Magic the Gathering

Interview with Andy Heckt

Finally I finished my judge article. I will send it in early next week. As a bonus, here is the complete interview with Andy Heckt:

First of all: What is your official job title at Wizards?

Network Manager – this is because my duties coordinate player need, the judge program, and organizers of premiere events (invitations).

What do you do at Wizards, especially related to judges/judging?

I’m responsible for managing the DCI judge program including: production of materials, selection of sponsored judges, judge procedures and policy, data entry for certifications, networking organizers to judges, and customer service for judges. I have input on Regional judge advancement and am responsibility for International and Professional judge advancement.

Other duties I have are managing player information for our premiere events, including invite and GP-bye lists.

How long have you been the “judge coordinator”?

I have been the judge coordinator since February 1st of 2004. My prior job with Wizards for four years was player coordinator and I still have those responsibilites.

Many judges I have interviewed mentioned that since you are in that position, the judge program has greatly improved. What changes did you institute?

The judge program has had two prior phases; creation and philosophy. The creation was a framework in how we thought things could/should work. Philosophy was the period of asking ourselves why are we doing things this way and formalizing it in documents. My focus has been on redifining the Community and allowing judges to find a level of responsibility for themselves.

Community in the building of a the worldwide judges as a community of people with their own culture and sense of belonging. Primarily we are doing this in a top-down fashion, because the program is structured this way to pass along experience, mentoring, and certification. We restructed the higher levels of the program with the idea of including more judges at these levels. Its accomplished by encouraging communication on list-servers and especially at events through seminars, high-level meetings, one-on-ones, etc…

Responsibility in that we redefined the old levels to provide a description of their responsibilities and area of operation. We want judges to understand that advancement is not required. You can be the best, most accurate, knowledgable, fair judge as the Local judge for Friday Night Magic (L1s), than the similar judge who wants to build the judge community and organized play as the Regional judge (L3).

Most importantly I take input and solicit opinions, so this program is the judge’s program and not a DCI dictate. I think it especially helps that I’m NOT a certified judge with a level and rank. I’m the network between the judges and the DCI.

How would you describe the current situation of the judge program?

Varied, but steady and slow. It takes time to develop judges and the nature of TCGs is a rotating player base. Many areas of the world are still developing organized play and in these areas the judge program looks more like it did 5 years ago, while other areas have well developed organized play and their needs are different. I share responsibility of this program with co-workers in other offices who’s focus is often more narrow (their country or region) while I have dual responsibility of my Region (Americas and Japan) and the worldwide program. Managing the resources of the program to meet these varied needs is difficult.

What improvements are still needed?

Better opportunities for testing and mentoring. We need more opportunities for those who wish to judge to test for certification. We also need a better means to mentor all the judges and especially the new judges who are remote from others. We also simply need to move into the electronic age more with the program.

How would you describe the overall quality of judges? How does this differ on the various levels (from small in-store tournaments to the Pro Tour)?

The various levels actually reflect responsibilities, not quality. I have great faith in the testing being conducted more and more. The interviewing of even Level 1 candidates is improving (i.e. its not simply scoring well on the test that makes you a judge.) The Regional judge’s (L3s) responsibilities are empowering and time-consuming. We understand that many judges simply want to judge their local events and be recognized for their contribution to growing organized play at its base.

What, in your experience, causes people to become judges? And why do they stay judges? What incentives do people have to become judges?

Its volunteerism. I think people become judges because they want to improve their (game) community and do so in a role that uses their skills. They want to make a contribution to something they enjoy and find value in – similar to many reasons people volunteer for school programs, music programs, sports programs, etc… They find a means to belong to their gaming community that recognizes their better skills. Some judges are professional players (Bram Snepvangers, Sol Molka, Duncan McGregor, Werner Cloete, etc…), others are store employees/owners seeking to help their business, others are players who judge to improve their playing skills. Most tangible incentives for becoming a judge come directly from store owners and professional organizers. The real incentive, and the reason they stay with it for any time, is from the knowledge that they have helped to make something they care about, better.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Many players think that a judge is a rules expert and that all the answers are written down somewhere. It far more about keeping a tournament fair and running while encouraging the fun that exists. The philosophy and intent of the rule is more important than the technical details.

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