An American TO in Liverpool

Posted in GRAND PRIX LIVERPOOL 2015 on March 8, 2015

By Craig Jones

An interesting piece of trivia for GP Liverpool. As far as I know, Grand Prix Liverpool is the first occasion we've had US tournament organizers running a European GP. Channel Fireball are one of the newest tournament organizers (TO) on the US circuit. Their first Grand Prix was GP Oakland 2013. During a quiet moment I caught up with Mashi Scanlan, one of the CFB team, and talked to him about what it was like to come across to run a Grand Prix in Europe.

First off he mentioned how impressed they were with the venue. He said it was one of the nicest venues they'd had for a Grand Prix.

I asked what it was like to come over at relatively short notice to run this Grand Prix. He answered that it was fairly daunting. They might have only been running GPs in the United States for the past three years, but that had been long enough to become familiar with most of the staff. Before the tournament began he said he gave a speech to the judging crew. For a US Grand Prix he would recognize most of the faces in the crowd. For GP Liverpool it was only a few familiar faces.

Mashi Scanlan

"That takes you out of the comfort zone. For an American GP I'd know the staff, know their capabilities and know the best person to go to. Here I don't have that familiarity."

It turned out he'd had nothing to worry about. Scanlan was full of praise for the judging staff for doing a fantastic job at running the main event smoothly. He mentioned that the clocks for the US events would run into negative minutes once the round had ended and that would give him an indication of how things were running.

"Negative ten minutes, no problem. Negative fifteen... then you have to think about getting the judges to the right table and see what the delay is."

The European clocks don't give that information (they stay at zero at the end of the round), but he hadn’t had to worry too much. Overall the turnover had been very good, being about ten to twelve minutes on average between rounds. He said that was one of the great things about having a well-organized judge team.

"The judges are like a well-oiled machine. It's one of those things where if it isn't broke... you stay out of the way and let them get on with their thing."

He said as well that while it's great when people come up to him and tell how well run the tournament is, it's mostly the judges and other teams that deserve the credit, although, as he pointed out, it's also the TO that gets the criticism when things go wrong.

I asked him about the differences between a European Grand Prix like this and a typical North American Grand Prix. He answered that the European GPs gave him a better appreciation of how international the game was. For a US GP 90-95% of the players are going to be from the States, and mostly everyone is speaking English. For a European GP there are a lot of different nationalities speaking different languages and it's a lot more obvious how widespread enjoyment of the game is.

Another noticeable difference is the amount of banners and other signage at the venue. For an American GP they'd have maybe two flight cases. For this European tournament there were sixteen. That in itself could be daunting, but as he said, the staff are so experienced at setting everything up it wasn't a problem at all. Having highly competent staff makes it a lot easier.

One of the takeaways for Scanlan from this tournament is how the signage and additional banners adds to the presentation of the tournament. It sends a great signal to the players and makes it feel like a proper high level tournament.

"The players can see they're not at a FNM, that this is a large Magic event."

This was something Scanlan said he'd like to see more at the US Grand Prix.

I talked to Scanlan about the side events. One of the things I've noticed at this Grand Prix is how busy the tournament is on the Sunday. Back when I was last covering Grand Prix a few years back, the Sundays were always a little quieter. Today the hall is packed with players playing Magic.

Scanlan mentioned it was something they'd given a great deal of thought to – how to make it easier for players to enter eight-player events, or other side tournaments... to do the one thing they'd traveled here to do – play. This was something they'd worked on a lot for the American GPs. It seems to have worked for Grand Prix Liverpool. As Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas (LSV) said later: "This is the most people I've ever seen at Day 2 of a Grand Prix."

I share LSV's views. Sunday has been phenomenally busy and it's great to see.

Both LSV and Josh Utter-Leyton played this weekend. I asked if CFB had brought them over and Scanlan confirmed they had.

"LSV and Josh are great faces for Channel Fireball. They're very good players, but they're also well-respected and keen to promote the game."

I finished up by asking if we would be seeing CFB running more European GPs.

"Maybe, if the opportunity was there."

Scanlan said that a lot of CFB's success had come from Wizards of the Coast having the confidence in them. And also that Magic was an amazing game and it was easy to sell a product people already enjoyed.

Looking at table after table full of players playing Magic, I'd say that Grand Prix Liverpool has been a resounding success.