Thursday, June 2, 2016

GP Charlotte 2016: Saturday (Swiss Sides)

While the events on the GP certainly impacted my day on Saturday (I spent some time on the GP stage and the events that started after 6:00 PM got absolutely wrecked), that wasn't really my focus for the weekend. My focus was on Swiss side events, and my scorekeeping buddy for the weekend was Jeff Darran (who has written a guest post here before!). Previously, I'd worked with Jeff directly at GP Atlanta last year, and he's awesome. Without him, Saturday would have been a giant mess.

Since the events that unfolded after the announcements from the main event that players would be able to drop for a free Infinite Challenge Badge were far more interesting than anything else that happened to Swiss events on the weekend, that's the story that I'm going to tell.

For a little bit of context, the initial afternoon schedule looked like this, including the number of players registered:
  • 1 PM — Sealed Challenge — 300 (226 were paired for Round 1)
  • 1 PM — Standard Challenge — 10
  • 2 PM — 2HG Sealed Spectacular (notably, not a Challenge) — 98 players
  • 2 PM — Vintage Challenge — 8
  • 3 PM — Modern Challenge — 95
  • 4 PM — Standard Challenge — 96
  • 5 PM — Legacy Challenge — 70
  • 6 PM — Modern Rebound Challenge — 144
As a part of the offer to GP players, a few more events were added to the schedule. Before those changes were announced, we had been told that there would be a new Sealed Challenge at 5:30 PM — less than an hour away. That was going to be a really tight deadline to prepare for that event, especially with the number of players the main stage was predicting we would have. By the time the new events were actually announced, that event had been pushed back to 6:30, which provided an extra hour to prep product and make plans.

These were the additional events:
  • 6 PM — Standard Challenge
  • 6 PM — Legacy Challenge
  • 6:30 PM — Sealed Challenge
  • 7 PM — Modern Challenge
The 7 PM Modern Challenge might seem a little out of place, but it was there to give players dropping from the GP (which was Modern) the option to get their six packs from the Sealed event and still be able to play Modern for the rest of the night.

When the schedule was finalized, Jeff and I had to start making plans, and the awesome judges on the side events staff had to find a place to put a Sealed event that might to get a thousand players.

Step One: Figure Out the Status of EVERYTHING

It can be tempting to respond to this kind of situation by focusing on the new things that need to happen, but there are some risks to that. It's unlikely that an event slips through the cracks because there are players and judges engaged with those events, but it is very possible that some details of active events are overlooked while making that plan, like where they're located, how many active players they have, and who's scorekeeping.

The first thing I did was establish that customer service couldn't make use of an extra person. At that point, all of the afternoon events I listed earlier were still on our plates, but one of us could have stretched a little to handle all of them, which might have helped with the massive line of players getting badges from customer service.

After that, we updated our notes on all the active events:
  • What rounds were they in?
  • Who was in charge of them? What HJs were on break? Was that going to change in light of the schedule changes?
  • What's the highest table number for each one?
  • When were the current rounds going to end?
This information is super important. When things aren't breaking, I might not keep tabs on when I expect rounds to flip because I have plenty of bandwidth to handle them flipping whenever. However, when things *are* breaking, I need that information in order to prioritize what I'm working on — how important is it that these slips be entered? What about slips from that other event? Can I afford to leave the stage to work with the sides leads and HJs on a plan? Are these events going to start their last round early enough to be off our plates around six?

One of the other things I made sure we did was sort and organize all the slips currently on the stage. This tends to be a low priority, especially for smaller events. That's not to say that there was a giant pile of rainbow-colored pieces of paper — there were some neat, tidy stacks of slips that were sorted by round, but not table number. As we ramped up to getting the new events fired and earlier events were wrapping up and prizing out, I wanted to make sure that we could find slips quickly if we needed to.

Some of this was delegated to judges (who, by the way, were awesome), and a few other tasks were delegated to judges as well, including setting up a station to let players redeem their playmat vouchers without having to stand in the massive line.

Step Two: Make a Plan

This was a little more challenging. The first thing we had to do was figure out who was scorekeeping which events. Jeff started the 5 PM Legacy event, which had been the plan since the beginning of the day. I still had the 4 PM Standard event, and we each had an event or two from earlier in the day.

