Wave 10 Eh-xemplar Highlights, part II – Spotlight on the Stars

Hi and welcome back to Eh-xemplar Highlights for Wave 10! Today, we’re going to get to know two of our most exemplary from the last wave, Mike Gyssels and Kentaro Guthrie. These two really impressed their colleagues this summer and, as a result, received 12 nominations each!

Spotlight #1: Mike Gyssels

First up, Alex Frank introduces us to Mike, an L2 from London, Ontario.

Mike Gyssels  L2, Ontario

Mike Gyssels
L2, Ontario

After achieving L2 in February of 2017, Mike quickly and confidently took charge of his local area’s community as an administrator of their online groups, coordinator for judge meetups, and mentor to up-and-coming L0s.  Likewise, in a relatively short time he has cemented himself as an irreplaceable member of the global judge community both within Canada and beyond.  This past wave Mike judged from Montreal to Las Vegas and his skills, drive, and professionalism never went unnoticed.

Our illustrious RC, Jon Goud, wrote this exemplar:

Mike was *very* impressive during his maiden voyage GP in Montreal. I particularly appreciated his quiet maturity and tournament awareness. More often than not he was on top of a task before I even had to request it of the team. He was appealed a few times that tournament, but I spoke with Guillaume afterward about it and Guillaume’s impression was “Sure he got alot of appeals, but that’s because he was more active on the floor answering calls than almost any other judge on staff. He is very good. He gets it.” It’s rare that someone is already approaching ‘role-model’ tier at their first event.

–Jon Goud, L3, Regional Coordinator

So, why did we pick this exemplar?

Jon takes a holistic approach to detailing Mike’s growth so far. Having observed and guided Mike from before his L2 testing to his first GP, Jon offers some key insights into how Mike achieved a great deal of success this summer.

Jon’s exemplar highlights Mike’s tournament eagerness and his quickly developed tournament skills. Even though we have been emphasizing community involvement over tournament work, being impressive on the floor is definitely an important reason to be recognized, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Jon also highlights Mike’s approach to mentorship and role-modelling in our community, both on and off the tournament floor.

We reached out to Jon to ask a few questions about Mike, and how he stood out at his first GP:

AF: Which of Mike’s behaviours at GP Montreal encouraged you to write your exemplar of him instead of, say, a review? Especially since this was Mike’s first GP?

JG: Mike was appealed something like seven times that tournament – and I believe almost all of them were upheld. He was a little tilted at the experience but he never slowed his hustle. Speaking with one of the head judges later in the day, the observation was that Gyssels was getting so many appeals because he was answering so many more calls than many other floor judges.

When something odd would happen, Mike was very in tune with what was happening in the tournament and was often moving toward a solution before many were fully aware of the situation. Despite a potentially rough first GP he stayed locked in and positive.

Part of the mission of the exemplar program is to broadcast behaviours we would want judges to emulate – “Hey everyone! Check out this great thing this judge did!”. I wanted Mike’s emotional resilience and unfading hustle to be acknowledged publicly with the hope that other judges would pick up on the value that kind of attitude brings to a tournament.

AF:  You note in your exemplar that Mike was “approaching role-model tier” in your exemplar–what does this mean? And how can other judges step up to be role models in their local communities?

JG: When I see a judge that is dealing with situations with themselves, their tournaments, and their communities in ways that I would want everyone to handle: that’s what we mean by a role model. When someone is an example to those around them of how to judge and mentor effectively.

Mike is ‘approaching’ it because he’s still relatively new on the scene, so he is still getting his ‘brand’ out there – but he consistently impresses, and I think junior judges will start looking up to him and I’d be pleased to see them modelling his approach to tournaments and community building.

Not everyone can do this naturally. Mike has experience as a parent and a teacher, so no doubt he’s used to having his words and behaviour become the example for others. If stepping up and becoming an example interests you, then it’s important to consider what your behaviour and example is teaching those around you. You’ll always be seen as a judge even when you aren’t ‘in uniform’. When dealing with situations, take time to consider if you would want everyone to behave as you do. Disagree with someone on Facebook and feel like firing off a sassy take-down comment that gets a little personal? Would it be helpful if all judges did that? Problematic and difficult call at a PPTQ win-and-in match where one player is questioning your ability as a judge and the part of you that grows impatient wants to play the “I’m a judge so I’m right” card rather than explain how your ruling is supported by policy? How would you want every judge to handle this? If a player oversees a judge proposing a flagrantly unfavourable trade at a pre-release with a young kid – how does that make them feel about that judge and perhaps the program in general?

