Growing as a TO: Unspoken Truths

Cagt - September 11, 2020

Tournament Organizers play an integral role in the industry, and many folks look to improve their craft to hopefully host their own major national event one day. Others prefer to stay within their own communities, and provide a fun environment for players who can't really travel out of region. There is no right or wrong reason to become a TO, and each one of them is perfectly valid in the community.

However, for those looking to climb the ranks to the top, there are a lot of unspoken topics regarding this role that often fly under the radar, and many have stagnated or simply fallen off after being confronted by these. Some of these may already be familiar to you, others may be completely new concepts. Regardless of that, my aim is to shed some light on these subjects, and hopefully educate the masses on some of the struggles that TOs have to go through in order to reach the top.

When you read this blog, keep in mind that this is based on my own experiences, as well as having multiple discussions with various folks in the industry, both new and veterans alike. Everyone's stories will be different, and these will not apply to everybody. Remember that this is also mainly targeted at individuals looking to become national scale TOs or host national scale events, and those who prefer to stay within their communities may not encounter what I'm going to discuss. However, they are still important to keep in mind, as they can heavily impact your growth in many ways. Let us get started!

1. People will not pay attention to you.

This is a very hard pill to swallow, and one I wanted to address first before anything else, so let me explain:

When you are hosting events within your community, it's easy to garner attention and get people to notice the events you're putting out. The target audience is much smaller, and you can more easily focus on specific individuals to boost your event's attendance. However, once you move up to a grander scale, it will become extremely difficult to stand out.

As much as the community is very supportive of one another, remember that the world of TO'ing is extremely competitive, and that you'll have to go out of your way to make a mark in the community. That's not to say that people will intentionally push you out, nor will they slander your name on social media. What I mean is because of the high abundance of events happening, as well as the established organizers already having their spot, folks will often look towards those events instead of trying to expand their horizons and attend new ones. You really need to go the extra mile in order to breakthrough to the greater community.

This can also be relevant within larger regional communities such as New England, Florida, SoCal, etc. where there's already a very established organization, event series, etc. Even with the best possible venue, schedule, prize pool, etc, there's always the chance that someone more notable than you can take over the spotlight. That doesn't mean you should have any ill feelings towards them, it just means you need to accept your current status, and work harder to get where you want to be.

It's a similar concept to when people mention "focus on yourself, don't worry about the opinions of others" - even if you may not have global praise from the community at large, if you keep grinding and improve the quality of your events, people will notice and give you the credit you deserve. It's not easy whatsoever, but certainly doable.

2. People will say no to you, disagree with you, or hate you for no reason.

Ever hard of the saying "you can't please everyone"? Well, this section essentially encapsulates that idea.

Once you start to make a name for yourself (or attempt to), you will obviously get to a point where you'll want to work at bigger events, or collaborate with prominent organizers. Maybe you'll have a certain idea for your event, or you'll start something within your region that hasn't been done before. However, one thing you need to be prepared for is that you will encounter opposition.

You will get denied the chance to work at a major. You will disagree with someone as to how to organize an event. You will have players who have bitter feelings towards you. It will happen. That's okay. But most importantly: none of it is personal.

Organizers already have their circle of staff for events. They already have their own set methods for running events. Players already have their own preferences as to who's events they want to attend. Some you will be able to convince otherwise, others you won't be able to make them budge. And that's okay! You're not here to change the way people work, but rather add your own touch to an art that is being optimized every passing day of the year.

Additionally, never assume that a no is final. Just because they don't want you now, doesn't mean that they won't need you in the future, or that they'll never recognize your skillset. People grow, and their mentalities change. TOs pay attention to everything going on in the scene, so when they see someone putting in the work for it, they'll make sure you're aware of it. Even if it may not seem obvious to you in the moment, those at the top notice those who make an active effort to stand out in the crowd. Your hard work and dedication will be rewarded.

3. You will have to force your way in.

(kudos to you if you understand the Final Fantasy 8 reference)

As I've mentionned before, the scene already has an established group of organizers and events within each region, so you may think: what's the need for more? Am I even going to get accepted? Does it happen overnight?

The truth of the matter is you have to make yourself known in the community, and you have to create that spot yourself. No one is going to save a date for you just because you said so, and no one's going to intentionally include you in an important conversation because you exist. You have to give them a reason to include you, or become notable enough to be included by default.

Now just to clarify: I am in no way encouraging you to be aggressive or to be a nuisance to others. That would be counter-intuitive to what you're trying to achieve, and would only make people trust you even less.

