Exclusive interview with Jim McMahan on the ARG Circuit Series

As the owner of this site, I get a lot of interesting offers, e-mails, and requests, but a recent one really caught my attention. I received a phone call from the president of AlteRealityGames, Jim McMahan. We discussed a sponsorship agreement and conducted an interview regarding the upcoming ARG Circuit Series.

What is the ARG Circuit Series?
The ARG circuit series is an idea of doing something bigger and just having more opportunity to do more Yugioh. It will be a bunch of events where people are playing at stores, and eventually events at a bigger city, leading to bigger prizes and a circuit championship.

When are the planned events?
We have announced 3 events:
Dallas-Fort Worth, TX, on September 21st/22nd
Columbus, OH, on October 12th/13th
Warchester MA Nov 16th and 17th

Who are you?
I’m the founder and president of Alter Reality Games, we have another owner Brad Hoisington and he takes over daily operations of ARG, and this circuit series is my puppy right now. We started April 15th, 2001.

Why did ARG retire from Konami organized play?
I don’t want to say a choice; I wish it would have been (it would have been a tough one), but we retired from organized play in order to do the circuit series. It’s pretty much a long answer. This is obviously something that we did not want to do, but in negotiations and business contacting back and forth with Yumi Hoashi (the vice president of card business), what we could and couldn’t do, over the course of two weeks, we were pretty much left with not even making a decision. It was made for us, and in the long run we were told everything we did was within the rules. But by the time we were done negotiating, everything was off the table. We weren’t doing anything that stores didn’t already do with Upper Deck, just offering bigger prizes. In order to do what we felt we had to do, they would suspend us anyway because they were creating rules as we were going. We went over every policy document; we just wanted to do what everybody else was doing. It might just be because it was bigger, I don’t know. Let me put it this way. I can guarantee you we have been watching everything the community has said, and I feel this was demanded: bigger prizes, more tournaments, so we’re all in. This decision was made for the Yugioh community.

What sort of prize support do these events have?
We’re two weeks away from it. When we add up the store credit and prizes it’s 5000 store credit Yugioh and 1000 Kaijudo, but when added up, the prizes in Yugioh is about 7000 for the two days in the value of the prizes we’re giving away.

Is it true you had permission from KDE-US and then Konami of Japan stepped in and put a stop to it?
We have certain contacts we talk to at KDE-US, so we used them. They were the same contacts we were running ideas off of, verifying our prizes, and verifying we were within the rules, in coordination with them. Konami doesn’t allow electronic prizes, cash prizes, or single card prizes. I wasn’t allowed to give out hotel rooms, flights, or store credit to you guys. Only sealed product. The problem with what happened with Jeff and the thread is that there is no approval process. So any information that we would have provided Konami wasn’t really required. We were going over stuff with our contacts, and nobody seemed to have a problem with it. They set up a conference call to discuss us vending Worlds, and that call was actually Yumi discussing our ARG circuit series, with a couple other company representatives. It was a call between the organized play manager, me, and the event manager for Worlds, and ended up being about the circuit series and news that we would not be vending Worlds. That phone call happened before we made the decision to leave. We made it the Friday before the sneak peek to “Judgment of the Light”, and decided to e-mail Konami that Sunday night. I had no idea my personal page and post would be all over the internet Monday night. We’re not against Konami in any ways. This isn’t ARG vs. Konami; we want them to keep going, we want the game to be more successful, and we want stores to sell more Yugioh. It’s important the community doesn’t view this as ARG vs. Konami. We don’t like seeing negative comments about Konami. It bugs the heck out of me to read them on the internet.
Yugioh needs something premium in it. Something needs to be of value; that’s what we’re trying to do. To hear from TO’s all around the world and stores all around the world that want to run these tournaments, we want formats to be better and Yugioh to be bigger.

If these first three events are a success, what do you see for the future?
We do expect to announce more events we’ve had interest from all around the world. Some of that should be announced pretty soon. Other countries want to have Yugioh and don’t get enough events. They’re looking at other ways to have something cool.

