This is an experience that doesn't get talked about too often, likely because there are only a few people in the Judge Program that actually get the privilege of Head Judging a Yu-Gi-Oh! Championship Series tournament. If you regularly attend YCS's, it's very easy to take for granted the amount of effort and coordination it takes to put together an Organized Play event of this size.

This week on Black and White: Head Judging a YCS! I'll go over what a Head Judge does to prepare for the tournament and what happens during the weekend.

The Prerequisites
While these haven't been formally codified in any specific, official document, there are a few necessary requirements to being a Head Judge for a YCS.

Member of the Judge Program, and RC-1 Certified: This is as barebones as you can get. Like, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This is that step. Of course, more certifications are better, and if you're going to YCS's regularly you probably have additional certifications, but for now these are the minimum technical requirements.

Experience: Very simply put, you have to know what you're getting into. That means judging at YCS's for years before you have the necessary amount of knowledge needed to line up all the pieces correctly. That includes registration, Floor Team, Paper Team, Deck Team, Public Events… the whole nine yards. A restaurant manager has to know how every part of the restaurant works; each person does a thing and everyone's work has to fit together in order to make the whole thing function. Being a Head Judge is no different.

If you're wondering about what the experience timeline looks like, my first premiere event was in April 2010 and my first time Head Judging a YCS was my thirteenth premiere event in September 2012, and I consider that a fast track.

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Personality and Demeanor: Do you, reader, know who typically Head Judges a YCS? If you judge and are active in some facebook groups or Konami's Judge Program forum, you may see some familiar names floating around here and there, but they'll usually not volunteer the information that they've Head Judged a YCS unless they wrote a Head Judge report.

I generally won't speak for other judges, but I think I can safely say that anyone that Head Judges a YCS doesn't do so for the notoriety or fame. They don't use their status as a tool for their own devices, nor do they use their experience and seniority to win arguments either in person or online. Someone who does would very likely not even be considered for the possibility of Head Judging a YCS.

Very Firstly: Get Told About The Event
For purposes of planning travel and seeking days off from your job, Head Judges are selected for their events way in advance; up six to nine months on some occasions. Yes, this does mean they know about an event before it gets announced through the usual channels. Being a Head Judge means being put into a position of trust; having knowledge of the tournament before most others is an extreme rarity. If one can't prove their ability to hold their tongue, they'll find that they won't get many more opportunities to judge at premiere events.

That's also why asking we that Head Judge events when a YCS is coming back to a particular city is an exercise in futility; we won't know unless we're the Head Judge, and if we were, we couldn't tell you anyway.

(The remainder of this piece will be accurate for YCS events handed by KDE-US. I'm not familiar with the process KDE-Europe uses, so I can't accurately comment on any possible differences.)

Judge Call And Application Review
At least two months before an event, a judge call is sent out as an e-mail blast from Konami and as a post in the Konami Judge Program forum. At that point, judges wishing to volunteer for the YCS should complete the application as specified in the judge call. The Judge Manager will forward the applications to the Head Judge for review and provides a target number for a judge roster based on the event's budget, projected attendance and maybe some other factors I don't know about.

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that a lot of people who are interested in possibly judging at a YCS wonder how judges are selected. I'll shed some light on this…

It's not first-come first-served: Quite simply, a Head Judge sees all the applicants in the same Excel file. There's no advantage for the applicant sending the e-mail as soon as the judge call is sent. As long as your application's complete when everyone's information is compiled and sent to the Head Judge, you'll be considered.

Head Judges have to vary selections between experienced and new judges: For a run-of-the-mill YCS, applicants will contain YCS veterans, some people that have seen one or two YCS's already, people who have judged at Regionals and locals, and complete newbies. Going with all veterans or all newbies is never, ever a viable option. Head Judges can't select all veterans because every judge would need a travel assist, the money available for which is limited. Fewer judges complicates tournament logistics greatly: if the player-to-judge ratio is too skewed toward players, the event suffers greatly in terms of customer service and satisfaction (judge calls take too long to answer, time extensions go up, and that's bad for everyone).

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Going the other way, taking all inexperienced judges produces the exact same result, except this time the poor service comes from inexperience instead of just sheer force of numbers. Having a mix of veterans with new people is best, as it allows for the experienced judges to support the new people when they come across situations they need guidance on.