Think of it this way: if tomorrow there was to be a major in your area, people should expect you to be involved in the event in some way. Not in the sense that they will make a riot if you're not, but in the sense that they will be surprised if you have no affiliation with it (unless you've explicitely stated otherwise). If someone brings up a conversation of the best events in the area, people should naturally mention you/your events, instead of having to be reminded of it. People will actively promote your events or recommend you to others without you having to initiate it. Once you've reached that status, then you know you've made a name for yourself. It's the kind of "I made it" moment of clarity that I'm referring to.

4. Be prepared to lose a lot of money.

I'm sure you've heard plenty of discussions about this topic already on social media, but it's definitely an important one to keep in mind as you attempt to host larger scale events.

You will lose a LOT of money while doing this. In fact, you might even CONTINUE TO LOSE MONEY until years down the line. This is in no way shape or form a business where you can profit 100% of the time and live comfortably. I cannot begin to tell you the amount of money I've had to use from my personal finances and savings account to make certain things happen in the community, or sometimes even for my local weekly. I'm not saying you're going to go broke doing this, but this is absolutely a large financial commitment that you're going to have to hold yourself to.

Now evidently, having investors and sponsors can definitely ease the task and make your life easier, but you will not make it anywhere in this industry if you think you'll never have to put in a single cent of your own personal money into the events you host. There are times where you'll have to ask for favors, and there are times where you'll have to spend that extra $ for quality of life changes. However, at the end of the day, that commitment will be worth it, and you will eventually be able to reach a point where you can lessen your personal financial commitment, and instead utilize external financial backing to fund your events. It will take time, but it is absolutely doable. Keep track of all the money you receive/spend, and make sure to not go overboard when you don't need to. It will save your life.

5. Be prepared to lose a lot of free time.

Unlike your traditional 9-5 jobs, being a Tournament Organizer is a 24/7 position.

While you may not always be hosting an event, once you grow as an organizer, you will always be seen as a TO, and you will always have that label attached to you. The decisions you make, actions you take, and things you say will be heavily influenced by the fact that you are a TO, and will have an even bigger impact if you are one at a national scale.

Addtionally, while growing as a TO, you will have to put in an immense amount of free time into doing research, networking, and so forth in order to reach the level and status you want to achieve. You will have multiple sleepless nights, massive amounts of anxiety, and constant doubts whether or not you are doing the right thing for your events and community. You're going to have to learn about things you weren't previously familiar with, or not necessarily proficient at. It may seem very cryptic on the surface, but I am not trying to scare you away from it. I'm just trying to warn you of the inevitable feelings you will go through as you become more prominent in the industry.

For as much as we love our job, and are passionate about what we do, being a Tournament Organizer is very stress enducing, and can be intense at times. You hold a certain responsibility to those around you, and have to uphold that no matter what time of day it is. When you're at an event, you are the first responder to a situation. Attendees put their trust in you in case something goes wrong. You have to be mentally prepared to handle the best and the worst.

On a lighter note, you will also receive a lot of support for what you do, and will gain recognition for the efforts you put in. As much as there's a lot of negative aspects to what we do, not many people are willing to stand up for the community, and your efforts will not go unnoticed.

Closing thoughts

While I've certainly touched up on these points above, I want to mention a few other topics before closing out this blog:

- Utilize the connections you have. Whether it's a sponsor that you snatched early on, or someone who's willing to vouch for you, don't be afraid to use it to your advantage. Don't rely on them to do the dirty work obviously, but if you're able to get an extra leg up for an application, then make it happen. This is a very common concept in business, so it's important to mention it here as well.
- Be honest with your goals. Obviously the glamour of hosting your own major sounds very appealing, but it's not something that's appealing or achievable to everyone. Set realistic expectations for yourself, and if you don't want to do anything past your immediate community, that's entirely up to you and no one else. This is your life & career at the end of the day.
- Take your time. This is not something that will take a day, week, month, or even a year at times. Some folks have been around since Brawl, and to this day have yet to host anything past a 32 man local. Some folks are completely new to Ultimate, and are already involved with major events. Neither of them is wrong, and you should never feel like you're lacking behind others. If you think you're rushing and getting ahead of yourself, slow down and take a break. Reassess your plans and what you want to do, there's always time to readjust things and go in a different direction.

With all that being said, I hope this blog has given you some insight as to what it takes to reach the top echelon of tournament organzing. I can attest to having experienced everything described here in some way, whether it's through personal experience, being mentored about these topics, or even seeing it happen in-person/online. Many of you are aware of the many tweets I've made regarding the struggles of growing as a TO, and how I've had to learn the majority of my knowledge through pure research and sheer experience. Now that I've elaborated on some of these subjects, I hope to be able to help many aspiring organizers who'd like to one day be able to host their own major.

If you have any further questions, or would like to discuss anything more in-detail, my DMs on Twitter are always open to everybody. Thank you for reading!

Cyrus "Cagt" Gharakhanian (@Cagt3000).

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