Let’s Talk About: Endorsements

Let’s Talk About Endorsements
by Samantha Harr

Why Are You Bringing This Up?

I have noticed a lot of confusion and questions surrounding endorsements lately, so I thought I might help by providing my own thoughts and experiences on the matter. Not everyone approaches the mentorship aspect of judging in the same way, and most of us have our own tried and true methods. However, I’ve been at this for a little while now and (so far) all of my judge offspring have been great sources of pride to me, so maybe I’m doing something right? I certainly like to think so.

What is an Endorsement?

Endorsements are a type of review that act as written affirmations that one judge swears their confidence in the good character and capabilities of another judge or candidate. Typically, before writing anything, the endorsing judge will act as a mentor for some time toward the endorsement-seeking judge or candidate. This mentor/mentee exchange is an incredibly important part of judge culture, as it is an evaluation of interpersonal skills that simply cannot be conducted with a series of quiz questions. It would be nice if human interactions were straight-forward enough that we could use pen-and-paper tests for things like kindness, empathy, composure, patience, adaptability, maturity, diplomacy, confidence, and communication. However, that is not the reality that any of us live in, so judges observe and review each other instead.

Some Thoughts for Judges Capable of Endorsing Others

What Mentorship Does for You

The best way to learn is to teach. If you make a solid attempt at mentoring others, you will grow and improve your own skills, I guarantee it. I have never seen this not be the case.

What Mentorship Does for the Candidate

You get to give someone else a chance to be part of something bigger than themselves. Also, there are skills (ESPECIALLY people skills) that I have learned from my own mentors in the judge program that have served me extremely well even in contexts completely unrelated to judging as well.

What Mentorship Does for the Community

Great judges helping others become great judges is a process that elevates us all. As a judge, you may encounter players or TOs who have preconceived notions about your abilities based on their past experiences with other judges. Don’t you hope those experiences were good ones? Don’t you hope they assume good things about you based on your certification? I’m certain the answer to both of those questions is yes for all of us, so ask yourself: “How am I contributing to the betterment of the group?” There are lots of ways to do that without mentoring others, sure, but who’s going to take up the task if not you? You likely had a mentor at some point. Aren’t you glad they didn’t decide back then that you could be someone else’s problem instead? We take chances on others because we need others to take chances on us sometimes. That’s community, friends.

Some Thoughts for Endorsement-Seeking Judges and Candidates

What Menteeship Does for You

There are some aspects of judging that simply cannot be fully learned through reading alone. If you don’t know what I mean just yet, trust me, you will. Having someone around who’s been at this judging thing a lot longer and who can offer you the specific guidance you need is the most valuable asset you can ever hope to gain as a new judge. I’ve been asking the same batch of mentors for advice off and on for six going on seven years now. I would have been lost without them (and frankly a bad judge without them) on multiple occasions.

What Menteeship Does for the Mentor

By being a good listener, asking good questions, and always trying your best, you will enhance the reputation of both you and your mentor. One of the first questions out of my mouth when I see another judge just completely mess up a bunch of stuff is “who certified them?” Not-so-ironically, that’s also the first question out of my mouth when I see a new judge absolutely killing it. When we have a new rockstar around, I want to know who did us all such a big favor by mentoring that new judge up to speed. People who really invest time and energy into mentoring others and do it well are seen as valuable and reliable to everyone else. Every high level judge wants to be known as someone that mentors up quality judges, and as a good mentee you can help them achieve that. TOs and experienced judges are going to be cautious working with a new judge who everyone knows got their endorsement from someone hasty and uncaring.

What Menteeship Does for the Community

Candidates who are endorsed by judges with good reputations are generally going to be seen as better bets by event organizers when it comes to any type of selection process like judge employment. By learning under someone trustworthy, you’re putting yourself on a solid road to judge success. Any judge making themselves better is making us all better by proxy. Simple as that. If everyone puts their efforts into community building in this way, all of us get improve together.

Two Things I See A Lot

“I Went to Discord/Facebook/Forums and Asked for an Endorsement, but Nobody Wants to Help Me, so Now What?”

Here’s the part you don’t want to hear…
You aren’t getting endorsed yet.
(But don’t panic! That doesn’t mean no forever.)
If nobody is helping you, the reality is that nobody knows who you are, or nobody thinks you’re ready and they don’t know how to tell you that.

If a stranger off the street walked up to you and said, “Please swear to the world that I’m really good at personal interactions, and I want that from you in writing,” would you do it? I know I wouldn’t. That would be weird, right? And furthermore, someone who is decently good at person-to-person communication would recognize that that’s a weird thing to ask, so it’s an instant red flag to me.

Judge Academy cannot assign mentors, and even if they could, that goes against the spirit of what all this is about: Forming meaningful community connections. Therefore, the solution is both easy and difficult at the same time: Go and do that. Form meaningful community connections, I mean. If you participate in judge communities online or in-person people will get to know you. Then, if you are consistently pleasant enough and excited to learn things in general, everyone else will eventually become invested in your success.

“I Want to Get Certified Right Now Though!”

There is no rush, I promise. Getting certified is a marathon, a journey, an adventure. It’s not a quick sprint. It’s not a series of checkboxes. The slower-paced nature of the endorsement process is intentional. Savor it, and you’ll be much happier with your outcomes.

