My Weekend at a Magic: The Gathering Grand Prix Tournament in Pittsburgh (Nov 2015)

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tournament room entrance

My son is an avid Magic: The Gathering (MTG) card player. MTG is a trading card game that was begun in 1993 and is now played by millions of players worldwide.

He usually satisfies his appetite for playing MTG each week at the local game store that hosts Friday Night Magic (FNM), a weekly MTG tournament with an entrance fee and store credit to the top finishers. FNM is apparently a weekly event in many cities across the US and internationally.

My son has been playing most weeks over the past couple of years. Players at these local tournaments typically range from about 12 or 13 years old to adults in their early 30s. My son is a freshman in high school and there are many players from his high school and the surrounding two colleges at the local event.

A couple of months ago, my son told me a MTG “Grand Prix” tournament was coming to Pittsburgh (a 5.5 hour drive from our home) and he was wondering if he could go. My typical parental response was: “Maybe”. As it got closer, we discovered our friend’s sons wanted to go too and didn’t have a ride. When my friend said she’d cover the hotel if I drove, I agreed to go.

players at one of the match assignment boards

players at one of the match assignment boards (note: you can click on any image to see a large slide show of all the photos)

While the tournaments at the local game store have something like 15-25 participants, this Grand Prix tournament in Pittsburgh advertised a limit of 2,500 players…which it reached (sold out) a couple of days before it began. I don’t know what the capacity of the convention center (where it took place) was, but it had to be at least twice that to host the total number of people in attendance–i.e., the players, the tournament officials and judges, the vendors, and the friends and parents of the players.

We weren’t able to attend the first day (which mostly consisted of “side events”), but got to the convention center before 8am the next morning so my son and his friends could fill out all the paperwork they needed to complete before the “player’s meeting” at 9am, which was followed shortly by the official beginning of the weekend tournament.

My son was very excited and nervous because it was his first big tournament outside of the local FNM tournaments he was accustomed to. This was also my first time attending a Grand Prix tournament. And even though I wasn’t expecting to do much photography at the tournament, I had to do something with the time I was forced to spend there..!

Observations

Big Production
This tournament is a huge production, especially the first day when there are 2,5000 players playing 9 matches over almost 12 hours!

So, not only is there an extensive staff coordinating all these matches and keeping track of the results of each match (and then coming up with the new matches based on the results of each round), but there are also several MTG-related and food vendors selling their wares and holding side events all around the perimeter of the room and outside the conference room doors, not to mention the live broadcasting and video being produced to both report on and augment the tournament activities. It’s quite a “happening”.

tournament coordination central

tournament coordination central

production involving game commentators & pros

production involving game commentators & pros

more production going on..

more production going on..

MTG vendor

MTG vendor

portion of extensive event staff

portion of extensive event staff

VIP lounge

VIP lounge

Gender & Age Breakdown
Based on my experience with the local game store tournaments, I was expecting a lot of teenage boys. Well, the observation of it being primarily male was certainly correct (had to be close to 95% male), but the median age seemed to be closer to something like 25 years old.

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Mostly male players

mostly male players

mostly male players

Effects of a Sedentary Game
Like most card games, there’s a lot of sitting involved. With my son–who is thin as a rail, has a lot of nervous energy, and is still young–the results of all this sitting isn’t visible and hasn’t caught up to him weight-wise. One of the stereotypes of a MTG player is being pudgy or quite overweight with their quite sizable butt crack in view at the back of their less than full back chair. Other common stereotypes of a typical player are: wearing a cap (often a baseball cap), wearing a t-shirt and/or sweatshirt, having facial hair, and wearing eyeglasses.

The food provided at the event was what you might expect: hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, french fries, onion rings, etc…the type of mostly fried food you’d find at food truck or stand. Not a particularly good fit for sedentary game playing.

eating at the Grand Prix

eating at the Grand Prix

Grand Prix food court condiment station

Grand Prix food court condiment station

sedentary playing

sedentary playing

:p

:p

Back Packs Everywhere
Because the players have to keep their cards & playing mats with them and be ready to race to their next match, nearly every player is carrying a back pack…

row of back pack wearing players

row of back pack wearing players

more back packs

more back packs

any back pack will do

any back pack will do

Female Presence
Though the players are primarily male, there are a few female players (some sporting a sexy nerdy or goth look)…and they also make an appearance as glamorous and heroic characters in the game itself.

female game character

female game character

match assignment board

match assignment board

rare woman MTG player

rare woman MTG player

The Vendors Reflect the Players
The vendors seems to be a bunch that reflect or resemble their customers…:p

MTG vendor

MTG vendor

MTG vendor

MTG vendor

MTG vendor

MTG vendor

Concluding Remarks
I must admit that the number of people crowded into the conference center on that first day was pretty overwhelming…especially when everyone was up between matches trying to quickly find the one of 1,250 table locations for their next match! I had to get out of there, but my son was a trooper…and even though I know he doesn’t like crowds, he stayed and played all 9 of his matches that first day (with a winning record..:D) over the full 12 hours.

I’m not sure I ever need to attend another one of these tournaments; but at least I’ll know what to expect if my son comes to me again about another nearby Grand Prix MTG tournament that’s only 8 hours away by car..(!!!)

Here are more photos from the tournament..
(note: you can click on any image to see a large slide show of all the photos)



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