Masters of the Open Trials

Bienvenidos to our first Store Spotlight, tournament organizers! Each month we’ll share the experiences and insights of veteran tournament organizers. We’re going to begin with the store that has run more Open Trials than anyone else so far: Comic Town in Columbus, Ohio. They have scheduled an amazing 22 Open Trials in addition to a steady stream of Invitational Qualifiers. I had the opportunity to interview the owner and tournament organizer, Ryan, and pick his brain about Open Trials, building a Magic community, and the value of advertising.

Comic Town has been in business for twenty years, but the time has flown by for Ryan. He started playing during Revised and The Dark but now sticks to Cube and Limited formats “so I can stay unattached to cards as well as not raid my showcases every time I brainstorm a new deck idea.” Comic Town has a packed schedule, including not only Open Trials and Invitational Qualifiers but “Grand Prix Trials, Prereleases, Wednesday night drafts, Saturday Standard, Legacy, Commander, Pro Tour Qualifiers, and whatever other format our players ask us to.” Ryan added, “My high goal is to at some point here soon organize a 5K for the central Ohio Magic community.”

Every event is a party that you are throwing for your players.

I asked Ryan about the success he’s had with his Open Trials and other events, and his answer was downright inspiring. “The players are first and foremost responsible for them being so great. Without them there are no events.” He also placed emphasis on the event experience and making sure things run smoothly and the prize support being the primary focus over just profit. He pointed out that more is to be gained from creating loyal regulars and sales than from the event fees. He added, “Events are a great opportunity to sell yourself and your shop to guests as more than just a place to buy singles and supplies. Think of your shop as a place where hundreds of your friends come to visit you each week and every event as a party that you are throwing for your players to have fun at.”

An important goal of In-Store Programs is to help build local Magic communities and create new regular players at your store. Ryan has certainly had success with this. “I can run an event with a solid prize structure and entry fee and pull good numbers from the players I can reach through normal marketing channels, but tack on the label and add-ons and a whole new crop of players that may not have normally made the drive to my shop suddenly do.” From there, he just sells his shop and the event experience. Ryan has been happy to note “huge growth” in attendance over the past few years, including players from Michigan and Kentucky. “I am always honored to see players who were once new faces become regulars at our shop and its events.”

With fifteen Open Trials under his belt (and seven more scheduled), it’s safe to call Ryan an expert on the program. When I asked him what he likes best about the Open Trial tournaments, he said, “Easily the flexibility of the events, low event fee, the fact that there is no requirement for a judge’s presence, and lack of prize package guidelines. You can tailor your events to meet whatever needs you have. It’s all about marketing and giving the players something extra and special for their entry fee. Secondly, it is great advertising. $100 to get your shop’s info up on the website for players all over to see where you are and that there is an easily accessible event for them to play in? Shut up and take my money! Also, for smaller shops or ones just getting started, it’s a great way to create cool events for times that you may not have access to a judge.”

Ryan also had advice for stores considering Open Trials. “Just run them. Look at what events you are currently running and decide which ones need a little extra something.” He recommended running Open Trials for formats you want to boost or prior to nearby Open Series events. He views them as a way to reward regular players and bring in new guests. “With the marketing that does for your event fee, half of your work is already done for you.”

However, Ryan knows that the organizer plays a part in promotion as well, using social media and personal interaction. “We also pass out fliers with event info and use small bag stuffers that we put in sleeves we give players to hold the singles they buy.” Ryan very strongly believes in the power of conversing with people in the shop to promote events.

Ryan had some recommendations for tournament organizers new to programs. Making sure you have a judge who will help run a great event is high on his list. “The right judge takes an event to the next level, and players truly appreciate that. Don’t be afraid of failure either. Your first few big events are advertising for you and your shop.” It’s also crucial to give out great prizes and run a fun, smooth event so there’s good word of mouth.

Ryan is the owner of Comic Town in Columbus, Ohio. To learn more about his store and maybe learn a little something from a master of Open Trials, visit Comic Town’s Facebook page. If you would like your store to be featured in this column, send an email explaining why to [email protected]. If your store is chosen for Store Spotlight, we will also send you a coupon for a FREE Swag Pack for one of your events!