Thoughts on PPTQs and improving the system

I feel like I have a good understanding of PPTQs at this point. According to my records (I actually keep a spreadsheet of this stuff) I’ve played 37 PPTQs, and I’ve experienced a huge range of scenarios. I’ve gone 0-2 at an 11-person event in rural Wisconsin. I’ve traveled two and half hours to the last PPTQ of a season and finished 9th. I’ve lost in four finals – and won exactly as many. I’ve played against people with nearly a dozen pro tours behind them, and knocked a 13-year-old out of his first sanctioned event Top8. I was among the first batch of players to qualify for the Pro Tour through an RPTQ, and I’ve gone 3-4 at an RPTQ that I spent nearly a month testing for.

For me, the PPTQ system is an improvement. The old path to qualification put tremendous stress on my work and home life. I would regularly leave work on Friday, drive late into the night, spend my whole Saturday playing a one-slot, 200 person tournament, get my heart-broken in some late round, drive home with the rest of the car asleep, wake up at noon on Sunday, and have a few hours to relax before starting my week over again. This is a difficult position to be in, and doing it every weekend for months at a time was simply too taxing.

Now, I’m in the fortunate position to have either one or two PPTQs within a 90 minute drive every weekend. I can often wake up saturday, have breakfast at home with my wife, travel to a tournament, and unless i go especially deep, I’m home in time for dinner. No more coffee at 2am to avoid passing out behind the wheel. No more paying for a shitty hotel 6 hours away from home. It allows me to be much more flexible, and it’s much more affordable.

I’ve heard complaints that the system has killed the companionship aspect of tournaments, and while it’s certainly true that I don’t see my friends who live in other states as often, I have made a lot of new friends. Perhaps it’s because I tend to be an outgoing person, but I’ve never found myself lonely at a PPTQ. I’ve made an effort to recognize the grinders in the crowds, and some of the connections I’ve made have been very rewarding.

That said, there are a lot of issues with the system. These are some problems that I’ve recognized, and some possible solutions to them, in order from least pressing to most:

5) PPTQ winners and variable attendance
The range in attendance for PPTQs is enormous. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve played in events as small as 11 people. I’ve also played in a 70-person event, and I’ve heard of some that are even larger. One of the worst parts about the old system was that it was absurd to have to finish in actual 1st place in order to qualify, and that still holds true for some of these larger events. Because of this, I believe that PPTQs should award two invitations if they have more than 64 players in attendance.

Some states, such as neighboring Iowa, have significantly fewer events within driving distance of their major population centers. This means that their events are much larger than ours in Wisconsin, on average, despite their lower population. In Wisconsin, we’ll often have multiple events competing on the same day, so grinders rarely have to travel as far to get their fix.

RPTQs are not especially large as-is, and I think that adding an additional dozen players to each would not cause much of a stir.

4) Attracting players to PPTQs – rethinking prizes
While we should be happy about the large numbers at some PPTQs, we should be just as concerned about the small numbers at others. I think that part of the problem is that you often have tournaments with variable prizes, and the real meat of the reward is a qualification that players may not even be able to make use of. I think a simple way to “increase the prize” at these events at very little cost is to give the RPTQ promos to the winners of the PPTQs immediately, rather than handing them out at the RPTQ.

Currently, in the last single-elimination round of an event, players are allowed to basically offer all the prizes awarded through the tournament in exchange for a concession. This can often be hundreds in store credit or several boxes of product, but for some events, this can be something like a dozen packs. For players who aren’t especially concerned with intangible rewards like an event invitation, adding a promo worth upwards of $150 is a very big boost, and I believe that it would incentive players who had no intention of playing in the RPTQ to at least show up and make it to the finals. Putting that prize on display at a PPTQ is a good way to create a buzz, rather than just distributing them at an event where everyone gets one, and where they usually just tuck them away.

3) Judging Staff
I’ve heard about a lot of problems with judge availability. Some have even suggested allowing level 1 judges to run events. I think this is a terrible idea. A better fix seems to be taking steps to ensure that:

Events don’t overlap – this is a good way to cannibalize not only attendance, but available judging staff
Players show up – It seems much easier to pay your judges if the attendance for an event is 40ish players rather than 16.

