We recently spoke to Magic’s newest Judge Program Coordinator, Riki Hayashi. Riki lives in Roanoke, Virginia, USA, but most visibly interacts with Magic on the internet. A Level 3 judge, Riki works events about once a month, but upon occasion has a string of weekends where he attends events. Riki became a judge in 2004 after failing to make Day 2 at Grand Prix Oakland. He judged his first Grand Prix in 2007 and fell in love, making L2 in 2008 and L3 in 2009. He was briefly Regional Coordinator of the USA – Northwest Region, before becoming L4 for two months prior to level redefinition.
Riki is one of the most notable judges to all members of the Magic community. He cites his exposure on the internet for this place of fame. “I started writing judge articles on SCG in 2008, then CFB in 2009, and a few more articles scattered here and there. That exposure on two major websites got me a foothold, as did a brief stint as one of the original hosts for Judgecast. I think I got a little lucky with the timing of all this. There was some judge content aimed at players on websites, but it was mostly just rules Q&A columns, while I brought an article structure to my writing that led to quite a few lengthy forum discussions (before embedded comments were a thing), and it fostered conversation between players and judges about policy. This transitioned into the social media age, and even long after I’ve hung up my spikes as a regular columnist, players still tag me in such discussions, and I’ve ridden that wave since then.”
In his first message as the Program Coordinator, Riki cited diversity as a part of the judge community that is “broken”. When asked to elaborate, Riki states that the comparison he’s been making is to that of corporate executives and government officials. “There is a gender imbalance in those fields, just as there in judging. It’s because groups in power self-select to their norms. If you have a majority of men in power, they will tend to bring in more men to their power structure, and they won’t even realize it. This is why I draw a line between diversity and representation. It’s one thing for the community to be accepting of diversity, which I think is true in the Magic community at large as well as the Judge Program, and another for the organization to take a long look inward and address these imbalances of representation.
One example that crosses my interests is the research done on how women receive more vague feedback than men. This hurts when it comes to advancement because it is specifics that drive those interactions, both in terms of helping people to improve and to highlight the strong work that makes people candidates for advancement.”
Riki’s outlook is not so bleak, however. He strongly believes that where judges lead, the player base will follow because “judging attracts community leader types. If players see more representation in judging, that can signal that the culture is changing, and hopefully it will make the Magic community a more appealing place for those people.” He acknowledges that it is hard to “fight” for more representation and diversity in terms of accomplishments as a player, such as diversity in Pro Tour Top 8s, but we can do that with Pro Tour judges, and that’s a way for us to show more diversity to the world. “This type of diversity has become a flash point for event coverage and streamers, and it’s time to bring that type of effort to judging.”
Riki provides a pair of tangible changes the judge community can make to be a more positive impact on diversity in judging. “First, call out bad behavior in person. I read so many judge discussions where people boldly proclaim that they would ‘give USC – Minor for that,’ but then I don’t see that translated into action in live situations. The bystander effect can be a strong one (wherein the more bystanders witness a crime, the less likely any individual is to help), but as judges we have an obligation to be ‘first responders’ to trouble in our community.”
Riki also encourages judges to, in his words, “shift our paradigm on giving a USC infraction from using it like a sledgehammer to using it like a scalpel.” Riki says that a oft-forgotten piece of USC is to help the person understand that they did something wrong. Getting a USC should, in Riki’s words, be little more than a casting a spell for the wrong mana, assuming that they understand what they did wrong. “It’s not an easy thing. Every time you let something go, that’s a step back for the overall cause. And I say this as someone who has let things go in front of me. But I’ve taught myself and trained myself to speak up more and that’s worth something in the big picture. By training, I mean that I speak up when my friends use inappropriate words and phrases. Yes, it’s often in a private setting among friends where ‘it doesn’t matter,’ but it’s a chance to raise the bar of discourse and word use, and for me to practice telling something that I don’t appreciate what they said.”
