This is the second time I was given the honor of being the Head Judge on the Sunday of a Star City Games Open Weekend – and the first one in Chicago! The first time was when they had 2 Opens (Standard and Legacy, mine being the Legacy) – as of this year, the events are much more like small GP events – and the Modern and Legacy events on Sunday are now Premier IQs – still big enough to need teams of judges to handle them.
I made sure to keep tabs on who was applying and checking out the comments that various judges (RCs and SCG employees) were leaving about the applicants. This helped me get a feel for the concerns that those people may have had about the applicants, or ideas they may have for helping them improve (judge X does this very well, can we see how they handle Y?). This also allowed me to do some planning ahead. One thing that can help your development as a judge is a completely fresh perspective – someone who has no real preconceived ideas about you and can give you thoughts about how you are doing that you may not have heard from those who know you better. I was able to do this in two directions for my teams – providing one team lead with a senior judge that they had never worked with before who could give them an honest assessment of where they were in their pursuit of L3, as well as a providing a team with a team lead from another region – again, a fresh perspective and way of doing thing.
Even with all of this time to prepare, you still have to do your job and do it well on the day of the tournament. While I had a general plan of how I wanted things to go and the event went smoothly overall, I really wasn’t that happy with how things turned out on the day of the tournament. Let me share with you some of my concerns.
The first issue is that while I had specific meetings with the team leads and gave them very specific notes as to the things they were responsible for, I didn’t really have a meeting with the entire staff. Given that we had an hour between the time where we helped the Legacy PIQ start and the start of our event, I wanted the teams to go off and have their own meetings themselves and get things sorted based on my instructions. I feel that this gave a bad impression in that the entire team didn’t get a chance to interact with me and the other team in a central meeting – this would have allowed me to be sure everyone was on the same page as far as backups, GL penalties and breaks. I had complete faith in my team leads (that is why I chose them) and things got handled well, but it still annoys me that I didn’t handle this personally.
Once we got the event itself and we got everyone seated for the player meeting, I ended up in an unfamiliar position – having to fill empty time. One of the things that has to happen during my (and the SCG) announcements is a judge needs to go around and determine who is not at the player meeting so they can be either dropped or located in the room. This lead to very awkward pauses in my announcements where I was checking to see if we were ready to proceed to collecting decklists or not. I’m not sure who else paid attention to them, but I wasn’t very happy with my announcements – I quickly ran out of things I had prepared to say and I’m not the best at spontaneous public speaking. Just one of those things I need to work on for future events.
Once we got everyone started, another thing happened that I didn’t notice at the time, but was pointed out to me after the event during the debrief at the end of the swiss rounds – I stayed on the stage during the rounds. Why is this an issue? Picture this setup: in front of the stage is one column of rows, and then there is a column to the left and to the right of the central column. The Sunday rounds of the Standard Open were in the far right corner of the room – closest to the coverage matches and small enough that they didn’t need or use the microphone. After a couple rows of buffer, the Legacy PIQ started and filled out the rest of that column and started into the central column, filling seats going away from the stage. Given another few rows of buffer, that is where the Modern event started – at the far end of the room, in the center, away from the stage, where I was camped. As a result, while I was conveniently placed if people needed to find me (which was my thinking at the time – I need to not move around too much in case people need me), I was quite a distance from the actual event I was running. Odds are that I could have simply established a specific location closer to the event – I was, after all, wearing a red shirt that made me easy to spot.
