Hello and welcome to this month’s edition of the Feedbag! Last time, we covered the difference between reviews and Exemplar recognitions. This month’s topic is partially inspired by this thread on JudgeApps.
The forum thread covers a few topics, but the one I want to highlight today is how to seek feedback from players. In earlier articles I’ve discussed how to get feedback from TOs, and best practices for providing feedback to another judge while you’re playing in their event. I haven’t talked much about other players yet.
In general, players are going to be less invested in the various apparatuses of the judge program. Most of them don’t have a lot of insight into the way the program works, and don’t track policy updates regularly — players tend to lag significantly behind judges in terms of understanding changes.
Players will also tend to have much different priorities during a tournament than a judge. They tend to be concerned with the outcomes of their individual matches more than your promptness in handing out match slips or posting pairings. They’ll definitely notice if things go poorly, but they may not notice when things go smoothly because that’s their expectation.
Most players will interact with judges on an individual basis during rulings. As judges, we’re the policy experts who know that the rulings we’re giving are (hopefully!) correct. Players don’t have that level of certainty, and particularly if the ruling is unfavorable for them, they may not feel great about it.
When delivering a ruling, you should pay attention to how players react to it. Many are happy to accept the result, even if it’s not in their favor, and continue playing. Others may be reluctant, which can manifest in a few ways. They may be asking questions about the ruling, not entirely buying into it. Their body language might show hesitancy. These are indications that you might want to have a chat with the player later.
In the middle of a call, you don’t always have the time to break things down in detail. But after the match is a great time to do so. Talk with players about your rulings to get their perspective. Players have a different focus than we do, so following up with them after a ruling is a good way to get their feedback on how you can improve for similar calls in the future. Maybe you were too technical in your explanation; maybe you brushed past player concerns too quickly.
Players may approach you on their own to discuss a call. In my experience, this happens most frequently if they’re unhappy with the result. Your mileage may vary, but that’s tended to be more common for me than players coming up to tell me I really nailed something. Don’t be dismissive in these interactions. You’re likely to have issued a correct ruling that just didn’t sit well, but understanding why the interaction concerned the player is important. You may not walk away with more than an “agree to disagree”, but listening to the player’s perspective can help make these situations go more smoothly in the future.
For example, at a tournament some time ago, I issued a pretty routine game loss for a Deck/Decklist Problem. The ruling was totally correct, but the player seemed personally offended by it. After spending a bit more time talking with him, I realized that the way I had phrased the explanation (something along the lines of “You submitted an illegal decklist”) sounded accusatory to him. In his mind, the association between himself and the error was too close, and he reacted defensively. I’ve been able to avoid similar pushback since then by using other phrasing (“We’ve discovered a problem with your decklist”).