Remember that your actions as a judge are always teaching something to those around you – even if you don’t intend them to be. If you’re loose with policy, you’re signalling that the rules don’t really matter. If a judge is behaving poorly towards their colleagues and you do nothing – you’re signalling that that kind of behaviour is acceptable. If you’re too chummy with the local spikes and never rule against them – you might be teaching people that you aren’t a neutral and impartial judge. The list goes on …

If you really want to step up, then be an example for the kind of judge and player you would want your community to be. Build trust with your colleagues and local players, and stay engaged with your community.

Mike received quite a bit of praise this wave, and I’d like to pivot to an aspect of exemplary behaviour from this past wave that didn’t originate on the tournament floor.  The exemplar I’d like to focus on was actually submitted by me: 

As GP Toronto was my first GP I was assigned a L2 mentor to share his knowledge and to make sure I had all the tools to succeed.  I was surprised that I was paired with Mike since I have experience judging with him and for a time we lived in London together.  In the run up to the GP he suggested a reading list and a list of tools for the event.  On the Friday Day 0 of the GP he gave me a kit with all the tools I needed, pens a small notebook gum etc, but my favorite was a foil mm17 mystical teachings.  He told me to make sure to get judges I worked with or had taken the time to help me to sign the card.  Mike made sure I threw myself into everything I could do and even though we were never on the same team when he had a moment we would talk about what was going on and ask how I was doing.

–Alex Frank, L1, Ontario

So why do I want to highlight my own exemplar? 

This exemplar focuses on non-tournament behavior and mentorship. These are extremely important aspects of our community; they help us grow and become stronger and more effective as a whole. Mentorship and education are two of the most important roles that L2’s and L3’s have and focusing on these aspects of Mike’s behaviour is important.

In the lead up to GP Toronto, I was feeling apprehensive about being assigned a mentor. Mike and I are friends, so when we were paired together I assumed that his mentorship would stay similar to what it already was: discussions on our group chat and exchanges of messages whenever I needed clarification on something. But Mike took his mentorship to the highest possible level. He made sure I had a thorough packing list and answered any and all questions I had before the event. What struck me the most about his work, though, was that he had gone out of his way to make me a kit stocked full of any supplies that I would need for the weekend. During my second day while I was judging Swiss sides, Mike was extremely busy across the alley running a large Modern open. Still, when he had even a few seconds, he made sure that I was doing well and that I wasn’t having any issues. I can say without equivocation that I have become a better judge due to his mentorship and our community is bettered by his presence.  

Mike’s work at tournaments, both as floor judge and mentor,  was exemplary this wave; but I also want to highlight an exemplar that covers Mike’s local community work. Josh Nevin is an L2 with experience working the tournament scene, especially PPTQs, in Mike’s area, and he notes a significant improvement in that community since Mike leveled up:

The current work you are doing to bring the toxicity down in the London community from a select few individuals as well as creating a more inviting and organized online presence for the community is a greatly appreciated and welcome sight to an otherwise unwelcoming online community. Furthermore your rebirth of the London community cup for charity as well as getting multiple stores and other local level 1 judges to hold a tournament for a great cause is just another reason I find you both exemplary and a great addition to both the London and judge community.

–Josh Nevin, L2, Ontario

Why have we chosen to highlight this exemplar?

Mike’s exemplary actions are many and making sure that we recognize the breadth of his tournament and non-tournament activities is also extremely important. We need to remember that, as Jon pointed out, our role as judges does not end when we take off our blacks and leave the tournament. Every day in our communities there are opportunities to grow, and likewise we can help others grow as judges, players, and people through this great game.

In Josh’s exemplar, he points out many activities that Mike participates in to make his community a more welcoming place for old and new players alike. Community building within our local and regional areas is a very important role we can assume to grow the game and make sure it’s a welcoming and positive environment. For example, Josh notes Mike has taken it upon himself to make sure the local L1’s are involved in the community cup, providing him a platform to educate and mentor these newer judges.

We spoke with Josh to learn just a little bit more about Mike’s efforts in the non-UK London:

AF: Have you worked an event with Mike? What were your impressions of him?

I have worked a few Grands Prix and FacetoFace Opens with Mike. Each time he has a new agenda and plan not just for the event, but also his judge career. From mentoring multiple judge candidates, to trying new ways to improve on his role at the tournament. He works as hard on the floor as he does on these community initiatives to make sure everyone gets the most out of their Magic experiences.

