I was in town the other day and hit up the local Melee TO, Zagnes, for an interview on the financial viability of small Smash tournaments. Below is the video of the interview, Wichita Melee's social media links, and a transcript of the interview.
AD: Good evening. It's me, Amiibo Doctor, and I'm here with the local Melee tournament organizer, Zagnes. Right, Zagnes?
AD: I've invited him here today to ask him about the financial side of small local tournaments, and whether those tournaments are sustainable as a business model. Now let's get some demographic information and financial information out of the way first.
So this is a Melee tournament, right?
AD: And how often does this tournament happen?
Zagnes: We do it every Friday. And that's our only tournament series right now. We used to do monthlys, but - this ties into the subject, but I didn't see it because we always wanted to throw out a pot bonus, namely $100 specifically, just to try and attract like, top players from KC, like Oklahoma, but -
AD: KC being Kansas City?
Zagnes: Yeah, Kansas City, my bad. And then, some of them would come out but basically not enough to justify throwing out $100 of our saved up money. We're just focusing on the weekly, trying to grow the scene.
AD: Okay. And this is a Wichita Melee tournament?
Zagnes: Correct. Ultimate's there too, but I'm the Melee TO.
AD: Okay, get this out of the way. Weekly. Wichita. Melee. What's it called?
Zagnes: The tournament? Shocker Smash Fridays.
AD: Okay. [points to camera] Look that up.
AD: So, it's a weekly, but how many people do you usually have at this tournament?
Zagnes: For Melee, we've averaged about 16 people, basically.
AD: How much does it cost, like entry fees?
Zagnes: We do a $2 entry fee, and $3 for bracket.
AD: So it's about five bucks, then?
Zagnes: Basically, yeah.
AD: So that gives you like eighty bucks to work with, basically.
Zagnes: Uhhh, yeah, I guess.
AD: Aside from entry fees, bracket, that sort of thing, do you have any other revenue streams for the tournament?
Zagnes: We do have a Twitch channel, wichitamelee. We do sub goals to incentivize more people to sub, cause if we reach our sub goal then we'll actually waive venue fees for all subs, but more often than not we're just barely not at the goal, so basically because of that every three months, because of how slow we get money from Twitch, we get paid out every three months a little over $100. It's so slow, because of how little subs we have, we never usually break the goal.
AD: Yeah, Twitch doesn't really provide a whole lot because you're so small.
Zagnes: Yeah, like, the way Twitch works is that they don't pay out until you reach $100, but then even once you break $100 it takes, I wanna say thirty to sixty days to like, actually pay it out. We got paid last maybe, I wanna say last month, so we probably won't get paid until like March, I guess.
AD: What kinda viewership do you usually have when you're doing the tournament?
Zagnes: It definitely ranges, not that much. It's nothing crazy, maybe like anywhere from ten to on a good night twenty-something people.
AD: That is pretty small. So that's revenue, eighty bucks to work with, plus the hundred occasionally, not even enough for a real pot bonus. What kind of overhead do you have? Do you pay a business to be there, is it in somebody's basement, do you have setup costs? How does that work?
Zagnes: We're actually very fortunate that our venue, the guy who owns our venue does not need any, he doesn't care if we pay him or not, so he's just glad that we get people in the door who buys food. He just expects us to buy food and whatnot. So we don't have to actually pay venue fees towards another person, so any venue fee, the $2 per person goes straight to us and we just save it.
AD: What would you save it for?
Zagnes: Just stream equipment. My most recent big purchase was a cart for big CRTs, I just keep it in my car. During the summer we're at a different space where we don't get TV storage space. At our current venue he's nice enough to let us store like six of my TVs in his closet, but during the summer I got a cart to just wheel them back and forth from the building.
AD: Is that the cart that I see every Friday night on the Wichita Melee Snapchat?
Zagnes: No, it is not -
AD: Aww, okay
Zagnes: - that is just the school's cart but I have my own.
AD: When you said cart, I was like "that's gotta be the one that I see"
Zagnes: No no, I wish it was that one because it's bigger, but that one doesn't fit in my truck.
