While working at GP Providence I was excited to write about tournament organization, optimization and lessons learned from that three day experience. The judges and staff left an indelible mark upon me and my passion for the game, but more importantly, reinforced my compassion for the players. This reflection report has great importance for my development as a judge and as a human playing “the game.”
Flash back to late summer 2016, I was judging a Modern format PPTQ with my mentor Gil. The organization and procedures of the tournament were well handled. Rounds started flawlessly and we moved through the tournament process expeditiously. The judge calls were “straight-forward.” All of the tournament’s progress prompted me to comment that “I could head judge these events.” Gil turned to me, smirked and chuckled. I didn’t understand his feedback, and was slightly put-off, especially in light of the fact that we have been discussing the development path for promotion to level 2. It was his way of telling me that I was not fully prepared.
Fast forward to Exemplar Wave 6. (Please note that I do not intend to be braggadocios by including this.) Gil’s comment in his nomination fulfilled the teaching experience he imparted by his smirk and chuckle:
Alfred, at our PPTQ at Battlegrounds you showed great effort in making every player was taken care of. Your efforts throughout the day were that of a judge with much more experience. I especially appreciated how you communicated with the player who was less than happy with the game loss they received for Deck Decklist Error.
But like a student, I did not fully understand the lesson at that time.
And this is not to say that his lesson went unrecognized.
I have come to better understand his words and this experience.
Back at GP Providence, while working with the judge team coordinating side events, I learned of the well “orchestrated” procedures developed for use at the GPs. Shortly after my baptism by fire, I grasped the flow of the events: find players, seat them accordingly, explain the tournament rules, distribute product and provide guidance and judge calls. This seemed simple enough and I embraced this process with a slightly “relaxed” attitude which I portrayed to the players. I wanted for all of us to have fun.
During the side events, four-person commander events were created as “fill-and-fire.” Groups of friends mixed with other groups; battling their decks and play styles for a unique experience. One such player, Tiffany waited at the gathering point with her friend but discovered that she was incorrectly registered for the event. Her friend and three others were seated for their commander game, leaving Tiffany waiting in limbo. While the staff corrected the error, other groups filled the four-person queues and played, bypassing her, even as she remained standing at that the gathering point. It was disheartening to see her disappointment as she was not included in subsequent
groups. I worked to setup other events but always came back to the gathering point to reassure her that I was still concerned of her situation. I felt my apologies weren’t enough and I had a difficult time reconciling my empathy of her plight, even as she waited for more than 20 minutes. Some of the other judges learned of her experience and expressed compassion by working with the organizing staff to resolve the error.
Eventually, Tiffany played her commander game but did so without her friend. She told me that she was happy to play and expressed her appreciation for all of our efforts. But there was a small part of me that was left unfulfilled at the resolution.
Sunday of GP Providence provided the epiphany that spurred this report. While not yet skilled for judging during the main event, I did use the morning to observe the organizational process and flow of the tournament. (Yes, still thinking about process and procedure.) Standing in street clothes, I could listen, watch and learn from the other judges as they interacted with the players. And as a judge, I wanted to help with the player’s experiences, but from my knowledge of the MTR, I needed to have floor judges handle the event, including reminding players of “tokens in the graveyard.” But the “street clothes” did provide me the opportunity to be generally close to both the judges and to the players without impacting the resolution process.
One such player interaction had Kevin utilize his judging skills as he demonstrated his command of the physical space. He allowed each player to explain their position and their understanding of the situation while he listened intently and acknowledged them with empathy. He physically positioned himself to understand the game state, the players involved and of the surrounding tournament. I mentally acknowledged that this was “text book” and I took notes wanting to perform judge calls like this at my next opportunity. But it wasn’t until later in the day, in a conversation with Kevin that I fully comprehended the lesson to be learned. He wanted the players to be heard and also for him to be fully aware of the situation. His simple statement and his actions showed his compassion. He wanted to be correct and righteous with his ruling and to be as efficient as possible. But in our conversation, he went to a deeper level of meaning of compassion for the players. He hoped; he expected that the players wanted the correct ruling and for it to supersede their want for a personal, beneficial outcome. This is the players being righteous in their tournament play. It is Kevin’s skill and his ability to teach me this lesson which demonstrates to a judge’s ability to simultaneously command the game situation and have compassion for players and to look for the compassion within all of us, players and judges.
Perhaps this article’s pivotal point is best stated as: “Real people play Magic to have fun and sometimes need help correcting mistakes.”
In many instances, the players are “customers” of the events to which we judge. There is a player expectation of satisfaction (whether be it at a pay-to-play event or a kitchen table gathering) and as judges, we are apart to this. Customer service is integral to the judging role we have embraced. Contrary to the adage, Magic “customers” may not always be “right,” but we should always be correct and righteous and have compassion for their experiences.
Judging is not only about tournament organization and the efficiency of the procedures. We can be skilled and knowledgeable of the Comprehensive Rules, MTR and IPG, but we need to realize that there is more. We have to ask what more can we do for all of the Tiffanys to improve their experiences. (My perspective of the resolution of Tiffany’s situation was less than fulfilling. I still contemplate this today.) We need to bring players to a level of understanding that brings them satisfaction of their experiences and to do so requires true compassion for them and for the game.
And of the last two paragraphs, when I say “we,” I mean “I.” But I do hope you enjoin yourself to my assessment and perspective.
I have embraced the awareness of my compassion for the players.
I have begun to mentor a level 1 candidate and continue to have development discussions with other local level 1 judges. While we talk of rules and of the MTR and IPG, I emphasize the ideal that we judge Magic for the players. The players deserve our knowledge, even when we are sometimes incorrect, but importantly that they understand that we desire to help them.
I try to be a resource and a confidant when playing especially at FNM or prerelease events and show my compassion to players, new and seasoned, as I would to my family and close friends. A simple reassurance that things are “ok” and that the game state can be corrected as though “we are playing with friends” provides a calming sense and hopefully a satisfying experience.
I look to the resources and experiences of the judge community with focused vision. There is a wealth of knowledge amongst thousands of judges and I add my perspective of the ideals of compassion as I grow and develop from all of these experiences. Conferences and meet-ups now have an enhanced meaning and purpose.
At my core, I am a process person. I look to methods and procedures.
As such I look forward to sharing my thoughts of tournament organization in the upcoming “part two” report, as there are a number of stories from GP Providence. I promise, it will be extra buttery; real, not that imitation, flavored stuff.
Until then, please share with me your feedback. Help teach me compassion for Magic players everywhere.
(Editor’s note: Join the discussion on this report in the forums here!)