Monday, December 14, 2015

WER: Local Player List

The Local Player List is one of WER's most useful features for store-level events. For players, it means that they don't have to worry about remembering their DCI number from week to week to play in Friday Night Magic or the next Prerelease. For judges and organizers, it means that they don't have to fiddle around with numbers for players that they know well.

You probably use this feature whenever you're running an event in WER. It looks something like this:


It's pretty easy to use this list to enroll players in events:

  • Use the "Search" box at the top to filter the results if your list is particularly long. You can also filter the list with the All, Enrolled, Unenrolled, and Judges buttons. Unenrolled is the default.
  • Click the checkbox under "Select" next to the player(s) you want to enroll.
  • Click the green "Enroll Selected" button at the bottom.

Note that you can check multiple players at once, in which case clicking "Enroll Selected" will add all of them to the event, including checked players that are currently hidden from view in your search results. There's a convenient Selected Players count at the bottom of the screen to help you keep track of how many players you're enrolling. 

What are all those other buttons for, then? I'm glad you asked! We'll go from left to right.

Pre-Enroll

This button is gray until you've selected at least one player from your Local Player List, then it turns blue. Clicking on it will add these players to the event, but it will add them in a brand-new "Pre-enrolled" tab on the active player list:


Players on this list aren't actually active in the event, and if you start the event with players on this list, they won't be paired for round one. However, if you double-click a name on this list, the player will be moved to the "Players" tab, which actually enrolls them in the event.

This feature is great if you take registration in advance of some of your events, like Prereleases or PPTQs. It's especially useful if you have a maximum number of players that can participate in that event because you can track how many people have expressed interest or paid their entry fee.

On the morning of the event, as players check in, you can quickly transfer them to the list of enrolled players. When the event starts, you'll also have a handy list of the players who preregistered and didn't show up that you can reference to process refunds or whatever other bookkeeping you need to do.

New

This button opens a small dialogue that you can use to add players to your Local Player List. It won't add that player to your active event, but after you've added them to the list, you can use their entry to enroll them.


Since you can only pre-enroll players from the Local Player List, you'll need to use this to pre-enroll a player who's never played at your location before. It's also useful for adding judges who have never played in your events.

You don't need to manually add a player to the Local Player List if you're enrolling them into an event; if they aren't already there, they'll be added automatically.

Set As Judge

This button is grayed out unless one or more players are selected from the list. Clicking it flags all of the players you've selected as judges, which makes their names and other information appear in bold.

Yep. That's it.

Anyone who's been entered as a judge for an event (or DMed for a sanctioned D&D group) will also appear in bold on your Local Player List.

Edit

Editing a player works the same way that adding one does:


Well, with one caveat: you won't be able to edit the player's DCI number. Since that's the unique identifier that WER uses for players, you'll have to create a new record to use a different DCI number for a player. You can use this form to unmark a player as a judge or DM or edit their name or country.

However — and this is a big however — these changes only take effect on your computer. If a player has an issue with their name, you can fix it for them for your events only. They'll need to contact Wizards Customer Service to change it permanently.

(You can also edit a player's name from the enrollment fields on the Players tab, and those changes will be reflected in your Local Player List. You can do it as a player is enrolling by typing into the fields before adding them to the event. If they've already enrolled, click their name in the player list. make the necessary changes, and click "Update.")

Remove

You can permanently delete a player's information from the list with this button, and by "permanently," I mean "until they play in another event."

Removing a record can be useful if you've had to switch DCI numbers for one of your regular players. By removing the old number, you won't have to worry about enrolling them with the wrong record.

Exporting and Importing the Local Player List

Yes, of course you can do this! And, of course, I recommend that you keep an export saved somewhere safe, like on Dropbox or a separate computer, just in case you need to switch enrollment to a new computer or if something Bad Thing happens to your existing one. Especially at the local level, players don't always know their DCI numbers, and losing this information can cost a lot of time and hassle.

Backing up this information uses the same export/import process that WER's other backups use.

The Import and Export buttons are at the top right of the Local Players List, off to the side of the search bar.

Exports

This is the easy part.

  • Click Export Players
  • Choose a destination. Dropbox or another shared folder is a good choice.
  • Give the file a unique name. I like using the computer and the date: [Store] Event Laptop — 12-12-15
  • Save

The list is exported as an .xml file, which you can open in Notepad, Excel or similar programs. You shouldn't need to, but if Something Weird happens, you can. Opening it in a plain text editor will give you a bunch of names and numbers and symbols that will be harder to parse than the resulting Excel view:


Naturally, your export will have actual DCI numbers in that column. I've omitted them, as always, to protect the innocent.

In a pinch, you can use this to look up DCI numbers for your local players. Even better, you can just import the entire list into WER.

Imports

Importing a Local Player List works very similarly to other WER imports, except it has one extra step.

  • Click Import Players
  • Navigate to the file you want to import, which is most likely your most recent backup
  • Click Open
  • Set column headers*
  • Click Import
The column headers step has tricked quite a few people. When you've selected the file you want to import, a box will pop up that looks like this:


You won't be able to scroll down. This isn't the list you're importing, it's just a preview of the file layout, which you'll use to assign headers to each column.

Don't just click import. You have to assign column headers first. Otherwise, Bad Things will happen.

If you're importing a player list that you exported from WER, the column headers should be in this order:

  1. First Name
  2. Last Name
  3. Middle Initial
  4. DCI Number
  5. Country
  6. Is Judge

By "Bad Things," I mean that I've seen imports without file headers randomly flip first and last names and some other silly things that you really don't want to have to clean up later.

This import will add the players to your Local Players List. Players that already exist won't be duplicated, but you won't get any confirmation about the number of players that were added or skipped from the import.

I'll stop here because you should go back up your Local Player List.

No, really. You should. Trust me. I know.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

2015 Mid-Atlantic Judge Conference: Teams and Leading Them by Ryan Stapleton

One thing you learn when you're scorekeeping and judging is that there are about a dozen different ways to do things, and none of them are wrong. From structuring folders for backups to devising a seating plan for on-demand events, there are a variety of effective, streamlined strategies, and some of them work better for different people.

Me? I like to use Dropbox more than I should because its ability to restore previous versions of files has saved me in the past. Your Grand Prix Head Judge? They might want end-of-round procedures managed by the floor team, or they might have a dedicated team for it.