AF: Judges have a unique role when it comes to community building as well as on the floor. What do you think are actions that we should all try to take to help our communities?

JN: As a judge, we are seen to some as players and to some as employees–and some, both. Quite often, players see us as a direct link to the tournament organizers and store owners. So, I think it’s important that even when not in the black shirt or other roles of authority, we need to present ourselves as if we are being looked up to. It’s imperative to include everyone at any event we may be at so newer players don’t feel alienated and unwanted at larger events. As a liaison between players and store owners, we can talk to store owners about what the players are looking for from events in store, but we can also speak on players’ behalf to ensure the best experiences possible in our local stores. I feel this intermediate step between player and store owner allows for both sides to have better Magic experiences and to feel valued by the other.

AF: So, what inspired you to write this exemplar of Mike this wave, especially addressing his community work over his focused tournament agenda?

Mike is currently in the processes of revitalizing an old charity tournament for the London community, and for players in the surrounding area. He has brought multiple stores together to donate prizes, and even reached out to Wizards for additional prizing. He also put together a fine judge team for the event. He did all this to bring back a nice warm event back to what some have deemed an aggressive and hostile community in the hopes of making the area more inviting and friendly to newcomers.

You mention that hostility in your exemplar as well. What changes have you noticed recently in the fabric of the London community?

There is far less online animosity and bullying. Likewise, the revival of the old charity tournament seems to be bringing the London community together for a good cause. In personal conversations with Mike, he’s noted that the most active members of the London community, who are most important in steering its direction, have made efforts to be more positive and to cause less trouble at weekly events.

Spotlight #2: Kentaro Guthrie

Kentaro Guthrie  L2, British Columbia

Kentaro Guthrie
L2, British Columbia

Our second Eh-xemplar Spotlight was lauded mainly by foreign judges for his very Canadian efforts in Japan on his Cultural Exchange project. David Poon takes us through Kentaro Guthrie’s efforts at GP Kyoto, GP Kobe, and GP Vegas, and through the growth of Kentaro’s project as he improved it over a number of iterations. 

Kentaro amazed Japanese- and English-speaking judges alike at GP Kyoto this year as he worked to bridge the North American-Japanese divide and get judges to embrace the multiculturalism of our organization. As a fluent speaker of both Japanese and English who has lived for lengthy periods in both Japan and Canada, Kentaro was able to open doors and mix Western and Eastern cultures on the floor of Magic’s largest type of international event.

Let’s read about what some judges had to say about him.

During GP Kobe you were my backup: not only did you manage to help me communicate with a fully-Japanese team whose members’ English was quite poor, but you went well above that. During many conversations, both in the day during the event and during some off-event moments, you managed to explain to me a lot about Japanese culture and their way of thinking, eventually leading me to a way better understanding of the country and the people.
You didn’t stop there, as at the next Japanese event (GP Kyoto), you started a project to make intercultural exchange a widespread initiative and not just a personal one. I think this is an amazing contribution to the judge program in general, but let me be selfish: I think you enriched my personal culture and knowledge of the world, and I am very grateful for that.
– Luca Romano, L3 from Italy

Luca’s nomination gives us a clear picture into what Kentaro did that was so exemplary. Generally, Kentaro started a project to bring visibility and support to cultural exchange initiatives; while personally, he enriched Luca’s personal culture and knowledge of the world. Luca gives us a holistic picture of his experience with Kentaro at GP Kobe, and shows us the scope of their conversations extending off the floor, while also highlighting specifically that Kentaro helped Luca communicate with his team.

Now let’s see what one of the Japanese judges had to say:

He led cultural exchange at GP Kyoto 2017. Some Japanese judges think, “As we cannot speak good English, we cannot communicate well with English speakers.” This problem is very simple yet very serious, but because of Kentaro’s work, these judges have started to communicate with English speakers.
In fact, those judges realized, “We can start to communicate more easily with English speakers.” (Some Japanese judges think “English is difficult”.)

– Keigo Osumi, L2 project lead to translate the AIPG/AMTR into Japanese

Here we get some insight into the root problem that Kentaro addressed at GP Kyoto—the culture of Japanese people that causes them to think they cannot communicate well with English speakers. We also see the praiseworthy benefits: Japanese judges changing their thinking, realizing that despite English possibly being difficult, it is not an insurmountable obstacle to communicate with the English-speaking world. We thought that Keigo’s nomination was pretty brief, so we reached out to him for a little more insight into why he wrote it.

DP: What made Kentaro’s cultural exchange project stand out enough to warrant writing an exemplar, as opposed to writing a review or giving feedback in person?

