Over the past few months, this problem has grown and grown into what it is today. Like many other locals across the U.S. and perhaps the world, tournament attendance has gone down by a staggering amount. It is often said "all great things must come to an end," however I am not ready to accept the inevitability that this is happening in Yu-Gi-Oh, regardless of it actually occurring now.
Back in the day, the downstairs Northtown tournaments (Dragon's Lair) had numerous people play. I'd like to say somewhere in the neighborhood of 30. We'd have to play by the mini-golf course, eventually we got kicked out of there so we moved to the little tables closer to the Dragon's Lair. Eventually they went out of business and Klinger took the reigns for the tournament. No one wants to play in the damn foodcourt of a popular mall, so you can guess how all that played out. Our sneak peeks used to be held at the convention center, and I think we'd regularly have 60-80 people show up for them. That era was the peak of Spokane Yu-Gi-Oh, when the Tri-Cities had their team, Team O started up, and the game was all about skill.
The realization hit me last Sunday when I decided to drive up to Lightning Comics for their Sunday Yu-Gi-Oh tournament. I was warned that attendance was "poopy", but I at least assumed there would be enough to have a tournament. I guess that's why they say "never assume", since there was like a whole 5 people there. I called Danny and expressed my concern about dwindling attendance. This has been happening not only at Lightning Comics, but the other places to play as well. It seems rather sporadic when there's a crappy turnout and when there's a "good" turnout. At Board Game Nation we may have one week where we have 13-15, then the following week there are like 4. Yesterday there were 7 people at Lightning, when Saturdays are supposed to be their good days. I have to take into consideration though that there was a Magic Pre/Release as well, and I know many people play multiple games. I know I would rather play in a Sneak Peek-like event than just a normal locals as well, so I guess we will just have to wait to see if it's better next week.
Personally speaking, I am really liking this format right now. With the re-introduction of Heavy Storm, no longer can you go herp derp set 4 summon a monster. Even if you have a Road for protection, there is always the possibility your opponent will guess correctly with their MST, then Heavy your field. As evident in YCS Toronto, TG is still a good deck, and I am not outright dismissing backrow-heavy decks. Quite the opposite, I actually ordered my set of Horn of the Phantom Beasts and a third Rush Rhino a few days after the YCS. I would bet that the people that did well with those decks didn't recklessly set their whole hand like we saw last format. I believe this format rewards skill a lot more than last format.
That being said, it greatly confuses me as to why attendance is going down; theoretically, shouldn't people be coming back because the format actually is good? Maybe I am just in the minority who do think it's good, and people quit because BLS came back, or because Tour Guides are still ridiculously expensive, I really don't know.
My main hypothesis is that attendance is decreasing due to the increasing gap between skill and disposable income. What I mean by this, is that basically you have three groups of people in this game:
1) the seasoned vets who have been playing for 5+ years at a competitive level
2) the little kids
3) everyone else in between
Unfortunately I believe that group #3 is what makes or break attendance, at least for our area. I also believe that generally, people go to play with the hopes that they can win some free booster packs. Little kids less so, I can see them playing for the enjoyment of it. But due to the strength of the competitive players, pretty much the dominance of Team O, everyone else is getting left in the dust and therefore they get frustrated and move on to other games, play elsewhere, play strictly casually, etc. Rather than try to step their game up to our level, they'd rather just say "ah screw it, I can't win because [insert random excuse here]. I know, I'll play something else". Is that to say that Team O is killing attendance? Hardly. In fact the opposite could be said. For example let's analyze the attendance of Uncle's. Now I personally haven't gone there ever since Board Game Nation opened up, and I am going by what I hear, but I actually met and spoke with Andrew on the bus last week and asked how attendance was. He was like "it's nothing special. Not bad but not great." Basically, because Team O no longer attends his tournaments, about half his attendance went out the window. You would think that people would go back because all the "hard people" are gone, but that is not the case. He said the Trans don't play anymore, along with a lot of other people that used to frequent his tournaments. In his case, I guess you could say "you reap what you sow" but that doesn't explain why it's going down everywhere else.