AD: Yeah, okay. No, that makes sense. You've got eighty but really no costs, there's nothing besides it. Do you do pot bonuses at all?
Zagnes: Not at the weeklies. We did a pot bonus at a weekly when it was the one-year anniversary for our last series, we just did a $52 pot bonus because it was the 52nd weekly. We don't really do things like that for the weekly. I wish we could, but we'd lose more than... based on how many people show up it wasn't worth it.
AD: What kind of entry numbers would it take for you to restart those monthlies?
Zagnes: I would love, minimum, like 32 people to show up. Cause that's a nice, clean, y'know, solid amount of people showing up on like a Saturday. You have a good skill range between a bunch of lower-level players and top-heavy players. Our monthlies started off really good because we started in January 2018, the first two got like fifty entrants each, and then March was really bad because it just happened to be on St. Patrick's Day, and that was just bad planning. Even throughout the summer it was a little bit better, but then towards the end of that year and then going into the next year it was just falling off, so we just decided to stop it.
AD: Now, you mentioned that this was Melee specifically, and you said you have Ultimate as well, does Ultimate have its own separate finances? Is it its own separate deal?
Zagnes: I can tell you that they get way more people entering theirs, they probably average like thirty or fifty people showing up for Ultimate. I know they provide the setup discount they shave off a dollar, but either way that's like two times us, maybe sixty dollars.
AD: Yeah, it makes sense that Ultimate would be a lot more popular because it's the new game.
Zagnes: Yeah, it's just the new game.
AD: Like, y'know, Brawl's the big new game, and then Smash 4 shows up. Poof. And then Ultimate shows up... Smash 4 hasn't completely died, I think I saw a livestream tournament the other day.
Zagnes: I haven't heard a single thing about it.
AD: I can't imagine why people are still playing... So, have you had any ideas about other monetization methods for the tournament that could maybe help you grow it, or balance out some of the savings?
Zagnes: Um... I mean, I've thought of like Patreon, but it's like, with that money you could just sub to us on Twitch. Subbing also is like, you can just, if you have Amazon Prime it's literally free, so I don't know. I don't think it's necessarily to do Patreon. If for one, you're showing up every week, cause that's support in itself, and then two you're a sub, that's plenty to ask.
AD: That makes sense.
AD: So, gonna ask you a hard question here. One thing that we see in a lot of the other eSports, this is really notable in Fortnite with the big three million dollar world cups, is that the companies that publish these games then financially support the competitive scenes for them. If Nintendo offered to help fund your tournament, but had restrictions of what you can do like language, behavior and environment, basically if they enforced a "we eSports now" attitude, would you take them up on it?
Zagnes: Um... if it was just like attitude and behavior and not what rulesets we like to use, yeah, I would. I think that'd be a pretty easy transition, I think. We already have the livestream with the commentary and we have like a sheet that I made, cause people would just get off-topic, or like, be biased towards another player, but if I told my scene that Nintendo somehow got involved for whatever reason, I think that wouldn't be too bad. But if they tell us, "No, you've gotta play with items, you've gotta play the game the way we want it to be, then no, I wouldn't do that."
AD: Yeah, that makes sense. I guess really when you're coming together to play Melee, it's the competitive integrity of the game, there's no point in having the tournament without having the competitive integrity.
So let's say for a second that your benevolent host then decided that he needed money out of your tournament? What would happen? We'll assume that you couldn't pay it, because eighty bucks a week is not large.
Zagnes: I mean, so at the previous venue it was also three dollars for bracket, but we'd also did a four dollar venue, so we would still get two but then another two would just go to the owners. The cost would basically just go onto the entrance. If it was just a Melee weekly, and I don't know what he's expecting from a 16-man tournament, but if we had Ultimate there with us, I don't think it'd be that bad. And it'd be very reasonable cause it's a nice space, so.
AD: Do you think raising the price by a couple dollars would significantly affect entrants? Or are people mostly just in it for Melee?