Ryan Stapleton is a Level 3 Judge from Northern Virginia, and his seminar from the judge conference in September was all about Grand Prix teams. He covered a lot of information, including:

  • Common teams and the things they're responsible for
  • Variations on team structures
  • How these structures apply to smaller and larger events

Whether you're gearing up to judge your first Grand Prix or trying to decide how to organize the staff for your large local event, understanding the nuances of these different structures will provide some insight into tournament operations that you might find helpful.

Ryan started his seminar by asking a question: What teams are there?

Here are my notes on the answers and the discussion that followed, in mind map form:

(View larger in Google Docs)

But this mind map is just a start. It's a rough tree of concepts, things that need to be done at large events and just one of the ways that workload can be divided up.

Common Structure Variations

Understanding your team's role is only part of the picture: Understanding how that role contributes to a smooth event is also important, and to do that, you first need to figure out what all of the other teams are doing. We talked quite a bit about the different ways these tasks and responsibilities could be divided up at events.

Deck checks tends to always be its own team. Unless your event is small enough that you're not using formal teams, there's a dedicated group of judges handling decklists and performing deck checks. Beyond this point, things become *very* flexible.

For example, the breaks and floor teams are often combined, and end-of-round procedure is often assigned to one of those teams, or maybe to paper.

There are pros and cons to every choice. Let's look at the delegation of end-of-round (EOR) procedure. Judges responsible for this task get a list of outstanding matches from the scorekeeper near the end of each round, and they use that list to make sure that those matches are accounted for and have whatever assistance they need to finish the round.

Some Head Judges assign EOR duties to members of the paper team because it puts them near the stage when rounds turnover to get pairings and result slips out quickly. Other Head Judges choose a different team because they want the paper team to have time between rounds for team meetings or other small breaks. Instead, they'll assign EOR to the floor team.

Sometimes there's not a dedicated floor team, so these duties are assigned to logistics. This choice is particularly popular at constructed events, where the logistics team doesn't have as much on their plate as they would at a limited event.

And sometimes, EOR is its own team.

Just from this one example, it's easy to see that the responsibilities of judges can be delegated in a ginormous number of ways, all of which are effective at achieving different sets of goals. The short and long of this section basically boils down to this: different Head Judges have different expectations about team organization. And that's kind of awesome.

Smaller and Larger Events

How does all this apply to your local 1k that has five judges on staff? What about a massive Grand Prix that has more than 100?

Small Events

At smaller events, there may not be a schedule with formal teams and team leaders, but the structure is still there. Even if you're at a PPTQ with only one other judge, some of these organizational elements are still there.

Instead of having a paper, logistics, deck checks, and floor teams, these events are commonly divided into just two teams: deck checks and everything else. Alternately, individual judges are delegated specific tasks, and everyone reports to the Head Judge with no team leader. At very small events, like your locak GPTs and PPTQs that often only have a Head Judge, there's only one team: the Everything Team.

(And yes, it is possible to check 10 percent of decks *and* post pairings and distribute slips and answer calls and scorekeep all by yourself...but I don't recommend it.)

Large Events

Larger events have the opposite problem. Beyond a team leader and five or six team members, it becomes difficult to communicate and organize actions effectively. So, what do you do if you need 20 judges in order to meet the 10 percent goal on deck checks? Split deck checks into two or three teams, each with a team lead. Sometimes these team leads report to a Deck Check Overlord, and sometimes they report to the Head Judge directly.

At GPs, the rooms are often so large that single paper and floor teams will struggle to manage the entire tournament floor on their own. In this case, these teams may also be split and assigned specific areas.

Large events may also have a team that isn't present at all at small events, and that's coverage. The coverage team is responsible for relaying information to the commentators and other on-site event coverage guys. They also often table judge camera matches to relay game information for the stream.

Ladies and gentlemen, Ryan Stapleton.


Thoughts on Team Leading

We spent so much time discussing why it's important to be flexible about team structures and assignments, so we only had a few minutes at the end of Ryan's presentation to talk about team leading. But, even in that short time, there were a few excellent points.

Team leaders have some basic responsibilities. They have to make sure the tasks assigned to their team are accomplished. That's pretty basic. They should also be aware of where their team members are, what they're doing, and whether they've taken a break and consumed copious amounts of water.

But they also have another responsibility that often gets overlooked: they are, in many cases, the leading contributor to the overall event experience of the judges on their team. They direct tasks and provide guidance, but there's also more that they can do.

Making Things Interesting

These are some of the examples we came up with of ways team leaders can make an "ordinary" day of judging an engaging learning experience.
  • Meetings
  • Scenarios
  • Games
  • Team-building activities, like getting to know each other
  • Team breaks
Keep in mind that Head Judges are team leaders too.

Ryan's seminar was a great introduction to staff organization for large events, and he also provided some insight into being a memorable and effective team leader. What experiences have you had, with or as a team leader, that stand out?

Friday, November 6, 2015

2015 Mid-Atlantic Judge Conference: Virginia is for Reviewers by Riki Hayashi

There are many, many facets to the Magic Judge Program. If you need proof, take a look at the ongoing projects on JudgeApps or check out the official Magic Judges Blogs page. Being on the floor at events is only one piece of the judging puzzle. The truth of it is that it's impossible to focus on everything: Without choosing a niche, it's easy to become overwhelmed.

Riki Hayashi, a Level 3 judge from Roanoke, Virginia, has not only chosen his niche, but he's worked hard to make it as approachable as possible to everyone else. What's his niche?

Feedback.

Coincidentally, that was also his presentation topic at Richmond's judge conference in September, and his message was all about approachability.

As a Magic judge, I've written three reviews lifetime. One of those was a very long time ago, so it doesn't even count toward my L2 checklist (because, you know, one day maybe I want to advance as a judge). By comparison, there are judges in the program who have written hundreds of reviews. A hundred reviews is intimidating, but what about one? One review is easy.

I have a bad habit of providing people with feedback in person and never writing it down for them, or for myself. Riki pointed out that this kind of feedback is both excellent practice for writing reviews and a foundation you can build on.

Reviews don't have to be a thousand words long. They don't have to be elaborate, literary masterpieces. They just have to be specific and helpful. As you get more reviews under your belt, you'll get better.

