Judging Side Events: The myth

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So, you traveled from far away to get to a Grand Prix or Pro Tour for the first or possibly second time. You have prepared for weeks before this event by studying the rules and policies, as well as GP or PT related articles so you will be as much prepared as possible. Then the first day of the event comes. You do your absolute best throughout the day and everyone is happy with your performance. You feel comfortable on the floor and you can’t wait to do everything you did so well again for day 2. However, during the debriefing you find out that the man in red-black has assigned you to the side events. You feel utterly disappointed and downgraded. You wanted to maximize your experience from this tournament, but now you find out that it is not possible. Did you not do a good job after all? Doesn’t the head judge or the other experienced judges like you, or are they just selecting their friends?

The criteria behind selecting judges for the side events can vary depending on the tournament (PT or GP), where the event is taking place, who is organizing the side events, as well as the demand for judges the side events and main event have at that time. They include sponsorship issues (if you didn’t get sponsored for the main event), experience needed and already had, skills the judge needs to develop and is strong at (so as to be more helpful to the side events), mentorship the judge can provide to other side event judges, and in some cases who the side events organizer has worked with in the past and trusts. For this article, we will focus on why you would want to be assigned to the side events instead of why and how you are chosen for the side events. These two however are nearly the same!

It’s a common misperception that side events are “lowly” and that side event judges are not as important as main event judges. A few judges and players see side events as a place where inexperienced judges work with inexperienced players, while the “cool” judges get to judge under camera flashlights in the main event. You might, however, be surprised by the fact that side events are as important as the main event, and often have more to offer to judges working in them.

Side events are not for inexperienced judges who are not good enough for the main event. They are for hard working judges who the DCI sees as promising for the future, and wants to give the best opportunity to develop their skills and gain maximum experience (yes that’s right, you often get assigned to the side events to get *more* experience). They are also for experienced judges whose skills are needed to assist and mentor other side event judges. Working in side events benefits each judge in a way the main event probably couldn’t. After all, do not forget that often judges get re-assigned from the main event to side events, but rarely does the opposite occur. Although there are other factors which contribute to this, I think that the fact that the opposite so rarely occurs shows that side events are in need of skilled judges and they will be more useful working in the side events, while the main event can probably do fine without them.

So why would you want to judge the side events instead of the main event? Let’s examine the different areas the side events have more to offer:

Test your Organization skills. At a PT or GP day 2 the main event will have many judges and few players, which is hardly the case for side events. Even if you lead a team at the main event, your task probably will not be much of a challenge and chances are that your judges will be adequately experienced to make your life even easier by often doing the job without specific instructions. Judging at the side events, however, is a great challenge for your organization skills since there is a good chance you will be assigned to head judge a few 8 player drafts at the same time, or possibly a premier event (such as a GPT, PTQ etc) with few or no floor judges (which will give you the experience of head judging a foreign event). Even if you don’t get to head judge however, your head judge will rely on you to take care of one part of the tournament, or more.

Coordinating tasks in side events is a challenge because you have so much to do, and few resources to do it with. It is a challenge because many practical difficulties may arise, such as no free space to run an event, missing players, water spills, theft, high tempers (players with not enough sleep) which you will have to handle. It is a challenge because you must manage to navigate and operate possibly under chaos in an unknown environment. It is also a challenge because there may not be anyone able to help you out (because they will probably have the same problem), and therefore you will have to rely solely on your own skills.

To exemplify the point, when I was first assigned to the side events and was asked to run 8 player booster drafts, I soon found myself busier that I first thought I would be. This was because I was managing three or four of them at the same time and starting new ones when there was a draft ready to start. I found that the experience of running multiple small tournaments is not the same as running a single big tournament. Also, I had to find solutions for unexpected problems (I found out as players were opening their packs that one of my drafts was Chinese!) and follow what I thought was best in various situations since there usually wasn’t an experienced judge available I could go to.

More questions. Another factor to consider is that players participating in the side events will be considerably less experienced than those of the main event, by average. This means that your approach should be different, especially in low REL events, and it also means that there will be more issues throughout the tournament. Therefore, it will take all your communication, education and diplomacy skills to make a ruling, because you may be dealing with players who are not used to interacting with judges, or may be hearing what you are saying for the first time. The fact that players are, by average, more inexperienced also means that more issues and problems will arise which will result in more calls, and thus more interesting rulings and situations to think about and resolve. There will also probably be more tough situations to manage as a result of miscommunication or careless play.

To spice things up, on days 2 and 3 of a PT, and day 2 of a GP it gets more interesting due to the fact that a considerable amount of pros who didn’t make the cut at the main event play in the side events. This creates an interesting mix of players from all experience levels and from different language groups. You will need to resolve issues such as a player trying to rules cheese a victory, trying to get his opponent to receive a penalty due to technical errors with no or little impact on the game, or experiencing a miscommunication issue because a player doesn’t speak the same language as his opponent. This will be a test for you, as you will have to balance, among others, ruling by intent, unsportsmanlike behavior and various other factors that can’t be found in the official documents. You may also have to arbitrate between players who don’t speak the same language with their opponent or even with you, and therefore you will have to find a translating judge and issue a ruling through that judge.

