Yoyo Contest

How to Run a Yoyo Contest

Yoyo contest organizing.

If you have ever organized a contest, my hat is off to you.  It’s not an easy thing.  Even the smallest local contest organizer has a lot of responsibility.  It’s not a thankless job, the people that attend are always very appreciative, but as far as recognition outside of that, not much is done.  Having said that, this article isn’t about complaining, it’s about giving you a realistic outline of what goes into running a contest.  Who knows, you might actually want to run one after reading this!  At the very least you might look at approaching the local contest organizer and offering to help out.

For anyone who has attended a contest, you know there are some things to expect.  You can generally expect qualified judges and a stage.  You can expect to see vendor tables to shop at, a practice area and somewhere to sit.  There’s a sound system for the music and nowadays there is an expectation of a live stream, or at least high quality video is posted to youtube afterward.  There are prizes, often a raffle.  A good contest usually has access to food and drink as well.  You also might notice the banner with the sponsor’s logos on it. Generally this is all put together a handful of people, headed up by a single person.

    I can speak to contests up to the size of a small national contest. I’ve run BC provincials, Western Canadian Regionals and Canadian Nationals.  To some degree the work involved is the same, just in gradually increasing scale.

BC provincials

I usually treat this as a fun, small contest with the intent of providing a venue for competitors to hone their stage skills, but mostly as a place for newer yoyoers to have fun and come together to play with yoyo.  I organize a couple standard divisions (1a junior, 1a pro, open/X division).  Scattered in there are various mini contests (sleeper, rock the baby showdown, walk the dog race).

So what are the key steps needed to pull this together?

1. Venue.  First step is finding a venue and secure a date.  This needs to happen far enough in advance that anyone travelling has time to make plans.  For this contest I usually use an elementary school gymnasium.  Because I am a teacher I can generally get a really good rate at my schoool, around $500 for the day.  That usually includes the sound system, tables and chairs.  I have to add on event insurance though, which is another $125. Often some local parents will volunteer to go to Costco and provide a snack table and charge enough to recover costs.

Total $625

2. Judges – This is always the 2nd thing I look for. NO point in going any farther if there are no judges available.  I can usually scrabble together enough people from the local community to judge, although its usually a case of some of the 1a players judge the open division and junior division.  I always try to pay judges at least something, since it’s a pretty boring way to spend your day when you could be yoyoing.  Finally you need someone who will be in charge of organizing the judges and compiling the final scores. I luckily have a parent of a local yoyo champ that is heavily involved and handles this.

So tack on $50 per judge (or higher if you are inviting someone from out of town and compensating for their expenses) usually for around 4 people minimum.


3. Sponsors – With a smaller contest most of the time the best you can get from sponsors is product donations.  Occasionally one or two will add a bit of cash, but for the most part they provide the prizes and raffle prizes. They don’t give away something for nothing either, there is an expectation that they are getting advertising, so someone (usually me) has to put the time into facebook, Instagram, reddit and anywhere else to give them public thank you announcements. If your venue allows sponsors will sometimes send a representative to sell their brand’s yoyos at the event.  There is a cost here, usually around $150 for the stage banner.

$150 Plus time.

4. Trophies/medals. – For smaller contests I usually go with certificates that I can print at home due to the high cost/low return of a small contest. This gives me the freedom to make up some awards as well (funniest yoyo trick, future professional dog walker, etc)

5. Sounds/video – For a smaller contest this is usually a pair of volunteer jobs.  Someone to run a laptop that the players music is loaded into (usually in the morning the day of the event).  I have a decent video camera and usually can get a volunteer to run it.  Then I have to put the hours in at home to edit and upload the videos with the sponsors logos at the beginning. I usually am able to give the volunteers something from the sponsor donations as a thank you

Cost: A lot of time and sponsor donated products.

Beyond that most of what is needed is volunteers – an MC, registration desk, raffle ticket sales, setup crew.  It’s a big job to put together even a small contest.  My hard costs are usually just under $1000CAD.  It’s a stretch to get that back between limited sponsor cash, raffle and registration fees.  Sometimes I do, sometimes I just have to cover the additional costs myself.  The upside to running a store at the event is that my table profits are usually at least close to enough to cover the difference.

Western Canadian Regionals and Canadian Nationals.

