Correction: The original post stated that the person who gave me ‘constructive feedback’ claimed to be a judge. I misheard him during the interaction and have since edited the post to reflect that he was just a player. Sometimes you don’t perceive things correctly; it happens. It doesn’t change the fact that they shouldn’t have done it but it’s also good to recognize that your own perceptions will always color your interactions as well.
Disclaimer: As this post is about perceptions, what I write here is colored by my own perceptions of the incidents that happened during the below mentioned IQ at Victory Comics. I have purposefully not included names as public shaming is not the way to fix a problem and instead hurts much more than it helps. This post was hard to write because of emotions tied to it so if parts are unclear that may be why.
Most of the time when I finish an event I’m full of happy feelings and new knowledge to help me continue my journey towards Level 2. Not every tournament is amazing, nor is every tournament smooth, but I have never finished a tournament feeling worse than when I started.
Until I judged an IQ this past Wednesday.
A lot of what we do in judging is supported by rules and policy that are explicit and can be followed easily. But not everything in policy can be black and white because it would leave no room to bend before breaking. Therein lies the places in judging that have to be left to the judge’s interpretation; whether or not we can perform a back up, if a player has been cheating, how much time must pass between actions before we call it slow play, as well as others. While opinions on these may be similar they still differ between judges and situations.
Other aspects of what we do are tied up with concerns like making sure our tournaments run smoothly, that our scorekeeper has to deal with as little stress as possible, that players have a good of a time as we can manage, and that we perform well for the TO that is compensating us for running their tournament. Players, unless their judges, often don’t know just what goes into a good tournament; to them we’re black or blue clad officials that help if there’s a problem, or more rarely give them a ruling they don’t like in which case we become ‘that judge.’
For most of the IQ, things went well. I punted my first call (like you do) but didn’t let it get to me. I had a lengthy investigation into a player discrepancy over whether a burn spell had gone to a player’s life total versus their creature (made more complicated by the players’ ages as younger players can sometimes be more intimidated by judges and get more nervous when involved with a judge call). I even had a DDLP (Deck/Decklist Problem) game loss appealed to the HJ; it’s not every day a player thinks to do that. All of these things would’ve made a great post but what happened in the last few rounds of the tournament stuck with me a lot more.
To give you some context, we had 80 players for this IQ. That’s a staggering number for an instore event. We activated our standby judge and also had to split ourselves up into two rooms. For most of the day I hung out in the second room with the lower tables, something I’m generally fine with because most players at these tables have decided to stay in the event because they want to play Magic, and at seven rounds, it was at least two more rounds of Magic than most people get to play in a Comp Rel tournament for that price.
Round five or six (I honestly don’t remember other than that it was later but wasn’t the end of the tournament) I was sitting on a match that was in game three with about five minutes left before time. The younger player realized he had no more outs and conceeded to their opponent.
Now, Magic players have a tendency to chat after a match, which is fine! Part of what makes Magic such a great game is how social everything can be. I’ve spoken several times about how Magic has brought so many wonderful people into my life. However, when you’re running a seven round tournament on a Sunday, you want to make sure you turn over rounds as efficiently as possible so before they got deep into their conversation I asked them if they would please sign the match slip for me. Most players I ask that of will sign it quickly, most of them not even stopping their conversation to do so.
But the younger player’s opponent wasn’t having it; they called me rude (they may have used the words ‘sort of’ but that never actually means sort of). They went on express displeasure because they we’re the in one of the last table’s so it didn’t matter, that I should’ve just left them alone to talk about it, that I shouldn’t interrupted.
I tried explaining that it doesn’t matter what table you’re sitting at, we need all the slips in order to flip the round. I then started explaining that if I didn’t they would just keep talking and would’ve explained more about how that would’ve delayed the tournament for all the players but he jumped in and then called me rude and ranted at me some more. If not for his friend (who we’ll see later) filling out the slip for him and getting him to sign it, we would’ve wasted a full five more minutes while this man explained to me about how I was wrong for asking him to complete one simple task.
Maybe I could’ve explained things better but asking for a match slip and then getting berated because a player didn’t like how I handled it was also not the best way to approach the situation. I did apologize several times as I sat there being insulted nor did I lash out. It certainly wasn’t fun but a customer service background helps in lots of places while judging.
