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Monday, June 19, 2017

Be the Shield!

(Minor scene spoilers for Wonder Woman and Mad Max: Fury Road abound.)

The movie Wonder Woman is chock full of what could be described as “powerful moments,” scenes that make you feel good about humanity and inspire you to go out and slay your enemies, whether they are Imperial German troops or the social injustices of our own time. For me, the scene that resonated the most was from the battle in the French town. Towards the end of the battle, a German sniper in a clock tower has pinned down the heroes. The tower is too tall. The sniper is too high up.

Steve Trevor sees a large piece of flat metal, perhaps a piece of armor from the tank that Wonder Woman leveled earlier, and comes up with a plan of attack based on a maneuver he saw the Amazon general execute in the Themiscryia battle. He calls his teammates around the metal sheet, and the group of men struggles to lift it up. “Diana, shield!” shouts Trevor, to alert her to what they are doing. She gets it. She runs at them, jumps on top of the metal sheet, and the men push it and her upward towards the tower.

The top of the tower crumbles into ruins as she collides with it.


The scene reminded me a lot of the movie Mad Max: Fury Road, and in particular a scene where Max is trying to shoot an oncoming foe with a sniper rifle. He takes a shot, misses, and is told that he has two bullets left. He takes another shot. Another miss. Furiosa (played by Charlize Theron) comes over, and the two of them exchange glances. It looks like she wants to offer him some advice, but then says nothing. Max looks back at her again and silently hands her the rifle. She is, after all, an accomplished warrior in Immortan Joe’s army and he’s already missed twice.

Not only does Max wordlessly acknowledge her superiority, but he also stays crouched in front of her and offers his shoulder as a support base for her to place the rifle on. “Don’t breathe,” she says. She takes the shot and hits.


I’ve said in the past that the Judge Program talks a good talk when it comes to diversity, but we lack action. To me, these two scenes provide dramatized examples of what the men in the Judge Program need to do. We need to give up the rifle, and let the superior warrior take the shot. We need to be a platform to lift the women who are stronger than us, and let them crash the tower.

In these examples, the woman is notably superior to the man, through training or actual superpowers, and it’s easy to dismiss the real life implications on those ground. “Of course I would actually lay down for an real life Amazon.” Being the shield shouldn’t just be about laying down for the best person for the job. That’s a perspective for a more Utopian time than we live in now, a time when a pure meritocracy might take hold.

Men have held the proverbial rifle for the entire existence of the Judge Program. Even as we’ve made some reasonable strides in representation, women only comprise 8% of the L3s in the world, and a cursory glance at other levels show similar percentages. Under a meritocracy, giving women 8% of the opportunities in the Judge Program is perfectly fair, but there’s a difference between equality and equity, as this illustration shows.


The shield analogy is an embodiment of this image. Women have been underrepresented in superhero movies, especially as central, powerful characters who stand on their own. To get to a place of equality, men have to lay down as the shield to provide this taller box, and I don’t think it’s an accident that both of these movies have these scenes in them. But putting this into practice will be a difficult thing for a lot of men. Recognizing your position of privilege is one thing. Giving it up willingly is another story entirely.

One of the most direct moments where you can be the shield is during discussions and/or meetings. In group discussions, it’s been shown that women are interrupted, talked over, and marginalized on a regular basis. Think about how much you’re talking during your next team meeting. Be willing to talk less, or use your voice to provide an opening for someone else.

I’ve talked to women who have had other judges take over calls from them. This type of behavior is generally frowned upon among judges, but it’s not too difficult to imagine how if this is going to happen, it’s more likely to happen to women. It’s like the moment in Wonder Woman when Steve tries to protect Diana from the German spies, only to find out that she can deflect bullets. That scene is a part of the setup for him to eventually shout “Shield!” It’s his moment of enlightenment. But if you never have that moment, if you never stop trying to protect women from danger, you might never know how great they are.

If you’re in a position of some authority, a Head Judge for example, who can make decisions about team assignments, it’s worth taking some time to think through your choices. I don’t like the ideas of quotas, but when you are dealing with an historically underrepresented group, it’s important to give due consideration. The National Football League has a rule to this effect called the Rooney Rule that requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for any head coach or senior football operations position. Unlike affirmative action, there’s no requirements for hiring said minorities, but since the implementation of the rule the percentage of African American head coaches in the league has tripled.

