Tournament Season, Part 1 | Games, Gamers, & Gaming

Summer is a great time for gaming programs. Kids are out of school, your patrons are probably accustomed to increased volume and activity, and the longer days mean you’ll get more foot traffic later in the day.

Summer is a great time for gaming programs. Kids are out of school, your patrons are probably accustomed to increased volume and activity, and the longer days mean you’ll get more foot traffic later in the day. A competitive event can be run with minimal cost and minimal logistics, so there’s no reason not to give it a shot. You should provide both video and board games, if possible. Gamers of varied interest will find more options to explore once they’re in the door.

Setting up

The first thing you’ll need is space. A large open room with adjustable lighting and no permanent installations (such as theater seating) is ideal. Plan on operating in low-light conditions for a classic arcade feel, allowing players to see the eye-catching graphics better. Of course, this means that you’ll need to keep safety in mind; the center area of your floor should be clear so participants can move around safely. Set up board games near the entry points to your room so light coming in through open doors can help illuminate those tables.

Your video game stations should be on tables around the outer edge of the room; one sturdy table can safely hold two small TVs and two gaming consoles. Face screens outward so wires and cables can be stowed underneath. If your power outlets are installed in the floor in the center of the room, cluster the tables around them.

If you’re projecting a game onto a screen—and you really should if you can!—have the hardware about halfway between the screen and the center of the room. This will allow for an optimal viewing distance while still keeping the majority of the floor space unobstructed.

Of course, make sure you know the building’s maximum occupancy and keep all paths to the exits clear. Don’t be afraid to curb attendance; use tickets or wristbands to keep an accurate head count—if you run out, no one else can come in until someone leaves. Only put out as many chairs as you’ll need for the greatest number of players at each game.

Bells, whistles, & other stuff

Once your space is established, it’s time to start planning the most important thing about your event: the food! ­Gamers are used to snacking, and you’ll entice even more people with the promise of free grub, so budget some inexpensive eats. Just remember the three major food groups: salt, sugar, and caffeine. Before we go any further, know that if you want to promote healthy eating habits, a gaming program probably isn’t the best place for it.

Load up on cans of soda, fill a cooler with ice, and throw them in there. Avoid pouring drinks whenever possible; it’s dark, it’s noisy, and you’re going to make a mess. For chips, buy individual snack bags. A few trays of cookies set out with napkins or some individually wrapped snack cakes will nicely complete your spread. It’s okay to ration participants’ food intake. You want to make sure everyone gets their fair share. You can issue tickets to your gamers that they can redeem for a drink, a bag of chips, or a sweet treat.

Even if you can afford it, avoid pizza, burgers, or heavy, greasy foods. Grubby hands transfer oils to controllers, which can not only lead to an unpleasant feeling but also increase the chance that your equipment will get damaged. As it stands, you’ll want to make sure napkins and wipes are in robust supply. It wouldn’t even be a bad idea to contain snacking to one area. Either way, make sure there are plenty of trash receptacles spread around the room. Also, avoid energy drinks. Yes, gamers—present company included—rely on them for enhanced reflexes and perpetual wakefulness, but they contain high levels of caffeine. Consuming several in a short span of time, especially by smaller, younger players, could lead to a medical emergency.

Consider piping in music or showing a film on low volume. Dubstep or electronic music well complements the atmosphere of a game room. Also, mix in some chiptune music—chiptune is an offshoot of electronic music that incorporates sound effects and musical stylings from video games (Anamanaguchi is a stand-out act). Experiment to find the right volume to allow players also to hear the sound from the games. Any kind of brightly colored, action-packed movie will attract people; check with your library’s licensing agreements to ensure you’re respecting ­copyright.

Make it happen!

You’re all set! Promote your program via as many channels as possible. Partner with local game and comics shops, community centers, and eateries to get the word out. Have another gaming event on the calendar soon after the initial one so you can start promoting it. And don’t be disheartened if you don’t have people knocking down the door at your first event. It can take a while for the buzz to travel.

Start small, especially if you’re flying solo. For the first couple of events, restrict the number of participants and don’t try to offer a cavalcade of games. Other staff will see how much fun it is, and they’ll start volunteering to help out.

In my next column, we’ll discuss running the tournament itself and note games that would be great picks. Until then, keep telling yourself: just one more level!

M. Brandon Robbins is Media Coordinator, Goldsboro High School, NC, and a member of the 2011 class of the American Library Association’s Emerging Leaders

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