I promised that I would write up a review of all of the organizations that I've competed under in the last 5 years, and this is going to be it. I will be rating them on several factors, Scheduling, Organization, Communication, Cleanliness, Value, Spectator Experience, and Turnout. Each item will receive a score from 1 to 10 and will be totaled for a final ranking. Fair warning, this will be a LOOOONG post as it took me almost a week to put together going over my notes from all of my previous tournaments.
Casca Grossa (Note: I'm not sure these guys even run events any more. The last one I know of for sure was in 2009, but still)
Scheduling: My division was scheduled to begin at 1pm. We arrived at 11:30. My division did not start until 6pm.
Score: 3/10 (I gave them a 3 only because I only attended ONE event, so it could have been an anomaly)
Organization: The registration and weigh-ins went smoothly, I was able to find my ring assignment easily, and the officials all seemed to know what was going on. Everything was well organized except the scheduling.
Communication: We were never told why our division was delayed, or ever given any information on when it might start. It was just "any minute now". The announcements were difficult to hear over the PA system and the announcer was difficult to understand.
Cleanliness: Didn't see anyone with ringworm or anything like that allowed to compete, competitors were not allowed on the mats with shoes, competitors were not allowed into the bathrooms WITHOUT shoes. When there were fluid spills (Blood or whatever) on the mats it was cleaned up immediately with what appeared to be clorox wipes. We did see some people walking around in their socks who then walked onto the mats in those same socks.
Value: I paid 60$ to compete in one division. I ended up getting two matches. The spectator fee was 10$, so I paid 70$ for the day. I could have done 2 divisions for 70$. So, not bad.
Spectator Experience: My wifes experience at this event almost resulted in me not getting to compete anymore. Ever. The air conditioning was non-existent, the venue was incredibly loud, and there was absolutely no effort made to make sure that spectators could actually see what was going on. Additionally the scheduling problems contributed to issues for her as well. This tournament did NOT earn the Jennosaurus Seal of Approval. Of course, it could have been worse. Somehow.
Turnout: There were around 15 people in my division, which is on the upper end for most of the competitions I've been to since then, so it was a decent turnout. I would have had to win 4 matches to take first place, so that's pretty solid.
Overall: This was a pretty bad tournament. I drive like an hour and a half, then had to wait around for almost 7 hours before I got to compete. The venue was miserable, and the staff did NOT communicate well with the competitors. There were no brackets available to check either, so we had no idea what was going on. I would not recommend competing at these events for any reason.
Final Score: 38/70
Scheduling: Again there has consistently been a 4-5 hour delay between the time my division is listed to start, and the time the division actually starts. This has been consistent across every single NAGA event I've attended.
Organization: Ring assignments frequently change from moment to moment. The organizers rarely seem to know what ring you belong to and have no idea when your division will start. The brackets appear to be hand draw at the table that day. These events have ALWAYS been complete Chaos. I've never been told completely wrong information, but I have gotten a lot of, "I don't know, check back later" answers.
Communication: Announcers are usually easy to hear and intelligible at these events. They are good about calling people to the rings if they can't find them and rules and policies are clearly and consistently communicated to people. Once the organizers do know when something is going to happen, they are very good about letting everyone else know.
Cleanliness: This is one of the dirtier tournament environments I've ever been to. The bathrooms are usually filthy with overflowing toilets within an hour of the event start time. I regularly see people walking around barefoot and then stepping onto the mats. I've seen a few people walking in and out of the bathroom/locker room areas barefoot and then getting on the mats. And despite hosing myself down with alcohol wipes after every event I almost always end up with ringworm a day or two later and end up missing 8-10 days of training to get rid of it. Blood spills are cleaned up promptly, but I've had to grapple in a huge puddle of someone elses sweat because no one bothered to clean it up after their match. Definitely not cool.
