I was skeptical, but hopeful, of the big vision when I was offered to join the Magic Pro League (MPL). I don’t follow Esports, even popular games like League of Legends. My view of the gaming world was narrow and focused solely on Magic. Nonetheless, this sounded like a dream come true. Maybe I can do what I love and make a good living doing it.
I started streaming. Other than testing with friends and teammates, it was the only time since the start of the MPL that I enjoyed playing Magic. The tournaments were stressful, but there were rewards at first. Maybe I’d look back more fondly if I had spiked one of the most important tournaments. However, once the prize pools were reduced it felt high pressure, stressful, and low reward. Finishing in the top half or two-thirds of a field of players, even the best players, isn’t as gratifying as finishing in the top 30 of everyone in the world who plays. Playing the League Weekends felt like trying to avoid failure more than achieving a goal.
When I was younger, tournament Magic built my confidence to make and pursue goals. My first goal was ranking top eight at a PTQ, then winning a PTQ, and then ranking top eight at Pro Tour. Being “on the train” felt like a pipe dream when I was younger. The amount of luck, circumstance, and work that was required made it seem out of reach for a high school kid.
I didn’t view Magic as a possible profession. It was an opportunity to prove to myself, a nerdy self-conscious chubby kid, that I was capable of being the best, or one of the best, at something where others shared my passion. It wasn’t money that drove me — it was the pursuit of excellence.
However, there needs to be an incentive to get all players into the same tournament. I’d be foolish to join if I were bleeding thousands of dollars for every event I played. The incentive needs to be enough to make entering tournaments sustainable. Desire is contagious, and the goal loses value if others decide that it’s not worth the effort. For example, listening to Pro Tour veterans discuss the pursuit of the coveted Pro Tour trophy made me want to win one. While I’m not driven by money, it does drive others and, in turn, increases the value of achieving certain goals.
Unfortunately, I no longer feel that drive to achieve goals from my peers, and I fear it will dissipate completely from our community. I worry that people won’t strive to be the best anymore, because being the best is so hard to parse.
To be the best at something, there needs to be a set of rules that is easy to follow and understand. To earn titles like World Champion, Player of the Year, and Pro Tour Champion, you have to prove yourself on the battlefield against the world’s best players in the same event with the same incentives. It was clear, definable, and achievable.
We lost that clarity when the MPL was created. We have a system that can’t define who has performed the best. Challengers have the impossible task of requalifying for every event to be able to play in as many events as league players. League players’ League Weekend matches are worth a lot more than the Set Championships, with many of us referring to those as “Grand Prix.” I care more about the League Weekends and the Set Championships are an afterthought, but it’s the stage for challengers to prove themselves. It’s weird to have different tournaments mean different things to different people by design.
We have players like Allen Wu who possibly had the best performance compared to any other player, and he was left out of the competition because he wasn’t able to do the impossible of ranking in the top eight of yet another premier event. His body of work didn’t fit into this narrow structure that doesn’t properly evaluate progress of those outside of the league, but the achievements are remarkable when compared to those of past players.
Many, myself included, welcome a change back to something more familiar, obtainable, and fair. Any system moving forward needs to unite the community in playing together using the same formats. Separating the player base was by far the biggest letdown of the MPL structure.
I’m worried about the trend and language regarding the future structure. They don’t know what the new system will look like, they don’t want to make any promises, but they do know they don’t want to invest in pro players or the dream of making a career out of Magic. Future events will be similar to what we’re familiar with but still different. It’s hard to be hopeful as they cut back on tournament incentives while recording record profits.
“Anything is better than this” was a sentiment I heard from many in the MTG community. It seems like it will look a lot like it does now without the benefit of MPL and similar to a Pro Tour event where you start from the beginning if you don’t finish in the top 16 of every event. There’s no real continuity or goal other than a few thousand dollars here and there. There’s no dream of stringing together finishes and getting a chance to prove yourself against the best players.
While many may see the glass half-full, I see it as empty. We have over a year’s worth of events ahead with no clear indication on where it goes afterwards. There’s only a promise of no promises and being told to look elsewhere for a career. While I certainly expected a move away from the MPL/Rivals structure, I didn’t anticipate how bleak it would look and sound coming from the mouths of WotC representatives.
I don’t know if this dream is dead. I hope things get better and Magic OP finds its way back on track, but it seems likely that Magic is taking a major step backwards and becoming something I never would have fallen in love with. Magic OP, the Pro Tour, the dream was the reason I fell in love with Magic. It’s what turned me from a casual player to a dedicated, lifelong player.
One way or another, an important dream of mine is dead. I can no longer expect to provide for my family long-term with Magic. Regardless of what they come up with in the future, I’ll be looking elsewhere and walking away slowly. I still have another year left in the tank, and it’s unclear to me how much effort I’ll put into the events. This is still new and raw, and I feel extremely disappointed in the execution of the MPL, saddened by the direction of the company, and even a little let down by some of the community reaction that consisted of a “good riddance” attitude towards professional Magic.
This is something so close and dear to my heart that I can’t help but take offense. I’ve met most of my best friends, provided for my family, and gained so much confidence because of my Pro Magic experience. Even if it doesn’t mean a lot to you, it means a lot to others.
For now though, I’m going to focus on playing the upcoming Set Championships and polishing my resume.