In an unprecedented turn of events, Magic: The Gathering professional player and Pro Tour champion Gerry Thompson has chosen to remove himself from the game's World Championship this weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada. Thompson is one of the most recognizable faces in professional Magic, as he is a well-respected competitor who is a frequent writer of strategy articles and the co-host of a popular Magic podcast.
The Magic: The Gathering World Championship is meant to be a celebration of the past year of the game's competitive scene, taking 24 of the best players across the globe and pitting them against each other in different formats to crown a winner. The tournament features a $300,000 prize pool, with even the worst finishers taking home $2,500 just for showing up and playing. It is often used to preview upcoming sets to get people excited for new Magic cards as well.
Thompson's decision to forgo the festivities is a powerful protest, as he is sacrificing $2,500 at the minimum alongside the chance of winning $100,000 and valuable pro points. The latter is essentially Magic's ELO system, with more pro points awarding incentives such as invites to Pro Tours and appearance bonuses for attending tournaments. In a Reddit post, Thompson outlines a number of issues he feels are present within Magic's current professional player system and beyond. Although there are many issues, here's a sample of what Thompson is criticizing:
"Wizards of the Coast (WotC) does not pay professional players a living wage. This, in and of itself, is not a requirement. However, if the goal is to sell the dream of playing on the Pro Tour, there should be something in place to make that worth achieving. Between qualifying becoming more and more difficult, especially with the goal posts continually changing, and the lack of reward at the top, the message currently being sent is 'don’t waste your time.'"
Thompson makes a number of other insightful statements, but the glimpse into the pro player lifestyle in Magic that he offers is a bleak one that has been criticized by those within the game for a number of years. While Wizards of the Coast has actively attempted to improve these elements, it has been a slow and painful process that has seen players seek greener pastures in Hearthstone and other card games instead.
As of this writing, Wizards of the Coast has only offered a brief statement regarding the protest, suggesting that the company believes it is taking steps to improve some of Thompson's points of contention while also promising it will do better in the future. Ultimately, part of Thompson's argument is that these promises have been made multiple times in the past, so it's hard to imagine much of a positive response from the pro player community regarding the initial statement from Wizards of the Coast.
Thompson's protest has garnered a lot of traction on social media as well. His initial Tweet linking to his Reddit post already has over 2,000 likes and 1,000 retweets, and has been met with overwhelmingly positive feedback from other professional players:
This means so much, thank you for doing this— Oliver Tiu (@TheTiuTangClan) September 21, 2018
For many fans of the game who aren't familiar with the pro scene, Thompson's protest could be the wake-up call they need to help garner support for the pro players who increase the game's visibility and appeal to viewers. While it's unlikely Magic can ever compete with games like League of Legends and Fortnite in terms of Esports viewership, there's no reason to believe it can't be a legitimate competitor to games like Hearthstone - especially since Magic has had an online presence for much longer than Blizzard's card game.
It remains to be seen what's going to happen from here on out, but Thompson's sacrifice to make a point for his fellow competitors while they still compete for thousands in prizes is not likely to be forgotten soon, and could be the genesis for some major, sweeping changes to Magic's pro player system as we move forward.
Source: Gerry Thompson