Determination, Perseverance and the Ability to Hear Constructive Criticism

Posted in NEWS on June 20, 2000

By Wizards of the Coast

Tim Weissman

I began thinking about the judges I work with, as well as all the other judges out there who become discouraged after taking the certification exam, or who have been working toward their level 2 or even 3 and have not made the progress they would like. I thought that perhaps my own story would offer some hope to those who are dedicated to becoming a higher certified judge. Mine is a story of determination, perseverance and the ability to hear what the DCI was telling me without letting my bruised ego get in the way.

When the judge certification program began, I immediately saw the value the program would have for the game of Magic, and I also saw the value it would have for me as a premiere organizer. I jumped right in, traveling to Dallas for the Pro Tour to take the exam. My rules knowledge was strong enough for me to test right into Level 2, but with the level 3 requirement for Pro Tour Qualifiers, I had much more work to do. I was a moderately active judge who was also a premiere organizer so I got set up for a level 3 interview. This was at a time when the interview was conducted over the phone, and it was a very odd experience. I was on a conference call with Tara McDermott, Charlie Catino and a couple others, an all-together daunting group when one understands their positions in the DCI. Because of the conference call, it was very hard to physically hear what they were saying at times, plus they were asking me to engage in somewhat stilted and contrived role-play exercises.

Beyond the unexpected and odd nature of the interview, I felt like I did well under the circumstances, especially with the role-playing. A couple weeks later I got a call from Tara. I was not going to be promoted to Level 3. The reason - I was too lenient. I was shocked and upset, figuring they misunderstood me in the process. When I got the official letter explaining the results, again I was told that I was too lenient. I felt like I was being told that I was just too nice. It was a tough rejection, and I questioned whether they just didn't like me, or whether I just didn't know the right person or simply wasn't a good judge.

But, putting my ego aside, I began to think about it, and I started to see that what they said was true. I had come into judging from the perspective of a tournament organizer. An organizer must be very nice to players - who we see as customers (you know, the customer is always right). If we are not, we simply lose our customers. So, for the next six months I engaged in much more strict judging and found an interesting result. The players who came to my events began commenting on how much more they appreciated the higher level of rules enforcement. They felt that an even playing field was being created at my events, and I was enlightened to the biggest asset of certified judging - an atmosphere and perception of fairness.

When I went through my next Level 3 interview I passed. I had addressed the main issue of my leniency and it was evident to the interviewers. They were aware that I had made a conscious effort to become the type of judge they wanted. The bottom line was that my initial rejection wasn't personal. They wanted a certain kind of judge, and they even told me what kind. All I had to do was hear that, and alter my behavior in order to become it. With determination, I stuck with it for 6 months and was able to become a Level 3. But my struggles were not over.

When 6th edition came into being, the recertification program came with it, and so did a new obstacle for me. Having been a level 3 for a couple years and having head judged many PTQ's, prereleases, and countless other events, I was faced with having to prove my ability once again as a Level 3.

The interview process was different now. It was conducted in person, and the assessment instrument was a list of criteria that I was told I was expected to have expert knowledge on. None other than Jeff Donais grilled me for over 3 hours. I left the experience drained, but feeling as if I should be recertified. Even Donais told me he thought I had a good 75% chance. Sure, I knew there were some areas where I needed work, but I felt that my strengths would carry me. Well, they didn't.

Four weeks later I was informed that I wouldn't be recertified. I was dumbstruck, literally. I remember reading the email, over and over. I couldn't imagine what was going on. All the feelings of not passing the first Level 3 interview came rushing back. This time, however, my emotional experience would be worse. After all, I had to face the player base I had spent years building and tell them I was no longer Level 3. And, I had to have another person head judge my events, even though I felt very sure I was the most qualified in my area to be taking on that role.

Emerged in all these feelings, I was still able to part the cloud of emotion and glimpse into what area I had fallen short. From my perspective, I was not being recertified because I had not lived up to policy guidelines and because I was not as involved judging on the floor as I should be. Here again, a message was being given to me. My challenge was to hear that message, not take it personally, and modify my behavior to become the type of judge the DCI was looking for.

It was a very long 6 months until I was able to retest. But, I learned a great deal in that time, and I made many changes to my practice of judging - making rounds on the floor, personally table judging the finals, encouraging and mentoring young judges and being very aware of and adhering to policy guidelines. It was very obvious to me that the DCI was looking for a higher standard for Level 3 judges. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense too.

So, I made major changes to my judging style for the second time, and spent quite a bit of money to travel to Pro Tour Chicago to retest. I studied for days, and even organized a group study session with other prospective Level 3's in Chicago. Once again, the test was draining. I had the amazing luck of being interviewed by Donais yet again, along with three other Level 4 judges (Nat Fairbanks, Mike Guptil and Dan Gray) and the astounding Collin Jackson. Apparently the Level 4's were eating lunch, so why not join in the fun J. Ten minutes after the interview, Donais informed me that I would once again be among the ranks of Level 3's. As in my second Level 3 interview, they could see the efforts I had put forth and the behavioral changes I made which addressed the issues with which they had been concerned.

Succeeding was a miraculous feeling after all I had been through. What kept me going was my faith in the process and the fact that I had passed after initial failure once before. With determination, perseverance and the ability to hear constructive criticism, I had succeeded in becoming a Level 3 once again.

Moving up the ladder in DCI certified judging is never easy, especially nowadays. You will most likely have some falls along the climb. The tests are difficult and the higher-level interviews can be intimidating. But, keep your eye on the goal and listen to what the DCI tells you. They want more certified judges. If you listen and make the necessary behavioral changes, you can succeed. I am sure another round of recertification is not too far away, and we all will be re-visiting these same struggles. Like me, you will have to stayed determined and persevere in the face of rising standards. But have faith, because the DCI knows what they want, and they will let you know as well.

Keep my story in the back of your head too. I have interviewed for Level 3 a total of four times now - failing, then succeeding, then failing, then succeeding. It is tough to go through such ordeals. Sometimes I wonder if I am a glutton for punishment (working on my Ph.D. certainly lends evidence to this argument), but more than that, I think it has to do with a love for the game of Magic and for the intrinsic rewards which come with judging and succeeding.

Tim Weissman, M.A.
Level 3