Managing Public Events at Grand Prix

Posted in NEWS on October 20, 2008

By Wizards of the Coast

Following George Michelogiannakis' great article about the benefits of judging Public Events (formerly known and referred to in that article as "Side Events") at a Grand Prix or Pro Tour, here are some ideas on the ways to manage them.

Especially in Europe, the attendance at each Grand Prix has gone so high that the former methods to deal with the Public Events cannot be used anymore. A new way of managing them has to be taken to meet everybody's expectations:

  • The event value is the main purpose of Public Events for the TO.
  • Judges shall be allowed to enjoy and maximize their experience.
  • Players should be, above all, enjoying a great event and be given the taste so they'll come back next time.

There is one person responsible for ensuring that all these goals will be achieved: the Public Events Head Judge (PEHJ). That position, which I've been put in a few times, rewards your time but is a lot less enviable and more time consuming than simply floor judging at Public Events. Few breaks, lot of pressure, difficulties in delegation. Why? Too often, PEHJs do know how things work but can't really explain it to others quickly enough.

That's why the PEHJ's primary instruction should be: "Be and stay organized!" You can't simply assume that things will go right. This is the best way to have your events crash. You have to prevent problems from happening. This requires pre-emptive actions that come from proper organization and maximization of the available resources.

Public Events Stage: where the PEHJ and scorekeepers are.
Public Events Area: where players play.
Product Area: where materials are stored; usually the flight cases.

Part One: Before the Tournament

Choosing the PEHJ

The TO needs to announce before the event which person will be PEHJ for the weekend. It happened at GP Brussels that a judge has been told in the morning to be running Public Events in the afternoon. Since he had been working on the Main Event in the morning, he simply didn't have time to prepare anything despite his skills at running events, which led to lowering the quality of the Public Events due to the lack of time to setup them properly.

Preparing the area

On Friday, when the TO is setting up the whole venue and provided the venue is good enough, specific attention needs to be paid to the organization of the Public Events stage.

  • There should be enough space to walk between the scorekeepers' tables and the product area.
  • The product area should obviously not be accessible to players but should be hard to reach for judges as well (I'll come back to it later on).
  • The queue for players has to be put against a wall and not in the middle of the venue - as opposed to the Public Events at Worlds in Paris, for instance. This means that you won't start splitting the hall into two parts in case the queue ends up being too long. That makes circulation harder and everything taking longer as a direct consequence.
  • If there are any tournaments using Swiss pairings, the scorekeeper's dedicated printer should face towards the venue and not towards the wall to help judges taking pairings/slips without having to go on stage.
  • There should be a garbage area to leave empty cases and boxes.
  • A table for basic lands has to be put in a place where players can easily reach it without disturbing the Public Events' organization. It should be quite close to the Public Events stage so that you can check if there are enough basic lands remaining, but not right next to it.

Preparing the material

  • The product needs to be sorted in easily recognizable piles, one pile per purpose: sealed deck product, English draft product, Japanese draft product, Russian draft product, product to be given as prizes, etc.
  • On top of each pile, write the name of the product in the pile for quick location.
  • It is better to take out too much product than having to remove everything from the flight cases several times in the day to grab some more. This saves time and energy. As long as it's not opened, there's no problem with extra product being taken out.
  • Basic lands should also be kept separated and prepared for use. Since players don't always put the lands they return back in the right place, make sure all the available basic lands aren't immediately put at players' disposal.

Part Two: During the Tournament

Prepare the queuing area

To register people as quickly as possible, the queue needs to be as clean as possible. Therefore, a queue has to be created using a few Tensa Barriers. They don't need to be put all along the queue since as soon as the queue's shape is created, people naturally stop gathering as a herd but instead kindly queue.

Even if you use two different computers (depending on the event), I'd suggest keeping the queue single file at the beginning and split a few meters before the scorekeeper station. A sign telling which computer runs registration for which event is a must-have. Quick registration (and therefore quick starts) helps players enjoying the event.

