GenCon is an amazing event. The confluence of so many people, passions, personalities, and possibilities makes it an extravagant and unique experience. This was my first time judging at GenCon, and after being away from judging for a couple of months (knee surgery) I was excited to dive back in. Now, GenCon isn’t just a single event, or even a single main event with several sides, but a multitude of events both large and small churning constantly for four days. So instead of focusing on a particular event, I thought I’d share several different experiences from the weekend and highlight some of the great work my fellow judges did and new ideas I brought home with me.
First off, let’s talk about Two-Headed Giant, and specifically how WER handles seating. On Saturday of GenCon, I helped run a 40-team Sealed 2HG event. After getting our table sections, myself and the two other judges tasked for the event went straight to rearranging table numbers, because of course 2HG teams are seated together at a single table. Oops. If you’ve never run a 2HG event with WER before, TAKE HEED! When you initially seat players for deckbuilding, WER still uses one table number per pair of players – aka the way tables are always numbered. It isn’t until you create pairings for Round 1 that the table numbers are reduced in half. We learned this the hard way, having to (un)fix table numbers while 80 players milled around, then readjusted once deckbuilding began. Fortunately, once this was straightened out, the rest of the event ran smoothly.
We had another large event on Saturday; the casual fan-favorite: Mini Masters. For this I was paired up with Trent Novak (who has the enviable capability of cosplaying Remus Lupin OR Sirius Black, at his discretion). Now, there are a lot of variations to how Mini Masters are run, so to clarify, this was a paid entry event and every player received a new pack of cards each round, win-or-lose, to add to their decks (winners also received tickets for the prize wall). As we were getting table assignments and product, Trent made a suggestion for the event that proved extremely valuable: split it into pods.
Usually, Mini Masters are either run as a bit of a free-for-all, or you spend a lot of time trying to do pairings for an extremely casual event. Splitting our players into pods made things so much simpler, giving instructions to the players that when they finished their match to just find someone in their pod they hadn’t yet played against. Whenever a match ended, we would go over and hand out the next pack and prize tickets. Towards the end of the event, we had some confusion with a couple players and whether they’d received their final prize tickets. Another judge suggested that instead of waiting for each individual match to finish, we could hand out the next packs and tickets to matches as they began, which is definitely something I will do the next time I have the opportunity to run a Mini Masters event.
On Friday, I was with on-demand events all day with Team Lead David Rappaport. David had a large group of judges under him of mixed experience levels, and he was attempting a new approach to eliminating a common source error with on-demand events drafts: seating. When you run an 8-person draft pod, you get a printout of a traditional bracket, which judges then have to translate into proper seating assignments around a table (going down the bracket, you seat players at positions 1, 5, 3, 7, 2, 6, 4, 8). In the rush of the moment, especially with a less-experienced judge, it’s easy to get this mixed up or read some names out of order when seating players, which then leads to all kinds of problems.
David’s solution was to personally take the bracket (or delegate to a couple of experienced judges he trusted), and write out the corresponding seating arrangement on another sheet of paper, dividing it into eight sections and writing out the player names. Any on-demand events judge could then take this sheet and place it directly onto the table where the players were to be seated, so it was clear to everyone where they were supposed to be. This also eliminated the need for judges to take the printed bracket with them, reducing the chance of that paper being misplaced. While this added a small delay to firing any individual event, by consolidating the source of seating error to team leads with plenty of experience, I believe the on-demand events as a whole ran much smoother, and it’s a practice I’ll employ if/when I’m ever in that position.
Finally, I’d like to call out an individual effort and particular bit of ingenuity from another judge, Walker Robinson. As with any large event with plenty of Limited events, we had land stations. We actually had multiple land stations set up across the convention hall since it was so large and Limited events were seated everywhere. However, some players were still seated quite far from the nearest station, and they weren’t at all easy to see, simply being placed at the ends of tables. When firing a draft, I would have to do my best to point players in the direction of the nearest station, with directions like “go to the first big aisle-way, go down five tables, they’ll be on your right.” At some point, Walker took it upon himself to improve this situation, creating makeshift signposts from leftover registration-line stanchions. Placed atop the tables with bright paper “Land Station” signs taped to their tops, the signposts were clearly visible from anywhere in the hall, and there was a noticeable difference in the ease of directing players there as well as a decrease in questions along the lines of “where do I get lands?”
All of these stories provide excellent ideas for judges to consider bringing to their next large event. But I think there’s a larger takeaway from my experiences at GenCon, which gets to the core of what judging is all about. It’s common (and good practice) for judges to always be evaluating our performance and how we can improve as judges, but it’s very easy to turn this inward. Did I make the right ruling? Did my round start on time? Did I speak loudly enough? Did I manage the other judges on my team effectively? What I saw at GenCon was several judges also turning their gaze outward, at the events themselves and the players in them, and finding ways to improve those experiences. Tournament Magic might be of drinking age now, but events the size of GenCon or current Grand Prixs (hello, Vegas!) are still a new and daunting task, with plenty of room for improvement no matter how well they are run. It’s on us as judges not only to look for those opportunities, but to implement them, and then to communicate them to the rest of the community.