Fast forward to round six or seven (again my memory fails me) and I’m watching a match on the higher tables. At this point, as tournaments do, it had shrunk down enough to fit into one room. I wandered over to a match at one of the high tables. There was under fifteen minutes in the round and some players at the higher tables have a tendency to get stuck in the ‘tank,’ meaning thinking through their available moves. While we want to give players the chance to think, taking too long is also a problem. Players only have fifty minutes to play at minimum two games of Magic so when players take too long it, whether it’s on purpose or not, it can negatively affect the chance of either player winning the match.
As I’m spectating, it occurs to me that nothing has happened for a long enough period that I’ve noticed the lull so I started counting the seconds. When I got to sixty I informed the player that they needed to make a play. They glanced at me and then continued to think for another ten or fifteen seconds before I ask them again to make a play at which point the player informs me, “You’re not my favorite judge right now. Is that appropriate feedback?” before playing a land and asking in the same impolite tone and aggressive tone: “Is that a play?”
After the second prompting I should’ve given him a him a Warning for Slow Play for two reasons. One, in case the match did go to time there would’ve been two extra turns added to make up for the inaction. And two, it reinforces (and not just for this player) that players need to play this game at reasonable pace so that we can avoid draws where possible. But because of his reaction towards me I felt it prudent to not infract so that this particular interaction did not turn into a ‘Situation.’ At that point my head judge took over watchng the match so I stepped off the floor to gather myself and complete my tournament.
At that point I was already beat down. Due to past experiences, when men get aggressive, upset, or angry at me it throws me off and makes me very nervous. It means that I avoid conflict when I can (see above). I know that it’s a skill I need to work on because not every interaction I have with a player will be pleasant or productive and currently a large majority of our player base is men. It won’t stop me from doing what needs to be done but I certainly need to work on my hesitation to confront issues that may result in a confrontation.
Sadly, the hits weren’t done. As I started to sit on my assigned match for top eight, the player whom I had given the Slow Play caution to (and was also the friend of the player who had an issue with me asking him to sign the match slip) approaches me and asks if it’s okay if he gives me feedback. I explained that I needed to watch this match and he says it won’t take long so I start to stand but he tells me it won’t take long and it’s okay if I just sit there.
Before I get the chance to respond he launches into his feedback: he had been watching me all day (supposedly) and thinks that I need to work on my player interactions. He says they’ve been poor and that if I want to be a better judge, I need to speak to players better. That he’s d still working on rules knowledge but that he’s really good with players so that’s how he knows my interactions weren’t great. He hopes that I do come back to Victory to judge but that I come back as a better judge.
Friends, readers, judges, players, whomever is taking the time to read these words, if you take away only one thing from this post let it be this one: never scold someone in front of people. There I was, sitting on a top eight match in progress, in a room full of players and spectators while this person told me how bad they thought I was. All I could do was just smile and say okay because again I didn’t want to be part of a ‘Situation,’ but the whole thing was a punch in the gut not to mention extremely embarrassing. He left and I barely kept it together long enough for a debrief from my head judge and to get my compensation.
I cried almost the whole three hour drive home.
I felt sad and defeated (and still do a day after) because I pride myself on my interactions with players. I’m that judge that always has a smile, that goes above what is expected of me, that tries to fix things to the best of my ability, and who handles things as well as I can without letting the players see me sweat. That’s not me bragging; those are simple truths. So to have this judge (though I never caught his name so unsure if it’s actually true) decide to rip me apart in front of people, with his comments wrapped in the pretty package of ‘for my own good’ stung a great deal.
This tournament I learned that not every one is going to be great. I learned that not everyone is going to like you but at the end of the day as long as you’re confident with what you did it’s okay if not every player believes that you’re a good judge as long as you know you are. I learned that sometimes we have bad days caused by more that just ourselves. I learned that I’m not going to ever let the bad days stop me and I’ll be right back to being awesome when I head judge an IQ at the same place next week.
But mostly I learned to praise in public and scold in private. I will never do to someone what was done to me. Build each other up, support the cracks; don’t tear each other down. Because when you do, all that you leave behind is tears and pain.