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Q&A with Julia Hedberg

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What and how was your first contact with the Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game? Was it as a player or as a Judge?
My very first contact with Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG was over ten years ago, via the Mall Tour run by UDE in the early 2000s. I’d heard of the game, and had seen the booster packs for sale, but I hadn’t played it. When the Mall Tour was being planned, a few people I knew from Pokemon who were working on the tour told me I should try and get on board. It sounded like a good temporary job, so I purchased the Yugi and Kaiba starter decks, learned the basics, and applied. The marketing company running the tour hired me, and that how it all got started.

If it was as a player, how was the transition from being a player to be a Judge? Do you still play?
I started by demoing…my first role on the Mall Tour was in the “Learn to Play” area. We did a short lecture with oversized cards, then walked people through dueling against each other. I had a decent aptitude for card games, and I hated the khaki pants they made us wear – so I applied to the Duel the Master area, the “Millennium Puzzle”. As a Puzzle Duelist, my job was to Duel as many people as possible during the tour hours, and not have more than a handful of losses per day. Plus, I got to wear a very sharp looking black suit.
By the time the tour was over, I was a pretty good player. UDE announced the Regional to Worlds structure just as the tour was ending, so I’d planned to start competing in Regionals to try and win a chance to go to Worlds. However, the very first Regional they held was near me, and the TO asked if I’d be interested in judging. I thought about it…decided to judge…and that was the end of my career as a player.
I don’t really play these days, I just don’t have time.

What is the difference of being a player and being a judge?
Since I started out earning a salary for playing Yu-Gi-Oh!, playing has always seemed like a job. Judging is more enjoyable.
When I play, the effort I put in goes only towards my own enjoyment. When I judge, I’m contributing to multiple people’s enjoyment of the event. The tournament will not be affected if I decide not to play in it – but if I judge, I can help it be a success. For me, that is much more fulfilling and a more enjoyable use of my time than playing.

Do you remember your first official tournament as a player / judge / Judge Manager? How was it?
I played in one SJC and half of a Regional, and I remember thinking that playing in an event was rather dull, compared to judging. There’s a lot of standing around waiting, with nothing to do.
My first Yu-Gi-Oh! judging experience was somewhat chaotic, as there were no Policy Documents, PSCT, many rulings resources, or even a Judge Program. Also, we still had to wear khaki pants. Ugh. Judging has come a really long way since then.
I remember my first event as Judge Manager – that was Konami’s first SJC, in Anaheim in April of 2009. I’d only been working at Konami for about a month, but we had a roster of judges, judge shirts, some basic policy documents and we were ready to rock.

It is not a secret that many extremist groups have accused Yu-Gi-Oh! Of being several nasty things, such as being Devil’s creation, causing children to become violent, being a vice, etc. Have you had to talk with concerned parents regarding those topics? What would you say to those parents?
I hear very few concerns like that, but I do talk to lots of parents at tournaments, or at conventions where we are running demos. They’re usually more worried about things like “Is this going to be another expensive and useless hobby that my child will just get bored with?” or “Shouldn’t my child be participating in sports or being tutored instead of playing a game?” Parents want to make that the time, money and energy they will spend on activities goes towards those they believe are beneficial to their child. I show parents that the game promotes math skills, reading comprehension, social interaction, sportsmanship, and critical thinking; and many of them end up with a very positive view of Yu-Gi-Oh!.

If you could turn back the time, would you become a Judge again or not? Why?
Absolutely. I made a lot of friends, I had a lot of fun, I got to travel to a lot of different places, and I feel like I made a worthwhile contribution to the game.
And I ended up with this awesome job, and sometimes people even interview me!

What meant for you being the first ever Judge Manager at Konami?
It meant I had a lot of work to do, but freedom to start from the beginning and do things the way I wanted to do them. Rather than having to adapt to an existing program, or work within the boundaries someone else had set, I started from basically nothing and did pretty much what I liked. I’d been a judge for many years, and I’d seen how other companies ran their judge programs, but nearly all of the ideas and organization of Konami’s program came from me. I’m proud of the work I’ve done, and I’m proud of the work our judges have done.