Split the Public Events area in clear parts

If you have three scheduled events, you need to figure out where to put them from the beginning and not improvise whenever they get started. Sometimes it won't be possible due to excessive attendance, but if you can avoid removing 8-man drafters to seat your 128 players who have registered for the GP Trial, you help both your judges and your players to enjoy the event.

Setting up product.

Product for drafts and sealed deck events should be prepared in advance. Still, the PEHJ has to take care not to open too many cases and/or boxes so that the product in stock is still easy to sort, count, and reuse for the next event.

No trespassing!

The access to the PE stage, just like a GP main stage, should be restricted to:

  • The PEHJ
  • The scorekeepers
  • One or two judges for dedicated tasks, like handing out product to judges or handing out prizes

The reason is fairly easy to understand: the fewer people with access to that area, the more secure it is. At Birmingham, any judge was allowed to come to grab product, pairings, etc. Even though I do trust all judges to be honest, nothing would prevent somebody from grabbing a box and giving it to one of his friends. By drawing a clear line on what people have access to, we do not encourage people to try to do shady things. In that system, floor judges have to make requests from the Public Events area while remaining off the Public Events stage. Judges for events may talk directly to the scorekeeper responsible for their event to get results entered and papers printed.

Scorekeepers need to put the money far enough away from the players. Not to suggest that players may easily steal some and run, but it's better to be prepared than discovering too late that something's wrong. I would suggest putting the cashbox on top of two or three box cases between both scorekeepers. The scorekeepers will inform the PEHJ of any cash problems so that this can be addressed to the TO.

Delegating responsibilities

The PEHJ needs to know when to delegate something. One can't listen to his scorekeeper giving a new draft to be started while searching for product while handing out pairings for the 2HG Legacy event. Therefore, the PEHJ has to delegate a few things to ensure everything will be ok.

The PEHJ is basically a coordinator who gives instructions to be followed. That's also one of the team leading principles: "Instruct people to do things rather than doing them by yourself, unless it's necessary."

Creating team leaders among the Public Events staff seems obvious for scheduled events (which require a HJ anyway) but doesn't seem that obvious when it comes to 8-man single elimination tournaments. Still, there should probably be a judge whose job is to gather the eight players and bring them to the 8-man area where he'll delegate the tournament to a judge that is assigned to that area.

To sum up, I believe the following roles need to be created:

  • Product Manager
  • 8-man "Gatherer" (the 8-man area team lead)

That's only two judges. That won't probably take a lot from the floor but will help a lot in organizing things behind or around the stage. Creating those two roles also helps the PEHJ to be able to take one or two breaks during the day, leaving somebody who's aware of how things work in charge.

Scheduling the Public Events

Make a schedule with the timing of events, including the maximum number of rounds and the estimated finish time. Ask when 8-man tournaments should stop taking registration.

If certain events are likely to finish a lot later than the main event, be sure to direct this problem accordingly to the TO. Since it seems better to not change the number of rounds in the middle of an event, try to make sure you have a solid timeframe for your Public Events. Some easy decisions can be made before the tournament starts; for instance, splitting into two separate tournaments, increasing prizes, paying prizes out by points, and determining the number of rounds. Those decisions resolve issues fast and don't interfere with quality and event value. Please note that these decisions have to be confirmed with the TO.

Keep it clean!

Whenever a case or a box is empty, it shouldn't be put just anywhere. On the contrary, it should be put in the garbage area that is either outside or in a corner of the Public Events stage. Keeping things clean is another key to speed up any task. It's a lot easier to walk the floor when you don't have to constantly worry about those boxes on the ground, and it's a lot easier to grab product when you don't grab three empty boxes before finding the full one.

To sum this up, managing Public Events requires you to keep an overview on all activities, staffing, quality, and obviously timing. It also requires you to work together with others and not take all the responsibilities upon yourself. Besides allowing you to take breaks without fearing something may go wrong, it allows several brains to be able to think about the same things, which therefore increases the odds of catching errors.

Remember, organization and delegation are the main keys to success!

I'd like to thank Carlos Ho, Joery Van Nevel and Gis Hoogendijk for proofreading and helping in building this article.

Kevin Desprez
L3, Lille, France