We asked Riki about how judges of less privilege could ameliorate some of the biases that stand in their way. His response stands on its own:
“Organize. Support each other. We are dealing with decades, if not hundreds of years, of expectations and biases that have become stacked in our society against minorities. You can’t expect to beat those odds on your own because in a lot of cases it’s hard to recognize when those biases are standing in your way. Very few people, especially in the Judge Program, will be explicitly racist or sexist to your face. But there are real barriers that arise out of unconscious biases. There are entire organizations built around making sure that enough women and minorities are interested in and apply for STEM jobs or politics. Those organizations are trying to redress historical imbalances, just like the Judge Program. I think it’s time to take similar steps in our organization. The United States has had a black President, but we haven’t had a black L3 in the country since Rashad Miller (who retired from judging to get into coverage).”
He also understands, though, that the path to equality is not an easy one. Judges of less privilege need to recognize that they have existed in a system of people with more privilege. That means a few things. First, listen to people who provide their experiences from a different perspective. Second, don’t dismiss their claims, especially by providing your own counterexamples. Someone saying ‘I haven’t seen sexism at events’ isn’t helpful to the discussion, and is actively harmful to the person making the claims. It’s a dismissive and destructive action. Remember that the world is not solipsistic, that events exist outside of you. And third, add a voice of support. Learn to say ‘I’m sorry that you had this experience.’ It’s important to believe that you can support causes that aren’t your own even if you can never truly understand what it’s like to have those experiences. Breaking systems of privilege require a combination of the people in power choosing to give up some of their privilege and the people outside the system to force a change.”
This ideology can be implemented in two words: Speak up. “If you’re a Head Judge of a tournament, you have a rare minute where the players will all be listening to you. Use it! The Judge Program has become so comfortable with making bad puns. When I Head Judged GP Milwaukee last year the weekend after the election, I mentioned that I was an immigrant and that this was still my country too. Paul Baranay spoke at an SCG Open about making Magic events a welcoming place. Whether it’s 20 players or 1000, you have the ability to help people open their eyes. You should be careful about rambling on, or being overly preachy, but if you find the right balance here, you can make a real difference in pushing the discourse forward. Every judge is a leader. Every judge has a group of players that look up to them.”
Before Riki took over as Program Coordinator, he was himself grappling with issues of diversity. “I’ve written quite a bit about issues like Unsporting Conduct and inappropriate playmats, things that can affect the comfort level of minorities, and I’ve confronted these issues personally at events.” Since the American Presidential election last year, Riki has spoken more about his own immigrant status and sought out other minorities to discuss the issues they face in this country. “Feeling like an outsider in the country that I’ve lived in for 95% of my life has really changed how I view many of these issues.”
Riki cites feedback as one of the core tenets of the judge program. However, there is a concern that judges who call out sexism, racism, ableism, etc. could be retaliated against, either verbally or by being not selected for events. Riki says that changing the climate is important, but certainly hard. “An open dialogue” is the most important part, he says. It’s important for the receiver of the feedback to come with an open mind, but it’s also vital that the giver be receptive to external factors. “Once the dialogue happens, people need to be prepared for answers that they might not like on both sides. Maybe you aren’t being selected for events because you had a poor showing at a past event, and not because of your orientation. Maybe you aren’t selecting people for events because you do have bias that you didn’t even realize you carried. Both of those can be hard to admit, and the best way to start is to talk to people about it.”
“My end goals include getting more women judging on the Pro Tour, as Grand Prix Head Judges, and in community positions like Regional Coordinator. Unfortunately, it’s hard to begin to have these kinds of discussions right now due to the low number of women at L3. The problem happens earlier. We need more women at the lower levels to slowly populate the higher levels. To that end, one of the most pressing needs is for a program of women mentoring women. Currently, a woman looking to get into judging depends on luck when it comes to mentor, whichever L2 is closest. It isn’t until this judge goes to a GP or SCG Tour event, or shows up on a regional Slack, that they make professional connections with other women. That’s a good way to lose a lot of these candidates before they even get that opportunity. As open-minded as you might think you are, there are some things that are best discussed with another woman, and I’d like to see us put that option on the table as soon as possible. I’ve been doing reading on how other organizations handle this, and I’ve started some discussions. If any readers want to contribute, feel free to contact me.”
“What I would like to end on is that every individual judge matters, whether it is as part of a collective of voices demanding change in the way our community treats people, or at a single event, standing up for what you believe in.”