On the Level

A few days ago, I posted on Facebook, asking my friends for questions for my upcoming Ask a Judge article for StarCityGames. The article is going to feature the Northeast’s newest L2 judge, Anthony “Krug” Hullings, and it’s going to focus on the level system.

My post generated a lot of really great questions…for judges to discuss amongst ourselves. However, the primary audience for Ask a Judge is actually players. So, I couldn’t fit many of the questions that were asked into the article.

This post is an attempt to remedy that. I’m going to focus on the following question from Canadian judge Darcy Alemany, who asked:

Level 2 Judge, GP floor judge, and Area Judge don’t feel at all like the same thing. Why is that? How do we reconcile with that? Contrast to Level 3 Judge, GP Team Lead judge, and Regional Judge, which share a much stronger cohesion thanks to the shared leadership and community responsibilities.

Thanks, Darcy, for the fascinating question!

I chose to answer this question because it can be approached from a number of different levels (heh). I’d like to start by thinking about the purpose of Level 2 and some of the core activities of L2s, today and in the recent past.

First, let’s talk about the recent past. In the middle of 2014, the judge program redefined Level 2 to create better alignment between the judge levels and the newly-announced PPTQ system. (Technically, it took us two tries to get to the final product, but who’s counting.)

Before the redefinition, prospective L2s were evaluated in two contexts: community involvement and mentorship, and floor judging Competitive events. This made sense in a world where the core event of Premier Organized Play is the Pro Tour Qualifier, which might have a couple hundred players and would normally be Head Judged by an L3.

But then the world changed. The new normal was the Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier, which would still be held to the same ideals of being a Premier competitive experience, but played out on a smaller scale, (typically) within a single store. Since L2s were already being tested on knowledge of Competitive REL (and since we needed a group large/flexible enough to support the system), it made sense to require that the Head Judges of PPTQs be L2 or higher. In turn, this led to a new focus on the definition of L2. The ability to effectively Head Judge an event could not remain a skill to be developed as an L2; instead, it was recast as a core competency of L2s, and a prerequisite to advancement.

In a nutshell, becoming L2 got harder. But in exchange, the focus became clearer. As Toby said in his blog explaining the (re-)redefinition, “the new L2 will be a tournament machine,” and I think that’s been borne out by our past year-plus with the new system.

Of course, being L2 isn’t all about head judging PPTQs. The very title of L2, “Area Judge,” conveys an element of the level that speaks to L2s’ roles in their community, a certain something that goes beyond events themselves…or does it? As a matter of fact, I believe that an L2’s role in the community is inextricably entwined with the events they run, especially PPTQs. Head Judging a PPTQ is one of the most visible ways an L2 demonstrates that they are a leader in the community — to their players, to the L1s working with them, to judge candidates (the ones you’re already mentoring and the ones you might not even know are interested in being judges yet), and beyond.

Beyond running PPTQs and other local events, L2s are also floor judges at Grand Prix. The implied contrast is that whereas L2s are the leaders of their local communities and the Head Judges and final authorities at their local PPTQs, at Grand Prix they are “just” floor judges. And I put “just” in scare quotes because I simply don’t believe there is such a thing as “just” a floor judge, especially at a Grand Prix. To say that a floor judge is less important than a team lead or a head judge is to say that the hands are less important than the brain, the eyes less important than the heart, the tongue less important than the mouth. We are all parts of the same whole.

Additionally, serving a floor judge provides a valuable opportunity to learn how to follow, as well as lead. These opportunities to follow might become less frequent as a judge advances in level, but they are no less important. A shift in perspective often produces valuable insights that remaining in one position simply cannot.

Finally, even at Grand Prix and other large events, leadership means so much more than the position next to someone’s name on the staff schedule. True leaders are those who start interesting discussions, who mentor and review their fellow judges, who provide suggestions about that event or this system of doing things. Just as nothing stops L1s from helping mentor judge candidates even before they advance to L2, L2s can do all of these activities and more.

Ultimately, I agree that being a Level 2 judge is an incredibly diverse and genuinely challenging position. But I also believe that the various responsibilities L2s juggle are highly compatible with each other, even complementary. The large range of activities that L2s perform is a testament to the judge program’s flexibility and, far from being a flaw, one of our great strengths.