This event also marks my first year as a member of the Judge program, as well as taking place at the venue where I passed my Level 2. It’s been a ride. Here’s to many more years of meeting and working with you wonderful people.
This past Sunday, three friends and I drove to Birmingham for the RPTQ / Mega GPT double header event. The driver and I were judging the RPTQ and the others were playing in the events. After a very enjoyable event working with a fantastic team, the RPTQ finally cut to a single round of top-8 and the Head Judge seemed capable enough flying solo at this point that I moved over onto the GPT, which at this point had around 60-80 players still playing and some incredibly valuable prizes (Flights and a stay in Vegas for the triple GP weekend and substantial cash prizes lower down the top 8).
This event, much like the RPTQ, was going smoothly and I got to handle some end-of-round procedure (a first time for me at an event with more than just two Judges) and new experiences are always exciting. As things began to wind down and the eighth and final round of the Swiss began, myself and another were asked to watch over tables 4, 5 and 6 who all had players in contention for the top 8 and we just wanted to be on alert for ‘funny business’. I was asked to keep an eye on Table 4 in particular for slow play and soon enough Table 5 finished and a seat became free; a valuable opportunity as many of you know and so I took the weight off my feet and watched some Magic.
The players are 1-1. The player I am sat next to has 17 points and the other has 16. I’m pretty confident 18 points has a shot at the top 8. I watch the game for some time and the player next to me is toeing the line for slow play, but he’s playing Jund and this is a high-stakes game so for the time being he gets the benefit of the doubt. As the player’s board state becomes more fortuitous, he seems to speed up (which is somewhat suspect to me. When he wasn’t sure he’d win, a draw looks better than a loss, but now he thinks he’ll win? Well, a win is miles ahead of a draw) though does become slower again and at this point I’m not happy with how long he is taking in general.
As I’m about to stop the game to talk to the players, a spectator asks me “Judge, is this not slow play at this point?”. If I wasn’t sure before I certainly was now and so I pause the game. The player does not speak English as his first language, so conversation isn’t as smooth as it would be with a native speaker. In response to me asking if there’s any reason he’s playing so slowly, he mentions that he has a lot of decisions to make and I hear “I would like to draw this match”. Time for an investigation.
I speak with the Head Judge, explain what has happened and particularly this comment so we ask the player away from the table and have a chat with him. He explains in this discussion that drawing does not get him into the top 8, but that he has a lot of decisions. I’m not confident enough that I didn’t just mishear him because of the language barrier to push for stalling and so myself and the player head back to the table for me to continue issuing the slow play penalty. At some point before I get back to the table (I do not recall when, it may have been before I stopped the game originally or it may have been on the way back to the table), it is brought to my attention that this player has previously received a warning for Slow Play.
I go through the usual motions, explaining the behaviour I am unhappy with and that I will be issuing a penalty for slow play and I ask the player if he has received any other Slow Play penalties so far today. “No.” Time for an investigation… Again.
First port of call: Scorekeeper. Did he actually receive a Slow Play warning today? WER says no, but the Floor Judge who issued the warning explains he definitely did and that he wrote it on the slip for the previous round; it’s at this point I do remember that Judge talking with that player about Slow Play earlier and soon enough the match slip, with the Slow Play warning clear as day written on the back, is located so we return to the player. The judge who previously issued the slow play warning sits down and talks to the player, reminds him of the discussion earlier and it would seem yet again the language barrier failed us. There are no certainties here, but we’re pretty sure the player just didn’t understand he was receiving any kind of penalty earlier so we’re happy enough to continue with this without a Cheating penalty.
I explain to the player that I’m issuing a penalty for Slow Play, and as this would be his second warning that means it will be upgraded to a game loss. He is obviously upset and goes quite quiet. His opponent at this point asks if he could concede and after some quick clarification with the Head Judge we explain that if he concedes the game, the game loss for the infracting player would carry over to his next match if he does make the top 8. The opponent has a caveat; he only wants to concede if they get to play the game out to completion and so he can see if he would have actually lost. It’s explained this is a now-or-never affair and the opponent declines to concede. The infracting player, at this point, is obviously very upset and after a few moments he begins to cry. He turns down my offer of us stepping outside the venue to get some fresh air and to clear his head, so I sort out the match slip for the scorekeeper, say some incredibly brief goodbyes, grab my things and head to the toilets to do some crying of my own.
I have never had such a strong emotional response from Judging (I am writing this the day after the event and it still feels a little raw), though I have never been in a situation quite like this one; a player made a relatively minor error and this, in tandem with some challenging communication and poor timing, resulted in a quite lengthy double-investigation (which is obviously not an enjoyable experience for players) and then after all this their chances at the top 8, after a day of what I imagine must have been quite enjoyable Magic (or at least doing very well for himself), snatched away from him.
So why am I posting this? Writing this and not sharing it with the community seemed a wasted opportunity and I am happy to chat with anybody about this either through some form of instant messaging (Feel free to get in touch on Facebook or IRC) or here on the forum. Writing this out has allowed me to better collect my thoughts and will help me reflect on the experience and carry it with me as I move forward. This is an opportunity for me to learn as an individual and as a Judge. This experience produced some quite strong feelings for me and whilst these were in-themselves quite negative, the fact I am a part of something that puts me in situations that provoke such strong emotional reactions has me falling in love with Judging all over again. South Park, for all of its many faults, has a beautiful moment where Butters is sitting and crying in the rain and explains that even though he’s sad right now, he’s also really happy that he had the opportunity for something to make him feel so strongly, and this embodies how I feel right now.
(Editors Note: Join in on the discussion here!)