'How to Promote your Event' with Bill Anderson!

Today we have something special for those interested in running Guild Ball events. The Spring Fling is a Guild Ball tournament which takes place in the USA and is run by William (Bill) Anderson. This event has seen a huge amount of success thanks to the work that Bill puts into its preparation. This year’s event has sold out at 64 entrants and even has a waiting list of 10+ gamers wanting to be a part of the Spring Fling. We’ve invited Bill to guest-author today’s blog to tell you all about the Spring Fling and the preparation that goes into making such a great event; with the aim of inspiring more budding T.O.s to make something equally amazing in their own communities.


The afternoon heat was sweltering, anything at a distance seeming hidden behind a hazy optic. Every player felt it; their clothes sticky, tiny beads of sweat leaving trails across their skin as they stared each other down across the halfway line, waiting for the horn to sound that would begin the match. The restless crowd murmured amongst itself, a frustrated, petulant beast tormented in the harsh unrelenting sun. A strange noiseless calm permeated the game, each side daring the other to the the first to break the silence.

Finally, the sound came.”

Introduction and history of the Spring Fling

Sherwin’s prose brings to mind the Spring Fling for me. Now that I’ve said that, maybe you’ll be hard pressed to think otherwise in the future. I appreciate the invitation by Steamforged Games to write a bit about the Spring Fling Guild Ball tournament and how it’s pulled together. I’ve been asked how we’ve achieved the success we have each year, and I can only give credit to the fantastic players in our Guild Ball community. A lot goes into events such as the Spring Fling, Vengeance, Bourbon Trail Open, Old Jake’s Howzat, and all the other large independent tournaments out there. These events are run without the background support of a convention to draw players, and their entire focus is on playing Guild Ball for a full day or even a full weekend! Although I cannot talk on behalf of the incredibly dedicated tournament organizers (TO’s) who run the other events, I can talk a bit about what goes into the Spring Fling.

Planning

Planning is the first piece of the puzzle for me, and I do a lot more than it probably looks like I do. My planning for each annual Spring Fling starts 6 months prior to the event. I re-review feedback that I capture during the previous year and think through my plan for how I’ll run the next event. I ask myself some basic questions:

  • Do I want to run the event again?
  • Did everyone have fun at the last event?
  • What went well and what could be improved?
  • Can I support more players? Do I have the space, the time to run the rounds, the supplies, the food, the lodging?
  • Can I make it easier for people to get to the event?
  • Where will people stay?
  • What does my timeline need to look like?
  • Am I providing a swag bag?
  • Can I improve the swag bag (if I provided one last year)?
  • What are the best dates?

This is just the start of my thinking, all of which magically forms lists in a new folder on my computer. That folder took shape in October 2017 and was labeled Spring Fling 2018. There are a variety of questions you’ll find yourself wrestling with throughout the process, all of which need answers along the way. Embedded in the start of all this planning I begin to secure my most critical components of the event: 1. Determine where it will be held & 2. Set up a way for people to register and pay.

Advertisement

Along the way, and even before I get all the planning done, I’ll start determining and enacting my plan for advertisement. The list you saw before was not an exhaustive list of everything you need to consider. Advertisement is important as this is how you’ll let people know about the event but also how I drum up interest. Providing I’ve done a good job in previous years, the players at my event will have enjoyed themselves and word of mouth will be my first advertising stop. I make sure to capture contact information and nudge those players early in the process with an email message letting them know the event will be returning and what date it’ll be. I do this before I open registration, since I want people talking about the event and building anticipation. As the date of opening registration approaches, I send out some graphics talking about the event and date on Facebook due to its recent popularity. I’ve been accused of flooding Guild Ball groups, but I have a method to the madness. I post about the Spring Fling to the following groups:

  • Guild Ball Supporters (Gu.B.S.)
  • Guild Ball Pundits
  • My local area (Capital Guild Ball)
  • My local region (MidAtlantic Guild Ball)
  • Nearby areas (a couple Pennsylvania groups, North Carolina group, a couple Southern VA groups, the West Virginia group)
  • Any region that’s attended previously (New York/New Jersey, New England, Chicago)

After getting a couple teasers out there, I made a decision this year to do something a bit different. I generated an alternate registration with a small discount and extended that offer for a limited time to the following people:

  • Previous Spring Fling attendees
  • Key Podcasts who had not attended in the past
  • Pundits

I did this for a limited time, and was clear that it was for a limited time, to help generate additional interest in the event. These tickets were available ahead of general registration this year for approximately 4 weeks. I found it interesting that only about a dozen were taken advantage of, but the excitement it generated seemed to be far in excess of those who actually availed themselves.