You may get to the point where the reviews you write *are* elaborate, literary masterpieces, but that takes time and practice. Start small, and be aware of where you are on your journey toward becoming an excellent reviewer. Think of the judge you worked most closely with at your last event. Did you provide them with any feedback? Did you observe anything that you wanted to point out to them? Write it in a review. One review about one constructive thing. That's all it takes to start.

Riki also shared some of his valuable insight into the feedback and review process with us:

  • Newer judges tend to emulate the reviews that are written for them. When you're reviewing a new judge, keep that in mind when deciding how much and what to write.
  • Feedback can be spread over multiple reviews. Giving another judge one or two actionable things to work on at once is often more effective than presenting them with a list of 10 or 12 things, especially if you work with them over an extended period of time.
  • Reviews go two ways. They're as much a learning experience for the judge you're reviewing as they are for you. When you're thinking about how an event played out and another judge's performance, you're also thinking about what role you played.
  • The sooner you provide feedback to another judge, the more time they have to internalize and act on it.

Riki threw quite a few statistics at us: most prolific reviewers, their time in the judge program, average reviews written by different levels of judges. One in particular stood out to me.

On average, judges promoted to Level 3 had written 42 reviews, but there wasn't a correlation between reviews written and the time it took them to reach that level. There was, however, a correlation between how many reviews they had *received* and the amount of time it took them to get to Level 3.

That's a powerful testament to the power of reviews. It's difficult to assess our shortcomings ourselves, and written feedback helps us see the big picture. Your observations might be just the thing another judge needs to overcome the things that are holding them back, so tell them what you notice, good and bad.

Then login to Judge Center and write it down for them. It's easy to forget things people tell us, and there's nothing quite like looking back at old reviews and seeing how much you've improved.

Reviews. Write them to help your fellow judges, and write them to help yourself. But one at a time. Event by event. There's no need to feel overwhelmed by lofty goals.

P.S.: Reviewing up – Why is it so hard? is a great resource for reviewing judges who have more levels than you do. What other tips do you have for writing reviews?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

My Event Kit

I was accused, recently, of being "the most organized person I know" by a friend of mine. (That accusation was quickly followed by, "That might reflect poorly on my friends," but still ...) As it turns out, judging, scorekeeping, and tournament organizing have contributed more than their fair share to my organizational habits.

When I first started scorekeeping side events at SCG Opens, I didn't write a lot down. I had a computer in front of me that had all of the information I needed in it ... somewhere. If someone asked me a question, I could flip through the DCI-R events or the event details pages and answer it. But, as it turns out, those things take time, and time isn't something scorekeepers have a ton of. I started making paper charts of important event information so I could answer those questions in two seconds instead of 10 or 15; better yet, someone walking by could just glance at them and find out what they needed to know. I've posted a couple of these before because I think they're fun event souvenirs, but here's another example from GP London:

(See all those smiley faces? They mean that event is finished. Which is good, seeing as how London was two months ago.)

There are many facets of organization. These charts are just one of them. The other, and the one I think is most important, is being prepared.

Even with all the skill and experience in the world, if you show up to an event with no idea of what's going on and without the tools you need, your success will suffer.

I have a pencil case that I take to events. In fact, I carry it pretty much everywhere I think I might want to do any sort of work. It looks like this:


Because, you know, I believe in fun.

1. Notebook

Everyone needs a notebook. Whether you're judging or on stage, having a place to write things down is super important. While a computer or smartphone can make a decent notebook, they have one huge downside: they need electricity. If your phone dies in the middle of the day, how are you going to write down the details of that sweet judge call you want to remember forever or the observation you made about the new judge's confidence?

My notebooks are also a record of the things I've accomplished and the things I still want to accomplish. They have notes from events, lists of posts I want to get around to writing, goals for judging and scorekeeping. It's a journal, but only for things related to Magic: the Gathering. I even have some pictures of sweet draft decks in there. This is one of the best tools that exists for reflection and improvement. Oh, and organization.

I like to use moleskine notebooks. They're expensive, but they hold up well to constant traveling and abuse. Plus, they come in a billion different colors, sizes and styles so I still get to have some fun with them. My current one is white. Well, it was white. It's gotten a little dirty.

2. Pens, Pencils, Highlighters, Sharpies

These take up most of the space in my pencil case. Surprising, right? I use pencil to fill in chart information that might change — starting table number and round, mostly. Highlighters are useful for processing drop sheets and prize payouts. Pens are for everything else.

I don't use sharpies much, but it's inevitable that I get asked for one at an event. Someone wants a card signed or a judge needs a bolder note on the pairings sheet. I always prefer to be the person that says "Yes, I can help you with that," so I bring a sharpie or two.

If you're judging, bring a red pen. Or pink. Or orange. Actually, anything that's not blue or black is just fine. Most players have blue and black pens, and anything that stands out on a match result slip is great. But please don't write on slips with sharpies. Especially not the back of slips. They bleed everywhere and make things hard to read.

3. Sticky Notes

There are a few things I'm miserable at remembering. Assigning fixed seats when I get registration files is probably the biggest one, so I write the player's name and table number on a sticky note and plant it firmly on my computer screen, usually somewhere where it's in the way. Sometimes it helps, and sometimes I get used to working around it and forget why it's there.

Sticky notes are also great for tagging lost and found items and passing notes. Most of the organizers I've worked with have these in their office supplies, but I always bring my own little ones.

4. Flash Drives

For the people on stage, the Internet is usually an essential tool. We use it to pass files around and communicate with staff on the other side of the hall. But, inevitably, something bad happens. Someone's laptop can't connect. We hit the maximum number of connections. It's too slow to sync files. A flash drive solves all of these problems.

I have an owl and a turtle. There's nothing like a small silver lining to a stressful situation, and absurd flash drives are amusing, right? I also have a grown-up flash drive for when I want people to think I'm a professional, but that's not very often.

5. USB Hub

Speaking of, I need to get a new one of these. My old one has outlived its functionality :(

Sometimes an organizer hands me a laptop, and sometimes I use my own. My laptop has three USB ports. I've been at many events where the admin laptops only had two. When you know you need to plug in a printer, a mouse and, often, a 10-key, two or three USB ports doesn't cut it, especially not when Internet access might use one and you might need to transfer files the old fashioned way.

6. Headphones

If there's any chance I'm interacting with players, my headphones stay in my pencil case. There are times when they're awesome, though, like catching up with paperwork as events are winding down, especially grinding through post-event entry of 8-man brackets, and on breaks. I use a hair tie or rubber band to keep them folded up nice and tidy.

