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The Future of Magic Esports and Organized Play

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Since the advent of the Magic Pro League (and subsequent hiccups of seeing two of its members banned from Magic), the introduction of MTG Arena into competitive play, the removal of Grand Prix coverage, and the removal of many of the professional programs that have been in place for almost two decades, the future of Professional Magic has been very much in question. Further compounding the average Magic player's concerns has been the lack of any concrete information or announcements from Wizards of the Coast, leaving everyone to wonder if there would even be tabletop competitive Magic in 2020.

Well Wizards of the Coast went and dropped a whole truck full of concrete information this Wednesday and frankly things are looking pretty good!

Fears about the future of competitive Magic, especially tabletop Magic, have been proven to be largely unfounded, as there is a robust plan in place running from your local game stores all the way up to the MPL. Some parts look familiar while some are new, but there is no doubt that a lot of time, planning, and money has gone into this new plan for organized play which instills a large amount of excitement and confidence.

Today we are going to go over the announcement and I will be offering my thoughts on how each part of it works.

The MPL

The Magic Pro League, or MPL, was the only piece of this puzzle that we really got from Wizards of the Coast when it came to competitive Magic this year. 32 of the top players from 2018 were awarded big contracts for the year, both to play in exclusive events as well as stream and promote Magic as a whole. However, completely left out was any information about how one gets into the MPL or what the MPL was going to look like year to year.

Now we have our answers.

The MPL will be shrinking to 24 players and will have a turnover rate of up to eight players a year. The streaming contracts are going away, but there will still be a minimum of $50,000 in appearance fees to be paid out to members of the MPL. This is of course the bare minimum, meaning this income will be supplemented by tournament winnings as well as any money made doing content creation or sponsorships. This is "being a professional Magic player" to its highest degree, to the point that people with good jobs may leave said jobs to play Magic instead.

My Thoughts:

With the MPL being so exclusive the exact logistics of it won't matter directly to the large majority of Magic players in the world. However, as far as keeping the game's best and brightest in the game and under the spotlight this is excellent. Having an amount of stability and reliable income is extremely important for allowing a professional Magic player to feel comfortable choosing that vocation, but having some amount of relegation is also important so making the MPL can be an attainable goal and there's new blood in the system. Relegation is also extremely exciting from a viewer's standpoint, which feels to be the main purpose of the MPL - we want good TV.

The Rivals League

Of course relegation has to lead somewhere, and if that somewhere is back on the streets to play PTQs and try to start from the bottom again that's not acceptable. As such, there is the new "Rivals League." Essentially the minor leagues of the MPL, the Rivals league is in a lot of ways similar to what being a platinum/gold pro was before. The Rivals League is the home of MPL players who get relegated, as well as new challengers from both digital and tabletop. This is also where WotC will be putting their discretionary invites, rather than directly into the MPL.

Rivals League players will be qualified for most of the large events of the year, as well as privy to up to $20,000 in appearance fees as a baseline floor. The Rivals League is the stepping stone to the MPL and the real target of players looking to make it into the MPL. Just like in baseball, you're unlikely to make it in the majors unless you prove you can hack it in the minors first. There will also be a big end of the season Gauntlet tournament where the top Rivals League players battle against the bottom MPL players for the right to join the MPL.

My Thoughts:

This is awesome. The purpose of the MPL is to be the ultimate spectator experience for Magic and having a minor league system and the drama of players being relegated and promoted is excellent. At present there are just the MPL players and their huge streaming contracts sitting on piles of money and there's no excitement around it. This is the excitement we need as viewers and I imagine the Gauntlet tournament will be great TV. The Rivals League also feels much more attainable than the MPL itself, which makes it a great end goal for higher level players.

The Players Tour

Pro Tours/Mythic Championships as we know them are no more. They will be replaced with a regional tournament system called The Players Tour. In a lot of ways these will essentially be mini-Pro Tours that are region-based. You must qualify for them, they award points that help get you into the Rivals League, they have large prize pools, and top finishers qualify for a Players Tour Finals.

If Players Tour events are mini-Pro Tours, The Players Tour Finals are basically super-Pro Tours. There are three Players Tour Finals each season, with smaller fields of around 120 players and a much larger prize pool that the normal Players Tour events (relative to the size of the field). The Players Tour events will have more overall players than the present Mythic Championship system has, but the Players Tour Finals will be more exclusive, widening the middle ground between the lowest levels and the top of organized play.

My Thoughts:

In a lot of ways this is a logical extension of the current Mythic Championship system. Having the main Players Tour events be regional fixes a lot of issues having to do with travel and expenses, both on WotC's side of things as well as the players. If you still really want to travel out of the country you are allowed to attend any Players Tour event outside of region. This also gives them more high level events to cover, presumably to make up for the lack of Grand Prix coverage.

Having more overall slots available for "pro" level events is exciting for players at the bottom trying to qualify, so not only is it logistically easier but more able to give budding competitive players a taste of the highest levels of competitive play. At the same time the system is providing higher level players with clear stepping stones all the way up to the MPL, with almost every step feeling worthwhile in the process.

Qualifiers

Of course the big question left is "how do I qualify for a Players Tour event?" Thankfully the answer is fairly simple and mostly what we are used to.

Obviously every MPL and Rivals League player will be invited, as well as Hall of Fame players, but beyond that qualifications will largely remain the same. There will be PTQs, WPN store PTQs, and Magic Online PTQs, Grand Prix will still award invites to players who Top 8 or have at least 13 wins, discretionary invites, last chance qualifiers, and perhaps most exciting is that there will be invites given to private tournament series like the SCGTour. That's a lot of different routes to get you started from essentially nothing.

My Thoughts:

A lot of this is just the bread of butter of what we are used to as tournament Magic players. The ability to do well at a local PTQ and convert that into a huge win on the Players Tour is just like it was before with PTQs and the Pro Tour and that is exceedingly important for the health of competitive Magic as a whole. "The dream" is a huge selling point for competitive Magic play and it feels alive and well. Everything about the qualification system and the levels of the tournament series has a good flow to it.

The only major complaint going around so far is that without some sort of points-based system in PTQs and Grand Prix, consistent but near miss finishes are not rewarded. It's much harder to make Top 16 of three Grand Prix in a row than spike one top 8, but under the system as written those three Top 16s don't matter very much. However, WotC has addressed this concern and said that they have something in the works to reward consistent finishes.

MTG Arena

On the MTG Arena side of things the system will be largely what we are used to. MTG Arena Mythic Championships will be rebranded into Mythic Invitationals, melding them into how the Mythic Invitational was run at PAX East this year. This means a lot of money, that esports flair, and a large amount of the game's best players mixing in with qualifying MTG Arena players and discretionary invite personalities.

The mythic ladder on MTG Arena will again be the path to large qualifying events (like the one happening tomorrow) which will then feed directly into the Mythic Inviationals. This system is simple and effective, with the Mythic Invitationals seemingly more focused on the MPL and "well known" players to help push the MTG Arena brand.

My Thoughts:

Everyone's fear about the changes coming to tournament Magic seemed centered around the notion that WotC was going to kill paper Magic in favor of MTG Arena tournaments. The reality of this entire plan is quite the opposite. Most of the system for getting into the MPL or playing in high level Magic events will be based on tabletop Magic, as the MTG Arena system is fairly small and simple, with only the three Mythic Invitationals over the course of the year and the various qualifying tournaments. There's certainly a focus on the top players in these events, which makes sense because they are more coverage-centric and in the traditional esports model.

It's going to be very hard to qualify for a Mythic Invitational and doing so is going to involve a healthy amount of luck by spiking an event. However that isn't necessarily a bad thing, and with every player in the MPL and Rivals League eligible to play in Mythic Invitationals in a small field for a lot of money it is a huge benefit for achieving placement in either of those leagues and promises an extremely exciting event to watch.

Overall Thoughts

Whew that was a lot to take in.

Reward the Faithful

All and all, this announcement and entire system has me feeling very optimistic for the future of tournament Magic. There is a healthy amount of focus on MTG Arena and the esports side of things with the MPL and Rivals League, but also a very large amount of the more established tabletop tournament Magic we've all known and loved for two decades. While we don't have all the nitty gritty details yet, the entire system seems to have a clear focus and path from the PTQ at your local games store all the way to the MPL, with the ability to enjoy each part of the system along the way that matches your level of play.

Listen I get it, change is scary. This is not the exact Pro Tour system we are used to.

Yes, trying to get into the MPL feels like a ludicrously impossible goal... But so is playing starting goaltender for the New York Rangers. Having it be so elite and difficult to obtain gives it validity and relevance, while ideally making the Rivals League competition for the chance to obtain those coveted MPL slots the most exciting Magic we've ever watched as fans. And no matter what there are still events for everyone to compete and strive for, as making it to a Players Tour event feels very obtainable and tangible. The fear was that it was MPL or bust, which is clearly not the case.

As both a player and a fan of Magic, I'm excited to see how this all turns out. As someone who has been very critical of WotC's organized play choices in the past, consider me cautiously optimistic. This is a great first step, and if WotC can keep the ball rolling while communicating well and listening to feedback from its players we may have something very special brewing here.

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