And just to emphasize, I'm absolutely not looking down on people that haven't judged at a big event before. Those of us that have done this for years had to start somewhere. We all made the same rookie Mistakes. Having veterans at the event when questions come up will allow those YCS-inexperienced judges to go back to their local knowing how to address situations that come up, which leads to…

More local than not-local: YCS's tend to only hit a specific area of North America once per year. This absolutely impacts judge selection since most judges won't venture out too far for their YCS. If they want to judge and they get passed up, they won't likely apply again till next year if they do at all. When I'm given the list of applicants, I look at who's local, and who can best benefit from the experience. For instance, I'm personally more likely to bring on a judge who's judged at six to eight Regional Qualifiers in the area and has positive recommendations from their Regional Head Judges.

(Oh, that's another thing. We don't pick names in a vacuum. If you want to judge at a YCS, but your performance at Regional Qualifiers is poor, that info can get passed along. If you judge at a Regional, ask for feedback from your Head Judge and apply that advice. Showing improvement and an initiative for development is a super-good quality to have in judging and elsewhere in life.)

As I mentioned before, the local judges that get picked will take their experiences back to their locals and Regionals. Passing up local judges is a detriment that Head Judges are cognizant of for the future of the Judge Program. We will always have local judges at a YCS. If a YCS is coming up in your area, and you want to get that experience, I highly advise taking that step and applying. Yes, you'll have to give up playing for the YCS for at least one day, but judging at a YCS is a unique experience that is highly rewarding.

So after the Head Judge reviews the applications, they pick a number of judges and that goes off to the Judge Manager. Eventually, the Head Judge divides the judges into teams (Floor Team, Deck Team, Paper Team, and so on) and that also gets included in the packet.

T-Minus One Week
Approximately one week before the event, the Head Judge will begin contacting the judge team via e-mail. The Head Judge may also contact specific people like team leads and the Assistant Head Judges to touch base or sort out any possible issues. The full staff e-mail will set the tone for what the Head Judge will expect for the weekend and will contain info that all judges need to read and take into account. This is especially important for rookie YCS judges.

Friday
On the Friday before the YCS, the Head Judge and the Assistant Head Judges have to report for pre-registration. They make themselves available to the players to answer questions that require a judge answer. These are usually rules and card-interaction questions.

The Judge Dinner is also on Friday, so the Head Judge gets to partake in the one chance judges get to socialize with each other before the next two days of work. After that, there's usually a meeting between the Head Judge, Assistant Head Judges and the team leads (and sometimes the assistant team leads if it's appropriate or needed). This is all to get any last minute info out of the way and to get the team leads informed on what to look out for.

The Actual YCS Itself
Game day starts in complete darkness as it's usually 5am or earlier that a judge can comfortably get up and get ready for a 7am judge call. At 7am judges are ready to go and the Head Judge starts the full judge team meeting, going over who the team leads are, doing a quick tutorial for new YCS judges regarding procedure and protocol, and performing last-minute preparations so the tournament can get underway.

Truth be told, once the tournament is underway the Head Judge loses a lot of control. It's now in the hands of the judges and the players, really. The Head Judge will handle appeals, DQ investigations and the like, but not much else. Most of the Head Judge's work is in the many weeks preceding the weekend. He or she will line up the pieces with the hope that it all stays in place over the next 48 hours.

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On Sunday, after the main event and public events are done, the Head Judge will de-brief with the team leads to evaluate their performance and give feedback. If the Head Judge has any additional feedback for other judges, they'll give it at this time as well, but that isn't as common since the Head Judge doesn't work directly with non-team leads. The lack of information makes giving meaningful feedback a challenge. (The team leads are usually better suited to evaluate a judge's performance at a YCS.)

So you can clearly see that I spent most of this article going over the stuff before the actual event. The YCS weekend itself is only a culmination of weeks of preparation, and once there, the Head Judge has to let it go on autopilot as things happen outside of their control.

YCS Dallas is next week! If you're gonna be there, come say hi! I'll be there Friday, Saturday and Sunday in my judge attire. But your best bet is to see me at pre-registration on Friday. If you won't be at a Dallas but want to ask a question about card interactions, game mechanics or tournament policy, send me an e-mail (one question per e-mail please!) to askjudgejoe@gmail.com and your question could be answered in a future Court of Appeals!

-Joe Frankino