7. Chargers

There's nothing quite like getting a quarter of the way through the day and realizing you don't have a phone, computer or tablet charger. Whoops. My computer charger doesn't fit neatly in my pencil case, but the other two do. Like headphones, I keep them wrapped up neatly with a hair tie. I also keep a backup computer charger in the backpack I travel with. I've never had to use it, but I'm glad it's there.

8. Change

This is one of the newest additions to my pencil case, mostly because I like Diet Coke WAY too much. Coins and $1 bills make it easier to acquire delicious beverages from vending machines. They also make it easier to make change for communal lunch orders and coffee/hot chocolate runs.

9. Advil

Advil is my headache-be-gone drug of choice. It's also awesome to have around when the venue chairs suck or I do something stupid to my shoulders or wrists while I'm working.

Many organizers can't provide ibuprofen or any other drugs to their staff or players, and working through pain is miserable. I've forgotten this a couple times, and all the other awesome registration and scorekeeping staff who don't forget have been responsible for my sanity at more than one event.

10. Tablet, Book or Other Entertainment

Taking breaks is important. I'm one of the worst offenders on this front — I enjoy scorekeeping, and I'd often rather keep doing it than go do something else, especially if exciting things are happening. I'm extra bad at taking breaks when I've been working on something with my downtime, like a blog post, review or event feedback.

Having something to do while on break makes leaving the stage and disconnecting from the event for a while more enticing.

What do you take to events? Whether you're judging, on stage or working in some other role, what things are essential to your event success?

(Edit: Thanks for the comments guys! They have to be approved before they appear to prevent spam, so if you don't see your comment right away it's because I haven't seen it yet.)


Monday, October 5, 2015

WER: Sealed PPTQ Top 8s

This past weekend, my area hosted two Sealed Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers to celebrate the release of Battle for Zendikar, and I also got a few messages from judges asking about the best way to handle their top 8 brackets in WER. There are two things that make this a little complicated:


  • WER won't let you make pods for non-draft events, and these events are Sealed.
  • WER defaults to pairing the top 8 by seed, which isn't any good for Sealed PPTQs. Whoops.
Given the problems that draft pods can cause with WER, it might not be a bad thing that you can't create a pod for these events ;)

Let me back up a little bit. If you're not familiar with the format guidelines for Sealed PPTQs, the top 8 draft portion isn't paired the same way as the top 8 of a constructed PPTQ. Instead, players are seated randomly around the draft table and then paired according to where they sat. The play-draw rule still applies as it would for a seeded bracket, using standing after the Swiss rounds.

Here's the draft seating chart from the MTR:

And here's the draft bracket from the MTR:


Note that in this bracket, the first seed isn't necessarily playing against the eighth seed. They could be playing anyone.

Randomizing Seating

There are a bunch of ways to randomize seating. You can use the seating function in WER and uncheck the seating by name box. You could also use dice, Magic cards with different converted mana costs, or any other randomization method. You do not, however, want to generate top 8 pairings and use those to determine seating, because these aren't random; they're based on Swiss standings.

Creating Pairings

The bracket above reflects the appropriate pairings. Here are some tricks to remembering how it works when the bracket and seating chart aren't available:

  • In the first round, each player plays against the player sitting farthest away from them.
  • A player can't play someone sitting next to them until the final round. They also can't play anyone who would have played someone sitting next to them until the final round. This means they'll be playing someone who was sitting two seats away.
WER won't create the correct pairings for the quarterfinals or the semifinals because it defaults to the seeded bracket pairings. You'll have to manually update the pairings to reflect the randomized draft bracket by using the Edit Matches screen.

Be extra careful with the semifinal pairings. WER will default to pairings that are based on Swiss standings if it can, and they're probably not correct. I recommend writing out a bracket like the one from the MTR, filling it in with the players' names, and entering the WER matches for the entire top 8 when the tournament is finished.

Monday, September 28, 2015

2015 Mid-Atlantic Judge Conference: Becoming a Better Teaching Judge by Erik Aliff

The Fall 2015 Mid-Atlantic Judge Conference is in the books. Ninety-three (ish?) levels of judges turned out to Battlegrounds, an LGS in Richmond, Virginia, to talk shop and teach each other new things. I had the pleasure of presenting on WER in the last time slot (and you can see the PowerPoint), but for the first three hours of the conference I had an even greater pleasure: learning new things from other judges.

The first presentation I attended was Erik Aliff's Becoming a Better Teaching Judge, about communication and how judges can use communication models to become better educators. Erik is a teacher IRL, and he brought his classroom experience to bear on the 20 (ish) of us who attended his presentation. That's one of my favorite things about judge conferences — each one of us has a life outside of judging, and brings valuable experience and expertise to share.


The image on Erik's PowerPoint, which you can almost make out in my amazing photo (*cough*) is a communication model diagram. It was the focus of his presentation. Here's the detail of the diagram:

But, before we get into too much detail on that, we should start at the beginning, with the first question Erik asked the audience. Why do we communicate?

There were a lot of answers.


  • Because I have something I need to tell you.
  • Because I want to express myself.
  • Because I want to indicate awareness of my triggers.
Yeah, that last one was way funnier in person. But, as Erik pointed out, all of these things are just really specific examples of the one reason we communicate.

We communicate because we want something.

We want players to know that pairings are going up, and we want our opponents to let us resolve our triggers. As judges, we are responsible for communicating an enormous amount of information during an event, and that communication is insanely complex.

We're speakers and listeners at the same time, and we need to be able to adapt to changing communication situations. Let's go back to the model and start at the beginning, with speakers and listeners.

Speakers

Speakers have a purpose. They want something. When we're judging our purpose is often to provide information. There are some purposes that we should discard. Showing off how well you (not we, because I definitely don't know them that well) know the comprehensive rules makes you look smart, but looking smart doesn't help the players enjoy their event.

I'm going to provide them with the best information, with the answer that they need. This has to be our purpose.

Speakers have knowledge. There are things that they know and don't know. The knowledge we have can be relevant, exciting, and meaningful, but it's important as a backdrop to all of our communication.

Speakers have attitudes about themselves, their listeners, and the conversation. A speaker's attitude about himself is important to how he's received by his listener. If he's confident, he'll be more credible than if he appears uncertain or nervous. A speaker's attitude toward his listener can change how he approaches the communication.

