Back in March of 2021, Buffalo Wild Wings announced a tournament-style game, but it had nothing to do with college basketball. Instead, it was the start of Blazin’ Games Presented by Pepsi, a nine-month competition aimed at embracing the values of sportsmanship, hustle and fun to encourage continuous learning and execution within the Buffalo Wild Wings sports bars.
Consisting of four rounds each with a different theme, 1,200 teams from across the brand competed to earn points by achieving certain milestones, with those accruing the most points advancing to the next round. The final round took place in Las Vegas in late October during the Buffalo Wild Wings National Convention.
Round One was dubbed the Learning Round, and each team earned points based on learning metrics like completing The U Learning Hub monthly activation training, Brand Champ and Checks for Execution (CFE) as well as for quiz scores and increases in beverage sales.
All teams moved onto Round Two, the Practice Round, taking their Round One points with them. Teams earned additional points based on items such as guest survey scores, guest experience metrics and quality, service and cleanliness scores. Plus, there were monthly bonus quizzes, aptly called the Blazin’ Bonus, to help teams up their point total.
After this round, the top 50 teams advanced to Round Three, the Execution Round, and things really started to heat up. Here, each of the remaining teams had a visit from a group of field leaders who rewarded points based on skill demonstration, execution and knowledge, and performance on a pop-up quiz. The judges also looked at how the sports bar executed in categories such as service, food production, bar skills, food safety, teamwork and the guest experience.
Getting this far was no small feat and to recognize this achievement, these top sports bars received a trophy, banners and posters to proudly display, as well as prize packs for each team member.
“The joy our team felt to have made it this far was one of the most poignant outcomes of the Blazin’ Games,” said Tra-C Garcia, vice president of training at Patton Wings in Michigan. “We will definitely leverage this experience to help drive our culture of learning.”
Finally, it was time for the round all teams strived to reach, the Finals in Las Vegas. The final 10 teams formed a team of five consisting of a general manager, two heart of house team members, one server and one bartender to compete in a knowledge bowl, a culinary competition, and a bartending competition. The finals took place in two phases with the first taking over a Buffalo Wild Wings sports bar.
The culinary competition started off with an execution challenge which simulated a busy shift. Later, BWW’s Chef Jamie Carawan joined them on the kitchen line and the teams got to show off a dish they created using items found in one of the sports bar kitchens. A panel, including BWW COO, John Bowie, BWW chef, Dave Woolley, and Molson Coor’s Master Cicerone, Jason Pratt, judged the creations based on presentation, taste, creativity and pairing with Blue Moon.
The top 10 bartenders had the opportunity to create their own cocktail and present them to judges including BWW’s Mixologist, Mitch Hopkins, Sam Bracamontes from Diageo and Chris Hopkins from Finest Call and Reál. The servers then competed in a series of knowledge challenges centered around their food, beverage, and service knowledge.
At the end of the day each competition narrowed down to the top 3 finalists who then moved on to the second phase of the finals.
The servers competed in a knowledge finals gameshow on the main stage of MGM Grand hosted by John Bowie as convention participants cheered them on. Later, the top three bartenders competed on stage at Hakkassan Night Club showing off their cocktail creation and participated in a mystery box challenge. The final three culinary team members showed off their creations one more time to determine who takes home the gold, silver and bronze.
No detail was overlooked in this final round, and the teams were hosted like VIPs throughout the four days in Vegas. And although the time was intense, the teams were treated to some extras, too, like VIP lounge and seating at convention, time with the BWW executive team, surprise swag throughout the event, and special parties to celebrate together. Still, the teams were focused on the tasks at hand and the Blazin’ Games title.
“The finals were the most impactful event because I got to witness the best of the best compete and be rewarded,” said Amy Kcreclic-Mostaka, Training General Manager in Columbus, Ohio. “To watch the camaraderie of teams congratulating each other and developing new friendships across the country was pretty powerful.”
It’s fair to say this training tournament was a huge but wildly successful undertaking. “We collaborated with multiple cross functional teams and vendors to create a unique experience for team members that aligns with an important part of BWW – comradery,” Rachel Richal, director of learning and team activation, said. “Not only are we excited about business objectives this program achieved, but also we got to recognize and celebrate team members.”
And speaking of recognizing and celebrating, Chief Learning Officer recently awarded Buffalo Wild Wings Blazin’ Games with a Learning in Practice (LIP) Trailblazer Award, which recognizes training teams that have completely overhauled existing workforce development initiatives in the past year.
Congratulations to all the participants and winners of the 2021 Blazin’ Games Presented by Pepsi:
2021 Blazin’ Games Champions:
Gold: The Real Team Members of Pewaukee – Pewaukee, WI #209
Silver: The Wing Leaders – Lake Orion, MI #3204, Patton Wings
Bronze: Desert Heat Devils – Casa Grande, AZ #3759, AZ Wings
Gold: Paige Lustig – Pewaukee, WI #209
Silver: Mckenzy Richie – High Street, Columbus, OH #145
Bronze: Marcos Lopez – Casa Grande, AZ #3759, AZ Wings
Gold: David Laub and Jesse Whalen – Pewaukee, WI #209
Silver: Brady Hendershott and Brian Smith – Lake Orion, MI #3204, Patton Wings
Bronze: Marquita Hayes and Donald Stokes – Janesville, WI #228
Gold: Dominique Estrada – Casa Grande, AZ #3759, AZ Wings
Silver: Tayler Varner – High Street, Columbus, OH #145
Bronze: Yasmin Gelmo – Sherman Oaks, CA #457