As their tournament grows the organisers will find themselves in need of more people to help run the event. At the local level this is achieved by finding a few enthusiastic, reliable people and bringing them into a group maintained by the organiser. Australian examples of such groups include LanSmash (QLD), Couchwarriors (VIC), Shadowloo (VIC) and of course OzHadou (NSW, WA). However for major tournaments the event can become too large for a group’s “standing staff” to run it on their own, introducing the need for short-term staff increases.
This week I’ll continue my discussion of tournament teams by looking at volunteers. I’ll define two levels of volunteers – organisers and tournament staff – along with some examples. I’ll then cover the call-out process, assignment of tasks and finally how best to reward volunteers for their contribution to your tournament.
I’ve identified two levels of volunteers within major tournaments: organisers and tournament staff.
I define an organiser as anybody that needs to be heavily involved during the planning stages of the tournament. As discussed last week, everyone at the organiser level needs to work well together for a tournament to succeed. Thus it’s common for people to hand-pick volunteer organisers for their team based on levels of experience and the quality of their relationships to date.
For example at OHNX we invited FaYd to organise all Namco-related aspects of the event as he’s been running Tekken at OHN for many years. We also invited Berzerk! to manage marketing, promotions and sponsors given his long-standing support of OHN via Madman plus his experience with major tournaments in Melbourne.
Here tournament staff refers to anybody that is only required to help out on the actual day(s) of the tournament. Some people in this group may need to spend some time preparing for their assigned tasks, but generally their preparation time is far less than that of an organiser. Common tasks for tournament staff include venue set-up/tear-down, processing registrations, judging tournament matches, stream commentary, in-house PA announcements, etc.
This is the area where the most people are needed. It’s usually hard to find enough people willing to volunteer their time to help run a tournament. As such the best way to round-up potential volunteer staff is via a public call-out. The OHN Team did exactly that for OHNX. Evolution has also issued public calls for volunteers; their call-out for 2012 recently went live. It’s interesting to note that this year Evo has extended their call-out to the organiser level, with two apprentice tournament director positions open to public applications.
Given that tournaments can be high-stress environments for organisers, there’s an inclination for organisers to limit their search for volunteers to people they already know. These might be friends within the community or people they’ve had dealings with in the past. The problem with this is that you can rarely raise enough numbers to properly staff a tournament under these constraints. Generally speaking you’ll need at least two people per task, and there are a lot of tasks that make up a tournament.
The best approach is to cast a wide net via a public call-out. Most people who offer their assistance should be given a chance to prove their worth. You’re unlikely to get a surplus of applicants so in most cases you’ll want to accept all offers of assistance. However if past experience tells you that an applicant isn’t reliable then it makes sense to turn such people down. Sometimes poor help is worse than no help at all, especially if it means you have to cover for such people that don’t deliver.
Once you’ve identified what needs to be done and who’s available to help out, it’s best to allocate people to specific tasks so that they can focus exclusively on that task at any given point in time. At OHNX we tried to rotate staff between half a dozen tasks during the day for the sake of variety. As a result volunteers never stuck to a given task long enough to become proficient in what they were asked to do, and once the tournament started running late nobody knew how to apply the staff timetable. In hindsight it was better to let people specialise on certain tasks to avoid all of these problems.
When allocating people to tasks, keep in mind that individuals will need breaks for various reasons (e.g. food), so try to allocate at least two people to a task at any time. That way volunteers always have someone ready to cover for them on short notice. You should also consider the possibility that volunteers might be competitors at your tournament. It’s OK for your volunteers to compete but you’ll need to plan your task assignments around this. It’s inappropriate for a volunteer to judge their own tournament match, or to be forced to abandon their post due to a tournament match call-up.
It’s very important to train your volunteers. At OHNX we failed to properly explain each assigned task to the volunteers, meaning that they struggled to deliver what we needed of them. Never assume volunteers will know what to do. Provide some details via email (or other communications) ahead of time combined with onsite training before the event begins.
Finally it’s very important for organisers to show thanks and appreciation towards all the people that have volunteered to help run their event. There are many ways to thank volunteers, including free tournament entry, mementos like shirts, shouting them a meal, or even providing them a gift of some kind (e.g. items from tournament prize packs).
Whatever you decide to do make sure your volunteers know how much you appreciate their help. Although volunteers are viewed as short-term staff they can easily become long-term contributors as a result of their volunteer work. At the very least a good volunteer is someone you’ll want to have on-board next time around, so always remember to treat your volunteers with the courtesy and respect they deserve.
Photos from OHN7 and OHN8 courtesy of hebretto.
Photos from Couchwarriors courtesy of Shadowloo.
Special thanks to OHNX volunteer Valkyran for his valuable feedback which formed the basis for this article.
Feedback and Future Articles
If you have any feedback about this article, or would like to request a subject for a future Bracketed article, you can send me a PM or an email, or make a post in the Bracketed Feedback thread on the OzHadou forums.
]– Ziggy –[