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Friday, August 22, 2014

Smaller Shared Spaces in Social Media

In the Northwest Magic Judges Facebook group, if you post a rules question, you're likely to get a quick reply from new Regional Coordinator Jeremy Behunin, asking you to take rules questions to other outlets. One of the outlets he will helpfully point you to is chat.magicjudges.org, a link that takes you to an IRC channel where around a hundred rules experts squat all day and night waiting to answer your rules questions. The link to the chat is also a frequent reply to such rules questions in the r/mtgjudge subreddit.

Why this response? Why not just answer the rules question? (Many times someone does before a Mod can come along and post the link.) And especially in the context of the regional FB group, aren't judges supposed to help each other?

The answer is primarily one of bandwidth and clutter. The FB group and the subreddit are places to talk about the act of judging, not carry out the act itself. People post links to useful articles, ask more in depth questions ("How do I become an L2?"), and share information on upcoming events. If the floor were opened up to any and all rules questions, it would quickly become... a rules Q&A forum, and those already exist in copious amounts all over the Internet. Despite Magic rules being a part of the shared interests Venn Diagram for these groups, it's nice to have some space to get away from it all. The operators of the official Magic Judges Facebook and Twitter accounts have similar regulations against answering rules questions.

Another shared space that people have recently had difficulty navigating are the event forums on apps.magicjudges.org. Anytime you are accepted to be on staff for an event on JudgeApps, you gain access to a forum that is exclusive to that event. It's like being invited to a club. Once you are in the club, you have to realize that you have a responsibility to not be loud and obnoxious (or the online equivalent). If you are going to make a post, you should ask yourself if the post is necessary for to the event to run well.

The default notification setting for Event Forum Posts is to go to e-mail. That's right. If you're on staff for a GP with 100 other people, you just sent your joke to all of them, something you wouldn't do if you had to manually input all of their addresses. It can be deceptive because those e-mails only have one address in the From field and even puts the name of the person who sent the original message; it feels like you are only replying to one person, but I can assure you that a single reply to the weird forum e-mail will go out to everyone.

Everyone who hasn't already unsubscribed from the thread/forum. Therein lies the real danger of too much spam on event forums. Often there is time sensitive information that needs to be disseminated to staff members, like call times and team assignments. If there is too much spam circulating on the event forums, people may get "Notification Fatigue" and opt out of getting e-mail updates, missing some vital information down the line. I personally have all event forum posts push to my e-mail, and I am very selective about unsubscribing from individual threads. Even if they filled with jokes today, there may be something important posted tomorrow. There are only a few threads that I will opt out of, and that's only because they are set up to be social "spam" threads from the start. While I understand and appreciate why Scott Marshall does his "music thread," I no longer have any interest in the musical stylings of everyone else on staff. It's an easy "unsubscribe" for me. Later, if I am having a slow day, I can go to the forums themselves and catch up on the thread at my own leisure.

Keep in mind that when you post things to specific Facebook groups or an event forum, you are posting to a lot of people. These people have subscribed to this group in good faith and will now be receiving notifications on all posts that go up in the group. Take some time to think about whether you should be asking all 300 judges in your region about something, or if you are better off going to your mentor with it. Yes, sometimes your question might be on the minds of other people, especially if it is about a recent announcement, or you might want to see some discussion about the topic. Other times, it's probably just better to shoot your question to someone 1-on-1.

Monday, August 18, 2014

1000 Miles - Week 29-31 Update

Week 29
Thursday: 3.5 miles
Saturday: 7.0 miles
Sunday: 3.5 miles
Wednesday: 7.0 miles
Week Total: 21.0 miles
Year Total: 602.0 miles

Week 30
Monday: 3.8 miles
Wednesday: 3.8 miles
Week Total: 7.6 miles
Year Total: 609.6 miles

Week 31
Sunday: 4.5 miles
Tuesday: 3.1 miles
Wednesday: 8.0 miles
Week Total: 15.6 miles
Year Total: 625.2 miles

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Stepping Down as Regional Coordinator

I always viewed being RC as a temporary thing. In fact, when I started, I had a two-year plan in place. That plan was to build up the region to the point where it could be split into two separate regions (Pacific and Mountain) with new RCs in both of those regions. Utah (then in the Southwest Region) was the lynchpin of this plan because of the presence of one Jeremy Behunin, a good friend and someone who I viewed as the best candidate to be RC of the future Mountain Region. What I had forgotten until recently is just how much Jeremy shaped what was the become the new NW I took over. It was Jeremy who first suggested to me that Wyoming and Colorado (both in the South Region at the time) needed to be included in any proposed Mountain plan because those states had more interactions with each other and with Utah, Montana, and Idaho. Under his advisement, I asked for those states to be added to the NW when I accepted the RC position in October 2012.

