“Should I charge entry fees for my locals?”
First of all, thanks a ton for being open to me sharing all of this, I really appreciate it and really admire your take on FGs and the FGC at large. I’ve learned so much from everything you’ve written and I really draw a lot of inspiration for my own local and the “journey” I’ve been on per the FGC from based on your really “community-focused” philosophy. Which is why I’m writing today to ask a question or for some advice if you’d be willing to offer.
I started a local at the tail end of 2019. It ran with about 4 guys and we all just had a good time playing games. We started out not charging entry fees, just venue fees, and by 2020, we had a reliable core group of about 16 players (all online because of COVID).
Now our local re-opened and we’re starting to average around 35–40 players over six games. I’m at a bit of a crossroads as the “leader” of it though, in that, now I’m feeling the tension of which direction to take it next.
The folks who started all of this are mostly casual, hobbyists who all work, have families, and just enjoy watching the community grow. That said, fewer and fewer of them compete because they’ve either moved onto other things or are just not playing fighting games right now. These were the people who just didn’t care at all about prize money though and just wanted to play for fun.
Meanwhile, I have a younger crowd who are all super try-hard, but they compete regularly and really stick to their games. I feel a pressure to incorporate prize money for them, but so far we’ve stuck to our guns and hit our numbers nonetheless.
Now I feel a little torn. I feel like as the group has grown, I have lost some of the original community that built it. We’re drawing a younger, hungrier crowd, and they want something different from me that I’m not particularly interested in catering to — or at least wasn’t when it all started. I feel a pressure from some of the players to grow the group though, and of course I want the event to grow, but I don’t want it to “become work”.
I’m worried that if I try to cater to the casual folks, they’re all more fleeting in their interest ultimately so they won’t play for very long even though they don’t mind spending the money. Meanwhile, the younger crowd is a bit more demanding, but I feel like they have more longevity because of their sort of “rabid” desire to get good at the game.
Am I being too much of an old man and trying to cater to my older crowd? Or should I stick to my guns and just do what I’m enjoying?
Running Toward Stressful Decisions
First off: Congrats on the successful local! You started with four guys having a good time mashing, grew your scene during a motherfucking global pandemic, and now you’re pulling in 30+ people. That’s amazing!
You’ve been so successful at organizing your local FGC that you’re going to have to make some decisions about what matters the most to you, and what kind of community you want to build. I cannot make these decisions for you, but I can walk you through how I’ve approached similar forks in my own TOing road.
Despite being in fighting games for many years, I didn’t decide to get involved in the TO side of things myself until I stumbled across an opportunity to help grow the local Rev2 community and realized that I had to be the locals I wanted to see in the world. I probably wouldn’t have stuck with it if Aaron and Starsky didn’t also show up, roll up their sleeves, and pitch in, and before we knew it, we had a crew going.
The reason that I didn’t get into TOing earlier is because I don’t have much time and I’d rather spend it playing video games than doing, well, most other things. I also didn’t know a goddamn thing about running events or stream production or anything else (once again, thank you Aaron and Starsky). But getting to do it myself, and seeing how all the other TOs I looked up to handled things differently based on their skills, desires, and vision for the community they want to build, helped me understand that running events is a very powerful tool for growing the kind of fighting game community you want to live in.
You can think of it kind of like going from playing tabletop RPGs to running sessions for other people; you’re not just here to enjoy the game itself, you’re here to share what you love about the game with other people, and the decisions you make in doing so are an expression of the things you value in fighting games. Scheduling, venue, game lineup, bracket format, entry fees, stream production, and every other variable within your power becomes a thing that can shape your community and your event vibe in dramatically different ways.
Let’s take a look at your specific topic of entry fees and prize pools as an example. Like you, I also generally avoid running tournaments with an entry fee for prize pools. Part of my reason for this is because I am running an older game that has a harder time attracting new players, so letting people enter for free makes it a lot easier to convince people to just try it out — and it sends a message that we’re here to just play the game, not fleece new players for a couple bucks. But I also prefer to run free tournaments because I want to hang out with people who are just here to play the game, and tying a potential profit motivation to the session just makes everything a little bit more intense. Sometimes that intensity can be good! I love playing in money matches and side betting, and whenever I win money at a tournament these days I don’t spend it because it means more to me if I just keep it. But for the events I run right now, I’d rather keep them free to enter.
