The Virtual Event Conundrum

There’s been so much going on in the world and in our own sliver of it, that I just haven’t had the time to put my thoughts into a coherent sentence. Instability has been a way of life lately for everyone. Are we going to get sick? Is someone we love going to get sick? Are we going to financially make it? Is there help to be had and if so, how do we get it?

I want to say that my little family is doing blessedly well and for that I thank my lucky stars every day. We’re healthy (aside from some minor things) and our small businesses have been nimble enough to weather the impending financial doom-storm ok. Not great, but ok. But while we’re talking about business, agility, and dogs, I want to share a bit about an experience I had that I’m still processing.

I recently joined what was proposed as an “virtual nose work trial”. Entrants pay $25, submit videos daily based on a daily theme for seven days, and would be “judged” by two judges. Best video (best here having the meaning video that best demonstrates the day’s theme) wins a prize. Likes and comments would also play a role in who won (although that rule was quickly dropped after it was pointed out that it wasn’t really fair to make it a popularity contest). Sounds great and fairly easy, right?

Well here’s where things got tricky. At first, there were only 30 entries. Then 50, then 100. The hosts (who were also the judges) never limited entries and encouraged people to share the event, so as you can imagine, a manageable number of entries soon grew to well over 500. How were two people going to watch over 500 videos in approx. 24 hour time windows (and eat, sleep, works, etc)? There’s no way. Even when they started stressing the educational value of the event, there is no way the judges could possibly watch every video and take the time to give real, genuine, helpful feedback with educational value.

The judges soon realized the problem and recruited other “judges helpers” to help them weed through the videos. That’s ok… except these people weren’t really introduced aside from their names and no credentials were given. So now we’ve jumped from a competition, to a competition that’s mostly just educational value, to just a mess of videos with only half being even seen by the original judges due to Facebook’s setup.

Even all those issues didn’t bother me. After all, most inaugural events run into problems. It happens, everyone learns, no problem. What did bother me was when I asked who the additional judges were (mainly because I wanted to see if some feedback left on one of my videos was from one of them), my question was treated an unimportant and deleted. The reason? “It hurt the help judge’s feelings to have someone ask what her credentials were”.

Whenever someone is asked to judge someone else, it’s pretty standard practice to have the judge’s credentials known. In ANY sporting type event. After all, don’t you want to make sure the person judging knows what they’re doing? In my case, I wanted to know what club(s) these people were affiliated with, as I don’t compete in all of them but thought it would be interesting to receive feedback from someone who was seeing the sport/training from a different point of view. The feedback from an AKC nose work judge or K9 handler would be valuable to me (really all feedback is valuable, but I digress).

It’s also pretty clear that nobody considered the feelings or fairness of any of these last minute rule changes to any of “competitors”. I think this experience that I had brings a very clear issue with virtual events into light and that is this: they are very easy to run, you can get a lot of people to participate, BUT to run them fairly, you really have to think about what you’re doing. Consider the interests of the people who have paid to participate (your customers, if you will). Bigger isn’t always better, especially if you can’t deliver on the fundamentals of which your competition or event is based on.

When the FEI nipped many rated horse shows in the bud, I’ll admit I thought they were being fun-killers. But after seeing what happens when a virtual event does go awry because of lack of structure, I agree with the decision they made 100%.

Do I think I’ll do more virtual events? Maybe, but only educational events and only events with very limited class sizes. All in all, I’m going to chuck this into the lessons learned bucket and be grateful it only cost a fraction of what a real trial cost.

For now, enjoy this picture of the ever-debonaire Roo Frank in his beautiful Pup & Pony Polo Collar.

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