Usually, the focus of our event coverage is on the players and their epic conquest of making the cut for Day 2, the Top 8 or in some cases some particular Pro Points threshold that would secure them Silver, Gold or even Platinum Membership in the Pro Players Club. While this article is also about leveling up, we're approaching the topic from a very different direction.
You see, all of these events wouldn't be possible without the help of our dedicated judges that are investing just as much time as many of the players do to ensure a fair environment where we can eventually crown the Grand Prix champion.
I sat down with Daniel Kitachewsky who has been promoted to a level 4 judge this weekend to ask him about how his journey started. Without further ado, here's the full interview.
Daniel, when did you first decide to be a judge?
"I started playing competitively in 2004 and in 2005, I decided to become a judge. I wasn't happy with the job the judges did in our local store and I thought that I could do better and that's how it all started.
"Since I knew the rules pretty well, I thought it couldn't be that hard and well, it's enough to get you started."
So did you end up at a point where rules knowledge was no longer sufficient to level up?
"In 2006, I already became a Level 2 judge - up to that point, it's mostly about rules knowledge. After that, I started judging at a lot of Grand Prix and the Pro Tour.
"I got a few backlashes since I was perceived as very harsh. I was very strict with the rules and I never thought of the many other aspects of judging, like the interaction with people."
"So basically, I had to learn a little more diplomacy to better interact with players as well as other judges."
Can you give us an example?
"If a judge made a mistake back in 2006, I would go up to him and tell him - sometimes even in front of the players - that he just messed up. It's much better to pause the game and tell the players that they need to wait for a second. Then you take the judge away, talk to him in private and after you worked out what went wrong, you're having him fix the game state so he doesn't lose face in front of the players. It's much better this way."
What's the biggest difference between a lower and a higher level judge?
"As a level 3, you have to educate other judges. For this, you need to see their points of view and take into account that they have different backgrounds and experience levels. So it's a lot about diplomacy and there's often no "right" and "wrong". You have to come up with individual solutions that are tailored to the person in question."
What do you enjoy the most about judging?
"Right now, I'd say it's understanding different cultures. In the last 6 months, I was in charge of level 3 testing. This is something where you cannot treat every region in the world the same anymore.
"As soon as you're talking about organizing a community, there are a lot of regional differences; you have to take a different approach in the US when compared to the EU or Asia."
"To give you two very short and specific examples: In the west, there is a strong culture of giving feedback. You give people written evaluations and they will appreciate it.
"In Asia, this is mostly unacceptable. It is most important for people to keep face and if you're writing something that could "condemn them", this could in theory be used against them to make it obvious that they have committed a mistake. That is simply not possible, so you need to find other ways to deliver your feedback."
"The second example is very specific for Japan. There is a strong relationship between mentors and apprentices over there. In their culture, it is almost impossible for an apprentice to ever "overcome" the master.
"So that means that the leader of the program in a particular region over there always has to move up first, otherwise the whole program in that region won't move in any direction."
Why should someone else start to become a judge and how can they do that?
"It's a very different way of experiencing the game. In my opinion, it's super interesting and you can experience and learn so many different things - traveling, making friends, interacting with people, etc. - all of this is very rewarding."
"The how is easy - just talk to a judge, he will know about the available resources and point you in the right direction."
Thank you for the short interview, Daniel!