Everybody who registers for an event wants to play and enjoy that event, but for some people it may involve jumping more hurdles than for others. In this article, we’ll take a look at which needs some players may have, what challenges judges may encounter, and how we can create together an enjoyable event for everyone.
The most important thing to do is to talk to the player with accessibility needs, listen to them, ask them what they exactly need and how you can help; don’t assume you know what works for them. If the player can explain their needs to you, you’ll probably be better able to address them and may even provide a better solution than the player originally had in mind. But doing so in a respectful way is key here: don’t challenge the player, and take their request seriously. It rarely, if ever, happens that a player asks for a special treatment they don’t actually need.
The single most important thing to do is to talk with the player who comes to you for help. Talk with the player directly, and not with their friend, partner, or companion. They are a player in your event, just like every other player, and they like to be treated as a person. If the player uses an interpreter (for example a sign language interpreter because they have a hearing impairment), remember that you’re still talking to the player, so address them and make eye contact with them while talking. One of the first things we learn about taking calls is to get on eye level with the players, and this is especially true for wheelchair users: if possible, grab a chair and sit down yourself. This will make communication on the same level a whole lot easier and more natural.
If you don’t have time to talk right now, be clear about it. For example, if a player approaches you while you’re bringing the final result slip of the round to the scorekeeper, that’s not the best moment to give them your sincere and undivided attention, and it only takes a few seconds to explain that. Tell the player that you’ll be available to talk to them as soon as you have completed your current task, and tell them where and when you’ll meet them. If this happens to coincide with the start of the next round, explain that of course you will issue a time extension if needed. That way, you won’t delay the tournament for all other players, but you still manage to give the player the attention they need and deserve. The key here is to communicate to them that right now is not a great time, explain why this is the case, but that you’ll be back in a few minutes, and that it won’t negatively impact their experience at the event.
Involve others in your solutions
One of my favourite quotes from Andy Heckt is: if you’re doing it alone, you’re doing it wrong. Once you understand the special need of the player, think about who can or should be involved in the solution. Maybe it’s the scorekeeper, the Tournament Organiser, another judge, but most likely, the player themselves will be involved. Empowering them to take the reins themselves, to be part of the solution, is very important both for their self-esteem and for the success of your solution. Be creative, be proactive, don’t be afraid to make some proposals or try new things, but be open for feedback from others.
Especially when you’re judging at a Grand Prix, you’ll be surrounded by people with an incredible amount of experience and a huge arsenal of tips and tricks. And if you find yourself lost, any person in a red polo will be glad to help you out, or direct you to someone who can. Scorekeepers are true wizards and can solve a lot of issues. Amongst many other things, they can provide a fixed seating for a player. But which seat is best… is usually best determined by the player themself. Sometimes the player already has experience and can tell you which seat works best. If they don’t know, you can stroll around the venue together and pick a nice spot, or you can ask them to do that on their own and inform you or the scorekeeper of their choice. And if the player has no preference at all, or has no experience in finding a good spot in this venue or at this type of event, you can make suggestions based on your own experience, and your knowledge as a judge. You can provide even better service by occasionally checking if the player still likes their seat. It may turn out over the course of the event that the seat doesn’t work for some unforeseen reason, or preferences of the player may have shifted.
Keeping it fun and fair
As judges, one of our primary goals is to provide fun tournaments where all players are treated equally and fairly. This means there are some limitations to what we can do, and we still have to apply the rules to all of our players. Other players will usually be understanding of special needs, but be prepared to explain how you’re not granting an advantage to some players, but rather removing some disadvantages. Be generous in providing time extensions where needed, but do treat the player with the same respect as you would any other players, which includes holding them accountable for their own actions. For example, being late with handing in a decklist, writing ambiguous names (maybe caused by dyslexia) or knocking over cards from their opponent’s library are still infractions and should be addressed and solved as such. Don’t worry too much about outside assistance (or complaints thereof) if the player brings an assistant to help them shuffle, write down life totals, and so on, as long as the player makes all relevant decisions.
Some examples of things we as judges can do to help players:
- If you see a player is struggling with registering a sealed pool, ask them if they need assistance. They might suffer from dyslexia, and explaining that they can sort by number instead of by alphabet may relieve a huge part of the problem.
- Before the start of the event, the Head Judge usually has a time frame in which they offer to check altered cards and sleeves for legality. You can also offer to pre-check decklists to see if you can identify all names as written.
- Consider offering double fixed seatings, so a player with accessibility needs can be seated adjacent to their friend, who may help them with shuffling.
And while we should go a fairly long way to accommodate our players, sometimes we can’t reasonably do that; we also have other players in our event to care for, and we ourselves, as judges, also should feel comfortable with what we’re doing. If a player is more than 10 minutes late to a round, for whatever proper reason, they still should be given a Match Loss (but not be dropped from the event unless they want to), as you can’t make all the other players wait for unreasonable amounts of time. If a player asks you to assist them during the entire draft by handling their booster for them, it means you’re not available for all other players in your event, and you can suggest they provide an assistant themselves to enable them to enjoy the draft, without taking up all judge resources. If a player feels uncomfortable because of all the rules and the Warnings they receive for what they may deem normal game play errors, maybe suggest they’d more enjoy a Regular REL (side) event rather than a Competitive REL event. And in case of doubt: ask others for advice!
Even though some players need a little bit more help to get started than others, all of our players are entitled to a fun and fair experience, and I hope this article has given you some tools and insights in how you can accomplish that!
Thanks for reading, greetz,