Holding a Regional Judging Seminar

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For a long time, a major weakness of the Judge Program was the lack of information flow. If a judge was lucky enough to regularly attend Pro Tours or had a high-level judge in his area, who was good mentor, he was set. The rest were stuck with whatever they could catch of the discussion list or hear from other judges at PTQs or GPs.

Recent years have changed this in a big way. One of the more interesting developments is the emergence of the judge seminars held on Sunday of each Pro Tour. These seminars provide an excellent learning opportunity for the judges at the Pro Tour. However, even though getting sponsorship to the Pro Tour is getting easier; many judges still do not get the chance to attend. So I decided to try to host a judge seminar outside of the Pro Tour environment; one for judges in my region - Poland.

Below, I’d like to present the steps any future organizers should consider with comments from my own experience.

Obtain Buy in

The first step was to get the blessing of the DCI and support from the high level judges in Poland. I managed to talk with Andy Heckt and Gis Hoogendijk about my idea, stating the reasons above and the goals I wanted to achieve. We also discussed a draft outline.

I contacted some of the higher level judges in Poland, including Andrzej Cwalina (a level 3 judge) and Daniel Zajac (a level 3 candidate), asking them for help (both in logistics and preparing some seminars. This was a great opportunity for them to share their skills with the community, improve their own skills and work their way in the DCI judge program.

Identify the Participants

You will probably have two types of participants at a seminar – the persons running individual panels and the judges coming to participate. It should be stressed that everyone is a participant and active participation lets each judge take a lot more from a seminar, than simple listening.

It is useful to get a nice mix of judges of different judges with experience at different levels of judging. It’s nice to listen about Pro Tour experience, but a lot of judges will find a lot more useful information from somebody that spends each Friday at an FNM or judges regularly at PTQs.

It’s also good to invite the local TO or Premier Organizer, for the other half of the tournament experience. If possible, a WotC or DCI representative will also have interesting things to say.

We quickly decided to invite all certified DCI judges from Poland. This meant about one or two dozen participants, depending on the number of those who would actually attend (11). We also invited Marcel Zaborski, who’s a DCI rep and premiere organizer working for the local distributor. A nice surprise was Gis Hoogendijk calling me and asking if he could come. He was most welcome.

Panels were prepared by me, Andrzej Cwalina (the other level 3 judge), Daniel Zajac (a level 3 hopeful), Marcel and Gis.

Select a Time & Place

Obviously, you need to start off with choosing a place and date for the seminar. The location should be easily accessible to the invited participants. One must not forget sleeping arrangements and the possibility of any social events (see below). The date should incorporate school and college schedules as well as typical holidays and other events.

Another important consideration is the cost that the participants will incur. Not everyone is willing or able to pay for an expensive hotel room or fine dining.

My first reaction would be to organize the seminar as a part of Nationals. This idea was quickly shot down, since Nationals are an intensive weekend for the whole staff, there’s a lot on non-theoretical experience available and it would be hard to concentrate on some of the broader issues we wanted to cover.

The next suitable time would be at the beginning of the summer with students finished up with school or college, but before people started their vacations in earnest. This also suggested holding the event in Gdańsk, since it’s on the coast and the beach was an added attraction.

This worked well with the fact that I could arrange a site for free, where we would hold the seminar and the judges could sleep (sleeping bags on the floor) at no cost.

Decide on Advertising and Planning

Once the basic information has been set, it is time to start advertising and planning the actual sessions. Most local communities have bulleting boards or mailing lists for Magic related information. No one will mind, if something is posted to dcijudge-l either.

If several people are involved in planning the seminar, it’s beneficial to set-up a way to efficiently communicate – be it a mailing list, discussion board or collaborative environment.

We advertised on the Polish card game newsgroup (pl.rec.gry.karciane) and posted information to the major Polish Magic websites.

For collaboration we used my favorite tool – Mediawiki.

We asked each participant to register to have an idea of the number of participants. We also asked for any topic suggestions and used these as a guideline for planning the seminars. Me and Andrzej chose two topics each, while Daniel, Marcel and Gis took one each.

Include some Social activities

Anyone who has been to a PT, GP or even PTQ knows that judges are a social bunch. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t devote hours of our free time dealing with players. It’s good to include non-Magic activities during the seminar, to let everyone get to know each other better. This goes a long way towards better teamwork at actual tournaments.

Apart from the mandatory judge draft, we also played some other games (including foosball). We also went to the beach daily – an easy task, since it was within walking distance.

Request support

As mentioned before, a seminar will usually require some sort of monetary input from the interested judges – be it for travel, food or lodging. Sponsorship can go a long way to alleviate these costs.