KO: I think his activity was very good: twenty or more judges joined in, communicating triggers for many Japanese and non-Japanese speakers. This was such a good activity for the judge community.

DP: What did you feel was most impressive about what Kentaro did at GP Kyoto?

KO: He supported many judges in conversation between Japanese and non-Japanese speakers, but he also took care to talk less than other Japanese judges. This was because his activity’s main targets were Japanese judges, and he wanted those judges to talk with English speakers.

DP: How far do you feel Kentaro’s actions will impact the community, specifically the Japanese judge community, but also, more generally, the global Magic community?

KO: As an example, I think only a few Japanese judges communicated with English speakers at break time before Kentaro’s activity. But after his activity, many more Japanese judges tried to talk with English speakers. If Japanese judges can continue to communicate well with English speakers, we will have the chance of providing good feedback and service to the global Magic community.

DP: Is there anything else you’d like to say, perhaps details that were not included in your original exemplar nomination for sake of brevity?

KO: I think the success of his activity was that its purpose was to prompt Japanese and non-Japanese speakers to talk to each other. I think that some judges think, “I want to talk with a Japanese/non-Japanese judge, but I have no common topic… I found a common topic: Comprehensive Rules/MTR/Infraction Penalty Guide! Oh, that is so hard, I give up.” He found common ground between judges and showed these common topics to judges, saying, “The topic they like is this, let’s talk with them!”

Next, let’s hear from one of our three program coordinators:

Kentaro, your Cultural Exchange initiative at GP Kyoto is an awesome idea. Some things could have been done differently in execution, but I believe the idea is awesome. I hope this sets an example and we have some of this at every Japanese GP. I believe this initiative can be very positive for both Japanese and non-Japanese judges and will help to improve the relationship between Japan and other parts of the program.

– Alfonso Bueno, L3 Program Coordinator from Spain

Alfonso doesn’t mince words and immediately tells us what his nomination is about: Kentaro’s cultural exchange initiative. His final statement shows us how he sees it as praiseworthy: helping to improve relationships between Japanese and non-Japanese judges. We asked Alfonso to elaborate a little on the topic.

DP: As an L3, you work with a larger number of judges than most. What caused Kentaro to be the subject of an exemplar nomination from you in wave #10 instead of many other judges?

AB: I believe Kentaro’s initiative and his goals are a great example for other judges. I believe giving visibility to this initiative may encourage others to do similar things. Also… Kentaro deserves it!

DP: What did you feel was most impressive about what Kentaro did at GP Kyoto?

AB: Two things: first, identifying an area to improve and stepping up with a project to improve it; second, Kentaro’s follow-up—I learned that Kentaro ran a similar initiative at another GP with improvements compared to the previous one.

Interestingly, the nominations Kentaro received this wave are relatively multi-faceted, especially since they appear to be about the same thing. Whereas Luca focussed on the personal conversations they had, Keigo emphasized the cultural shift that Kentaro started; while Alfonso pointed to the improvement in the project from GP to GP. One specific exemplary action: many reasons for praise!

Finally, let’s look at a nomination that didn’t (seemingly) have anything to do with GP Kyoto:

Kentaro, at GP Vegas you went above and beyond for the players during the Modern Main event. I received a judge call regarding a Japanese player who spoke little to no English, and an American player who was hard of hearing and had never played against a Lantern Control deck. The Japanese player’s cards were also mostly in Japanese. You took their needs above your own and stayed with them until they got a good form of communication flowing. The players were ecstatic with what you did, and so was I. I really appreciate all you did for them.

– Ryan Wood, L2 from Oregon, USA

It seems that Kentaro kept himself busy between GP Kobe and GP Kyoto! Not limited to his official project for intermingling Japanese- and English-speaking judges, he practised what he has been preaching, helping two players with different native tongues communicate effectively with each other. This was a great nomination to encounter, as it shows just how global in scale Kentaro’s efforts are, and how effective they are at improving the player experience. Here we have the most specific of examples—where Kentaro himself is enabling communication between players—making the expansiveness of his project clearly applicable and a little more tangible.

Exemplary stories, from international initiatives to hands-on help: no wonder there were so many examples of the great support network Kentaro is setting up, and the wonderful support that he himself provides for events. We’re proud to call him a Canadian!

That’s all for Wave 10! We hope you’ll join us next time. If you’re interested in getting involved next time around, send an email to Mike Gyssels to find out how you can write for the Eh-xemplar Team (or elsewhere on the Canadian Judge blog).

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