GP Chiba – Lost in Translation

Registration for Grand Prix Chiba went live at 8:30 pm Japan Standard Time (7:30 am EST) on April 7th, 2015. I was able to register just after that and finish the process around 8:37. By the time I found my way back to the main page, the VIP spots had been sold out. I thought that was strange but soon forgot about it. I then went back to Facebook to let my friends know that the website was live and that they could start registering. GP Kyoto had reached its cap of 1890 players 9 days after the website went live, and GP Shizuoka sold out about 2 weeks prior to its date of December 20th, 2014. I wasn’t going to wait too long to register this time.

After about 30 minutes, at 9pm,  I started to hear some rumors going around that 1800 people had already signed up. Bollocks I thought. That was impossible. How could that happen that fast? I knew that Modern Masters 2 was going to be popular, but with a cap double the size of GP Kyoto’s I thought it would take more than two weeks to reach 4000. GP Vegas, run by Channel Fireball, had been registering people for almost a month and had yet to reach 4000 players. How could Chiba already be halfway to their cap in less than an hour?

I went back and checked how many slots were left on Hareruya’s webpage and I was shocked to see it was true. One of my friends said “I imagine the registration should slow down. It is only half sold out and all of those who are really eager have already signed up”. Move forward to 10 pm, 1.5 hours after the sign up started, and there were only 1598 spots remaining. Around this time, some foreigners trying to register (both in Japan and outside of it) started to raise their voices. Amongst my Cardboard Samurai group, about 5 people struggled to do so. 

James of Singapore said “I get all the way to step six then the shipping method drop down doesn’t have what i am told to select…”

Kyle of Japan also had similar problems “…the shipping method they tell you to pick in the English guide is not available and I can’t read enough to kanji to make out what the other options are…”

You probably wonder what I’m talking about. This is what foreigners had to deal with on Hareruya’s website.

GP Chiba Registration - Ordering

GP Chiba Registration – Ordering

Now I don’t have a lot of experiences signing up for Grand Prix online. My first one was GP Nagoya in 2012, and up until GP Kobe last year I didn’t have to worry about registering online. I could simply go to the event on Friday before the event or even in the morning on Saturday and I would be fine. When more and more people ended up going to these events though, the sign up process became solely an online affair. Wizards actually made a change to the Grand Prix system last year that they could only be registered for the day before or online to make it both easier on the Judges involved in the event, as well as to make the tournament go faster on Saturday. While I totally agree with the decision, this puts a lot more pressure on those wanting to play that work on Friday and can’t arrive until late that night so they must sign up online.

As you can see, signing up for a GP in Japan can be quite the challenge depending on the tournament organizer. While Japanese TOs have done a better job of offering information about Grand Prix in English, their registration system is still severely lacking. For the most part they are rudimentary English websites with no bells or whistles that look like they were programmed with mobile phone users in mind. Other GPs in Asia such as GP Manila, Kuala Lampur, and Taipei have always offered full registration pages in English and players traveling from outside of the country have had no problems signing up (or so I’ve heard from about a dozen Asian MTG players outside of Japan).

For people unaccustomed to seeing Japanese characters (hiragana, katakana, and Kanji), having to painstakingly follow written directions to sign up makes it both stressful and confusing. This is especially true when there is a time limit and that your deadline is hours instead of days. Those with technical difficulties don’t have the luxury of writing an email and signing up later.

It’s now 11:30 pm, 3 hours after GP Chiba went live and more than 3000 slots for the event have already been taken. At 1 am, 4.5 hours after the website went live, there were only 300 spots left.  I believe at around 2:30 am, all spots had been taken. At around 7 am Japan time, Wizard’s officially declared it sold out on their Twitter account.

Why This Happened

 

The writing was on the wall.

All you have to do is look back at the first Modern Master GP in Las Vegas to see that the format was popular with players. The first event had to be capped at 4499 and split into two separate tournaments in order to be done effectively. Both the tournament organizer and Wizards did a great job of dealing with problems on the fly and got through it in a timely manner. While Wizards and Hareruya should be excited at the popularity and growth of Magic the Gathering in Japan, they seemed to forget that Asia is home to more than 50% of the worlds population. Most of these players never had the chance to go to Las Vegas for the first event, so this was their chance to take part in history.

