Five-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor and eternal Grand Prix road warrior Tomoharu Saito is usually seen at most Premier Events as a competitor. However, he is sitting out this weekend because he has taken on the responsibility to organize Grand Prix Chiba.
As the CEO of Hareruya and a important pillar of the Japanese Magic community, he cherishes every opportunity to not only make things better but to also give back to the community. Despite his busy schedule all weekend, he was able to find some time to chat with us about his ideas, his goals and his dreams.
Free Entry for Students
For those who aspire in leading the pro lifestyle, the Grand Prix is an excellent stepping stone because you'll be able to earn invites to the Pro Tour in addition to Pro Points and prize money. To nurture the next generation of Magic players, Hareruya opened up 500 free entries to students, on a first-come, first-served basis.
Baby Jace will have to wait about ten years before he is eligible for such a promotion but he seems to relish the idea.
Naturally, all spots were all snapped up because the deal was simply too good to pass up. As can be seen from all the happy faces, it has brought a lot of joy to many locals. However, foreigners were also eligible to enjoy this promotion and Zen Takahashi was one of the beneficiaries.
Zen Takahashi attending Grand Prix Chiba, for free!
“Personally, Legacy is my favorite format and I was really excited to play this Grand Prix. As a university student like many others, I am very fortunate to not have financial free! constraints but the same isn't true for everyone. $100 is a lot of money for many students to fork out and if you think about it, you can get maybe half or one third of a burn deck with the money you saved from the Grand Prix entry fee. Legacy Burn is cheaper than Modern Burn because you don't play fetchlands and apart from Goblin Guide everything is relatively affordable."
As a Silver Pro and a member of Team New Zealand at the 2016 World Magic Cup, Takahashi understands some of the challenges many Magic players face.
“Overall, I really like what Saito did for the 500 of us. I think it is inevitable that operation costs increase over time but the young people still have a limited budget. This initiative is the exact type of thing that will help in harvesting the next wave of talent. Anything that lowers the entry point to a pro lifestyle is helpful in that cause.”
Tomoharu Saito, CEO of Hareruya, together with 150 students who are participating in Grand Prix Chiba for free this weekend.
“Hareruya is a market leader in Japan, and that's why we are leading the way. We wanted to give the younger generation of players a chance to play Legacy. I think this is the first time that any tournament organizer has offered free tournament entry to so many people. Our youth is our future and we believe that encouraging young people to be involved in Magic is the way to keep our community growing. Also, many staff and volunteers this weekend are students as well.”
Two students helping out with the Grand Prix festivities.
Crafting the Premier Tournament Experience
Saito continues the tour around the tournament site and explained that “this is also the first time at any Grand Prix where every registered player is a VIP. As a business, it is important to be profitable but it is not the biggest priority. It is my wish that Magic can become the number one recreational culture in Japan, in Asia, and in the world.”
At 12000¥ (USD$105), the entry fee for Grand Prix Chiba might look a little hefty, Saito admits, but he would rather not compromise on the quality of his tournament.
Big spacious halls create happier tournament goers.
“I rather have everyone attend Grand Prix Chiba go home feeling that it was the best Grand Prix they have ever attended than to charge half the price and have everyone go home unhappy. Not everyone has that many chances to experience large events and we want to make sure that everyone has a memorable weekend. We could have very easily lowered the cost by cutting corners but we didn't want that. Instead, we employed more staff, opened up the hallways and added in so many perks that we're confident that everyone is going to get their money's worth. Hareruya is not trying to be the cheapest. We're trying to be the best.”
In order to deliver the best tournament experience, Hareruya has also had to make many unprecedented moves.
Unlimited complimentary snacks and beverages to all.
For example, unlimited complimentary snacks and beverages were offered to all participants of the main event. Aside from exquisite bottled water bearing the Hareruya logo, there was also a wide choice of sodas, sports drinks and teas. As the the snack corner, it was a veritable cornucopia of tasty treats such as Japanese senbei and kaki no tane (rice crackers), cookies, nuts, chocolate bars, potato chips and more.
According to Saito, “It is important to stay hydrated and nourished. Here, you could eat and drink to your hearts content. There are no limits. If you wanted, you could pick up a bag of chips and a can of soda in between every round. Or even more items if you like. If you didn't make Day 2, you can hang around the snack corner and eat all day as you enjoy your weekend.”
Oh well, your wish is my command.
Helping myself to all the food I want!
Other initiatives include an in-house app which notifies each player of their pairings through push notifications. As pairings are being posting, the Hareruya app notifies you of your table number and your opponent without you having to search. Saito is no stranger to big events and he has experienced it first-hand.
“At large events, it can be difficult to find your pairings and tables. Sometimes, it can even be the most dreaded part of each round so we are trying to eliminate that. Is it a costly implementation? Yes. But is significantly improves player experience. We pay attention to every single detail based on our own experiences as a player and also from player feedback.”
All players also receive free Sleep-In Special, complimentary usage of the cloak room and left luggage room (so that you don't have to carry your suitcases around if you're heading to the airport), online decklist submission, multiple phone charging booths and even a tatami resting area.
What's tatami, you may ask?
The Tatami Area, a place to rest and relax.
It is a type of straw mat that is used as a flooring material in traditional Japanese-style rooms. It is not difficult to appreciate the charm of its elegance and simplicity. Since it is primarily made with natural fibers, it has relaxing and deodorizing properties while also having a stringy feel and sound-proofing qualities. In the hot summer months, it acts a cool spot for resting while providing insulation against the cold in bitter winters. The Japanese are very proud of their heritage and even at a Grand Prix they never fail to find opportunities to showcase their culture.
By all means, cosy up and play some games and watch the live broadcast or even take a short nap! However, Hareruya advises that some of these activities are not allowed for the comfort of everyone.
Together with Big Magic, Hareruya is also introducing a new format within the Japanese community. Part of the fun of Magic is the ability to enjoy it across different formats and they've jointly created an unofficial format that's taking Japan by storm! To date, nearly a hundred stores all around Japan are running Frontier events and the influence spans Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo, Sendai and even Hiroshima and Fukuoka.
“The idea of how Frontier came about is to lower the barriers of entry to other formats and create something new that everyone can enjoy. For example, many players have playsets of Khans of Tarkir fetchlands but may not be able to afford Modern cards. Also, due to Standard rotation, we wanted players to enjoy their cards for a longer period of time. This is why we conceptualized Frontier and I hope one day it can become an official format.”
Good friends to begin with, but never met each other in Standard!
As of October 2016, the Magic 2015 Core Set, Khans of Tarkir, Fate Reforged, Dragons of Tarkir, Magic Origins, Battle for Zendikar, Oath of the Gatewatch, Shadows Over Innistrad, Eldritch Moon and Kaladesh are legal in Frontier. Once again, this is an unofficial format but Saito is passionate about promoting it nonetheless.
Saito shared, “A week ago, the winner of the Frontier tournament at Hareruya built a cool deck with Siege Rhino, Hangarback Walker, Grim Flayer and splashed red for Crackling Doom. The possibilities are endless.”
Indeed, Saito has big dreams and a big plan, starting with Grand Prix Chiba but his work is a continual process. However, someone has to trail-blaze the way and he wants to lead the charge in building a better and more magical world for us all.