Keep in mind that, whether or not you like an individual player, your purpose should be to help them. Finally, speakers have attitudes about the conversation. If you don't want to be involved in the conversation, it will influence the effectiveness of your communication.

Listeners

Like speakers, listeners have a purpose, they have knowledge, and they have attitudes.

Determining whether what your listener--often a player or another judge--wants is the same as what he's saying his wants is important for communicating effectively. A common judging example of this are poorly phrased questions that require answers that may be misleading.

"Can I target that spell with Spellskite?" "Yes, you can." But, it might not do what you want it to do. Trying to understand the purpose of your listener. Ask questions until you're sure you understand what's going on and what your listener wants.

As judges, our job is often to fill the gap between a listener's prior knowledge and what we need them to know. Rules questions are an obvious example. Players have an understanding of the rules, but might not know how a specific interaction works.

We step in and fill the gap between their knowledge and what they need to continue playing their game. We also often fill the knowledge gap in regards to tournament operations: your parings are posted over there; there are 15 minutes left in the round; standings will be posted when the last result slip is in.

Listeners also have attitudes that can help or impede our attempt's to communicate with them. If they've had a bad experience with a judge before, they may be less trusting. If they're on tilt, they may be more confrontational toward their opponents or flustered with themselves.

Assessing their attitude about themselves, their situation and the other people involved can help you adjust your communication style to be more effective. Erik recommended taking the time when you're walking to the table to try to get an idea about the players' attitudes. What's their body language like? Is it open and friendly or closed and tense?



(Some judges listening to Jeph Foster and Eric Dustin Brown kick off the conference.)


Changing Purposes

Often, other people will attempt to change our purpose, to get us to want what they want. Is changing your purpose okay? Yes, absolutely. But whether or not you should change your purpose depends on the situation, your original purpose, and the knowledge and attitudes of both speakers and listeners.

Frame of Reference

In the model above, the white background can be viewed as the frame of reference. Everyone has different expectations and understandings when entering a conversation. Different cultures have different views on authority, for example, and that might change how you need to communicate to effectively convey your message.

People play Magic all around the globe. They come from different backgrounds and expect different things. It may be difficult to anticipate how someone is going to react to a situation, but trying to understand your listener's frame of reference will go a long way toward understanding what they want and how you can help them.

Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication

Yep, now we're at the arrows. Verbal communication is easy: it's the things we say and write. Okay, so maybe it's not so easy. Written words can be misinterpreted. Spoken words have the advantage of intonation, which helps us convey more meaning than the words themselves.

If verbal communication is tricky, nonverbal communication is another beast entirely. Our body language is something that we don't always control and we're often not aware of, but it's an important part of our message. It expresses our purpose, knowledge, and attitudes. Worse, it can sometimes work at cross purposes with our verbal communication. Practice awareness of your body language and whether it reinforces or impedes the message you're trying to convey.

Erik's example of this was with height differences. If you tower over players, you present yourself as intimidating, potentially as a superior or even an enemy. If you're on their level, however, you present yourself as an equal who's trying to help them solve their problem. Kneeling next to a table so that you're at eye level with the players can help to defuse tense situations or let them know that you're on their side, and the enemy is whatever problem they're experiencing in their match.

Channels

At events, the most common communication channel between players and judges is the spoken word. Whether it's over a PA system or face-to-face, much of the communication that goes on uses words, tones and body language.

Many, many, many other communication channels exist. Text messages. Email. Phone calls. Smoke signals. Choosing an appropriate channel is an important part of communicating an effective message. For judges, this is often relevant to providing feedback after an event.

Do you talk to other judges in person, send them a Facebook message, or just submit a Judge Center review? Keep in mind that nonverbal channels often make messages ambiguous. Emotions are added on top of words that you may or may not have intended.

Interference

Lots of things can get in the way of effective communication. A crackly PA system can make it impossible to understand announcements. Language barriers at large international events can make it difficult for players to communicate clearly with their opponents about what they're trying to do. Attitudes can get in the way of understanding a speaker's or listener's purpose. Fatigue can cause speakers to ramble when they think they're being clear.

Identifying sources of interference is the first step toward overcoming them. A crackly PA system is easy to spot. A player's bad experience with a judge at another event may be harder to ferret out, but addressing the issue directly may make them more confident in your rulings.

Feedback

Sometimes, feedback is direct and immediate. "I don't understand what you said," is a clear indication that you failed to communicate your meaning. Sometimes, however, that feedback isn't so clear. Body language, tone, and other nonverbal cues may be all we have to figure out that a player or other event staff member doesn't understand what we're saying.

In order to improve your communication, you need to assess it. If you think a player doesn't understand, ask a question like "Did that answer your question?" You can also get feedback from other judges who observed your interactions. Ask specific questions:

  • Was my meaning clear?
  • Do you think my body language reinforced what I was saying?
  • Do you think the players understand what's going on now?
As will all aspects of judging, seeking feedback is the key to improving.

Erik did something during his presentation that I can't do in text, which is a shame: he reinforced these parts of the communication model with real examples. He towered over one of the judges in the front row, then sat next to him to show how much of a drastic difference body language can make in communication. He gave examples of how different tones can change the meaning of otherwise identical statements. He put up an image of crying babies and explained that, yes, judge sometimes do communicate like that--without making their purpose or message clear.

Here's a link to a collection of communication resources, most of them TED talks. Hopefully they, and the information from Erik's seminar, help you Become a Better Teaching Judge.



Thursday, September 17, 2015

Comprehensive(ish) Guide to Match Result Slips

The life of a scorekeeper revolves around match result slips. Most of the time (unless something has gone wrong, we're hungry, or we drank too much Diet Coke last round) we're sitting on stage pressing buttons on a computer and hoping nothing breaks.

Slips are our connection to the tournament and its players. Through them, we get the information we need to keep the event moving. In the ideal and perfect scorekeeping world, they're cut perfectly, filled out neatly, and don't have any water/soda/blood/I don't really want to know what else on them. (Yes, all of those things have happened.)

The ideal and perfect scorekeeping world doesn't exist, but I am dedicated to bringing it one step closer to reality. Take note of these things for your next large event, share them with your Paper Team, and make a scorekeeper near you very happy. Or at least a bit happier.

