Learning from other people experiences is one of the best ways to improve our own knowledge. In the judge community there are many extraordinary people with extraordinary skills willing to share them with all of us. Let’s use this opportunity!
I asked to Sheldon Menery (USA, L5) and Riccardo Tessitori (Italy, L5) how they prepare for the huge events they are used to Head Judge, so that we may have a glimpse of what working for these events mean and we may import some ideas to our events too.
Let’s see what’s in their minds.
Kalle: I know it's almost impossible to find someone not knowing who you are, but let's say you just found me. I really want to know who you are, what you do outside the Judge Program and for how long you have been working in such Program.
Sheldon: My name is Sheldon Menery, and I'm retired from the US Air Force for six years. I live in Tampa, Florida, with my beautiful wife Gretchyn, and our four cats Dasher, Cupid, Comet, and Vito. I spend my time being a house-husband, writing a fantasy novel called "Zolan's Scar," playing games, and helping Andy, Toby, David, and Riccardo run the Judge Program.
Riccardo: My name is Riccardo Tessitori, 36 years old from Italy, a beautiful country, famous for its food, music, art, history... and Magic judges! ^__^
I was born and I lived my first 18 years in a small town next to Turin, where I graduated in Materials Engineering.
Thanks to university and work, I had the opportunity to live in France (Grenoble, precisely) and in Milan and to travel in many cities in Italy and in Europe too; I met people from all the continents and interacted with many different cultures, that is a great life experience.
In my real life, I dedicate a lot of time to Magic in three forms: judge (I dedicate several hours each week to judge business), organizer (I own a games store) and translator (I translate DCI policy documents and marketing documents and I check the accuracy of the cards translations into Italian); the last working activity, that requires an amount of time that varies a lot in the different periods of the year, is teaching mathematics, physics, chemistry and electronics to high school students (private lessons and support & summer courses at the school).
During my free time (is there free time available??), I love spending my free evenings and weekends with friends, watching TV series, playing with my dogs, studying languages; I would read many more books if I didn’t fall asleep after a few pages (yes, I almost only read in bed in the late evening); I would play many more soccer games if I didn’t arrive home after work at 9PM I would travel much more if didn’t travel so much to Magic events.
Kalle: Thank you for introducing yourself, now let's start with some business. I want to talk about your activity as Head Judge. I understand what's your job during an event: it's pretty easy to spot you in the burgundy shirt and to watch you working at a Pro Tour. What I don't know is what it takes to prepare such an important event. How do you plan to manage such huge judge staffs in such important tournaments?
Sheldon: Once the event starts, I'd say that 80% of my job is done. The two months of preparation make it easy once we get to the event. The trickiest part is the schedule, and it takes quite a bit of time. It's important that everyone gets level-appropriate work (and enough of it!) and opportunities to excel, such as HJing scheduled Public Events, Team Leading, L3 Interviews, running Seminars, plus time on both the Main and Public Events. Add to that running three shifts and making sure everyone has enough sleep and rest time, and it becomes quite a puzzle. Fortunately, the more I do it, the easier it gets.
The big key to a smooth Pro Tour is putting the right people in the right positions. There are many capable and smart people in the program, and we have our pick from them for most PTs, so it's a case of getting the right leaders in the right places. The rest of my job is just making sure they have the resources and opportunity to do theirs.
Riccardo: Pro Tours and Worlds are surely considered the “most important” events (because players win more money and the event coverage is more complex); preparing a single Pro Tour usually starts just after the end of the previous Pro Tour or even before.
The first (visible) activity is about sponsorships: determining the needs of the event, selecting the judges (with the assistance of the other L5s and any L4 and Regional Coordinator willing to recommend judges), and selecting the volunteers (always hoping to have enough slots for all the requests).
The second (less visible) activity is about goals and roles: in addition to the event’s needs (main and public events with all the roles) and the program’s needs (seminars, judge tests, interaction with players and local Rules Advisors and Tournament Organizers), it’s important to assist each individual judge with his individual needs and this usually requires hundreds of mails and many hours; more, many activities are prepared together with both judges attending and also judges who don’t attend a specific Pro Tour (for example, Jeff Morrow is responsible for the L3 interviews and he will always be involved, even when he doesn’t attend a specific Pro Tour).
Kalle: Pro Tours are the non-plus ultra professional events, but the tournaments with the greatest player base are Gran Prix. They are open tournaments and usually the judge-to-player ratio is quite different from the one in PTs. What are the differences in preparing such events?
Sheldon: It's been quite a while since I HJ'd a Grand Prix--I think Richmond 2006 was my last one. I had a Pro Tour-quality staff at that one, so I prepped just like a PT.
That said, HJing a GP isn't that much more involved than a PT (although it might be a little trickier). Because the experience level of the judges is going to be lower, and the player-to-judge ratio higher, it's even more important to have the most capable people in leadership positions.
Riccardo: Grand Prix events (one enormous tournament and many small public events) are quite different from Pro Tours (one medium-sized tournament, some medium-sized and many small sized public events, in addition to several activities oriented to spectators).
