GP Toronto 2018

GP Toronto 2018

My first non-European GP trip and it involves flying out to Canada the day after Birmingham and working another four day show then heading over to Washington DC for three days then back home – all in all a two week trip!

GP Toronto 2 (there was another show here earlier in the year) is the first show in a long time where I had that unique combination of worry and excitement when you go somewhere new to do something different and you’re not sure what to expect and how things will pan out. European shows are all very similar in terms of organisation and people and whilst I enjoy doing the shows I wouldn’t say I’m thrilled or excited about them in advance.

The trip started with a 5AM train from Preston rail station, which is always difficult but even more so after a full four days at Birmingham, then a short flight to Paris in order to catch the first transatlantic aeroplane I’ve taken since I was seventeen when I went to Virginia and Washington DC with my high school sweetheart. I have to admit I was pretty nervous and on seeing the tiny seats they give you on Air France I was a little worried that I might not make it. However, six hours and a pair of heavily bruised knees later I landed safely in Toronto.

I had booked the cheapest accommodation I could find for the bulk of my stay in Canada but knowing I am a nervous traveller I had booked a nicer hotel for the first night so I could recover from my trip. It is not often I hold a high regard for my decisions, but this might be a glimmer of genius in the usual dross. A huge king bed, air conditioning, American breakfast and a free shuttle to pick me up from the airport was well worth the silly money I spent.

After recuperating overnight (slightly interrupted by the conference call I had forgotten I had scheduled at 9AM Thursday morning, or 4AM Toronto time…) and filling up on waffles, bagels and coffee I caught the Union – Pearson express to downtown Toronto to start my adventure for real. I had booked a place in the University of Toronto halls of residence (for a ridiculously low price) so made my way on the tram system, which once I had worked out was actually super convenient and easy to use, and checked in. The room was pretty basic – a bed, desk, chair and wardrobe – and came with a shared bathroom, kitchen and utilities room but considering the week I was spending here cost altogether less than the first night alone it was good enough.

A little aside here, I am often unwilling to compromise on comfort and ease when travelling for GPs unlike many in the program. This means I will often spend more money on rooms for myself rather than sharing, hotels rather than hostels and stuff like that. One of the things I wish I was better at was sharing rooms, but I get incredibly anxious and end up not sleeping all that much which is not where you want to be when working these shows. If anyone has any tips or suggestions for getting better at this please do leave a comment.

The other thing I had done for this show that I don’t normally do is volunteer for set-up crew – the team that puts everything together before everyone arrives for the show proper. I arrived at the venue nice and early and was actually a little taken aback with how empty a hall looks when there is literally nothing in it. North American set-up crews work with local union staff to put everything together but it was still a decent day’s work covering all the tables with table cloths, putting out table numbers, creating land stations (I must have sorted over a thousand Basic Lands) and then putting together the player goody bags. The North American shows are only about half the work of European ones so I have a new found respect for the efforts those people put in (which I will see in person in Turin).

Following set-up we headed to a restaurant for a pre-event staff dinner. I have never appreciated free food quite so much and I love me some free food. The place was called    (pronounced like the German word ‘wurst’) and served sausages and European beer. I am sure they meant well, but I have eaten German sausage and drank European beer and not had to pay $20 for the privilege. The food and drink flowed freely despite my misgivings and I called it a night when we started comparing tasting notes over Canadian Coca-Cola versus US and EU versions.

Friday, my first non-European GP experience, did not start well. On the tram to the venue in the morning I managed to get knocked over and break a rib and bruised my chest pretty badly. Foolishly, I didn’t actually go to get it seen to until the next day so I spent most of the Friday in a haze of pain and anxiety.

My actual job on Friday was to fire the team practice events which are basically the same as in Europe. The main difference between North American scorekeeping and European is the fact that in Europe the judges collect the results slips from players and bring them en masse to the scorekeeper whereas in North America players bring them to the scorekeeper directly. To be honest, I prefer the European way because it makes losing slips less likely and anything we can do to minimise the impact players have on process is better in my book. However, I do see the argument for the other way as it does mean the scorekeeper has more control over their time and can make prioritisation choices accordingly.

The other big difference is the roles of the scorekeeper lead. In Europe they tend to take a more laissez-faire approach to leading, trusting their team to prioritise for themselves and call out issues. In North America there is a more direct style of leadership and management. Luckily, I have only had good leads on both sides of the Atlantic so it all basically evened out. I did, however, notice that me challenging ideas and processes took the American scorekeepers more by surprise than their European counterparts but that could well be down to me being better known over here.

