Recently I’ve written a few community-focused articles, particularly looking at the experiences of women and trans/nonbinary players in the community. The reaction has mostly been positive, but there have been a few memorable criticisms.
One in particular came from an individual who urged me to step down from the judge programme because I was incapable of seeing past my “gender biases” and was therefore unsuitable for the role. More than anything else, it made me realise that people generally don’t know an awful lot about the judges and what our role is in the game. We’re much more than the people in the black shirts who give out penalties. Here are some (but definitely not all) of the other, not-quite-so-obvious things judges get up to.
As well as walking the floor answering judge calls at large events, more often than not judges will be the ones inputting the scores as well. When you hand in your results slip it’ll be whisked away to the scorekeeping team, who will enter them into whatever tournament software is being used. They’ll then generate standings and pairings for the next round.
It’s not just pressing buttons though. Scorekeepers need to be absolutely on point when it comes to attention to detail, because in a high-stakes tournament the difference between cashing and not cashing can come down to hundredths of a percentage. They need to know the tournament software inside out in case something goes wrong, which it often does – look at the software horrors of GP Charlotte in 2016 and the infamous GP Vegas last year. Scorekeepers spend an awful lot of time wrangling software to keep tournaments running successfully and results accurate.
In fact, at GP Seattle-Tacoma in 2015 – one of the first instances of the WLTR scorekeeping software being used – the event was nearly derailed entirely by a software problem. The scorekeeping team managed to minimise the impact to the extent that most players weren’t even aware there was a problem at all!
Judges are the backbone of tournament operations at big events like MagicFests. Registration for side events, rounding people up for on demand drafts, and handing out prizes from the prize wall are just some of the things you’ll see judges on Operations duty doing over the course of the weekend at a GP.
Above and beyond anything else, judges are at events to provide customer service. We’re there to make sure everyone’s having a good time and to answer any questions that come up, whether they’re related to the tournament, the rules or to the venue. You’ll also frequently see judges picking up litter, pushing chairs in and making sure tables are cleared and ready to be used for events – it’s all because we want the event to go as smoothly as possible so everyone’s happy.
This is one of the most important relationships in the game. While some store owners are Magic players themselves, many have little to no experience of the game or running events.
In these instances judges are invaluable. Sometimes we step in ourselves to act as tournament organiser, or we can provide valuable insight or feedback to ensure that store owners feel comfortable creating a great tournament – and environment – for their players.
Running in the background of the judge programme there are a number of ongoing projects, aimed at both improving the functionality of the programme as a whole, and ensuring we can provide the best experience possible to the community. Translating documents, training judges and helping to make the rules more accessible to players are just some of the current ongoing projects.
This is, without a doubt, one of my favourite parts of the role.
More than anything, judges are the friendly face at events that people know they can approach and talk about anything that’s worrying them. People become judges for different reasons, but at the heart of it we love our community and we want to help it thrive, whether it be locally or on the global stage. We want it to be a place where anyone can walk into events and know that they’ll be treated with respect. It’s what we stand for, and an example we strive to set.
I’m incredibly proud to be a judge. I certified with the view that I wanted to be involved in the competitive scene without having to play, as competitive Magic didn’t particularly suit me, but it’s grown into taking a lot of pride in the community, both in Scotland and in the wider world. One thing that unites us all is a love for the game, a desire to see it succeed, and an enthusiasm for making the community the best it can be for everyone. We work hard to make sure the community is the best place it can be – so if you know a judge who’s doing a great job, get in touch on the feedback form and tell us!