Value: I paid 100$ plus a 15$ spectator fee to do 2 divisions pretty much every time I've competed for NAGA. I feel like it's kind of the average value. If you are cheaper than NAGA you're a good value, if you're more expensive then you're doing something wrong. The spectator fee is a bit steep though.
Spectator Experience: The venues are frequently hot, and noisy, but there is reasonable effort taken to keep people from obstructing the view of the spectators. They have been a little on the strict side about preventing outside food/drink into some of the events. But I think that might be related more to the venue than NAGA itself. That being said, my wife views these with dread every time. So they are not Jennosaurus approved.
Turnout: These are always huge. 1200+ competitors. My division almost always has 12-16 people in it and requires four wins or more to take first. Because of that there is decent prestige in winning a gold medal at NAGA, so that definitely bumps the score up here.
Overall: Almost all of these tournaments are bad experiences for me. I arrive at the venue around 11am in a panic thinking that THIS TIME they will start my division on time at 12 and I'll miss it or something, only to get there and wait around for HOURS. Continually trying to stay warmed up, not wanting to eat anything in case my division starts 10 minutes later, etc... They are stressful and I always end up feeling drained and exhausted by the time I get on the mats from the repeated adrenaline surges of "Your division is about to start. Oh wait, no it isn't. Oh yes it is! Over there! in the other ring! Oh wait, no, we meant an hour from now it will start." The only redeeming feature for NAGA is the size of their attendance and the frequency of their events.
Scheduling: Going in to Lutador I had heard good things about their scheduling at tournaments, so I was optimistic about my chances of getting on the mats in decent time. Unfortunately that proved overly hopeful. Once again my arrival was approximately 5 hours before the actual start of my division. I don't know what's so hard about starting and completing things on time, especially for a tournament that was pre-registration only, but no one seems to be able to pull it off.
Organization: This was probably the worst organized tournament I've been to. Despite being pre-register only the brackets for my division weren't up until around two hours after I arrived. THEN my ring assignment got moved twice. THEN I was told I would be competing in the Gi division first. I got my gi on, was standing at the ring for my Gi match, and was then told my NO-GI match was starting, which required that I strip down and change RIGHT THERE at ringside, which wasn't THAT bad, but damn! Then after my no-gi match it was another hour before my gi match started. Terribly organized and no one seemed to know what was going on. I considered giving them a 3 instead of a 2 because they apparently had a larger kids turnout than expected, but then I realized that they are PRE-REGISTRATION ONLY. So they HAD to know at least two days in advance of the tournament what their kids turnout was going to look like.
Communication: Terrible. Frequently told to go one place, then another, updates for ring assignments were late, and several times wrong. I was, in fact, ASSURED that my Gi division would start before my No-Gi division on two occasions. This turned out to be completely wrong. Not cool guys, not cool.
Cleanliness: The mats were well policed, I didn't see anyone walking around barefoot anywhere. I didn't see any sock go from the floor to the mats. Everything seemed pretty clean and well taken care of. The bathrooms were nice, everything seemed well taken care of.
Value: I paid 85$ to compete in Gi, No-Gi, and Gi Absolute, and the spectator fee was 5$. Total cost was 90$ for three divisions. Definitely a good value. I felt like I got my moneys worth out of it for sure. Also, the absolute winners get a cash prize, so you have the chance of going home with more money than you came in with.
Spectator Experience: The venue was airconditioned and reasonably comfortable. Effort was taken to clear the areas in front of the bleachers, and they had no problems with us bringing in outside food/drinks. The scheduling issues had a negative impact on the Jennosaurus though, so this event also failed to earn the Jennosaurus seal of approval despite their relatively positive experience.
Turnout: My divisions were relatively small, 8-10 people in the No-gi and 3 people in the Gi, but the absolute division was huge, with around 20 people. There is also some decent prestige to the Lutador tournaments because of the heavy Alliance turnouts so guys like Cobrinha and Ian McPherson compete at them. Definitely a strong average turnout.