Saturday was much like any other day scorekeeping. I was looking after some scheduled events and due to the show being a team event these were pretty small. The upside of being quiet was that I was able to deal with the pain from my chest but the downside was it left me plenty of time to get more and more nervous for running the PTQ on Sunday – my first PTQ as a scorekeeper as well as my first time using WLTR in anger. Turns out my nerves were the least warranted of all time.

Sunday rolled around and with it came the rain. Rather than stand in the rain whilst waiting for my tram connection, I popped into Starbucks to grab a coffee and a bacon sandwich. The barista asked me about my day and when I explained I was working the Magic GP they suddenly whipped out their Commander deck and asked me for a game because she was sad that she wouldn’t have time to head over and play due to her shifts. I managed to jam about ten turns of Commander before my tram turned up but apparently that is sufficient for a free breakfast! I knew my day was going to be sweet from that point on.

The hardest part of using WLTR is the prep. You have to build a variety of input files to save the hassle of having to enter everything manually. Due to a delay at registration we got the final entry slips about five minutes before the event was due to fire. Thankfully, my lead (the wonderful Joe Hughto) was able to help me get everything ready and even managed to deflect some nonsense coming from the organisers about starting late.

With everything in place, the actual running of the PTQ on WLTR wasn’t that tricky. I slowly learned the quirks of the system and managed not to piss off my head judge too much. Due to an agonisingly slow top four the event lasted the best part of twelve hours. Blue Stage (where the PTQ scorekeeper normally sits) is a lonely place on a Sunday as whilst I was technically closer to the event than I would have been at the Red Stage (where side events are run and scorekept from) the event was still not that close so I was on my own most of the day except for the bursts of activity at the end of each round as we flipped the rounds. I’m really happy I got the opportunity to learn how to do the job and it means I can now do all aspects of side events, but I think I’m happier on the Red Stage until I develop an urge to work on the Main Event and need to get more adept at WLTR.

The final part of the GP proper is the staff party which I’m normally not so fussed about as I usually have a flight the next day and would rather have the sleep; however, with me staying in Toronto as a tourist for a few days before flying out to Washington DC for the next show I thought I would give it my best effort. Another Brit and I shocked a few people by decided to walk the twenty minute journey between GP venue and the party hotel – walking anywhere is pretty much an odd concept in North America it seems. I ate heartily (making up for the shocker of Birmingham) and drafted a couple of times but I still only made it a little past midnight. A short Uber ride home and my first North American GP was over.

The next few days were filled with sleep and sightseeing. I took in the CN Tower, St Lawrence Market, Kensington Market and a baseball game at Rogers Stadium between the LA Angels and Toronto Blue Jays. I also visited my fair share of Tim Hortons and ate more than fair share of poutine. Toronto is a really interesting city with a lot to see and do and I heartily recommend it to anyone in that part of the world. My only disappointment was my bus tour to Niagara Falls falling through due to mechanical issues and sick children – next time for sure!


3 Replies to “GP Toronto 2018”

  1. Hi Norman. Really sorry to hear about the broken rib – that sucks, buddy! I hope the prognosis is good and you’re healing up well now that you’re back UK-side?

    I’ve been reading your blogs with interest and I wanted to start by thanking you for having the courage to share these things, particularly where it comes to your anxiety and impostor syndrome. These things are often taboo and it’s only by talking about them that we’ll challenge the stigma; I really believe that your blogs are helping shine a light on things and will help our peers feel more able to talk about their own difficulties and you should be proud of the contribution you’re making <3

    I had a couple of questions/observations, if I may? If you don't want to answer then don't worry 🙂

    1. You say that your feedback and challenging of ideas took the American Scorekeepers by surprise. What did you do to explore that dynamic and are there any lessons you've learned for future State-side GPs in the same role?

    2. It sounds like Norman had a very successful event – especially since you *were* able to challenge your peers constructively, and you managed to turn around the WLTR build in quick time with the help of your time, and you tried/learned from new ways of working – so, what advice would Norman now give to Norman before the event if he could go back in time?

    That's it from me. Thanks for another awesome blog!

    1. Thanks for the comment Steve! Hopefully I answer your questions below.

      1. I certainly learned some lessons about this dynamic. Rather than the free-for-all flow of ideas and communication in Europe, the US model is much more hierarchical in nature. In terms of how I engage with that model in the future, I think there is room for improvement on both sides. The US model certainly supports newer scorekeepers better than the EU. The EU model allows more freedom to own the role and make changes on the fly, which the US could certainly learn from. I think I can actually help bridge those two attitudes as part of my globe-trotting.

      2. Worry less about new stuff. Seriously, the support network in large events is pretty good and most of the time those at the events don’t want others to fail.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to reply buddy.

    Sounds like you’ve got yourself a goal there in #1?

    Hopefully #2 is something you can carry with you into future GPs 🙂

Leave a Reply to Steve Ford Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *