Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Arizona Gamer Story, Part 4: Destiny

Resuming now The Arizona Gamer Story with Part 4, we arrive in May 1999 when business had picked up reasonably well, Pokemon petrodollars were flowing in acceptable quantities, and I was still for the time being a subtenant and not a shareholder in Arizona Gamer Inc.

Magic: the Gathering prerelease tournaments at the time were not held in every store, and there were few stores in any case.  Tournament organizers were subcontracted by WOTC to conduct the events at hotels, college gathering halls, convention centers, and like such.  There would be one prerelease for an entire region.

For Arizona, Ray Powers' Monastery Productions ran prereleases as far back as Exodus, which was at a hotel.  Urza's Saga was at a church auditorium, and Urza's Legacy, though memory fails me, I want to say was at Arizona State University's Memorial Union building.  Funny story about that, somehow several years later ASU still claimed that Ray had an outstanding room rental invoice with them, and Ray sent me on a mission to get the payment put in and confirmed.  "The lady in charge of the rooms can't be reasoned with," Ray warned me. "She is a destroyer of worlds.  Our pleas fall silent before her."  I went to meet this fearsome overlord... and it turned out she was the mom of one of my longest-time friends, and was perfectly delightful to deal with.

Some other reason prevented Ray from finding adequate bookings for the Urza's Destiny prerelease.  It was June 1999, nothing Google-riffic comes up as an event of consequence taking attention at the time in metro Phoenix, but in any case he needed a site.  And although Ray didn't typically give any one dealer exclusive access to the event... this time around, I had a site available for him, for free.  Chocolate, meet peanut butter.
Thus it was that Arizona Gamer hosted the Urza's Destiny prerelease for all of Phoenix, and it was my first experience on the facility side of large event management.

As I've mentioned before, Arizona Gamer at the time could seat maybe 60 players for cards, and had a dozen or so Warhammer tables.  This would not do for a Magic prerelease projected to attract 200 players to a single-flight all-day affair.  I went in search of table rental, and at last managed to scrounge some up.  They delivered a day or two in advance and the tables were just godawful, so we had to use tablecloths and hope nobody got themselves a death splinter.  Table setup left the room grossly beyond fire code limitations and crushed so tightly I knew the air conditioner was going to surrender and flee by noon on the day of.

In preparation for this watershed promotional opportunity, I ordered as much Magic product as I could get my hands on, some woefully small amount of boxes of the available expansions and some woefully small amount of sleeves.  There was no such thing (essentially) as a playmat at that time, nor as a deck box.  RRRRRRIP went the shuffle, at sealed events.  I posted on Usenet about the event, Ray did his own promotion, Wizards of the Coast's web locators of the time pointed people to us, and sure enough, just under 200 players turned out, the effective entire player base for Magic in Arizona at the time.

I have made my peace with the shortcomings of that prerelease from Arizona Gamer's side.  I sold out of every shred of Magic product we had, which was a good thing except there was far too little of it, which made us look like amateur hour compared to Jester's Court, Game Depot, and Arizona Collector's Paradise.  It was crowded.  The event in terms of organization and judging went fine -- Ray and his crew saw to that, and I served in the judge array as well.  We had multiple miniatures players show up and throw tantrums that there were no Warhammer tables available for the day.  They had been warned for at least a week in advance.  Most of them knew and planned around it, but there's always that guy.

A few weeks before this time, I applied for advancement as a DCI judge from level 2 to level 3.  I actually failed the test.  The reality was that although my rules knowledge was current, I needed more time running larger events.  Ray Powers and Dan Gray administered my test and broke the bad news to me, and at the time I was completely crushed.  But by the end of the year, I realized a bit more of the meta-work involved in judging, and they granted me a retry that I passed.  The experience of coordinating to host/stage the Urza's Destiny prerelease at a time when stores simply didn't do such things, surely helped bolster my skill set for that.

I maintain that today's experienced level 2 judges are actually better judges than I was as a level 3.  There is far superior communication now, the rules are better defined and better troubleshot, methods of cheating and misuse of rules are far better understood, and players know more what to expect.

Nevertheless, working as a level 3 judge was something of an epiphany for 25-year-old me at the time, because although I realized like everyone does that there are professions where you basically "get paid to know stuff or understand systems" -- from medicine to accounting to the sciences to law -- none of them seemed attainable to me.  I was inspired by judging to return to college and pursue a career in law.  I got half of that right.  I should have gone with accounting or the sciences.  But understanding how the law works has still served me well, such as in helping DSG navigate litigation and reach a beneficial result.

Destiny is a capricious thing, and experiences that may or may not loom large at the time have a way of informing significant decisions later.  I had cut my teeth in small retail at Radio Shack in 1994-1995, after spending much of my early employment years working in larger retail settings that sucked, or in office settings that sucked.  That led to operating Wizard's Tower and then Arizona Gamer, and a flurry of other related endeavors that in turn became my present-day career as the administrator of DSG LLC.  Meanwhile, becoming a professional tournament judge led to my completing college and literally earning a professional graduate degree.  I spent over seven years as an administrative legal analyst with the Arizona Department of Health Services, from 2007 to 2014.  I am disappointed at how that ended, but I am happy for having been able to work with extremely excellent people while I was there.  Two life threads that developed under the influence of one another, and ultimately formed a braid.

I did not meet with any success in my attempt to become a millionaire rock star, but if you want to have a chuckle and enjoy some sweet tunes, here is a link to my final performance of 2004 at Alice Cooperstown in Phoenix.  Ah, what might have been.

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