MTG has grown a lot in China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, and other parts of Asia in the last few years. Multiple Grand Prix have been reaching record numbers, and every Japanese GP over the last year has reached capacity or close to it. Originally, Wizards didn’t want to cap any of the Modern Master 2 Grand Prix. If the event reached 4000 players, it would be split into 2 events. This is what will most likely happen in Las Vegas (people are guessing there will be at least 8000 in attendance), and since Modern is an extremely popular format in Europe I would expect Utrecht to hit 4000 easily as well. While this is only speculation and rumor, I heard that the reason GP Chiba was capped at 4000 was because there simply wasn’t an exhibition hall that could hold 8000 Magic players. Other people said that there was a Judge shortage and that they wouldn’t have the staff to handle 2 large tournaments. Yet another possibility is that there aren’t enough booster packs to go around to more than 4000 players (which might also be why the TO is only doing Dragons of Tarkir drafts instead of MM2 drafts on both days).

Whatever the case, this was a huge oversight by the Tournament Organizer. While there certainly aren’t 3 billion Magic Players in Asia, you can bet that there are more than 4000 serious ones that wanted to play in this event. When you keep the number that low, you make the event incredibly exclusive and create huge demand for a spot there. If you couple this with registration problems and a system that gives local players an unfair advantage over those outside of the country, you can be sure there will be backlash in the future. The main point I want to make here is that GP Chiba is an ASIAN Grand Prix and not a Japanese one. This isn’t a regular Grand Prix where a few teams of foreign pros make their way to Japan to play, this is THE Magic event of a lifetime for many people and the reason why it sold out in less than half a day.

 

The Fallout of GP Chiba and How it Will Affect Organized Play in Japan

 

Fallout might be too strong of a word, but there will definitely be consequences. The biggest effect I foresee as happening is a growing distrust of tournament organizers. When people book plane tickets, hotel rooms, and make tons of other preparations to come to an event only to be told they can’t play can be crushing. This happened at GP Shizuoka, GP Kyoto, and I’ve heard from quite a few people on Twitter that this happened with GP Chiba as well. Chiba could have easily have reached 6000 players, but since it was capped at 4000, this led to a mad rush to get the final spots. People living outside of Asia that are big fans of Japanese MTG had absolutely no chance of waking up and knowing what was going on with GP Chiba registration.

Players were already disappointed when GP Kyoto was capped at 1890 players (the size of the venue is too small to hold more). There aren’t many chances for Legacy players to go to a big tournament in Asia, and this could hurt the overall image/future of the format. While it’s great that the format is still being supported on a professional level at a Grand Prix, TOs should try to accommodate as many people as they can. There was a lot of buzz about Legacy when Kyoto was announced as Legacy last year, and many players finally had a reason to put a deck together. My local group went from 2-3 Legacy players to about 1o because of it. While I don’t think Grand Prix Chiba being capped at 4000 will lead to people abandoning the format, I do think that we could see less foreign players traveling to Japan in the future for various formats that lead to a drop in attendance (at least in the near future).

Another problem arising has been low turnout at Grand Prix Trials for Chiba. I talked to a lot of players around Nagoya last weekend about GP Chiba and it seemed like only 20% of the players were able to register. Because of this, there was no reason to go to a GPT for it unless you were able to do so. GPTs for Kyoto were averaging around 40+ players in Nagoya recently, but initial GPT numbers for Chiba are half that. I went to one myself last Saturday and only 14 players showed up for what will be the BIGGEST Grand Prix ever in Japan. I expect most of the other GPTs outside of Tokyo to have similar turnouts in the coming weeks. I should state however that the Last Chance Trials on Friday at Chiba will allow the winner entrance into the event (or so I’ve heard)

 

What Japanese Tournament Organizers Do Wrong

 

As I stated above, I think Japanese tournament organizers lag behind many of their counterparts overseas. Channel Fireball started registration for GP Vegas way ahead of time to allow people to book hotels, flights, and do any other prep such as asking for time off. With the last 2 Grand Prix in Japan (Kyoto and Chiba), both websites went live 1 month before which led to a massive stampede of players rushing to sign up. I find this to be a bad business practice. Forcing people to fight for spots and giving players unfair advantages for signing up. I booked my hotel room and asked for time off 2 months ago knowing that there were going to be a lot of people going to the event, and I’m sure many other people did the same thing. This style of registration could have thrown the whole thing out of the window.