Cut

Cutting match result slips well is super important. A slip that looks like this one will make any scorekeeper's life really difficult:


Yep. That was turned in at real event. Table number, player names, and results are essential pieces of information on slips. I managed to figure this one out with a bit of detective work, but it took some time. When I'm scorekeeping, time is the most precious commodity, and it's much easier to deal with slips that are cut neatly:

  • Top and bottom of the sheet are cut off. This might not seem important, but ask the scorekeeper at your next event if you can help sort slips and you'll see why it is.
  • Try to cut on the line. It doesn't have to be perfect. The important parts are that the slips are the same size and all the pertinent information is there.
  • Edges are neat. Slips tend to stick together when they're not. To keep the paper cutter from pulling, press the blade in while you push down. I was *miserable* at cutting paper until someone taught me this.
  • If you mess up cutting slips, let me know and ask me to print more, especially if the event is using DCI-R -- I can re-print a specific range of slips.

As a corollary, please don't fold/crumple/tear/nibble on/completely devour match result slips.

There are some questions for which there are two kinds of answers: answers that are okay and answers that are completely gross. I avoid asking those questions as much as possible because I don't want to know any answer in the second category. "Why is this match result slip wet?" is one of those questions.

Penalties

Penalties should be written out like this, legibly, on the back of match result slips:

[Judge Name First, Last] [Player Name Last, First] [Infraction] [Penalty] [Concise Description]

Some scorekeepers like a different order for judge and player name, and if your scorekeeper, team lead, or head judge tells you to write penalties differently, by all means do.

Most scorekeepers are familiar with the IPG, either as judges themselves or by virtue of having typed a million or so penalties. As such, you can save yourself some time when writing penalties with some abbreviations.

Infractions

IPD@SoG (or similar): Improper Draw at Start of Game
LEC/L@EC: Looking at Extra Cards
GRV/GRE: Game Rule Violation/Error
FTMGS: Failure to Maintain Game State
DEC: Drawing Extra Cards
MT: Missed Trigger
DDLP: Deck/Decklist Problem

Penalties

W: Warning
GL: Game Loss
ML: Match Loss

If the penalty that was issued is the standard penalty for that infraction, it's not really necessary to write it down. If there was an upgrade or downgrade, it's essential that it's written down, and maybe circled so the scorekeeper doesn't overlook it.

Concise Description

This part is important. The fewer words you write, the fewer I have to parse and type, but it has to be long enough to sufficiently convey what happened in the match. If it's an infraction that occurs regularly, like drawing seven cards on a mulligan, using "shorthand" is a quick, easy way to convey what happened.

Here are some of the phrases I like to use:
  • Mulliganed to 7
  • Flipped top card
  • 59/15
  • See above (for Failure to Maintain Game State, when the GRV is already described)
If there are details that you think are important to the situation, like something you observed that might raise a red flag, write it down on the slip. Make sure you use specific details about what happened rather than your thoughts on it -- players can flip over the slip and read the penalty any time.

And on that note, make sure what you write down doesn't give any information away to the players.


Okay, so my handwriting there wasn't the neatest, but it's legible! (I think.)

No Shows

There's an easy way to fill out no shows, and there's a hard way. The hard way involves writing anything on the back of a match result slips. The easy way ends up looking like this:



There's not really much to say about no-show penalties, and filling out the slip like this tells the scorekeeper everything they need to know.

Notice that the game record isn't in pen -- that's because the player who did show up to the match filled it out instead of me (or they would have, if this wasn't just a mock slip).

That's important enough that I'll say it again, in bold, and centered:

Always have the player at the table fill out no show results.

Players know who they are, and they know that they're the one winning this match. Whether you hear their name and are thinking about which player to assign the penalty to or the players have similar names, the result is rather frequently the same: the wrong player getting assigned the penalty and dropped.

If you have the player fill out the 0-2 or 2-0 and sign before you make a mark, the odds of that are dramatically reduced. Accidentally dropped players are the most tedious scorekeeping issue to fix (apart from things completely exploding, that is), and many times they can be avoided with this simple measure.

Things to Confirm

Weird things happen on slips all the time. Players start to fill them out wrong. They decide they don't want to drop after all. Almost all the time, completely scribbling through the mistake and re-writing it is a perfectly clear indication of what the slip is supposed to say.

Initialling the slip in red ink lets the scorekeeper know that a judge was involved and everything's correct -- if I have a question about a slip, I'll track down the judge whose initials are on it, or the players.

Here are some cases where a little extra confirmation helps:

  • If a player accidentally marked the drop column, write "NOT DROPPING" somewhere next to the scribble. Sometimes players scribble in that column to indicate that they want to drop, and I don't want to guess wrong.
  • If the winner of a match is dropping, judge initials help me confirm that the drop mark is next to the correct player's name.
  • During end-of-round procedures, put a 0 in the draws column if a match ended 1-1.

If a player forgot to sign the slip and you still can't find them, still turn the slip in. Having a result for the match is better than having a slip floating around on the floor. If there's an error in the result, innocent or otherwise, it can be corrected at the beginning of the next round, and that's better than the potential delay caused to the entire event. Players signing on the wrong line, on the other hand, isn't a problem at all.

Do you have any other tips and tricks for match result slips? Let us know :D

Thursday, September 10, 2015

GP Charlotte 2015: How to Help Your Swiss Sides Scorekeeper

Yep, you read that title correctly. Grand Prix Charlotte was a few months ago, but I'm behind on my event posts and some interesting things happened, so here we are :) I enjoy writing things down (could you tell?), and I'm a bit of pack rat, so my notes from this GP are stored right between my notes from GP Vegas and the SCG Open in Baltimore that happened at the end of June. Yay!

Charlotte as an event city holds a special place in my heart: I attended my first GP there a few years ago, when the nearly 2700 main event players blew old attendance records out of the water. Yep. First GP ever. As a player, as a judge, or as stage staff. Man, that event was real. Anyway. Back to the present. Well, closer to the present at least.

Infinite Challenge Badges

The big news from the most recent GP Charlotte was the debut of StarCityGames.com's Infinite Challenge Badge. A single fee for the weekend got a player entry into any of the Challenge Swiss side events, which were my domain for the weekend. Here's a pic from my notebook to give you a rough idea of how many events that was:


Of the events on that list, only the Friday Foiled Again event wasn't part of the Infinite Challenge Badge. It's a little hard to see in the picture, but if you look under players for the Sealed events on Saturday and Sunday, you might be able to make out my notes about how many drops there were before round 1 of those events — about half of the total number of entries.

