Hey everyone!  Welcome to another Modern Musings!  This week, in light of Gerry Thompson’s decision to protest worlds, I thought that we’d talk a little about the state of professional Magic and propose some solutions to the criticisms that Gerry (how I’m going to refer to him from now on) has laid out before the community.

Gerry Thompson’s Decision to Abstain from Worlds

This past weekend, the World Championship for Magic took place, and with only 24 players in attendance, I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s the most prestigious tournament to attend.  Financially, it’s probably the best event to attend too as you get $2,500 just for showing up. There are a ton of other incentives to play in the tournament too, pro points, etc. So it came as quite a surprise when Gerry Thompson said that he wasn’t going to play in it.  But it wasn’t just that he wasn’t going to play in it, he was actively boycotting the event.

If you haven’t read Gerry’s post yet, I highly recommend reading it first before continuing. Read it? Good. If you didn’t, you should, though it can be boiled down to these two points:

  1. There isn’t enough money in the game for players
  2. WotC is dragging their feet on making absolutely any changes.

The sad part about this whole situation is that unless they see a financial incentive to, WotC will do nothing. While I think that there are many financial incentives for them, it appears as though they are content with the current state of pro Magic.

How Can We Get Wotc to Care?

This is pretty tricky, and besides complaining on reddit and writing articles outlining the problems, there is only one thing that can really be done from the outside; a boycott of professional level Magic.  It seems kind of lame, but an empty Pro Tour is probably one of the only ways that we could get them to listen.  For it to work though, there have to be a substantial number of pros that abstain.  

What Can be Done?

I think a good place to start looking for solutions is how other game companies and eSports have solved the prize pool and player visibility problems.  I think that Valve in particular has done an excellent job in promoting Dota 2 and making people care about individuals on those teams. This is especially true for The International, a Dota 2 tournament with a $20 million+ prize pool.  You might be asking how Valve can afford to run a tournament with such a large prize pool every year. The answer is that they sell an in-game item called the “compendium” that gives various cosmetic rewards as you “level” it up. The compendium costs $10 and 10% of all compendium revenue goes towards the prize pool.  In addition to being able to level your compendium through normal play, you can also purchase levels if you’re impatient and want those rewards right away. The compendium also rewards you for making bets (for levels) on competitive play, predicting which players will have the best stats. I think that this model would translate very very well into Magic.  If WotC wanted to, I think they could implement something similar into either (or both) Magic Arena or Magic Online. But this is just one idea, there are many other ways to raise the prize pools of professional tournaments, like making specific supplementary products that add to the prize pool.

In addition, when the tournament comes around, they treat it like a huge event.  There’s advertising for it a full three months ahead of time.  They have constant content, interviews with fans, shops that sell exclusive merchandise that you can’t get anywhere else. They even sell in-game cosmetic items. They sell tickets to this and provide value for those tickets. Meanwhile, for the World Championship, Wizards closed the tournament center to the public.  Pro Tours and Worlds should be spectacles that are a step above a Grand Prix. If we want there to be more money in Magic, then they need to monetize it more.

A Quick Note About Cheating

Sadly, cheating will happen in any situation where there is anything substantial to be gained from it.  I think that this one is not really debatable. Alex Bertoncini was caught cheating on multiple occasions, then openly admitted to cheating in his “apology” letter. He still has not received a lifetime ban despite it being insanely bad for the professional state of the game. It basically tells others that were thinking about cheating, that even if they get caught, WotC won’t do anything about it.  Gerry is absolutely right on this point and the fact he’s been personally wronged by him financially just adds fuel to the proverbial fire.  If the prize pool ramps up I foresee this problem multiplying.  I think probably the only way to curb cheating in any significant manner is probably to switch the Pro Tour to an in-person digital format, either on Arena or Magic Online.  This could actually help commentators cast games more effectively.  This doesn’t come without its own set of problems, but any solution is going to have its trade offs.  

Anyway, that’s all for this week!  What should Wizards do to improve the pro tour?  Did I miss talking about something important?  Let me know what you think in the comments!       

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