Thursday, February 18, 2016

Being An Effective Line Captain

Judges interact with scorekeepers and stage staff at many different crunch times throughout a tournament. For some of these interactions, the urgency is readily apparent: pairings or result slips are printing and need to be posted or someone has a problem that only someone on stage can help them with. In these cases, the impact of not approaching these tasks with purpose is evident. Pairings don't get posted. Players are left waiting and wondering who's going to help them.

There are some interactions that don't have such an obvious impact on the event, though, and these are equally important. Line captaining seems simple enough, but the difference between a good line captain and a bad one can be the difference between the event starting on time and starting late.

What Do Line Captains Do?

As a line captain, you're an ambassador to the players who are registering (or collecting prizes or filling in tax forms). You're their gateway to signing up (or picking up prizes or whatever) in as little time and with as little fuss as possible.

Your job is to help keep the line at registration (or maybe prize payout or some other function that requires a bunch of players to talk to a few people on stage) moving quickly. You'll wrangle players into a single-file line or guide them to the appropriate line if different stage stations are managing different processes. Essentially, you're directing traffic.

You're also often the first point of contact a player has when he or she walks into an event, which means that you'll have to field common questions like "where do I sign up?" and "where can I get a deck list sheet?" It's important that line captains are equipped with the information they need to answer these questions or point players to the person who can.

As with many kinds of choke points, having ineffective direction can be worse than having none at all.

So, what makes a good line captain?

Find Out What You Need to Know

I asked Eric Dustin Brown, whose line captaining abilities I respect immensely, what he would tell a judge line captaining for the first time if he could only tell him or her three things. His answer was pretty telling:

  1. Learn who is signing people up for what.
  2. Learn which way the line forms.
  3. Learn what information the players need.

The most effective line captains are equipped with information. It's hard to direct players to the right place if you don't know where the right place is. The first thing you should do when you're asked to line captain is find out what the players need to know so that you can tell them.

Learn who is signing people up for what.

If multiple events are open for registration, such as On-Demand side events and the main event, different people may be taking registration. There might be a dedicated registration person for side events, but he or she might also be taking main event registration while there's no one in the side events line.

The more you know about the registration process from the stage side, the easier it will be to direct players to the correct spot. No one likes being bounced around from station to station to do what they're trying to do.

It also may be important to find out which stations can take credit card registration, if that's an option. Many organizers only have one or two credit card machines, which means that not everyone can handle those registrations. The same is true for DCI number look-ups or special kinds of registration, like vouchers or players with byes.

Learn which way the line forms.

In some venues, there will be rope lines and stanchions to make a neat and tidy line, but that's not always going to be the case. If you're tasked with line captaining when a line has already formed, it's better to work with what the players have set up (unless it's getting in the way of something else, like the door to the room or bathroom). Otherwise, you'll have to devise a plan for the players who are waiting.

When you're trying to figure out where to have players wait, keep the layout of the room in mind. Where are they least likely to get in the way of other traffic? How long do you expect the line to get, and will the space you have accommodate that line easily? Will stage signs still be visible to other players in the room?

Learn what information the players need.

When they get to the stage, what should they have ready? This list almost always includes their DCI number and their event entry fee. Some organizers use registration slips, in which case players will need to have those filled out before they get to the stage. Other organizers just have players type their DCI numbers into a keypad.

Beyond just knowing what players need, it's important to make sure that they have those things ready before they get to the stage. If someone has to dig out their DCI number, it's better to send the person behind them to the stage while they find it. A player digging through their wallet or bag in front of a registration computer delays the entire line; a player digging through their stuff off to the side delays only themselves.

If a player doesn't have something that the need, be prepared to help them get it so they can get through the registration process. For example, know who can help them find their DCI number and where the closest ATM is.

The Two-Player Rule

This is one of my pet peeves, so it gets an entire section all to itself.

When the front of the line is a few steps from the registration stations, keep two players in front of each station. Yep. Two.


It takes time for a player to walk from the front of the line to the next available admin, and that's time that could be used to register someone. Two-person lines aren't going to make things significantly messier in front of the stage, but they can drastically speed up the registration process by maximizing how much time each of the stations can use to actually get people signed up (or prized out, etc.).

Responding to the Needs of the Stage Staff

Sometimes things happen on stage. Someone has to deal with a laptop that isn't working or step away talk to the venue representative. When something like this happens, I try to let my line captain know as soon as possible, but sometimes noise, distance, or the urgency of the issue get in the way.

As with most other judging tasks, awareness is key. When you're line captaining, this is awareness of players, the stage staff, the clock, and any other judging obligations you have, like team meetings. If you think something weird is going on that might affect who can take registration, just ask. If you think there's a better way to be doing something, suggest it. If it's simple, you can probably just do it.

Awareness is more useful when it's paired with communication, and that goes both ways. If you need something, like to step away from the line for a minute, or notice Something Bad happening, say something.

When I'm on stage during registration, I'm in a tiny little world that consists of my computer and the player in front of me. Sometimes that world includes the other people on stage or a player sneaking past the line to ask a question. Sometimes I have time to glance up at the line, but I'd prefer to spend that time with my head down, signing players up for their events. The more time I can spend doing that, the less time they have to stand around waiting.

And the less time you get to spend line captaining.

No comments:

Post a Comment