Contacting Rules Advisors: The Hidden Part of the GP

Posted in NEWS on May 18, 2010

By Wizards of the Coast

Imagine a magic community with many players but not that many judges. Imagine now a Magic community where all the judges are L1s: what is the situation of the L0s there? What about a player interested in becoming a judge, who runs FNM every week and is also part of the PTQ staff in his/her area, but has no chance to get certified because the nearest L2 is too many kilometers away? This situation is not as rare as you may think. Many areas around the world have no L2+ judges but still, there are players interested in judging, having more appealing tournaments, and willing to help the community like every other judge. How can we solve this? How can we help all the candidates?

In Latin America, where I live, this is a common problem. The main issue is the expensive cost of transportation and the enormous distances between large cities.

Trying to offer a certification alternative, I thought of a plan aimed to generate more judges, focusing on areas without L2+ Judges.

The Problem and the Opportunity

As I wrote at the beginning of the article, in Latin America we have lots of areas without L2+ Judges and the judges we have in those areas have no chance to certify judges because they are L1s. In 2009, Latin America was included in the Grand Prix schedule with GP Sao Paulo, and one year ago we had had the experience in the region with GP Buenos Aires. Like everywhere else in the world, during a GP you have the chance to meet people who have traveled many kilometers to play in a big tournament and, in Latin America, this is a special occasion too because we have only one GP per year. Therefore, for many players, this event is THE event of the year and they save money for months to pay their trip to the GP. You should by now start getting an idea of what the current scenario is like.
The GP is not only important to the players, it's also is one of the most expected dates in the schedule. Unlike North American or European judges, we don't have many large tournaments and for this reason, it's very difficult for us meet face to face and work with other judges in the region. The GP is usually a meeting point for the judges and it's even more important if you get the chance to meet judges you haven't seen in years.

This is Latin America and its countries. Taking a deeper look, you can see the cities that have at least one L2+ at the time of GP Sao Paulo. You can see that countries like Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, or Colombia don't have L2+ judges at all. The same happens in the north of Brazil and many countries in Central America. And of course, not all of the L2+ judges are active or have all the time available to test a candidate. These countries and big areas may not have the chance to test judge candidates or have poor chances to get in contact with other judges.

Looking at this scenario and knowing that a judge candidate might probably be a player, I came up with a plan to contact all of the judge candidates and offer them the chance to get certified as judges in the South American GP in 2009, GP Sao Paulo. Sao Paulo is one of the most important cities in Brazil, therefore many players would come to the GP, thanks to the many travel options available.

The First Contact

I sent an email to the HJ of the event (Scott Marshall), the Judge Manager (John Carter at the time) and the Tournament Organizer (Henrique Amigo, from Devir Brazil) to discuss the problem and to inquire about their thoughts on a crazy idea: "Sending an email to each Rules Advisor (RA) in the region to invite him/her to start a process with the goal of taking the test of L1 at GP Sao Paulo." I received good feedback from all of them and luckily for me, Thales Bittencourt, a judge from the Rio de Janeiro area, got involved in the project to translate all the messages to Portuguese and to contact the Brazilian judges.

From the beginning, I meant this plan not to be like massive certification: we've learned from the past that massive certification was not very effective and too many candidates came to the tournament with no preparation at all. For this, I thought one of the best candidate profile was the Rules Advisor (RA), being most of the RAs are players with good rules knowledge and being somehow also involved in the program. Contacting them was simple since, to be an RA, you must take a test in the Judge Center. To spread the idea around, there was a period of time where each candidate had a L2+ related to him/her: the goal for each mentor was to get to know their candidate and test his/her rules and policy knowledge before the tournament. This is very important because too many times it's very hard to know about a candidate's knowledge or background if you didn't have any previous contact with him/her. For this reason, all candidates underwent a preparation period with a judge assigned to assist them.

At the beginning we had no idea about the amount of RAs who would answer the call. Maybe 1, maybe 100 – we had no idea, but no matter how many they were, we couldn't do this by ourselves. To solve this, I sent a mail to all the L2+ judges, telling them about the project and asked if there was any chance to have a RA assigned to them to start the mentoring process by email before the event. Some of the judges on staff for the GP got back to me, so now we only needed to send the mass mailing to the RAs and wait for their replies.

We created an invitation letter in Spanish and Portuguese (the languages of the region) and sent this to John Carter who used the Judge Center database to send an email to each RA in the region. The mails were sent to many people: it was now time to wait for the reply.

Why Rules Advisors?

