Feedback in the judge program is usually discussed in the context of multi-judge events, such as how to take notes and write a review for a team member on the floor of a Grand Prix. This discussion has a glaring blind spot: local community judges who rarely, if ever, judge events large enough to have more than one judge on staff. For these judges, the process of feedback can feel futile since there are no other judges to talk to.
However, all it really takes to have meaningful feedback is to have a conversation with someone else about a way one of you could improve. This person could be a player, a tournament organizer, or even a judge who was nowhere near your event. Let’s dig into some of these ideas, and how you can leverage them in your community.
REACH OUT TO PLAYERS
As a judge for an event, you can reach out to players for their feedback. Ask them specific questions about their experience, and see if you find areas you can work on improving. For example, consider asking about whether the table space felt too cramped, or if your announcements dragged on and got boring. This method works especially well when other judges are playing in your event. Just remember that the players are here to play, not work, and respect their time. Only approach players with questions when they are clearly not busy with a game or friends. For more detail, check out this awesome post by Marcos Sanchez.
If you keep your mind in feedback mode, you can also find insight while playing in an event. Take notes on aspects of the event you felt worked or didn’t. You don’t have to pry into every detail the staff had to deal with — just observe your player experience. Did the event start smoothly? Were your judge calls responded to quickly? Did the store feel safe and comfortable to play in? Anything that seemed particularly awesome or frustrating is worth noting. Take these observations back with you to your next event, and use what you’ve learned to improve the experience for your players.
Don’t forget feedback is a two-way street, though — be sure to share your findings with the judge on staff as well. Just be careful to engage as a dialogue, rather than directly giving advice to the judge — as a player, you may not be privy to everything happening behind the scenes. For example, you might observe that the third round of a PPTQ ended up taking ten minutes to get posted after all the matches were already finished. It’s possible the judge waited to enter all the results until every slip was turned in. On the other hand, perhaps the event reporting software crashed, and the judge needed to troubleshoot. In either case, talking with the judge about your observation is worthwhile. If you start off by giving advice, you may come off as accusational due to missing information.
SPEAK WITH THE TO
Unless you are the store owner, you can also count on there being a separate Tournament Organizer who will be invested in any event you judge. Even if the TO isn’t present in the room during the event, you can still discuss event logistics or finances via phone or email. Feedback from them can give you good insight into the way business decisions were made and what components of an event are expensive or generate profit. This isn’t always directly applicable to your role as a judge, but it can be helpful in building an understanding on compensation or bringing extra judges on staff at future events.
It’s also possible that there are aspects of an event that are outside of your control as a judge, but a TO could change to help improve future events. For example, if a TO has a large store space, but most of their tables are oversized to accommodate miniatures games, Magic games might be more awkward to play, and your player cap for tournaments may be lower than it could be. Letting a TO know that you could fit more players comfortably in the venue if you had different tables could be a valuable piece of feedback they could act on.
Remember that TOs, like players, will often not be accustomed to feedback the way judges are. Friendly conversation is often an easier way to approach this feedback than something like formal, written reviews. Joe Wiesenberg shared more details about TO interactions in a great Feedbag article.
DISCUSS OUTSIDE THE EVENT
You can even get feedback directly from other judges who weren’t there by engaging with them off of the event floor. Keep notes on unusual situations or difficult rulings you take, and discuss them with other judges after the event is over. You might ask them about how they would approach a complex backup scenario or their techniques for deck checks. Discussing and giving feedback without direct observation may have less detail, but it is much more flexible. Sharing experiences gives everyone access to a wider sampling of situations than anyone could get at a single event, which is especially useful when your events are typically small and light on calls.
Regular community meetups with local judges can be a great place to foster this kind of discussion. For example, in Salt Lake we have a monthly meetup with any judges who are interested in coming. We spend an hour or two discussing recent policy changes or rulings judges had difficulty with in recent events. Since the judges at the meeting all participate in the judge program in varying ways, the scenarios that are brought up span a lot of different event types and RELs. This gives people insight into multiple perspectives on the same issue, a great way to cross-pollinate ideas.
If your local judge community is sparse, regular meetups may be difficult. Fortunately, there are also excellent online channels for this kind of discussion. For example, the US Northwest region uses Slack to create a space to discuss all sorts of judge topics, including frequent rules and policy questions shared with the group. The MTG Judge Subreddit has a weekly “Ask a Judge” thread that is a great place to discuss quick questions you’re not sure how to answer yourself. And on JudgeApps, along with discussions for nearly any judge-related topic, there is a dedicated section for Tournament Reports, where you can share and discuss your experiences on the floor.
These are just some starting ideas on how to practice feedback without having multiple judges on staff. They may not all work for you. The trick is to remain open to feedback from anyone — even spectators who don’t play Magic! All comments come from a unique perspective, just like any other review, so there is always something to learn.
If you have any other ideas on how to engage in feedback as a local judge, please share in the comments!