Overall: Despite the long wait I did enjoy this tournament. The atmosphere was good even though they had no idea what was going on and the competition is pretty high level. It's also a good value for the available divisions. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and will probably do one more of these some time in 2012 to give them a chance at redemption. I definitely recommend them over NAGA or Casca Grossa though.
Scheduling: After I mentioned my experience with Lutador over on JiuJitsu Forums I got multiple assurance from Clinzy that the USG tournaments were a million times better organized and scheduled. Admittedly I went in with some skepticism since I had heard the same thing about Lutador, but this turned out to be the absolute truth. We arrived at 9:30 so I would have time to eat some breakfast and stuff and the rules meeting started sharply at 10:30. By 11am I was on the mats and grappling. By 12 no-gi division was done. My gi division started at about 12:30 and we were done by 1:30. We were frankly, astonished. At first I assumed it was because the turnout at ATL was relatively small, but I spoke with folks who attended their Richmond events which have much larger turnouts and got the same kind of reports. These guys know how to schedule a tournament and stick to it.
Organization: Even though they allowed registration at the door the brackets were ready before the rules meeting ended. We even had a late addition to our division and the change took about 30 seconds to enact. The brackets were generated and printed via computer and everything was incredibly smooth. This is by far the most organized event I've ever been to. I'm only avoiding a perfect score on this because the turnout was small and I want to see how they handle a larger crowd before I give them full marks.
Communication: Again, I was skeptical going into this, but 10 minutes after I arrived I knew which ring I would be in and the name of my opponent. At every turn communication was swift and accurate. I couldn't really ask for anything more here.
Cleanliness: Signs on the bathroom doors reminding people not to go barefoot in them. Didn't see anyone walking around barefoot, but I did notice that one of the tables made a small group of people wipe their feet down with alcohol/clorox wipes so presumably they were walking around the gym barefoot. Did see a few sockfeet to mat transitions though. All fluid spills were handled quickly with clorox wipes and excessive sweat was handled quickly.
Value: I paid 90$ to do 4 divisions, which ended up only being 3 divisions due to lack of purple belts in my weightclass. Spectator fee was FREE. So that ended up with 3 divisions for 90$. you can do up to 8 divisions for 115$ which breaks down to almost nothing on a per division basis.The only thing missing to make this a perfect score is some kind of cash prize somewhere.
Spectator Experience: The venue was comfortable, it was easy to see the mats, they had no problem with outside food and drinks, everyone was friendly. It was a great time. The Jennosaurus actually ENJOYED the tournament! This is the ONLY tournament I've been to that received the Jennosaurus Seal of Approval and as a result it is likely to be my primary tournament venue going forward despite them being mostly held in the Carolina and Virginia area.
Turnout: This was the biggest downside issue for USG. My no-gi division had 3 guys in it. My gi division had no one but me in it, so it was turned into a purple belt absolute division with 3 guys in it. TINY turnout. Part of that can be blamed on the Miami Open being held the same day, and a large Alliance belt promotion happening as well, so a lot of people were at those events instead, but I still expected a larger turnout. Hopefully in the future when USG returns to Atlanta more people will know what a great event they run and we'll have more people there. That being said, I DID get to have 6 matches. So I can't complain too much.
Overall: I enjoyed this tournament the most of any I've been to. It was pure FUN. There was no stressing about my ring assignment or when my division would start. I was able to eat breakfast and have a snack between divisions because I KNEW when my matches would be happening. I was able to stay warmed up and relaxed without getting tired or adrenaline dumping multiple times. It was a great experience in every way. I wish there had been more people, but I'm sure future events will get a stronger showing as the organization gains exposure.
I definitely welcome input from people who have been to tournaments from any of these organizations presenting their own ratings. These are ALL from tournaments around the Atlanta area, so if you have experience with one of these organizations from a different region please feel free to chime in. If you think any of my ratings are ludicrously low or high then feel free to let me know that as well.