Blue Is The New Black: Regional Coordinators

Riki Hayashi, Regional Coordinator for the Northwest, explains what Regional Coordinators (RCs) in the Judge Program do.

Regional Coordinator, most often shortened to "RC." It is a title that appears at the bottom of this article in my bio, a title that is held by 25 of the top judges in the world, but 90% of you—pretty much all of the non-judges—have never heard of it. How can that be? What is a RC?

If you’ve been to a Grand Prix in the last two years, chances are you’ve seen a RC on Sunday walking around in a blue Magic Judge shirt, and yet these individuals rarely answer judge calls and don’t seem to be in charge of any specific tournaments, further deepening their mysterious ways.

RC Herd

Welcome to Smurf Village.

As the name implies, Regional Coordinators are tasked with overseeing the judges in a geographic region. These positions started in Europe as Country Coordinators, something that makes a lot of sense when there are so many languages and cultures in play. Even then, other than some of the larger nations (France, Spain, Italy) most European Regions are made up of multiple countries, and a lot of the countries don’t have enough judges to justify a full RC, so when the Country Coordinator system was expanded groups of nations were lumped into regions.

In the United States, there is even less stability as the Regions tend to go through minor tweaks every year. The state of Pennsylvania has proven to be a tough one to place correctly. It is a large state (280 miles wide) with two major cities at the two edges, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Pittsburgh fits very naturally with the major cities of Ohio (Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati) and isn’t that far from Indianapolis and Chicago. Philadelphia, on the other end has more in common with New York, Washington D.C., and Baltimore. As a result, the state has been placed in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Central Regions and still doesn’t feel right in any of them.

My own region, the Northwest, added Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado at the beginning of the year. The only thing stranger than these states being in a region with Washington and Oregon is that Colorado and Wyoming were with the South Region before that, a region that includes Texas and Louisiana. But that’s a lot of U.S. geography for you. What’s the reason for these odd couplings and the constant shuffling of states from region to region?

As we see with Pennsylvania, no state is split into separate regions no matter how much this might make sense. (California is another state that could easily be split into two.) The methodology underlying the way the states are allocated to regions is by population—judge population that is (and somewhat player population and event attendance). The goal is to keep the regions closely balanced in this regard while maintaining some semblance of geographic continuity. This obviously gets thrown out the window for Alaska and Hawaii, both of which are in my Northwest because "close" is a relative term with those states.

That’s roughly what RCs are, but what do we do? What does it mean to "coordinate" a bunch of judges? To put more specifics to it, we are involved in staffing GPs, PTQs, and SCG Opens, advising the TOs on what judges to take. This is based upon judges’ skills but also on rewarding judges for good regional work they are doing. For PTQs, it is especially important to communicate with TOs because we are seeing so many new stores get PTQs for the first time. These stores often lack context and experience for how to run PTQs and what judges are appropriate as Head and Floor Judges.

Another way that RCs reward judges for regional work is through judge foils, the currency of the Judge Program. Every quarter, RCs get an allocation of foils to distribute to judges in their region. This last time around, I recognized judges for:

  • Excellence in feedback (writing Judge Center reviews) at the SCG Open in the area
  • Building up a local community through work with a store
  • Starting a monthly casual judge gathering in a city
  • Leading a discussion at said gathering on M14 rules changes
  • Having an online Skype meeting with judges in the state
  • Starting a study group for L2 candidates in the region

These are just a few examples of what judges can do to make their area, and by extension the region, more awesome. Ultimately, as RC this is what I am tasked with: to make the region more awesome and to bring excitement to the judges and drive up interest in judging. The Judge Program now has over four thousand judges, a number double that of a few years ago. And yet even with that many judges in the world we still aren’t keeping pace with the demand of events, especially in remote areas and especially in terms of the L2s needed to run Competitive REL events in those remote areas.

For example, I’m writing this article in Montana, a state that gets a PTQ every other season but doesn’t have a L2 yet. That’s a problem when a PTQ requires at least one L2 as Head Judge and usually another one to three as Floor Judges. The last time there was a PTQ in Bozeman, Montana, I flew out on the way home from a separate trip and HJed it along with two L2s from neighboring Idaho. This time around, I’m in Bozeman to help run a Judge Conference to boost interest in judging and test as many candidates as possible for L1 and L2.

Maybe you’ve heard of these gatherings. Sometimes they are tied to Grand Prix or SCG Invitationals, but other times, like the one I am at in Montana, they are independent of large events . . . because we aren’t getting a Grand Prix in Montana any time soon.

The primary goal of a Judge Conference is education. Over the past two years, the Judge Program has gone through unprecedented growth, fueled by the growth in the game itself but also by a conscious decision to lower the entry-level requirements for Level 1 to better reflect the types of events they are expected to judge (Prereleases and FNMs, not Competitive REL events like PTQs and GPTs). Again, we’re now at four thousand judges in the world.