What format will your tournaments be held in? I hear you’ll have your own version of a Forbidden/Limited list.
We’re only going to have time to do one main event. We’re going to just use the Yugioh TCG Advanced Format list. We may have different formats for side events and Sunday events, such as an “ARG format”. Say in Dallas, Billy Brake could do a format in a side event with 32 people. We’re just focused on the main event using the TCG Advanced Format.

A big issue a lot of players seem to have is your stance on allowing ‘banned players’ to enter; is this true? What requirements would they have to meet? What would you say to the hundreds of players who are against your decision to allow them entry?
We’ve only received one e-mail over that. We’re not with Konami anymore, so we don’t have any access to the banned player list. We don’t know who Bobby B. is when he enters with a different Cossy ID. Most have applied for reinstatement and haven’t heard a word. There’s no way to enforce it or contact anyone for more information. With no way to consistently enforce it, it brought us into a very, very unique situation. We are a company: we don’t want thieves there, we don’t want cheaters there. Some people are regretful and want a second chance. There’s a reason people pay fines and get second chances, so the positive thing is that we get to give second chances to those who have already served their time, or were suspended for something minor. Hopefully with the same people and same judges, we can create our own ‘banned list’ for people who cheat again. Not very exciting but we’ll see. Anyone who IS on the list has to e-mail me, the founder of the company, and put in writing why they want to come back, and has to give me three TCG references. At that point, I talk to them, one on one. They come up and meet me before the tournament starts, and then sign an ARG code of conduct, so we’ll be aware of who they are.
It was only an hour after my post on my page that banned players contacted me. It was the first issue we addressed after leaving Konami.

Since you are not a Konami event, you don’t have to follow their Policy documents. Would you allow double sleeving on the Extra and/or Main Decks? What sort of penalties would apply?
We would love to keep as much as we can the same taste. We want the french fries at our McDonalds to taste the same as it does at their McDonald’s. Hopefully if it’s not out of control, we can listen to the players and make adjustments. I don’t think we have any big changes planned. I think it’s important to run it the way it normally is. We are not going to allow double sleeving. Foreign cards you do NOT have to have the English card with you; you can provide a digital or printed copy. One of the coolest things we’re going to do is allow intentional draws. Hopefully that’ll help organize and make the tournaments run a little smoother. It’s one less rule that can be broken. This question has made us decide to make our own policy document. We want to set up an FAQ page so if somebody e-mails me ‘Hey, can I double sleeve?’ we can add the answer to the FAQ page.

If you are banned in Magic: The Gathering, nothing stops you from going to play Yugioh. The thing that we need to enforce is that the player needs to watch the player. You need to watch your opponent.

How many judges do you have? Who is your head judge?
The judging staff will be different at every event. Our Yugitubers and guys are coming for event coverage. We’re going to use regional people for this. Dallas is the only place we’re trying to do judges at, so all those judges are from Dallas. The guy who just ran Dallas, David Yao, is our head judge. They just had a Regional yesterday or Saturday, so I think I have 10 confirmed judges, plus a head judge, plus a couple of our Ohio judges coming, so we have plenty. We hope to have 2-3 Yugitubers and 2-3 event reporters. We do not have only 5-6 judges. There are some top-notch judges, really good ones that we would like to use, but we think they’re sitting back and seeing how the first couple go. Instead of coming out and supporting this, they’re just sitting back. We’ve advertised that we want them to do it, but we don’t know; what are we supposed to do? I haven’t shared with anybody until now how many judges we have officially. I read that same post, it came from a pretty high level judge.

Will you have side events? What sorts of side events? Would you include Tag Dueling? OCG or TCG format? Or your own format?
Trollandtoad will be vending We want artists there as well, people to draw playmats. I wouldn’t charge them for a table. We have no plans for anything OCG. Down the road we have a whole bunch of Win-a-Boxes lined up. We have talked about an ARG format and old Goat format. Tag Dueling is very, very, very interesting, but it hasn’t been a focus, because we just don’t know what our turnout will be, and so we don’t know how many side events we’re going to run. Tag Dueling to me is an awesome option for some kind of championship with Tag Dueling.