I’ve mentioned in the past that if Magic: the Gathering can overcome its misogynistic stigma, we could double our attendance and audience. The same applies to the Judge Program. Think about it; we’re just hitting 8% after what feels like a few years of progress? We’ve basically operated all these years at half strength, and it makes you realize why you hear the words “burn out” get tossed around a lot. There are so many more “best and brightest” that we could be incorporating into our Program and its leadership, our Wonder Women and Furiosas. But to find our Wonder Women, the men who may have been the primary heroes in the earlier parts of the story, like Max and Steve Trevor, must be prepared to lay down and be the shield. I look at those stories and I see the kind of hero that I want to be, someone who is okay letting the women be the stars for once.

(Thanks to Meghan Rickman and Megan Holden for the proof-reading and feedback.)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hello from your new Program Coordinator

There's so much I want to say, and so many ways I want to say it. I've started multiple drafts of this post since I found out, and none of them seemed quite right. I think that it never really sunk in until the announcement today, so now that it is public, I'm just going to start writing and stop when it feels done.

Program Coordinator. PC. It's the most mysterious advanced role in the Judge Program. Grand Prix Head Judges administer events, Regional Coordinators run communities, and Program Coordinators... coordinate the program? All of it? A lot of people want PCs to be the true leaders of the Judge Program, the "monarchs" or what the Level 5s used to be. At least those are the kinds of analogies I've heard. But if asked the PCs, they would frequently deny being the true leaders of the Judge Program. "We coordinate, not lead." It's been a consistent refrain from the PCs, one where they focus on administration, but one that has frustrated those people looking for more monarchy, more leadership.

So here I am. Do I lead or do I coordinate? Am I a monarch or an administrator? None of these fit me well. I'm actually a pretty bad administrator, and I've found the most success when I've had better organized planners to work with. I am a strong leader, but I've done better as a leader of individuals and not of projects. To lead individuals on a global scale seems exhausting.

The word that appeals to me is facilitator. That word and coordinator occupy similar spaces, but coordinator still feels too much like someone telling everyone what to do, the monarch, whereas a facilitator listens to what you want to do and helps you accomplish it. This is a big part of what I want to do. I want to listen to you.

I recently had a conversation with someone where they used the phrase "I'm willing to die on this hill." I never liked this phrase. First off, I don't want to die. As a runner, when I think of hills, I see a challenge to overcome, a goal to accomplish. I see a hill and I say "How do I conquer this hill?" There are a lot of hills in the Judge Program, and recently it feels like people are choosing which ones to die on. I want you to help me conquer them, to run up them together, and enjoy a Rocky-esque moment of celebration at the top.

I want to inspire and enable. That said, I do have some ideas and a vision. You can't get to be PC without some ideas for what the Program should do. I'd like to share that vision with you because I would like your buy-in and your help. With that in mind, I've also published my answer to the 3rd Program Coordinator application question in a separate blog post here. If I were a politician, I would consider this to be my platform, and when the question asks "how will you help?" this is when I ask for your help in making these ideas into a reality.

Here's the part where I give thanks. Many people have helped me to craft my ideas and my words. It's cliche, but there are too many to name here, so I will focus on Nicholas Sabin, Eric Dustin Brown, Jacob Milicic, and Fabian Peck who helped edit my PC application. I particularly want to call out Fabian as the person who was my personal cheerleader throughout the application process. It is doubtful that my ideas would have been so fully formed and well-written without his encouragement and accountability. When I talk about facilitating the success of others, he did that for me.

Finally, I want to say how bittersweet it is for me step into this new role as Toby Elliott leaves it. Toby has been a lot of things to me over the years. Even as I applied for PC, I knew that Toby would not be staying on. A part of me will always think of it as Toby's seat, and as I have always done while following in his footsteps, I will work hard to make him proud. (btw Kim Warren is great as well, and I'll miss her, but it's hard to compare her impact on my judge career to Toby.)

So there we have it. It's getting late and I've said most of what I wanted to say. I'm excited for this new opportunity, and I'm really excited that people are excited.

Program Coordinator Application Question 3

Question 3: What should the Program Coordinators accomplish in the next 18 months, and how will you help?
Feedback
Judges love to talk about feedback. They don’t like to give it, and probably hate receiving it even more. This is the dark truth of the Judge Program. Like the Fellowship of the Rings, the feedback culture in the Judge Program is broken. What’s wrong with it and how do we fix it?

I think that feedback culture is upside down right now. So much of it is focused on how best to give feedback, and there’s no discussion about how to receive it. People clamor for feedback, saying that they don’t receive enough reviews, but when they receive an unexpected review, or feedback that contradicts their self image, the response is to attack the giver. This is creating a culture where people are afraid to give feedback.

There are artifacts of this everywhere in the Judge Program. For example, the “best practice” of clearing your feedback with the subject, either via face-to-face or a draft. I do agree that it is a best practice, but many have raised to the level of a canonical requirement, and get upset when it doesn’t happen. Putting the burden of clearing the feedback beforehand hurts the cause of the giver. Meanwhile, we aren’t doing anything to help train the receiver on how to take the feedback.

Yes, we can always educate and train judges to be better at how they give feedback, but we need to acknowledge the other end of these feedback dynamics and at least begin to make people aware that feedback is a relationship.

Relationships are an aspect of feedback culture that is underdeveloped in the Judge Program. All the instances of asking for feedback are random and disorganized. Even L3 recommendations, which should be the paragon of strong relationships between judges often fall to a “whoever will do it” basis rather than finding the people that matter to you most.

The most easily internalized feedback comes from those people who care about you. We should emphasize this and seek to create avenues for these strong bonds between judges to drive our feedback, and not the random chance of “you happened to be on my team.” Part of the above problem of judges not being accepting of feedback is that they aren’t accepting of feedback from certain people. We should seek to find the people the people that we will accept feedback from, and engage them to help deliver the feedback. This might take the form of something like the old judge pyramid or listing trusted feedback mentors in our profiles.

When it comes to the feedback culture, I believe that I am one of the most vocal leaders (other strong voices are Riccardo Tessitori and Dustin de Leeuw). In the past, I’ve been more focused on reviews, but I’ve made a push to change the conversation to feedback in general, and more recently to emphasize strong relationships and holding each other accountable. If feedback is going to be a core principle of the Judge Program again, my track record makes me one of its best spokespersons.

Diversity and Representation
Like feedback, the Judge Program talks a big talk (probably bigger) when it comes to diversity. The Judge Program is, on the surface, a welcoming and inclusive organization. However, there is a difference between merely promoting diversity as a general culture and focusing on changing the balance of representation, and this is where we need to focus more of our efforts on.

Changing the balance of representation often brings with it concerns that the bar is being lowered to let disadvantaged groups in. However, when there is a lack of representation in general, it takes extraordinary individuals to break through the glass ceiling. These people work even harder than the standard to fight against the inertia that is present, and it is my belief that reaching out to help more such people would not compromise our standards of quality.

Magic currently has a gender imbalance issue. Mark Rosewater once released a statistic that 38% of Magic players were women. This stat seemed wrong to a lot of people because when they looked around, they didn’t see that many women playing. Look no further than PT Aether Revolt, which had 2 women playing out of 424 players (less than 0.5%). SCG Tour events hover somewhere in the single digits. That’s a stark drop off from 38%.

This disparity in numbers has everything to do with the often unwelcoming environment of Magic tournaments, and this is where judges enter the picture. We are the ones responsible for these environments. We need to have more women at the front lines of the Judge Program (L1 store judges) to serve as gatekeepers and role models for more women to play the game. And for that to happen, we need to present role models among our high level judges as well.