For the most part I treat these two the same.  I’m usually either running one or the other as Canadian Nationals alternates east coast/west coast. So when I’m not running nationals WCR I treat it as the year’s ‘big contest’ for those that can’t travel.

As far as the main tasks go they are usually close to the same, with scaled up costs.  A larger/nicer venue is needed, everything else costs a little more.

1.      Venue – Cost varies from 1000-2000 for the venue rental.  Best nationals I’ve held cost 1600 plus 150 for the venue rental.  It had the benefit of a kitchen staff so food and drink were included.  It also required a lot more setup/teardown but players are usually willing to show up early and help with that.

2.      Judges – You can’t run a larger contest just with local volunteers so I usually have to call out for people with more experience.  This year I was lucky enough to get some volunteers from the USA to drive up for the contest.  They were kind enough to do the job for $50 each and a place to stay.  Total cost was $250

3.        For a national contest we are usually able to get more cash sponsorship, sometimes up to a total of $1000.  The banner cost goes up as you need a bigger one for a bigger stage, so usually around $200 for that.

4.      Trophies – for nationals a good quality trophy is required.  2016’s organizer was able to get something cool from a sponsor, 2017 I spent about $250 for all the divisions to get a 1st place trophy and 2nd and 3rd place medals for each event.

5.      MC – for a bigger contest I budget at least $100 for this.

6.      Sound and video – I’ve been lucky enough to get a volunteer for this.

All in Canadian Nationals can be run from $2000-$2500

Canada is small beans in the yoyo world.  Our community is limited by geography and access to yoyos (The word yoyo is trademarked).  Step outside and things get bigger.  A few years ago the Vancouver group considered putting in a bid to host worlds’.  We ended up deciding it wasn’t feasible due to cost.  Getting a large enough venue and covering all of the associated costs was going to end up requiring somewhere between $100 000 and $140 000.  No one around here had the cash for that, and we didn’t feel confident we would be able to recoup the costs.

I don’t know what the costs are for contests outside of Canada.  Steve brown recently replied to a question on facebook regarding contest costs by providing per minute cost breakdown of a couple contests he runs which made for interesting reading, so I’m quoting them below.

“It varies wildly from one event to the next. Worlds 2016 cost roughly $2800/hour to run, which is about $47/minute. Considering that a player who is doing a 1-minute freestyle takes up about 3+ minutes of contest time, then consider that they are getting like a 65% discount. ;) And that's assuming that you are not charging for the administrative time leading up to the event.”

“For contrast, Ohio States cost about $183/hour to run last year, not including administrative time before the event. Adding admin time would probably bump that to about $300/hour.”

Food for thought for sure.  I think I’ll leave the massive contests to the people who have the knowledge and skill set to organize something that large, but I’m content to keep running our small Canadian events.  More than anything what makes it possible is the huge amount of local support I have from parents and yoyoers alike.  When I am putting on an event all I have to do is post “I need someone to do _______ at the contest” and I always get a volunteer.  Yoyo is not a major sport.  I don’t see it ever becoming a major sport.  Volunteers will always be what makes our happy little corner of nerdsville run. 

If you have made it through this article, feel free to join in the comments.  I’d love to hear either your experiences running a contest, or a shout out for volunteers that have made your corner of the yoyo world a better place!

As a little bonus, use the code “contestblog” to get 15% off any “Vosun”, “Magic Yoyo” or “Rain City Skills” toys between now and October 19th!

How to be ridiculous at a yoyo contest

 (Post Originally written May 2018)

So I did a thing.

Yesterday at the Canadian National Yoyo contest I competed in 2 divisions.  I defended my 4a Championship title (and lost to the Amazing Terrance Wang) which was fun.  I also caved to peer pressure from my friend and a Canadian yoyo hero and the organizer Wayne Ngan and competed in 1a.  I wasn’t going to because a couple years ago I stopped practicing 1a.  I still do it and am constantly making up tricks, but I’m not doing the repetitive practice of specific tricks that makes competition work.  So I told him I’d do it, but if I make finals I’m not going to take it seriously.

Initially I was just going to do something stupid like get on stage, throw the yoyo and stare intensely at the audience, making uncomfortable eye contact with as many people as possible before the yoyo spun out or the 3 minutes ran out.

