Tournament Season, Part 2 | Games, Gamers, & Gaming

An awesome event can show patrons and staff how valuable gaming is for building a positive community. A regular game day—where you set up games and people come in to play—is great, but if you want to capture what makes gaming so special and get your local players excited, you’ll want to do a tournament.

An awesome event can show patrons and staff how valuable gaming is for building a positive community. A regular game day—where you set up games and people come in to play—is great, but if you want to capture what makes gaming so special and get your local players excited, you’ll want to do a tournament. (For Part 1, see

Getting started

First, talk to your gamers. Find out what games they want to play and how they want to play them. If you have a teen advisory board and this as a teen program, you need to involve them. Next, decide on the format. In a simple elimination style, gamers will pair up and play against each other. Winners advance to the next round, losers are eliminated, and play continues until only two players remain, who will then face off for the title. The format is easy to keep track of and moves fairly quickly; unfortunately, it limits how much play time competitors get.

In a round-robin tournament, each player plays every other player once, and the person who wins the most games is the champion. Everyone gets more play time, and the best gamer will have proven their mettle, but it is more complicated to run and takes more time. Ideally, you could combine the two formats, starting with a round-robin “qualifying round” and then constructing a bracket based on how well the players perform. No matter the format, players should preregister, and a cutoff time for sign-ups should be established—you don’t want to have to reconfigure your brackets at the last minute.

Prizes should be given to at least the top three players. Gift cards are a good idea, but their value should be proportionate to what they can buy; a $20 gift card to McDonald’s goes a lot further than a gift card of the same amount to GameStop. Local businesses may be willing to donate gift cards or merchandise in exchange for an acknowledgement. Leave no stone unturned when looking for prizes: movie theaters, retailers, comics shops, specialty and gift shops, and anywhere that sells food should get a request for donations.

Keep it friendly

Creating and maintaining discipline is essential, but many librarians struggle with it. It’s best to be prepared. First, realize that a certain amount of intensity is expected. Trash talk will always be a part of gaming; it’s just as much of a player’s strategy as what goes on in the game. Taunting an opponent, mocking failed attempts, and rubbing a win into their face is to be expected. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t set limits. Be explicit that using homophobic, transphobic, sexist, misogynistic, and racial slurs will result in being expelled from the event. Have other staff members—or even security—on hand to eject players who don’t comply. Realize as well that a gamer could ruin everyone’s fun without dropping a single offensive word by exhibiting a negative attitude or poor sportsmanship. Let it be known that you expect every player to win and lose with dignity and respect for others.

Having actual rules available also makes sense. Yes, a video game polices itself, but there are still glitches and exploits of which gamers can take advantage. Research the games to see what kind of cheats you might expect, and make sure everyone is playing fair. Be sure that participants don’t change any of the settings you configure for your tournament, so everyone is competing on level ground.

Finally, stick to your standards. No one wants to kick a patron out of the library, and no one wants to suspend them from a program. But gaming is special and demands special exceptions. Send a message that you will tolerate only respectful, good-intentioned gamers at your events.

What are we playing?

Most competitions center on shooters, fighting, racing, or sports. Fighting games are the easiest to set up, run brackets for, and monitor. The “Street Fighter” series is an old-school standby; the most recent entry, Street Fighter V, is available for PC or PS4, and both offer the same-screen offline multiplayer you’ll need. This is a good choice if you want to attract an experienced, highly competitive crowd.

The “Marvel vs. Capcom” games feature fan-favorite characters from video game and comic book franchises; have easy-to-learn controls; and offer visually exciting play. The most recent entry, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, has a huge following and is a solid choice for mid-level players. Lastly, if you want to attract the largest group of gamers of all skill levels, consider Nintendo’s “Super Smash Bros.” series. These games get a bad rap for having simplistic controls and gimmicky mechanics, but skilled players can work wonders with the simple tools.

One final note, make sure that you have some free play stations set up and that you allow for some noncompetitive play on your tournament game. Offering some door prizes would also be a nice idea; you want everyone to have a good time. And don’t forget to play some yourself. I always made a point to take on some of our teen competitors. They love the interaction, and it’s a wonderful way to build relationships with your patrons.

Until next time, 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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