The first option was to contact the Rules Advisors because given the characteristics of the RA program, a RA is most likely the best candidate to take a L1 test. The main reason is that significant amounts of people become RAs with the objective of becoming a judge. The player must take an online rules test and the motivation behind this is, in many cases, to help others by improving his/her rules knowledge. The RAs have a great advantage compared to other candidates: they have a rules knowledge base, and if the candidate passed the RA test, the evaluator has a certificate of the knowledge of the candidate. Of course, the L1 test is more difficult, but if the candidate passed the RA test, the candidate will be more comfortable with the test because he/she knows an important part of the methodology. Many RAs are actually employees or customers of different stores and they are the rules gurus of their towns. One of the differences between an L1 judge and an RA is that an L1 is a person who was certified by another judge, had to go through mentoring with that judge, and has actual tournament experience. Not many RAs have any tournament experience as judges at all, except perhaps answering the rules questions at their local FNM.

L1 certification is a more complex process and in many regions, creating a certified judge is very difficult. Therefore, judges must be flexible in special circumstances in order to find ways to grow the program. The best way to grow for someone who wants to become a judge is to become involved in the program itself, so we shouldn't hold the bar too high in these cases; most of these candidates will become better the more they're exposed to the program (through the DCIJUDGE-L mailing list, for example).

The Process

As soon the initial email went out, we started receiving replies from many different places. Sometimes they were even from RAs from cities where a L2+ judge lived: these applications were managed like all the others. I collected replies from the Spanish speakers and Thales from the Brazilians, and we started to assign each candidate to an L2+ who would attend the GP to start the training process. In some cases, we received emails from cities with active L1 judges and in this case, we contacted those certified judges to learn about the candidate and to receive feedback on the soon-to-be judge. This was simple to do and is a great way to receive feedback about each candidate, whether he/she is active in the community, if he/she tried to contact other judges before, etc. It also gets those local judges more involved in the process of improving the region and gets them in touch with judges from outside their area.

By the time the preparation period was over, we had many candidates ready to test as well as some that were ready but without the actual possibility to come to the GP. We kept working with them in order to have the possibility to take the test in the future.

The Test

On Sunday we made a plan, with a schedule for each candidate to see how he/she worked in a tournament and, if they worked well, take the written test. At this moment, things were not very different from the common evaluation process: see how the candidate works in a tournament and then, evaluate his/her rules knowledge.

Another characteristic of having this type of personal evaluation was the option to create personalized written exams. Remember: we didn't pretend to make a massive testing of judges giving the same test to every candidate. We created a single test for each single candidate and recorded his or her answers on the Judge Center for future reference.

At the end of this process, two candidates had the chance to take the test and both passed it, one from Brazil and another one from Peru. Peru as you can see in the map, is a good example of a small community of judges who are all L1 judges; because of this, they had no chance to create new judges without external help from other judges. Happily, at the time of writing, Peru is one of two countries that didn't have a L2 in the map above that now has one. Colombia is the other one.

The Future

After the event, we had only two new judges. But we shouldn't think that all of this effort was for certifying two new judges only; that would be undervaluing the process. Nowadays, other judges and I are in contact with RAs who did not have the chance to fly to the GP, but who now are somehow part of the DCI Family and are studying for their upcoming best in a better way, with a reference and mentor to study along with. Without this initiative, many judges in isolated areas would probably never have had the opportunity to contact other judges, and now this is possible. Now we know more about these regions and know better how to help them grow their judge communities.

This initiative carried also an important message: "Hey, we are here to help you," and this couldn't be any truer. This is a very important part of the judge program and we are lucky that it doesn't matter if you live in Saigon, the Amazon jungle or Alaska: contacting another judge is only a few clicks away.

During the Nationals season that followed after the GP, many judges had the chance to travel to other countries, not only to judge those events; they also tested and evaluated many candidates. Thanks to the efforts of our region's judge community, now we have new members in our family from countries like Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay, and Colombia. We are trying to grow the judge community, not only in quality, but also in number and distribution.

The Rest of the World

As you read throughout the article, this was a project thought and developed for Latin America and our particular situation. I only talked about this region in order to present a scenario and a background to the whole the process, but this type of project is feasible all over the world. Maybe other countries have a similar scenario, or they might be in an isolated area without many chances to contact other judges. We have a powerful contact tool called the Judge Center which makes this kind of initiatives possible. Yes, there's a lot of logistics work and tons of emails come and go through the mailbox. Two new judges might not seem like a great achievement for such an effort but again, this project must not be evaluated only for its rate of new judges achieved. What's also important is the contact made with the RAs. After this, they have a closer contact with the judge community and—maybe not in this opportunity but possibly in the future—an RA will reply to this email saying, "Hey, I had no time in the past but I want to be a judge now." You don't know what will happen in the future.

Make your ideas become reality.

Adrián Estoup