To achieve this end goal, I propose that the Judge Program have dedicated avenues by which we recruit women to judging. There are two primary ways to do this:
Publicly showcase women in judging. Judge of the Week, other blogs and publications, putting women in key public positions. This normalizes the presence of women in judging and provides examples and role models for aspiring women to follow. These efforts don’t have to be directed “look at all the women” efforts. We can simply alter the ratios without necessarily bringing attention to it.
I want to address the fact that showcasing women, no matter how subtly done, will face sexist comments and actions. For example, when women are on camera in the feature match area as players or judges. It is important that efforts of representation are accompanied by both broad and specific messages condemning such actions swiftly and diplomatically. I had heard that there was a group of judges who were moderators in Twitch chat. Such a group should be supported, educated, and empowered to act on behalf of the Judge Program.
Have programs that encourage women to become judges or advance in the Judge Program, either vertically (in level) or horizontally (leading projects). One specific idea is a “women mentoring women” program that can put geographically disparate judges in contact with each other. I also think that we should be doing more than passively hoping certain strong L2s decide to advance to L3. the path to L3 isn’t an easy one. The path to L3 as a woman is even harder. We should have more direct and personal mentorship for those candidates, and more open channels of communication to listen to the issues that they face in the workplace.

I also want to emphasize that gender diversity shouldn’t be the only thing on the agenda, but currently it is the most glaring, and highlighting representation in other ways should not be ignored.

Growth Check
The general sentiment is that the Judge Program is nearing the end of its growth phase, and that we can no longer operate in the same ways that we have before. One example of this is the L3 forum. The collective number of L3s recently passed Dunbar’s number. While the merits of this theory or the exact number of people that can be in a sustainable network can be debated, the fact that we’ve crossed this threshold indicates that we should at least entertain the notion that our old methods of organizing and communicating might need an overhaul.

Moving back to spheres provides a renewed ability to subdivide L3s into various interest groups. This could be a way to continue discussions in smaller groups. The danger in breaking up the leadership is that you still want there to be some upper management communication and coordination. I don’t know that the PCs alone would suffice for this, and creating a second tier of management here starts to smell a lot like L4 and 5 again. To counteract that, I believe that more project management should fall to L2s and L1s. L3s are experts at a lot of things, but project management isn’t necessarily one of them. I believe this is a similar divide to the way L4 was split up between events and program. It’s a split that we should continue to embrace down the line.

Various policies that encourage unbridled growth should be reevaluated. One such policy that was recently brought up is the “train 2 judges in the last 12 months” requirement to advance to L3. While the actual number of new judges that comes about because of this may be small, it sends the message that growth is a priority.

An important consideration is that not all communities are at the same place in growth, and the Program should be sensitive to these differences. However, I believe it is more important to send the general message of slow growth now and deal with those communities on a case-by-case basis to encourage the local leaders to pursue independent courses of action that differ from the overall message. Having slow growth policies ready to go would also be helpful for when those communities catch up and reach a point of oversaturation.

My three core points have a lot of interplay. If we seek to slow down growth and emphasize making judges better, then feedback and emphasizing strong mentoring relationships plays a role in that. If we want to increase representation, that is going to lead to a swell in the number of judges, something that we should prepare for by slowing down growth in general.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Whitewashing in my Life

There's been some chatter lately about the movie adaptation of the "Ghost in the Shell" anime, and in particular the topic of whitewashing with regard to the casting of Scarlett Johansson as a Japanese character. I've never watched the original anime, but I have been Japanese all my life, so I thought I would share my personal perspective on whitewashing in general.

One of my earliest memories of feeling like something was wrong, way before I knew that the term whitewashing even existed, was watching the movie "Rising Sun." It featured a bunch of Japanese characters who spoke broken Japanese, as if they were just reading words from a script without even knowing the language. In fact, looking at the cast, there are a bunch of Hawaiian-born actors, so this is probably very true. These people may have been of Japanese descent, but they were being asked to play Japanese Yakuza (mafia) members, and their accents were worse than Kevin Costner's in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves." It was jarring, and it made the movie unwatchable for me.

This would be a pretty consistent theme throughout my life. Japanese would be spoken by supposedly native speakers, but it would be stilted and awkward. It's been a few years since I've watched it, but "Karate Kid: Part II," a movie that takes place in Japan, is rife with bad Japanese and even bad English spoken with fake Japanese accents. Just look at this interview with two of the actors who were called upon to play Japanese characters, and try to imagine them speaking Japanese.

