It’s time to admit it, MTG Tournaments are more popular (and broken) than ever. Time to step up and fix them now before people are driven away…
This brings up a lot of good points, but advising “innovation” and “a common-sense approach” is a bit less solid of a plan than you think. Here’s the reasons that I have seen that many of the problems you’re naming exist, and why it’s so hard for WOTC to fix them:
1. Players are more involved in organized play than ever before
Up until very recently (about the release of Return to Ravnica), PTQs and GPTs were only attended by a fairly small percentage of the player base. Many players viewed the game, especially competitive constructed formats, as being harsh and unforgiving with a high financial barrier to entry. This opinion was not far from the truth, and attendance numbers reflected that - all the way from the release of Ravnica: City of Guilds up to Return to Ravnica, the fraction of magic players that attended large events like Grands Prix or SCG Opens was pretty small.
Attendance models were made to account for this “high threshold” pattern of player behavior, and worked well for a long time, with only a few major tournaments being understaffed. Then, Innistrad was released, and was a huge hit. The best selling set of all time, appealing greatly to every demographic of magic player. Even the most casual of players built a substantial collection of their favorites from the set, along with their counterparts in the less spectacular block follow-ups Dark Ascension and Avacyn Restored. The game grew like never before, but attendance numbers still roughly followed predictions, if a bit on the high end of the error range.
However, the release and popularity of Return to Ravnica ruined the model. With standard being made up of the two most popular sets of all time, even kitchen-table players found themselves with the cards to make top-tier competitive decks viable. This removal of the financial barrier to entry has broadened the premier play audience substantially beyond expectations, and while GPs still aren’t for everyone, the crowds continue to grow, larger and larger than ever before seen. Far larger than the model predicts, which brings me to the next point:
2. There is not enough player data yet to accurately predict event attendance.
The previous models (which are still pretty unknown to the public but some features can be inferred) factored Wizard’s sales data into event organizer’s info on past events and attendance in the area. They depended on a stable fraction of players attending certain kinds of events, and were largely accurate, even accounting for small deviations like the runaway success of Innistrad or the attendance-killing rise of Caw-Blade.
The strength of the old model was the gargantuan quantity of past data that EOs could rely on. Metagame-warping decks rise and fall, sets release and are either popular or disappointing - but never in the game of magic has there been such a grassroots upwelling of player participation. We’ve only been seeing this sort of player behavior for six months or so, and while it would be nice to claim that the math is good enough, there just haven’t been enough events to consistently predict how many players will arrive to a tournament. For every overattended GP, there is one with twenty empty tables.
This failing is bad for everyone - EOs and WOTC are losing money on underattended events and bad publicity from players seated six to a table in a remote conference room, and players are forced to suffer delays and confusion as on-site staff scramble to make their overattended events work. To say that people are working on it feels like a hand-wave, but it’s the truth. There’s just not enough to work with yet.
3. It’s not just one company’s problem, and it’s not just one problem
The biggest obstacle is that there are a LOT of moving parts in the machine that is Magic organized play. WOTC may be in charge of the cards and promotional events, but R&D and brand are largely disconnected from the policy monkeys in the DCI. Past that, the web grows larger, with independent companies like Star City Games, Channel Fireball, TCGPlayer, and Cascade Events all working separately to host and organize competitive events - and that’s not counting the venue staff, or the legions of local game stores running PTQs and GPTs without those organizers, or any distribution companies, or any companies outside of the USA.
If there was perfect communication between all of these entities, it would be reasonably attainable to run quality, well-scaled events first time, every time. However, much of the “organized” half of organized play is regarded as trade semisecrets - not particularly hidden, but not openly shared. Though cooperation between orgnaizations has been occurring more and more in recent months, the required level of cooperation still hasn’t been reached.
A good example of this is the WOTC/SCG collaberation at GP Charlotte, where disagreements over tournament policy and projected attendance resulted in an inflexible tournament plan. When attendance exceeded expectations, this created a snowballing debacle leading to incredibly late matches day 1 and single-elimination rounds at the beginning of day 2. This is as close to solving problem #3 as we have gotten, and while TOs are forever trying to make their events better, we’re not yet in a place where one statistical powwow amongst the powers that be can solve the issues at hand.
Your assessment of the flaws in Magic organized play was spot-on, and many of your suggestions were very good (encouraging preregistration and fixing Wizards Event Reporter can ease the way towards truly excellent events), but many of the issues you and other players have faced have more complex and less-tractable causes than they appear. And much of your advice is already being taken, but the people responsible for organized play can only work so fast, and are hindered by various difficulties in communicating with each other and with players.
But I can at least assure you that top men are on it.