EVENT: GP Vancouver
DATE: Jan 29-31, 2016
Saturday – 11am Modern Confrontation (Comp REL)
Sunday – 9am Super Sunday Series Sealed (Comp REL)
This tournament report is primarily aimed at L1s who may have never been to a GP or haven’t been to one in a while, but are considering applying. It is also written with L1s in mind who are working towards L2.
GP Vancouver was the second GP I had been on staff for, after GP SeaTac in 2015. As such, I had some idea what to expect, but still went into the event looking to absorb and learn as much as I possibly could. I also entered with the intent to make steps towards achieving Level 2, and sought to receive feedback and constructive criticism from as many sources as possible.
On some level, I expected the craziest and most difficult calls I had ever encountered to come from an event this size. This was not the case. Just as in judging your local FNM, where the most frequent questions you get will be about what time the next round is starting, many of my interactions were simply directing players to the correct areas where they could find their pairings, turn in their slips, or use the restroom.
One interesting moment on Saturday arose as I was on the Deck Check team. At the beginning of the day, L2 Antonio Zanutto had been posing questions to me, and gave me a scenario in which I was called to deck check a table and discovered that one of the decklists was missing. My first inclination had been to ask the player if they still had it, but Antonio correctly pointed out to me that alerting the player that we did not have their decklist defeated one of the primary purposes of deck checks. If they knew they weren’t being held to a particular list, then they could change their decklist to suit the matches they now knew to expect after seeing what their opponents were playing. He suggested that it was best to not alert the player, but to simply create a new decklist for them that matched their current deck. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it was the safest option and the most we could do with the situation.
Three rounds into the event, this exact scenario occurred. I felt a strange sort of glee at being prepared for this, and ran a normal deck check on the other player, then carefully photographed the cards contained in the problem player’s decklist. Once decks were returned and play had resumed, I was able to sit down and recreate the missing decklist without delaying the tournament or alerting any of the players of the issue.
Lesson 1: GPs are an amazing resource for an aspiring judge.
When the event was being organized, Adena Chernosky sent out a message inquiring if people would be interested in signing up for the Judge Buddy Program, where mentors could be assigned to newer judges who were seeking some guidance. I jumped at the chance, and if you are an L1 going to a GP, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I was assigned the amazing Jeff Vandenberg, who single-handedly accelerated my progress to L2 more than any other person or resource has ever done. I was able to communicate with him via email, and then meet up with him at the actual event, work alongside him, and have literally every question I could think of answered. It was an enormously informative and enjoyable experience.
Beyond just the buddy program, working a GP allows you access to some of the most informed minds and active faces of the judge community. You are able to meet countless people whose names and faces you may have only seen on a computer screen, and discover exactly why they are known for their work. An important aspect of being an L2+ judge is willingness to mentor other judges, and working an event alongside multiple people who have this goal allows you to gain a lot of important feedback. If you declare your interest to them up front, many L2s will be happy to pose policy and rules questions to you throughout the day.
There is also an effort at newer GPs to run small seminars on certain topics. I was fortunate to attend three 30 minute seminars held by L5 Kevin Desprez on Hidden Card Error, Backups, and End of Game Conversations. I went in with questions on these issues, and walked out feeling enormously confident on them. By the end of the weekend, I was explaining things I had learned in these seminars to other L1s on the floor.
Lesson 2: As a judge, don’t assume that players are the only people who need your help.
Because I was determined to be receptive to any and all feedback, I went into the event subconsciously assuming that I was going to be a sponge – absorbing all knowledge, rather than dispensing any. I knew I’d be there helping players, but it honestly hadn’t occurred to me how many opportunities there would be to assist other judges beyond simply being a body. On Saturday, I was on staff with three other L1s, two of whom had never even judged a Competitive REL event. It was a gratifying experience to discover how much I could aid the other L1s – helping educate them on how to perform a deck check and on the new Hidden Card Error greatly boosted my own confidence, as well as crystallized certain aspects of policy in my own mind.
It’s easy to get focused on the small picture: the current rules call you’re dealing with, or the specific task you have in your event. But everyone working at that event has the same goal, and you’re all on one team. In my career, I quickly learned to never say (even mentally) “that’s not my job.” A judge needs help putting out the table numbers that didn’t get set the night before? Lend a hand. The venue staff is having trouble finding where a drink spill they were called in to clean up is located? Show them the way. Everyone is working together to create a great event and a great experience, and just because you’ve been assigned as a Floor Judge doesn’t mean you can’t give aid where it’s needed (as long as you aren’t neglecting other duties you have been assigned to).
Lesson 3: Don’t forget you are the public face of the event, no matter what your level is.
One thing I’ve always found interesting about the judge program is that beyond the head judge’s colored shirt, there is no distinct visual cue to a judge’s level. There are some obvious reasons for why this is a good idea, but one of the side effects of it is that once you are on the floor and wearing that shirt, you are The Judge. In the players’ eyes, you represent everything – the event, their experience, and the authority in the room.
I feel that many people underestimate how important customer service is in being a judge. The misconception that being a judge is “just about knowing the rules” is one that I am constantly striving to correct. I can’t tell you how many FNMs I’ve been to at stores where the employees were grumpy, unhelpful, or just downright unfriendly. It did not take long before I stopped attending those places. If a player’s first GP is staffed entirely by friendly, professional faces, then they are that much more likely to keep attending large events. How good or bad a player’s day ends up being doesn’t entirely revolve around the games they played – it also relies heavily on their experience in between the games, and a judge’s appearance and conduct can play a very large role in that.
During my break on Sunday, a panicked player came up to me, asking if I’d seen a green jacket. I told him that I hadn’t but informed him that there was a Lost & Found, and that he should speak to them. We walked over together, and I helped him fill out a form with the pertinent information. A half hour later, another judge turned in the item, and I was able to get the jacket back to him. He was enormously grateful, and it turns out his wallet was still in the coat, along with hundreds of prize tickets that he had won by taking down a scheduled event. We spent some time talking afterwards, and I discovered that this was his first GP. He was ecstatic to have won the event, and it was “the first thing he’d ever really won.” He profusely thanked me, thanked the event staff, and most everyone else within earshot. If he hadn’t been able to get back his jacket, his wallet and his winnings, his story to his friends about how the GP went would have been much different.
Bonus Lesson: No matter how many times you’ve been told to drink water, it’s not enough.
I carried a water bottle with me yet still ended up neglecting it, and got a headache by the end of Saturday. Drink what you think is enough, and then drink more. Needing to step off the floor for a brief moment to visit the restroom is worlds better than being in pain and struggling to focus in the late hours of the day – which is also a time when players may make more mistakes, so you will potentially have more to deal with. Be good to yourself, so you can be good to the players.
If you are an L1 who has never worked a GP or has not done one in a while, I would highly recommend it. If you are looking to grow as a judge, surrounding yourself with people who know more than you (and are willing to help) – in an environment as rich as a GP – is a fantastic way to grow in the program.
Also, this was my first tournament report. If you have feedback, I would of course love to hear it. Thanks for reading.