Building Teams

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of head judging the main event of Eternal Extravaganza 2, a Legacy tournament that drew about 320 players to compete. More significantly, the judge staff for the weekend included fourteen people.

Managing fourteen people directly is both unwieldy and ineffective. As a consequence, judges on large events are generally divided into two or more teams, each with its own manager. In judge parlance, these managers are called team leads (or TL’s for short).

One of a head judge’s most important tasks is assigning judges to teams. Choosing how many teams you’ll use, defining the scope of each team’s tasks, selecting appropriate team leads, and assigning judges to each team are critical decisions that can make or break an event.

In this post, I’m going to break down how I chose to organize the judges for this event, then reflect on which aspects of this structure worked, and which could be improved for the future. It’s going to be a fun ride, so buckle up!

First of all, I want to note that the average judge level and experience level of this event was fairly high. Of the 14 judges, 4 were L1’s, and all of them had worked one or two Competitive REL events before. The other 10 were L2’s, ranging from newly-promoted to established faces. However, not many of the L2’s had significant team leading experience. In particular, two of the judges with the most team lead experience — Tom Davis and Brogan King — would be head judging their own events the next day, and I didn’t want to use them as team leads unless I absolutely had to.

With that in mind, I first considered what duties we would need to handle during the tournament. At the start of the day, we’d need to make sure the room was set up properly (tables and chairs) and prepare table numbers, as well as locations for posting pairings. During the player meeting, we would need to collect decklists from each player. At the start of each round, we would need to post pairings, cut and distribute match result slips, and perform a few deck checks. In addition to handling these tasks, we’d also want to make sure there were judges available on the floor to take calls and issue rulings. Plus, a couple of judges would be on break each round. Finally, a few judges would be needed to run the scheduled side events in the afternoon, as well as any on-demand events that fired before then.

Second, I thought about how the staff had been structured for other similarly-sized events of which I’d been part. Although specific team assignments can vary among head judges, large events usually have three core teams: Deck Checks, Paper, and Logistics.

The role of the Deck Checks team is self-explanatory: collect deck lists, verify that each player has turned in a list, and conduct deck checks. The Paper team handles just that, paper! This includes posting pairings and standings, cutting and distributing match result slips, and (sometimes) running the end-of-round procedure to help make sure we get each match result as quickly as possible. Finally, the Logistics team handles anything related to the setup of the tournament itself, such as table numbers and ensuring the room has an adequate number of chairs. Outside of these duties, Logistics is the primary team handling floor coverage, especially at the beginning of the round when Paper and Deck Checks teams might be busy with other duties. Logistics might handle the end-of-round procedure and/or side events if no one else is assigned to those roles.

While these teams are a good starting point, using three teams would mean that each team included four or five judges. This is a manageable size, but I felt that smaller teams would prove more conducive to mentorship, as well as be easier for a newer team lead to handle. Specifically, I find pairing judges together to be a natural and useful size for both shadowing and mentorship.

I was also concerned about organizing breaks effectively across the three teams. One strategy would be to send one person from each team on break each round, while another would be to send an entire team on break for a round and have the Logistics team step in for them. The former strategy is useful for ensuring continuity of each team’s operations (since the entire team is never totally absent), while the latter strategy is great for team building.

Finally, I was interested in exploring whether it would be useful to sub-divide the Paper team into a Pairings team and a Slips team. I’d seen this division be employed at some much larger events like SCG Opens and Grands Prix, and I was curious if it would be helpful here.

All of these factors led me to dividing the staff as follows:

  • Pairings team (2 judges)
  • Slips team (2 judges)
  • Deck Checks team (2 judges)
  • Breaks team (2 judges)
  • “Special Ops” team (4 judges)
  • Scorekeeper (1 judge)
  • XO/Appeals Judge (1 judge)

You can also take a peek at the full schedule here! Whenever possible, I assigned roles based on judges’ responses to a survey I asked them to fill out. Survey questions included asking the judges to prioritize how highly they wanted to be on the various teams, if they wanted to be a team lead, and if they wanted to work with anyone in particular. This is more of an art than a science, as it’s generally impossible to satisfy everyone’s requests, but these survey responses definitely form a helpful baseline to work from.

The roles of the first three teams should be self-explanatory by this point. The Breaks team’s function was to take the place of whichever team — Pairings, Slips, or Deck Checks — was on break. Finally, “Special Ops” served as my Swiss army knife, bolstering whichever other team needed help, providing floor coverage, and organizing side events. I could have called them them the Flex/Sides/Floor team, but “Special Ops” was more fun — shout out to Jeff Higgins for the suggestion. (As thematically appropriate for a special ops group, their break schedule was separate from the other judges’; since they were, themselves, a “flex” team, there would be no need for the Breaks team to cover their duties.)

The final role, XO, deserves a bit more explanation as well. XO stands for “executive officer,” and while the exact functions of the role vary, it fundamentally involves supporting and observing the Head Judge. Tom Davis asked me to serve in this position, and I was happy that I was able to find room in the staff structure to give it to him. Since this event was going to be split across multiple rooms, I also delegated the ability to handle appeals to Tom, if multiple occurred at the same time.

Overall, I was very happy with this structure, especially the Breaks team. I think all the judges on staff did a great job, and the event went very smoothly. Thanks for making me look good, guys!

Of course, I certainly ended up with feedback and ideas for improving in the future. For example, whenever one team takes over another’s duties, a smooth transition is very important. I could have done a better job reminding the relevant team leads about this — I recall a minor hiccup when the Breaks team had trouble figuring out how far the Deck Checks team was in counting the lists for legality, but there were otherwise no major issues. (Although I instructed the Deck Checks team to focus on performing checks checks rather than counting lists, in accordance with our new philosophy about deck checks, we ended up with enough judges relative to the size of the event that the Deck Checks team also checked every list for legality. Nice work, Adrian!)

Splitting the Paper roles into Pairings and Slips might have been a bit overkill, but I nonetheless liked the specificity it provided. One thing I would definitely change for the future, however, is being more explicit about which team is responsible for the end-of-round procedure. I had instructed Slips and Turnover to coordinate this amongst themselves, but which team was running end-of-round in each round wasn’t readily apparent to the rest of the staff, who no longer had an obvious person to inform about (for example) long time extensions.

Like introductions, team structures are an incredibly important element of head judging that sometimes get taken for granted. Although the conventional structures may be tried and true, being unafraid to experiment can pay huge dividends, as can customizing teams depending on your staff’s size and level of experience. Whatever role you find yourself in for your next big event, take a moment to really think about what that means in the context of the rest of the event!

Although Eternal Extravaganza 2 was a fairly quiet weekend in terms of investigations and other sensitive situations, I did encounter a number of interesting rules scenarios that I’ll share next week. Until next time!