Multimedia Games originally envisioned its TournEvent of Champions promotion as a way to spotlight its TournEvent slot tournament technology while providing client casinos a way to generate additional income from their slot floors. Last year, TournEvent of Champions went national for the first time, and took on a life of its own as a specially-themed tour bus set out in search of the country’s best slot tournament player. After covering over 40,000 miles, 88 final qualifiers from 77 casinos across the U.S. battled it out for the top spot and their share of $250,000 in prize money at the NTOC Championship, held in Las Vegas the same week as Global Gaming Expo (G2E). The National TournEvent of Champions proved popular among participating casinos and contestants, so much so that Multimedia Games doubled its ante for this year—with two tour buses that will visit 86 casinos to determine the 103 contestants who will play for $500,000 in prizes on Oct. 1 in Las Vegas.

Patrick Ramsey, CEO for Austin, Texas-based Multimedia Games recently spoke to Slot Manager Editor Paul Doocey about the National TournEvent of Champions, the reasons for its popularity and success, and what the company plans to do with the promotion going forward. Here are some excerpts from that conversation:

For readers unfamiliar with the concept, please describe the TournEvent of Champions and how it works.

Ramsey: The best analogy I can use is the World Series of Poker. Casinos who have our tournament product can participate and they can buy into National TournEvent of Champions (NTOC) for one or multiple participants. This allows them to host a NTOC satellite tournament that takes place at their casino. Properties can also opt to hold qualifying tournaments to build up to the satellite event. When it’s time to host the satellite event, we send our marketing team and our bus to help operate and promote the event. We try to make it a really big day for the casino. The winner or winners of the satellite event then advance to the national championship in Las Vegas where they get to participate against satellite winners from other casinos.

How did the whole idea for the NTOC come about? When did it officially launch?

Ramsey: It started with a statewide competition in California. TournEvent was popular there, so we decided to hold the California state championship in 2012. People really liked it—the TournEvent of Champions ended up being voted as one of the top slot themes in California that year despite the fact it was a promotion instead of a slot theme.

We knew we were on to something when customers asked us if we were going to do it again. It was an easy decision to bring TournEvent of Champions to a national level and make this even bigger and better. Our first national event took place last year.

What is the goal of the NTOC? How does it help casino operators? How does it help Multimedia Games?

Ramsey: For us, financially, we operate NTOC as a break-even business. It is not a major profit center for us. But it really helps us in a couple of ways. To start, it differentiates us from other slot manufacturers—no other major slot manufacturer commits so much of its resources towards driving revenue for the casino. NTOC also highlights our products; it showcases the TournEvent slot tournament system, which potentially helps us place more of these systems in casinos.

The benefits of NTOC may be indirect for us, but are financially direct for the casino. We have heard stories that with a NTOC satellite event, a regular July night can get the same customer volume as New Year’s Eve. If it is run and marketed right and supported by the property, the direct financial benefit of NTOC to the casino can be very significant, and more than offset the buy-in costs for the operator.

Do you help casinos with the operation and marketing of NTOC?

Ramsey:  There are some recommendations and templates we give them and are willing to work with them if asked. Ultimately, however, the property decides how it wants to promote NTOC. We have had properties that want to use it for the mass market, and try to get as many people to participate as possible through months of promotions and advertising. We’ve had other properties that did not want to hit the mass market and reserve it only for their high-end VIP players. The property decides how they want to market and promote NTOC, but we are there to help run the final satellite event. 

What initially attracts players to the NTOC concept? How do you continue to keep them interested? What kind of consumer marketing effort do you put behind the contest?

Ramsey: Much more than anything, it is the competitive and social nature of NTOC and that people want to be crowned the champion. It is much less about the prize level. When we came up with the concept, we realized we would never be able to out-market the casino; we just didn’t have the budget to offer a $1 million tournament, something many multi-property casino operations already offer. Our top prize for the first national TournEvent of Champions was $100,000, yet many operators told us this garnered more attention than a $1 million contest. So I don’t think NTOC is as much about the money, although that doesn’t hurt, as it is about being crowned the NTOC winner.

And this really should not surprise anyone. Look at online social gaming… players are not winning money; it is more about being competitive, being a leader, achieving certain levels, and I think NTOC falls in line with this.

How will this year’s version of NTOC be different than previous years’ event?

Ramsey: Last year the top prize was $100,000, this year it will be $250,000. So it has more than doubled from a top prize perspective, but once again, I don’t think that is the more important aspect. It will be a bigger event since there are more participants. It is also going to be held at a different location—in the XS Nightclub at Wynn Encore.

When will TournEvent of Champions take place this year?

Ramsey: Preliminaries will kick-off in May. The conclusion will take place in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, the week of G2E.

How much farther can you take the NTOC concept? How much larger can it become? Are you planning any new twists for it in upcoming years?

Ramsey: To grow we need the TournEvent product to go into more casinos. Right now it is in 231 properties. If we can get into 300 or 400 casinos, that will naturally drive participation. It will also allow us to get a bit more aggressive on the budget and be able boost the prize levels. Hopefully one day we can make this a $1 million tournament.

If you look at the list of participants, there are a lot of single properties. We do not have a lot of the large, multi-property companies involved. Maybe it just takes time to grow the brand and prove the results and maybe having it at Wynn Encore will help.

Another natural next step may be to bring NTOC online. We are touching hundreds of thousands of people through our brand and this promotion. What makes this product popular is its social and competitive nature, and making it even more popular through some type of online initiative seems natural. 

As you mentioned, many of the multi-property chains seem to run their own slot tournaments. Does this help or hurt a concept like NTOC? 

Ramsey: I don’t think these concepts need to be mutually exclusive of each other. If I were a 20 or 30 property chain I would try my own tournament but also participate in NTOC to see what kind of revenue it can create for me.

It’s unprecedented to have a promotion where all these properties and companies are competing against each other and I think that is neat.