So You Want To Be A TO?

20140601_111447About Me

I’ve been running events for years now. I started with Wizkids games like Mage Knight, Mechwarrior and Hero Clix, running weekly events at local game stores. I’ve also run and organized paintball events in the Pacific Northwest. Recently I’ve been running the 40k tournaments at Guardian Games, Portland Oregon’s premier game store with over 8000 square feet of space. The big 40k at Guardian Games event is the Guardian Cup, a 2-Day GT.


Running Tournaments or Events does a lot for your gaming scene as a whole. It introduces new players to the game, pushes people to paint their armies, provides a gathering point for players in the area, and gives some fun competition to boot. Many players don’t have the time to commit to weekly leagues and regular play so this gives them the chance to get a lot of games in a short period of time.

It can also be a very rewarding experience as not a lot of people have what it takes to be a Tournament Organizer. There is something very cool about seeing this event that you organized and curated over months come together and run without a hitch. Let’s look at the difficulties a new tournament organizer may face and how to solve them in running great events. A lot of this is going to be through the lens of 40k, but these principles will be able to transition over to just about any tabletop gaming system.


Space – This is probably going to be the biggest hurdle you have to overcome. You need a decent amount of space to run any kind of event. Hopefully with enough space to move around the tables so that players can get to any part of the board easily. Tabletop games don’t necessarily happen where players stay on their side of the table anymore. Different deployment zones and special rules means players need to be able to reach any corner easily.

Tables – Tables are the next big hurdle as most games require a large surface area to play. 40k needs a four foot by six foot area and will hopefully have more space for people to put their armies as well. Most events use plywood or foam table tops to create the gaming area. These take up a lot of space and are heavy to move. A lot of tournaments are turning to Frontline’s F.A.T. Mats as all you need is a big enough flat area and you can roll out the mat. Viola! Instant table. Frontline Gaming offers discounts to tournament organizers if your order enough mats. They can really cut down on storage space needed and can be very easy to setup. Something to think about.

10411986_10204117248720072_7475343931493736615_nTerrain – If you have ever played a game on a table with not enough terrain, then you know how vital this element can be. Terrain can change the game to make the experience better or worse. Countless play testing by many events show that having a good amount of terrain with some good line of sight blocking pieces will really help the experience for the better. Getting that terrain can be the hard part.

Format – What kind of format are you going to run? Will you run NOVA, ITC, Narrative, Team Events, or something of your own design? I have decided to lean towards the people that have run a lot of events and adopted their format with the ITC (Independent Tournament Circuit). This is a proven system that we know works and a lot of players like. Just know that whatever you do, you will not please everyone.

The biggest aspect of this is how many rounds to run. The more players you have, the more rounds you need. Most one day events do three rounds, but as you get larger, you may need to add more rounds or a second day to get a proven winner. Here is the breakdown:

2 players=1 round

4 players=2 rounds

8 players=3 rounds

16 players=4 rounds

32 players=5 rounds

64 players=6 rounds

128 players=7 rounds

256 players=8 rounds

512 players=9 rounds

(Thanks to Reecius for helping with this.)

This isn’t to say that you have to run this many rounds. Just know if you do less there will be ties. Ties are usually determined by how many points a player accumulates over the day and can lead to players being a bit more bloodthirsty than necessary.

Tracking – Without accurate tracking of your tournament, you won’t know whom to pair for each round and it will be a big mess. You can do simple pencil and paper for a smaller event, but for larger ones you will want some kind of software support. There are a lot on the internet such as Torrent of Fire, and Frontline has a software platform as well. You may also just want a simple Excel spreadsheet. Look around, talk to friends, or generate your own. I haven’t found any system to be perfect yet with each having its plus and minuses, but the main thing is to be comfortable with it. Being inaccurate with your scores can really cast a negative light for players so be careful.

20140524_203407Prize Support – Good prize support costs money or at least time in networking. Smaller events will usually use the entry fee for the tournament as part of the prize support, but larger events can use their numbers to entice sponsors to give prize support. You could just keep it cheap and print out some certificates if you want to keep the entry low. Having some kind of recognition for the winners is wise as it gives players something to go for.

Attendance – You will typically have 10% drop out if you do some kind of prepaying system. Then there is how to get the word out that you are running an event? Without proper promotion, you can bet that you won’t have a lot of attendees.


With all these hurdles what is a TO to do? Let’s look at some solutions to these problems and see if we can keep the dream of a local tournament alive.

FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store)- The FLGS is probably your best bet for most of these hurdles. A good game store will have space, tables, and terrain. If they don’t have tables or terrain yet than many owners would be up to some kind of deal where you help create their terrain in order to run events there and the owner helps supply funding to get or make the terrain.

The great thing now is that there are lots of ways to purchase premade terrain. The F.A.T. Mats as mentioned before make great table tops. There are tons of companies that have premade terrain ready to go and don’t forget GW’s great modular terrain. For home brewed items. Look to household goods like bottles and cans that could be modified to make fortifications or industrial tankers. Another good option is pink insulation foam from a home supply store like Home Depot. These are rather inexpensive but can be messy to work with. You can use razor blades, serrated knives, or foam cutters to shape hills, rocks, and mountains.

