I recently went to a prerelease tournament for Magic: The Gathering. This was an actual tournament in a local comic store. They made me sign up for a DCI membership and I paid $30 for 6 packs for cards that I then had to build a 40 card deck from. I’m not wholly certain why the membership was required, but I’ll live.
As I arrived, there was nothing but men. Two store clerks and about 8 guys milling about, either paying for registration or sitting about entertaining themselves. I had gone with several friends, all guys, because those were the only people I know who were interested in Magic, specifically going to a tournament.
So I signed up, no one seemed to notice or care much. It was my first official tournament. I expected more people to be helpful and explain. But no one did. So I took a seat with my friends, befriended another brand-new tournament attender, and chatted. Now, the odd thing was that this new guy had more support than I did. It was assumed that my friends would take care of me and explain things (they did not, being fairly new themselves), whereas this other new guy had someone checking in with him every now and again.
Then the appointed time rolled around and our packs were handed out. Rules were very briefly explained (no name-calling/harassing, time limits etc.) and then everyone opened their cards. I started sorting, building my deck, and noticed that another woman had arrived. There were two of us out of twenty. Ten percent. Not so bad.
The rounds were assigned and I was paired against the husband of the other woman. He was helpful. Patiently explaining to me tournament etiquette. She made a joke about there finally being another woman but otherwise didn’t talk to me much. Thinking back on it, I think we exchanged fewer than ten words. Rounds ended, people shuffled about to new seats, I played against different people.
The night ended and I hadn’t placed highly enough to receive a prize. One of the store clerks (who was Asian), loudly pointed out that all the top tier players were Asians. As though this was deeply meaningful. Someone called him on it, in a joking fashion, and it slid to the side.
First, no one really seemed to call attention to me being a woman except the other woman. Though there were a few odd moments where it was obvious that everyone else was used to just calling her “That woman” and then having people look at me because I was standing closer. This led to an amusing statement of “No, not that one, the other one!” because clearly they weren’t used to having more than one around and this caused issues.
Second, despite this being my very first official tournament and me being unafraid to mention that I was new, I got very little help. The new guy, with whom I’d been chatting with on and off all night, had actually had someone pull apart his deck and rebuild it for him to give him an edge.
Third, people were friendly, if distant. A lot of the other players were wrapped up in their own worlds and didn’t seem to care much for anyone else. They weren’t rude, just disinterested. Anyone I interacted with directly were polite and very…Canadian. Which was handy if a little disappointing.
All in all, I’m pretty certain that if this is the current experience for women at official tournaments that I’ll probably attend some other prereleases. I’m still pretty certain that I don’t feel welcome given how the new guy was treated much better than I was, but I didn’t feel excluded either. It’s definitely not an experience I would willingly go to on my own without knowing that someone else would have my back though.