Hello everyone, in the rather empty space between Worlds and Regionals I wanted to diverge from the norm and do an article about pay-to-play tournaments. For those of you not familiar with this subject, let me elaborate.
In an effort to utilize online programs like PlayTCG and fuel the fire of the competitive nature of our player base players have introduced a new way to play in the form of online, pay-to-play tournaments. In these events, players from all over the country and around the world play against each other in an effort to gain prestige from others and a piece of the cash prize pool each player contributes to gain entry the tournament.
I recently had a chance to sit down and talk with two players, Michael Martindale and Jason Annichiarico, who are actively organizing pay-to-play tournaments. Here is what they had to say…
1. What got you started in online tournaments?
Michael Martindale: I’ve always been attracted to competition, regardless of the form. Online tournaments were just another outlet for me to play. They’re always a great way meeting new people to play against online if you don’t know many people to play against. Sometimes you’re lucky and get the opportunity to meet well known players this way as well. Playing in a member ran tournament on PokéGym is how I met 2005 World Champion Jeremy Maron.
Jason Annichiarico: Well Ty Smith started up the PPTCG series last October, and after a few tournaments he started taking cuts out of the prize support into his pocket. I decided that there needed to be another circuit to compete with him, making sure prize support got handled fairly.
2. Mike, I remember the ladder list on PokéGym and the multiple times that they tried to revive it. Do you mind explaining what it is to everyone who might not have played it?
MM: I’m only familiar with the most recent “PokéGym Battles” system they have. Basically you’d challenge anyone you’d like on the ladder to a match, which sends them a PM. You schedule the match between yourselves through further PM’s and once finished you fill in who won; the ladder would then update automatically.
Unfortunately players lost interest in this rather quickly as aside from the leader board, there really wasn’t an incentive to play. (Why bother recording your matches when you’re just playing amongst friends?)
The biggest issue with online tournaments is that without any prizes, players lose interest right away. It becomes too much of a hassle to schedule a match and players being “unavailable” is a pain to other players and organizers alike. Once there’s money on the line, everyone is invested in the tournament, they WANT to play and the games get done.
You also see an increase in competitive decks being played. If you’re going to pay to enter a tournament, you’re going to play something that has a shot at winning. As such these tournaments become a great way to test for upcoming organized play tournaments as well earn a few bucks for those who win.
3. What are the challenges that you face running these tournaments?
MM: I’ve been fortunate so far in that I really haven’t had any issues, knock on wood. The biggest concern of course would be any issues with cheating. Unless someone was recording their match, any disputes would be “he said, she said” issues and they’d be rather difficult to resolve. This is why I run smaller 8 man tournaments with players I either know, or recognize through the community, and so far the tournaments have all been great.
Other small concerns are PayPal fees, and somewhat inactive players. PayPal fees are covered by the $5 cut I take to run the tournament, and, despite money being on the line some, players still take their time getting games in. It just takes a few reminders for them to get going, right John?
(I’ve been known to take my time…)
JA: The challenge is getting everything organized; getting everyone’s entry fees, making sure matches get finished in a timely manner, and keeping records of each player’s performance over each tournament.
One benefit is that it provides the community with an opportunity to earn cash playing a game that they like. Another is that I get a small cut (1/16th from each event) of the money. Finally, the metagame is revealed sooner, making it easier to test for Premier Events.
4. What does the winner of your tournament get?
MM: For an 8 player tournament, the winner receives $43, second place wins $22, and also the leader after round robin receives $10. This last prize gives players further incentive to try every round and avoid players from scooping to their friends. I also always found “the curse of the first” to be really overwhelming, so I like to award winning 1st seed. Otherwise going 7-0 and losing in top 4 is fairly disheartening.
JA: Cash prizes are awarded to the Top 4 in each tournament, along with “HFC points” (like Championship Points in real life). The most common events are 16-man tournaments, with the winner getting $60 cash and 15 HFC Points. HFC points determine placing on the HFC leader board, and ultimately determine seeding in each tournament.
5. What would you tell someone who is reluctant to play for money online?
MM: I’d tell them that their concerns are VERY valid. Be skeptical of anyone running anything for cash online. If you don’t know the organizer, and they haven’t run many cash tournaments, I’d recommend not joining unless you know others who have played in their tournaments without issue. Don’t play if you can’t afford to, or if you don’t have a lot of free time to schedule your matches.
If someone was hesitant in joining one of my tournaments, I wouldn’t push them into doing it if they weren’t on board. Otherwise ask around – I haven’t had any complains as of yet.
JA: If it’s a matter of not being confident enough in your ability, just practice and give it a try. If it’s a matter of not finding it okay to gamble online, then it’s just not for you.
I think it is vitally important for the game that players support both the PPTCG and HFC, because it will keep the pay-to-play option alive (potentially attracting new players in the process).