That said: It feels good to get something for winning an event. After all, you chose to spend your time there beating up on people when you could have been watching TikTok videos on your couch or whatever, and everyone who played is a little bit more knowledgeable about the game because you were willing to show up and beat that ass. I wanted our events to feel accessible to newcomers, but I didn’t want stronger players to feel like they were purely donating their time whenever they’d roll up and demolish everyone else. So I started putting up $20 of my own money (thank you Patreon supporters) down for our locals, and it’s a tradition I keep up with REV2SDAY. That way I get to run an event which is free to enter and attracts people of all levels who just want to play the game, and the winners get to have a nice lunch.
Eventually, you will come across situations where you will have to decide for yourself what matters most to you in the community you want to build, and your decision will be an expression of those values. One of the things I am fairly strict with is that we only TO events for games that we love and actively want to support. We could have chosen to run events for more popular games for the sake of attracting larger numbers, but if we felt like we were spending our time on games we didn’t personally love ourselves, then it’d feel like work, and this TOing stuff is already too much work for me to ever want it to feel like work.
However, I think that a good TO is able to serve a community that can bridge younger, hungrier players with old mashers. The best TOs have such a strong understanding of so many different ways fighting games can draw a wide variety of people who love all different parts of the fighting game experience. The mashy old casuals and the young sweats (and the mashy young casuals and old sweats!) all find the games important to them, just for different reasons, and the community you build will probably be more cool if you can find a way to bridge the bunch so that everyone gets to share in something dope.
So let’s see what you can do to do all that without it feeling like work.
For starters, I think you could try running your tournament with an optional prize pool, like how so many free netplay tournaments run Matcherino pools these days. Most people who enter a tournament know they most likely aren’t going to win it, so when tournaments have an entry fee, it feels like the strong players are charging the weaker players a tax for their presence. But if the prize pot is optional, then it feels more like you’re donating your money to show appreciation for the players who showed up, and you’re willing to put in some money to make the stakes feel a little bit more hype for the people who are playing. You could even restrict payouts to only people who paid in, so no one is free riding — it’s just like a little extra gambling fun for the folks who opt in. If some folks really want action, get them playing money matches with each other on stream, or sidebetting, or something — all things that turn up the heat without creating a barrier to entry for newer players.
Ideally, that makes things more hype for the people who are down to gamble, without forcing that cost and stress on the people who don’t. If you end up with people complaining because they want to take money from people who are bad at the game, well, you probably don’t want to cater to them anyway, so that’d be a win in my book.
And don’t forget that you can do more than just run the standard double elim bracket. Double elim works because it’s a nice compromise between “find who the strongest person is in the room” and “let me get home in time to get some decent sleep”, but not all events need to be about crowning a champion. When I ran WNF Oakland’s in-person bracket, we decided to make the bracket single elim, because we wanted to make sure that people had time during the session to get casual matches in because casual matches are how people both make friends and get better. We treated the bracket as an excuse to get everyone together, ran through it as fast as possible, and often managed to get in at least 30–45 minutes of casual games in before having to head back home — not bad for a worknight session. These days we don’t even use double elim brackets for our beginner sessions because we think it’s more valuable for new players to just grind games, so we’re currently iterating on a format that involves an hour of best-of-one winner-stays rotations, takes the top 4 players by win count at the end of that hour, and run them through a single elim finals bracket, so that we can get everyone playing more and still have a decisive winner.
All this is to say that you have a huge influence in how your local community engages with the game, and each other through the game. That influence comes through in how you run the event. You have many tools at your disposal, and while I’ve offered some suggestions, I bet you could talk it through with the people in your scene to see what kind of stuff they’d want to try out.
Lastly: Even if you love what you’re doing, it will eventually feel like work, especially if you’re doing it all by yourself. If you’re not already doing this, make sure you’re getting people to help with brackets, streams, and anything else your local needs to be a success. It’ll make things easier for you, and events feel better when everyone’s pitching in.
Hope this helps! Please let me know how it goes!
Thanks for reading! If you found this essay valuable and want to support my work, please do not hesitate to share it around on your social channels, follow me on Twitter, check out my Twitch stream (Mon-Thurs 830PM-1030PM PST), or join my Patreon.