What are your responsibilities as a Judge Manager? What are the best and worst things of being in your position?
Recruiting judges, training judges, keeping track of judges, supporting judges, keeping judges once we have them – that is basically what I do. It doesn’t sound like a lot of work when it’s just one bare sentence, but it is a time consuming and frequently difficult job. The best part is working with our volunteers, and seeing firsthand how much they contribute to the success of this game.
I have to invest a lot of time and energy into it, which I suppose is the hardest part, but when I see such an obvious return, it really does feel like it’s worth it.

By reading several posts in your Facebook group (Adjudication Conflagration) I’ve noticed that some persons are misled about your responsibilities. Is that a common thing? I remember some guys asking you for an explanation regarding a Forbidden and Limited list. Do you have other examples?
Pretty much anything to do with Yu-Gi-Oh!…if it’s part of Yu-Gi-Oh!, people will ask me about it, or complain to me about it. Or sometimes compliment me about it, which is always nice. I’m one of the most visible Konami employees, and I’ve been around such a long time that players come to me with almost everything.

Let’s talk about the Judge Program. What is it? When did you create it? Why? What is its purpose?
I love to talk about the Konami Judge Program!
What is it? It’s an organized, registered group of volunteer judges who have met some basic requirements to join, and who donate their time and focus to support our Organized Play programs.
When did it start? Konami’s Judge Program began with the very first roster of about fifty or so judges, on March 18th, 2009. They were all people I knew personally from my own years as a judge, whom I contacted when I started as Judge Manager. We’ve grown a lot since our humble start, six years ago.
Why did we start one? You can’t have Organized Play without a judge program – at least not anything outside of small, Tier 1 local level events. Before Konami could get large scale Organized Play going, we needed a Judge Program.
What is its purpose? To facilitate Organized Play, and help provide the best possible experience for our players. To demonstrate the game to new potential players, and act as ambassadors for the brand.

Looking back, what are the things you think should be improved in the Judge Program? And thinking about the future, what are the next steps?
Maybe clone me, so more of the work can get done. That would be really creepy, though. Let’s not do that.
I’d like to focus on more resources for judges, particularly the ones who don’t get the opportunity to judge at a YCS or WCQ. I have a few projects I’m currently working on that should help them out a lot. However, it’s a lot of work and there is only one of me, so progress isn’t as fast as I’d like.

If someone wants to enter to the program what does he need to do?
First, they need to read the rulebook, Problem Solving Card Text articles, Advanced Rulings, and tournament policy documents. It’s the absolute, important first step but a lot of people overlook it. All of this information is on the website.
Once they’ve prepared by studying all of that, it’s time to take a test! They should head over here and carefully read the information on that page. It will tell them all the information they’ll need in order to take the online tests.
Potential judges should start with the Rulings Comprehension Level 1 test. A lot of people also take the Policy Comprehension Level 1 test then, too. These are both online tests, and links to them can be found on the Judge page mentioned above.
Once each week (usually Wednesday) I will download and process the test scores. If the potential judge passed the RC-1 with a valid email address and COSSY ID, I will then email them to congratulate them, explain the Judge Program and offer them an application to join. If they wish to become a judge, they must fill in the application and email it back to me. Once they have done that, the next time I update the Judge Program roster, (I do that once a week too) I will add them in, then send them a “Welcome to the Judge Program” email.

How many Judges are in the Judge Program? How many of them are from Latin America?
Right now there are close to nine thousand registered judges. About 1,500 of them are from Latin America.

I bet that you have been asked this several times, but why people call you “Judge Mama” When did that start? Do you see us as your “kids”?
I don’t really remember when it started but it’s been going for a few years. I feel like it’s a better description of my job than Judge Manager. A “manager” seems remote, like someone sitting behind a desk someplace telling you what to do. I’d rather be in the middle of the judges, doing what I can to help them be better at their tasks. Sometimes I answer questions, sometimes I just show appreciation of their efforts, sometimes I guide them through the duties required of a judge.
I am a mother, and my general philosophy about parenting has definitely carried over into my work – I don’t really view judges as children, but I do view them as my responsibility to educate, support, and protect. Volunteers look after our tournaments, and I look after our volunteers.

