Another day, another Grand Prix staff selection e-mail, right? Well, maybe next year it will be like that, but for now GPs are still rare enough that the staff selection e-mail sends a nice stir throughout the community. Who made it? Who didn't? The selection for GP San Diego also held the extra nugget of possible hints to who might be selected for Worlds in San Francisco the week after, especially for the international judges.
I was selected to be on staff for GP San Diego. It might seem like a no-brainer for an L3 to be chosen, but that certainly hasn't been the case this year, and especially for an event leading into Worlds where multiple L3s will be flying in from around the globe. There certainly was a point in time when I took it for granted that I would get on any GP staff I wanted onto, but with the program growing at the pace it is, that's a dangerous assumption to make, and seeing the multiple messages across the Internetsphere from people who didn't make it on reminds me of when I started to travel to events.
I made it onto the staff of the very first GP I applied to. Of course, things were different back then. There were a lot fewer judges vying for those slots. It also helped that it was the local GP in San Francisco and I had a very good working relationship with the TO, Conan. I had recently come back to judging (and live Magic events in general) after a brief hiatus and had set my sights on getting to L2 in the near future. Again, this was 2007 and L2 was a completely different animal back then. It could be roughly defined as "good L1" rather than all the stuff about being a mentor and certifying people. Conan was on board with this plan, and that meant I was on board the GP.
GP SF (in San Jose) was a truly eye-opening experience for me that taught me how much I had to learn. It was my first exposure to non-Toby Elliott/Don Barkauskas L3+s, including John Carter, Seamus Campbell, and Adam Shaw, three people that went on to become very good friends of mine and also greatly influenced my path as a judge.
My next GP was Daytona Beach. That's on the opposite side of the country. My decision to go to this event was influenced by a couple of factors. First, I had just failed my L2 exam and I was itching to get back on the horse. Unfortunately, this was a time when OP was messing around with PTQ distributions or something and we only had 1 in Northern California (and the State Championship). In my insatiable thirst to judge more, I not only flew all the way to Florida for a GP but also drove to Seattle for a PTQ (about an 11-hour drive). For Midwest and East Coast folks, an 11-hour drive might seem like a normal day on the road to a tournament, or at the very least, the top end of the curve for a long drive. For a Californian, 11 hours was unheard of, as we didn't event make the 5-hour drive to LA for events at that time. Since then, many more players do make this drive, but few make that Seattle run.
Daytona Beach was another great event where I met some very important people in my life, Jared Sylva, fellow globetrotter Carlos Ho, David Vogin, and nonjudge Megan Holland among others. I came back home from Daytona with a much broader understanding of judging and my own strengths and weaknesses. I felt like I was improving, and it was with the intention of improving even more that I applied for GP Vancouver.
I didn't get selected for that GP. It was chock full of a lot of high level judges, and I was still an L1. I guess it stung a little to not get chosen, but I was still nobody, and a bunch of somebodies were on that staff. Still, I had already made my plans to go to this event, including a stopover the week preceding in Seattle to judge another PTQ (this time I flew there) and hang out with good friends Jon Loucks and Zaiem Beg. It was fun times at that PTQ. In the Top 8, I shifted gears and did event coverage style match reporting for my TCGplayer column, along with a metagame breakdown of the PTQ decklists. You can read that article here. It's amazing to read that article today because look who is in that Top 8: Gavin Verhey, Travis Woo, and Alexander West. Yikes. They've all gone to have some modest amounts of success in various avenues of this game.
Doing match coverage at that PTQ helped me get ready for GP Vancouver. After being denied as a judge, I decided that the best use of my time there would not be to play, but to do event coverage for TCGplayer. Unfortunately, the coverage I wrote was via some experimental blog entry thing and I can't seem to find it anymore, but I assure you that I did a bunch of feature matches, interviews, and other assorted "from the tournament floor" reporting. One piece of reporting that did survive from that weekend: quarterfinals and semifinals match coverage on the mothership. I got this great opportunity because I was already there with a laptop typing furiously next to every feature match, plus I had a proven background as a regular columnist and had introduced myself to Brian David-Marshall at GP Daytona.
Oh, earlier I mentioned a couple of factors in wanting to travel for events like Daytona and Vancouver and never made it to the second factor. How about traveling with close friends and watching them succeed. My good buddies Luis Scott-Vargas and Paul Cheon were just starting to hit their strides as big-time players, and I just didn't have the playing chops to keep up with them, so I found the next best way to be right there in the thick of the action.
About a month after Vancouver, I retested for L2, passed, and went to GP Philadelphia. I guess this is the point where I can say that the rest is history because another 2 months after that I went to my first Pro Tour, Hollywood, and started my column on StarCityGames (The Riki Rules). The next few years of my judging career are well-documented in those articles, for better or for worse.
What I wanted to illustrate is that I came from somewhere. I wasn't just an overnight judging sensation. It took me 4 years to go from L1 to L2, 4 years that were fraught with a lot of trying to be a competitive player, uncertainty, more uncertainty, and almost quitting it all for good (and only managing to quit for 6 months). Even when I set myself on my rampaging course at GP SF, it took a long time for me to get to a point where I was anywhere close to the road warrior I am today.
I wrote this because a lot of people have been hurt and downtrodden about not being selected for GP San Diego.
You know what I would do if I were in your shoes? Go anyway. Talk to people. Look at all the random names that are littered throughout this tale, and remember that this all before I became some kind of nerd world celebrity. Make an impression, and it doesn't have to be just with other judges. Maybe if you make a connection with a Rashad Miller, you can find yourself in the GGSlive commentating booth. Remember how I said I met Megan Holland? That was because I judged a side event that was lovingly called "the Girlfriend event." And yet we made a connection, became friends, and my connection to the MtgMom had enabled me to further my deep connections within the community.
I know that I've gotten pretty lucky throughout my career, but I've also been persistent as heck. I have always believed that anyone can be "the next Riki Hayashi" because that fundamental skill of mine is something that anyone can have. Beyond that, all I really have is some modicum of writing talent and my dashing good looks. Ignore those parts and you can join me on my cloud.