New team members. Many of your fellow side event sides will also be new. They will probably be in the same position as you, trying to maximize their experience. This raises the challenge of communicating and cooperating among equals. You will need to coordinate and explain tasks before and during the tournament. You will want to discuss interesting rulings and solve problems with teamwork. Each of you will “take turns” in teaching and being taught; exchanging ideas and experiences. You will often find yourself receiving insights from other judges based on their local experience. What you learn here will be useful to you in running your local or area premier events; most likely more useful than experience gained in the main event. The side events are also a great place to make friends. The side events judges might not always be the “big names” in the judging community, but they surely can be awesome people to hang out with.

Mentoring opportunities. When working at the side events, you may be asked to mentor a L1 candidate by the mass certification crew. If you haven’t done this before, it is a different experience than exchanging thoughts and discussing rulings among judges. You can develop your mentoring skills while you are reinforcing your judging skills. Introducing a new judge to tournament mechanics and providing tips for floor judging is challenging, both because you need to present it in a viable way and go through every detail you considered trivial, but also because in order to explain something to another person, you have to have a good understanding of it yourself. You will also have to monitor his performance and provide guidance on floor judging. This may be your kick off in giving feedback to new and upcoming judges. It will be a very good step if you are a level 2 working towards level 3. The mass certification crew will rely on you to complete an evaluation of the candidate in addition to your other duties. Both you and the new judge benefit from this process.

When I was doing mass certification in GP Eindhoven, I asked two level 1 candidates to judge at the side events because they had little judging experience and also because there was nobody present at the GP I could receive feedback from. At the end of the day I received a lot of useful feedback about the candidates. This made the certification process easier and allowed me to test them with confidence, guiding them as to what areas they should work on in the future. It was also a chance to evaluate the judge who gave me the feedback.

Working under Pressure. Since you will get to work under the above mentioned conditions, you’ll get to test how you are managing to work under pressure. Working under pressure can be stressful as you will be trying to communicate with players and judges in a polite and precise manner. Side events judging will teach you to control yourself under stress, so you can perform as efficiently as possible, and so that everyone around you is happy.

I was faced with this challenge for the first time when I was running multiple 8 player booster drafts at GP Copenhagen side events. There were times two or three tables were calling for a judge (me), and there were also be one or two other issues I was trying to take care of, like starting a new draft or finishing off an old one. I was trying to remain calm and not hurry the players, since it would be poor professionalism and ineffective judging (rushing into making a ruling is a bad idea). In cases like this, politely wave to the players waiting for you that you will be right there and take your time with the ruling you are making. If you do not, you risk the chance of an error and another call which will at least pose a greater delay than if you had taken the little extra time to investigate and think properly.

Improved Satisfaction. By working hard, having more responsibilities and duties, and helping new players (and maybe judges) at the end of the day you will feel good about yourself and your contribution to the tournaments. You will feel that your work made a more significant difference than it would have in the main event where players are usually already knowledgeable of rules and procedures and there are many other judges to cover for you. Also, the thanks of a new player who you took the time to help out is very rewarding.

A Variety of events and roles. Two important benefits from working side events are the chance to work an event completely different from anything you could judge locally, and also the many different roles you can serve, each of which has something different to give back. Depending on your experience and skills, there will be other tasks you would like to be involved with, and other skills you would like to develop. Also, you might find more exciting to work in a team event, if you don’t have the change to hold any back home, for example. If you are a new judge and would like to start with small and interesting tournaments, 8 player booster drafts are the way to go. If you are more experienced, you may be more interested in working in a PTQ or GPT and being in charge of certain tournament mechanics. If you are a level 2 working towards promotion, head judging a foreign PTQ has a lot to offer. If you are a level 3, you will find more interest in coordinating side events and watching some judges for feedback. In any case, you will find the role that is more fitting and has more to offer to you.

My first side events experience was at GP Copenhagen, back in 2002. Having traveled to my first GP, I was eager to work on a GP day 2 since it would take me months before I’d make it to another GP. However, looking back at that tournament, I firmly believe that being assigned to side events was the best thing that could have happened to me. Not only did I gain experience and develop my skills, but I found both my strong and weak areas. This resulted in constructive feedback from that event. Working in the main event wouldn’t have helped me as much. I was also lucky enough to work with some judges and players who were very good people, and thus enjoyed myself as much as possible.

In conclusion, let me once again stress that side event judges are not “lowly” or “less important” than main event judges and should never be viewed as such. Side events have much to offer. They are a test for your skills and a bigger test for your enthusiasm and dedication towards judging. An assignment to work in side events should be recognized for the opportunity that it will present you.

Thanks for reading! I’d be happy to hear your comments, or anything else you have to say, at mixelogj13@yahoo.co.uk.

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