Invite only?

Around a month ago a potentially very dividing discussion shortly flared up in the Danish Old School community. The discussion was about the very sensitive topic of how we feel the access to tournaments should be: always open or sometimes invite only?

The backdrop for the discussion was the fact that one of the bigger Danish Old School tournaments had seen such a success in attendance the last few years that when the organizers send out invites to friends and previous attendees. The interested invitees filled all spots, and thus there ended up being no “open” spaces. This is not a new way of filling the spots in the tournament, but it was the first year where no open spots were left.

When this decision came forth, it sparked a discussion that threatened to degenerate into a flame war, but thankfully the Danish Old School community quickly realized, that even though we may be a big enough community to sometimes warrant an invite-only tournament, we are definitely not a big enough community to create rifts between us.

The discussion actually only took a day, and was happening in a single thread in our Facebook forum. The thread was closed and deleted by the author after having been active for around eight-or-so hours. But it was a rather hefty debate on an issue that may seem trivial. But for some reason it wasn’t for a lot of people in the Danish community.

Today, as promised in my last writings, I want to discuss this topic a bit. I do not want to discuss the specific tournament very much, but of course it is no secret that it was the LIC 5.0. But this is not a discussion about LIC 5.0 or the decisions made by that tournaments organizer specifically. This is meant as a broader discussion on the matter of invite only-tournaments, why they tend to spark debate and the way we see tournaments in general.

I hope I can do so in a way that doesn’t infuriate anyone too much. I know it is a quite sensitive subject, and I understand why, which is basically what we are going to discuss today.

What was the discussion about

In my first draft of this post, I had actually forgotten to put in a couple of words on the discussion itself. That should probably not be left out.

Okay, so discussion started when one of the Danish Old School Community regulars wrote a lengthy post about his views on the tournament in question becoming invite-only. He had previously been involved in organizing at least part of the tournament, and was invited, but did not want to have his name associated with an invite-only tournament.

Why not? Because he felt it was against the spirit of the Old School community to keep anyone out even before tickets went up for sale (this was how he interpreted it, not what the organizers felt they were doing). And specifically – and most importantly – he was afraid that this would become a trend, that would narrow the tournament scene and with that, the amount of new Old School tournament players. This, he felt, would in turn make the format dwindle and die. Or at the very least become a very closed group.

His other argument (as far as I remember – please correct me if I am wrong), was that he felt invite-only tournaments would threaten to be elitist and a popularity contest: “How does one qualify for an invite?”

The opening post author was not alone with these views. Several posters agreed – also people who had actually gotten invites for the specific tournament.

The other part of the discussion – the standpoint of both the organizers and several other posters – was that this is a natural evolution of the tournament scene, and not anything that should result in the format dying, as there are so many tournaments scattered across the country, and a handful of them have no upper limit for attendance (or such a high limit, that it is very difficult to see it will ever be reached).

The organizers wanted to recreate some of the kitchen table feeling were they were sure to know most of the attendants at the tournament. Their tournaments had simply gotten too much popularity.

I will not go too deep into any of the arguments today. I actually believe all of them have merit, and – as I will get back to at the end of this post – I don’t think there are any really easy solutions to the problems the discussion revolved around.

Today I rather want to discuss what I feel this discussion was really about: The perception of our format and community; the central meanings of the community feeling; and the tournaments as very important pillars of the community and format.

An organizers prerogative

First of all, as a former and hopefully coming tournament organizer, I want to stress that it is always the prerogative of a tournament organizer to organize his or her tournament exactly the way they want.

This is an important baseline for the discussion: We have to remember that even if we pay to attend a tournament, and even if the format has more or less evolved into a group of friends gathering at tournaments, it is always the host of the gathering, who decides how things are done. Who are invited. What special rules are in place. Where the gathering will take place. Whether IE/CE cards are allowed. How food is ordered and administered. Etcetera…

You are, of course, entitled to disagree. You are even entitled and within your own right, to not attend said tournament. But tournaments are always gifts given to a community from an organizer or group of organizers.

As a receiver of a gift, you can say no thanks. But you will easily come to look rather spoiled if you ask the gift-giver to give you a different gift, or to alter the one they have already given you.

Therefore: It is always the organizers prerogative to organize the tournament after their own liking. The greatest thing about this is that it is self-regulating, because if the organizer does not manage to organize something that people want to attend it has to change.

Popularity and the strings attached

I hope that most of what I have written thus far is not that controversial. But why, then, does it spark a heated debate when a tournament one year becomes invite-only instead of having a number of seats open?

My guess would be popularity.

There has always been invite-only tournaments. Both in Old School specifically and in Magic – as well as the broader games- and sports world – generally. There is nothing new here, really.

Often, invite-only tournaments require some kind of qualification – you qualify for an invite by winning another tournament, by having a number of points on a ranking list or whatever. Maybe even more often, but much more difficult to identify, are the invite-only tournaments that simply never comes to anyone’s attention, except for the people invited. For example, Team Metageyser is hosting an in-house invite-only tournament for members of Team Metageyser come January.