Obviously, step 2 is a real goal, but I think that implementing my two prior suggestions would go a long way towards bringing in bigger crowds, and making the judge budget a smaller piece of the overall take. Too much money and opportunity is at stake to leave these events in the hands of a level one judge, who may not have the experience or constitution to handle major discrepancies when they arise.

2) RPTQ Top 8s
This is one I’ve really pushed for. Single-elimination rounds are a plague on tournaments with exceptionally top-heavy prizes. It is far too easy for a player to go 8-0 in played rounds to win a PPTQ, then go 5-0 at their RPTQ, then play one single-elimination round at an RPTQ, get mana screwed, and get a box for their efforts.

My fix is this – instead of 8 players completing a single round, have them play three swiss rounds. In an 8-player, 3-round swiss event, you always end up with exactly four players who went 2-1 or better. Those four should be the ones qualifying. In terms of impact, only one person who wins their first round won’t qualify, and only one person who loses their first round will, but playing out several rounds reduces variance, and really lets the exceptional players show their strength.

All of the RPTQs I’ve played have ended relatively early – one was completed by 4:30pm. I don’t believe that the extra time needed would be a major burden.

1) Store Communication
This one is partially on WOTC. Both they and the stores they sanction are, in general, incredibly bad about making information available. Finding information about an upcoming PPTQ is tedious, and it often means scouring multiple websites, Facebook pages, and having to call or email stores directly for more information.

For example, in order to find the PPTQ schedule, I started by Googling that term. Simple enough. I got this page as a result:

Capture

What if I was a new player and had no idea what Eldritch Moon or Kaladesh were? Pro Tour Eldritch Moon is in 6 weeks, and Kaladesh is in four months. It seems pretty clear to me that I’d be looking under Eldritch Moon. Of course, once I click that page, it tells me that those qualifiers stopped back on April 17th. Two months ago. WHY IS THERE STILL A LINK TO THAT PAGE? (And PS: Why is the language describing the events different?)

When we do get to the right page, we get an enormous list that actually has a very useful search function, but once we get to make use of that, we run into problems again:

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I’m actually okay with the fact that the nearest event to me might not actually be in Wisconsin, but Illinois. I’m okay with having to do two or three state searches to actually compile a good list. My main problem is the lack of information. Let’s take that first entry on the list.

  1. What time does that PPTQ start?
  2. What is the entry fee?
  3. What is the prize support?
  4. Is there a cap on the event?
  5. Can I register in advance?
  6. Are sealed events SOI or EMA?

Many of them have email addresses listed, but I’ve emailed stores before and gotten no response. The links on the page actually take you to event calendars, but they don’t answer a single one of those questions!

Capture3.JPG

Fortunately, clicking that final link on the side of the page takes to their Facebook page, where I can visit their events page, then visit this event, and then get access to all the information. And this store actually has their shit together! They actually did all they could be expected to do! A ton of stores either won’t post anything at all, or they’ll make some post to their news feed but not an event, which means I have to scroll through all their social media posts to get anything.

I’ve called stores for this information, emailed stores and gotten no response, etc. I’ve even messaged a store asking if they had a cap on their event, heard nothing back, driven 90 minutes to the PPTQ, and found out that they were sold out. When I called them out on social media, some of their patrons told me that I was being unreasonable, that some stores get more attendance than they expect sometimes, and that it was something I should deal with.

If this is some event series that is supposed to be taken seriously, commit to it. Don’t show links to seasons that ended two months ago. Give us more information on the main page! Hell, I don’t see any reason I can’t have a hover-over link that tells me start time, entry fee, cap, prize, and who I contact to preregister! Get all the information in one place so that we can plan trips and distribute information more freely.

BONUS THOUGHT:

Can we kill the names PPTQ and RPTQ? Can we just call them prelims and regionals? I’d event settle for Prelims and Regional PTQ if we’re worried about SCG/TCG regionals. The acronyms are unwieldy, and I feel like these new names accomplish all you really need to know.

 

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