Your prize support can be a great swaying point for many local stores. Use the entry fee as prize support and turn the entry fees into gift certificates for the store. This gets the store some business and keeps the money in house. You might also just offer the store a “cut” of the entry as something like a rental fee. I’ve also heard of stores taking a cut of the entry fee and adding it into a terrain pool to help offset those costs.

Gaming Clubs – Another great asset is your local gaming club. There is probably a group already, but you could always form your own to pool your resources and tackle the above said hurdles as well. Network and see what terrain they already have to get enough terrain to work with. The local gaming club in my area Ordo Fanaticus, has been a great resource to make sure we have enough terrain for our local events. They can really be a great resource in terms of physical resources and just knowledge. Tap into that. I hear if you keep them plied with bacon then they will be happy campers for sure.

10408937_10204117246920027_460232576453272623_nOther Hurdles – In terms of the other hurdles such as the format and tracking program you use, that is really up to you. In the Pacific Northwest, we have smaller one day tournaments, larger 2-day grand tournaments, and then other kinds of events like Tanksgiving and the OFCC Team Event. These are all great events and tournaments that appeal to all kinds of players. If you want to have a less competitive event, there are lots of ways to accomplish this with comp, mission statements, list submission and the like. Try what you like and see what sticks.

As to what tracking system, whatever you do, get comfortable with it. There’s nothing like finding the thing you downloaded to do your event doesn’t work quite right. Test it and maybe have a simple excel backup in case things go wrong.

For promotion, just reach out! Facebook has great event pages and there are plenty of forums such as Dakkadakka, Librarium Online, Frontline Gaming, and more out there. I’m sure there is also a local Facebook page or forum you can try as well. Hit up the prevalent podcasters and see if you can get an interview. I have found the 40k community to be great at helping to promote events as we all like to see decent sized groups compete.

Key Advice

This advice doesn’t come from me but from another TO of the Guardian Cup. When it comes to the data entry, take your time, especially at the last round. I’ll say it again, take your time! Don’t let players rush you so you can do it right and ensure that there are no mistakes. If this takes a little bit longer that’s ok, it’s better to take a bit longer than to make big mistakes in the scoring of the whole event.

Other Items To Consider

PA System – for larger events or in a noisy space, you may consider using a PA system to broadcast your voice.

Projector – Having a projector can really speed up pairings when people can see it from all over.

Time Clock – I use that has a great count down feature and is in a large format.

Packets – Having some kind of packet to pass out can make your life easier. The schedule and mission should be the main things on them to help guide players in their games.

Help! – Get some helpers to set up, take down, or help collect scores.


One great thing about running events is seeing everyone having a great time and hanging out around a game we enjoy. When you are able to get to a larger scale and start to get players from around the country, the tournament can become more than just an event and turn into something more. You’ll get players that come and go, but you’ll also make new friends and help grow the community which is awesome to be a part of. So think about starting small and working your way up to  help grow the gaming community in your area.

What are your tips for running a good event? Post your thoughts below.




About CaptainA

Aaron is a longtime gamer of many systems. He is an avid community builder of 40k and after running many 40k events in Portland, Oregon, has recently moved to Boise, Idaho and continues to host and run leagues and events. He has also recently expanded his repertoire and entered the second hand Warhammer business. Check out his website at to see how he can help you get rid off your old and unused models.

9 Responses to “So You Want To Be A TO?”

  1. iNcontroL January 29, 2015 1:09 am #

    Nicely written Aaron! Having been to your tourney I can say with confidence you know what you’re talking about!

  2. Bellerah January 29, 2015 8:50 am #

    Excellent Info. I am glad to see Portland is getting a thriving game scene now.

    I think I will stick to just attending Reece events and complaining, as it is the easiest solution.

    • Reecius January 29, 2015 11:32 am #

      Hahaha, well played, sir!

    • CaptainA January 29, 2015 2:05 pm #

      Now I just need to get Reecius to do my events so I can play!

      • Reecius January 29, 2015 3:18 pm #

        Lol, no way! We already run so many, it’s nice to go and actually play.

  3. Reecius January 29, 2015 12:26 pm #

    Great article, Aaron!

  4. fluger January 30, 2015 9:37 am #

    Fantastic Article as always.

    I’m actually hoping to turn my porch into a gaming space to run monthly mini tournaments at. I’m thinking 3 round, 8 player stuff. 4 tables is about where my space maxes out at, and I almost have enough terrain now to put down on 4 tables.

    My goals are to get 4 good tables up and running first with good terrain and good FAT mats. Then I’m just going to use simple Swiss Pairing.

    No prizes or anything, the whole thing will be for funsies, but I hope to foster a semi-competitive vibe and get people playing more in my area.

    Anyway, this article gave me food for thought. Thanks!

Leave a Reply