Grand Prix Chiba was record-breaking in many ways. It was the fastest Grand Prix to sell out, the largest ever seen in Japan, and I’m pretty sure it was the Japanese Grand Prix with the largest portion of non-Japanese judges. I was appointed as XO for the sealed grinders on Friday of the Grand Prix, initially to translate appeals (spoiler: there weren’t any).
Instead, I worked as the logistics lead. The structure of the sealed grinders and the initial team assignments made for an interesting and challenging day, which I will walk through in this report. In addition, I would like to share some thoughts on judging in different cultures with language barriers, as well as some general thoughts on receiving feedback and reviews at large events.
Tournament and team structure
For GP Chiba, we had 32-man standard grinders which is usual for Grand Prix tournaments. The sealed however, was organized differently, in a format I have not seen before. Instead of 32-man on demand events, the sealed GPTs were ran as 4 huge events, with 5 rounds of single elimination. Every person who went 5-0 would receive byes in the main event. This meant we essentially had 4 mini GPs to look after.
Team wise, there was:
- The sealed launch team – solely responsible for launching events where they would distribute product/decklists and handle everything up to the pairings for first round. After this they would move on and start the next grinder.
- 4 floor teams (A/B/C/D) – they would cover the floor area of the grinders corresponding to their assigned letters
- 2 logistical teams (A/B and C/D) – responsible for the logistical requirements of the grinders.
- Two appeal judges, one AM, one PM and of course, me, the XO.
Tournament execution and bottlenecks
(Disclaimer: Picture not taken at the venue)
In a perfect world, everything starts on time, runs on time, nothing explodes or goes up in flame, and everyone is happy (and hopefully not too tired) at the end of the day. However, in an event where anything can go wrong it probably will! There were a number of delays throughout the day, some preventable, some not quite so. Here were some things I observed throughout the day and some thoughts on how they can be improved.
- The registration line
Sometimes, you just end up with a lot more people than you expect which results in delays. The first flight had a registration time of 9:30-10:30 with the flight starting at 11. This was the line when I arrived at 10am:
Phew! (In case you can’t tell from the photo, it extended from one end of the hall to the other and starts to double back)
For the record, we ended up with 550 players for the first flight (the last GP I judged at had 374 people for day one…) The line, and number of players meant that deckbuilding for the first flight started something like half an hour late which considerably slowed the whole operation down. Unfortunately this is an issue that is usually outside our direct control due to both staffing and technology. Hopefully the sync function in WER or WERP (whenever that will be released) will be able to facilitate for more efficient processing of sign-ups.
- Dropping and Scorekeeping
With Modern Masters containing a lot of expensive cards, people have a much higher chance of dropping once they open something valuable. Add the fact that foil Japanese cards are usually more valuable than their english counterparts, and you end up with a large number of drops. In fact, the first judge call I took on the day was a player asking “Judge, can I take my cards and drop?”. This resulted in the scorekeeper having to furiously sort out all the people who dropped before round 1 can be paired. In addition, the scorekeeper was relatively inexperienced in scorekeeping large events which led to a significant delay to the start of round 1.
- The team structure and reporting times
The team structure that was used for these grinders were, in my opinion, not optimal. Instead of the 6 teams to cover the 4 tournaments, there should have been 4 slightly larger teams with an experienced team lead in each to take over each tournament once the launch team finishes. Instead we had one team trying to handle the logistics of two grinders at once and disjointed communication between those teams and the floor teams. This became apparent as we progressed into the day which resulted in us rearranging and simplifying the teams so we had one team looking after one tournament which resulted in smoother and faster turnover.
Additionally, the reporting times for the floor teams could have been scheduled better. The grinders were scheduled to start at 11, 12:30, 2 and 3:30 – but the reporting times for the 4 floor teams were 8am, 8am, 8am and 12pm. This, along with the delays meant that quite a lot of the judges had nothing to cover and ended up doing a lot of registering sleep-in pools. Towards the end of the day we had to pull additional judges from other side events as we did not have quite enough people left to fully cover everything we needed due to late starts and the early shift judges needing to be let go so they can be fully functional over the next 2 days. Being able to stagger the start times would have been a better solution, and the team leaders could slowly send members over to help with deck registration as the tournament shrinks for efficiency.