Yadda yadda yadda

Here we are, just shy of 2 years later. Due to various circumstances, the region isn't quite at a splittable place. However, the NW in general, and the Mountain portion in particular, are thriving. I do not see the fact that we didn't achieve a split as a failure here, just an incorrect initial calibration of the time frame needed. What is important here is that the Mountain portion has a much stronger cohesion and identity today. We had a bunch of judges show up for GP Portland from the Mountain states, including 4 on staff from Montana. I think there were 4 judges total in Montana when I took over the region (maybe 5).

Despite not achieving the split goal, two years still felt like the right amount of time for me. Like a Presidential term, I think I came in, did some good things, and now it's time to step aside and let the next person do some good, especially when we have a great "next person" in line. As I said earlier, it was Jeremy Behunin who shaped my vision of what the Mountain and the new NW should look like. Throughout my term, he has continued to be an excellent advisor and friend. He's traveled far and wide to Judge Conferences and PTQs to strengthen our core of judges. In short, he has already been the RC of the Mountain states, and now it is my pleasure to be able to hand him the keys officially.

It's notable that this is the first time the RC has resided "inland" for these states. Back when it was just the West, Jeff Morrow and then Aaron Hamer were coastal. When the West was split, Sean Catanese (SW), Hamer (NW), and Kevin Binswanger (South) were still on the periphery. When David Zimet and I took over the first two regions respectively, the geographic relationship stayed the same. There's no doubt in my mind that Jeremy is the right person for the job at hand, but I also think that the timing of having the RC residing in the Mountain portion will have a significant impact on the work we have put into developing it. Meanwhile, the Pacific states will continue to do what they've always done. Besides, it's not like I'm disappearing. Stepping down as RC will allow me to focus a bit more locally. I will play the strong support to him from here in Portland.

I wish that we could have announced this at GP Portland, but the timing of it just didn't work out. Some of you knew, or were able to surmise that something like this was up. I appreciate that people did not pry. What is cool about this timing is that GP Salt Lake City, his hometown event, will be Jeremy's first GP as RC. Sometimes things happen a certain way for a reason. A great party just got better.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

GP Portland and the Side Show Judges

Yesterday (8/9/14) I played in GP Portland. It was a Team Sealed event and my teammates were Adam Shaw and David Lyford-Smith, two fellow Magic Judges (L2 and L3 respectively, although Adam is a former L4 recently returned to judging). It was really fun to play with them and I especially enjoyed our interplay during deck build, as I snatched up the aggro Boros cards and DLS took the Grindclock. Adam quickly settled on Mono-Green with a Twin Pines Mauler. We ended up 2-3 on the day and dropped. It was fun playing, and I especially enjoyed our interactions with all of our opponents.

What I didn't enjoy was our interactions with judges. I understand that it is unusual to see high-level judges playing in events of this caliber, and I'm okay with drawing a crowd. Jeff Morrow pointed out that I bring another level of celebrity factor to the table, in general and also by being the RC of the NW where this GP took place. Again, that's all fine. In Round 1, several judges birded our match in plain clothes, presumably before their shift started. They said nothing, acting as spectators should. I also want to say that I did not mind all of my friends asking what our record was when they ran into us between rounds. Although we didn't play as well as we would have liked, I had no shame about losing, and appreciated the support I got from people. It's very important that I establish that. Asking about our record, cheering or commiserating with us, is perfectly acceptable.