Where did you get the idea to have events like these?
The community. I mean, you can see what other people are doing. I grew up in the sports community and have been in the business 26 years. The competitive side of it, seeing the events in Magic, vending the events in Magic, wondering if this could be done in Yugioh, listening to people talk about not having it, bitching about not having it, and then we said, screw it, we’re all in, let’s try it out. And here we are.

What sorts of costs did you incur? What sort of numbers are you hoping to see? What numbers are you expecting to see?
When we originally planned these events, we had never discussed anything YCS level. This was just something we were going to do in writers’ cities, like Joe Giorlando’s Boston, Billy Brake’s Dallas, and ARG’s Columbus. We’re going to run these like Regionals, but we got a bigger room for Dallas. The prizes and everything we’re thinking about, we’re hoping to draw 400-500 people. A lot of people compare this to Star City Games for Magic. If anyone knows anything about SCG and what their averages are, we took those numbers and put that to Yugioh with 20-30% less, TCGplayer does $5000 cash tournaments around the country, and they average 180-300 in our area. We’re looking hard at a Regional-type turnout, but in Dallas we have a bigger room that holds 600-700 people. I expect them to grow, but who knows? As far as the costs, Dallas will be close to $20,000, Columbus is closer to home, and Boston we can drive, so it’s looking to be somewhere around $18,000 on average. And that’s when we’re hosting only 500-600 in the room. When you do the math, 400 x $25, we’re not getting back that money, so we’re adding Kaijudo and hopefully other games as we go along, but you’re going to see that we’re going to allow vendors into the room, which will help pay some of the cost. Not a lot of it, but hopefully they pay some of the cost. We’re banking that turnouts are good, and our goal is to not lose too much money, and hopefully break even. We’re a business, so if something doesn’t go right, we will fix it.

Will you have any coverage of the events? Where can it be found? Would you be against YGOrganization covering it?
I’d be willing to let Jeff Jones do an article with you and advertise it. We want this to be a grand event of value. Artists, we won’t charge a table. We’re bringing in Yugi-tubers so they have their brand and make money on their videos stuff like that, so we’re allowing other coverage in there. I’m in contracts with a company that charges by the hour to watch livestreaming. It costs money to livestream. In Yugioh, everything is free. Invites are free, everything is reprinted, tournament entries are replaced with packs. We want to see if the community is ready for something premium. Something you have to pay to get. In Magic: the Gathering, people pay to read articles for example. These streams won’t be ready for Dallas, but we plan to have a stream you can pay $5 for 2 days worth. Is the Yugioh community ready for something premium? We want to stream the top table for the last 4 rounds, if people are willing to watch. If 100 people watch for an hour, that’s $100, but would cost us 50 bucks. We’re looking to bring something premium, something that people want, but we don’t know. Are people going to count the circuit championship if you win that as a top? Are you going to count Dallas to your Shonen total? So we don’t know if this will add value or not. Your site is trying to decipher the BS from the real stuff, to put the truth out there. We plan to do a rating system down the road, but we’re still throwing all the ideas around. I’m a big fan of Kaijudo’s ranking system. It’s really simple. 3 points for a win, 1 for a loss, 0 for your intentional draw. Until we get 3-5 events into this, we won’t worry about a ranking system. You’ll notice the word Yugioh isn’t anywhere; this is just a circuit series. We don’t know what the future is.

What is your opinion on YGOrganization.com?
You guys separate the truth from the BS. I understand that Konami has to protect what they do but I don’t understand why they have to do what they do. I understand the company has a lot of hard workers in the USA; I know a lot of them personally now. Their hands are tied to what they can do with their license agreement and japan. To me, this is something important. We had a two-hour meeting on this.

I think we should definitely stay in contact and see what we can do. We need more websites like you to tell everyone the way it is. We can fix things that screw up.

A big thanks to Jim for taking the time to answer my questions. Hope to see a strong future between us.

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