Going into this past weekend, the state of Montana had just 5 L1 judges listed in Judge Center. And despite what you might think of Montana, there are Magic players out there. I flew out to Head Judge a PTQ in May and we had almost 100 players turnout for it in Bozeman, MT. That's not bad at all, and it is the kind of attendance where the area needs to have several L2s so that they can run Competitive REL events without importing the entire staff (for this PTQ, we also had two L2s, Ashton Chapman and Scott Neiwert come in from out-of-state).
At that PTQ, I tested one local, Jonathon Mortenson for L2, but unfortunately he did not pass. Other than that, I spoke to a bunch of people about judging but no one seemed particularly ready to take the L1 exam. Speaking with Ashton and Sara Erickson (one of the owners [along with her husband Lincoln] of the store that held the PTQ, Rook's Comics and Games), we agreed that the area needed a shot in the arm, something to drive up interest in judging and serve as a rallying point. It seemed like an ideal place to run a Judge Conference.
Having just planned and run a conference after GP Portland, I was burnt out on Super Mega Conferences attached to GPs and SCG Invitationals. While they certainly bring some value to an area, these have tended to be in population centers where judges aren't lacking in learning opportunities. Plus, organizing seminars for 100+ people is a huge amount of work, and one where I feel like there are rapidly diminishing returns in terms of real education, especially for the GP grinders who get to four or five of these per year. It's gotten to the point where I don't even want to attend these Super Conferences. (See: previous blog about social anxiety.)
Given the positive relationship I had with Rook's, and its geographic centrality--being in the middle of nowhere means that everyone from the edges of nowhere can get there--Bozeman seemed like the ideal place to hold this. Sara and Lincoln also scheduled an SCG Super IQ for the weekend to draw in more judges and players from the area, and I reached out to my local Coordinators to see who could make it. Luckily, we found a weekend where we were only missing one of them from the Rocky Mountains. We also got an expected surprise when Jess Dunks applied. Jess is from San Jose, but it turns out that his family is in Great Falls, Montana just a few hours away.
As we started the weekend's festivities with the Super IQ, I posted on Facebook, asking for guesses as to how many judges we would end up with. Most guesses ranged from 7 to 10, and two very optimistic people guessed 15. (LSV guessed that we would lose a judge and end up at 4. Always the jokester, that LSV.)
In terms of results, it is hard to argue with what we achieved. All in all, 11 people passed their L1 exam all of them from Montana. That's right. We ended the weekend with 16 total judges in Montana. We also got Montana's very first L2 judge, Jonathon Mortenson, who smashed his retry. Two other judges tested and passed for L2, Jonathan Gildersleeve and Lee Fisher from neighboring Idaho. As pure numbers, it was a decent weekend. As a percentage of attendees, it was an amazing weekend. For a state that started the weekend with 5 judges, this was earth-shattering.
We had one more advancement, or official recognition of sorts. For a few months now, I've had a group of State and Metro Coordinators operating together. Montana was the sole exception. It was under the watchful eye of Ashton from Idaho. With the sudden growth in Montana, it seemed right to name a new State Coordinator, and only one person made any kind of sense here: Sara Erickson. Her enthusiasm, drive, and love for her community were what made this weekend happen in the first place. I just got to use my position as RC to make it an official conference with foils and such.
I am already hearing about some friendly competition between Montana and Wyoming to see who can get more judges. I am quite familiar with these types of "judge drives," having master minded California's victory over the sovereign nation of Spain. What I love is that Wyoming SC Nole Clauson already has the right idea with contests like this. "My goal is to find people who are already doing the work as judges in their local stores and make it official by giving them the test." Right on, Nole. Advancing people just for the sake of numbers has never been a winning formula because those people often just lapse quickly, or they do a very poor job as judges. Maybe this is even a thing that Idaho can get involved in. (According to Judge Center, Idaho has 12 judges and Wyoming has 9. First to 25?)
Overall, a lot of people said a lot of nice things and thanked me for running this conference, but here are the superstars that really made it happen. My role was to have an idea, get people excited about the idea, put them in places to succeed, and let them do great work.
Presenters: Tasha Jamison ("So you want to be an L2" and "3-2-1 Combat"), Scott Neiwert ("So you want to be an L1"), Ashton Chapman ("Your Judge Community"), Nole Clauson ("Your Judge Community"), Jess Dunks ("Layers"), Adena Chernosky ("Training your local players"), Cassidy Meczak ("3-2-1 Combat"), Jeremy Behunin ("Handling Abilities"), and Bryan Spellman ("Judge Jeopardy") [I also presented on "Handling Illegal Actions."]
MC: Ashton Chapman who kept us running right on time.
Testing Coordinators: Tasha Jamison, Scott Neiwert. That was a lot of advancements. They pretty much enlisted every L2 we had to do exam debriefs.
Super IQ Judges: Jeremy Behunin, Tasha Jamison, Nole Clauson, Jonathon Mortenson, Goeff Dearing. It was a great event and I hope we can see more like it in Montana.