I ended up going a little more creative and basically did a half-arsed AP (Art and performance) routine.  The idea was basically to take each of the Rain City Skills yoyos and do something ridiculous to match the theme of the yoyo.  For the showgirl yoyo I attached the little feather boa that they came with to the string and acted surprised when it unwound, did a couple tricks then wore it around my neck.  For the Hipster Highlife I used the beer shop edition.  The plan was to stop, pour root beer in it and do a shot before going on to Yoyo. Unfortunatly I forgot the root beer, lol.  Finally I pulled out 2 gamers that were stuck together with an elastic band as the soundtrack to Mortal Combat came on and I mimicked playing a video game before taking them apart and playing with one.  The routine culminated with me pretending to hit myself in the head and fall to the stage when the “Finish Him” was announced on the soundtrack.

Why did I do this?  Beyond just not wanted to do a 3 minute routine this is part of my ongoing frustration with yoyo contests.  With a few exceptions they are boring as snot to watch.  I stopped actually watching the stage at contests years ago because most of the time its just a person on stage staring at their hands twitching.  Occasionally you get a true performer who can make their routine interesting to a point, but the limits of the scoring system don’t reward that enough to make it a priority.

The Mountain Dew cup at the 2018 World Yoyo contest was in part the inspiration for what I refer to as my “stupid yoyo” routine.  It was a minor event as part of the contest that was a way to thank their biggest sponsor, Mountain Dew.  Anyone could enter.  You were given a cheap plastic yoyo that didn’t even have a ball bearing that you had to use.  You had 30 seconds to yoyo to this really cheesy pop song that I think was written for the event.  Initially it was a challenge of “What can I actually do with this yoyo”.  It quickly evolved to “How ridiculous can I get with this yoyo”.  The best part was who won.  A kid who walked on stage, strutted around, pointed at the sponsor logo on the stage then threw a sleeper while he chugged a bottle of Mountain Dew.

It was fun.  It was fun for the players and it was fun for the audience.  It was accessible to everyone.  I wanted to channel a little of that, give the parents and audience something fun to watch and give the judges a laugh.  I think that ended up being the most important part.  The judges are the unsung heroes of any yoyo contest.  They sit at that table and concentrate hard all day long.  I tried it once, it was exhausting and I never want to do it again, so in this act my hats were literally off to them.

The big question now is…should I do the work to turn this concept into a legit AP routine and submit to worlds for 2019?  And if so, what do I do with the DUCC? Might be fun for a chuckle.

Travelling to Yoyo Contests

     In my 8+ years of yoyoing I’ve had the privelage of travelling a fair bit to different contests.Part of that is having a wife who loves travelling and will find any excuse to do so.I’ve been to the world yoyo contests in Prague, Iceland and beautiful Cleveland.I’ve driven 6 times now down to Seattle washington for the Pacific Northwest Regional yoyo contest.I’ve been down to California for BAC and California States. Alberta and Toronto in Canada for Canadian Nationals.I love it.Getting together with the community is one of the most amazing parts of being a yoyoer.As I said, I have a wife who loves to travel, so we’ve often ended up in a variety of other places either before or after the contest (The most memorable being our honeymoon in Italy before heading to the Czech Republic for worlds 2014).

I thought I’d write a post sharing some of the amusing stories from my travels. 

     Last year (2017) when we went to Reyjkeyavik for Worlds my wife and I popped over to London then up to Edinburgh afterwards.  My wife is also a flow toy performer and we try to work some performing into our travelling, more for a chance to get to know people locally than anything else. We were in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. (Add brief history)

     We performed in a variety of shows in the ‘Free Fringe’ which is essentially the Fringe festival of the fringe festival.  Most of the shows we were paid in beer, but we had a good time and got to see a lot of really neat acts. The most amusing part was the evening the front row was a bunch of stand up comedians who had come to their friend’s show.  I was approached afterwards by one who informed me that the row of cynical, jaded comedians all heard ‘yoyoer’ and were prepared to mock this ridiculous kids toy.  Instead they sat for 3 minutes with their jaws on the floor.  I think I got paid 2 beers for that performance ;)

     Crossing the border to PNWR is always fun.  The questions, the looks of confusion and the drastic difference in tone and attitude between the 2 country’s border officers. We are usually crossing at around 5:30AM.  The first question is the standard:

“What brings you to the USA today”

To which we reply:

“Going to a yoyo contest”

Some of the responses that have stood out as funny

“A what?”