Since you have attended a lot of Yu-Gi-Oh! Related events, you must have a lot of anecdotes. Mind to share some of them?
I’ve seen a lot of very strange things at events, so nothing really surprises me anymore.

Aside being the Judge Manager at Konami you have a personal life; so, how do you keep balance between the Judge Manager and the person?
I don’t do a very good job of keeping a balance, my life as the Judge Manager has taken over a lot of my personal life, especially when we have a lot of Premier Level tournaments going on. I’m usually accessible to judges via social media on the evenings and weekends if there’s an event going on and they really need a question answered – but I’ve had a few judges who believed I had scheduled office hours for seven days a week.
Occasionally I’ll make an effort to focus more on my personal life but I don’t stick to it very well!

Do you have hobbies? Tell us about them.
I have a lot of things that I like to do. Before I started working in the TCG industries I ran my own costume design/construction business, so I enjoy designing and creating costumes and other clothing. I like doing fine needlework and embroidery, and I like to read. I used to draw, paint and sculpt but haven’t done much along those lines for years, so I need to try and make time to pick that up again.

The Latin American Yu-Gi-Oh! Community is a huge a pretty active one. In fact, we have had players in the top 8 of almost all the World Championships. According to you, what is the importance of Latin America for the game? Do you think we will have another World Champion anytime soon?
You’ve already had two, a player from Chile won in 2007 and a player from Panama won in 2010. I remember that a player from Mexico came very close to winning in the finals in 2005, too. I imagine more players will win in the future.
Latin America has shown a lot of growth in the years Konami has been managing the TCG, and I think the territory will only get bigger and better. There are lots of good players there.

Have you been in tournaments held in Latin America? How many? What is the difference of a tournament in Latin America compared with a tournament in the United States?
I’ve been to several – I used to travel to them all when we were first getting started with Premier Level Organized Play in Latin America, but the past few years I haven’t really been needed as much. I’ve noticed a lot of differences, actually – players in Latin America generally finish the rounds faster, and they pay better attention to the Head Judge during the player meeting. They listen and follow directions better.
And there aren’t lines of people wanting to hug and kiss me at North America events, and there usually are at the Latin America events.

One of the best things that happened to the game was the release of the famous chart that explains how does the turn move to the next phase or step. But one aspect of the game that still makes judges and players get headaches is the Damage Step. Do you think we will have a chart for that part anytime soon?
It would certainly be helpful. I’m not sure what the timeline would be for more items to be added to the Advanced Rules section of the website, though.

Now that is known that the 2015 World Championship is going to be held in Kyoto, Japan I think it is the proper time to ask Who have the responsibility of deciding where is going to be held the World Championship every year? Is there some criteria used for selecting the country and the city?
It’s up to the territory hosting the event each year. I imagine the decisions are based on budget, logistics, and all the usual factors that determine where any particular Premier Event will be held .

You said in your Facebook group that you are the one who will pick the Judges from North and Latin America, these Judges will be the one to attend the World Championship. Can you tell us the criteria your are going to use for picking them?
Judging at the World Championship is very stressful. I’ve been a floor Judge twice, a Head Judge twice, and I’ve managed the judges for Worlds three times. Beginning in 2012, we choose judges from each territory – so KDE-US (both North and Latin America), KDE-E, and KDE are each represented. I am responsible for selecting the judges from the KDE-US territory.

I choose judges with a lot of previous experience, who have a reliable rulings and policy knowledge and the necessary diplomacy, flexibility, and patience to work under the very exacting standards of a World Championship.
Also, all of the judges I choose need to have a good grasp of English (as do the judges selected by KDE-E).

Thanks a lot for your time and for doing this interview.
I hope my comments are of interest!

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