The Death of Pro Magic? League Member Chris Kvartek and DoggertQBones Discuss Wizard’s Organized Play Announcement
Hello everyone! The Magic Community has been abuzz since the Organized Play announcement so I figured what better to do than ask a current Pro player their feelings on the announcement! I asked Chris Kvartek (former Magic Pro League member, joining the Rivals League in its final season) a series of questions to get his perspective on the announcement and the future of Magic and I’ll also include my answers to all the questions as well to get the competitive, but not pro player perspective.
What was your gut reaction to the Organized Play announcement?
Chris Kvartek: Initially I thought it was sweet that the MPL and Rivals were gone as it wasn’t a great system. I assumed that we would be going back to the old system or a different one which would’ve been great. However, once it was explained that they were eliminating the Pro system entirely, I was confused and incredibly frustrated. One of the parts that really frustrated me was that the announcement wasn’t at all clear about the facet either, despite that being the main takeaway. After mulling it over more, I’d have to say I’m still very disappointed, but not terribly surprised.
DoggertQBones: My gut reaction was absolute shock. I was constantly thinking of how Wizards was going to change up OP now that the pandemic is starting to wind down, but I never could’ve anticipated this. For them to functionally state that OP didn’t prove itself during a year where in person play couldn’t happen feels disingenuous at best. There aren’t many games that support their best players so little and I was disappointed that Magic is becoming one of them.
Do you think this change is a net benefit or net negative for the current Pro players?
Chris Kvartek: Definitely a net negative. A lot of the big faces we’ve come to know over the years are going to be forced to leave since the money is not going to be there. Even bertu (Lucas Esper Berthoud) announced his retirement once falling out of the Rivals League. It’s a shame that it’s come to this.
DoggertQBones: I think the gut reaction is that this is a net negative, but could end up being a positive for some players. Beyond the MPL/Rivals payouts, pros were never compensated well from Wizards directly. Although it’s certainly more work, this may open the door to Pros more aggressively looking for sponsorship or sponsors looking to step up to help fill the gap left by Wizards. That being said, players always had the ability to find sponsors while being paid by Wizards as well so this is unlikely to be helpful.
Do you think this change is a net benefit or a net negative for competitive, but not Pro players?
Chris Kvartek: I would say that for those who weren’t in the MPL or Rivals, this system really screwed them over so moving away from this is probably better. However, the “pro dream” is very likely dead as money is being moved away from the competitive scene, so that’s going to drive away a huge amount of talent. Sure, this is better for competitive players who weren’t professional yet compared to MPL/Rivals, but that’s definitely not saying much considering how bad it was for them.
DoggertQBones: Pros are the ones most clearly getting the short end of the stick, but it’s less clear for competitive grinders. I know a huge incentive for a lot of grinders (including myself) was the possibility of getting a Pro club status in some capacity, and now that incentive is completely gone. I still plan on going to the same amount of events I did in the years before the pandemic and now I won’t have the extra pressure of needing to get a certain amount of points for a status. These feelings may still exist if fractional invites come back and I really want to go to a specific Mythic Championship, but those feelings are greatly lessened.
Overall, I would say this is a mixed bag. The most competitive grinders who flew to GPs all over to accumulate points won’t do that anymore because there’s functionally no reason to. Although many grinders quoted this as some of the best times in their lives, very few people can meaningfully afford to participate in this lifestyle and even without the pro club sponsorship, players can still do this if they want to. Obviously it would be better if there was a better reward to help encourage doing this, but not feeling you have to do it seems nice.
Do you think this change is a net benefit or net negative for Magic as a whole?
Chris Kvartek: I think it’s going to be a net negative as a whole. This move will probably alienate a lot of the non-US players as there’s not going to be as much of a reason to go to events anymore for them. Events will feel more hollow without some of the best players in the world there which will definitely hurt how fun these events were and how competitive they felt. I feel like they’re not realizing the effect this will have on Magic’s image as a competitive game. When the prestige is gone and the money isn’t there, why would Pros play this over Poker? It doesn’t feel good that a lot of the names we’ve come to know are just not consistently going to be there anymore. It feels like a huge loss in free marketing to me and a lot of the reason grinders like me tried so hard to compete.
DoggertQBones: This is a tough question to answer (even though I wrote it!) The best way to answer this is to identify what does the success of Magic mean to me. To Wizards and Hasbro, success is numbers, sales, profits, etc. Although Magic being profitable is critical to the long term health and growth of the game, I feel like they’re missing out on a key aspect of what made Magic appealing for a reasonably large demographic of people. “Play the Game, See the World” was the whole reason I stayed in Magic and tried so hard to improve, and it feels bad that an aspect of that is gone (if not completely eliminated).
