It's How You Play The Game 

“It’s How You Play The Game.” That is the motto of Wizards of the Coast, proudly emblazoned on the walls of their stores and on their shopping bags.  It’s a noble sentiment, one that reflects what we would all like to imagine as the key priority in the hearts of players everywhere, the cornerstone of good sportsmanship. Unfortunately, the actions of Wizards of the Coast and of a few Wizards employees at a recent major event reflect a notable lack of this same sportsmanship.

I personally consider myself a player who plays for love of the game.  Unfortunately, my efforts to enjoy this game to the fullest are often hampered by Wizards, who unintentionally create a negative environment for Pokemon players either through mishaps involving the cards themselves (cutting several popular cards from Base 2 and reprinting less-popular and inferior ones, printing Dark Vileplume with a weakness to fighting and then not giving it errata) or involving support staff (witness the all-too-often heard horror stories of unmotivated DCI judges and uninformed Wizards employees with faulty knowledge of the rules and mechanics of the game they are supposed to administrate). I know many other people share these complaints. I believe we have persevered nonetheless, although I can only speak for myself. But on Saturday, the 22nd of June 2000, Wizards’ trend of incompetence and general carelessness impacted me and many other people on a deeply personal level. I speak, of course, of the Super Trainer Showdown held in Long Beach, CA. What we were subjected to was a slap in the face to our patronage of WotC products and our love of the game.

Let me give you the details so you will all know of what I speak. Wizards had advertised that registration for the STS would be open from 8:00 to 11:00 AM on Saturday morning. No mention was given of any limit or cap to the number of players who would be allowed to participate. I made my way to the front gate by 9:00 AM that morning. I was directed to stand in a very long line in the Queen Mary parking lot. The line was, as its size would imply, very slow. The hot California sun was shining directly on us, as no provisions had been made for shade. A nearby row of trees all but prevented the breeze from reaching us. In short, conditions were not pleasant.  Nevertheless, I was prepared to wait. The hours ground onwards. At about 11:00, I had finally made it near the point where the line disappeared into the ship. There was still a huge line of people behind me, and I worried briefly, but I felt that our inability to register within the alotted time was due entirely to Wizards’ lack of foresight and poor organization. (If this wasn’t the cause, I’d like to know what was.) As such, I believed that they would almost certainly extend the registration period to give all comers a chance to participate. My faith would be quickly shattered. Just after 11:00 AM, those of us who remained were rather rudely herded back into the parking lot where the beginning of the line had been. We remained in the hot sun for some time longer. People in the crowd, including myself, were now beginning to ask questions of the event staff. It was then that I learned that the WotC staff were divided according to whether or not one had a walkie-talkie. Staff without walkie-talkies were generally well-intentioned, but powerless to do anything. Staff with walkie-talkies held the power, but unfortunately were generally condescending and rude to anyone who approached them with anything as simple as a request for information. After a considerable amount of time, I finally managed to extract from a hostile Wizards employee the fact that registration had been closed and no one further was being allowed on board. These pieces of information, as far as I could tell, had not yet been announced to the general crowd; one wonders how long they intended to keep us in ignorance. We were eventually let on board to participate in the free events, but only after some unpleasantness with the fire marshal was worked out.

That is what happened. My account is accurate as far as I understand things. And I must say that I am highly offended. Wizards did not deign to provide residents of Kansas with a convenient STS qualifier tournament, so I paid my own airfare to California, badge book in hand, to gain the access that had been promised to anyone with 3 or more Pokemon League badges. I got there only to be abominably treated and denied entry. Why was this necessary? Why were people prevented from participating in this event? There is the “space” theory, which argues that the space allocated for the tournament simply filled up. If this is true, it might be excused, but at the very least Wizards owes its customers an express apology and a promise to choose a less-spatially restricted venue for future large tournaments of this sort. There is the “time” theory, in which Wizards simply cut off the registration at 11:00 as advertised. In this case, their conduct is inexcusable, as the protracted line was ENTIRELY due to their poor handling of the registration process.

How would this have been averted? The answer is quite simple. The restriction of the number of people to be allowed aboard ship could have been worked around prior to the event, either by discussion with the Fire Marshal or by a more foresighted choice of locale for the tournament. The solution to the space-in-the-tournament-hall issue is similar. As a desperation measure, tables should have been set up nearby to provide additional playing space—the League Play area upstairs, with tables and playmates already set up, could have been adapted for this purpose with minimal effort. And as for facilitating registration, registration tables could have been set up outside, providing ample space for many different service counters. This would have enabled more players to be registered at once and would have to some degree reduced the bottleneck that apparently resulted on the gangplank and inside the ship. Again, the difficulties would have been much less aggravating had it not been for certain members of the Wizards of the Coast event staff. These people were rude, uncommunicative, and often did not seem interested in us or sympathetic to the fact that many of us had come long distances at great personal expense to participate in the event. Certain members of the Queen Mary staff, in particular their security agents, were also discourteous and unhelpful. For two different companies whose business depends on pleasing the customer, such behavior is intolerable.

In closing, I reiterate that Wizards did a very poor job of organizing and coordinating many aspects of this event. I am not trying to suggest that all the Wizards employees I encountered were rude and unhelpful, as many of them (especially once I gained entry to the boat) were very nice and helpful.  It is unfortunate that the incompetence and poor people skills of a few individuals are reflecting badly on Wizards as a whole. I also do not wish to suggest that the STS was a complete washout for me, as I enjoyed myself quite thoroughly playing against other good players in the League area and receiving free booster packs. However, not being allowed to participate in a tournament I traveled halfway across the country for at personal expense was very disappointing, as I am sure it was to many other people. And that raises another important point. How many other players, of all ages and skill levels, were denied a reasonable opportunity to qualify for this tournament and/or entry at the tournament itself? Until we all stand on an equal footing, and anybody who is willing to expend the extra effort to reach the tournament can participate, I feel that the title of Super Trainer Showdown Champion lacks the legitimacy that should be inherent in such an honor.

Thank you for listening to me. A report detailing my more positive experiences at the STS will be forthcoming.

·        Spike