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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

SCG Portland: I Rode a Bike with Handlebars

I didn't get to write as much as I wanted leading into SCG Portland, but I do have a few thoughts after the event. Having spent 3 years as part of the SCG Organized Play (OP) team, I am intimately familiar with their systems, especially the Show Lead's opening announcements at the Player Meeting. As many of you may know, this usually includes a terrible pun relating a card to a food or drink. This grand tradition started towards the end of 2010 or early 2011. It all started with me writing up some notes to send to our Head Judges about SCG policies. One such policy was that we didn't want players to have food and drink on top of the table, especially for Legacy play, where many individuals cards are $100+. I wrote in a joke about not wanting to have a "Jace, the Coke Sponger." That was it. The pun that started them all. I didn't say it was a particularly good one. But it started something, and it captured the imagination of not only the OP staff, but judges, and the players.

These days, at SCG Opens, if the Show Lead doesn't make a pun, players will get restless. If there is an explicit "I have no pun," the boos may start raining in. The pun has become a fundamental part of the Open Series culture. Regulars look forward to set releases to see what the new puns might be. I still get people who comment on some of my best ones:
* We would hate for your Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale to become a Tabernale at Ginger Ale
* We would hate for your Llawan, Cephalid Empress to become... (significant pause, giving people time to try to figure out what the pun is)... damaged.

Nicholas Sabin came up with "Force of Spill." I believe Jason Reedy first did "Dark Coffeedant." Kali probably came up with "Grim Javamancer." We've also had Head Judges step up and try to one-up us. Eric Levine's "Seachrome Coaster" being my favorite.

The important thing about these puns is that they provide a fun reprieve from all of the serious talk about Game Losses and appeals that litter normal announcements. That's the whole reason we started the tradition, and you can read more about this concept here in CJ Shrader's article. (P.S. Delver of Secrets -> Seltzer of Regrets is a bit of a stretch.)

Following in the success of the food and drink pun, I'm always looking for new ways to add a little spice to tournaments without being overly disruptive. Having an affinity for WWE wrestling, I've often wanted to incorporate their over-the-top microphone antics into my routine, and I got that chance when I Head Judged the Legacy Open in Atlanta (on the Invitational Weekend) last year. I asked the SCG folks to give me a WWE introduction... and they all chickened out. Luckily, staff photographer Rob Johnson, himself a former wrestler and afficionado, agreed to give me a DX stle intro: "Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages..."

That has apparently become a ongoing tradition as well, for Rob to give the Legacy Open Head Judge at Invitational Weekends a wrestling-style introduction. Heck, he even did it at our wedding.

Always looking to one-up myself, I wanted to do something unique for my Head Judge intro at SCG Portland. Although I've Head Judged some PTQs here, this was my first time on such a big stage in front of the home crowd, and I wanted to make it memorable. So, when Bruce Mills introduced "Your Standard Open Head Judge, from right here in Portland, Level 3, Riki Hayashi!" I was nowhere to be found. He and Kali gave a couple of "Where could be be?" Looks and shrugs, at which point...

*ding ding * ding ding

I rode in from the other side of the hall on my bicycle. It was my tribute to the great city of Portland. I guess some people couldn't quite see what was going on, which is a shame. And Shoebox didn't get a camera ready to film the whole thing, despite me warning him that my intro would be epic. I did get hoots and hollers from the SCG buyers, who always appreciate my antics. And Cedric Phillips happened to be standing close enough to give me a high five as I rode by.

It was a lot of fun to start the day off in that way. A lot of people commented on it, and to say in general how well-run the tournament was. Did me riding my bike in make the tournament run better? It would be hard to argue this case. But what it did do was to again, emphasize that judges can have fun too, but more importantly, if the Head Judge has enough bandwidth to plan and execute this, everything else must be going okay. Certainly, I wouldn't have done this if we had been under an attendance crunch situation, where we were scrambling for more tables and chairs at the last minute. It was a comfortable event, and the bike ride was a showcase of that.

I certainly don't expect the bike ride to become a staple at SCG events. It takes resources and time, but I think that small exhibitions like this go a long way towards adding an entertainment component to events, to make them more than just a tournament. In fact, I recently had a talk where I suggested more entertainment during End of Round time. It was pointed out to me that with most players milling about and waiting for the next round to start, this time has a tendency to draw attention when it is too long. For starters, I would suggest turning off any count-up clock after time extensions are done. There's no more need for it once all matches are in extra turns, and it just gives players a factual negative to focus on: "Geez. It's been 25 minutes since the round ended. What's taking so long?"

The other thing is that we could add some form of entertainment here while we wait for those last matches to finish. I jokingly suggested a stand up routine. Maybe that's not the exact right thing, but it something like it. It may be impossible to entertain the entire room of players, but even just having someone juggling at the stage could offer a distraction.

The other thing we did at this event was a continuation of the new tradition we started at the Modern PTQ: the Portland Hug. What happened was that when the prize payout sheet was printed out for the PTQ, I convinced the TO to make 9th place pack prizes the same as 5-8 to lessen the feel bads. Someone then suggested that 9th place also get a "Riki hug." I'm generally anti-hug, but I went along with this, so someone wrote it in on the prize sheet. Players started to buzz about this. "A hug from Riki? I almost want to finish in 9th instead of Top 8 now!"

When I announced the Top 8, I mentioned the hug as prize for 9th and Sean Collins chose to collect, giving me a bear hug and lifting me up off the ground. The crowd loved it. So when it came to the SCG Standard Open, I made the announcement that we would be following the new Portland tradition (if the 9th place finisher wanted it--it should always be optional for reasons). When I announced 9th place as Ryan Bemrose, the crowd erupted. He's a very good local player, with a reputation for being on the ridiculous side, so this was a fitting pairing. He collected his hug, and even came back for seconds on Sunday! I forget who finished 9th in the Legacy Open, but Head Judge Aaron Henner continued the tradition (which now is firmly entrenched as such) and gave the Portland Hug. Maybe the SCG crew will take this with them across the country, or maybe it will just stay local to Portland. Regardless, it is another easy way to have a little fun, interact with players, and show that we are human beings. Hopefully players don't take it as a "sick rub-in" and see it as a real attempt at sympathy for the finish.

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