Why Do Judges Exist?

Written by Jason Flatford

Written by Jason Flatford

Q: Do judges exist to catch cheaters?

A: Not really, although sometimes we do, and sometimes we don’t.

Q: Someone needs to give out penalties, is that why they exist?

A: No, giving out penalties takes up easily less than 5% of our time.

Q: Well, is it because they get sweet judge foils?

A: For some judges this is true, but in reality, judge foils rarely offset the cost of travel to and from events.

So then why do judges exist?

Well, as Judge Emeritus Collin Jackson once advised, judges exist to “push in chairs.” (and if you haven’t read Collin Jackson’s letter to his staff, I suggest you do.)

But we don’t literally exist just to push in chairs, although judges should push in chairs. Pushing in chairs can be seen as a metaphor for the primary role of a judge.

When the chairs are all askew in the tournament hall, it is more difficult for players to move about. They have to push chairs aside, some chairs could go missing, it delays the tournament because players can’t make it to the pairing sheets as fast as they could as if all the chairs were all pushed in. So judges should push in chairs.

But that doesn’t fully explain why pushing in chairs is so important to this article. I mean the delays to the overall tournament caused by askew chairs are comically small. There is another reason.

Player Perception

Player perception is important to judging. What goes through a player’s sub-conscience mind whenever a player sees a judge pushing in chairs? What does that player think about that judge? Well, first he or she may think, that judge is working instead of standing around. That judge wants the playing area to look more presentable and professional. That judge looks like he or she is willing to help. If I call on that judge for help, it’s likely that he or she will help me, or at least try to.

It’s important that judges are perceived as being helpful. We want players to call on us whenever they have a question.  If for no other reasons than to preserve the integrity of the tournament by giving correct rulings and thereby providing a consistent experience across multiple tournaments.

We have all heard the story of the player who received a ruling at one tournament, and had some other judge ruling it differently at another tournament. These inconsistent experiences can contribute to lower attendance numbers by stirring bad feelings and distrust in players.

Customer Service

Pushing in chairs is also an idiom that means positive customer service.

Judges exist to provide customer service.

That’s it. That’s the end of story. Judges exist to provide customer service for their players. But you may need a little more convincing.

Why do judges do the things that they do? Why do judges wake up at the crack of dawn to drive, ride or fly to events hours away from their hometown, to stand in a tournament hall watching over hundreds or even thousands of  players, half of which just lost two games of Magic probably to Bloodbraid Elf, just to pack everything up at the end of the day in preparation for their long journey home? Let me tell you, it is NOT for the compensation. If any judge says that to you then they are lying to themselves.

We judge for the comradely. The friends and, let’s face it, loved ones that we meet on the road doing what we enjoy. We do it for the pats on the back, the butt slaps that say, “You did a good job today, keep it up.”

Some of us do it for the challenge. Judging is hard. It is taxing physically and mentally.

Sure, some  of us do it for the wrong reasons, and you know who you are.

But mostly we do it because someone has to. Someone needs to push in chairs, not literally, although judges should push in chairs. Every player eventually finds themselves in a spot where they need something or someone to answer a question. Someone to keep their games fair and fun. Someone to post pairings or to keep score.

Judges exist because players want us to exist.

Of the People, By the People, For the People

Want to know what players hate more than anything else? Magic players hate waiting. Players hate being in line and they hate waiting for the next round to start. Most players aren’t impatient, it’s just that they expect tournaments to be ran at a certain pace. If a round isn’t started when the last round finished 20 minutes ago, players begin to ask why. It’s a legitimate concern. A lot of judges, especially at large events, put round turnover above almost any other priority, as they probably should. It’s actually the best way of providing positive customer service to the tournament as a whole.

The players in an event are the customers of the tournament organizer, and by extension, they’re our customers. Players pay a fee to the tournament organizer, and that fee allows the tournament organizer to rent the space, provide the product, and hire the judges and staff. If the players have a good experience, they will go to their friends and tell them about their good experience, which could drive attendance up. The opposite is true if players have a bad experience. They tell their friends about their bad experience, and attendance goes down. This is not a small effect. I would argue that it is the largest effect on attendance at local stores, so it is especially important that you focus on customer service at your local events.

Judges are liaisons between the tournament organizer and the players.  Players call on judges for help and express most of their grievances to them. Tournament organizers hire judges to be these liaisons and so doing put a tremendous amount of trust in them. Tournament organizers expect judges to provide the best customer service possible.

Positive, Negative, & No Customer Service

All of a judge’s actions that involve judging in some way, at a tournament and at home, can be thought of as providing some level of customer service, either for the tournament as a whole or for an individual player. I like to think of these various levels as positive, negative, and no customer service.

Whenever a judge takes an action that is providing positive customer service, a player benefits from that action directly or indirectly. This could range from picking up a piece of trash to making opening announcements to studying the rules at home. There are different degrees of positive customer service. Picking up one piece of trash among ten pieces is providing less positive customer service then picking up all of the pieces of trash. Judges should strive to provide the best possible, positive customer service whenever practical.

A judge is providing negative customer service whenever they take an action that is directly or indirectly harmful or otherwise undesirable for a player. An example of providing negative customer service would be adding to a trash pile instead of picking it up. Also, giving a penalty to a player without adequately explaining the reason for the penalty is also negative customer service. We as judges should want to minimize the amount of negative customer service that we provide for players.

Ignoring a pile of trash would be an example of providing no customer service. Typically you would want to pick up that trash to provide positive customer service for the tournament as a whole.

Examples of Positive Customer Service

Pushing in chairs, giving clear and correct rulings, picking up trash, fixing table clothes, doing deck checks, sitting on a table at the end of the round, helping corral players for registration, taking appeals, are all examples of how judges can provide positive customer service. Here are more actions that judges can take that provide or help to provide positive customer service:

  • Know where the bathrooms, ATMs, and food court are in case a player asks you. Also, keep basic lands and/or token cards in your pockets, especially at limited events, because you will be asked for them.
  • When you are called over to a table, raise your hand and make eye contact with the players, that way they know you are coming. Ask the players, “How can I help you.” This makes you seem like you are there to help, because you are. Also, Get down at their level by putting your hand on the table. This also gives you the option to stand up straight and cross your arms if you need to take control of a situation.
  • Take a player’s match slip if they ask you to, even if you don’t have to. You may politely tell them that there is a box at the front of the room, but you’ll take it up this one time.
  • If a player doesn’t understand something, do not leave the table. It’s almost always worth the time it takes to explain an interaction or penalty to a player rather than leaving them upset.
  • Study the rules and policy. It increases your ability to provide positive customer service.

Until next time, keep it fair to keep it fun.