Why supporting your local $1K may be better than traveling long distance to a $5K

Hey everyone.

This article is about something I see across Facebook and different platforms. I just want to give everyone a small breakdown of how I see events.

A growing trend is that even a $1000 cash prize tournament is too small to even give the time of day to attend, even if it is within two hours of you. Also a growing number of players are willing to fly to events such as a $5000 cash tournament. While I agree that $5000 is more than $1000, it may not always be the best choice to attend if you are a value player. The tournament may not even be $5000 in money, it may be a set of power nine from Magic or a new gaming computer complete with preloaded everything.

I’m going to do some math here. I’m not a great mathematician. This is strictly how I see events and when I choose to attend them or not. There are always other factors to consider about which events you attend. I attend events that I know I’m going to have fun at, win or lose. Simple things like the location of the venue or tournament may make or break the decision of myself going or not. I like to think that Magic the Gathering had some pretty awesome outside factors going for it when they planned Modern Master sealed Grand Prix Las Vegas. The title alone made just fewer than 5000 people want to be there. The prize support wasn’t even that good considering a 5000 player tournament.

I’ll cover some of these outside factors are at the very end, the main purpose of this article is to do the math of what is a better value tournament a $1K that is 2 hours from you or a $5K that is far enough away where a flight is necessary.

Some numbers! These numbers are a ‘good’ average. Is some of the below listed things possible to find slightly less expensive or possibly more expensive? Yes. I’m using numbers that other players have posted paying for these things as well as my own experience paying out of pocket.

Flight = $500

Hotel (1 night) = $150 (free shuttle to venue)

Average gas money (per person) = $15 (assumes a full tank at $60, divided by 4)

A meal = $10

$1K prize support is
Entry – $25
1st – $400
2nd – $200
3rd/4th – $100
5th-8th $50

$5K prize support (assuming only top 8)
Entry – $30
1st – $2000
2nd – $1000
3rd/4th – $500
5th-8th – $250

A proven $5K prize structure (taken from a TCGplayer 5K) http://maxpoint.tcgplayer.com/magic/diamond-140215-santa-clara-ca
Entry – $30
1st – $1500
2nd – $800
3rd/4th – $350
5th – 8th – $150
9th-16th – $75
17th – 32nd – $50

We are also going to assume that the $5K draws 300 players and the $1K draws 75 players. Looking at location, venue and organizer, these numbers could be more or less. We aren’t looking at these ‘outside’ factors yet. We are looking at good averages.

My average cost of attending a $1K within 2 hours of me is GAS + MEAL + ENTRY = $15 + $10 + 25 = $50
My average cost of attending a $5K is FLIGHT + 2 MEALS + ENTRY + HOTEL = $500 + $20 + 30 + 150 = $700

Looking at the prize structures for all of the events, a top heavy $5K, a proven $5K, and a normal $1K. The “odds” of breaking even at a $5K is I have to reach the finals, or top 2. The odds of breaking even at a $1K are much better! I only need to make top 8.

Now the question arises, “Top 4 or 8 never play it out! They always split, DUH!”
Sure, this is still a math problem, let’s see how we fare if we split!

Remember our average costs;
$1K = $50
$5K = $700

Top 4 prize averaged for a $1K
400 + 200 + 100 + 100 = $800 / 4 (top 4) = $200 per player

Top 4 and top 8 prize support for a top 8 only $5K
$5000 / 8 (top 8) = $626 per player
$5000 / 4 (top 4) = $1250 per player

Top 4 and top 8 prize support for a proven $5K
1500 + 800 + (2 x 350) = $3000 / 4 (top 4) = $750 per player
1500 + 800 + (2 x 350) + ( 4 x 150) = $3600 / 8 (top 8) = $450 per player

Players generally like the idea of splitting. Your giving up some of ‘what could be’ to get a better then ‘if I lost’ situation. It also ends your day much quicker by two to three hours, 50 minute rounds plus next round set up time, by not having to play those last rounds. Even with splitting, flying to a $5K event still almost does not pay to attend. If you get into a splitting situation, it only pays if you top 4 split a top heavy $5K and a top 4 split a proven $5K payout structure. Even then, you could make more money working at McDonalds for the day then attending the $5K with a proven top 4 cut payout. $8 hour for an 8 hour day is $64 minus taxes.

As I promised at the start, not everything is cut and dry super value. There are outside factors to always consider. Some of these include an invitation to a bigger tournament, limited product, special format, tournament organizer, location, friends, weather, non-cash prize support, and side events.

Magic the Gathering learned this lesson very quickly when they announced a Sealed Modern Masters Grand Prix in Las Vegas. HOLY SMOKES AWESOME. At the time, most game stores were selling Modern Master Booster packs for $10 each. You receive 6 packs for entry into the tournament to play with and entry was $40. Almost anyone who plays Magic knew someone who was going. Your friends were there. Concerned about losing? Who cares? It’s Las Vegas, assuming you are of legal age; there are plenty of things to do while in Las Vegas. Don’t drink/gamble/sight see? Side events were intense! Lots of value side events including an invite only tournament on Sunday which you had to win select side events to get to. Overall, this is THE example of a tournament with automatic value just by showing up.

I attended Grand Prix Las Vegas; I was quickly run out of the tournament by going 0-2 drop. Even with that quick drop, this was one of the best experiences at a tournament I ever had. I had a lot of friends surrounding me, playing a lot of side booster drafts and sealed tournaments during the day and going out into Las Vegas at night. It was awesome.

Some other things to consider when planning your tournament schedule. Support your local game stores! Now when I say local, I am including every store that is within driving distance which for the sake of this article is 2 hours. If one of these stores is hosting a $1K and you would have to go out of your way to attend a $5K, you are directly supporting the stores who cater to you and your hobby. With your support this will let them know that running bigger events is a good thing. It may lead to one of your local stores hosting their own $5K in the future. Also looking at the average attendances of these events, you will have less matches and people to go though to get to the top, which of course if your ultimate goal.

Let me know if my math is wrong here. Also let me know of the best experience you had at a tournament! What made it special?


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Stephen Kirwan
Owner of Kirwan's Game Store. I first opened in 2008 in Catskill, New York. Since then I have been in three different locations, 369 Main St. being by far the largest!
Stephen Kirwan

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