Our initial plan was to split up the 6 PM events — I was going to take Modern, and Jeff was going to take Standard and Legacy. That would (roughly) split the players in those events between us. I was going to take the Sealed event at 6:30, and Jeff was going to take the 7 PM Modern event.

Then we got starting table numbers from the judges for those events — the Sealed event was going to start at table 685, with all the 6 PM events starting around table 1200. In short, this meant that the table range for the Sealed event was closer to the GP stage than it was to the sides stage, and the 6 PM events weren't much closer. I stepped off the sides stage to take a look, and it took me a good 45 seconds to walk to those tables.

That's a lot of time. That's especially a lot of time if you need to collect and communicate a ton of information about drops from the Sealed Challenge, especially if you're expecting a need to process 300 of them in half an hour (which, by the way, is basically impossible).

Fortunately, I had a brilliant idea: we set up a satellite scorekeeping station in the middle of the tournament hall. By "satellite scorekeeping station," I mean "a table with my computer and a printer." When we realized we needed to do this, it was about 5:45. Registration was closing in five minutes for the 6 PM events, and since they were roughly in the same area, we decided that I would just ... scorekeep all those things. I passed my remaining events (mostly the 4 PM Standard event) off to Jeff.

There wasn't enough time to move me, my computer and my printer to their new locations before starting the 6 PM events, so I started them from the stage. The judges on those events knew what was going to happen, so they were able to tell their players where their slips were going to go from the start. These rounds started a few minutes after six. This is going to be important later.

At six on the dot, when Round 1 pairings for all those events were posted and announced, I relocated. Steve, a member of SCG's OP team, joined me at my table to and got ready to enroll players in the Modern Challenge as they dropped from the Sealed event.

Step Three: Do ALL the Things

Sealed deck construction seatings went out at about 6:34, with Nicholas Sabin, Grand Curmudgeon of the Mid-Atlantic (read: RC), at the helm. There were 680 players total. Nicholas's team distributed sealed boxes of Shadows over Innistrad to every six seats — there hadn't been time to make sealed sets for 680 players.

I’d previously warned him that processing all the drops would probably take me 10-15 minutes longer than the build time of the event, and we had a plan to make it as efficient as possible.

Four judges were stationed at a table close to mine with copies of the player seatings, divided into four name ranges. After players got their packs, they could hop in line, highlight their name on one of the lists the judges had, and sign up for the 7 PM Modern Challenge (or not). Deck construction started at 6:45 or so. About ten minutes later, I traded the judges at that table a fresh copy of the player list for the one they had already, and I started processing drops.

The player list for the event was 16 pages long, and I went through a two full lists, plus a few random scraps of paper with stragglers who dropped only after seeing their pools, to process the drops. Partway through the first list, the last slips from the first round of all the 6 PM events made their way to my table, so I had to pause to flip those rounds (remember how I said this was going to be important?).

All in all, pairings for Round 1 of the Sealed Challenge were printed at about 7:25, almost 10 minutes after Nicholas announced the end of the deck construction period. That’s not ideal, but the only way to process drops from WLTR is one player at a time — in theory, you could edit the file you use to import players to remove the drops and then re-import it into a fresh event file, but then you wouldn’t have a record of the players who dropped in the file. Given the circumstances, I wasn’t terribly upset with the amount of time it took.

A total of 234 players indicated that they were dropping before Round 1, which meant that the round paired with 446 players. There were quite a few no-shows that round, more than is usually for the Sealed Challenges, and I suspect it was the result of players either not knowing how to drop or not wanting to wait.

Step Four: Sleep

Everything was downhill after Round 1 paired. At that point, the four events I was responsible for only had about 650 players combined. Nicholas sent the judges on his team on half-round breaks in the early rounds, and the sides leads worked on getting the people who were coming back early on Sunday off the floor for the night after that. Eventually, Nicholas himself took off and Casey Brefka took over for the last round and a half of the Sealed Challenge.

After Round 4 was paired, Casey and his team helped me break down my satellite station and carry things back to the sides stage. Since the players were taking their Round 4 slips to customer service to pick up prizes, I didn’t need to hang out in the middle of the hall.

Everyone was exhausted, and even though they were doing their best to maintain the level of energy necessary to close out the night, it was obvious. I left the hall sometime after midnight, made the short trek back to my hotel room, and passed out.

I woke up on Sunday to do it all (albeit without all the craziness) again.

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