To build more on this, having money to spend on this game DOES help in being more competitive. For example in GK/Sam format I would not shell out the money for Pot of Dualities. Looking back, I know I would have done a lot better if I had them, at least when I played GK. I was actually glad when plants emerged because you only really need Warning in that deck. Upstart Goblin is such a poor replacement for Duality, it's almost better to just play something else entirely. Skip ahead about a year, and we have the same story but with Tour Guide. There is no replacement for Tour Guide at the moment, so you shouldn't even try to go that route. I know that you don't HAVE to have Tour Guide to win, look at TG, but if you want to play something like Plants or Agents, and the upcoming Darkworld, it damn sure helps. Because of the "need" to have these expensive secret rares, I believe a lot of people have been turned off from this game. Look at GENF; almost every good card is a secret rare or at least ultra rare. Playable supers, rares, or commons? I guess Wind-Up Factory is their Black Whirlwind, but I know that archetype still has a ways to go. And sure, we are getting a lot of reprints like Duality, Kristya, Gaia, Zero, Warning, but a lot of the times it's after-the-fact. By the time we get them, they aren't nearly as important compared to when they're released. Why are we getting an Ehren reprint now, when it would've been a lot more useful when people actually played Lightsworn/Twilight? It's not going to magically make me want to play that deck. When we get a Tour Guide reprint, there's just going to be something else more broken that we will need, and Tour Guide will be a thing of the past. This cycle has been played out for several years now; some people realize this, others continuously get taken advantage of and buy into the mind games that Konami is playing on our wallet.
I know some people say that attendance goes down because of school, and I partly agree with that, but once summer hits that reason just turns to "well it's summer, people are on vacation or working a summer job." OK, so what about the "in-between" times like winter and spring break or random 3-day weekends? I can't recall there being a sudden influx of people. Sure there are some guys from Pullman that show up, but I'm talking about all the people locally who simply don't come. Sure they'll show up at sneak peeks to pick up some of the new set, but a lot of the times they don't even play in the tournament anyway! This happened when I was in Texas too; attendance wasn't bad down there, we'd always have the regular 20 people play plus the random show-ups, but sneak peek days were crazy. I show up and am like "who tf are all these people?" They are the people in group #3. They aren't competitive, aren't little kids, they are the "randoms". If those people played, imagine the attendance.
Looking forward, I really hope that Darkworld can re-introduce those players back in the game. That deck is not as herp derp-y as one may think. From what I've seen, the deck actually requires careful planning, where one wrong move can cost you the game, very similar to Glad Beast. Sure, Gate and Grapha are pretty busted, but that is just a small aspect to the deck. I will delve more on Darkworld in a later post, but I just hope that more people will come back for the nostalgia of when Darkworld was first commonly seen. Realistically though, it's not going to cause a huge number of people to come back into the game, if any.
The last thing I'd like to touch on is the number of different places to play. Off the top of my head, I can think of: Lightning Comics (CDA), Uncles (downtown), Uncles (valley), Board Game Nation (valley), and Northtown Comic Book Shop (northtown). That's 5 different places to play. I'll disregard Lightning a little since CDA is a decent drive, so we have 4 in the Spokane area. I think that in general people are "satisfied" if they get 1 or 2 tournaments in a week. I know personally I get my "fix" if I can play once a week. So if you have 1/4 of the people wanting to play in each of the 4 locations, all that does is hurt the attendance of all of those places. If you had 20 different people that were interested in playing, you'd get 5 for each tourney. Even if it were just cut in half by having two locations, that'd go up to 10, and you could actually hold a decent tournament. It seems rather obvious that people should try to collaborate amongst themselves and decide where they all want to play. My personal favorite is Board Game Nation. They have Turbo Packs, pretty decent prize support, good central location (not too long of a drive for me), very spacious playing area, nice tables and chairs, vending machine, it's got it all. My only gripe is that it starts late on Mondays, but it's a work day so realistically it has to be later after everyone's out of school/work. In my opinion there's no reason for anyone that wants to play that has the time to play, that lives in the Spokane area, and who's also tired of Andrew's/Uncle's crap, to not play at BGN.