Tourney Lessons Learned – Bigger Isn’t Always Better!

Sometimes a tourney is a resounding success, sometimes not so much. Even when things fail though the tourney can teach you some lessons.

I run local tournaments in my city, and have done so for many years.   We’ve cultivated a culture which stresses fun over competitiveness and as such many of the netlists and ultra-competitive types just don’t bother coming to our tournies.

No ITC points, all prizes are random draws, winners receive their name on the store trophy, a round of applause and a crisp high-five.  Our random draws have $800 or more worth of product on the prize table (depending on the size of the event) as all entry fees get rolled over into prizes.

Over time, our local community has grown and with that the tournies have grown.  We have a simply AMAZING local FLGS here in Kingston (Kingston Gaming Nexus) and we have 20 tables available, stocked with terrain, Gaming mats etc.

A perfect system? Well no, not exactly, what is? But I can with confidence say I really enjoy being a T.O. in this culture and people are laughing and having a great time at every event.  We had to rework our sportsmanship scoring because everyone was just giving five out of five to everyone so it had little meaning on the scores. I’m actually serious about this.

So with all this growth I decide to advertise the heck out of a team tourney we ran this September.  We got 56 players signed up, half of which were from out-of-town. I was absolutely stunned by the response, and went about all the regular T.O. preparations getting everything ready for our biggest tourney ever.  I meticulously prepared for the day of the event… what could possibly go wrong?

Well, I’m sad to say it did go wrong, so terribly wrong.  And I think through it all I learned a very powerful lesson. Sometimes bigger isn’t better.

So despite all my planning and preparation, I actually wasn’t prepared for the huge disparity in the expectations of the locals, and the expectations of those from outside the area.

In all advertisements for the event, I detailed how the event was run (draw prizes, no ITC, etc.) and did up a detailed player pack to prepare everyone. “Good T.O.” I told myself “you so smart!”

Yeah, I wasn’t so smart. The locals “got it” because they were the ones used to the way things have run for years.  They brought their “tough but fun” lists often themed together in some fun way as a team, ready to have a fun weekend.  It was like lambs to the slaughter.

The other half of the attendees brought tooled lists with knights and smash captains everywhere (this was a couple weeks before the September FAQ dropped). These players were used to “competitive 40K” and the way those tournaments worked. They were just really playing a different game altogether.

So by the end of day one I knew I was in trouble as a T.O.  I had local and even some out-of-town players coming to me after every game with complaints of bad sportsmanship, slow playing, and even downright cheating.

When I tried to address these issues in a calm direct manner, it was to no avail.  By the end of day two (yes, this was a two day event) I had players yelling at me about rulings, arguing with each other and I was sworn at. I had to threaten to eject a team even though there was only an hour left in game six!

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To say I was disheartened would be an understatement.

At the end of the two days, our local guys were all out of the running. At least with the huge prize table they were getting some compensation for their bruised and battered state. Sign up for the next tourney (a maelstrom ITC-lite style) was 50% capacity.  Was a fun event, but I have no illusions as to why attendance suffered.

So our next event is in two weeks and is our Secret Santa event.  A $10 entry fee, and in addition you have to bring in a wrapped secret Santa gift. Santa gives everyone a gift at the end of the tourney.  Wacky custom scenarios, full on friendly tourney and no superheavies, primarchs allowed.  It’s full to capacity.

So in the end, it comes down to a good solid lesson about expectations.  I understand that there are people out there who love the ITC competitive style format and really enjoy that style of play.  It just doesn’t work for us locally due to the community we’ve cultivated.

Some of the frustration the out-of-town players were feeling may have been that their expectation wasn’t met either.  It’s not that one way is simply better than the other. It’s when you have your expectations not met you’re going to come away with a sour taste.

The lessons I’ve learned from this:

  • Smaller fun tournies work better for us then getting bigger and bigger.
  • I need to be MUCH clearer about what people should expect. Just because I had a player pack doesn’t mean everyone read and understood it thoroughly.
  • When things go off the rails, stay calm and carry on.
  • Negativity breeds negativity. Being proactive earlier may have salvaged things a little better than four hours in.
  • Bigger tournaments need help running things. Another arbitrator to share the load would have been very helpful.
  • When you attend an event out of your local scene, try to do a little research into what meta you’re walking in to.
  • When the service is slow at lunch, don’t go somewhere else that doesn’t serve alcohol. Stick to your guns. You’ll wish you had that beer later.


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300% agreed. There’s a regional event over here*, the Ordo Fanaticus Club Challenge, that has a similar vibe, and there’s always some clash of expectations when new Teams show up who haven’t been there before. After (I think) 13 years of them, the Ordo guys have gotten pretty good at communicating the expectations, but it’s still not 100%, just because of the spread of what different groups consider to be casual or competitive.

*There’s a Kingston very close to where I live, and at first I got really excited about having more events like this around here, until I realized that you’re in a different Kingston, something like 3000 miles away.


Couldn’t agree more.
Tournaments are different things for different people. The larger an event becomes, the more likely it will include players with a different outlook.
It sounds like your usual events have everyone singing from the same song sheet. I used to have a similar situation and the event became an ‘invitational’ to preserve that philosophy. The event wasn’t large (20 max) but everybody enjoyed their games and we always looked forward to the next event. It’s these events that I look back at fondly and I cherish the memories from them.
Sadly, 8th edition has changed the gaming philosophy around my neck of the woods, so my days of tournament play are over….but if your events had been local for me, I would have been all over them because they sound like my kind of thing.


Like everyone else, I totally agree. My FLGS has run quite a few events over the years, and the bigger you go the more likely you are to start seeing those anomalies and outliers that ultimately ruin the event for most.

It sounds like you’ve got a solid core of people to work with though, and while they might have been annoyed, I imagine they’ll understand. As you said, it was a lesson and nobody can be mad about that as long as you learned.

Franklin Hadick
Franklin Hadick

Nice article, Ive seen that happen way too often even on regular gaming days. Be calm and talk things oveis probably the best way to handle it, EARLY.