Turns out, when you tell players they can sign up for Sealed events for free as part of their Infinite Challenge Badge, they do it, take the packs, and drop. But, we have to have some record of them to help with product reconciliation at the end of the event and to track how well the Challenge Badges are doing. So, they had to be registered, and dropped.

Figuring out which half of a 300-person event doesn't want to play round 1 can be challenging (heh), and any method is bound to introduce some amount of error. This is what I did:

1. Printed an extra copy of the seatings by name that went up for deck building.
2. Asked the Head Judge of the event to announce that any players wanting to drop should remain in their seats until a judge comes by and gets their name.
3. Asked a judge or two to work through the seated players and highlight the names of those who wanted to drop, then bring me the list as soon as possible.
4. Traded a blank sheet of paper for that list as soon as it was done so players could drop from the build area, and I'd have a more condensed list to work from after I got through the highlighted names on the seating.
5. Asked a judge to stand in front of my computer and help players who didn't need my help specifically.

The process was time consuming for each event, but it worked. Players were dropped before it was time to pair the first round. A few players were dropped accidentally because they weren't in their seats when the judge with the list got to them, but that's pretty easy to fix.

The Challenge Badges posed a few other problems for the event, but most of them were beyond the scope of my scorekeeping assignment:

  • People were trying to sign up for events with their friend's badges.
  • The Badge line got lengthy, and some players had trouble picking up their badges and registering for events in time.
  • Players with Badges tended to try to register for events after the cutoff times.
The awesome registration and admin staff dealt with these issues as well as they could, and overall I think the Badges were successful. I also think they do something kind of important for Grand Prix events:

They make Grand Prix less about a single tournament and more about the festival atmosphere that comes with hanging out with your friends and playing Magic: the Gathering.

That's a pretty big shift from the mentality that's existed around GPs until now, and I'm excited about it. The way the Vegas 2015 venue was set up contributed to that convention feel — vendors and artists making the giant room seem smaller, lots of things going on — and I'm all for the community aspects of Magic over the competitive, tournament-winning aspects. Winning tournaments is fun, but so is making memories.

Judging Swiss Sides

Back to my title (How to Help Your Swiss Sides Scorekeeper): scorekeeping Swiss sides at GPs can be grueling. An event is firing every hour, rounds flip at around the same time, and there tend to be lots of people looking for lots of different kinds of information. Staying organized is critical, or answering questions takes longer. If answering questions takes longer, performing tasks gets delayed, and delays spiral into ... bad things.

There are many items on my list of things Swiss judges can do for their scorekeeper at large events, like volunteering to make a Starbucks run for hot chocolate, but these are the most important ones:

If you're Head Judging a Swiss event, let me know your starting table number as soon as possible.

As soon as possible means as soon as the previous event is seated and you know what tables will be free. If there are factors beyond your control preventing you from figuring out your starting table number, like On-Demand events or a table shift of the main event, let me know. If I can't help you figure it out, at least I know when to expect the information to be available. Setting high table numbers in DCI-R can take a bit of work, and the more warning I have the faster I can get the tournament started when registration closes.

Don't ask me how many players are in the event until about 10 minutes before it starts.

Chances are good that I have no idea. I don't usually get player files from registration until registration closes, which is at about the ten-till mark. If something crazy is happening at registration, like a massive line, I might not know until ten minutes after the event is supposed to start.

If you need this information for your starting table number — for example, if you know what you want your ending table number to be — or to prepare extra sealed product, please let me know instead of taking "I don't know" as answer. I can figure out the starting table number when registration closes, or try to get you the information you need.

Leave me your name, DCI number, and the name of the event you're judging, preferably in a tangible, papery form. If you go on break, tell me who's replacing you and when you'll be back.

I, personally, am notoriously bad at remembering to add judges to events. If you put this information in front of me, I'm more likely to remember. I want you to get credit for judging this event, but when things get hectic that's one of the first tasks to get back burnered. Also, feel free to remind me when things are quiet. Tracking you down later is a pain, and I'd rather get you in the file while your event is active.

Plus, if I need to find you for something it's much easier for me to ask for you by name than "whoever the Head Judge of the 5 p.m. Modern Challenge is."

Remember to make special announcements.

Some of the things scorekeepers ask you to remind players about — to take their fourth round result slips to customer service at SCG GPs — may seem inconsequential, but they're not. If you don't make these announcements, I have to answer "Where do I get my prizes?" for every player in the event, which takes time. Some players won't listen no matter how many announcements you make or signs you post, that's inevitable, but heading off as many of the questions as possible is a huge help.

Ask for the things you need.

I'm here, first and foremost, to facilitate the event that you're judging. If there's something you need that you don't have, and you think I can help you, please ask. When you ask, help me help you:

  • Tell me what you need.
  • Tell me why you need it.
  • Tell me when you need it by.
That second question is important because I may be able to give you something that's more helpful than what you're asking for, or offer an alternative for what you're trying to accomplish. If you ask for a player list, I'll want to know if you're using it for drops or deck checks because there are different kinds of printouts that better suited to each of those tasks.

The third question is important because I'm probably busy. If you need that thing right away, let me know so that I can make it a higher priority. If it can wait ten minutes or until after the next round starts, tell me that too. If it can wait, and I forget to do it, ask again. I'm human. I can juggle lots of different things, and I'm pretty good at remembering what people have asked for, but I'm not perfect.

Also, hot chocolate.

Not really. But if you keep these things in mind when you're working Swiss side events, your scorekeeper will thank you. At least I will. Most of the time.

Mid-Atlantic Judge Conference

The Mid-Atlantic region is having a judge conference next Sunday! (That's September 20th, 2015.) I've put together a presentation on WER topics for attendees that I'll make public, in the form of a PowerPoint, some notes, and some blog posts in the week or so after the conference. If there are specific questions you have about WER for your local store's FNMs, GPTs, and PPTQs, let me know! I'll try to incorporate suggestions into the presentation, and I'm always happy to try to answer questions directly.

Additionally, I'm going to spend the three presentation blocks I'm not presenting doing some (probably awful) coverage of the other presentations. I hope to wrangle some of the other awesome attendees to help my efforts, so look out for that: D

(I promise those posts will have more pictures than this one.)

