Zelos Games Head Judge Andrew Hiller Divides and Conquers

November 13, 2022 by
Photo Credit: Jonathan Ortega (@j_ortega_)
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When the Zelos Games announced Andrew Hiller would be the head judge, reactions from CrossFit fans poured in. “It’s provocative! It gets the people going!” wrote one follower on Instagram. “This is going to be interesting,” posted another. In a strategic move by the hybrid competition, they’ve appointed Hiller to pilot a revamped way of setting standards, enforcing penalties and judging both in-person and online events.

Remind me: Hiller, who has about 20,000 followers on YouTube and 27,000 on Instagram, is known for being outspokenly critical of athlete movements; often referred to as the “Batman of CrossFit”. And while his delivery doesn’t always sit well with many, he does possess valuable experience as a Semifinal level athlete, former affiliate owner, Level 1 coach and a CrossFit Certified Judge 10-times over (literally).

At approximately 8:30AM on Saturday morning (Nov. 12), 24 men and women gathered in the bleachers of Camp Rhino in Las Vegas, Nevada for the athlete briefing led by Zelos Games founder Jared Graybeal. After covering a variety of logistics, Hiller was invited to the floor to go over movement standards for the two workouts of the day: Snake Eyes and Royal Flush.

  • “I looked around as I was giving the athlete briefings and there were eye rolls; a couple, some people, and I’m not going to forget those,” Hiller said.
  • In reference to the outlined penalties for not following instructions, he continued: “…Maybe they don’t agree with it, but they also don’t understand the importance of it because they might not utilize them.”
  • After answering a few questions from the audience, he drove one major point home: “If you’re trying to game it, you’re going to be penalized.”

Why it matters: It’s no secret that quality judging is important, and industry-wide conversations are regularly being had in regards to improving athlete experience and judging consistency (even as recently as the 2022 CrossFit Games). The detailed standards and radical transparency Zelos Games is deploying could help inspire other competitions to do the same. 

The rules for how each workout is to be completed are incredibly specific; always facing one direction when picking up the barbell, required to face out on the ring muscle-ups, and only the judge can press buttons on the Echo bike, just to name a few. The nuances are critical because your whole score (or video if submitting online) can be thrown out if not adhered to. That said, these aren’t the only measures being taken to be proactive and clear with competitors from the get-go:

  • In the live showcase, athletes are given one challenge opportunity per day. If they receive any amount of no-reps in a workout by their judge and wish to use their challenge opportunity, they continue on with the workout and refuse to sign the scorecard once completed. At that time, Hiller reviews the footage of the workout to determine if the no-rep was warranted. If the ruling sides with the athlete, they win the missed rep(s) back. The catch? If Hiller notices that more no-reps should’ve been marked, those will now be counted against the athlete.
  • During the briefing, athletes are encouraged to speak to Hiller and their judge prior to the event if they believe something with their anatomical structure makes their movement look questionable, where they’ll be asked to demo the movement for approval. For example, an athlete may be double-jointed in the elbows, or alternatively, have very limited mobility, leaving the overhead position of their truster open to interpretation. 
  • For the online version of the competition, a clear outline of what is considered a no-rep and the penalty that will be associated with it (for example, 6 seconds for not touching your chest to the floor on the burpee over bar), are all laid out for athletes. To our knowledge, this is the first time a competition has been specific ahead of time with their penalty structure. 

What they’re saying: We caught up with one of the judges who’s working at Zelos Games as her first competition volunteer experience. Kris Savage coaches part-time near the event, at CrossFit Culmination, and although she’s been CrossFitting for almost a decade, she was only vaguely familiar with Hiller’s online antics before joining his team.

  • “I knew who he was and I knew of his videos and stuff like that, but never really dug deep into it just because I never really about it. And then when I found out that he was head judge, I was like, ‘oh crap…here we go’,” Savage said. 
  • She went on to say that working with the head judge has been “phenomenal” so far, both in-person and over the course of the last month where the judging team had weekly video calls to get clear on movements and expectations. 
  • Savage explained her interactions with Hiller aren’t as negative as he leads on to be, and said that the suggested approach is, “we need to be positive about it because we obviously don’t want to get the athletes down while they’re in the middle of the workout. We need to be like, ‘Hey, can you do this correctly? And then from here on out to do it correctly?’ It’s definitely been a positive experience — nothing negative about it. There’s nothing negative coming out of his mouth at all.” 

Savage, who is also a self-proclaimed stickler for no-reps, appreciates the high standard being set for athletes at Zelos Games. 

“You can learn a lot from him (Hiller), because I feel like he’s trying to change the game of how people judge all throughout the process. You see things online and you’re like, that should have been a no-rep. So it’s good. It’s nice to have a list of what you need to look for, and they have an expectation of you,” she said. “I feel like coming into this, especially being my first really big thing here, for sure, I wanted to make him proud and I want to make you proud as a person.”

Will the Zelos Games approach influence how future competitions, big and small, tackle judging? We’ll just have to wait and see. 

Until then, registration for Zelos Games is still open, with the first score submission deadline on November 15th and the competition concluding on the 21st. There’s over $30,000 in cash and approximately $32,000 value in prizes up for grabs across a variety of divisions, and you’ll complete the same four workouts athletes are doing during the showcase this weekend in the city that never sleeps. Get in on the action before it’s too late, and use CHALKUP20 for 20% off when you sign-up.

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