What I did take issue to was judges stopping by our match and saying things unsolicited. Two examples:

I lost my match and was packing my stuff up to move over to help Adam, who was now in a tight Game 3 to decide the entire team match. I play with the lounging Brian Kibler playmat. With the recent update to USC - Minor, I've seen a lot of chatter about where the line is on various things. One of those lines that gets discussed is anime girl sleeves and playmats. How much skin is too much? When does a provocative pose cross the line? This judge apparently thought it would be funny to say "I think that playmat is a little too provocative." I said nothing, gave him a glare, and moved over to help Adam.

Another round, I had finished my match (don't remember if I won or lost), and moved over in between David and Adam to be able to help both of them. Earlier that day, we had overheard a judge saying that you could not move chairs around to sit between your teammates because it would be a fire hazard. That's reasonable, but puts the 3rd player in an awkward position. Standing behind your teammates puts you in a position where you can see their opponents's hands, and that isn't fair to have an extra set of eyes with that vantage point. To solve this, most 3rds would crouch or kneel behind their teammates. That's what I was doing, with my legs extended out into the aisle. The aisle was narrow enough that my legs were over 50% across the aisle. A judge walking the aisle said "Excuse me, but you're causing a fire hazard by kneeling like that." I wasn't sure if he was serious, so I looked up, and he said something that made it clear that he was joking. More glare, more silence, and back to watching teammates.

There were a couple of other times that judges stopped by our match and said stuff, but I don't remember the specifics too well. Those last 2 struck out because I was already salty from losing a few rounds in a row, and I was really fed up with the constant needling. At past events, I've gotten judges watching my match say things like "I'm going to hang around and watch you for Slow Play." I also see a lot of judges take pride and joy--PRIDE AND JOY--in giving a fellow judge playing in an event a penalty of some kind. There's also the typical "Oh, you lost? I guess that's why you judge."

The strangest part about all of this is that non-judge players, are super friendly and supportive when they see me playing. Some of them are downright giddy. And at least locally, perhaps because I've played a lot recently and had moderate success, I don't get comments like "I thought judges were bad at playing." This could also be a factor of several other prominent Portland judges being fairly successful players.

I get it. These are typical ways that friends show affection through jokes and ribbing. And while I advocate for judges to treat players as friends (certainly versus as enemies), there's a point where things can get too familiar, and it seems that judges playing in tournaments is one of those points. You see, when a judge plays Magic, they are making a choice. You should respect that choice, and treat them like players. If you are "friends outside of the tournament," maybe some friendly banter is appropriate, but that should be seriously tempered and evaluated on context. Would you go up to a player who had just lost a match, even a good friend, and make a joke about their playmat being inappropriate (when it clearly isn't)? Would you stop by just to comment on how you want to give them a Warning? I certainly hope not.

If you do want to make a comment, you should think long and hard about it. If you've got that level of rapport with the player, then good. That's a start. If it doesn't make you look like an ass, then better. And here is where context is king. There are other players around. They may or may not know that the player you are talking to is also a judge. Now you just look like you've drive-by douched someone. Good job. I'm often left to deal with the aftermath of explaining that I am a judge and that other judges are getting their yucks at my expense. I often get sympathy from my opponent, because yes, it does suck... constantly.

And there's the kicker, Mr. Comedian. You aren't the only one. It happens almost every round, sometimes twice in one round. There is a pervasive culture of this type of judge-on-player/judge abuse, and I'm tired of it. When I Tweeted about my negative experience, several other judges threw in their comments that it had happened to them. Why are we so supportive of each other when we are working, but such dicks to those who choose to play? I don't know. I've done it myself in the past, but after this experience I will be curtailing that behavior, and I encourage you to call me on it if I ever do it to you in person or online.

Monday, August 4, 2014

1000 Miles - Week 26-28 Update

Week 26
Thursday: 4.2 miles
Saturday: 7.0 miles
Monday: 6.5 miles
Wednesday: 3.3 miles
Week Total: 21.0 miles
Year Total: 535.1 miles

Week 27
Thursday: 3.3 miles
Saturday: 3.5 miles
Monday: 11.3 miles
Wednesday: 3.3 miles
Week Total: 21.4 miles
Year Total: 556.5 miles

Week 28
Thursday: 3.5 miles
Sunday: 8.0 miles
Tuesday: 9.5 miles
Wednesday: 3.5 miles
Week Total: 24.5 miles
Year Total: 581.0 miles