Speaking different languages is hard. I grew up speaking Japanese with my family, so I have a pretty authentic accent, but without much practice, my vocabulary has atrophied a bit. I could live in Japan, and immersed in the culture, I would probably revert pretty quickly. Asking actors who don't speak much Japanese, if at all, to pull off movie dialogue works out about as well as this. This scene was played for some quick laughs, but this has been my life with Japanese characters in movies. I am shown people who look like me, mostly Hawaiian actors with Japanese ancestry, but who don't speak like me.

Along comes the "Ghost in the Shell" controversy, and multiple people have posted about this street interview with Japanese people who are okay with Scarlett Johansson playing the main character, Motoko Kusanagi. It's stunning that people are holding this up as... what? I'm not even sure, but it bothers me a lot, because it feels like it is a denial that whitewashing has existed at all, or at the very least a rebuttal against the condemnation of "Ghost in the Shell." Oh, these Japanese people said it was okay. I must be wrong to feel offended.

Let's be clear. I've experienced something completely different from what Japanese people in Japan have experienced when it comes to movies and TV. They get to watch hours and hours of entertainment featuring genuine Japanese actors and voices. For the most part, I've gotten the equivalent of Brad Pitt speaking Italian, except that it has been presented to me without irony. I hope that this puts things into better perspective. Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Rocks and Rocks - What to do When You're the Reach

In the past, I wrote a post about Rocks and Reaches, a theory on how to select your Team Leads when you are a Head Judge. The basic idea is that you want to balance between (solid) rocks and (people who are) reaches. But what do you do when you, as Head Judge, are the reach?

The first part of the equation is to recognize when this is the case. The easiest scenario to imagine when you are the reach is when you are the HJ of your first large event that actually requires you to divide up your judge staff into teams. Beyond that, you should think of tournaments in tiers based on complexity, expected attendance, and the quality and quantity of judges on your staff.

Recently, Paul Baranay went with a "rocks and rocks" setup for his TLs. Now, Paul has been there and done that. He's certified as a Grand Prix Head Judge. He has head judged multiple Opens, including a 677-player Standard Open.

But this event was set to be something special, a Team Constructed Open, the first of its kind. At the time Paul chose his TLs, we were already trending towards reaching our seating capacity of 300 teams (900 players), and indeed it happened a few days later. Also, being Teams introduced plenty of uncertainty in terms of how the event would run. I would not necessarily call Paul a reach, but the entire situation was so. And that's why Paul chose the TLs he did and sent them the following message:
" 'Rocks and reaches' works great for lots of events.
This event, however, is a 'rocks and rocks' situation.
I chose you for these roles because I knew you would do a great job in spite of any challenges that the event throws at us."

It was a cute turn of the phrase that emphasized exactly the right things for this event. A Head Judge's time and bandwidth is already constant assault at this kind of event, and every strong leader that you put into place to reduce some of your burden will help you.

As a counter-example, I was talking with Jacob Milicic, who recently head judged his first ever SCG Classic in Indianapolis. Jacob is someone who is big on feedback and judge development, and with those interests in mind he went with two less experienced TLs. There's nothing inherently wrong with that rationale, but according to Jacob, "Looking back on it, I should've gone with two rocks for my team leads, or even a rock and a reach. Selecting my leads the way that I did set me up for a more-challenging day than I would've liked for Head Judging my first SCG Classic."

The next time you're set to be the Head Judge of something that you expect to be a challenge, consider surrounding yourself with a bunch of rocks.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Changing the Culture

