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.”