I would like to explain the main focus for a Grand Prix with a simple sentence that describes the situation and the ultimate goal: “we will have 2.000 participants, it will be Sealed Deck and we will play ten rounds on Saturday; the doors open at 8AM and we want to guarantee to everybody 8 hours of sleep before starting again on Sunday”; it should be clear that the focus on logistics is much higher and coordination among judges must be excellent to avoid delays.
Kalle: Ok, now I have a good idea of how these awesome events should be prepared and I already know what you do during the tournaments. Does your job end at the end of the top8 or do you still have some homework waiting for you?
Sheldon: The post-event wrap-up is significant. There's of course Judge Reviews, but we're also required as part of our contract to do an internal Head Judge report. Then there's the public HJ Report we write, and generally the L5s will have some discussions in the aftermath of the event to make sure we accomplished what we wanted to.
Riccardo: The work isn’t finished when Top8 finish, not at all!
Many people may say that “a successful event is when there are no problems”; ok, correct, but it’s not enough.
In the past I tended to say that “a successful event is when everybody returns home happy”; ok, correct, but it’s not enough.
Today I prefer saying that “a successful event is when we continue building the basics for a better future”; this may mean that players are looking forward to travel again to the Pro Tour, with their friends too; this may mean that spectators who followed the official coverage are looking forward to their next local tournament with their new deck strategy; this may mean that judges are looking forward to start a new interesting project or return home to share their experience with their friends.
OK, it’s clear that all this speech is projected to the future; in addition to reviews and reports, a successful Pro Tour is capable of generating new ideas, stronger enthusiasm… and much more work on any area of the program.
Kalle: You don't only judge at international events, I know you are quite active in your local communities too. Do you use some of the methods for preparing PTs or GPs also in your local PTQs? I believe there are many judges willing to learn new techniques from you!
Sheldon: We have a very active and vibrant Judge Community here in Florida, so for the most part, the only time I judge locally is when no one else is available. I don't want to take work out of the hands of the folks who could use the experience and training. I keep an eye on the community directly by attending events and talking to the local L2s, who are highly involved with all the judges. I do, however, play quite often (EDH League every Thursday and FNM on Fridays).
Riccardo: Locally, I continue judging PTQs, about one every two months and, obviously, I judge Nationals and my local Games Conventions.
There are surely differences between national and international tournaments; first, the different languages, then the experience and the past knowledge of the judges.
One aspect that doesn’t change from a PTQ to a PT I would like to mention is the opportunity to share information and to grow together: the reports. International: in the far past there were no reports whatsoever, except the private internal reports from the PT head judges; in the last years we take the habit of sharing all the GP and PT reports among the L4s and L5s and there have also been several public reports on the DCI-j list.
National: again, there are always private reports from each PTQ shared among the L2+ and public reports of all the GPs and PTs that Italian judges attend; in addition to this, there are public minireports from all judges who participate to Nationals.
The goals of these reports are very simple: experience sharing and community building!
Kalle: Thank you for your time and for all your information. I'd like to use this opportunity to ask you one more question and I promise it's the last one. The Judge Program has been growing in the last years by having stronger and bigger communities spread all around the world that strive to reach consistency in managing the events. How do you evaluate their progress and what do you think the next steps of the Judge Program will be in the near future?
Sheldon: It's the last one, but it's not a short one. The Judge Program is growing very powerfully. We're doing a great job of outreach to communities all over the world, and welcoming even more hard-working people into our DCI Family. The next steps for the program will be formalizing nearly everything we do through the Pillars and Spheres project, giving us even greater opportunity be the best judges in the world!
Riccardo: This year there have been significant changes in the judge program: the new pillar/sphere/project structure, which is still in the process of appropriately shaping (and, in my opinion, will be better known after all the spheres will have been officially presented to the public on Wizards.Community and there will have been clear updates on the current projects); the Regional Coordinators (who will potentially be busier than L4s, because they will be able to strengthen the links between the local judges and the international scene and the global projects even more).
Both these initiatives have great potential, but they still need to be better defined (the interaction between the Regional Coordinators and the L4s) and better advertised (communicated to all the judges, so that all the efforts will be centralized instead of being duplicated).
If I could make time stop and have no language problems and have the opportunity to work on an area that I consider very important, I would like to create a single website where judges would find all the resources they need (announcements, articles, documents, forums&hellip.
What is most similar to my idea is the ItalianMagicJudges.net website (that has the “minor” disadvantage of not being in English); the English resource that is more similar to my idea is the JudgeWiki on DCIfamily, that should be integrated with the DCIfamily website for tools, DCIrules for translated documents, WotC website for official documents, Wizards.Community for… the WotC approval ^__^
In addition to the visible result under the shape of a *single* website, an important aspect is to make judges aware about “who is doing what”, that has been a mystery for all the years when “write to Andy Heckt” was the only way; I think it will be much better when responsibilities will be clearer to everybody and efforts won’t be duplicated any more.
Regional Coordinators and the sphere system will be very important to make this happen.
I want to thank both Sheldon and Riccardo for dedicating us so much time and energy all year long. We appreciate that!
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