Hello, all! Depending on when you’re reading this, you might know a lot about Judge Academy, or you might know relatively little. Please see and read through the links above before progressing with this post — it expects a baseline of knowledge that you might not yet have.
The real “too long, didn’t read” of it all is that come October 1st, 2019, Wizards of the Coast is stopping direct support of the judge program, letting instead an independent, for-profit company — Judge Academy — proceed with the future of the judge program.
I know that for many of you, this is a scary thing, and don’t get me wrong, change is difficult and worrying for us all, regardless of your position in the program or how confident you are in your future as a judge. I wanted to introduce some of the ideas that will directly impact and change UKISA as a region, and how that looks in the short-to-medium term.
First of all, the community spirit that has been built in UKISA is one of the most formidable that I’ve witnessed in my time as a judge. We bond together as a unit very well, we communicate and support each other in ways that are frankly amazing, and that’s not going away. The Discord that we’ve built, the smaller judge communities, the public-facing judge booths at MagicFests, the support network that connects us all, those are all things that will continue to thrive and be supported in the Judge Academy world, although their scope might be a little different.
A little different? What does that mean? Well, the current set of judge program “regions” that exist around the world (UKISA being one of them) is changing, and by changing, I mean reducing. That means that we will be working with the current Europe – North region under a single banner, from October 1st. During the interim period, we’re going to do our best to try and merge existing communications platforms and welcome the Nordic judges into our community as best we can under the banner that Judge Academy currently calls Europe – North, but may change.
One of the harder things to swallow is that Judge Academy isn’t worldwide — not yet. South Africa is one of the areas that is currently unsupported, and what that means is that the Judge Academy membership won’t be available in those areas for some time. We don’t currently know how long that is, but I’m sure we’ll be getting updates as soon as they’re available. Conferences and my support as a Community Manager will still be available in South Africa for as long as I’m in the chair.
Community Manager? Yep, to go with these ten regions, there are ten Community Managers, which, for all intents and purposes, are the “new” brand of RCs. They have slightly different scopes, but for the majority of interactions you’ve had in the past with me, you’ll continue to have — conveniently, also with me, as I’m the Community Manager for the proposed Europe – North region, which is currently the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, and Sweden.
I’m probably being disingenuous by not having this section of the post further up and in-your-face, but the reality of the future of the program with Judge Academy is that membership dues are a thing. If you’ve never been part of a professional organisation for such things as medicine or accounting, this may come as a shock? Why the hell should you have to pay to judge? It’s been one of the biggest shock factors in these announcements, especially the fragments of information that trickled out from MagicFest Barcelona. The proposed membership dues are $100 for Level 1, $200 for Level 2, and $400 for Level 3, annually, paid to Judge Academy to support their running costs and general operations.
That’s a lot of money. Why should you pay it? Well, the idea is that there is a welcome package of foils and additional swag items that Judge Academy is able to produce. Judge foils, shirts, badges, and other items are an intended offset to this cost. You’re not really in the hole for this amount of money, although it may be difficult for some people in some regions to find this amount of money, which is why Judge Academy has already been made aware that some kind of split payment will likely be necessary. There are already rumblings within the region of how we can get a similar thing to happen through UK Magic Judges Ltd., our company to support judges and judging, and generally, stop judges from getting arrested — this is an in-progress thing that I don’t, at this time, have information for.
It goes without saying that there is a fallout to be had from this change, and the introduction of membership dues. Some judges may feel like it’s just not their thing anymore. Some judges may feel like paying to judge is a moral or financial nightmare, and opt-out on that basis. Some judges may just be unable to pay that kind of money. Let me be clear that you’re not pressured into doing so, you’re not expected to do so as a default, and no-one will look down on you for stepping back for any reason. It’s totally okay to not proceed with Judge Academy, no matter what your level or experience. If you’re just looking to have a rules-based certification, the Rules Adviser ‘level’ is being re-introduced on a no-membership-fee basis (with an opt-in fee for swag), if that’s more your thing. If you find yourself as more of “the rules person” for your local store, you may identify stronger with that role in the future than as a certified, dues-paying judge.
I held off on my personal thoughts before these announcements came about, and I think it’s a disservice not to do that with this full context. I’m worried. I’m apprehensive about convincing enough judges to see the value in Judge Academy that it takes off and can continue providing the judge program, which is a respected, world-class, rules and policy body. I’m concerned that people are focused on the outlay of money and don’t see the return that is provided in skills, learning, not to mention the valuable swag items that are included. I’m upset that so many people are that afraid of change that they turn to spewing vitriol at each other. However, there are just as many people who are quietly, cautiously optimistic. There are just a many people who are willing to give it a shot. The reality is, that this is the defibrillator for a flatlining judge program that Wizards of the Coast have set a deadline for stopping support of.
With all of that said, there’s no-one I trust more to take and run with this than Tim Shields. The team that he’s put together is full of like-minded, energetic people, who have a goal, who have a mission, and who have a vision for what they want to see. Nicolette Apraez is a formidable individual who is apparently capable of minor miracles, and the fact that the team has pulled together this much information in a short amount of time is astounding. The behind-the-scenes tech folks are coming up with some great stuff.
For full disclosure, pending signatures, I’ll be a contractor for Judge Academy, and I have a vested interest in seeing it succeed, because I’d quite like them to keep paying me. But I also have that vested interest from spending 7 years of my life as a judge teaching, learning, and improving as a person through this judge program. I’ve judged at some of the most prestigious stages of Magic; from the Pro Tour to my local 8-player drafts. I’ve seen a lot more of the world than I expected to, from Seattle to Tokyo, and many places in between. I’ve made friends for life, and I know some of those people are reading this. I know that some people reading this can echo some of these sentiments, and some people reading this have just begun a journey that they want to end up looking a little like that.
I’ll still be here. I’ll still be fighting for the future. My inbox is always open.