JUDGE! 002: Judge Tip - Keep It Public
This first Judge Tip is one that I feel is incredibly important. I don't know if it's the most important, but it's certainly top 5.
Keep it public.
Venues often close themselves off from new comers, many times without even realizing it. And that is dangerous for the venue and the game, as new players are necessary for the game to continue. We need new players with new ideas and new attitudes to keep things exciting for older players and to keep the overall attitude towards the game healthy. So, I want to address a few ways to avoid that and keep everything public.
1. Make sure all events and social media for the venue is public
Private Heroclix Facebook groups drive me nuts. I say this as someone that inherited what I think is a very important Heroclix group that is private (and Facebook doesn't let you change a private group to a public one). If it's actually for a private group, IE a group of friends that play together, more power to you. But if it's the group for a venue, or a general discussion group, or anything else that wants people to join, making it private creates a barrier to entry.
A personal story. Five years ago, I wasn't getting to play at my local venue very much and I knew of another venue in town that was only 10 minutes away from where I was living at the time. They held events on Wednesdays and there were a few Wednesdays where I thought about going down. The third or so week, I finally decided to go and went looking for the event listing. I had never personally been to this store (outside of special events) so I didn't know times or build restrictions.
I went to look on the WIN, nothing. I looked at the store's website. Nothing. I finally searched on Facebook and found a group for the store. Great! I clicked on it and was greeted with the private group notice and had to apply. As a player and judge, I have heard many people speak about experiences like this where they would have just walked away. Not gone that night (which I couldn't) and just never check again.
For a fair weather player or a lapsed player looking to get back in, that much secrecy can kill their interest. It's easier to just pick up a controller and play something on your game console. Or read a book. Or watch Netflix. The worse thing you can do is hide when your Heroclix events happen. Because most people aren't going to work hard to figure it out.
Personally, when I am organizing events, I end up posting it three places. On the store's website (Heroclix is our main game so it has its own page under events); on the WIN; on Facebook as an Event.
I have seen some people just make a post for tournaments, and that's still better than nothing, but I cannot stress how useful actually making an event is. It forces you to remember to add a time (which, again, some people take for granted in play groups; if I've never been to your store, I don't know when you play). It also gives a person a reminder if they respond. And, if your attendance is low, it gives other players an idea of how many people are showing up. Which is important for them to decide if it's worth the travel.
More quality information is never a bad thing. Which leads me to point two.
2. Make House Rules Clear
As a rule, I don't like House Rules for venues. There is a fair amount of nuance and expected assumptions/experience in Heroclix rules as is, and House Rules only compound that. As well, in my experience, most House Rules aren't very good and tend to come from a Judge or small group of players' personal prejudices. Which is fine, if you're playing with your friends at home. It's counter productive if you're trying to grow a venue and welcome new and/or different players.
But, some times House Rules become necessary or work for a certain venue. In that situation, that's great. As long as those House Rules are clearly communicated and laid out as House Rules, not actual rules.
Again, I've run into hundreds of situations over the years where a player is discouraged from the game or from playing at different venues because they play a specialized version of Heroclix that they think is the global version of Heroclix. And so a figure that plays really great for them at their weekly venue suddenly gets destroyed when 2x2 figures are allowed. Or you don't have to stop when you come back into base contact with a character you already successfully broke away from.
Part of growing your venue is allowing other venues to grow. And making sure people know the difference between Da Rules and House Rules is an important part of that.
3. Communicate Last Minute Changes
Things change. Prizing may not show up, there may be a blizzard that limits out of town travel, or what seemed like a good tournament idea may have had too many holes poked in it. That's fine, that's life.
But when things change, you need to publicly communicate that. If someone asks for a clarification on a build restriction, you need to publicly communicate that. Sidenote: players, don't be afraid to ask your judge if you're not sure about a special event they're planning.
It needs to be transparent. Because when it's not, bad feelings happen. Someone that traveled feels taken advantage of because they were told they couldn't build with a certain figure. Or someone locally feels taken advantage of because they build with a different tournament in mind.
All of that is avoided with clear communication. Because remember, none of us are mind readers. And no one knows what they don't know.
4. Avoid an “Us vs. Them” Mentality
So, this one is a little off theme. In my experience, it's often what drives a lot of the above problems to occur. And my position here may be a little controversial.
If you are playing at a venue, you should want that venue to succeed. Doubly so if you are judging/tournament organizing. The venue's success is dependent on having as many quality players as possible. So, if someone new comes to your venue, you should not look at them as an enemy. Which I think most people would agree with.
Where that “big tent” mentality often breaks down is when it comes to “Prize Sharks.” A term often applied to people that don't know show up for weekly events but show up for the “big” prizes that, in the past, have been associated with Story Line Organized Play Events. And there is often resentment from the local players that someone comes in and takes “their” prizes.
Here's the problem. Prizes are there to entice players to come to the venue. If prizing is not attractive to different players, it's not actually doing its job. And while no one likes losing out on that sweet new figure, that's kind of the name of the game.
Now, one could implement requirements that people show up to weekly events to qualify for a “Grand Prize” but that just heightens the problem long term. If the local crew is resentful of a traveling crew for winning too much, making them show up for more events is counter-intuitive.
And while I'm a big proponent of alternative prizing (ie, fellowship or what have you) that can have the adverse effect of giving your venue a bad name in “protecting the locals.”
Which is why I phrased this point the way I did. We're all Heroclix players. We all win some, we all lose some. If you don't have a love of the game or challenge it presents, at some point it's going to break down for you. So, if you find yourself or your friends slipping into that “Us vs. Them” mentality, just try to remind yourself it's a game. With little plastic super-powered beings.
And remember, never be afraid to call a JUDGE!