My Feelings on Judge Academy

So, there’s been some information trickling on this. If you don’t know, the age old Judge Program is in the process of being taken down in lieu of Judge Academy, a business, which can now charge people for being a judge.

Well, the difficulty on the insight roll on that is not high: Currently, I don’t like this. I was reading through the AMA and this hit home:

What does this offer non-travelling L1s? I’ve been a judge for 6 years and have stayed at the L1 level, opting to be super focused on building both my local community and the online community.

Doing this and being a judge has been a solid part of my identity, and now that identity has a price tag of $100 attached to it for what seems like extremely vague benefit. Foils are cool, sure, but I’ve never been in judging for foils, and only received a couple Exemplar waves anyways.

Being told to “just sell” the foils is annoying, given that I’d have to deal with listing them, packing them, shipping them, hoping I don’t get hit with fraud, etc or otherwise offloading them for extremely heavily cut buylist prices.

I’ve also been told “well why be certified? Just drop to Rules Advisor or stop” but like I said, I’m 6 years into this, this is part of my identity. Being told to just stop is pretty hurtful.

So sell me. What does this recurring annual fee actually do for me?

Okay, I haven’t actually done any community building lately, as my circumstances have changes, but that was what I was doing for years and that was pretty much the extent of my ambitions. I thought about getting an L2 when PPTQs were still a thing and there was a lack of those, but right now that doesn’t feel something I’d be interested in.

The answer:

First, Thank you for being a part of the Judge community for 6 years. It’s easy to get the impression that so much of what the program focuses on is judging at the highest level, when in reality the “non-traveling L1” (as you put it) is not only one of the largest sections of the Judge community, we believe it is the foundation that everything else is built on.

So here is what your recurring annual fee does for you:

– It supports an online learning platform that will have coursework that is specifically crafted to help refine the skills you have built over the years. As well as elective options to grow your expertise at the level you choose to judge.

Didn’t we have this before? Okay, maybe not coursework, but materials. Are these going to be there from the beginnning? Since they seem to be in a planning stage with so many things, I don’t believe so.

– There will be forums and tools to help you either find additional opportunities to work as a judge (if that is something you want). They will also allow you to network and connect with other judges in the community to share what is working for them that you can apply to your store community

We already have this. Is this now going to be regulated by JA in some way? We have the JudgeApps forums, Facebook group and so forth. I already know most judges in Finland. At least the ones I need to know.

– You will also get introductory information for other games on the platform (which will continue to expand over time). So if you choose to expand what is offered to your community.

No interest in this.

– You will have access to conferences in your region (or wherever you can attend) that will allow for community building and sharing of ideas and concepts to take back to your store

We used to have these without having to pay for them.

Also, since we no longer actually have a Regional Coordinator, but instead we have a Community Manager based in UK or Ireland (based on the name), instead of someone closer by, I don’t see how they are actually going to be able to do anything for our community.

We are actively investigating ways to further expand what someone gets with their membership, including insurance, background checks, and promotional swag.

Somehow I doubt they’ll have the resources to get everyone insured around the world. Especially at this price. You can’t do background checks in Finland without a very good reason (and judging events is not good enough) and I doubt they’ll be mailing me promotional swag, since that is kind of costly. Also, they just vaguely promise something, but they don’t actually know.

So, basically it’s not doing anything for me, except for the foils, where we’ve seen such luminaries as [scryfall]Rules Lawyer[/scryfall] and [scryfall]Prismatic Geoscope[/scryfall]. Wow. I mean, I haven’t sold any of the foils I’ve received, so their poor value doesn’t actually affect me, but I also know certain judges from poorer regions were relying on those to be able to attend conferences and so forth. Now we just have to pay the fee and hope that someone has our best interest in mind.

Also, the judging career seems to be propping up. Do they realize that this is a path that can actually be a career for a very limited number of people in the whole world? Also, not many judges have an actual interest in making this a career. I have a career in IT which I enjoy (currently teaching it) and there is no way I would give that up to try to scrape by as a judge, hoping to make it some day.

And there’s actually an incentive to limit our possibilities to actually make this a career, but more on that later.

But the real problem I have with this is behavioral. There must have been a reason why they stopped giving judges foils and moved to the Exemplar model. Now they are stepping back from that. I’m guessing the reason was that they felt certain people were part of the program and did the minimum to stay on. So, now that option is again open, as long as you are willing to pay.

It’s all about incentives. Weirdly, the Judge Academy has a very perverted incentive. They have a monopoly on this. There is no Judge U, which provides similar benefits. They have no competition. So, what does a monopoly do? A monopoly tries to maximize their profit through finding the correct balance between the price and how many they can sell. They don’t have to lower prices or try to make themselves more competitive in other ways.

In this particular case, they are not as powerful as something like a company that controls water or electricity, but still, if you want to have that judge certification, you don’t have choices.

Since this is a business, they want to make money. In many cases, they have the legal obligation to try and make money. I don’t know if this is the situation here, since I couldn’t find what kind of a company Judge Academy is. Anyhow, how do you make more money? Since the Academy makes $100 for each level of judges they have, they want more of those.

Is anyone paying them for the quality? No. What this means is that their incentive drives them to lower the quality. I mean, why would anyone in the US care whether the tournaments in my little store in Lahti, Finland are run well? Let’s just have more judges. WotC will provide the foils anyhow, so each individual judge level is basically going to be pure profit. It’s even better if you can get L1s to become L2s, because that saves in postage. I know I’ve seen these kinds of incentives go very wrong.

Okay, there is one possible reason they might be interested in the quality: Being able to sell this idea to other companies. That isn’t going to be good for us MtG judges either, as that would mean that they have an incentive to focus on materials for those games.

Then there’s the derth of judging opportunities. There’s only one store in my hometown and it can hold a very limited number of tournaments. Now, suppose there were more than two judges in this town. They all need to hold a certain number of tournaments, so it would be beneficial for the Academy to make sure everyone gets an opportunity to do so. The store doesn’t need more than one at a time, so there would be competition for these limited spots. I don’t see this as a big risk, but in the whole wide world, I can see this happening here and there. Of course, the store can make their own decisions on this.

I don’t think this was really though through by anyone with any understanding of basic economics. This applies to a lot in our society, but that’s another topic.

I’m not very excited about this. I do understand why this is happening and that’s because WotC needed to do something to circumvent the labour laws and I don’t have anything better to offer, but I just don’t see that much good coming out of this in the long term.

One thought on “My Feelings on Judge Academy

  1. For the record, I stopped paying the dues. I just didn’t think I was getting any benefits from it with the subpar teaching materials, non-existent quality control, for L1s, promos I had no interest in and the local community pretty much falling apart, because the old judges lost interest with fewer tournaments. Okay, this is partly about the pandemic, but I don’t see the JA really pulling its weight.

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