Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Magic Judges - The Things We Say

I want to say before anything else that I’ve received huge amounts of support within the judge community. Every judge I’ve met has been awesome, skilled, entertaining, and unique. I have honestly felt support from the judge program like few other groups I’ve ever been in. It resembles my cohort in my Masters Program in the way we all pull together, but even more supportive as we are working on a communal goal (running a strong event) rather than an individual goal (graduating).

In most communities disruptions come not from intentional malice, but from how people choose to act, unknowing of how it affects others. The hurtful things we do and say are most commonly not intentional.  I want to bring up two instances of significantly hurtful things that took place at a GP last year. These hurtful things were done by two awesome people. My intent isn’t to call these people out for their actions, but instead to help us notice how much little things can affect how people, especially newer judges, perceive the actions of others. I want to note that I’ve had other positive interactions with the judges in the following examples and I try not to let the interactions in these examples cloud my view of them as both people and as judges, but I’m not perfect either.
Just to set the scene here, I’ve been a L1 for about 6 months, I’ve worked four Comp REL events including PTQs, a SCG Open, TCG States but this is my first GP. I managed to squeeze in to work a couple of days on sides, I’m crashing with another judge and I’ve even managed to make a couple of the judge events before the GP.  I’m assigned to on demand events and registration for the event and just enjoying the scene.

As sides wind down one evening I get pulled from the on demand events and handed off to the team sealed single elimination “grinders”. As a get directed to the flight I’m on by the team lead I have approximately the following conversation:
Me: As far as matches going to time, let me make sure I’ve got this right. When a match goes to time, there’s five extra turns, but because this is single –
TL: Wait, what level are you?
Me: Level 1.
TL: Next time lead with that. The way the end of round works is… (Then proceeded to explain the entire thing to me)
I just want to point out two things in this back and forth. The first, and probably most important, is that I wanted confirm my understanding was correct (which it was). I wasn’t seeking someone to explain to me how it was supposed to work; I was looking for an opportunity to confirm that I had it right (which I did). As most school teachers know, if a student says they’ve got it but can’t explain it back to you, they don’t really have it.

The second thing is that all asking my level did to me is reinforce the feeling that I was out of my depth here (which I wasn’t). This is a fear many L1s have at big events. I’m curious how differently the interaction might have gone if my response was “I’m a L2 but I’ve never worked a single elimination, timed, team sealed event.” In the end, my judge level shouldn’t dictate my ability to ask if what I know is correct. Nor should it dictate your answer to that question. If I’m right, then I should be confirmed, if I’m wrong I want to be taught. Instead I left the situation feeling like the kid who’s parents forced his older brother to drag him along to the bowling alley being told I need the bumpers put up.
The second instance was the following day and is in some ways less directly judge related but ended up with a very similar feeling for me. I was firing on demand events and an off duty judge approached for his event. I knew he was a judge because I’d seen him around over the course of the week but hadn’t ever been introduced I also knew, by the people he associated closely with, he was a notable fixture in the judging community. I had five of my eight players for the event so I had a one in three shot of getting his name right. I did what I always do when players walk up in this case and asked “Are you Brendan, or Jason, or…” My comment was met with a visible and audible sigh as the judge turned away from me and approached a judge that would recognize him. From their conversation I was able to pick up the judge’s name and mark him off on my list as present for my event.

Again, the message I received was here was loud and clear, “you don’t belong here.” I realize in perfect hindsight that the best way to handle this situation would have been for me to introduce myself noting that we hadn’t been introduced but that’s not normally how I proceed when I’m checking names to fire an event. It seems to me it would have been pretty easy to just tell me the correct name so I can get it checked off on my list.
I don’t believe the slight was intentional but these are two of the three moments I most clearly remember from judging the event several months later. Writing about this event still affects me emotionally. I was so excited to be judging my first GP, a goal I had set for myself at the beginning of the year and had spent countless hours working towards. To twice get the message from higher level judges that I didn’t belong or wasn’t part of the in crowd was incredibly hurtful.
I’m not entirely sure how my involvement in the judge program would have changed had it not been for the single comment of another judge that weekend. As I was packing up to leave after my shift a local judge told me “You’ve done a really good job this weekend and a lot of important people have noticed.” This is the moment of this GP that I run over and over in my head. This is the moment that drove me to go for level 2 and apply to the next GP. This is what locks people into the judge program.

It’s really important that we realize how impactful our comments and actions can be, especially when interacting with newer members of the judge community. From the outside the “GP Judges” appear as very elite and closed off group. I’ve been fortunate enough to learn that this isn’t the case, but I wonder how many judges we’ve lost because they got the message that they aren’t cool enough.