If OP was losing Wizards money hand over fist, I would understand the decision more, but it doesn’t even seem like that’s the case, especially since this was Wizard’s most profitable year. It felt less that OP was an unprofitable sector rather than that it’s not as profitable as they want it to be. Competitive Magic was a marketing tool that appealed to thousands of players, a tool they still intend to keep with GPs and Set Championships still around, but one that was severely kneecapped by cutting off the incentive for the best players in the game. If they want to spend less money on competitive magic since it isn’t doing as well as another Secret Lair or Commander precon, fine, but it feels very lazy to just throw their hands up in the air and scrap the system when it didn’t completely go their way.
I’m sure Magic will continue to grow and be insanely profitable, but they are going to start losing out on the competitive player market to other TCGs who want to invest in their competitive scene when I feel like they didn’t have to. Overall, Magic may technically be better off as those resources are likely to be allocated to more profitable sectors (or used to line an executive’s pocket), but the spirit of Magic took a huge blow.
Do you think Pro Magic is dead?
Chris Kvartek: Assuming the announcement is concrete, yes. I don’t see players devoting the time and resources to playing when the money isn’t there. I’m sure competitive Magic will still thrive, but the professional scene is likely done. A lot of the details are still up in the air, but if Worlds or whatever surrogate they’re using ever disappears, Pro Magicwould effectively be erased. There’s no Pro system if the best player in the world at the end of the year isn’t rewarded for their effort.
DoggertQBones: I sincerely hope not. Pro Magic in its current form is very much dead as Wizards doesn’t seem interested in helping out anymore, but that doesn’t mean nobody can step up. Organizations like Insight Esports, Starcitygames, and Redbull have all already shown interest in the competitive sector and with Organized Play functionally dissolved, this may let one (or more) of them to fill that spot. Lots of players were furious with this announcement, but these critics may have to put their money where their mouth is.
If another organization attempts to give Pros a decent wage and it fails, we only have ourselves to blame by either not supporting it well enough through entries/viewership or advocating for a system that is not financially sound for the company attempting it. If a system can rise up in place of Wizard’s, I would imagine it would be relatively similar to what most organizations are doing right now. Events that qualify you for bigger events with good coverage and a large purse seems like the most realistic take on what a company would look to do for a competitive scene.
Where do professional players go from here?
Chris Kvartek: This is a really tough spot for those who didn’t have a backup plan. I think the Magic content market is extremely saturated already as there’s already so many big names like Hoogland, Numot, Caleb, crokeyz, etc. Pro players can try to dive into content creation and see if it works out for them, but I always thought that players who completely devoted themselves to Magic and did not have a backup plan are playing a very dangerous game.
I was told by many players to hold off on college so I can fully focus on the MPL, but I couldn’t disagree more. Wizard’s competitive structure was always too volatile to trust and I’m glad to still be working towards my degree now that pro magic is coming to an end. I would say that this is the time to invest their massive amounts of intelligence and motivation to develop other skills as I don’t see Wizards reversing their decision or another organization taking their place.
DoggertQBones: If I’m being honest, I think the future of Pro Magic as we know it is probably going to be radically different from what we know right now. Although players will still earn their notoriety through tournament finishes, without a stable sponsor, this won’t be tenable as a career anymore. I think Brian Kibler put it best when (to sum up) he said that streamers and content creators are the future of Magic’s “pro” scene.
Why would Wizards want to invest money in a system for people who are unlikely to bring more attention to Magic than creators who do the same job (or better) for free? This is obviously not in the spirit of what “pro” magic means to a lot of people, but if the only people who can do Magic for a living are content creators and not amazing players, how else could we define professional? I would like more than anything for the best players to all make enough money to keep doing what they love, but when there’s a whole slew of amazing players and only a few tournaments with diminished prize payouts, this structure doesn’t seem possible.
Although many professional players are already into content creation (articles, Twitch, YouTube), they’ll have to lean harder into that element if they want to continue being a professional Magic player. I’m not happy about that angle as not every great player wants to make content, but I don’t see another system supporting Pros as well as Wizards did these last few years. It’s a tough road, but getting into content creation now before you’re outpaced by somebody else might not be a bad idea. From someone who does make content for a living, I enjoy the ride.
Thank you for reading!