Yesterday, discussion broke out on Twitter about the fact that there were zero women on any of the #PTAER Pro Tour Team Series Rosters. Many people were quick to cite the fact that there are currently zero Gold or Platinum level women in the game. Discussion then began about why that is the case, and it's at least a credit to those involved in the discussion that I didn't see any arguments about women being worse at the game itself. But there is a participation problem.
Two years ago, I did some quick eyeball counts of the number of women playing in SCG Opens. Across nine events, the average was 12.7 women per Standard Open, or a hair over three percent of the field. Participation in Legacy and Modern Classics was slightly less, but those tournaments have such small sample sizes per weekend that it's hard to put much stock in them. I haven't taken any counts recently, but my gut says that it is more. I'll ask someone to do a count this weekend in Richmond.
While there's always room for improvement, I like to think that SCG Tour events are a friendly and welcoming environment for women. It helps that our stage staff and judge staffs always have a strong representation of women among them, and we take matters of harassment seriously. Like I said, things could be better though. One thing I'd like to see is a sign that more directly addresses this, as has been displayed by other TOs and event organizers. While our Tour regulars know us and our values, newcomers don't, and placing a sign that addresses and allays concerns right up front can send a powerful message and establishes a tone. I'm also going to bring it up to add this to our opening announcements.
Education among judges could be better too. Judge conferences often feature a "Women in Magic/Judging" seminar. I've attended a few of them, and even among what a consider to be a more enlightened crowd, there are cringeworthy moments, especially of audience men-bers mansplaining things to the women giving the talk. Yeah.
But we need to move forward in education beyond just "this is a problem" into "this is how we address the problem." We have reached a decent level of saturation of awareness in the Magic community, but we don't know how to deal with it. This is most evident in the number of Twitter posts that shifted the discussion from the #PTAER team representation to the issues at LGSs.
Yeah, those Local Game Stores aren't always friendly. I recall one FNM in a city where we were holding an Open that weekend where a random person came up beside me while I was watching a match and said, "Are you, Chinese? (Me: 'No.') Korean? ('No.') What are you then?"
In that moment, I was speechless. I was powerless. I've felt that way at other LGSs as well. Nothing as personally dramatic as this, but the all-too-familiar phrases "that card is so gay!" or "I got raped by Affinity." We've been at a place for years where we know that these are unacceptable things to say, so it can be demoralizing to constantly fight against it over and over again.
A few people on Twitter mentioned that they feel more comfortable at larger events than an LGS. I feel the same way, and I wanted to explore a few reasons why.
* Smaller spaces, same faces - If you run into an unpleasant person at a GP, you walk away, and chances are good that you never see them again. At an LGS, if you meet a bad seed, you're likely to be within earshot of them throughout the night, and there's a strong possibility that you flat out get paired against them. If you run into that same person week in and week out, it becomes much easier to just walk away from the store.
* Their house, their rules - At a GP or SCG Tour event, I am in charge, or at least in a position where I have agency over the environment, and there's something to be said for having that kind of power. There's also a responsibility to use that power wisely and compassionately, which I try to do. At a random LGS, I am a visitor, and in that kind of environment, it can be difficult to speak up against hurtful words. If it's this hard for me, I can imagine how hard it is for others.
I don't get out to local events often, but for the game as a whole, they are the lifeblood of our community. Players find and play the game there, and some percentage of them get invested and graduate to the higher tiers of competition. It's painful to think about how many players we lose at the LGS level because of the issues we keep hearing about. If you're reading this, it probably means you survived the meat grinder. Something, or maybe a someone kept things going for you. If you're a store owner or a local judge, you have direct control over the kind of environment that your store fosters. But you also have control if you're a regular at your store. Other players know you and the example you choose to set can help everyone to be more thoughtful with their words.
For my part, I'll continue to keep my house in order at SCG Tour events and the GPs I make it out to, and also continue to work on educating judges, not only in speaking up, but how to speak up, because the messenger matters a lot in turning the tide of the culture. I've written more about this in the past. You're no good as an authority figure if you're isolated from your audience.
In closing, this is important to me, now more than ever. In America, we were subject to a rude awakening with the election of that guy. There's nothing we can do about that. This is what we can do. We can win the small battles. People think that attendance at large events have plateaued. Sure, maybe for now. But imagine what attendance would be like if we had more than 3% women at these things.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Thank you for Grand Prix Indianapolis

What an amazing event. So many people stopped by or used social media to congratulate me and comment on what a well-run Grand Prix it was. And it really was, wasn't it? The player meeting got started at 9:02 and we finished in 10 minutes, prompting David Ochoa to Tweet:


Things hummed along from there. The last match of Day 1 finished at 8:09pm. That's 73-minute rounds on average, when I've been told that anything under 75 is good. Day 2, even better. 9:03 to 3:31 for 65-minute rounds, and the Top 8 finished at 6:04pm with a flurry of Lightning Bolts from Brandon Burton.