6. What is a weird experience or funny story you could share from this undertaking?
MM: One of the neatest things from to have come from this tournament is probably John Kettler’s Flareon deck. As a result of each match, including deck choice, being public information after the round is played, John noticed the high percentage of Gothitelle decks being used. For his first match he came up with Flareon PLF/Cofagrigus PLF 56 with 4 Audino BCR as a complete counter. It worked too! The deck ended up beating Gothitelle 4-1 over the two matches that were played.
The strangest occurrence would likely be from this most recent tournament. With two players at a 5-2 record and 1 player at a 4-3 record, there managed to be a 4 way tie for 4th place at 3-4. Since traditional opponent’s win percentage can’t be used as a tiebreak we had to go with overall games won, which was nearly a tie itself.
JA: The first tournament I ran was the “Honkey Showdown.” The very first match that took place was Mees Brenninkmeijer versus Jimmy Pendarvis. Mees was multi-tasking, Jimmy Random Receivered for an N, Mees shuffled his hand into his deck, and I was forced to give Mees a game loss. I was quite salty to have to make such a decision so early in my tournament organizing career.
7. What are your plans for the future?
MM: I’ll continue running these tournaments so long as players are interested in playing! Right now I’m only running Modified format, 8 man round robin tournaments (to offer something different from Jason’s 16 double elimination), however if there is ever interest for a different format or tournament type, I’m all ears!
JA: My goals for the future of pay-to-play tournaments are simple; grow the game, get tournaments running more frequently, and get more alternative format tournaments going (MD-CL, Palace Format, etc.).
8. In closing, is there anything else that you would like to add?
MM: Thanks John! Be sure to check out Jason’s HFC tournament series, and if you’re not into the cash tournaments Josh Bangle is running his second season of “Road to States” which is a series of free to play single elimination tournaments with “CP” points. The overall winner at the end gets a sealed booster box, free!
JA: I can’t think of anything off the top of my head. I welcome anyone who is interested to enter in my tournaments (HeyFonte Circuit) or Michael Martindale’s tournaments (PPTCG). They’re great practice and you get to play with a lot of cool fellas.
We are fortunate to have these two players runnings these events and I am genuinely excited to see where they take them. In addition to the interview, I would also like to mention my own personal experiences from playing in these tournaments.
I was introduced to these events when my brother Patrick was playing in one of Ty Smith’s tournaments last year. I was interested, but skeptical as to the efficiency of this type of tournament and the safety of my money. I was soon reassured by my brother that these tournaments were ran at a timely pace and that my money was secure.
My first tournament was Jason’s second. I played Klinklang PLS, a card that had just been released. I was interested in finding out how powerful it would be when combined with Klinklang BLW and figured that an online tournament would be a good place to try it out.
1. As far as for playtesting purposes, the tournament was great. I was afforded the opportunity to try a deck out against competitive players in a competitive environment. This was a vast improvement from my normal playtesting conducted with players whose tendencies I already knew and who were not really motivated to try their hardest as they had little incentive other than winning a casual game.
I felt that $10, the entry fee to play in the tournament, was a great investment in my potential as a player as playing against some of the best in the world really made me have to elevate my level of play.
2. I was able to play against players who had won States, Regionals, and Nationals all from the comfort of my dorm room. Playing in pay-to-play tournaments allows someone without the ability to travel all that much or who lives in an isolated place like me the opportunity to play in a competitive environment that would normally be inaccessible for them. (Charleston, South Carolina is not exactly a hotbed of Pokémon action.)
I won that first tournament piloting my Klinklang deck past Mees Brenninkmeijer’s Speed Darkrai deck and winning close to $60. That deck formed the framework for my deck that I eventually won Maryland States with, my first ever major tournament victory.
3. In the process, I became friends with Mees and other players like Dylan Dreyer and Alex Hill; all players who live hundreds of miles away from me that I would not have befriended if I had not played in these tournaments. I frequently test with Dylan and Mees and share decklists with them.
I am often reluctant to share decklists with people that go to my league and live in my state as this will give them a competitive edge over me, but this is not an issue when you work with someone who you will not face at a States or Regionals.
You also gain insights that you would not normally have acquired as you are able to collaborate with players who see different decks and strategies in their area. This allows you to have the leg up on players who are only familiar with those decks and strategies within their playtesting group.
I would highly recommend getting involved in online pay-to-play tournaments as they have many benefits, but I would also echo the warnings voiced by Michael above. Make sure you know what you are getting into and play responsibly. Like it or not, Masters will be paying to play in Premier Events this season as well, so these tournaments are a great way to get accustomed to the atmosphere.
Thanks for reading and feel free to leave constructive criticism about this article below. I hope to play against you soon.