Managing Your Budget

Over the last two months we have talked about the types of prizes and the types of structures that can help draw different types of players to your events. This month we are going to discuss budgeting for events by figuring out how much prizes you will be giving away per person.

Single Elimination

Let’s start with the simplest type of event. In most single elimination events, we have fixed prizes, and we will only run them if we get the right amount of players. That means that we know both the number of players and the prizes, making it easy to figure out what we are giving away per player. Simply divide the prizes by the number of players and then add any costs associated with each player participating, like boosters for Sealed or Draft events. Let’s use a Win-a-Box event as an example:

  • Prizes – 36 packs divided by 8 players = 4.5 packs per player

There are no additional costs for a Constructed event, so each player is effectively purchasing 4.5 packs into the prize pool for their entry fee. With a $15 entry fee, another way to look at it is that each player is buying 4.5 packs at $3.33 each. Single elimination events are very straight forward, so tweaking the prizes to match a ratio that you are comfortable with is easy!

Full Swiss

In full Swiss events, only one of the variables can be locked in: prizes. Attendance is usually completely up in the air until the start of the event. This means that you either need to build a prize structure based off of your estimated attendance or wait until the start of the event to determine prizes. I recommend having a set prize structure before the event because advertising “four boxes split among the Top 8!” is a lot more appealing than “two packs per player” when trying to get someone to come to your event, even if two packs per player turns out to be more! While this puts you at risk of overprizing, I believe that the advertising edge gives you a much better chance for a successful event.

There are also some strategies that can be used to mitigate uncertain attendance, such as “escalators” (additional prizes that are added at a certain attendance) or a minimum attendance for the event. Of the two, I prefer escalators because minimum attendance carries the chance of disappointing anyone who did come out for the event while escalators can be framed as a bonus for getting so many players to come out.

Figuring out how much to put in the prize pool is a matter of the same math as with the single elimination: prizes / estimated players. As the prize pool increases, so can entry fees, but be careful not to price your players out of the event. It may be tempting to jump right to a Super Invitational Qualifier with that $1,000 prize, but your store might do better with multiple smaller events like Open Trials with a $10 entry fee. Make sure that your attendance estimates are realistic and then decide what you can offer. Larger prize pools attract more players to the bigger event, but there are a lot of times where the same budget can support multiple tournaments that get your store hopping on multiple days. Remember to decide what your goals are and build your events to support them!

Speaking of prize pools, it can be somewhat of a game of diminishing returns. While more money and big prize pools can be eye catching, you will likely do better running two $1,000 events than one $2,000 event. In many cases, two $500 events or even four $250 events may serve your store better than a single $1,000 event. Big events can mean big returns. But they do have risks, and you need to be ready to draw in players from a wider range in order to make it worth the extra expenditure.

Set Swiss Rounds

Finally, we come to a structure where there is a bit of a trick to figuring out prizes. Prizes for this type of event are given out based off of final record, and it is possible to build a results tree that gives you an accurate picture of the percentages of players at each record. While you may not know how many players are coming, you can still make very accurate estimates of what the prizes will be per player.

Let’s take a four-round Swiss event for example. The trick is to use a perfect bracket (2 to the power of the number of rounds or 2^4=16 in this case) to map out your expectations. A perfect sixteen-player bracket breaks down like this:

  • Round    0      1      2      3      4

  • X-0         16     8      4      2      1

  • X-1                  8      8      6      4

  • X-2                          4      6      6

  • X-3                                  2      4

  • X-4                                          1

This assumes no draws because draws are actually in our favor since they mean that no player actually gets a win and are collectively worth two match points instead of three.

What this means is that for every sixteen players you will have:

  • 1 player (6.25%) at 4-0

  • 4 players (25%) at 3-1

  • 6 players (37.5%) at 2-2

  • 4 players (25%) at 1-3

  • 1 player (6.25%) at 0-4

This means to figure out what the prize per player is you should add up the prizes for each level multiplied by the percentage of players who will finish there. Let’s take the Star City Game Center’s FNM payout for example:

  • 0.0625 x 6 packs for 4-0 = 0.375 packs

  • 0.25 x 4 packs for 3-1 = 1.0 packs

  • 0.375 x 2 packs for 2-2 = 0.75 packs

  • 0.3125 x 1 pack for 1-3 or 0-4 = 0.3125 packs

  • Total: 0.375 + 1.0 + 0.75 +0.3125 = 2.4375 packs per player

Another way to do this without percentages is to add up the total prizes earned by this group (39) and divide by the number of players (16). As a note, this will be your average and may go up or down a little bit. With imperfect numbers, especially odd numbers that result in byes, there will be pair downs that can affect these numbers and draws that can also drag down the average.

As a last note, let’s talk about draws and how to work them into your prize structure. You do not want to create a situation where two players who want to split prizes would earn more packs collectively by having one of them concede than by simply drawing. This can be accomplished easily by splitting the difference between the top two records like so:

  • 4-0: 6 packs

  • 3-0-1: 5 packs

  • 3-1: 4 packs

This means that a 4-0 and a 3-1 receive ten packs total (six and four), which is matched by the total for two 3-0-1 players (five and five). This has the added benefit of keeping your math clean and providing less variation to your prizes.

I hope that these articles have been helpful to you and that you will be able to put these tools to good use targeting your events as well as helping you to better understand the impact of what and how much you are giving out as prizes. If you have other topics that you would like to see covered, please email us at!