“How much is the cash prize if you win”. (Lol, cash prize)

“People still do that?”

      I once had a near disaster with the question “Are you meeting anyone down there?”.  My answer is usually yes, some other people from Vancouver and some friends from the internet.  This day the officer was more serious than usual asking that question (which is saying a lot for US border guards, they make concrete look light hearted and fun).  Once I got through I stopped for gas (It’s about 30-40% cheaper than in Canada) and discovered the car in front of me was someone else from Vancouver. They had answered the same question with “Yeah, the guy behind us”.  Had I not answered correctly it probably would have meant a delay at the very least.

      Coming home is usually a different story. But there was one year I was pulled aside for inspection.  They poked though the car, looked at the case of yoyos and asked me to yoyo for them!  I suspect it was more about proving I was actually a yoyoer, but I think it at least added something fun and different to their evening.

      My best airplane story was coming back from Toronto where Canadian Nationals was held in 2016.  I had won my first national 4a title and was extremely excited.  To the point where I was still wearing my medal (a really cool wooden one that doubled as a yoyo) the next day when I went through security.  As my case of yoyos went through the X-ray machine, I say the converter belt stop and the young woman looking at it grow increasingly confused.  She turned to ask me and I pulled out my medal and told her they were yoyos and that I’d just won the championships.  Again, I got asked to show them some tricks.

I’ve never had a similar light-hearted experience with American customs.  But maybe it’s a Canadian thing.

       My favourite bit of travelling was when we did our Epic Road Trip in 2015.  We really wanted to drive across Canada, but couldn’t make the timing work.  What we ended up doing was Frieghting our camping gear to London Ontario where my brother lives, then flying to Toronto and renting an SUV.  We spent 5 weeks performing, meeting with local yoyo clubs and seeing the parts of Eastern Canada I’d only ever read about in books.  We performed at a variety of different shows, but the best part was meeting with yoyoers.  I was midway through my “Trick a Day, Eh?” Project.  I was collecting a trick on film from a Canadian for each day of the year.  We hit Toronto where we stayed with a friend of my wife’s, then up to Ottawa to stay with a yoyoer friend, Greg Pettit.  We camped for 4 days on Lake Ontario then drove up to Quebec City where I managed to meet with a couple yoyoers then down to Montreal where I met with the club and was taken out for Poutine by them (of course a mandatory event).  Across to the maritime, out to the tip of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world.  We ended up on a float in Halifax’s Pride parade and walked the street where my mother in law grew up.  Andra went to the maritime museum to find the landing records that showed where her dad landed when he immigrated to Canada from England.

      When we got back to Toronto we dropped off our gear to be freighted back to Vancouver, cleaned up the SUV and returned it.  The look on the rental agent’s face was hilarious.  He thought the odometer was broken, he didn’t believe anyone would have put 7000 kilometres on a rental car!

      I’m looking forward to future travels.  I’m planning on Boston for the USA National Championship this year.  I’m also hoping to hit at least one more USA contest.  2019 I’ll be visiting Cleveland again for worlds and to hang out with all the friends I’ve made over the years.

I’d love to hear some of your funny and interesting travel stories!

Yoyo Contests - Where is the Fun?

Why isn’t yoyo more fun?

As far as I’m concerned 42=Fun

     The purpose of life, the universe and everything is to have fun.  The reason we have an internet full of cat videos instead of more ‘important’ things is because having fun, laughing and sharing joy is what humans are for.  It doesn’t need to go any deeper than that.  You want the scientific basis for my assertion?  Um.  Yeah.  Don’t have that, but I have confidence! 

     Ok, seriously though,I have really been considering this lately.  Yoyo clubs, contests, online groups.  So much if it is too serious.  Was this always the way?  I don’t see it.  One piece of evidence is the begleri community.  It’s a rather young community, and really happy-go-lucky.  I think yoyo used to be more fun, back before the ball bearings and the aircraft aluminum and the world championships.  At this point when I go to contests (Including worlds) I barely watch any of the competition, I spend my time with people, talking, teaching, learning and trying to squeeze some fun into the event.

