A small GP trumps a big PTQ?

Last weekend was one of the few without an SCG Open Series weekend – mostly because SCG reasonably enough doesn’t want to overlap with American GP events. After all, you don’t want your “name” players to have to decide between the Open Series and the one North American Legacy GP this year.
Perhaps not coincidentally, this gave Riki Hayashi a little time to consider a fairly dramatic downturn in attendance at his local PTQs – leading him to ask if the SCG Open Series is killing PTQs.
You should read Riki’s post, but his spark for thinking about this issue was a PTQ with 30 players in Roanoke, Virginia. That’s shockingly low for a PTQ along the American east coast. As Riki says, it feels more like one of the PTQs that one hears about in smaller Eastern European nations, or in isolated American states like Alaska and Hawaii.
Riki does a good job of breaking out some reasonable hypotheses for possible causes of this weak turnout:

  • Competition from GP providence (he thinks Roanoke may have lost perhaps 5-10 players to this)
  • Memorial Day weekend (people off on family vacations, etc)
  • Standard hate (people stay home to avoid Stoneforge Mystic and friends)
  • The SCG Open Series

These are all reasonable hypotheses, but Riki lingers on the last one, which is particularly interesting. The core idea goes like so:
An Open Series event is more generally rewarding than a PTQ.
I’ll use Riki’s words for this part:
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.

That’s a highly plausible suggestion. If you’re going to have to travel any significant distance to a PTQ where the prize structure is, in essence, “one player wins, everyone else loses” then you might prefer to just head out to an Open Series event instead, where you earn points toward leveling up and you have the potential to meaningfully “cash” in each event.
By extension, the impact here is not limited to the SCG Open Series, but to other, similar events that have really proliferated with the success of the Open Series. For example, the TCGPlayer series which, while incredibly poorly promoted, still features a fairly regular schedule of large events.
So, neat hypothesis. Does it pan out?
Testing Riki’s hypothesis
I agree with the intrinsic plausibility of the “Open Series trumps PTQs” hypothesis