Lessons Learned From Being A Head Judge

Posted in NEWS on April 27, 2006

By Wizards of the Coast

Last fall I was given the opportunity to head judge the Duel Masters Continental 14 & under age group. I worked closely with Scott Marshall, the head judge of the 15 & older age group. We worked together on the event management: cooperating in the leadership and decision-making. I learned a lot working with Scott and the other judges on the Duel Masters team. Over the past months I have reflected on my experiences and would like to share with you four important lessons I learned.

The head judge has distinctly different tasks than a floor judge

When you make the move from floor judge to head judge your job description becomes radically different. For large, well-staffed events, the head judge should not be out wandering around the floor. The head judge needs to be at the head table where he or she can be easily located. For those who love judging because it provides you with the opportunity to test your rules knowledge, be warned: the better your floor judges are the less chance you will actually be asked a rules question. The cry of “judge” that formerly sent you scurrying off to provide advice, should now have you checking to make sure another judge responds. As much as you like to answer rules questions, you need to restrain yourself. Head judges need to allow their floor judges to respond. The head judge should be there as a resource if the floor judge has a question, but the floor judge should be allowed the opportunity to answer players' questions first. Fielding player questions is the best way for a floor judge to grow and improve.

At the Duel Masters event I had to force myself to sit down at the head table. I wanted to be on the floor, watching games, but as Scott pointed out, we needed to be where we could be found. The head judge needs to supervise the staff (including meeting with the team leads and providing feedback), serve as a liaison to the parents, and oversee the rules enforcement for the event.

What a team leader is supposed to do

I have been a team leader before and have been a member of different teams, however, it wasn't until the Duel Masters Continentals that I learned what team leading is really all about. Scott and I had set up the typical teams that exist at larger events - Deck checks, Logistics (table numbering, feature matches, floor judging), and Paper (match result slips, posting pairings). Judges who needed team leading experience were selected to be the team leaders. They were told what their tasks were, who was on their team, and not much else.

After the first few rounds on Saturday, one of my team leaders came up to me and told me that a Level 3 judge on his team felt that he was not making a valuable contribution to the event. I knew that the Level 3 had a lot of experience in head judging, so I asked him if he would be my mentor for the event. The area he chose to focus on was team leading. He taught me what a team leader was supposed to be doing and showed, by example, how to explain the role of the team lead. Over the next several hours, during lulls in the floor calls, we talked with the team leaders. After leading the first discussion, he observed me while I led the others.

We started by asking each team leader, "What are you supposed to be doing as a team leader?" The answer given was usually related to completing the task the team had been assigned. We clarified by asking, “What are your responsibilities to your team?” This question wasn’t as easy to answer.

We changed our approach a bit and asked "Who are the people on your team?" "What do you know about them?" "Where do they live?" "Where do they work?" "How long did it take them to travel here?" "Have you asked them what do they want to get from working at the event?" Most of the team leaders indicated that they had not spent a lot of time talking to their team members. We explained to them that they should be able to list one strength and one area of improvement for each team member. The leader needed to talk to each team member and get to know him or her. At the end of the day each team member should have learned something that they can take with him or her. While the team’s task is important, the people you are working with are just as important, if not more.

After our talks, the team leaders started focusing on their team members more and I also started getting to know the people I was working with. When I had breaks in the tournament, I focused on the judges in my event and tried to learn about them and what was important to them.

The things that came out in these discussions were very useful in helping me give advice to my judges so that they would be able to devise strategies to better reach their goals. The head judge needs to take the time to talk with the team leaders before the event starts. This talk should include the importance of getting to know your team members as well as what tasks the team has been assigned. The event leaders need to facilitate growth and learning.

The importance of parent relations

As many of our players are young, parents need to be given some special consideration. The event staff had set up a special area for the parents; cordoned off from the main floor, with beverages and snacks. As soon as we started the first round, I went over and talked to the parents and explained to them that this was going to be a long day. Their kids would be playing three rounds, breaking for lunch, and then playing five more rounds. Obtaining food would be challenge as the concession stand in the corner was the only food available in the entire Convention Center. Outside the Center, it was at least two blocks to find anything. One of the parents volunteered to coordinate ordering pizza, which worked out quite well.

I reminded them that they were not allowed coach their kids, which was why we needed to keep spectators out of the play area. I answered a few questions and promised periodic updates. They were attentive and very appreciative that someone had taken the time to consider them. Several times during the day I took a couple of minutes to speak with the parents.

Player management has to be adjusted to fit your player base

As a DCI certified judge, you may be called on to judge WotC games other than Magic. The Universal Rules are, as their name implies, “universal.” The Penalty Guidelines are also universal. DCI Reporter can be used with all the games. Even without knowing the floor rules of a game you can still assist with tournament operation.

If you do work with other games, it is important for you to recognize that most of them do not have the years of tournament play and experienced tournament players that Magic does. You might talk with the players a bit before the tournament to try to tune into the way they look at tournaments. For example, judging Duel Masters is not like judging Magic. The Duel Masters players come from a more casual background and they play because they love the game. The game is more important than winning rating points or prizes. The player who won the 14 & under section did not draw a match: he played 14 matches, losing only one. Intentional draws are rare in Duel Masters. The players play quickly and most matches finish well before the 50-minute mark. The judge has to know the game well or will be lost trying to follow the flurry of card play. While the competitive drive is present, it is not as dominant as it is with Magic. I encountered only one case of rules lawyering. The players seemed to view the judges as a resource to straighten things out so they could continue playing.

In Conclusion

At the end of the day on Saturday, pleased with how everything had worked out, Scott and I talked about what had gone well and what could be improved. I told him how much I had learned by focusing on the people I was working with and how satisfied I was with my experiences. Above all I learned that while the tasks are important, the people, be they team leads, floor judges, parents, or players, are even more important.

Dorian Redburn, L3