It’s natural to first look to Wizards of the Coast for support. Other sources can include the local distributor, TOs, card shop owners. Also look to institutions such as schools or universities to provide a site cheap or for free.

I asked Gis and Andy for support and got some nice DCI judge promo foils for everybody. The local distributor chipped in with some boosters for drafting. In addition the venue was free of charge, since I’m in good standing with a local cultural club.

Balance the Content of the Seminar

The seminars are obviously the core of the event, so you should plan the topics well. When deciding on the topics, here are some things to consider:

  • How experienced will be your audience?
  • What form will each seminar take – discussion, lecture, hands on (e.g. deck checks)?
  • What is the experience and strengths of the person giving the lecture?
  • Have any interesting policy changes been made recently?
  • Any new judge techniques crop up?
  • Any interesting articles show up on the judge website?
  • Any controversial rulings or decisions in the area?

Make sure to provide some things of interest to all invited participants. Sure, each judge will find something different that really sparks their interest, but make sure there’s enough for everyone to benefit.

Since we were hosting the seminar for the first time, I wanted a broad spectrum of subjects. First, some seminars provided an overview of the judge program – both in terms of policies, but also benefits (such as GP sponsorships). Secondly, others discussed everyday judging skills (e.g. using penalty guidelines, detecting slow play). As most judges in Poland have to deal with TO responsibilities, we also discussed this and the working relationship with our DCI representative.

Set the Tone for the seminar

This step has so many obvious points, its easy to forget some of them. Here’s a somewhat comprehensive list:

  • Be there to greet the participants and say goodbye at the end.
  • If there are a lot of people, use name tags.
  • Kick off with an introduction of all the participants (premiere event style) and go over the agenda for the seminar and social activity.
  • Make sure everyone feels welcome.
  • Make sure the seminars run as scheduled. Add additional sessions for discussion, if time is needed to debate interesting subjects.
  • Make sure someone is taking notes and can write a brief about the discussed subject.

I must admit I somewhat dropped the ball on the seminar. In my defense I’d just like to say that I got engaged during this time and wasn’t able to apply myself 100%. Fortunately Andrzej was there to cover for me.

Evaluate the Seminar and Review Lessons learned

You know the evaluations we fill out at the end of big events? Something like that should be done at the end of the seminar. Find out what the judges found interesting or useful. Make a list of topics, which can be discussed the next time. Check to see, if the time and place was fitting. Try to find out when the next seminar should be held.

I was pleased with the results of the seminar, because it let me spend some time with our judges of the floor and without the rush of the tournament. The topics discussed, though basic, were interesting to everyone. I will gladly run another seminar, but I think that the next one should be held in about two years time from the first one – allowing everyone to gain more experience and get a rotation of judges.

We actually had judges fill out formal evaluation forms created by Gis. This would be a basis for planning future seminars worldwide.

Bonus: A Brief Overview of Discussed Topics

Getting the most out of GPs and PTs by Adam Cetnerowski

This seminar had two goals. The first one was to provide the judges some information about what goes on at PTs and Gps from the judge's point of view. It was mostly a veteran’s “war story” seminar with the more experienced judges chipping in.

The other goal was to provide judges with information on how to prepare for working at a GP and what to expect from your first visit to this type of event. Being well-prepared not only lets you bring home more experience, but also improves your chances of future sponsorships and progress in the Judge Program.

The Judge Program by Gis Hoggendijk

This was a very interesting overview of the history of the judge program and its current philosophy. Since Gis was judge for a long time, managed to reach the pinnacle of judgedom and is the judge coordinator for Europe, he is a great source of stories and current information. Gis dispelled a lot of myths about the judge program, sponsorships and testing opportunities. He also gave us a peek at future changes.

Judge levels: A comparison by Adam Cetnerowski

As a follow-up to Gis’s seminar, I compared the various judge levels and showed how they mapped to the premiere event structure and REL levels. I discussed what is expected at each level and how one can reach each one in turn.

Organized Play in Poland by Marcel Zaborski

Organized Play is another program covered in myths. Since in Poland a lot of tournaments are organized by judges, this was great opportunity to host an open forum, where judges could raise their concerns and objections to the policies in place.

Dealing with Slow Play by Daniel Zajac

Slow Play is always a major issue for judges. Dealing with it is a hard task. Daniel delved into some interesting discussions on these topics.

The Body Language of Authority by Andrzej Cwalina

Why do judges have a dress code? Should a judge slump? How much authority can you exert, before opening your mouth. Andrzej did an extensive follow-up to a discussion we held at Nationals 2004.

Using the Penalty Guidelines by Andrzej Cwalina

Why do we call them “guidelines” and what leeway does a judge have? What’s the history of the PG and where are we now? Why there is a strictness pendulum and which way is it swinging? A controversial topic that stirred a heated debate.

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