “like clockwork.” The largest pro is their ability to advertise in-store and via word of mouth through their network of stores. Of course, they have to plan meticulously to prevent overlap while avoiding conflicts with other events in the area.
Uncle’s Games was founded almost twenty years before the first Magic: The Gathering card was designed. Its customers include Mike Elliot, Mark Rosewater, and Richard Garfield. With locations in malls all over Washington state, Uncle’s Games is a natural fit for the StarCityGames.com Invitational Qualifier program. Of course, mall locations also have their limitations; what do you do when you want to run a large event? I asked Patrick Day, tournament organizer at the Uncle’s Games Bellevue location, about running large events, Premier Invitational Qualifiers, and the new Creature Collection Retailer Bundles.
As any organizer in a mall location knows, there can be space limitations within the store. Patrick’s solution? Use the biggest common space in the mall: the food court. “If you’re finding resistence from the mall management, I would encourage you to recruit any food vendors to help make your case. Nothing is better for a food court than 100+ Magic players all trapped in one location for a day.”
One of the most important goals of StarCityGames.com In-Store Programs is working with local game stores to improve the Magic playing community. When local stores start working together to host events, we start to see amazing things happen. This Store Spotlight is not about one store, but six across the state of Nebraska who have joined together to host events from SCG Super Invitational Qualifiers up to the Spring SCG State Championships. They call themselves the Midwest Championship Group (or the MCG), and they do their best to provide Nebraska with top quality events.
According to Ryan Foxworthy, our main contact with the MCG, “It all started with Gary Lemburg from GI Card Shop coming to me in May of 2013 and saying how cool it would be to give out 6 boxes of Modern Masters.” During that event, Ryan and Gary met with two more stores and planned on hosting an event with all four stores participating. Then, a fifth store was added for the next tournament and a sixth after that. The MCG now consists of Ryan Foxworthy at The Troll’s Den, Gary Lemburg at GI Card Shop, Shawn Mohrmann from EZ Gamer, Daniel Schmidt of Hobbytown USA, Tom Gibbs and Louis McNichols at Underground Gaming, and Rick Poehling from Krypton Comics.