Friday, August 21, 2015

WER: Handling Prizes and Standings Exports

While handing out prizes isn't strictly a scorekeeper operation, it's something that they (and judges) are often called on to do at events from Friday Night Magic to SCG Opens. Speeding this process up makes everyone happier -- less standing in line, more cracking packs or spending store credit -- and having a set method going in not only makes it faster, it also helps with your organization and reconciliation.

My favorite method applies to events with a prize structure based on players' final records, and might just be useful for you tonight at Friday Night Magic.

If you're giving out prizes based on standings instead of match points, you have to wait until the last round is over before you can do much of anything; otherwise, you can start giving out prizes as soon as the last round starts.

For a four-round Swiss event, you'll also need a printed copy of standings after Round 3. The Standings tab in WER (pictured below) does update in real time as results are entered, but that doesn't help you keep track of which players have reported their final-round matches and which ones have received prizes. You also can't write on it.

Well, I mean, you can. But your Tournament Organizer might be a little upset by that.

(DCI Numbers removed to protect the innocent.)

Update the points on your printed copy of standings as results are reported and give players the prizes that correspond to their new record.. Personally, I use these marks because they're simple and clean:

  • Loss: circle the player's match points
  • Win: Single diagonal line through their old match points, write in the new total next to it.
  • Prizes: Highlight or cross out the names of players that have received prizes and make a note of prize options (set, store credit alternative, etc.)

I also like using the standings sheet to note things like which players are getting random FNM foils or other door prizes so I can hand them out with the prizes for top finishers.

You can enter results after everyone has prized out, or as the round progresses. Doing it later frees up your time a bit, which can be helpful if you're at Friday Night Magic and juggling Standard and Modern events or helping out with the register. Just make sure you get them in, and get the event uploaded, before the night is over so everyone gets their Planeswalker Points.

Scaling

My other favorite thing about this method is that is scales well to any size event. It works equally well for my 8-player mock event as it does for the 300-player Challenges we ran in GP London last weekend. Scaling up to *that* many players requires modifying the system slightly so that multiple people can access the third round standings and record new information.

There are a few ways to do this.

First, split the physical pages of standings into different stations. You can divide stations by record going into Round 4 or by last name by taking advantage of the ability to print Standings by Rank or Standings by Name.

If you have a computer for everyone helping with prizes, you can also use Google Docs (which might be the greatest thing ever for event operations). Getting the standings information into spreadsheet format requires a little bit of work.

Exporting Standings to Excel

To start, navigate to the Standings tab and click "Export Standings" (see image above). Enter a unique file name. Using the tournament type, date, and round works well. I called this one MockTournament because...it is :D




The standings export is an XML file, which looks gross and isn't particularly useful. Change the file extension* to an Excel extension, like .xls. You can do this by renaming the file if you have file extensions shown in your folders (which I highly recommend). Your computer will warn you that changing file extensions can do Bad Things to files. Click "OK", then open the file from the folder where you saved it.

You'll see a few more prompts of the "hey, you're doing weird things with this file" variety. Click "Yes" for the first one. Leave "As an XML table" selected for the second one, and click "OK."




Wait. You're not done yet. There's one more. Just click "OK" on the third pop-up, and you'll get a very pretty spreadsheet:

(DCI Numbers removed to protect the innocent.)

Now that you know how to create them, having standings in Excel is also useful for things other than just prizes:

  • Monthly Friday Night Magic leaderboards
  • Magic League point tracking
  • Formating standings to post online

Enjoy your FNMs :)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Jeff Darran: Let's Talk Slips

Today's post was written by Level 2 Judge and North Carolina veteran Jeff Darran. Follow along for some stage perspective on result slips at large events :D

---

Let’s talk result slips and dealing with your scorekeeper!

Hi there! I’m going to talk about some of the experiences I had as a scorekeeper at GP Vegas. I was scorekeeping Swiss side events for the first three days of the event, and I was one of two scorekeepers for the Super Sunday Series event on Sunday.

I’d like to talk with you all today about what to do with result slips. Result slips are a big deal as a single missing slip can hold up an event and cost everyone precious minutes. When there are multiple scorekeepers for the side events, getting the slips in the correct result slips box can be tricky. At GP Vegas, there were no less than 8 other Swiss scorekeepers on any of the four days, meaning there were eight people sitting at a stage with a result slip box sitting in front of them.

 So, how do we get the slips in the right box? How do you know which box is yours? There are a couple different answers for this.

Side Events

In Vegas, each scorekeeper had a sign taped to their box with the event that they were scorekeeping listed on it.

On Thursday, I was the scorekeeper for three events:
  •  4:30 pm Legacy #2
  • 5:00 pm Modern Masters Sealed #3
  • 5:30 pm Modern #2

To make it easier for the players, I had taped a sign to my result slips box that listed each event on a single line, but in big bold face print. When you’re playing in a side event at a Grand Prix like this, the result slips will most likely (maybe not always though) have the actual event name listed near the top.

In Vegas, they didn’t print with the event time, but my slips did say Legacy #2, Modern Masters Sealed Trail #3, and Modern #2. This should make it easier on the players when they come up to the stage and see a box with these labels to identify which scorekeeper has which events.

Sometimes there is only one scorekeeper for all the Swiss side events. Generally speaking, this is what happens at Grand Prix presented by StarCityGames.com, and Jenn is often that scorekeeper (I’m most likely the one you gave money to in order to sign up for the event).  There’s a sign sitting near her that says something like “Sides Result Slips.” If you are playing in a side event, please put your result slip in that box. That’s all you need to do.

I realize these two situations are not always the case. Before asking a scorekeeper – who is usually swamped -- where the result slip in your hand goes, look at the box to see if there’s a tournament listed there and see if that tournament matches the name of the tournament on your result slip.

“Main” Events

Getting main event result slips to the right place can be tricky too. There were two of us scorekeeping the Super Sunday Series. We were sitting next to each other and we each had our own result slips box. My event was on blue paper: pairings were blue, result slips were blue, and the sheet that said when the round ended was blue. There was blue paper on the result box indicating that the blue result slips went in that box.

All my partner’s paperwork was on white paper. Sounds easy right? Nope. I easily had 50 players with result slips ask me if their slips went into my box. The only other choice was a box all decked out in white paper.

If there is a way to make result slips easier or clearer, please feel free to comment and let me know. I’m always interested in things being easier.

Thanks for reading!