The Art of Player Manipulation
While most things about judging come down to an understanding of the rules or an understanding of tournament procedures, a smooth event is often most affected by what happens before the first player is seated or the first decklist collected. The subtle and not-so subtle manipulation of players for the benefit of an event is called "event logistics". Everything about an event that occurs outside of the games themselves is parts of event logistics. The most successful logistics are sometimes so subtle that the players don't even notice. Different styles of logistics meet different needs, and an event's overall success is often a result of these practices plus the efficiency and skill of the actual staff members.
Once an event grows beyond a local or casual size the use of event logistics becomes much more pertinent. When there are scores or hundreds of players to deal with all at the same time a well devised set of logistics can help automate the process of moving players in, through, and out of the tournament. Judges should be mindful of the main event space requirements, the likelihood and placement of side events, and overall player and site safety.
The two most obvious logistical concerns are the first two to be addressed. Namely, where should event registration be held? And where should the judges' station go? Every tournament space is different, so what works in one place may not work in another. Some basic rules of thumb will help in these decisions.
- Neither registration nor the judges' station should be immediately next to the main entrance. Be sure to leave clearance room near all doors, especially the main one for people to get in and out. While the temptation is to blockade the door with the registration booth, the resulting traffic jam makes for a player agitating mess.
- The judges' station should be near Table #1. In later rounds, the end tables will empty, and that's a great place for side events. However, the main event should always have some sort of staff readily at hand. For flight-based events (prereleases, for example), the judges station is better situated in a more central location.
- Allow enough room for either table. This is especially important with the judges' station at a prerelease-- always allow enough room for one staff person to comfortably move behind a computer operator without disrupting their work. For a registration handle, leave room for a runner to ferry new entries to the computer operator at the judges' station (if they are separate).
Once the anchor judges' station is defined, verify the overall layout of the room. Keep in mind that a registration area many only be temporary and could be collapsed and absorbed into the event once registration closes. Key points to be aware of when surveying a room:
- Are the aisles clear and consistent? Can tables be shifted to make the aisles uniform?
- Are there pillars or obstacles in the tournament area? Would shifting a row incorporate a pillar into the row so it doesn't obstruct an aisle? Can that giant potted plant be pulled into an unused corner so it's not in anyone's way?
- Are there stacks of chairs or tables that could fall and injure a player or judge? Can the stack be moved, taken apart, or otherwise eliminated?
Now the judges' station is set up, registration is beginning, and a few minor adjustments have maximized the table configuration. Once the event begins where are pairings and standings expected to go? Remember, a consistent place should be found, preferably one that allows rapid access to players. Most rooms have one or two points that often make exceptional information centers:
Posting Pairings for Regionals
- Is there a pillar in an open area?
- Is there an alcove or a corner where sheets could be posted and seen?
- When posting the pairings, is there room to post them is a horizontal line just above eye-level? Posting vertically means every page past the first cannot be seen except by the closest people. Posting just above eye level helps the second and third row of a pairings swarm to see their names.
- If pairings are posted along a wall near the event tables, can one or more of those tables be moved so as to allow better player flow?
Players are now milling about while the last table details are finalized. Once that's done, table numbers are distributed in a logical fashion. Table numbers need not be readable across the room, but they should be easily recognized and readable from a table length away at least. At the Mid-Atlantic Regionals this year I posted endcap numbers-- a large sign on either side of each row displaying the number range of that row ("#1 - 24", "#25 - 48", etc.). What players gave feedback liked the helpful reminders and I personally found it was very helpful for getting judges to outstanding results or to swoop for deck checks in a timely fashion.
Numbers are out, players are in, the pairings are going up, and the event's set to begin. So what is left? Garbage. Until the day the DCI trains a squad of monkeys to scamper through an event picking up trash, judges will have to deal with the mess players make. However, generous garbage can availability can limit the amount of ignored waste. As always, a few basic pointers help:
Table numbers used to mark the Red Flight for the Prerelease
- Are the garbage cans obviously available? Have the players even seen them before? Perhaps a gentle reminder would help.
- Are the garbage cans in obvious locations? Perhaps put them at the corners of the room, or near each exit, or all of the above as well as one by the judges station.
- Are any cans full or nearly full? Can someone from the site empty it? Can the event staff empty it? Is there at least a less full can that could get swapped with the bulging one?
- Magic players take great pride in filling garbage cans. There is no such thing as too many.
The event is underway, and now people need lands for their deck building. A good plan for table layouts would include land stations, but sometimes improvisation is in order:
- If the event is large, provide multiple land stations. Having two judges at each station helps keep people moving.
- When setting out land, do so in a logical order. The color-wheel is a good example of an order players will decipher quickly.
- Double up the layout of the land. Rather than a land station with five piles such as WUBRG, lay out the land in ten piles (five per table half). Keep the order consistent-- WUBRG WUBRG works nicely. WUBRG GRBUW doesn't work because it still forces all G players into one spot.
Everyone is registered, has built a deck, and is playing, but when does the round end? Rather than answer that question x-2 times a round where x is the number of players in the event, provide a large clock in a central location (often over the judges' station works nicely. Call the round based on the time on that clock. Post a sign each round under the clock so players can see for themselves when the round ends.
With the proper setup and execution every event should go smoothly. As time goes on, players should become accustomed to how a judge handles things, so providing ways for players to help themselves makes sense now and in the future. Obvious things like signs and logical room layouts help players move more efficiently at an event. Less obvious things such as strategic garbage can placement or table numbers that are as large as the squares they print into (and are therefore less likely to be torn up and used as scratch paper) also add to the overall event experience.
John Carter, firstname.lastname@example.org