By Ben Kalman
Last week, I looked at tournament etiquette and what the Vs. player should expect from—and contribute to—the tournament scene.
This article will look at the flip side. Now that we know the player’s responsibilities, what are the responsibilities of those running the show? Judges have as much responsibility towards the game as the players do, if not more, for it is the judges whose words and deeds reflect upon the tournament scene itself. If the judges act improperly, the entire scene is despoiled. Judges are arguably the most important factor in a tournament—even moreso than the players themselves—because without judges, there is only chaos. And good judges are hard to find—most of those who know the rules back to front and are really ensconced in the game are players, which leaves a shortage of quality judges who can act and react to every situation with forethought, impartiality and knowledge.
Why judge a tournament in the first place? This is a question that I have heard people repeatedly ask—after all, if you’re judging, you can’t play. And judging is stressful. Having to deal with dozens (sometimes hundreds) of gamers, some of whom think they know—and may very well know—the rules better than you do can be harrowing. Simply put: Judges judge because they love the game, though, admittedly, most judges don’t complain when the rewards are distributed . . .
Still, judges are dedicated souls, and they are, in return, granted power, but with great power comes great responsibility. They are responsible for ensuring that a tournament goes smoothly, by the book, and most important of all, fairly.
So here are a few things to consider before volunteering as a judge.
Be fair. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well it’s not. Being fair is often the most difficult part of judging. You have to come up with a way to work out difficult situations while being 100% impartial, adhering to the rules, and keeping both sides as satisfied with your decision(s) as possible. Note that I did not say “happy” with your decision(s), as, in many (if not most) cases, at least one side will walk away unhappy. But if they feel that you were fair, then you can walk away knowing you made the correct decision.
So how do you do this? First off, you must listen to all sides. That means that you have to weigh the stories of every involved party before coming to a final decision. This is very difficult, as you’ll have to judge for yourself who is trustworthy and who is not, which rules the situation falls under, and, most importantly, you must cast off all partisanship—you can never let your personal feelings towards someone, be they negative or positive, interfere with your decision making. The instant you allow any outside influence to interfere with your decision, it becomes a conflict of interest. Which is not to say that you shouldn’t double-check the rules with another judge, with the FAQ, with the Comprehensive Rules, and so on, but it does mean that you should ignore other players, spectators, and bystanders, especially if you know them.
The best way to avoid conflicts of interest is to:
a) Keep any judgment call within the parties involved, which includes leaving all spectators out of the situation, from the moment you’re called over to resolve it to the moment you make your final decision. If nobody outside of the parties involved knows what’s going on, nobody can interfere.
b) If at all possible, make sure you do not make any judging decisions regarding people you know personally. This may be difficult if you are the only judge, or if you know just about everyone in the tournament—in those cases, simply be as non-judgmental and impartial as possible. If there ARE other judges, however, let them deal with any situation where the parties involved are specifically known to you. Now, I’m not referring to situations where you’ve simply met someone prior to the tourney, or if they’re customers in your store (although at times that can be a conflict as well). I’m talking about resolving situations regarding your personal friends or people in your private gaming circles. This can lead to major problems with either side, like friends getting angry that you judged against them, or strangers/acquaintances feeling that you were partisan and judged based on friendship rather than fact. It’s best to always play it safe and call for help in situations such as these.
Now, it may happen that a player becomes hostile after arguing his or her case and having those arguments rejected. Dealing with hostile players is a very tricky situation, especially if the player has been caught (or is accused of) cheating, The first thing you should do in a potentially hostile situation is to get someone to back you up—another judge, the tournament organizer, the store owner, or someone like that. Then, attempt to calm the player down. Remember to always remain calm and polite, no matter what the player does. The second that you become hostile yourself or sink to the player’s level, you become the guilty party and allow the player to become the victim. You don’t want the player to have any grounds to call you on your ability to be a judge.
If you are unable to calm the player down, either warn him or her if he or she is not out of control and has not directly abused you as a judge, or disqualify him or her if he or she is beyond reproach. Remember to treat each case individually, but do not tolerate any abuse from a player, as it is against the rules to harass or abuse a judge. You don’t want to be perceived as weak or powerless in front of the players—you are the tournament authority, and you must remember to maintain that authority.
Asserting your authority as a judge, however, does not grant you the right to be a jerk. Never abuse your power! No matter what happens within the tournament, you must maintain your dignity and demeanor as a judge. Having authority does not give you the right to treat players unfairly, abusively, or improperly. Remember that you are a representative of the game and an unofficial Upper Deck ambassador, and you must conduct yourself as sportingly as the players, if not more. The second that you abuse your power as a judge, you lose your right to be a judge, with no exceptions. It is easy to be authoritative—even dictatorial—without being unfair, undisciplined, or abusive.
Finally, be prepared for anything. Being a Level 1 judge is not enough, on its own, to judge a Vs. tournament. I don’t mean that you need to raise your level, rather that passing the test is only the first step towards being a judge. You must know all of the cards and how they work. You must keep up with the card errata. You must read the FAQ for each set. You must know the Basic and Comprehensive Rules back to front. You must know the system policies, tournament policies and penalty guidelines as if you wrote them.
You do not have to memorize everything—this is not a closed book exam. But if you do not read through everything at least a few times and understand what you have read, you will not only not know where to look for the answer when a problem arises, but you may not even understand exactly what the problem is. And you must understand the problem in order to solve it.
Which is not to say that you must be infallible. Nobody is perfect, and it is expected that judges will make occasional mistakes. Heck, even Alex “I AM VS.” Charsky is known to have made a mistake once in his life (it was when he was twelve and involved lab mice, steroids, and a quarter ounce of vanilla pudding . . . actually, it’s best not to ask . . .).
However, and this is very important, do not repeat a mistake you’ve made. The worst thing that you can do—and I’ve seen this happen repeatedly in tournaments—is to intentionally make the same mistake multiple times in a single tournament simply because you’ve already made it beforehand. Precedent is not an issue in a tournament—what’s done is done, and if the situation arises again, you cannot retroactively return to the error you made, and you should therefore make sure not to relapse and allow the mistake to repeat itself. Instead, make the correct call the second time around. There is no excuse for a judge who realizes he or she has made a mistake and lets it go throughout the rest of the tournament, simply because he or she has already allowed it once and feels it’s unfair to let one person get away with it and nobody else. That is a ridiculous argument—in a baseball game, if an umpire blows a call at first, will he subsequently call everyone else out on a close play? Of course not! He will make each call on a case-by-case basis, reacting to every play as it presents itself. The same thing should occur when judging a tournament—if you blow a call, simply correct yourself the next time the situation comes up. Learn from your mistakes, don’t repeat them.
If you have any questions about Judging, or if you have a problem with a judge you’ve encountered, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you wish to become a judge, the Level 1 test is located at ude.com/op/certprogram.aspx.