For Chiba, the TO also could have been more communicative to let players know how fast it was selling out, but the first time anybody heard about registration numbers was when there were less than 1000 at around midnight. Communication is key with these big events, and not stating when registration starts, how many people are allowed to register, and being all around vague creates a perfect storm of ineptitude. There are bound to be problems, and tournament organizers need to be transparent with their customers to build trust and understanding. I think that American TOs do this rather well, and all you have to do is look as far their websites or Twitter accounts before a Grand Prix to see what I mean.

Another problem that GP Chiba had was ticket scalpers. Due to the sign up system that Hareruya was using on their website, a person had to purchase a ticket in order to sign up for GP Chiba. While this was easier for them to do because it used their website, it was easily abused. Reports from 2Chan, the online message boards in Japan, stated that people were purchasing spots in bundles. While I don’t know what the top limit was, it was certainly more than 2 or 3 people. The following day, those scalpers supposedly were offering spots at inflated prices to those that couldn’t sign up. While there were some people that actually bought multiple tickets to sign up their friends, I’m going to say that there might be hundreds of possible “squatters”, or spots people are sitting up leading up to the event. The scalpers were able to do this because the “DCI #” spot on the online form was optional and could be filled in at a later time. All they had to do was complete a different order form each time with a different email and they could flip it later. This could have happened more than a few times between the initial registration start time of 8:30 pm until it ended at around 2:30 am.

Even though GP Chiba sold out at 4000 people, we could be looking at a real possibility of having only 3700 people at the event. The sad thing is, there is nothing Hareruya can do about it. It’s difficult to discern who did what, and you can’t just put the spots back up online to sell out in a few minutes. I’ve had people tell me how much of a bad idea this system was, and I agree. At other GPs I’ve signed up for online in Japan, registration allowed you to only register once for each DCI number. While most of this is just hearsay at the moment, I think it deserves to be looked into by both WoTC and the tournament organizers.

GP Chiba Registration - Payment

GP Chiba Registration – Payment

By far the biggest problem that caused the most headaches for  foreigners was the payment system at GP Chiba. Even I, who have intermediate level Japanese skills, was frustrated with it. It took me a full 10 minute to fill out from start to finish. There were more than 4 ways to pay. You could pay by bank transfer, credit card, pay pal, and in-store. Actually, there were only 3. There was a note saying that the In-Store option for those living in Japan was not to be used, but some people were confused and registered this way. Others were unable to use their credit card, and as for somebody doing a bank transfer, it was very unclear as to when it needed to be done by. It’s already a pain in the ass to do a bank transfer at ATMs in Japan for most foreigners, and these problems just made it worse. The hassle turned away more than a few foreigners from completing the registration process.

What Tournament Organizers in Japan Need To Do in the Future

Stop Capping Attendance

Where does organized play even begin to pick up the pieces after this fiasco? The problems both GP Kyoto and GP Chiba caused will undoubtedly have a negative affect on the Japanese and Asian market for months to come. As I stated above, GP Chiba and Kyoto were supposed to be Asian GPs, not just Japanese ones. Capping the attendance of both events questionably low and making it difficult for non-Japanese to register stinks of exclusivity. Not everybody will see it this way, but the hundreds, if not thousands of players in the region that could not attend either event or wasted their money on plane tickets and hotel registrations that now have no meaning possibly will. The Japan TOs need to do is raise the caps or abolish them altogether (at least initially to stop panics from happening. I would be fine with them announcing it a week later). Why would you want to stunt potential growth and take away revenue from all those involved in the event? It helps food vendors, the tournament organizer’s image, and brings business to the city it’s being held in as well.

