How to Run Esports Events at your School or Business
When you think of esports, it’s easy to think big. Stadiums packed with fans gathered to watch the best Overwatch teams in the world is ideal, but not the norm. Most tournaments start locally.
Local tournaments are the foundation of most gaming communities. Even with online ladder play evolving and expanding, nothing beats the excitement of a live event.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle for any new player is finding their first tournament. They think you have to be an established expert or a gaming celebrity to host and organize events. Who can blame them? The massive, televised events are the most visible, after all.
There’s always room for small-scale and local events. It all starts when a few players step up and put in the work to build a community. It can be stressful, it can be frustrating, and it will eat your time, but it’s rewarding, it’s fun, and you can even put it on your resume.
Follow my guide, and you too can become a leader of your game’s community.
1. Solve all your venue problems before anything else
Events are like real estate. The number one rule is location, location, location.
Make sure your venue is in a centralized location to cut down on commute times and increase attendance. Try to visualize the space in action. Is the venue big enough for all your players? Is there enough space for setups?
Will there be room for laptops and cords? What if someone brings a tower? Are there enough outlets for power strips?
Do you need to be out at a certain time? Can you negotiate for late access?
What would it cost to use the venue? Can it be recouped through tournament fees?
You’ll need to consider all these questions before thinking about the tournament itself. Securing a solid venue that fits all your needs (and the needs of your competitors) is the top priority. If you plan on holding a small tournament and only need a big basement or a classroom, that’s okay. As you scale upward, though, you may find yourself needing more. Be aware of your event’s logistical requirements and growing popularity.
2. Schedule your event appropriately
Everyone has a different sleep schedule, true, but hosting a tournament on a Wednesday afternoon is a recipe for disaster. This is doubly true if your tournament coincides with a massive release or another event.
As a tournament organizer, you are competing for your players’ valuable time, but you are also cooperating with other events. If you want to run a Magic: The Gathering Arena tournament, you shouldn’t host on the same day as the hobby store across town. Instead of having a successful event, you just split the audience, and both of your events suffer.Work with other event managers, talk to them about their strategies. Who knows? You might end up doing a joint event.
Finding a time slot that works for everyone will help the tournament grow into an annual, monthly, or biweekly tournament. That’s the benefit of smart scheduling—everyone gets to enjoy consistency.
3. Don’t be afraid to delegate
Your event will eventually grow beyond your means. You can’t handle everything yourself. You need staffers, volunteers, and tech support. Don’t let your pride get in the way. Running an event with dozens of participants by yourself is a recipe for disaster.
If you’re running a stream, bring on dedicated commentators and stream techs to make sure everything’s up to snuff. For maximum engagement, make sure commenters are interacting with the chat. Assign one person to handle bracketing or use tournament software, such as Challonge.
Assigning specific roles, even if you only have one assistant, will smooth out a lot of bumps before they become a problem.
4. Advertise, advertise, advertise
Make Facebook events. Make posters and fliers. As in anything, the best marketing is word of mouth. Do whatever you can to get the word out and engage.
Once a few people trickle in (and everything goes off without a hitch), the floodgates will open. People bring friends, and subsequent events will advertise themselves, lowering your costs.
The greater your outreach, the better. Ideally, your event will be awesome enough that you don’t have to spend all your time advertising. Just remember, there’s no event without participants.
5. Standard play
Your role is the organizer. You’re not a game developer or a maximum authority on game rules. Avoid house rules if you possibly can. Don’t add extra stocks to Smash rules, don’t ban characters, don’t create a competitive environment that isn’t congruent with the rest of the community.
This might sound like a no-brainer, but this point eludes a lot of first-time organizers. Many tournaments have failed because they wanted to be different and instead drove away their player base.
Look, a Fiesta Halo tournament can be a lot of fun, but if you’re making up rules and editing spawn points, you’ll alienate the serious players.
6. Make partnerships
Sponsorships change everything. At university, I convinced Tesla and Twitch to sponsor our tournament. With extra funding, you’ll have the freedom to fund tech services and give your participants bigger prizes. Plus, it’s loads of free advertising.
If you’re a game store or a coffee shop, try attracting social influencer and professional gamers. If you’re at a school, think about turning it into an official club (and maybe get some extra funding for travel costs).
Partnerships and sponsorships are an easy way to take events to the next level. Seek them out whenever possible.
7. Passion before profit
Before your event can turn a profit, before you can give out huge cash prizes, you need to be in the trenches. You need to get your hands dirty and build community.
Prepare for unhappy players screaming in your face. That first time you’ll be the host, referee, cashier, janitor, scheduler, and security all in one. There are too many duties to list here, but the one thing you don’t need to do is play the game. You’ll have too much to handle.
Instead of being all doom and gloom, take a look at some of the esports success stories. Think of the people running the Overwatch League, MLG, EVO, LCS, TI…whatever. Most of them started small and only grew into the monsters they are today through hard work and patience.
Esports is growing, but it generally starts small. You have to love the idea of running these tournaments before you can even think about making money through it. If you can put in the time and the passion, everything else will fall into place. I promise.