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For slot players in many parts of the U.S., May means more than flowers. It means it’s time to start watching for the bus.
That would be the TournEvent of Champions bus, sent by slot manufacturer Multimedia Games from its home state of Texas to any of more than 100 casinos across the country that also offer the slot-maker’s TournEvent slot tournament system, the setup that has turned the formerly mundane tournament events into something more resembling a sports event, or even a game show.
It wasn’t long after Multimedia debuted the tournament system, which uses dedicated games with special bonus events, that the manufacturer began thinking about holding multi-casino contests on the TournEvent product. The first involved casinos in the state of California. The six-month event was structured along the lines of Caesars’ World Series of Poker, with satellite events held at casinos producing finalists, who would participate in a final event at some neutral location.
It would be called TournEvent of Champions, and that first year, 2011, the finals were held on a cruise ship, when 13 finalists vied for a top prize of $100,000. Some precedents were established that first year that would ultimately make the event grow at a meteoric pace. The winner of each satellite tournament would be sent on an
all-expense-paid vacation to participate in the finals. No one would walk out of the tournament with less than $500 in prize money. And the whole event would be like a party, leaving each finalist feeling like a winner.
The following year, the second statewide event was held, this time with 13 casinos in Washington. By this time, it was becoming fairly obvious TournEvent was destined to go national. In 2013, it did, with the first National TournEvent of Champions, where nearly 70 casinos in 20 states sent finalists on a Las Vegas vacation (these vacations are for two, by the way) leading up to a final tournament at uber-sports bar Lagasse’s Stadium at the Venetian.
And that’s also when the bus came in. Multimedia equipped a rock-style tour bus with TournEvent regalia, packed the “National TournEvent of Champions Tour Bus” with “M Girls” hostesses, the famed “Money Man” mascot—a character made of a stack of coins with a hat and sunglasses, the main character in the dedicated slot games—and Multimedia staffers, and sent them on a road trip to as many TournEvent locations as they could visit within a few months.
The winner of the first national event took home $100,000. The second winner of the designation “Nation’s Best Tournament Slot Player” took home $200,000, in the first finals held at the glitzy XS nightclub at Wynn Las Vegas. More than 100 finalists participated in that one, which was preceded by the first-ever TournEvent charity tournament held the day before the big event.
This year’s third National TournEvent of Champions will be the event’s first millionaire-maker. The total prize pool will be $1.3 million, with the winner taking home a cool $1 million grand prize.
According to Linda Trinh, the Multimedia Games vice president of marketing and promotions who has been running the national TournEvent since the start, at press time, the slot-maker had already signed up 79 casinos, which will lead to 155 finalists for the championship round at XS. And that was before the satellite events had even begun.
While a couple of satellite events were slated for April, the meat of the preliminary round gets started this month, quite possibly at a casino near you. Trinh says it will be bigger than ever. “By the end of May, we are shooting to have more than 100 casinos, and probably close to 200 finalists,” she says, “almost double the number of people participating this year, compared to the 2014 championship.”
That will include casinos in a place that may some day lead this being called the International TournEvent of Champions. According to Trinh, the company has sealed a deal with a multiple-casino operator in Peru to join this year’s event. “Because of the TournEvent of Champions, they decided to add more TournEvent systems within all their properties,” says Trinh. “By 2016, all 12 of their properties will be participating.”
At last check, the company hadn’t decided how to drive a bus down to South America. But back in the States, Trinh, along with her TournEvent teammates and colleagues, hit the road this month to take part in preliminaries. This starts a nomadic existence for a few months she says she has grown to love.
“One of my favorite things to do is to get out there and talk to the players, meet the casino officials, and do that whole tour just like anyone else would,” Trinh says. “It’s definitely non-stop travel from one city to the next.” The Money Man mascot, M Girls and others arrive at each location to greet the contestants, hand out T-shirts and other memorabilia, and take place in the party that surrounds each of these preliminary contests.