Zagnes: No, not significantly. If you're already not coming out because of how expensive it is despite it's just five dollars. You're probably not coming out anyway. Especially if there's a two dollar increase or whatever.
AD: Yeah, that would make sense. So let's take this back to the larger picture, then. You've mentioned that you've been pretty fortunate because your venue is basically free so long as people buy food and drinks and whatnot. Do you think this is the case for most local scenes?
Zagnes: No, probably not. You've gotta think about it, there's a ton out there where no one plays Melee, and then probably a small town. People love Smash, but not every city's populated enough... Well, you can start a weekly anywhere, but it's just whether you're willing to do it. Being a TO's a lot of work, and even if it's just like a small weekly, if you want a good tournament to be ran, it's just a lot of work. I'm sorry, what was the question? We can restart that one.
AD: No, that's okay. Basically do you think this is the case for most local scenes, that you can afford to save, and you have consistent people who will show up regardless of the price?
Zagnes: Uhh probably not most scenes, but I think the average scene maybe yeah. I think a lot of scenes it's probably tougher on them, like if you had a local business, and you're just gonna take up space, y'know? Like you can't not expect to be like "Well, are you gonna pay me anything?"
AD: That makes sense, yeah. I can see why that would be the case.
AD: So then, do you think, this is your local scene, right. But as a whole, since we're gonna post this on Smashboards, you might get some nasty comments - be nice!- do you think Smash as a whole would be better off if Nintendo financially supported let's say the Melee and Ultimate scenes but restricted what was considered allowable. Basically the restrictions I mentioned earlier, but on a larger scale. In other words, if we were "eSports now" would that be a good thing or a bad thing?
Zagnes: I think it would be a good thing because, as long as they don't ban a local tournament from having, how do I say this. As long as they don't ban me - cause I'd still want to do my weekly, because there's a certain vibe you don't get from an actual professional eSports event.
AD: As long as Nintendo doesn't come in and give out vibe checks, you're fine.
Zagnes: Ha! Yeah, you're right. As long as you're not keeping me from trying to grow my scene, but if they wanna hop in and do an event with me involved, I'll gladly help. And then if it benefits both of us, I don't see why not.
AD: Okay, that pretty much summarizes everything I wanted to know about professional Melee -
AD: Melee tournament organization. Um, just for fun, I'll throw in a question or two of my own. Let's say that you joined the competitive amiibo scene. What would be the first amiibo that you train? You mentioned off-camera that you don't have any amiibo.
Zagnes: I don't have any amiibo, no. I'm assuming this is for Ultimate?
AD: Yeah. At the moment every non-DLC character has an amiibo, and Piranha Plant has one as well.
Zagnes: Probably just... when I played Ultimate, I played DK because he's super easy to pick up, because if you've played DK then you get him, so maybe DK or... Falcon? I play Falcon in Melee, so.
AD: Well, I'd like to give you something to show my appreciation for you taking time out of your busy day.
AD: I need to live up to the name Amiibo Doctor. [Presents Triforce amiibo] I'd like to present you with the Triforce amiibo.
Zagnes: This is an amiibo?
AD: Yeah, if you show them the back... Each of those three is an amiibo chip in itself. One is Link, one is Zelda, one is Ganondorf. And that functions as three separate amiibo.
Zagnes: This is an amiibo Nintendo made?
AD: No, this is one that I made. I'm the Amiibo Doctor! It's my thing!
Zagnes: Ohhh, it's just the chip underneath the sticker?
AD: That is the sticker.
Zagnes: The sticker's the chip?
AD: Mhm. You just scan it in like it's a regular functioning amiibo, and pshew.
AD: Well, it's a pleasure to meet you Zagnes, I appreciate you meeting with me, and enjoy your Triforce amiibo. Good luck on the Melee scene, man! It's been a long time.
Zagnes: Yeah, uh twitch.tv/wichitamelee or you can Youtube us at Wichita Melee.
AD: Yeah, links will be in the description, and the transcript will be on Smashboards. Thank you for coming!
What do you think? Can most small-town tournaments be sustained long-term financially?