About a week prior to public registration opening I created the Facebook event and shared the registration date and another flood of information to a variety of areas. These included not only the Facebook groups above, but also areas such as podcasts, the Guild Ball Discord channel, the Steamforged Forums, Twitter, and essentially anywhere I knew there was a collection of Guild Ball players.

Being known

Let’s talk about two things very quickly: namely notoriety and podcasting. I am a podcaster (cohost of Guild Ball Tonight with Phil Bowen) and I absolutely use that to my advantage, since I have a platform where I can talk about events that I’ll be running. I also make a point of travelling within my local and extended area to attend and support other Guild Ball events. I take part in online discussions in a variety of ways. I also look for opportunities to talk about the Spring Fling on other podcasts where available. This is something any TO can do and should do when planning their events. It’s a rare podcaster who will not be willing to bring you on their show and talk about the event you’re putting together. Being known in the community for playing the game, supporting other pundits and TO’s, and generally being visible is a huge deal.

Being a host and the Spring Fling Significant Others event

Attending many events across the US and even internationally in the UK, I’ve privately made note of a trait that sets apart the organizers of large events from those that struggle to grow. The most successful organizers I’ve encountered host the event. By which I mean they judge and arbitrate rules, track the results and bookkeeping, collect the registration, and set up the event. Most importantly, they strive to make everyone who’s attending their event feel welcome, like a guest. Despite being frazzled, the best organizers of the most successful and larger events dote on their players. They walk the gaming hall and check in on games. They cheer and encourage wins when collecting results and sympathize with losses. Overall, they don’t view running an event as a chore or a job, they embrace the joy of hosting all of us as gamers for a day or weekend of gaming. Along with planning, this is easily the most important part of hosting a large independent event.

I need to take a moment and recognize my lovely wife’s brilliance and support at this point. My wife and I were discussing the upcoming Spring Fling 2017 at the end of 2016, trying to determine how to help the married gamer find time to come to a full weekend event. We decided to try something different, based on how much she likes travelling (for business and for gaming) with me. My wife does not play miniature games, but she likes visiting new places. Since I’m already in a hotel, she often tags along on overnight trips and goes off to explore the local area near my tournament. This worked so well for us that she took the lead on pulling together the Spring Fling Significant Other’s event. This was a 1-day event held on the first day of the Spring Fling, specifically setup for the gamers’ significant others to go out and do events. It was such a hit last year we’ve included it and expanded it for the Spring Fling 2018. Now a gamer doesn’t need a “pass” to come out and game for a weekend, it’s a weekend getaway for the couple.

Food

I need to close out with one more thought which is very important. A good host feeds their guests, and this needs to be given some thought while organizing a large event. The location of an event should have an eye toward how players will exercise their lunch option. Gamers love discounted lunches, so finding a way to include a discount or provide a free lunch goes a long way to making a memorable event. I include part of this into the price of the registration. I also make sure I have coffee and donuts available at registration for all the players. Lastly, if you can identify a local restaurant where everyone can collect for drinks and dinner following the event, do it. I’ve yet to meet a gamer who doesn’t enjoy gathering at a local pub, bar, restaurant, or inn and sharing the days exploits over a plate of food and a pint of your favorite drink.

There’s much more I’ve not touched on, but I hope this gives some insight into how I’ve pulled together the Spring Fling 2016, 2017, and now 2018. Given that 2018 is sold out at 64 players (with a 10+ person wait list), we already know we’ll need to expand next year. Now I’m off to dive into the final 45 day scramble of final preparation!