Handling Investigations

Posted in NEWS on September 16, 2009

By Wizards of the Coast

Based on John Alderfer's Investigations seminar at PT Kyoto

Definition and Philosophy

Whenever a dispute arises during a tournament, the players involved will call us, or maybe the problem will be brought to our attention in some other way. Usually we will manage to solve it easily, but there will be times when we won't be able to come up with a straight-forward solution or ruling. There are cases in which we lack bits of information, and without that information we won't be able to make a decision. There are also situations where we may detect a chance that the problem was caused by an infraction committed intentionally.

This is when we investigate.

Sometimes the investigation will lead us to a simple misunderstanding or to an honest mistake; in those cases we will apply the appropriate fix and issue the appropriate penalty for the committed infraction (if any); but some other times we will end up finding bigger problems.

When we investigate and issue a penalty, we pursue providing players a good customer service. We want the best outcome for the tournament, although we don't want players to feel persecuted. We care about players; we care about all players enrolled in the tournament, and we care about their experience because we want them to come back to play another day. Players appreciate properly-run tournaments, as they perceive the quality of the event and this improves their enjoyment.

To start an investigation you need to know what information is required to proceed. First you'll need to talk to the floor judge who first saw the issue. After that, typically you will interview the players, watching out for their reactions. We usually start with some pieces of information, we build an idea of what has happened, and next we'll want to know if the players agree on those facts.

Investigation Techniques

We can make use of some techniques to solve these situations, but remember that during an investigation we don't follow a fixed schedule; the investigation should flow naturally, it is not a task list.

When interviewing the players involved in an investigation, their reactions are of critical importance; we will be looking for changes in voice tone, gestures, and other types of body language.

Usually it is feasible to take the players away from each other for questioning, especially if they don't agree on the facts, so that we avoid mutual feedback and noise in their statements. This way we can see how each player's story evolves and we can reach conflicts in their statements and hopefully we can get to the root cause of the disagreement more easily. Doing this we may get sincere and honest answers more easily; in private players usually tend to come clean, while in the middle of a discussion most times people won't stay quiet when the opponent is telling his or her side of the story, and at this point the facts are usually blurrier. If you see yourself in this situation, address this behavior immediately, thus asserting your authority.

When following a player's story, we can try to see where his explanations lead us. We can check how it evolves, looking for conflicts in stories, although minor variations are okay. It is quite normal if two persons don't remember a story happening exactly the same way; this is not a reason to think somebody is lying. Slight differences are normal, so remember that we are looking here for big divergences in the timeline of events and in the actions the players took. By taking the players apart we give them the opportunity to rethink their stories since they are pulled away from the discussion scenario. This is the best time to look for reactions, and we may even help those reactions come out by revealing bits of information we acquired from other sources to the players. If we are really sure about the situation, we may even make a strong statement like "I believe you did this and that..." and then watch out for changes in their behavior that may confirm our belief on what happened.

If you need to do so, you can also stop the investigation for a while, by taking care of other stuff, for example, and come back later. This way we give the players time to calm down and think about what happened. This is especially useful if the players are agitated or angry at each other and also prevents most situations from escalating.

We need the players to feel comfortable when being interviewed; we may ask questions we know the player is going to be truthful about - this way we get them into a routine where they talk the truth about trivial issues. This is helpful to have a reference on how the player acts when telling the truth. You may ask questions with obvious answers like "What deck are you playing?" or "How is your score today?", but remember to not go too long with these kind of questions so the players do not get too distracted.
In some situations we may use reflective listening to dig into their stories. We let them speak and then rephrase their stories using their own words. Typically, players will feel they put their trust you, they will feel your approach to the investigation pursues their best interest, so remember to be careful on this, as you may end up turning someone's word against himself and that may cause players to feel betrayed.

There are also scenarios where we will just to communicate our final ruling. These are usually decisions made on actual proof of action, so there is no need to talk to the players.

Any witness is important, but when gathering evidence beware of witnesses that are friends with the players involved as they may be biased. All information is of relevance and we need to use all the resources available, especially in Fraud situations where it can be really difficult to get the truth. If we face a scenario where we must believe either one player or another, we need to make a decision based on what we think most likely happened.

Time is important. The tournament must go on and it is desirable to run an investigation as fast as possible. If there's an investigation, the rest of the room may sense there is trouble going on. We have to keep the crowd calm, and if possible we should isolate the problem from the rest of the tournament.
During an investigation we must know when to stop looking into a situation. If there's nothing that can provide us the information we are looking for, we must stop investigating and make a decision. We want to be sure we don't dry things out - if there's no way we can get more information or if we come to a dead end, we must leave it as it is, give the players the appropriate extra time and let them keep on playing their match. Again, we must take a decision based on what we know and on what we believe most likely happened.

If It Is to Be a DQ

Sometimes an investigation will lead us to a Disqualification. Just as a quick reminder, the IPG defines a Disqualification (DQ) as a penalty issued for infractions that damage the integrity of a tournament as a whole.

In order to maintain the event's integrity, we have to assume that it is possible that from an investigation we end up issuing a DQ to an innocent player. We are meant to make this kind of decision, which is the reason we need training to face investigations and do the best possible job.

The IPG also states that it is important to remember that a DQ can occur without proof of action so long as the Head Judge determines sufficient information exists to believe the tournament's integrity may have been compromised. If we have no evidence, we need to reach a point where we are reasonably sure. Our initial plan when facing an investigation must address what we are looking for; we need to know where to look. It is not about making the player confess; we only need to be reasonably sure he has committed an offense.

A common misconception is that you need to be sure at least a 50%. There is no such a thing as a certainty threshold we must reach; we just need to feel comfortable with our decision even though we may not know for certain. The PG recommends that the Head Judge's report to the DCI should reflect if a DQ is issued without proof of action. After a DQ, a committee investigates further into the reported facts. The HJ just determines if it is worth to look into it more thoroughly.

Giving Closure

Once we reach a decision we must stick to it and finish our ruling. It is not in the event's benefit to have a DQed player around complaining to judges, players, or spectators. In this situation it might be a good idea to ask the Tournament Organizer to remove the player from the premises, especially if he or she is being disruptive to the event.

Enter the penalty in the DCI reporter and take all the necessary statements to submit them to the Judge Center. To do this, you'll need the sanctioning number for your tournament; ask your TO, he will be able to provide this for you. It is not mandatory for any player or spectator to write a statement, and the HJ's statement is the only one absolutely required. If any witnesses refuse to write a statement, ask them to help you and the DCI with the investigation. Most people will understand that we need their statement and will provide it. If the player being DQed refuses to write a statement, offer him the possibility to send this statement to you later on, let him cool down, and contact him after a few days. It is always a good idea to make sure we have different ways to contact anyone writing a statement (phone, email, etc.) Remember that any information related to an investigation or a DQ must not be disseminated.

Remember, we are not on a "smite evil" quest; we just seek to run a fair and high-quality event and provide good customer service.

Many thanks to John Alderfer for his seminar at PT Kyoto, to Frank Wareman for his input on the subject, and to Carlos Ho for proofreading

David de la Iglesia