Early in my judging career, every event felt unique, special, new. As I gained more experience and judged more events, though, this feeling of novelty wore off. Of course, each event had its own challenges that I wanted to prepare for, as well as its own crew of great other judges to chat with. But floor judging a PTQ, for example, was no longer something inherently noteworthy. It felt more like another day in the office, and I believe that was a good thing: it meant that I was growing more confident, more relaxed, and more comfortable as a judge.
Grand Prix Las Vegas never felt like another day in the office—and I believe that was a good thing as well, although for very different reasons.
For an individual judge, remaining in your comfort zone for too long can be just as damaging as diving into the danger zone. The same thing applies to systems in general, and groups of people specifically—such as the Judge Program as a whole. Modern Masters Weekend was a pivotal weekend for the Judge Program. The program’s evolution has been fantastic in recent years, but it does have limits, and Modern Masters Weekend helped us understand where those limits are. More importantly, we did so without breaking the program in half or causing any of the three (!) events to explode. Even if Wizards never runs an event on the scale of Modern Masters Weekend again, that’s very valuable knowledge to have.
Vegas was a growth weekend for me as well. One aspect of this growth was the simple fact that I had been accepted to work Vegas for four days in a row, but I had never judged that many days in a row before. Consequently, one of my major goals was to make sure I took care of myself, physically and emotionally, throughout the long weekend. This meant drinking lots of water, getting plenty of sleep, and eating well. I’m happy to say I did all three of those things, and by the end of the weekend I was certainly very tired but not utterly wiped out, which I think was a great place to be.
(As an aside, I had worked four days of a gaming convention before Vegas. Specifically, I had volunteered as an Enforcer for four days at PAX Prime 2013 in Seattle. Enforcing is similar to judging in some respects, but quite different in others. Maybe that’s a topic for a future Bearz Repeating!)
Another huge challenge facing me at Vegas was the fact that I would be leading a group of other judges on three of those days. In particular, I had been tapped as the Logistics Lead for one of the eight splits on Saturday (the first day of the main event), which I expected to be an especially complex role. Fortunately, I knew that I was going to find support from every direction, and that’s exactly what happened:
- From below – My team members were all fantastic. In particular, they included some very strong judges who I leaned on to mentor newer judges and take ownership of various tasks.
- From above – The Head Judges and Sides Leads at this event were the best of the best.
- From the other Team Leads – I got to be part of a fantastic “team of Team Leads,” who all worked together to take great care of the events we were in charge of.
- From the TO – I always enjoy working for Channel Fireball and Cascade Games, and a big part of that is because they have a fantastic crew of staff. While I knew they would all be working their tails off, I was also confident that I could get support from them if something truly drastic happened.
If you’re interested in what it was like to Team Lead at Vegas, Rob McKenzie wrote a fantastic tournament report, “Awesome People Every Day.” Rather than risk duplicating Rob by focusing on my day-to-day experiences, instead I’m going to focus on what it felt to be part of this event overall.
The first word that comes to mind is massive. The convention hall itself was enormous, and while it never felt overcrowded, it was nonetheless always packed with players, vendors, and event staff. Even though we didn’t reach the 10,000 player cap in the main event, GP Vegas 2015 was still the biggest Magic event ever, with over 7,551 players in the main event and tens of thousands of registrants in side events. On Thursday and Friday, the Mini Masters events alone attracted more players than most Grand Prix, with 1,735 players on Thursday and 2,504 on Friday! That’s absolutely crazy, and I’m incredibly proud to have been a part of it.
As you might guess, judging at GP Vegas was incredibly rewarding. Enabling players to have a great experience is the very essence of why I judge, and every single judge and staff member worked together to achieve that goal. Beyond that, I was personally very gratified when various team members thanked me for helping them have a great event. More than just helping the event go smoothly, the Team Lead role means taking care of the judges on your team. I’m glad I was able to be a friendly face for my team members amidst the craziness of the event.
Finally, GP Vegas was simply fun. Everyone knew that the weekend was going to be something special, and so it was. I had the opportunity to reunite with old friends from across the country, make new friends, and hang out with some of my favorite judges from around the world. We went really deep on a hilarious meme, several players recognized me from Reddit, and the judge party on Sunday was an absolute blast. These are just a few of the reasons Vegas was so special, and I’m confident there are few events that I will ever remember as fondly as Vegas 2015.
This GP Vegas was a personal milestone for another reason: I had also been part of the first GP Vegas in 2013, so this event provided a natural opportunity to reflect on how I’ve changed in the past two years.
One obvious change is my level. At GP Vegas 2013, I was L2 and very happy with that. In fact, I had not even begun to think seriously about L3. Although I had some conversations that touched on the topic at Vegas, I didn’t start actually tracking my L3 checklist until about a month later (thanks to a discussion with Steven Zwanger after ConnectiCon).
Another fairly apparent change is my typical role at events. For the first Vegas, I had the pleasure of being a floor judge on Nicholas Sabin‘s team on the main event on Saturday. These days, I am one of the judges who shares the responsibility of team leading on Day One. Fortunately, I learned a ton about that role from Nicholas.
If you’ve ever worked with Nicholas, you know that he is just a calm blue ocean, completely unflappable and totally in control. But beneath that patient exterior is a guy who really likes having fun, and knows how to make sure his team has fun as well. One way Nicholas did this was by “encouraging” everyone on his team to high-five each other when we saw each other on the floor. Even this minor expression of frivolity and camaraderie had a big impact on the team’s morale and enjoyment, and I think that pays huge dividends when the players see the judges having a good time as well. At the time, I still took judging way too seriously, so Nicholas’ viewpoint was incredibly valuable in getting me to loosen up and shed that mindset.
Finally, Vegas 2013 stands out in my mind because it was one of the first major events where lots of people called me Bearz. Again, Nicholas is largely responsible for this, although I distinctly remember Ryan Hoffman picking up and running with that nickname as well. Embracing this nickname was a major part of my concerted attempts to relax, have more fun while judging, and become more approachable. While I have always room to improve, I think that I’ve come a long way since 2013, and it’s super fun to think about how things have changed since then.
Overall, I’m incredibly happy with how Grand Prix Las Vegas 2015 went, not only for myself, but for all the judges, staff, and players. We put on a fantastic event and truly made Magic history, and that’s something to be proud of.
While there’s so much more I could write about Vegas, these are my major takeaways, and I’m afraid that’s all I have space for today, anyway. If there’s anything you’re curious to know more about, let me know in the comments, or find me at our next event together!