On-demand Events at SCG Cincinnati – The “New Normal”

Michael Anderson, Level 2, Florence, Kentucky, United States

Michael Anderson, Level 2, Florence, Kentucky, United States

Greetings, fellow judges! I had the distinct honor of running on-demand events for the StarCityGames.com Open in Cincinnati, Ohio. When I reached out to head judge Scott Marshall and asked for this assignment, I’m not sure I was completely prepared for what I was getting myself into. However, with great judges and support staff to help me out, I was able to get through a good day of firing some 30+ events in what proved to be a very small space (which I will get into shortly).

This report is going to be written more in the vein of the “how-to” article. Of course, every event is different, but the team structure I was given was described as “the new normal,” so making sure that this sort of setup becomes well known and judges are well prepared for it going into future events.

Before I get too deep into things, I want to make sure to thank the other judges who’s mentorship was a huge part of helping this report come together. Talks with Michael Arrowsmith, John Temple, Ryan Stapleton and Patrick Nelson were invaluable to my learning experience in this event. I also want to thank the other judges who stepped up as a big part of the side events team: Wesley Shafer, Nick Richards and Kelcie Evans.

Step 1 – Have a plan for people

My first sort of shock was that, yes, I was a team lead. The shock of this came more from the staff assignments presented. I probably should have thought more of the fact that there were 10 other judges “assigned” to side events, but as members of other teams on the main event.

As the sides head judge, one of the first things you can do is take some time to talk with the other team leads to set the order of judges that will be pulled to assist with side events. This is not just a courtesy, but a resource for you. Not only does this inform the team leads of who they may lose when things get busy, but you can tap into their experiences of working with the other judges on staff who’s experience may be less known to you.

Personally, I needed to have a better idea of what my conditions would be for pulling other judges. Some advice I got in the days leading up to the event was “when you’re feeling overwhelmed, start pulling people in.” As a word of advice: Have a low threshold for “overwhelmed.” It’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement and fervor of seating an event, starting an event, taking a few results and rushing back to the stage to pick up eight more players, especially when there are other things that need your attention. Having that internal recognition of when this is happening is key, and there’s really no better teacher than experience here.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, know when you want to take your breaks. You are a team lead, you will set your own break schedule in conjunction with the other team leads that can spare you the judges to step in and relieve you, because everyone is getting lunch at about the same time.

Step 2 – Have a plan for space

SCG Cincinnati was big. The main event featured somewhere in the neighborhood of 650 players, which made for an awesome and exciting atmosphere! Unfortunately, this left us with very little space for side events, such that, prior to the first round, we were adding an additional chair per table to the last three rows of the hall just to fit everyone in. And even then, between side events firing and casual players and traders, practically every chair in the hall was being occupied and we were having to push traders around the hall to make room for the paying customers.

One thing that can help with this, and something I missed in my preparatory reading, is to chart off your side event area into eight-table areas. If you have three rows, labeling them A, B, C and numbering off every four tables can give you an idea of where your events are and what you need to do to keep things flowing smoothly. Think of it like being a host at a restaurant.

Step 3 – Set up for the scheduled side events

While I was not strictly involved with the scheduled side events, the ODEs lead is instrumental in setting up the necessary space for the scheduled side events. Working with those judges, we determined what space would be needed and I started condensing and moving ongoing side events as I could.

This plan worked perfectly…almost. Our first scheduled event was a Two-headed giant sealed, for which we had set aside a table that was being used primarily for trading and casual and warned those players about 20 minutes out that they would need to start relocating.

Unfortunately, I had one draft running on that table that had reached its final – a final that decided to take 90 or so minutes (I prized out two later drafts before this one completed). This carried into the beginning of the 2HG seating, for which I got the well-deserved “we talked about this, you had one job” look of death from Arrowsmith as he seated his build around these two players.

Step 4 – Be assertive when things get busy

Your first two hours on ODEs will lie to you. Hard. You will think this is super easy because you’re firing one or two events, you have time to talk to friends and other judges, and things are hunky dory.

Then round three ends in the main event.

By the mid-way point in Round 4, I was firing events every 15 minutes on average. By Round 6 it was non-stop. I was able to secure some help, but, on hindsight, in no way do I think I was effectively utilizing it.

With SCG in particular there is a pager system, both for players and for the ODEs judge, which is a solid system. One thing I think I could have done differently is to have a bit of a tag-team/torch-passing system, such that as a judge came back to the sides area to start an event, we would pass the pager off to the next sides judge, who could respond immediately when the next event was ready to go.

My largest failure in this event was to not go grab the help I needed when I got to this point, and just let the team leads know later. I was exhausted and didn’t go and get the help I needed. I spent too much time looking for the team lead first to clear pulling one of their judges rather than just pulling the judge and talking with a team lead later in consideration of the fact that the main event is shrinking at the same time sides are growing, so judges can be more easily spared in those later rounds.

There were also many small things that I felt slipped through the cracks in the sides area. Trash and chairs weren’t being tidied basically until I brought a group back and could pick up real quick while players watched me do this for 30-45 seconds. Not good, but it speaks once again to the assertiveness of getting that necessary help.

Step 5 – Have fun!

It’s a Magic event! If you’re not having fun, you wouldn’t be there, right? And make no mistake, I had a ton of fun. Constant interaction with players was great. Seeing players come back for their second, third and fourth drafts was a blast, and I really got a chance to have some camaraderie with those players. The best was seeing one of my sides players get to the top 8 of the Premiere IQ events on Sunday, which elicited an appropriately high five.

It’s easy to overlook how important side events are to the success of an event as a whole. Side events keep players in the hall, good side events make sure that those players have a great time, and while some of that is offerings and prizes, much of that is how the events are conducted, and that’s on us in the judge staff. SCG Cincinnati provided an eye-opening and instructional experience on the process, and I look forward to the next opportunity to be the mashed potatoes to an SCG or GP steak!

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