Monday, January 4, 2016

Preparing for Events

Happy New Year!

It's the first Monday of 2016. That's kind of exciting, right? I love Mondays. They're the best day of the week. There's so much energy and potential in a new week, and this Monday is particularly exciting because it's the Monday before my first event of 2016: the SCG Open in Charlotte.

(It is Charlotte, right? All these cities blend together for me.)

But ... I'm not on stage in Charlotte. The SCG staff will be joined by Jeff Darran, and I'm on the Paper team, at least on Saturday :D

Yep. That's right. I'll be a floor judge at my first Magic event of 2016. And it's Modern. I've played a little bit of Modern (#StormForever), but I haven't been around the format a ton, so I have some prep work to do this week. Thinking about how to tackle it led me to this post.

A while ago, I wrote about my event kit, but that's only a small part of the preparation that goes into events. The rest is less a physical exercise than a mental one, but it's much more important. After all, someone on staff will have a spare red pen for you. They can't put your thoughts in order or telepathically implant the things you want to know about the format in your brain, though. You have to make sure those things are there.

What You Need to Know About the Event

Regardless of what my role at a specific event is, this is where I start: event details. These things are important. They provide you with the context you need to prepare successfully. Here are the key points:

  • Location, date, and time
  • Format
  • Side event schedule
  • Participation rewards and prizes

Nicholas Sabin is Head Judging the Charlotte Open, and his email to the staff went out yesterday afternoon. It contained this gem:

"If you are not early, you are late; one of my biggest irritations is lateness."

As it turns out, though, showing up on time isn't enough. If you're not prepared to get to work when you arrive, are you really on time? That's where the rest of these details come in.

Even if you're not assigned to side events, it's useful to know what events are offered. You don't need to memorize prize payouts or start times, but having a general answer available when players ask is much better than telling them that you don't know:

"There are drafts, Commander pods, and single-elimination constructed events that fire as soon as they have enough players. There are also scheduled Challenge events for different formats. All the events pay out Prize Tickets, which you can spent on packs and other goodies at the Prize Wall. The stage has more information on everything if you're interested." 

That feels like a lot of information. It's enough for a player to figure out whether they might be interested in participating in a side event, but it's really just a 10-second version of what they'd find if they looked on the event page.

If side events are my responsibility, either as a judge or a scorekeeper, I spend more time on the specifics. I learn the schedule, usually by writing it down in my notebook, and the prize payout. I'd also want to know what prize wall tickets are worth — how many points are packs? what are the big ticket items? how many points do those cost?

I like being able to answer questions for players. Magic tournaments happen in big rooms, and sending them all the way to the other end of the hall to get an answer to their question is kinda miserable.

Format Guides

Format isn't something I pay a lot of attention to when I'm scorekeeping events. Whether the players are playing Standard or Sealed or Legacy doesn't have much of an impact on what I'm doing on stage (except when I have to decipher a penalty on the back of a slip — please write legibly :D). When it comes to judging, though, format is super important.

Format Guides are a fantastic resource. That overview page links to guides for Standard, Modern, Sealed and more, and it also has some links to helpful Missed Trigger lists. My prep for Charlotte will definitely include looking over the Modern one again.

I like to use a header in my notebook to start the section on each event. Sometimes it's as simple as the event, location and date on its own line in a bright, pretty color. Sometimes it's a half page or full page of the event details that I want to remember.

This serves two purposes:

  1. The act of writing things down helps me remember them.
  2. It's an easily accessible reference when I'm on-site.

What You Need to Know About Your Role

Events have a lot of details, but those details provide the foundation of your pre-event work. When you get into your role, your preparation becomes more focused. Frequently, you won't know what your team or event assignment is until the week leading up to the event, which is why I like to have the event details figured out by then.

What's Your Assignment?

When you're judging, this is your team. When you're an admin, this is your stage role. It can be paper, deck checks, Swiss event registration, side event scorekeeping or concierge in the VIP lounge. It could be all five of those things at different points in the weekend. Are you a team lead? Are you the point person for a specific stage task?