When I first came up through the ranks five years ago, I knew all the judges in my area (Northern California), and very likely worked at least one PTQ a year with each of them. These days it’s hard to know all the judges in just your own city (I still haven’t personally met all of the judges in Portland). With such numbers, it has become increasingly difficult to disseminate best practices in the same ways as we did in the past through events. Judge Conferences help bridge this gap in education. With upwards of 100 judges in attendance, we run lectures and workshops to pass along the wisdom of the ancients to the next generation. Some of these are about teaching rules, while others teach essential judge skills like how to do a deck check or give a ruling without getting appealed every single time.

Sometimes these lectures can take on a fun life of their own. Perhaps you’ve seen the videos of Judge Jeopardy from the GP Charlotte Judge Conference, run by SCG’s own Jason Flatford. At GP Miami, Flatts upped the ante with Judge Feud, although unfortunately the video equipment did not allow for us to record or broadcast this fun game show. Rumors abound on what his next game show will be.

I’m sorry, you didn’t phrase that in the form of a question.

One other obvious allure of Judge Conferences is judge foils. It’s often frowned upon to talk about the financial rewards of judging because we’re supposed to be completely altruistic customer service agents who do this solely for love of the game. Yeah, right! The reality is that money matters. If a Conference is on a Friday or Monday—almost always the case when it is attached to a GP—that means missing an additional day of work. While the judge foils given out at a conference may not completely offset the opportunity cost of missing a day of work, it takes some of the sting out of it and makes it more palatable to take that time off for the sake of education.

Judge Conferences can also be an excellent opportunity to test some people. As I said, Montana does not currently have a L2, let alone a L3, and that makes it hard to grow new judges because you need those Levels in order to test L1s and L2s respectively. A community without a L2 is a community that needs help from the outside in order to grow. As of Saturday evening, at the end of the Super IQ that we tied this conference to, we already tested three new L1s in Montana. At the conference itself on Sunday, we are hoping to test three-to-five more people for L1 and, more importantly, several judges for L2. If those L2 exams are successful, we’ll be one big step closer to Montana being a self-sustaining community.

Being a RC isn’t all fun, games, and foils. There are unpleasant parts as well since we are conduits for feedback about the judges in our region. Sometimes this can be a good thing, like when we get to give foils for doing awesome things, but unfortunately not all judges do awesome things. The reality is that some judges are very bad at what they do, and it falls upon RCs to coordinate with local mentors to find ways for these judges to get better at their jobs.

For many judges, this means studying game rules or policy documents to get better at the technical side of things. This is relatively easy enough to fix; judges are good at teaching the rules, and there are many resources that we can recommend for beefing up rules knowledge. Soft skills can be another matter entirely. Some Magic Judges are overly focused on the rules and lack in customer service/people skills, which is awkward because the job is primarily a customer service position. Customer service isn’t as easy to teach as pure game rules because often there is not straightforward right answer. There are nuances to customer service that are not as easy to sum up in an easy lesson.

And sometimes there are those judges who quite frankly shouldn’t be judges. I know from a player perspective you’ve probably encountered your fair share of "bad judges," but most of them are teachable and salvageable. It’s very rare, but it does happen from time to time that someone just isn’t appropriate as an authority figure at a tournament. That is probably the most difficult part of a RC’s job because we have to "fire" someone, often someone who we’ve worked with and spent some time and effort trying to straighten out.

If you’ve had issues with a judge locally, you may need to get in touch with your RC, and that RC may need to explore his or her options, ranging from demotion to a lower level or straight up decertification. To find your RC, see this page. However, this should only be a last resort. The vast majority of judges don’t want to be bad at their job. It could just be that they had a bad tournament, or maybe they don’t realize the poor customer service they are providing. In such cases, rather than going straight to the RC, I encourage you to talk to the judge about your concerns. Other people that you can talk to are the judge’s primary TO (if they work mostly with a local store), other judges in the area, especially any L3s, and even other players who have more experience dealing with the judge.

The reason I recommend exploring local contacts first is that if you go to your RC he or she will usually lack context on the judge and their local work and will seek out these resources. For example, while I am responsible for coordinating judges in the state of Colorado, I haven’t worked with them that much personally, and I don’t have a good feel for their strengths, weaknesses, and potential issues. If you were to email me about one of them, I would have to reach out to the local leaders for more information. I recently set up a system of State and Metro Area Coordinators for exactly such a purpose. If, however, you are already communicating with these local leaders, it will greatly shorten the lines of communication and my research time period.

For more on RCs, judging, and my work in the Northwest Region, you can read my personal blog. I’m trying to keep it more up to date with stuff that I’m doing. You can also follow me on Twitter @mtgRikipedia for updates to my blog.