Earlier this week, a Magic judge was faced with a technical mess. The matchmaking software used to coordinate all major Magic tournaments, its use highly encouraged by Wizards of the Coast, stopped working, leading to delays and logistical headaches for the players at the event and the judges mediating it. Miraculously, this judge was able to find a solution with a laptop, some coding experience, and about an hour of time.
What went wrong at this Magic Tournament?
This Magic judge's story comes straight from a personal blog post. The Level 2 judge, Elaine Cao, was on her way to help moderate a tournament in Toronto by Face To Face Games, the largest Magic tournament organization in Canada, on September 24. It wasn't until the first round of the tournament was supposed to begin that problems arose. Eventlink, the webapp developed by Wizards of the Coast to generate tournament pairings, went out.
The problems only got worse from there. Due to how the pairings are formatted, the judges couldn't just manually print out the pairings. Simply broadcasting the pairings on a TV monitor wouldn't work since Eventlink tabs would instantly crash beyond the first round. Forwarding the information to the players via a companion app wasn't working either. As for just adding pairings manually using Excel then importing them back into Eventlink, the program doesn't support manual pairing. It is a major feature that many passionate fans want in spite of WOTC's own stance on the matter. They even tried moving the tournament to other webapps including MTGMelee, Challonge, and even YuGiOh tournament software. All of those applications weren't working either.
What was the Magic judge's solution?
This is where the story takes a turn. Cao, who had some programming experience, wondered if it was possible to quickly code tournament pairings in Python on her laptop. What followed was roughly an hour of technical headaches, fast coding, and a lot of logistical gymnastics. Aside from a brief power outage, Cao's efforts managed to get the tournament back underway.
First, it must be clear that Cao didn't just type up a complex tournament pairing program that put Eventlink to shame. That kind of complexity on such short notice and with so little time is completely unfeasible. What happened was that Cao was able to code workable tournament pairings thanks to her understanding of how the tournament algorithm worked, as well as taking into account edge cases like tiebreakers and dropped players. It also helped that Cao was in constant communication with multiple judges throughout the event and had her friend on hand with her own laptop and Google Sheets open to import the results.
What happened afterwards to the Magic judge?
Cao was recognized for her ingenuity at the event. Face to Face Games officially acknowledged her efforts, congratulating her efforts in a Twitter post. They also stated that Cao would be rewarded handsomely for her efforts, but that has not been publicly disclosed. As for Cao's thoughts on the matter, they were quite direct. The last paragraph of her post has her saying to WOTC that all of this could have been prevented if manual pairing was implemented into Eventlink.