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Playing for Fun

Mark Rosewater

Why do the majority of players come to a Magic tournament? While many come for the serious competition or the chance to test their latest decks, the number one reason the average player attends a tournament is to have fun. With all the emphasis on competition in the last few years, the concept of Magic simply being a fun game has lost a lot of its focus.

Much time and attention is spent teaching judges how to be fair, or responsible, or efficient. While all this is very good, I would like to take a little time talking about how judges can address an equally important task: how to make tournaments fun.

Below are some thoughts about how to make your tournaments more fun. You may be doing some or all of the items listed. The point of this article is to make you think about each of the points below and consider how well you are servicing this aspect of your player base.

1) Tournaments Are Supposed To Be Fun

This might seem a bit basic, but the number one problem judges have with making tournaments fun is simply the lack of belief that the tournaments are supposed to be fun. People partake of games and hobbies because they enjoy them. People come to tournaments to play these games for the same reason.

At the end of a long day, what makes a player want to return to another tournament is not whether they won or lost but rather did they have a good time? It's important to always keep this in mind. In every aspect of running or judging a tournament, you should be thinking about how you can maximize the enjoyment of your players.

2) Fun Has A Lot To Do With Attitude

The key to making a fun atmosphere is set by the direction of the person running the tournament. If you are enjoying yourself, you send out a strong message to the players that they too should be enjoying themselves.

In addition, how you chose to handle situations gives clues to the players as to how to react. Players will most often follow your lead. If you make them feel they can smile, they will. If you make them feel they should not be smiling, they won't. I cannot stress enough how much an effect your demeanor will have. So next time you have to give a player bad news, try doing it in a positive way. It really has an impact.

3) You Should Have Fun Too

The above point incidentally is not for you to fake having fun. Find ways to do your job in a way that is enjoyable for you. Fun begets fun. If you're having a good time, you naturally make others more relaxed.

Hopefully the reason you became a judge is that you enjoyed doing it. If not, I would recommend rethinking your decision. Being a judge requires intense amounts of time and attention. If you do not enjoy what you are doing you will not only be unhappy but that negative energy will carry over to your players.

4) Fun Can Coexist With Competition

One of the biggest fallacies in tournaments is the idea that fun somehow jeopardizes the quality of competition. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Most problems stem not from content players but rather from unhappy ones. Players who are enjoying themselves are more apt to work together allowing them to better resolve conflicts and have a greater sense of the state of the game.

The lesson: do not equate seriousness with unhappiness. Players in an intense competition may not be laughing and joking, but that does not mean that are not enjoying themselves.

5) Every Tournament Is Different

Different tournaments have different needs. A Pro Tour Qualifier, for example, needs much stricter rules enforcement than the weekly tournament at Lucky's Comics. One of the biggest causes of unhappiness for players is judges ruling a tournament at an inappropriate penalty enforcement level. Rules enforcement is gradiated for a reason. Players at a local tournament should not expect to be treated as if they were in a Pro Tour. And vice versa.

Always keep in mind the purpose of the tournament you are judging. Why did people attend? What type of tournament are they expecting? What level of rules enforcement is necessary? A prerelease, as an example, is designed primarily as a fun, casual event for players of all types to come out and see the new cards. A judge at the event should be more apt to assume players are making honest mistakes rather than cheating.

6) "Firm But Fair" Can Still Be Fun

It is possible to do unpleasant things in a pleasant way. Just because a player needs a particular warning does not mean it cannot be done in a positive way. The purpose of judging is not to punish but to educate. When a player makes a mistake, treat it as an opportunity for the player to learn. If you approach the situation as a friendly one odds are the player will return with a similarly friendly nature.

7) You Can't Make Everyone Happy

Do not confuse the desire to please any one player with the desire to please the players as a whole. Playing blaring rock music might make a particular player happy but would make a much larger section of the players unhappy.

When it becomes obvious that you have to do something that will make a player unhappy (for example, disqualifying him from the tournament), you need to take into account how to do so in a manner that will lessen the unpleasantness not only for the player being affected but for the rest of the players in the tournament.

8) Happy Players Means Less Work

All of the above seems nice, but what's in it for you? There are many benefits of having happy players. They are easier to deal with. They cause fewer problems when trouble arises. And most importantly, they are more inclined to return to your next tournament. Finally, having happy players insures that you too can enjoy the event. No one likes dealing with unhappy players.

As the old saying goes, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Most problems can be stopped before they happen if you simply take the time to make the event as enjoyable for your players as possible.

Hopefully, these points will give you some new ideas to think about. My personal favorite experiences as a judge have been when players shared with me how much fun they had at my event.

May you always have fun.

Mark Rosewater



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