In Conclusion

Mentorship and endorsements are a very personal part of the judge certification/leveling up process. We all rely on each other so heavily when we’re on the floor of an event, and it’s crucial to start building that trust together long before anyone starts running towards a player with their hand raised. Whether you’re brand new to judging or a grizzled old veteran, you will never stop needing people to look up to. People who inspire you. We never outgrow the desire for someone to believe in us when we’re at our most vulnerable and uncertain. My mentors from over the years have shaped the person I am today into a version of myself that’s fundamentally so much better than I would have been without their support. I hope that the judges I’ve mentored over the years know that I’m always here if they need anything at all, and that they are never alone out there. The connections you build while judging, especially by helping others and being helped by others, will serve you for your whole life. 

Read more here: judgeacademy.com/endorsement-information


  1. Charles Ferguson

    This is a well written article and a good resource to quickly refer to a asking questions in this area.

    That being said, one of the biggest things I take issue with here, philosophically speaking, is with how you define ‘endorsements’ is through the process of mentorship, it is simply not the standard that is enforced by the JA nor has ever been a consensus philosophy of the Judge community, i.e. mentorship, or even any kind of relationship with a L1 candidate is necessary to issue an endorsement.

    For the longest time, L2s and 3s have been completely on the honor system when it comes to certifying L1s. Having to judge *any* kind if event being the old, system wide barrier at least insured that there was some kind of need for a judge in that community, and combined with a physical test being mostly the norm, you also had the candidate meeting with the person who was administering the test.

    But with the JA now being the certifying institution, neither of those very minor barriers are required. Sure, a candidate now has to engage with online coursework as their barrier, but they can go through that whole process alone. Once they are ready to take the test, all they really need from an L2 is a “ya this person can take the test” aka an ‘endorsement’. Basically, the nature of JA certification has completely warped the safeguards that used to, at the very least, gave the opportunity for mentorship to happen.

    There will always be bad actors without much stricter enforcements of the mentorship philosophy you detailed here, and the both the former and current L1 process don’t do much to prevent that. But, the problem I often run into as a ‘good actor’ is what justification, philosophical or otherwise, do I really have to prevent someone from taking the test? when the only effort that is required is telling some entity they are good to go. There isn’t even a physical justification that can be used anymore, any L2/3 can endorse a candidate anywhere. Accountability isn’t even a question; if you certify a “scummy” person, there is no means by which I can look up the judge who certified them to even give a “wth were you thinking”.

    Its good you define what endorsements could or even should be, but it would be nice if the JA could codify some of these things so that, by mandate or method, forces L2/3s to actually follow these definitions.

  2. Tyler Espinoza

    I may be a little late to the party, but I think Charles summed up my concerns quite thoroughly. I’m not an L2 yet, but I hope to be in the near future and I really want to be that mentor to those folks that are starting their judging journeys, but there will also be folks online that haven’t participated in the judging community before and are looking for blind endorsement handouts. The question I’ve struggled with is “should I intend to be the person who helps someone get endorsed even if I haven’t mentored them personally?”

    There are a couple big factors that push towards indiscriminately offering endorsements. Firstly, there’s JA’s own written guidance on endorsements: “Although we ask that you put some thought into the conversation you have with the candidate, we do not expect the process to take more than 30 min or so.” It’s incredibly hard to accurately judge the competency or personality of a candidate in “30 minutes or so” and yet that expectation is now laid out for both the candidate and the endorsing judge, so what does an endorsement mean after such a short introduction to a candidate? The second concern I have is “If I don’t endorse this person, they’re just going to get endorsed by someone else who doesn’t know they already got turned down by me. Might as well save everyone the time and effort and just dish out endorsements when asked for them.”

    The unfortunate reality is that I’ve seen folks get certified without a thorough examination from their endorsing “mentor,” and with little-to-no expectations for the endorsing judges it’s tough to justify the increased effort on the judge’s part if the candidate isn’t also willing to put in the work. So at the end of the day, the L1 endorsement becomes meaningless and we end up with a degradation of L1 quality even compared to what it was before. I’m not ultimately sure what the fix should be (especially since I haven’t hit L2 yet myself), but I imagine there has to be a better way to ensure a higher caliber of entry level judges.

  3. Ryan Scanlon

    I have had some concerns with the endorsement policy myself. I am only a level one, but I have pushed interested players to take the courses for a few reasons, such as a better rules understanding for playgroups and potential game stewards. I would not endorse some of these individuals but would direct them on how to reach out for their growth. Unfortunately, the current endorsement/Testing procedure does not highlight the interpersonal skills that Judge Academy promotes in its modules. My L2 had required me to run a prerelease to demonstrate how the skills I picked up in the modules were put into practice, and I wish this would be made into a requirement. Nothing prevents an L2 from endorsing a candidate they have never met, and this is concerning for me for the integrity of the judging community. I believe that this promotes endorsement “phishing” for candidates that need more experience and have been turned down by others. This can degrade the player’s view of what an L1 judge is and undermine the goals of the judge program. I would never dissuade a person interested in pursuing certification, but I am respectfully concerned that the lack of accountability weakens the program’s integrity.