At Pro Tour Hawaii Paul Morris led an excellent seminar on how to grow and develop the judge community in your local area. This topic is often overlooked in judge discussions, but its overall importance and individual benefits are substantial. This article is a synthesis of ideas from the PT Hawaii seminar, from judges in my local community, and from my own personal experiences.
What is a Community?
If you look up “community" in a dictionary, the most basic definition you will find is a group of people living in a common area. However, this doesn’t really do justice to the word. Take an apartment building, for example. Many individuals may reside in this building, but if they do not interact with each other, for all intents and purposes they are alone. When we consider what a community can be at its best, it is a group of people that interact with each other and create something greater than their individual contributions. In this respect, there are three essential components to a community: Participation, Communication, and Fellowship.
No matter how great your community plans are, they won’t come to fruition if you don’t have other people to contribute. Thus, a common starting point for building a judge community is the recruitment of new judges.
Seek Out Hidden Interest – It is very likely that the majority of Magic-oriented people you will encounter as a judge will be players in your tournaments. Very often these individuals will tell you that they really do enjoy playing and would rather do that than judge. Don’t try to turn back the tide here, instead visit your local gaming store when they are running smaller events or even Friday Night Magic. Very often you will see players that do not play in your tournaments. They may not have the financial capacity to play competitively or they may simply prefer playing for fun. This is a great opportunity to let them know about the judging program and what it has to offer.
Love to Judge – As a DCI judge, you are a representative of the judge program. Unavoidably, players will look at you and make assumptions. Thus, your appearance, mannerisms, and moods will register with the players whether you are aware of them or not. The positive here is that if you appear to be enjoying yourself, you will send a message to players and spectators that judging is an enjoyable experience. On the other hand, if you appear unfriendly and disaffected, players will pick up on that also and will be less inclined to pursue an interest in judging. I don’t mean to suggest that you should be doing personality checks every 5 minutes. Ideally, you shouldn’t have to work at enjoying what you do during a tournament. However, we all have rough days and this is when you need to be particularly self-aware.
Be a Player – If players only see you judging Magic tournaments, it creates the illusion that there are two worlds, a world of those that judge and one of those that play. To counteract this, make it a point to play in some of the tournaments that you would otherwise judge. You’ll find that players will be more receptive to you and this will carry over to tournaments that you judge. In addition, playing in tournaments will give you a different perspective on how events are run. You will be able to evaluate judges and tournament efficiency without the burdens of working in the event you are trying to evaluate.
Judge Incentives – Like anything else, judging has its rewards and you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about mentioning them to prospective judges. You can mention anything you like here from judge foils to sponsorship opportunities at larger events and any incentives your local Tournament Organizer may offer (see below). The key here is not to present incentives as the main reason for becoming a judge but to assess whether or not prospective judges are getting involved solely for the swag. If you find a lot of “swag seekers," then consider revising your approach and hold back your mention of incentives for prospective judges that seem genuinely interested in the program.
Once you’ve established a core group of individuals comprising your judging community, you then need to tie the individuals together through channels of communication. This is often a weak point for judge communities because we all do have our own lives and sometimes your local area may be very small or very large. Still, there are a number of ways you can keep interactions strong:
Go Yahoo! – One of the simplest, most effective ways to unite your judge community is to create a Yahoo! Group. Yahoo! Groups are free and offer a mailing list, calendar, file storage, database management, links management, and much more. The mailing list will probably be most useful to you as it allows members to post messages and reach your entire judge community. This is especially convenient when you need to send out major announcements to judges. With such accessibility, staffing events can be as simple as making one post to the list. To create your own Yahoo! Group visit the Yahoo! groups page.
Organize Staff – In some regions Tournament Organizers will staff events completely on their own. Although this system can work very well, there are definite advantages to having a more senior judge involved in the staffing process as well. One advantage is that judges will have a central figure to go to for questions and not have to worry about going to the Tournament Organizer and then being redirected elsewhere. In addition, by assisting in the staffing process you will get to know your fellow judges even better. You will be able to rotate judging opportunities so judges get equal judging time and the ability to work with judges that will be able to guide them in areas of weakness. If you're a senior judge involved in staffing events, and even if you're not, see about initiating a rotation of judges across regions or areas so that judges are able to meet and work with judges that they do not know. I cannot overemphasize the importance of interacting with and judging under a wide variety of judges and Tournament Organizers.
Be a Mentor – Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that mentoring is the role of the head judge or judges of a higher level than you. Instead, adopt the philosophy that everyone is a teacher and everyone is a student. Try and make time during every event to sit down and talk with your fellow judges about their performance and/or interesting rulings and judge calls. If you feel you have a lot of important observations on a judge, be sure to fill out a judge review for them at the Judge Center, but make sure you fill them in on what will be in the review before you send it in. Remember that the better you know the judge you’re mentoring, the better you will be able assist them and the more they will feel like they are part of a community. Therefore, make sure you spend some time to find out where your fellow judges are from, how they got into Magic and judging, why they judge, and where they see themselves in the near and distant future.
Play in Each Others’ Events – I mentioned above that by playing more you may be able to recruit new judges and better evaluate how your own events are run. In addition, you should try and play in Magic events that are staffed by other judges in your community. Not only will you get fresh impressions, but you’ll strengthen the bonds between you and fellow judges. If your community is stretched out over large distances, consider carpooling to facilitate travel to other events; carpooling can help you play in a wide variety of events and also help promote the rotation of judge staff.
With solid participation and communication you will have established a core foundation for your judging community. Of course, you will have to continually work at this foundation to maintain its integrity, but that doesn’t mean building a community is all work and no play. There is ample opportunity for developing a sense of friendship and camaraderie:
Social Events – Although much can be accomplished on the tournament floor, it is often easier to get to know your fellow judges without the pressures and demands of a tournament. Consider organizing a dinner or movie night. Since many of the larger events (e.g., Prereleases, Regionals) will have staff arriving the evening before the event, try and organize a social event then, even if it’s just a few hours of chatting in a hotel lobby.
Good Gaming – As a judge you may not get enough time to play Magic or play the format of Magic you like best (for me it’s multi-player). Keep track of judges that fall into this category and take advantage of the larger events in your area. Larger events like Prereleases and Regionals will require more judges in the early rounds and fewer judges towards the end of the day. When the demand for judges is low you can use this opportunity to run special tournaments. For example, you could hold an unsanctioned event just for judges or a special sanctioned event for judges and anyone else who is interested. In the latter case, consider putting a bounty on the heads of judges if they are beaten by a non-judge player. This raises the excitement level and may also spark interest in your judge community. Finally, for those that aren’t aware, an unsanctioned Magic format Elder Dragon Highlander is popular with Pro Tour judges and can be easily introduced into your judging community. Not only is this format fun and different from sanctioned formats, but it allows any number of judges to play together in the same game.
Judge Incentives – Aside from the standard judge compensation, some Tournament Organizers will give additional bonuses to their judges based on attendance and/or performance. If your tournament organizer doesn’t, ask them if they would consider starting a program, even if it’s a small one. Possible incentives include discounted or free admission to events, additional product, Magic posters, store credit, and so on.
Leave Your Mark
By now you should better understand the fundamentals of building a local judge community. Feel free to implement all or only a few of the ideas presented above. Ultimately, the decision is yours. Therefore, try and think of some unique ways to develop your community. Every community is comprised of individuals with different interests, goals, and abilities. Spend some time getting to know your community’s dynamic. If you do, you’ll know what works and what doesn’t and then you’ll be able to design a framework that is sure to succeed.
Hayden-William Courtland, New York, NY
HaydenW on EFnet's #mtgjudge