Disclaimer: This blog post does not reflect the opinions of specific members of the San Diego Judge Community aside from my own. This is merely the culmination of observation and experience for a phenomenon I am observing in the community I have come to love.
San Diego State of Affairs:
An Examination of Burnout, Its Causes,
and Possible Solutions.
2017 has been a rough year for San Diego Judges. One of our major venues closed unexpectedly. Another venue has been the focus of controversy due to a recent PPTQ staffing issue. The number people able (or willing) to judge a major event has reduced drastically, due to various factors. I would like to address these factors in this essay, as well as discuss possible solutions.
I recently posted a question in the San Diego Magic Judges Facebook group. I wanted to gauge the level of burnout that the city’s community was experiencing. The response was overwhelming, with judges citing a variety of reasons that they are now hesitant to partake in our mutual hobby. Using a qualitative method, I narrowed down the responses into the following categories:
- Direct burnout.
- PPTQs providing an inadequate venue for training and socializing.
- Conflicting schedules and estimated value for time.
- The Exemplar Program and feelings of invalidation.
- Relationships with local community, venues and tournament organizers.
In the following sections, I will posit a reason for each of these categories. I will also provide a possible solution to the problem. The solutions are currently theoretical, and there will be many weak-spots in their logic. However, it’s a place to start. I hope that these examinations will elicit not only discussion, but also action amongst my San Diego brethren.
1: Direct Burnout
In individual discussions with various judges, from L1 to L3, I observed a trend of fatigue regarding the Judge Program. There have been many changes to the program, which in turn means many adjustments by its members. There are feelings being unappreciated, both within the program and by entities outside of the program. A number of key judges have stepped back, and those who took the burden are beginning to feel the load. And in a few cases, there’s an overall sense of apathy. All of this can be traced to a single, golden thread:
It stopped being fun.
There are many reasons for this, none of which I’ll list because they are unique to each individual. Simply read through the thread, and you’ll find several reasons for each person… all of which valid and understandable. A major theme worth mentioning, however, is the lack of social gatherings for our city. With the decline of San Diego judge meetings, multi-staffed Comp REL events, and many judges simply advancing in their careers/lives… we lost my favorite part of the program. The community.
Possible Solution: Though reasons for burnout are varied, however it is important that we 1) Identify personal reasons that we joined the Judge Community, and 2) Find ways for us to achieve those reasons together. Self care is also important. If it stops being fun… that’s a problem.
2: PPTQs providing an inadequate venue for training and socializing.
PPTQs are one-judge events. Venues are often unwilling to pay for an additional judge for training purposes. My opinion on this matter aside, the lack of ability for a judge to shadow and train for Level 2 has been a solid concern. The inability to train has led to a shortage of L2s, evidenced by the heavy burden placed on the limited amount of current L2s currently running the PPTQs.
Possible Solution: As I type this, there are various solutions in the works for the training aspect of this issue. San Diego is home to amazing mentors for the program (some may argue, mentors in life as well). As for the socialization aspect, this would be remedied with a weekly, or bi-weekly, gathering. The gathering could take the form of the old Judge Meet-ups, and would be both a chance to train as well as to socialize. However, someone would need to take the mantle as host and organizer. The venue can be anything from a home, to a local shop, to a Denny’s.
3: Conflicting schedules and estimated value for time.
Perhaps one of the largest (and most relatable) issues that came up involved pragmatic logistics. Judging simply does not compensate as well as many of our jobs. Furthermore, many Judges from the Golden Era now have families and other responsibilities. The time is a precious resource, and one we should not willingly trade for lesser value. As one judge posted: “Trading a free weekend day away is often not worth $200 in store credit to me.”
Possible Solution: I recently spoke with an L1 Judge. He was very interested in becoming Level 2. He was unhappy with his job, and wanted to contribute more to the community. Another L1 Judge spoke with me about wanting to become Level 2 because she could see the strain in the community, and wanted to help. The thread is filled with Judges who demonstrated that they are in the process of mentoring for Level 2 because they are devoted to our wonderful community. Yes, time is a resource we do not have. But we have a better resource than time. We have Judges. We have a community who, when they became aware of the situation, stepped up. The beauty of our program is that we have people in all stages of life, and who may have more value for the compensation. By training those who currently have more available time to devote, we can fight against time with numbers.
4: The Exemplar Program and feelings of invalidation.
A common theme occurred in the Facebook thread. Many people, whom I know personally as hard workers, mentioned that they had not been nominated for the Exemplar Program. The program itself was seen as a “Good Ol’ Boys” club… a method for friends to reward each other. Underlying this concern was a feeling of invalidation for hard work, effort, and contribution for the community.
By no means do I want to invalidate these experiences. In fact, it’s difficult for me to provide an objective point of view on the matter… I’m pretty sure that if the Good Ol’ Boys club existed, I’d be in it. I’m close friends with many of the higher ups in the Judge Program (two L3s served as best men at my wedding). I state this for full transparency.
With all that being said, I have not received an exemplar nomination in the past few waves. Were the Exemplar Program a purely in-crowd thing, I surely would have received a foil packet. Conversely, while I was actively judging, I was nominated nearly every wave. Was my proximity to people with nomination slots a factor? Absolutely. However, it was my proximity that allowed them to see my work, not merely that I was their friend.
However, that leaves the big question: How are people who are working so hard being overlooked? Several of the people who mentioned this concern are excellent Judges. I’ve watched them in action… giving rulings, running tournaments, and training new Judges.
Possible Solution: The Exemplar Program is not perfect. I have opinions about it I won’t share at this moment. However, it is the current system we have. My suggestion is, if you feel you are doing exemplary work, reach out to the higher ups. Self advocacy is often the only way for our higher-level judges (who are spread very thin) to notice what you’re doing. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get a nomination… after all, there are only so many slots… but if your star is shining bright, make sure everyone sees the light.
5: Relationships with local community, venues and tournament organizers.
San Diego is home to amazing venues for tournaments. However, relationships are strained. Simply put, our skill set is not valued. Though we cannot force people to understand the value we provide, perhaps we can do a better job of explaining what we do. In a discussion with a store owner several months ago, I observed that he considered Judges as simply taking advantage of store owners… scarecrows who hang around, answer the occasional rules question, and collect on store credit at the end of a tournament.
Possible Solution: We do more than that. We know that. Most store owners may not. I’m at a loss at how to convey this idea though. At first, I thought… a pamphlet! Then I realized nobody reads pamphlets because pamphlets are stupid. Perhaps one of the readers can come up with a way to convey that Judges are a BARGAIN at current rates. We are trained to run the tournament, answer rules questions, engage in customer service, coordinate with TOs, coordinate for prize distribution, enact infraction procedures, coordinate with other Judges in the community, advertise events, and provide an event experience.
These reasons are not all-encompassing. These are not perfect solutions. The issues with the Judge Program, its external support, its infrastructure, and other variables are intricate and complex… and I write this article knowing I am not aware of all the factors.
However, I remember a time when I would sit in a room. A room full of Judges. A room full of friends. We would order pizza and talk rules and share stories from events. We would laugh and have a good time. Those were the best nights of my life.
I want it back.
There are new judges who I want to know. There are old friends I want to reconnect with. There is a city that is the best damned city in all of America… in all the world. And I want the entire global Judge Community to know that San Diego is here to stay.