More on National Qualifiers, with Chris McNutt

You’ve heard me talk about National Qualifiers, and you may have seen Chris McNutt’s first article over on the StarkingtonPost about the system. I complained on Facebook about his lack of research vis-a-vis distances (and thus driving times) for Cali players at the time of his first article.
This time around, Chris has come back with a really nice breakdown of the travel implications of the new system across the U.S. He also points out that he’s not a ChannelFireball basher, for the folks in the audience who feel the need to defend us no matter what. We love you all, but it’s fine, no need to aggro out on people. 🙂
Chris’s net conclusion is pretty much exactly what I would have expected – overall, the change has increased access to National Qualifier tournaments across the U.S. I’d never imagined it would be otherwise, since breaking a smaller number of bigger Regionals into fifty National Qualifiers of various sizes would pretty much have to put most people in most of the U.S. physically closer to a tournament.
That said, his numbers point to what I was talking about this week – it sucks for California. Here’s his quote on the topic:
“Who are the most screwed in the 2010 season? I

National Quals update – still 350 miles away

Last time we checked in on the new National Qualifiers setup, I did a little run-through of just how problematic it is for California players to just have the one qualifier in our state. As Riki and Sean pointed out on Judgecast, it’s even harsher on Reno players, who previously made the 2 hour trip to Sacramento for the Regionals there, and now get to choose one of these lovely options:
Las Vegas – 8 hours
Boise – 7.5 hours
Los Angeles – 8.5 hours
Portland – 10 hours
Salt Lake City – 8 hours
Ugh. My sympathies to our Reno crew.
Glen Godard, for whom I have a great deal of respect, has tried to encourage NorCal players to come on down to the Los Angeles National Qualifier with some incentives. If you remembered to email by yesterday, you can have free parking at the venue for your carpool, with the notable caveat of having had to have attended a SunMesa event in the last year, which rules me out. There are also reduced-price side events and an extra raffle ticket for a booster box give-away.
Unfortunately, none of that is enough to get me to attend, as I’m simply unable to take Friday off, drive down, play on Saturday, then drive back on Sunday. I’m also, quite honestly, unwilling to spring for air fare, especially on the relatively short notice we were given this time around for National Qualifiers. It’s also worth pointing out that at the rate at which combined fuel and wear-and-tear is typically estimated, the seven-hundred-mile round trip drive from NorCal to LA and back costs you about $350 — so if I were planning on going, I’d have done it by air. At least that way I’d get to relax and accrue some miles.
In the context of putting down at least $180 or so for air fare and more than that in car costs, free parking and a discount on side events I wasn’t going to play in anyway just doesn’t cover it. It’s still tremendously generous and thoughtful on Glen’s part, and I appreciate it, but this year will have to be a pass. For the cost of going to the nearest Qualifier and trying to qualify for Nationals, which in turn lets me try to qualify for a Pro Tour (Worlds), I can play in at least eight PTQs, either online or locally.
Qualifiers is great fun and a nice mixing point for very competitive and more casual players in the community, but at the cost of a few days and a few hundred dollars, it’s not worth it.
I’ve already written to Scott Larabee about these concerns, but I do think this will need to change for next year. While it’s fairly intuitive to have National Qualifiers happen on a state-by-state basis, not having one somewhere near the Bay Area or Sacramento really cuts out access for a wide swathe of Magic players, beyond just our two metropolitan areas. I’d like to see that access renewed for next year, and not simply by moving the event to the Bay Area and handing the inconvenience off to our friends in Southern California.

The new National Qualifiers system

The announcement of the replacement of Regionals with National Qualifiers sparked some concern among those of us in California. The problem – one we share to some extent with the also populous and large Texas – is that our state is very, very large. In the past few years, California has had three Regionals, one located in Los Angeles, one in the SF Bay Area, and one in Sacramento. Each one used to award four entries to Nationals.
Now we’ve been revised down to one Qualifier with eight slots, and a quick trip to the Sunmesa web site tells us that this year’s California National Qualifier will be in Los Angeles.
This kind of sucks, honestly.
It’s not an issue of fewer invites. Instead, the problem is that Los Angeles is 350 miles from San Jose and 380 miles from Sacramento. It’s even worse for people from the northern counties surrounding the Bay Area. A player coming from San Francisco proper has a 380 mile trip, and one coming from Petaluma gets to make a 410 mile drive.
This sparked a conversation over on Facebook, and Glen Godard, an awesome guy and a TO for Sunmesa, pointed out that under the new National Qualifier system you can go to an adjacent state’s Qualifier if it’s closer. Like I said, Glen is an awesome guy, but this is where California’s geography frequently catches people off guard.
There’s nothing closer.
Our neighboring Qualifiers are going to be in Portland and Las Vegas. Portland is 670 miles from San Jose, and Las Vegas is 520 miles from San Jose.
Apparently the Qualifier tournament is going to bounce back and forth between the Bay Area and Los Angeles from year to year, but that just shifts the problem between player groups. When the Qualifier is up in our area, then that forces the Los Angeles players to make the 350 mile drive, and lets the San Diego players choose between a 460 mile drive to the Bay Area, a 330 mile drive to Las Vegas, or a 360 mile drive to Phoenix.
The other option is to take a flight, of course, but that represents a whole different barrier to entry when compared with a drive that usually capped out at about two hours or so. It’s easy to grab your friends and carpool from San Diego to Los Angeles, or from Monterey to San Jose. In contrast, a flight is a big chunk of money that you can’t split like gas, along with the added costs associated with getting to and from airports, finding a place to stay while you’re at Quals, and so forth.
I was excited about National Qualifiers and generally onboard with the attempt to make them follow a unified format across different countries, but…this is pretty problematic. We could reasonably expect to see a lot of people who aren’t on the normal PTQ circuit at our Regionals each year, but with the potential for venues to be 350 or more miles away from a giant chunk of the state’s population, it feels like that a lot of the more “casual competitive” players who are drawn by the sense of community that went with Regionals just won’t make the trip.
I’d like to go to National Qualifiers, but I don’t think I can swing a 700 mile roundtrip drive or a flight that weekend. After all, if I’m flying for Magic, well…Grand Prix DC is the next weekend right after.
Our situation may be unique…even the major population centers in Texas aren’t nearly as distant from each other as we are here in California. That said, it would be nice to find a way to avoid making National Quals inaccessible to 30-50% of the state’s population each year.
You can watch LSV and Tristan Shaun Gregson discuss the change here: