Why Pro Player Compensation Affects You Too

We just had an amazing weekend of Pro Tour Magic. It was one of the best Pro Tours in recent memory with a great standard format, exciting new decks, a diverse field and an absurdly star-studded top 8. I was up at 3 AM EST every morning so that I could watch the best game in the world played by the best players in the world.

My excitement built as I watched LSV roll through Day 1 with an undefeated record, happy to see him return to PT success. I was giddy at the prospects of a sweet deck when he started the Day 2 draft with back to back Fevered Visions and I swelled with anxiety as I watched his draft go off the rails pick by pick. I was amazed when he was able to go 2-1 with the deck and then elated as he continued to lead the field all the way up to a 12-1 record where he couldn’t possibly miss Top 8. Or could he? 12-2. 12-3. Three rounds later LSV still needed to find a single point in order to clinch a spot in the Top 8. In round 16 he faced his very last chance at a win and in. My emotions swung with the board state and I felt such relief for him when he finally got the handshake for a 13-3 record.

I was on that roller coaster with him. He deserved that Top 8. And we deserved to see it.

The point is that pros matter. They are ambassadors of the game and many of us look up to them. We relate to pros through the game and we relate to the game through the pros. All of us imagine what experiencing that kind of success would be like, even just one time to have a taste of it. The excitement heading into this Sunday’s Top 8 was electric and that was precisely because of the field’s tremendous star power.

Despite a great event, the big news coming out of the weekend was the announcement of major changes to pro player compensation. Helene Bergeot announced the changes on stream and you can read about the details here: Wizards Announcement.

The announcement has ignited a firestorm of backlash from pros and non-pros alike. There are a number of aspects of the announcement worth discussing and here are a few well-written responses from those in the professional community:
Matt Sperling
Brian Kibler
Jon Finkle

I’m not going to talk about each aspect of the announcement as those folks above are all much more qualified to talk about the changes from the professional player perspective. I will voice my agreement that I think it’s unconscionable that Wizards of the Coast is planning to revoke the Platinum benefits that were already promised to this year’s Platinum Pros. That part I don’t believe is up for debate. The merits and motivations of the rest of the proposed changes can be discussed, though I think they are largely negative for players overall.

The interesting thing to me is that there are large numbers of non-professional players also raising their voices and rising up against these proposed changes.

While many of us are standing united in opposition to the proposed changes I’ve seen a couple of people with opinions along the lines of, ‘These changes only affect 30+ Platinum Pros so who cares?’ This is just not true. This effects me. This effects you. This effects the entire Magic community and possibly the future of our game. Will the game die if these changes are put in place? No. Far from it. Will it thrive and grow to its full potential? Absolutely not.

This is about incentives. Most of us play the game for fun and that’s enough for us. We can afford to spend some disposable income and invest in our hobby, reserving as many hours a week as we can spare thinking about or playing the game. But to take that love for the game and turn it into a career takes a much higher commitment of resources: time, money, and the opportunity cost of pursuing other passions or career opportunities. That’s not something to take lightly.

The Platinum Pro club gives those at the very top of the game a modest but guaranteed source of reliable income. It’s what guarantees them the ability to dedicate themselves fully to Magic for the next year and know that they will be compensated for it.

What does this do for the game?

There are only 30+ Platinum Pros but there are many others who spend all of their time and energy trying to join that club. Players fly all around the world trying to squeeze in one or two more events just for the chance to get those last couple of points needed to cross over into Platinum status. We get big name players at big events that we can watch covered live from all over the planet. Well, sometimes anyway, since Wizards has cut back on Grand Prix coverage now too.

Those players spend all day or all week analyzing formats, building decks, playtesting. They write set reviews, they stream, they publish deck lists, they do draft videos. They create content. Every. Day. Content that we love and can’t get enough of. Will players still create content even if they aren’t chasing a pro player status? Yes. Will they create as much content? No. Will as many players participate? No. The community will survive, but it won’t thrive. And that’s not good enough. We shouldn’t settle for the lack of vision demonstrated by Wizards of the Coast (or Hasbro).

Replacing a guaranteed source of steady income with a single high stakes tournament at the end of the year is laughable. A professional player would be essentially gambling on their ability to spike a single tournament in order to make a decent living for the entire year. Adding this kind of variance to someone’s income stream is unacceptable. ‘But gamers love to play things for stakes! Gamers gonna game right?’ Sure, but not with their livelihood.

This is only the latest in a long line of poor strategic decisions from Wizards. Grand Prix prize pools that have been stagnant for a decade. A Magic Online digital product that is embarrassing and left to suffer without proper investment or leadership or both. The reduction of Grand Prix coverage even in the face of tremendous growth in its audience.

It’s amazing to me that Wizards of the Coast claims that the community is at the center of everything that they do but then they come out with an announcement like the one we saw this weekend. Do they really think they were doing what was in the best interest of supporting these pro players? Are they that misguided or do they think that we are that stupid? I don’t know which one is worse but either makes me doubt their ability to act as stewards of our great game.

I don’t know who was behind the proposed changes or what their motivations were. I wish we could get more clarity on that. I do know that it scares me for the direction that Magic is headed. Given the consistent growth year after year and an increasing player base with the release of each new set I would’ve thought that we’d be investing more in the brand, not less.

The pros entertain us. The pros motivate us. The pros teach us. The pros are the face of this game and they deserve to be compensated. Professional players invest so much of themselves in this game and it’s about time that Wizards of the Coast steps up their commitment to investing in them too.

P.S. There’s a Facebook group that has been started in support of pro player compensation. Please join in on the conversation there: