L3 Qualities – Investigations

Written by Ryan Stapleton

Written by Ryan Stapleton

What is an investigation?

An investigation is any closer look into a situation to determine what is happening.  A situation can be a bunch of players making noise that has gotten your attention, or it can be a ruling where something possibly does not seem quite right.  Both situations may need to be looked into to see if some intervention needs to happen.

An investigation may lead to an action like saying “Wow, nice play, very cool”.  It could be “Guys, we really need you to not to do that again”.  It could also be a situation that leads to someone being removed from your event.

Why it is important for Regional Judges to be able to do an investigation?

Regional Judges are expected to be able to quickly and accurately investigate a situation and come to a resolution.  Quickly is important, as all eyes will be on the responding judge.  Accurately is what all involved will expect.  These skills come from experience and a Regional Judge’s knowledge of policy.  A lot of calls will require one to understand the policy, as it won’t always be something that is written in the Magic Infraction Procedure Guide.

Regional Judges help set the standard for the judge community.  Other judges look towards their Regional Judge’s leadership, skills and actions and will return to their home areas with those experiences.

What to watch out for

Here are a few lessons; things to be aware of to help you not fall into a trap.

When answering a call, do you answer the player’s exact question and move on, or do you ask additional questions to dig a little deeper?  The extra question might reveal some information that is not obvious, and the answer could be an indicator that there might be more here than meets the eye.  Do the players’ stories add up or does your Spidey Sense go off?

The clock can be your enemy.  You first need to know how much time was used by the responding judge before you became involved.  How much time are you using while at the investigation?  If you have asked what you want to ask and don’t have a feeling either way, then maybe it’s time to move on and get the players back to their game.  This may be hard to do, but be sure to balance the time spent versus the event as a whole.

Time management is important, and needs to be in your mind while conducting your investigation.  Be sure you are moving forward to gather new information and not just asking the same questions and expecting something new.  You must strike a balance between doing an investigation thoroughly and keeping the event moving forward.  From a customer service perspective, a large delay can be almost as bad as allowing someone who is borderline to continue playing in your event.

Investigations are something to reflect on after the fact, as well.  Look at what actions you took and replay them to see if they were the best course of action. Would you have done something differently?  Be sure not to beat yourself up over those actions, but use them as learning experiences.  Talk to your fellow judges and learn from each other.

Other tips

Practice, practice and practice some more.  Here are some possible techniques to try when you feel they may be appropriate:

When making a ruling, do a mini-investigation.  Be sure not to spend more than a minute or two doing this, though.  This gives you some practice interacting with players on more than a “basic ruling” level.  You will see normal behavior between yourself and your interviewee.  This practice will make you more comfortable with the mechanics of an impromptu interview, making it easier when a full-blown investigation happens.

Body language can give you some very important clues.  When interviewing, try to find the baseline of an interviewee’s body language.  This can be done by asking how their day went, what deck are they playing, or what types of decks they’ve played against so far.  While they are explaining their day, evaluate their body language for observables.  Once you have your baseline, ask the questions for your investigation.  Does their observable behavior change at all?

Two very powerful questions in your toolbox are “what” and “why”.

  • Why did you do that?
  • Why did you block like that?
  • Why did you cast that spell at that time?
  • What did you expect to accomplish?
  • What did you believe was going on?

These can reveal what the player was thinking.  Is the player trying to get out of a bad play, or are they just confused?  Understanding what they wanted to do can be important to getting to what really happened.

You can combine the “what” and “why” with observing body language as well.

  • Did their body language change at all from the initial conversation?
  • Are they now fidgeting where they were not before?
  • Do they no longer want to look you in the eye?

Be careful not use their body language as a 100% definitive indicator, though, as everyone is different and they may just be nervous talking to a judge.  Use it as an additional piece of information and it will make a nice addition to your tool belt.

Two difficult situations

The first difficult situation:  You have talked to both players and their stories don’t match.  Now what do you do?  Look for the similarities and differences to see if they can make sense together.  Each player is going to have their own perspective of what happened.

  • Does that perspective seem reasonable?
  • Were there a lot of things happening?
  • How well were the players communicating with each other?

Be sure to not jump to conclusions just because their stories don’t match, and remember, it does not necessarily mean that someone is lying.

The second difficult situation:  You arrive on the scene, and the players are agitated with one another.  A player is unhappy that something did not have the outcome that they expected.  One player is maybe even indicating that the other is up to no good, and tension is climbing.  In this case, you must gain control of the situation very quickly.  Separate the players and find out what happened.  The separation has an added bonus: it can help defuse the situation while you are doing your investigation.

People can behave irrationally while upset.  Just because the players are upset with each other does not necessarily mean someone is doing something shady.  People can snap to opinions, though.  Being able to understand upset people will add additional tools to your tool belt.

Pro tip: for a good book on emotions and how they can effect interactions, take a look at “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman.

Also, here’s another friendly reminder to be aware of your time management skills!  Difficult situations make it seem like not much time has passed, when in reality more has passed than what you believe.

Keep it fair and keep it fun

Stay alert and vigilant.  Ask the questions you need to ask.  Keep an open mind for each situation.  Be able to accept that most issues are honest mistakes.

Don’t go on a witch hunt.  Do the investigation.  Talk to everyone involved, allowing everyone to be heard before making your rulings.  Make your decision based on the information you uncover.  Explain what happens next, and then do it.

Remember to practice, practice, practice, and then reflect on what happened.

Keep it fair and keep it fun.

Other resources:

Handling Investigations, written by David de la Iglesia

The Search for Collateral Truths, written by Eric Shukan

Investigating Like the Pros, written by Steffen Baumgart