(EDIT: I know that caps are in place to make sure events are run smoothly and that there are enough staff to handle the event, but when it comes down to special events, the cap should abolished altogether. Would GP Charlotte have been what it was if they had said they were capping it at 2400 players? Probably not. )

English Registration Pages

This is a no brainer. Proper English registration websites are a must from this point onward. Grand Prix all over Asia already have this handled pretty well, so why is Japan so far behind? Tournament Organizers should no longer force participants to use their own website system to sign up. Magic is an international game and everybody should receive equal treatment. I still think there should be some form of on-sight payment for these types of events as well. Some players don’t have access to credit cards and are unable to use Pay-Pal or do a bank transfer, so there should be an option to pay at the event as well on the Friday before.

I would also like to see Tournament Organizers accept payment and registration at their stores as well. It would make things much easier for foreigners living overseas.

Treating Participants as Paying Customers

Stop overcharging customers. I know companies are in this business to make money, but there will come a point where people won’t pay and the TOs will incur big losses. It’s in their best interest to treat the players as paying customers and to give them value for their money. I’m kind of incensed that GP Chiba’s bare minimum entrance fee is 12,000 yen, or about $25 more than what Channel Fireball is offering for the same thing. I realize that Japan is a more expensive place, but this again ties into the exclusivity thing. By charging 12,000 yen ($100) for this event, it prices some people out if it. The cost of MTG events should be streamlined so that no matter where you go in the world, you pay the same price. This protects participants from being taken advantage of by greedy TOs.

Communication

Another gripe I have with how GPs have been handled in Japan recently are how slow Japanese companies are at starting the registration process and letting people know what is happening. There needs to be weekly updates to let people know general information about events, as well as quick responses from interested parties. Attendance caps shouldn’t be decided right before registration starts, this will only cause panic like it did with GP Chiba when the website was opened only a week or two before. The decisions affecting players should be communicated early and often. If there are any changes the information needs to be made available in both English and Japanese. 

A Fair Chance

While this might be nothing more than a pipe dream, I think anybody who wins a GP Trial should get an automatic berth in the Grand Prix it feeds into. This would help increase the turnouts at these events, especially when something like a sell out happens. The event is still 1.5 months away and the Grand Prix Trials have only just begun. Who will want to go to these if there’s no reason to do so? This might not be a problem overseas in the USA where MTG events are often and plenty, but this type of benefit would be great for countries that don’t get a chance to play on the big stage often.

Playing the Hand You’re Dealt

Well, what’s done is done. There is no crying over spilled milk. Those that were able to register for GP Chiba have done so. I was one of the lucky ones that could get through the registration process and just paid my fee today by bank transfer to finalize everything. Some of you might have already booked your hotel and flight to Japan in May. I feel incredibly sorry that you weren’t able to participate in the main event, but not all is lost. I think you might still be able to salvage some sort of weekend and still get to play Modern Masters 2 as well.

http://www.happymtg.com/gpchiba2015_en/

A more in depth look of the events for the weekend shows that your best bet to play Modern Masters 2 is going to be at the Last Chance Trials on Friday. There are 1500 spots available at 8000 yen each. Your chances to play on Saturday are drastically reduced though with only 256 spots available. There is a 64 person draft as well but it’s invite only. I believe you have to win a draft in order to be able to play in it. You have a slightly better chance to play on Sunday in the Super Sunday Sealed Series for 9000 yen with 409 spots available. There is another invite only MM2 Draft for 128 as well, but just as before I believe you have to win a Dragons of Tarkir draft to do so.

Well, I hope this article was informative as well as eye opening. If you agree with what I had to say about the current Grand Prix system here in Japan or have any comments about the situation I’d like to know how you’re feeling. The system is by no means perfect and both Tournament Organizers and Wizards should strive to bring their customers the best possible experience possible. I did my best to collect the information that’s been going around Facebook, Twitter, and other places online so I apologize if this article is incomplete. With any luck, Wizards will be able to work something out with the tournament organizer and GP Chiba will end up being a good experience for all those that attend (both registered and unregistered). Thanks for reading.

Advertisements