Why head judging a Grand Prix is harder than the ProTour

Posted in NEWS on October 20, 2004

By Wizards of the Coast

Many people think that Head Judging the Pro Tour is the most difficult event they'll ever do, but we're going to present the opposite case and offer some suggestions on how to help with the problems that are unique to Grand Prix. Sure, the Pro Tour is much higher-profile, so any mistake you might make has more impact and every decision you make is viewed under a more powerful microscope, but at the Pro Tour you have an order of magnitude more help than you are likely to at a Grand Prix.

What makes the Grand Prix more difficult is that while you're likely to have a good staff, that staff isn't nearly as experienced at producing the event than the staff the produces the Pro Tour--effectively the same staff has put on 50 of the highest-profile events ever. Some Grand Prix TOs have never run an event anywhere near the size that they're about to get into.

Solution: Work with the TO well in advance. Use your experience to point out to the TO areas where you've seen GPs falter in the past, and how to proactively avoid them.

This is different in Europe, because all EU GPs are organized by WotC Belgium in cooperation with the local office/distributor. Still, as HJ you need to do more organizational stuff then at a PT, although you can rely on having an experienced TO.

At a Grand Prix, the players are less experienced, and there are more of them. They'll have more questions, and more difficulties, thereby working your judges harder. You'll have fewer of those judges per player than at the Pro Tour, compounding their workload.

Solution: Work with the judges as far in advance as you can. Write up a briefing and send out to them (most likely through the organizer) on how you're going to handle things at the event.

While the PT has the luxury of choosing from all of the world's top judges, your GP staff isn't going to be as experienced. Save for you, most, if not all, of the judge staff is going to be from the local area. You're going to need to be more hands-on with the entire judging staff than you would be at a Pro Tour, where you can set the direction, delegate it to a few Level 4s and/or senior Level 3s and just add course corrections if necessary.

Solution: Write instructions on some of the specific tasks (like how to do deck checks or post pairings) beforehand and send it to everyone. Encourage your judges to think of any questions they might have about the event beforehand and ask them to email them to you. Send back the question with your answer to all your judges, because for everyone who asks, there will be at least one other judge at the event who didn’t know the answer, too. Find out who your most experienced judges will be, tell them that they'll be team leaders, and instruct them on how you want things done, if they're less experienced; if they're more experienced, you can probably just tell them what you want done and they'll already know how to do it.

You're under heavy time pressure. At a PT, days can finish as early as 6pm; you can take your time making difficult decisions without fear of significantly impacting the finish time (and your staff's valuable rest time). If you finish Day One of a Limited GP before midnight, you're lucky. Every minute becomes more critical. Any delay extends an already-long day.

Solution: Find every area to shave minutes off. At a Limited Event, make sure the TO has already prepared the product. Seat the players alphabetically for the player meeting so that their decklists will already be sorted when you collect them. Be aggressive about slow play (that's good advice whether or not you're under time pressure).

Like the PT, EU GPs are multilingual tournaments. Language Barriers will cause additional problems at your event (trust us on that – we know). Not only will some judges – sometimes including the head judge - have problems communication efficiently with some players because of language issues, more important is that players will have problems communicating with each other. While it is possible to play using only gestures this often leads to misunderstandings which can be rather hard to fix.

Solution: There’s not much you can do about players failing to communicate clearly because of different languages. You can be prepared for this, though, so that you and your judge staff can solve these problems efficiently. Be aware what languages your judges can speak and spread your foreign-language speaking judges out in the teams. Make sure at least one judge in each team speaks the local language (if you have enough, remembering GP Zurich). Also make sure at least your team leaders know which members in their team speak which languages, so you can find a judge who speaks the needed language as soon as possible (remember the time issue from above?). Don’t forget non-judge staff members, also. For example, European OP Manager Erwin Dielens speaks excellent French; Ron Foster speaks Japanese. What language does your scorekeeper speak? While these people aren’t part of your judging staff, they’ll all be happy to help with translating if they’re not too busy at the time.

At the Pro Tour, you have many great people, like Scott Larabee, Andy Heckt, John Grant, Renee Roub, Whitney Williams, and Laura Kilgore, just to name a few, who are in charge of specific areas of the event. At a Grand Prix, that staff is far more condensed. At US Grand Prix, Reid Schmadeka is normally the only WotC representative, so it's just you, Reid (who is often also the scorekeeper), and the local TO to take on all the roles of the folks listed above. In addition to running an immense event while likely understaffed, you're the handling the inevitable questions about Judge certification and DCI Policy, or players who between rounds want to incessantly argue corner cases about the rules.

Solution: Prioritize. You're going to be wearing more than one hat, so decide what's important to the event, and stick to your plan. Pass the certification questions to the local Level 3. Tell the rules lawyer that you'd love to discuss the issue with him, but here's how you're ruling it for the tournament and if he really wants further conversation about it to email John Carter.

Being the Head Judge of a Grand Prix isn't all gloom and doom, but it's much harder work than the Pro Tour. With a little advance preparation, you'll be able to stave off some of the inconveniences and stick to focusing on running the event.

There's probably more discussion to be had on this topic. Please post your comments, opinions and questions on DCIJudge-L.

Sheldon Menery, Level 4 and Justus Rönnau, Level 3