Each role takes a slightly different approach to the event. Your have different priorities, different tools, and different processes. Even people working on the same team often have different responsibilities. In Charlotte, I'll be on the paper team. I could be posting pairings, cutting result slips, or distributing them. I could be doing all of those things at different times.

Knowing what your responsibilities are beforehand, even in a general sense, will help you prepare. Here are some ideas:

  • (Deck checks) Try out one of the deck list counting apps for deck checks.
  • (Paper) Figure out whether there are online pairings and how they work.
  • (End-of-round) Ask your scorekeeper what's most helpful for them.

Don't be afraid to reach out to other people on staff, whether they're judges or admins, to ask questions or make plans.

Who Are You Working With?

There's a lot of information in the event schedule, and too many of the people I know only look at their own assignments. Your assignment is only one piece of the puzzle.

Are you a team lead or point person? Who are you reporting to? Who will you be working closely with, both on your team and on other teams?

I've scorekept Swiss side events at quite a few GPs, and one of the first things I do when I get the schedule is figure out who the Swiss registration lead is. That's the person I'm most likely to interact with in a time-sensitive way, and they're usually seated Somewhere Else in the hall. Sometimes clear on the other side of it. I need to figure out how to communicate with them. Sometime it's Pidgin, sometimes it's radio, sometimes it's smoke signals, but I can't start an event until their line is clear.

This weekend, I'm on the paper team.

My team

My team lead, Jonathan Aiken, is a Level 2 judge from Tennessee that I don't recall working with before. I have worked with the other three judges on my team before, though not while I was floor judging, so that's going to be a sweet new experience and perspective too.

Other teams

I'm also paying attention to who's on the end-of-round team because those are the people I'm most likely to bump into at the stage when rounds are starting and ending. The team lead is Eric Dustin Brown, Richmond's new Area Captain and my roommate. There are some names on his team that I don't recognize.

I won't be working as closely with the deck checks or side events teams, but I want to know at least one familiar face there in case I need to point someone in their direction.


Finally, I want to know who can handle appeals, back ups, and other wonky situations. For this event, Nicholas has delegated some of his power to Abe Corson.

What You Need to Know About Your Goals
aka You Should Have One

It's really easy to go into an event with "I don't want to mess anything up" as a goal, but that's the worst goal I can imagine (other than silly ones, like "I want to flip a table"):

  • Messing things up is one of the best ways to learn new things.
  • You don't add any value to the event or your experience by just going through the motions.

Instead, take risks. Try new things. Formulate a goal that's measurable, even if it's not with numbers, and plan what you need to do to accomplish it.

Many of the judges in my area have made review writing one of their 2016 resolutions, and their goal is writing at least one review per event. That's a great goal. It's measurable. It's useful to them and to the other judges on staff. But what steps can they take to accomplish it?

  • Be attentive. Watch what other judges are doing.
  • Be specific. Take notes. Write down details of interactions.
  • Be reflective. Think about what happened. Think about what could have happened differently. Would that be better or worse?

When I'm scorekeeping events, one of my goals is to provide feedback on systems and processes. A lot of the time, I make these comments in conversation with the other staff members when they occur to me, but I don't usually think about how to improve things until I'm out of the moment, writing them down. Taking time to reflect on these things later, whether it's when I'm off the stage on a break or at home after the event, is important for the way I think about things. 

My event notes tend to be very observational — this ruling was made, this feature works this way, this interaction happened this way — rather than reflective. One of my goals for Charlotte is to take notes that are more reflective. It's going to be hard. I like details too much, but they need context to be useful.

I love using feedback and reviews and notes as a goal because it engages me in so many aspects of working events — interacting with other staff members, solving problems, completing tasks, improving the player experience — but other goals are equally as valid.

Maybe you want to cut down your deck check time by 30 seconds. Maybe you want to get better at using the paper cutter. Maybe you want to learn about a new role or discuss a policy change with someone or several someones until you think you really understand it. Maybe you want to test your scorekeeping limits.

What's your first event of 2016? Whatever it is, set a goal. Working an event isn't just about that weekend, that single experience. It's also a bridge between the experiences you've had in the past and the ones you want to have in the future.

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