Upper Deck is planning a new program of launch events in hobby stores in 2005.  The new program, called 'Release Celebrations,' is currently slated to start in May, 2005 for both Yu Gi Oh and Versus system (Marvel and DC) products.  Release Celebrations will run at the local hobby store level as new products release.  Upper Deck will provide promotional kits to support the release with light organized play as an introduction to the product. 


According to Upper Deck Organized Play Program Manager Scott Elliott, Release Celebrations '...will be available to a much larger cross-section of hobby stores' than the current Sneak Preview events.  Sneak Previews are run by Upper Deck Premier event organizers, some of whom are retailers, at a variety of locations, some of which are stores.  These are typically run one per market for a new release, for a total of 40 to 50 simultaneous events nationwide.  Release Celebrations are expected to be held simultaneously at thousands of hobby stores. 


Sneak Preview events have new product available before the formal street date.  According to Elliott, Release Celebrations will also have early product.  'The plan is to stack the shipping so that these folks would receive priority in getting theirs first,' he said of stores holding Release Celebrations.  Release Celebration event support will only be available to retailers buying directly from Upper Deck.  According to Elliott, Upper Deck plans an outreach program at the upcoming GAMA Trade Show in March to recruit as many retailers for the program as possible. 


Upper Deck recently launched another organized play program, the Shonen Jump Yu Gi Oh TCG Championship Series.  The first event was held last weekend at GenCon SoCal.  These events are jointly sponsored by Upper Deck, Shonen Jump, and Konami, and run by Upper Deck Premier tournament organizers.  They'll feature prizes such as laptop computers, 'slim' Playstation consoles, Nintendo Gameboy DS units, and so on, down to booster packs for lower-ranked winners.  Special promo cards will be given away, such as 'Cyber-Stein,' which was a Japanese-only card until it was first given away at the GenCon event.  It hasn't been decided whether the promo cards will subsequently be included in Shonen Jump magazine, as some earlier Yu Gi Oh promo cards have been (see 'Exclusive Yu Gi Oh TCG Card in December Shonen Jump'). 


Up to 20 Shonen Jump Yu Gi Oh events will be held over the next year, primarily at large conventions, or at Upper Deck weekends where other major organized play events are also taking place. 


A number of other Upper Deck organized play programs will continue in 2005.  The Yu Gi Oh Duelist League will continue at over 6,000 Wal-Mart, Toys R Us, and Books-a-Million stores.  This is a new player acquisition program, designed to be the first contact with Yu Gi Oh organized play for a new player.  Prize support and other features are different for the Duelist League than the Hobby League program. 


Upper Deck's Hobby League program will continue in 2005 for both Yu Gi Oh and the Versus System.  About 1000 hobby stores are currently participating in the Yu Gi Oh Hobby League, and about 700 in the Versus League.  Upper Deck Retail Organized Play Manager described the programs.  'With these league programs, we're providing an opportunity for retailers, regardless of their size, or their revenue, or their location, to have a value through these games and through these programs that their players aren't going to get anywhere else,' he said.  Hobby retailers pay a $20 licensing fee for each kit they receive. 


The Vs. System Hobby League has a Hobby Reward Sweepstakes for both retailers and players.  The 2004 winning retailer, Henry H. Buchanan of Junior's Comics in Austin, Texas, received a $10,000 gift card to the home improvement chain of his choice.  His win was in the first League kit his store had ever received.  $12,000 in Alienware computers were given to players in 2004.  Both sweepstakes programs will continue for the Versus System in 2005. 


Upper Deck also runs Regional and National championships for its Yu Gi Oh TCG. 


For the Vs. System, Upper Deck will run Pro Circuit Qualifiers in hundreds of cities, leading into $10,000 Championship tournaments, and national champioinships.  The 2004 Pro Circuit Championship was held at GenCon SoCal last weekend -- the winner got a check for $45,000, and over $256,000 in prizes was awarded in all at the event.