Friday, January 16, 2015

Grand Prix Denver Tournament Report: Friday

Recently it was noted that L3s aren't required to write tournament reports, something that all L2s were recently required to do as part of a mass re-certification/ renewal effort for the level. The implication being that it is shitty that L2s have to do this thing that L3s don't have to do. I dunno. L3s have to do a lot of things that are far more diverse and difficult in order to attain and maintain their level. But there's nothing that says that we can't write tournament reports, and with my extensive background as a writer, I thought I would go ahead and do so to entertain and hopefully educate some folks.

GP Denver started with a Mid-day Grinder shift for me. When I arrived on site at 1pm and checked in with the AM Lead Casey Brefka I was surprised to learn that he hadn't yet launched any Grinders even though they were scheduled to start an hour ago. There was also a significant line over at the Sides registration area--probably 30-40 people--which was in a separate part of the hall. Apparently the TO staff was trying out a new form on registration and seating for Grinders that would change everything (TM). The new method involves giving each player who pays for registration a slip of paper with a table number. They are instructed to go sit at that table and wait for their Grinder to launch. When the Grinder fills up, the judges in the Grinder area begin the event, first by collecting all of the slips and taking them to the Grinder Scorekeeper, who enters the information into a bracket. the bracket is printed out and given to the judges to run the event. In theory, the judge can now run the entire Grinder from this bracket, and the next interaction they have with the SK is to hand them back the completed bracket.

I'm all for innovation and trying new things, but it's always a bit frustrating when these happen at events for the first time and they seemingly haven't been tested until then. See: GP Richmond Mini-Masters or GP San Antonio new tournament software. Yes, these things need to be tried out live at some point, but it seems like when they are, there are a bunch of problems that could have been solved by a group of judges sitting down for lunch. Look, my intention is definitely not to throw the good folks at Cascade Games under a bus here. All I'm saying is... I'm available for lunch.

There were several delays related to both the new registration and seating schema, and some of it stemmed from the distance between the registration area and the play area, as judges would have to walk back and forth to get some basic information like whether a Grinder was full or not. After 3 or 4 Grinders launched, the experiment was abandoned. Scorekepers moved from the registration stage to the Grinder stage where the judges were stationed, and we transitioned to the traditional Wizards Event Reporter (WER) method of running the events.

The transition went very poorly, unfortunately to the detriment of the players. What happened was that between switching over registration styles, an attempt to renumber the tables in the Grinder area, and a shift change for the judges, one Grinder just got lost in the shuffle for close to an hour with neither the players nor judges realizing what had happened. Also, as we transitioned the existing Grinders from form of the bracket to WER input, the SKs fell behind in building their tournaments as they had to manually enter all of the old pairings and results.

Part of the lost Grinder was definitely my fault. I had a lot of balls in the air with the various transitions and I simply forgot that we had a Grinder that was close to launching. If I had it all to do over again... I would remember the Grinder. No, but seriously, even if the error is a lapse in memory, there are valuable lessons that you can glean from an incident like this. I think I was definitely trying to do too many things at once here, also known as the classic error of not delegating. If I had delegated a few of the tasks, I would have had more bandwidth available for the big picture. It's possible that I still might have forgotten about the Grinder, but less likely.

After a lunch/dinner break, I handed over the reigns of Grinders to Mike Combs, he of the late shift Grinders Lead, and headed over to assist with On Demand Events. Here I was under the leadership of Nathan Wang, where we had an unfortunate interaction. He asked to go out and cover the floor. I thought it was more important for me to stay close to the registration area and continue to assist with launching the events, which were going along at a very fast clip due to the TO's decision to allow the "Infinite Constructed Bracelet" to be used on On-Demand Constructed queues. Most of the Standard and Modern queues we launched had 6-8 Bracelet owners, while 4-player Commander queues averaged 3. However, my response to his request was a short "The floor looks fine."

From my perspective, this was a dialogue. He could have very well just responded to this with "Well, it's not fine. Several players have had to wait a long time for judges to respond. Please go cover the floor," and I would have had no problems following his instructions. Unfortunately, Nathan thought that I was defying him, and that my "The floor looks fine" was me flat out rejecting his instructions with a slammed door. It's possible that something in my tone of voice conveyed this, or it could be a general "L3" aura thing, but I can assure you (and I assured Nathan afterwards) that neither myself or any other L3 judge is going to shy away from a task given to us by a lower-level judge (Nathan is an L2) because we feel that we are above the task or resistant to being given instructions by someone who isn't wearing burgundy (the traditional color shirt for a GP HJ who is usually an L4 or 5).

This interaction with Nathan was brought to my attention later by John Carter. He's an L3 from Seattle, which is where Nathan is from, give or take, and he was working for the TO as a stage admin. Carter and I go way back, and he is someone who I have always looked up to in the Judge Program. Carter explained what he had been told by Nathan and several other people, and while it was a surprise to me that my words and actions had been interpreted that way, I was able to see my culpability in this situation. Despite my internal feelings, the words I said didn't leave room for the "dialogue" that I thought we were having, especially when wrapped up with this being Nathan's first time leading such a shift at a GP and not being sure how to interact with higher level judges assigned to his team.

Later on in the weekend, I got a chance to sit down with Nathan, and I apologized to him for my actions. I also explained my perspective on what had happened. In situations like this, I find that it is so easy to fall into excuse mode, and I try very hard to not to do that. Admit fault. Apologize. Explain but don't excuse. I thought our talk went well, and I encouraged Nathan to enter a Judge Center review of me because it's important to record interactions like this, and it would be a good growth opportunity for him to be able to write a review like that of a higher level judge. Never shy away from critical feedback.

This tournament report has gotten surprisingly long, so I'll sign off here and return later to write about Saturday and Sunday.