Saturday, June 6, 2015

GP Vegas 2015: Thursday

Over the past few days I've read some other accounts of last weekend's Grand Prix and a common thread through them is the long waits for On-Demand Events (ODEs) early in the weekend. I was one of the ODE scorekeepers when the madness started on Thursday, and hopefully I can share some insight on what caused those delays and what we did to try to solve them.

Wednesday evening the side events scorekeepers got together to talk about the plans for the weekend. Most of the details were pretty standard — what software we were using for which events, where backups were being saved in Dropbox, and who was responsible for uploads. Outside the ordinary was the plan for ODEs.

Given the number of players we expected, firing a draft as soon as eight players signed up would stress even the absurd number of judges on staff. Instead, the plan was to keep registration open and fire events every half-hour, with Modern Masters 2015 drafts at: 00 and: 30, MM2015 Sealed at: 10 and: 40, and Dragons of Tarkir drafts at: 20 and: 50.

The registration staff (who were fantastic) would create events in WER with all the players who signed up in a given half-hour and export the tournaments to a Dropbox folder for the scorekeepers, who would open it all the way across the hall, create pods, and hand the event off to the judges.

Some of this is going to be a little technical, so if you want to skip the software stuff, head down to Revising the System.

Here's a screencap of where to find the Import Event button:

In theory, this plan was awesome.

In practice, it didn't work out so well. I imported first batch of drafts and saw this:

Something wonky happened with the event import, and while I could see that there were supposed to be 65 players in the first batch of drafts, WER refused to show me who those players were, and I couldn't make draft pods or pair them.

The first troubleshooting steps were (and usually are):

  • Restart WER.
  • Re-import the event (or redo whatever it was that you were trying to do).

Many times, that will fix whatever the problem is. It didn't. By this point, between a small delay getting the file from registration and trying to fix this issue, we were about ten minutes past when we meant to fire the first draft. Jeff Phillips, my buddy on ODE scorekeeping for the day, also jumped on his computer to fiddle with the files to see what we could come up with.

I decided to try to re-enter the players into the file to see if that would get them un-phantomed. The easiest way to do this, with the registration slips halfway across the room, is to open the. wer file for the event (the one we unsuccessfully tried to import) in Notepad and look at the players. That file looks something like this, but note that I've removed actual names and DCI numbers:

With the file open in one window and WER next to it, I entered the first player. I expected his name to just show up in the player list, where it was missing above, and that happened. But, the player count for the event also went up by one. Uh oh.

Having the same player registered in an event twice, even if one is a phantom, is Not Good. I closed the file and re-imported the original, nonfunctional one.

Something strange happened. Now, the player whose DCI number I entered was showing up in the player list, but no one else. The number of players was still correct at 65. This was a huge hint about what was wrong: the only thing that changed since the last import was that player was now on my Local Player List from when I manually entered his DCI number.

I radioed to the registration guys for an upload of their Local Player List thinking that if I could import it and reopen the tournament, everything would be fine. It probably would have been, except that for some reason* WER crashed every time I pressed "Import" on the Local Players Tab.

By this point, a few more minutes had passed and we wanted to get people drafting, so I decided to do it the hard way. "Hard way" here, of course, meaning that I created a new event and manually re-entered all of the players from the. wer file. Even copying and pasting that many DCI numbers takes a little time, and the software issues combined to cost us about half an hour.

Pods were printed for the first event about the time we got the files for the second event, and there was some scuffling while event managers tried to combine the two events to one and judges sat players for their drafts. When everything was said and done, the first draft of the day was starting an hour behind schedule :(

(*It turns out that one of the registration computers was running an older version of WER that caused some compatibility issues. Yay!)

Revising the System

For the rest of the day, instead of trying to import full events, we imported lists of players (which explain that in my next post in detail, because it might be super useful to you at busy Friday Night Magic, Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier, Invitational Qualifier, or other such events), and that worked out much better. It still had downsides, so we adapted the system even further for the rest of the weekend.

Instead of firing drafts every half-hour, I suggested that we launch them in 32-person flights. Thirty-two turned out to be the perfect number because we could fit four drafts at each row of tables and put one judge in charge of them, balancing wait times with demands on staff.

I didn't get to see the new system in action from a staff perspective because I was on scheduled events for the rest of the weekend, but I did get to test it out on Sunday night when I sneaked into one of the last draft flights after my shift ended.

It's very important to be able to adapt on the fly to adverse situations, and changing the way events were being run after the first day vastly improved the player experience for ODE events. The 32-person system still wasn't perfect — the eight guys who just wanted to draft together all weekend for sick prizes didn't always end up in the same pod — but it turned out to be much better than what we started with.

On Friday I was on the Foiled Again Bounty Event, and I'll talk about that in a few days, but before then...


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