The bus tours, in fact, have resulted in groupies that follow the bus to each location the way Dead Heads used to follow the Grateful Dead on tour. “Especially in Washington and California where we started the statewide campaigns, we have a set of what we call groupies, who have followed the tour bus across the state,” Trinh says. “Players have emailed us and sent us fan mail. We have fan mail for our Money Man. I’m really pleased that a lot of these players have embraced this campaign and are happy to see it happening every year, and are reaching out to us to find out where we’re going to be next.”
Washington’s group of… TournEvent Heads?… were at 12 of the 17 casinos for preliminary events one year.
Trinh says she hopes to soon bring some executives on the bus tour from Global Cash Access, the ATM and cash equipment supplier that acquired Multimedia last year. “We hope to have some of them join us on the road, and experience the road life with the rest of the promotions team—really get out there and get to see our casino customers and our players,” she says. “They are so excited about something like this—it’s so different from what they’re involved with on the payment side.”
The satellite tournaments are sometimes hosted by Michael Conway, the Multimedia Games creative director who also is a seasoned stage and TV actor (think Ray, the graduate student who steals a statue in a popular 1991 Seinfeld episode). Conway hosts the national event as well.
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If you’re new to TournEvent, you will immediately know why this now-international event is growing so quickly. Instead of 10 minutes of monotonous button-pushing, these are events hosted by a game show-style emcee on a system that offers a lot of excitement, anticipation and surprises.
Add-ons by Multimedia since the first system include a little camera in each machine that records the contestant, and beams video onto a large screen while the tournament is going on. There are pop-up balloons that float up the screen and burst on touch to boost your score. There is the Money Man character, who that can appear on the slot screen at any time during the contest and boost your score to the top of the pack.
That means right up to the last second of each tournament session. Your score could be the lowest in the group when the Money Man appears with two seconds left to jump you to first place and hand you a tournament win.
During the game, the players’ faces are flashing on a big video screen as the host announces changes in the lead, also displayed on a big leaderboard. Crowds cheer, the host shouts encouragement, and what you have is a true community event.
“We think it’s a great system, and we hang our hats on it as the product that really made us who we are today,” Trinh says. “We are not only 150 percent behind our TournEvent product, but we are also thinking of unique and creative ways not only to develop that product, but to have these add-ons, these promotional events that are very much outside of what a slot manufacturer would ever normally do.”
The charity event is now growing right along with the main tournament. This year, the Celebrity TournEvent for Charity will be held on the floor of the Global Gaming Expo industry trade show the day before the TournEvent finals. Among the celebrities last year were Carrot Top, Terry Fator and Robin Leach. Each celebrity picks a charity to which his or her winnings will be given. Last year, the winner’s charity got $10,000 and the cause of each contestant got $1,000.
This year, Multimedia is upping the ante for the charity event, setting aside $40,000 for the celebrity charities of choice, and adding a cause of its own—help for U.S. military veterans. The Save A Warrior program, which helps returning war veterans readjust to society, will be TournEvent’s 2015 Charity of Choice.
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“We’ve guaranteed we’ll give them a minimum of $50,000 in 2015,” Trinh says. “My goal internally is for us to get $100,000 we can give to them.”
The charity event will take place Tuesday, September 29, with the finals at XS slated for Wednesday evening, September 30. Also on the 29th, players who did not win their preliminaries will be given a last-chance tournament linked to a new TournEvent Facebook app.
Every month, Multimedia will award entries for the last-chance event for playing on the Facebook app. As long as they are willing to pay their own way to Vegas, winners of these entry tickets will compete on September 29, with the winner going to the main event the following night.
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(See the TournEvent page on Facebook for details.)
But for now, preliminary season is under way, giving players the chance to participate in local events to become one of the finalists.
As always, each finalist gets the requisite Vegas vacation, with all expenses paid including meals at the hotel, plus at least $500 in prize money. Individual casinos run their preliminaries differently, so watch your email, snail mail or smart phone for the details.
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And watch for the bus. •
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TournEvent Of Champions
Wynn / Encore Las Vegas
XS Night Club
September 29-30, 2015*
*Qualifying Tournament with all players on September 29. Final Tournament on September 30th.
Over $1.3 Million Prize Pool
Grand Prize of $1 Million (awarded using periodic payments over 20 years)