But most of these examples, like the one just shown, would probably not raise a lot of eyebrows. This is how things have always been, and we all know that of course everything cannot always be open for everyone. You are not invited to Christmas at my home either. Sorry.

A popular tournament series that have previously had open seats, which suddenly is exclusively invite-only is another matter though.

The popularity of a tournament is down to how great an experience it has been for the attendees. Has it been great, the popularity rises, the attendees want to attend again, and many will gain an affectionate feeling towards the tournament. They will probably even feel a sense of “belonging” to the tournament in lack of better words.

This feeling about the tournament will spread – at least in a very small country and community as the Danish – even to people who have never played the tournament.

Everyone will demand more of the same greatness. Everyone wants to partake in the madness and be able to tell the stories afterwards. The tournament risks growing out of hand.

Sometimes it may be possible to change the setting of a tournament and find facilities for more than 100 people for example, but if the tournament is known and loved for it’s kitchen-table-feel and a chance for sleep-over accommodations, it may simply be too big a change of the event. And it may not be what the organizer wants to do.

This is – as many an accomplished tournament organizer may recognize – the strings attached to doing a good job. It can be very difficult to change anything, and you can almost be caught in an “I should probably host another tournament this year…” sense. Not necessarily the best working conditions.

When hosting tournaments becomes a sour chore – or work in the worst sense of the word – it is not really a recipe for greatness.

And this is why I completely understand why some organizers decide to rearrange their tournaments into invite-only. To be sure, that they will have a great time, and that the people attending are also there to have a good time.

And then there is a matter status and cliques

I wrote about this back in March, actually. The Magic Status Game. Maybe worth a re-read? In there I wrote about how tournaments who excludes specific players would be a very toxic thing to do. But it could probably help you boost your own status, as well as that of the people you actually let participate.

Let me just stress, that this is not what we are talking about today! An invite-only tournament is not the same as a tournament where you exclude specific people. An invite-only tournament is a tournament where you invite specific people. Big difference!

But I think that is one reason why the discussion was quickly turning so harsh that the author deemed it fit to delete it. Some people simply felt excluded.

This is also where an invite-only tournament is different from one of the several tournaments we also have in Denmark that are sold out within five minutes of the release of tickets. This – of course – also excludes a lot of people from attending, simply because they were not able to buy the ticket within time. But it is a very different feeling.

The feeling of exclusion – especially in a small relatively closely-knit community – is a horrible feeling. The fear of being excluded by the community is a very primal instinct, and even though it may sound like a bit of stretch to write about such things in this context, I think that was one thing that was going on.

And that is a real issue that one cannot simply ignore, because it is something that threatens to create rifts in communities that would really not benefit in any way from such rifts.

The feeling of exclusion is way more dominant when an existing tournament series, which was at least thought to be open or semi-open, suddenly is invite-only. And we even have to remember, that the participants from last year was the ones who was invited. So who has lost anything here?

This strong feeling of feeling excluded is the reason why I completely understand the argument from those players who felt that invite-only tournaments are a big problem. They are felt to go against what we have been telling ourselves that the format and community is about: meeting new friends and old.

An organizers responsibility

So there it is. I clearly see both sides of the discussion, and I don’t think there is an easy solution to this.

I really think that we have an unstoppable force (the community) and an immovable object (the organizers prerogative). What happens when such entities collide?

No one knows.

So in short, I am afraid this is not an issue that can be solved to everyone’s agreement. What I do think, though, is that it is possible to stymie some of the frustration of the community by being very clear in ones communication as an organizer.

As mentioned earlier, tournaments are a gift an organizer are offering you. But where it really differs from gifts giving is that in tournament organizing you should make sure to balance expectations. It is not unlike what I sometimes try to do this when we are nearing Christmas or birthdays and my son is hoping for the big (really big!) LEGO Millenium Falcon. I try to balance his expectations, so I let him know that maybe he should set his nose for something like Yoda’s Starfighter instead.

Balancing of expectations may not be something the community has a demand on. But it makes life a lot easier for both the community and the organizer, simply to state what changes have been made, and why.

I would always recommend as much and as detailed information in as good a time as possible.

The tournaments in the Old School format (maybe in Magic in general) is such an integral part of the community. They have a very real impact in the form of knitting together communities, but also in attracting newcomers, or at least – if done correctly – to make sure that new(er) players stay invested in the format, because they enjoy the great experience.

Tournaments is often also for the old schoolers that did not attend. After the tournament there will often be both deck pics, tournament reports and general chatter about the event. Even if you hadn’t had the opportunity to participate, such stories can be a vital part of your Old School Magic experience. If the tournament is invite-only and in a closed group, this is also something that could disappear.

As it shows, I have no solutions to the problem, but I believe this may be an issue we will have to learn to tackle in the coming years. At least in Denmark where we have only recently (post-Corona) seen the luxury problem of having too few seats for too many interested players.

It really is a luxury problem as it is a sign that the format and community is growing. But, as I think I have shown here, it is also a very real problem, because it threatens to make people feel excluded, and that is one of the worst feeling in the world.

Please let me know what you think about the topic. But keep it clean and in a good tone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *