We had a PTQ at the StarCityGamesCenter this past Saturday and it was a disappointingly tiny affair of only 30 players. I was one of those players, having originally been scheduled to Floor Judge but cut at the last minute. Having someone with my experience carries diminishing returns as the size of the tournament and staff diminishes. And while I could have provided some spiffy mentoring for the L0s that worked that day, someone had to get benched, and better me than the new guys.
The week before there was a PTQ in North Carolina with something like 60 players. These are small numbers. I've only been around Roanoke for a little less than a year, and during that time we've had a lackluster Limited season and the atrocious Extended season. And yet, 30 players is a new low. There are some popular theories:
a) GP Providence - off the top of my head, I could think of 3 PTQ regulars who went to the GP instead. Realistically we can probably put another ten names on that list.
b) Memorial Day Weekend - maybe some folks just took some regular old vacation time for family and other non-Magical pursuits.
c) Snore-Blade - people are tired of this deck already, and the problem is going to get worse with Batterskull. It's likely that attendance will continue to drop across the board as Magic just isn't much fun under these circumstances. Two players in the semifinals of the PTQ playing the Caw mirror looked like they wanted to kill themselves as they literally battered each other's skulls ad infinitum to the point where the life totals were 60-20 at one point. Zzzzz
d) Open Series - and finally my pet theory. PTQs have always been a winner-take-all thing. No one is there to collect their packs of product. Heck, when allowed to split the product prize, most finals give all of the packs to the loser, and he is indeed the loser because 2 boxes is nothing compared to qualifying for the Pro Tour. When 2nd place is "tied for dead last" you have a lopsided prize structure.
On the other hand, tournaments like the SCG Open Series provide cash prizes down to 32nd place, and making Top 8 is a pretty good day all around. With Top 4 prize splits being the norm, the only extra bonus for winning it all is a trophy, some extra Player's Club points, and some more notoriety. Even before he finally broke through in Charlotte last month, AJ Sacher was doing quite well on the Open Series circuit despite "never winning anything." PTQs are not so forgiving, and it's possible that having an alternative tournament series where you can actually go home with something substantive despite not winning it all is changing the way people look at PTQs.
And that brings us to what will happen with PTQs next year. With an expanded GP schedule and the continued success of the Open Series, where will all these PTQs fit in? And who will be running them? The axing of Regional Prereleases was undoubtedly a blow to the PTOs running them, as I've heard in that past that those tournaments pay the bills for the PTQs, which are only marginally profitable. When WotC started store Prereleases back in 2008, severely cutting back on the profitability of the Regional Prereleases (which were rumored to be cash cows on the scale of GPs), several PTOs up and quit rather than preside over what they perceived as a sinking ship. It seems inevitable that more will follow suit now, so will control of PTQs fall into the laps of the store-level TOs? Will PTQs become slightly larger GPTs more on the scale of what they see in other countries as opposed to the multi-hundred player events that they used to be?