What is a report? I took some physical and mental notes during last GP Paris (May 9-10th) and I tried to figure out what to do with them since then. I initially thought of writing a full report as usual, after all so many things happened!
Then I thought about what I’d write… and how boring it would sound (I have a tendency to write waaay too much), and decided against it. The only things I really wanted to share were those notes, so why dilute and drown them in a biographic tale of 72h in a 10000 words essay? There will be other opportunities for that. Better focus on few, random thoughts. You can even just skip to the one you like the most. 🙂
Really, you know nothing!
Speaking of misconceptions, I have been a judge since Rise of the Eldrazi. I’ve had quite a fair share of Competitive events, including several GPs, one in Paris itself (back when it was a PT+GP at the same time!). I even have already worked with the TO 3 times or so… So this event should have been a piece of cake right? Of course not.
I stopped judging for about 10 months, and started again essentially since February. I used to be (or at least, feel ^^) quite knowledgeable about rules, so I wasn’t used to ask or double check. When the first mistakes came (luckily, not in-game), and when I found myself completely clueless about some questions, I realized how much my break had affected my preparation. And I hated it! To improve, I decided I’ll go through the documents from scratch, highlighting everything that sounds new or surprising, deleting everything else, and iterating the process until nothing is left. Don’t let confidence cloud your judgement, and be ready to step down humbly, ask your fellow buddies, and remember to get back on the books, once in a while. 🙂
You know all the small talk you tend to do with other judges? I think I found my favorite topic: PPTQs. These events occupy such a wide range on the tournament spectrum that they can literally be anything, starting from an 8-man “FNM” and getting up to even bigger than the RPTQ they are feeding for. I keep asking judges from different countries what’s the situation in their country and literally no two answers were the same. In some places players and TOs hate them, in some places it’s the opposite, in some places everyone is happy… but the judges! Average attendance, judge compensation, players familiarity with Competitive REL, TOs previous experiences… I think there’s a lot to be learned from this completely new structure, which caught everyone by surprise and had every community react differently, and although what works in a country may not work in another one it is still possible to integrate tips and tricks to provide a better experience for all the parties involved. PPTQs are now the quintessential part of the Competitive scene. Try to think what works and don’t in your area, community or region, and next time you have the opportunity to discuss with foreign judges, check out if maybe another solution was just a quick chat away.
The State of Flooring
Unless you’ve been judging under a rock, you may have noticed how the focus recently shifted towards actively watching the games and looking for issues, behaving in a way I’d like to call proactive flooring, as opposed to the passive flooring where you just enjoy your Sunday stroll across the venue waiting for players to call. It was a bit new for me, and I felt it a bit weird considering I remembered some years ago people explicitly advising me against table-judging, because it would remove my attention from potential happenings elsewhere and make the field uneven between watched and not-watched games (which would probably end up having less penalties). Also, I love chatting with other judges, and this method makes it so hard. 🙁
I still tried, after all my team leader (among others) stressed it once again right before we started, but I felt very inefficient. There wasn’t enough space between the table rows, which meant I either would have to focus only on the outer games, or bug every single player every time I tried to walk along an aisle. Also, you can figure if you were in the middle of an aisle and got a call two rows ahead: good luck getting there quickly when you’re stuck in a barricade of seated players! I believe such a change necessarily requires also a shift in venue logistics, prioritizing a realistic path for judges to roam the venue even at a cost of less rows available for playing. This means that alternative solutions would probably be needed for small venues where this balance would be a concrete challenge.
In fact I didn’t gave up, and tried to get the best and still give the system a shot. In particular, some words encountered while reviewing the technique were resonating in my head: look for signs in the players’ behavior. A bored face could mean Slow Play, an intense discussion a PCV (hint: it’s never PCV!), a player looking around puzzled may be wondering whether to call for you or not, or trying to avoid you to cheat. So I tried what I called reactive flooring: I couldn’t look too much at the battlefield, but I was staring at player’s faces and body language, something which I could do even from the distance. And I saw people bored, and people arguing, and people looking around puzzled! And so more than twice per round I was walking to a table seen from far away, asking “Hi guys, can I help you?” (or more often, a stuttering “vous avez besoin d’aide?”), and their answer was a sincere, relieved YES. I was amazed.
You will hardly ever catch a cheater with reactive flooring, but you’ll still improve by several orders of magnitude the level of customer service and confidence perceived by your players. I personally believe that this is more important than addressing cheating, at least in most communities. It is a phenomenon way less diffuse than what’s perceived, which means that we should consider whether those extra efforts wouldn’t be better placed helping the 99.9% of non-cheaters instead. This is probably a bigger discussion than these simple terms, but for sure it’s food for thought and next time you’re HJing I invite you to figure out what your priorities are, what they should be, and act accordingly.
Making player’s life easier
Speaking of which, the more time passes the more I’ve grown fond of the concept of customer care. It doesn’t matter how obnoxious that player is, we’re there to have him or her (and all the others) happy and satisfied. This is why I smile when walking around, why I keep a calm and relaxed tone during calls, why I’ll pick up paper slips when asked, even if explicitly told not to (…guilty…). That’s why I pretend to enjoy every single call, even if it’s the third time that opponent is trying to play the Gotcha game in a black-bordered format, and I have to explain him that no, I won’t hold the player for the first choice he barely mumbled since he immediately stated another faster than Split Second.
Since I hadn’t been judging as much as I used to, I had way more time to play, and noticed that this is way less common knowledge than I thought. I’ve seen rude, distracted, or simply not-really-caring judges, and I’m sure I’ve been guilty of the same more often than not. But I don’t like it. And I especially don’t like it because I saw it happening not only due to cultural differences (which happens), or personal attitude (which still is reasonable, not everybody live in a MLP world), but –very often at these big events- due to stress and tight schedule. You’re busy, and you don’t want to waste time. You’ve been busy, and you don’t want to be busy again. You know you’ll be busy, so you really need your toilet break now. And so players get neglected, or redirected elsewhere in the best case. This doesn’t want to be a personal critic: feel free to be grumpy – I can just tell you to smile if I cross you. It’s instead a broader reflection on how to make your events smoother and more pleasant for everyone, from the TO to the player. Even little details (things running too fast, or judges having to walk too much from judge station to the tournament) can affect negatively the overall experience for everyone involved. In the end players will remember better a warm, welcoming atmosphere, than a round a couple of minutes shorter.
Also, while we’re at it, a little shout-out to BoM’s organization. I’ve worked with them other times and I really believe they’re very good at this customer thingy. I’ve seen several times players with complaints or issues finding the TO, discussing and resolving them all in a heartbeat. I also found amazing that they made an app system for players to be updated about pairings and side events running, and for HJs to handle them. Any time I could just look at the screen and be informed of everything going on at the venue. I feel they care about their judges well beyond the mere “legally binding terms”, which is of course a big plus. I won’t say they’re the perfect TO, but I do believe they’re quite a good step in the right direction.
I still ended up writing way more than I wished.
Boy, do I need to work on my logorrhea…
Good luck, and have fun!
Editor’s note: Please feel free to give your feedback or comments on the Judge Apps forums too!