Mock tournaments: What are they and why do you want to run one?

By Angela Chandler, US-Southwest regional coordinator

One of the biggest challenges that has faced my region for some time is the ability to train Level 1 judges in a competitive environment with other judges. This problem was compounded by PTQs going away and Star City Games rarely, if ever, coming to the West Coast.

Our solution? Mock tournaments.

These tournaments were created with the idea of running a large-style tournament with multiple teams of judges similar to a PTQ. We wanted judges to be able to practice taking rulings on the floor, working on the different teams you would find at a Grand Prix and get a feel for the competitive environment.

We also wanted to maximize opportunities to mentor less experienced judges on the floor. This lead us to a structure that involved using more experienced judges as players who would construct scenarios during game play that allowed floor judges to practice taking rules and policy questions in real time.

We had three teams of judges, and each team had two team leads, one experienced and one inexperienced. We also had two head judges who were both less experienced at running big events. We had judges who were there to play, ensuring that we had as many players as possible.

Our initial setup for this event involved creating scenarios and allowing presenters to go into a spreadsheet and choose which ones they wanted to run throughout the day. We also had our head judges choose their teams and communicate expectations and instructions for the event to these teams.

The first event

We ran this event as free four-pack sealed, and advertised it to local players. We made sure that it was clear to players that this was a training tournament for judges, so they knew what to expect. We had registration and build plus 4 rounds to make up the entire day.

We also wanted a chance for everybody to be able to learn from the experiences that the judges were having on the floor. At the end of each round, judges gather with their team. Players and presenters picked a team to join for the debrief. There were discussions about rulings that were given during that round, and feedback and instruction on these rulings. Debriefs lasted about 30 minutes.

Lessons learned from the first mock tournament

Our first mock tournament was a success with some hiccups. In the first round, there were so many appeals that the head judges could not keep up, leading to delays. By the second round, we figured out the problem and appointed all experienced team leads as appeals judges.

We also noticed that that the deck check team was taking a long time because the team leads were mentoring the judges through a check and help them understand the various aspects of their task.

There was also the problem of there being a lot of floor judges and not a lot of stuff to do during the round. This meant a lot of judges were standing around and chatting with one another. These were the biggest challenges identified following the first mock tournament and the ones we addressed for the second one.

The second event

We ran our second mock tournament in the same fashion as the first with a few minor tweaks. We still had three teams of judges, but we did not have the co-team leads we had at our first. Instead we had an experienced team lead as a presenter assigned to each team. This person would help mentor the team throughout the day on various tasks assigned to them.

We also wanted the judges to get more experience on each team, so the teams of judges rotated to a different team each round. For example, Team 1 started the day on deck checks, then went to floor for Round 2 then paper for Round 3. The team composition stayed the same.

In order to shorten the day, the tournament was shortened from four rounds to three, and the round time was reduced from 50 minutes to 40. This allowed ample time for judges to take some calls and be mentored on the floor. We also did not honor time extensions at the end of a round since the outcome of any given match was irrelevant. We were not going to have a top 8.

We also changed how deck checks were handled.  Instead of having a team swoop for decks from the tournament, five different decks were built with specific problems. There were five team members on each team, so everyone got a deck to check. Once each person found their problem, the teams would discuss the method they used to check the deck, what problem they found, how they would investigate that problem and what infraction and penalty they would issue. We also used this time to discuss the disqualification process.

One of the biggest challenges we encountered at our first mock tournament was the number of appeals and the amount of time those appeals were taking. For our second one, we decided to do away with the head judge all together and in doing this, also banished appeals.  Judges would give their ruling and if it was incorrect, instead of appealing, players would discuss with the judge what the correct ruling should have been.

This allowed for some amount of mentoring on the floor and gave instant feedback to the judge about their ruling. We did find though that not having a head  judge did cause some issues in other areas. When a disqualification would come up, the judges were unsure about who would handle it.

Also, we needed someone to make head judge announcements and give instructions for sealed deck swap and registration. For future events, we are likely to assign someone to be a head  judge who can also participate in the teams.

To address the problem of multiple judges standing around and chatting, we encouraged everyone who was not actively in a call to shadow other judges during their calls. Also, keeping one full team off the floor for deck checks helped keep everyone active on the floor. Shadowing calls also gave the floor judges good material to discuss when there was downtime and during debriefings.

What has mock tournaments done for us?

Mock tournaments have helped us create an environment where we can train our future level 2 judges. It has also given us a space for experienced judges who no longer travel for GPs to mentor other judges.

Another benefit these bring us is giving otherwise isolated Level 1 judges an opportunity to meet and interact with regional leadership outside of their online presence.

PPTQs in our area are too small to support more than one judge on staff. Being able to have multiple judges in one place running a tournament and mentoring each other fills a very large gap in our community. It gives us a controlled environment where we can bring together experienced and inexperienced judges and all learn from each other.

It is a rewarding experience at the end of the day.