It helped that the Modern format is in a fast place. Burn decks like the one that Brandon won with are all the place, and in general, aggressive strategies like Affinity, Valakut, and Infect are favored over true control decks. Heck, even the control decks have fast closeouts with Bolts and Snapcasters, or a quick Nahiri/Emrakul finish. But there were two other Modern GPs this weekend with fewer players, and we kept pace or better with both.

It takes more than one person to make an event like this happen, and while I'm happy to be the front man for the band, I have to thank all of my band mates.

First of all, Alan Hochman, the TO. I'm sure that it's never a comfortable feeling to have your event be someone's GP Head Judge debut, but he was supportive and encouraging all the way through, looking to make it a celebration of this milestone. He and I share a birthday, and that kind of random detail made this feel like it was meant to be. The staff he put together, both for his stage staff and the judges, was integral to the event's success. This can't be said enough. When you have people like John Alderfer and Rob McKenzie devoted to TO business instead of floor judging, that's a small loss to get a huge gain. I didn't interface with those two much, but I felt their constant presence, making things run smooth in the background.

Speaking of those judges, CJ Crooks, as Judge Manager, helped me navigate through staff selection and scheduling. At this event, CJ reminded me that I had tested him for Level 2 in 2011, and I'm proud of what influence I've had on his judging career. CJ gave me a lot of leeway in putting together the squad that I wanted, and I thank him for having faith in my selections. CJ is another great judge in his own right, one of my favorites to work with on the floor. In his role as Judge Manager, he was usually pretty close by on the stage with me, and his attitude was a constant uplifting factor for me.

Jeff Morrow and Jared Sylva, my two Appeals Judges in burgundy. Fun fact. These two were the ones who recommended me for Level 3 way back in 2009. They have been constant mentors, friends, and partners in my long career. Back in May, I told Jeff that I would HJ of this GP and asked him to come. Despite the fact that he was already planning on being in Indianapolis for GenCon just a few shorts weeks prior to this event, he made the quick turnaround. Jared never let there be any doubt that he would be there, despite having a Pro Tour in Australia and the New Jersey Invitational on his docket in the weeks leading up to Indy. Those are the kinds of friends I have.

Kali Anderson. In 2010, at the Atlanta Open where I interviewed for my job with StarCityGames (the first time around), Kali certified for Level 1. Our paths became pretty intertwined since then, and I enjoyed watched her blossom first as a judge, then as a scorekeeper, and now I get to have lunch with her almost every week day as her coworker. Having her as the main event scorekeeper was reassuring from a skill perspective first, but also from a familiarity perspective. It was like being a pitcher who has a personal catcher. You can get so much done without even speaking about it.

Jarrod Feight. He's a new one to the roster. I worked with him last May at a Dallas Open that I attended basically to "cycle" for miles. He caught my attention, and we've struck up a friendship and working relationship. He recently had a baby, but he came out from Dallas to support me. He came through big by delivering one of the best Day 2 Team Lead performances on his first try.

I could keep going and going. Eric Dustin Brown and Patrick Vorbroker came out despite Head Judging their own tournaments the following week in Richmond. CJ Shrader, who doesn't venture out of the Southeast all too often. Jeff Higgins and Scott Neiwert from Portland, following in the wake of their own GP there a few weeks prior. A lot of people made choices and sacrifices to be here, to be here for me.

In some sense, the preparation for this event goes back years. The people I've met and the relationships I've made with them are what made this event the success that it was. I'm a fan of stacking my decks when it comes to judge staffs of events that I Head Judge. And for this one, I never stopped stacking. You should see the people I contacted who couldn't make it. Eric Levine, recently returned from Japan, had to make some hard cuts in events so as not to overload his schedule. Jacob Milicic attended a wedding. (Someone else who I can't recall at the moment also attended a wedding, but probably not the same one.) The good news, especially for Jacob, is that we are running it back at GP Milwaukee in December. Pastimes and Riki Hayashi, take two. This one's Limited, so the degree of difficulty goes up. Let's do it again.