Monk's Guide to Convention Work
Gen Con So Cal is coming up soon, and I'm eager to attend, even if it is to work the event. For those of you that have never been to a Gen Con, its four days of Gamer Nirvana, with demo's and tournaments for every game under the sun, not to mention promotions for new games, dealers, pick up game areas, and the occasional randomly strange thing you'd never expect to see anywhere else.
For those of you that don't know, Gen Con So Cal is being held on December 2-5, 2004 in Anaheim, and if you live anywhere on that side of the United States, I strongly suggest you attend it. In addition to two Pro Tour Qualifiers and two Grand Prix Trials, there is the Unhinged Release Events run by none other than lead designer Mark Rosewater himself dressed in some costume guaranteed to keep your therapist in business for years to come, and Scott Larabee of Wizards as well will be in attendance.
As will I. Currently I'm in charge of running the Trading Card Games, Board Games, and Kids Play are for Wizards of the Coast, along with my wife Kelly, and good friend and fellow Tournament Organizer Dan Gray. Running 24 hours gaming for Wizards of the Coast can be quite a task. Currently we have 24 staffers including ourselves, and the scheduling can get pretty hectic, especially with such a wide variety of events. Keep in mind we have to have three people on site at all times of the day. There is one staff member for signups and overall management, one for scorekeeping, and one for judging (mainly 8 man events). Then we need additional staff for each specific event, and during the day we need a guy dedicated to board games, at least one to Kids Play, and one to Judge Certification.
If you've ever wanted to understand the meaning of pain in Project Management, try to schedule 24 people all with different schedule limitations and different specialties on 24 hour a day shifts across four days ensuring everyone gets the right amount of sleep, some time to game, and enough people per event to cause no problems, while understanding that some events may not actually go off, and that you need to be able to reallocate those resources if they don't.
I swear I do more project management since I quit my real job, which WAS Project Management.
So, Dan was the guy who got to write the welcome e-mail to our staff this time around, so I am feeling weird not writing one. I am not sure how many people this will apply to, but I thought it would be interesting, and you are all trapped in my whim because the Pojo is nice enough to let me write about whatever I want to as long as it is Magic related, which I would just like to point out saves you from tons of articles about general game design that I find amazing but may bore the pants off of some of you.
So, working a convention.
First you have to understand that most staffing and judging is volunteerism at its purest. The pay is not too amazing; especially for the work you have to do. You have to have a deep down desire to want to help to be a judge in most cases, and I for one deeply appreciate it. The judges who show up "to get paid," however, are normally the worst judges, and the laziest, doing the absolute minimum to get what they want out of the event. When a judge tells me his reasoning for working a prerelease is because "I could play and try to win a box, or just work it and get a box," I normally expect very little out of them and rarely use them more than once. I wish I could say that the stereotype did not fit, but the sad reality is that it does.
Which brings me to my first point about working a convention. You need to be big on volunteering to work a normal Magic event. You need to live and breathe volunteerism to work a convention. Working a normal Magic event, you have some idea of what is coming your way. At a convention, you never know when the Elvis Star trooper is going to invite you to his midnight Pokemon LARP, or the strange woman in the cat suit will start to explain to you what being a Furry is really all about.
It's an experience to say the least. One of my consistently great staff people, Jay Webb, tells me that the real reason he actually volunteers for all the events I work is because the stories are unbelievable and "you can't make this stuff up."
I already told my night shift manager, Ben, to be wary of scary satanic gamers, not quite legal LARP activities, and drunken staffers from other game companies coming over to start trouble. He thinks I was kidding, silly him.
So, rule one: when you volunteer, understand that you are volunteering for several days of chaos such as you have never seen before, and prepare accordingly.
Rule two is to expect the unexpected. Events move and change on a regular basis. Some events simply never go off, and some are much larger than you would ever expect. No matter how much time an organizer puts into the schedule, its going to change, and the best possible thing you can be to am organizer is flexible. When we showed up for Comic Con, my staff and I quickly realized that the event schedule we had, and the event schedule Wizards of the Coast had published and was handing out fliers for, were two very different things. Only through some very patient staff were we able to make the events work out for everyone.
This is the normal event, not the exception.
Rule three: It always costs more than you think. While the organizer will try their best to compensate you everywhere they can, you always want some extra spending money floating around. Perhaps the parking is more than expected, or the food prices are completely unreasonable (a standard thing at most conventions), or maybe you just found a dealer there selling something you were interested in. Just bring some extra cash for you just in case.
Rule four: eat your meals. As we mentioned before, schedules are hectic. Often breaks are sporadic or may not exist, and itís always hard to try to plan for food at events like this. Try to take breaks and grab food when you can, and always drink water or something like it to make sure you donít get dehydrated. It may be fun, but this is work.
Rule five, and the most important rule, is make time for fun. Youíre at a huge gaming convention. Make sure to check out the schedule and find time to play in an event or two, or heck, just play a couple pick up games. Just remember the convention is there to make sure that people have fun, including you, the staff. Try to have a positive attitude and play some games when you can. If you are having fun, the players will see it, and they will have fun, and thatís the kind of emotional circle you want to have for your events.
I only have one final note, which I mention only because itís come up a lot lately for me. When you volunteer to work an event, an organizer such as myself will assume that you can work the entire event. If you have time limitation, please let the organizer know when you volunteer. We all understand that you have jobs, and lives, sometimes cannot work a full event, especially a four-day event. But if you donít tell the organizer immediately, they will schedule you for where they feel you fit best, an if you tell them later on that you canít work certain times, they have to change the schedule, which is often a lot of work. Over this past weekend I just had to recreate the Gen Con So Cal Staff schedule from scratch because of just such an occurrence, and itís a lot of work I would have preferred to not have to do. So, be nice to your organizer and give him/her all of the information they need right up front. We appreciate it.
Thatís it for now. Trust me when I say that post Gen Con I am certain Iíll have some great stories for you, but for now, I just got done running a Pokemon prerelease, and I am tired beyond tired, so itís time to cut it short for me.
Have a great week!
E-mail me at rayp-at-primenet.com.
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