     When I run contests in Vancouver, I regularly invite the crew from Terra Kendama to come and run an event.  They usually split it into 2 events, beginner and advanced.  The advanced is the usual boring to watch “Everyone do this trick…do the next one” with the only excitement being the elimination process.  It’s the way yoyo contests used to be run before freestyles took over.

     The beginner events are where the fun happens.  Sometimes through the course of the day I have them do filler activities between yoyo sets and it’s always a blast.  Instead of just “Who can land it in the big cup, now the little cup” they do things like the “unicorn” trick, where you balance the Ken (the body) on your forehead pointing outward like a unicorn horn with the Tama (Ball) balanced behind your head holding it in place.  Everyone looks ridiculous, but everyone who wants to is able to at least make the attempt and they spend the whole time laughing.  Inclusion makes for a better party.  There is something fantastic about 8 year olds kids and 40 year old kids being ridiculous together and just have FUN.

     The 2017 World Yoyo contest in Reykjavik, like every other year, got some things right, some things wrong, and a fair bit in between.  What they did better than any contest I’ve ever been to is figure out how to bring some of the FUN back into yoyo contests. I’m sure the Mountain Dew Cup was something silly they threw in to give value to a sponsor, but it turned out to be the most important thing they did at the contest.  They took the serious, intense competition out of the yoyo and replaced it with “Go screw around and have fun”.  They gave the prize to the person that went the furthest into the realm of ridiculous and it was Magnificent.

     Don’t get me wrong, contests are enjoyable for what they are, and if you are a serious competitor they are an integral part of the yoyo experience for you.  Likewise they have huge value as community gatherings and as a place for novice throwers to be inspired.

     I want to run a contest.  I’m going to call it the “Stupid Yoyo Contest”.  It’ll be an all day event full of things like walk the dog races, rock the baby battles and anything else I can think of that keeps it from getting serious.  I want to make an entrance requirement that each person brings crafting materials, and we set up a table where people experiment with making weird and unusual yoyos out of everything from bottle caps to old shoes.  I want to have an “alternative freestyle” event where you aren’t allowed to do any of the standard styles, you have to do one of the alternatives, from Möbius, to Double Dragon to 7a. 

It’s time to mix it up.

     Of course this is all a pipe dream because at the end of the day for yoyo contests to happen people need to be willing to travel to them and spend a little bit of money.  Who is going to pay for a day of silliness and fun when they could go spend $75 to be serious and spend 1 minute on stage to rank 37th in a contest.


     I guess the counter argument that resonates most strongly is a simple one.  Contests aren’t supposed to be for that kind of fun.  Fun is what you do elsewhere in the yoyo world at your yoyo club, with your friends or occasionally online.  Contests are for competition, they are the place for the serious players to be serious.  You don’t expect a ‘fun’ event for the amature footballers when you go watch the superbowl. Likewise it would be ridiculous to expect to see ‘fun’ events as part of the Olympics.  We are after all trying to turn yoyo into a serious sport to be recognized.

     I guess where I’m hung up is this; Why?  Why do we want yoyo to be considered a serious sport? I can’t see us ever getting to the point where we are pulling in serious sponsor money for events (although a little more would be nice). For sure our elite players should be recognized for the tens of thousands of hours they put in.  At this point contests are the best way to do that (and I don’t have an alternative suggestion at this time). 

     I have only been in the yoyo scene for 8 years and outside of the research I’ve done for my book I lack memory of contests before that time, so it might be that yoyo contests have always been this serious, intense thing.  It might also be a result of the internet, the fact the loudest discussions tend to be driven by the angriest people so even when I have a good time at a contest I come home to the internet being mad about it.

     Anyhow, that’s my contest rant.  Absolutely feel free to argue with me in the comments, I’d like to hear a few different perspectives.  This is definitely not a well researched piece of writing.

The Crowd at the Pacific Northwest Regional yoyo Contest Photo Credit: Pacific Northwest Regional Yoyo Contest Facebook Page  https://goo.gl/images/U2KLvJ  

The Crowd at the Pacific Northwest Regional yoyo Contest
Photo Credit: Pacific Northwest Regional Yoyo Contest Facebook Page https://goo.gl/images/U2KLvJ