One final thing is that there was a distinct lack of judges proficient in Japanese, especially towards the end of the day. Apart from the lack of Level 2+ Japanese judges for a tournament of this size, it is rather difficult to get time off in Japan, so many Japanese judges will not work friday and arrive at the GP site after work. A lot of the Japanese judges were also assigned to other areas such as on-demand events which led to a lack of judges that are able to effectively communicate in Japanese. In fact, some teams had zero Japanese judges which was a potential source of delay due to communication difficulties. Luckily I was able to “borrow” some Japanese judges, but more care could have been made when scheduling to ensure there was at least a Japanese judge in each team to be able to break down the communication barrier.
- End of Round procedures
As mentioned, there were two teams who handled logistical issues for two grinders. However, there was no actual leads assigned for each tournament and the whole affair became rather ad-hoc. The team leader for the first two grinders was also rather experienced at leading which lead to things falling through the crack. Round 1 of the first flight took over 80 minutes which was partly due to the logistics team having to handle the start of flight 2. This was partly due to the non-optimal team distribution, and partly due to the team leader not being experienced enough to delegate for end of round procedures. Unfortunately I was on break during that time so I did not get a full grasp of the details. My substitute however gave some really good feedback to the team leader, and the subsequent team rearrangements and the nature of single elimination tournaments made the process much smoother later.
Although the grinders were quite delayed, they ended up running smoothly and through the team rearrangements and feedback given we were able to adequately cover each tournament and made up for lost time. This role also presented me with opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of how logistics are handled and coordinated, as well as learning what can go wrong and how to adapt in order to solve those problems.
Handling rulings and communication in different cultures
Surprisingly (or, maybe not so), we had basically zero appeals over the four flights which was quite a feat as the four flights probably had close to 2000 people playing… well probably 1500 if you count all the drops. It was achieved as we had a fantastic team of judges, and understanding of the culture which led to us executing a plan that minimized the need for appeals.
In Japan (and most Asian countries), people are brought up to respect authority, which Judges are in magic tournaments. As a result people tend not to question authority openly, and players are unlikely to directly appeal a ruling even if they do not feel comfortable it. This is quite different to GPs in the Western world where players are more like to voice displeasure and appeal a ruling if they think they do not agree with the outcome or think that a mistake has been made. Thus, making the correct ruling the first time around is even more important.
We made sure to follow these steps when taking calls:
- We will not encourage players up front that they can appeal to the head judge if they are not comfortable with the ruling.
- If you’re not entirely sure of a ruling, tell the player that you will confer with another judge, and follow up on it. This way, you can check whether your ruling is right as well as having another judge to fall back on if things end up not going right.
- After delivering the ruling, take a second and ask whether the player is happy with the ruling. Chances are they will say yes, but if they look uncomfortable then encourage them to appeal.
I’d like to think that this method worked wonders, as we did not get a single appeal that I was aware off, which is another testament to how awesome the judges at the event were!
Writing reviews at large events
One problem at large events is that although there are more judges to interact with, chances are you will not interact with them in a meaningful way enough to be able to write detailed reviews. For example, I saw a fellow judge from Australia… once over the whole weekend at the venue because it was just so big. Furthermore, between my tasks and hopping around to help with translation/interpretation I did not end up with much time to take detailed notes to write good reviews with which was quite a shame. Our team lead on Saturday chose not to pair our team members using a buddy system, which alongside the large venue made it really hard to shadow other judges (Maybe this can be a point for review…). When I decided to shadow someone, I ended up taking 3-4 judge calls in a row which lost me the chance to do so. Luckily, I was shadowed enough by another judge who managed to get enough notes to write me a review, but he too expressed frustrations at how hard it was to take quality notes in tournaments of this size. I still think, however that I could have made more effort but the events that transpired did not help.
With every Grand Prix I attend as a judge, I feel as if I learn something new. This one was no different – I got to experience being a logistics lead for grinders which I feel has led me to improve a lot on one of my judge qualities. In addition, the Grand Prix featured an earthquake, two weddings, a surprise proposal and even a Sushi draft. It was a weekend full of highlights and overall very enjoyable. Bring on the next Modern Masters weekend I say!
Gavin Duggan – for coming up with how we can deliver the best rulings for the players, and inspiring/empowering the more inexperienced team leads.
Gerard Trpin – For working with me to sort out through the logistical/staffing kinks and making the whole thing more organized, and the good feedback you provided to educate other judges on effective team leading
Riki Hayashi – For being there and making sure that everything was progressing as it should
David Gutesa – For giving me very constructive and on the point feedback
All the other judges at GP Chiba and the other GPs that weekend – for making this whole thing possible!
Editor’s note: Please share your feedback and comment here too!