A very specific item happened in round 3 – as far as I can tell, I forgot to make the announcement that pairings for the round were up. I didn’t notice it at the time and as far as I can tell, nobody else made the announcement. However, almost all the players noticed the judges going out to our pairings boards and putting up the new printouts. Keeping an eye on things from my spot on the stage, I simply waited for almost everyone to find their seats and not see anyone running either to a board or to their seat. At that point, we started the round and the clock. This wasn’t immediately an issue, until one of the floor judges came up with an appeal of a tardiness ruling. Given a lack of specific reason as to why he was late to his match (the only real differences in his story and the floor judge’s story was the approximate amount of time he was late). I upheld the ruling – and the player conceded and dropped in response to my ruling, which he felt was unfair. This caught me a little off guard, but at that time, I felt my ruling was correct. It wasn’t until I had a chance slightly later to talk with one of the senior judges on the floor when it occurred to me that I didn’t recall announcing that the pairings were up for the round and this would have contributed to players being late – they are generally accustomed to either watching for judges heading for pairing boards, or, if they aren’t watching the boards, listening for some type of announcement to let them know ‘hey, go check the boards’. As such, I noted that my upholding of the tardiness was incorrect and I should try and find the player and correct the issue (and at least, let him un-drop from the event). Unfortunately, the player didn’t respond to several announcements during the round to try and get him to come up to the stage, having likely left the venue. This issue particularly annoyed me as it was something I should have been able to handle correctly – having done the same thing hundreds of times before at other events. As a result, I made very sure to make the ‘pairings up!’ announcements for the rest of the day.
I’m usually a very pleasant person – I will chat with both judges and players at events and help people where I can. Unfortunately, I seem to have developed what I think is a bad habit – I seem to be starting most interactions with players at matches with a slightly blunt ‘whose turn is it?’ It isn’t very friendly and I feel it gets me off to a very impersonal start – not the thing I want to have happen, especially when I am the head judge. We are there to help the players at the event – to have a good time, to make sure things are being done fairly and consistently, etc – and while this can be done in a very systematic fashion, without a lot of interaction with the players, that really defeats the purpose of this being a social game. Talk to the players, see how they are doing, revel in their victories, commiserate in their losses, and – above all – be there to help them when they need it. As a wise judge once said, if you aren’t having fun (while judging or playing), why are you doing it?
While there was a DQ at the end of round 8 (in progress, so no further comments here), the only other issue of note was a call made during the quarterfinals. After investigating one of the player’s deck, the judge at the match pulled me to the side and noted that he would like to assess a Marked Cards infraction with the upgrade for a pattern. After demonstrating the issue he had found to me – and me being able to reproduce it – I approved the infraction (and Game Loss penalty) and we returned to the table so he could give the ruling. Unfortunately, things started to go sideways at that point. As this was a quarterfinal match, there were a number of spectators at the match. This contributed to two issues – a slight mob mentality and a request by the spectators to ‘prove it’. Let me be clear – I have zero problem with the spectators being there in the first place (see point above about having fun) – it was just that they almost immediately started verbally attacking the judge and (100% my fault here), I didn’t step in to help. To be fair, I had been ‘peeled off’ by a separate player to ask questions about the issue – but I should have paid more attention to the issue that my floor judge was having and stepped in to put a stop to it. Concerning ‘prove it’ – while both the judge and I had no problem reproducing the issue when we were discussing it before we gave out the infraction, once asked to prove it, we didn’t stop and consider that we probably shouldn’t have agreed to prove the issue. I expect this will generate some conversation, but I am not sure one way or the other if this is a type of request that we should agreeing to from players during the assessing of an infraction. When things are cut and dried – such as an illegal card or extra cards where they shouldn’t be – these can be proven beyond reasonable doubt. However, with things like marked cards – in this case, foils that were rendering it very easy to specifically cut to within 1 card of key cards in the deck – they are based on our judgement and are not something that can always be demonstrated to everyone’s satisfaction. This is another point where I believe I should have stepped in and taken over the discussion and worked to diffuse the issues that were developing.
I’m going to note something here – this was a very well run tournament in almost all respects. SCG has been doing these types of events for long enough that they have seen almost all of the issues that can come up and have plans in place to address them – makes it very nice to work at their events. My team leads got all the tasks done that I wanted them to handle and provided me with updates when I wanted them. All of my floor judges (as well as the ones I gained as other events finished) did a fantastic job helping the players – even if I wasn’t as close to the action as I should have been. I only had a few appeals and, other than the one discussed above where I shouldn’t have, I upheld them all. This report ends up sounding all doom and gloom mostly due to my detached position in relation to the event – it hurt my ability to personally assess how things were going as well as provide more specific feedback to my judges.
As such, learn from my mistakes – always aspire to be the Head Judge, but be sure that once you are in that role, that you actually run your event, as opposed to making sure your event runs.