Friday, November 4, 2011

The Extra 2%: #MTGOP

Obviously this article started off a very different animal, in which I was going to discuss all sorts of Magic-al tidbits, specifically about the incredibly complex and difficult Innistrad limited environment.  I do plan on finishing that piece at some point, but I’ve been asked to address a few other issues first.

If you can’t tell, Where the Meat Comes From has been a bit of a flop, which is disappointing, to say the least, since it involved a tremendous amount of work and had a lot of potential, at least at first.  So, as of Friday, November 4th, the website has officially closed its doors.  The previous editors have been kind enough to hand me the keys to the car, so I’ll be using it as my own blog for now.  If anyone is interested in submitting content, you can use the old email address, and I’ll do my best to take a look at it, but for the most part, this is going to be a one-man show for the time being.

I don’t have a publishing schedule anymore, so the updates will likely be more erratic, but I’ll try and keep posting them on the Battlefield and links on Twitter, etc. 


Enough about sad depressing news, let’s talk about how awesome Magic is right now.  Except, wait, that’s a whole barrelful of disappointing news, too.  I cannot imagine being a semi-professional player outside of the United States any more.  I do not believe that it is possible to exaggerate the negative impact of the new announcements on the world-wide growth of the game. 

Having said that, I need to express my own opinion on the impact of the changes, which is very different from the professional community at large.

I have been trying to explain for weeks, if not months, that Magic has changed dramatically in recent years.  The biggest point that I would make is that for someone who was around for the beginning of the game, to see its explosive growth has been akin to watching your brother’s daughter grow up to be an international celebrity.

Many, many people who have very loud voices in the community do not seem to remember that this game was born in basements, nylon tents, brick cafeterias, and around kitchen tables.  For years, if you didn’t live in New York or on the East Coast in general, your only outlet for playing Magic was with your friends.  The Duelist Convocation existed (I once had a four digit DC number, sadly, I use my 6 digit DCI number now—and I think they added some digits in front of my code, although I’m not sure) but that mostly related to league-style play in comic book stores, and tournaments where the judge performing rulings was never suspiciously the guy who always managed to win the event (wait, that’s exactly what happened).

Now, people who are not involved in gaming at all have friends or significant others who have or still do play our great game.  In fact, it is not unreasonable to suggest that most of the people that you will ever meet will have some sort of an idea that Magic exists.  Because you may not see it the same way, I want to emphasize my next point: this is outrageously awesome to me. 

I have met random women in bars that know of Magic, and Finkelgate has successfully nabbed dates for my friends.   The world of 2011 is not the world of 1995, and I’m not even talking about the clothes (or those depressing hair-styles). 

What does this have to do with the OP changes?

Namely, it all calls into question the point of the Pro Tour any longer.

The overwhelming majority of all Magic players will never sit down in a PTQ.  Of those players who do, only the tiniest percentage ever qualified for a PT in the first place, and a fraction of those that did so ever played multiple events.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that if you are reading a Magic related article on the internet, you are probably familiar with the names of almost every single person affected by the Organized Play changes. 

Am I trying to imply that I am apathetic to their plight?  Not at all.  One of the biggest reasons that I stuck with this game over the almost two decades that I’ve been playing is because I occasionally got to taste the succulent goodness of the luscious gravy train basket.

What I am trying to get at is that it has never made sense to me that Wizards of the Coast runs the Pro Tour.  I wrote an article in 1999 for the love of all that is good and decent that suggested that the Pro Tour should be privatized and sponsored.  The crux of my argument hinged on the idea that I saw Wizards moving toward trying to present Magic as timeless—a hilarious point since the game had been around for six years at that time—and accessible to everyone with the recent dumbing down of the rules.

The truth, of course, is that the game is still impossibly complex for many people, even today, but I do believe that R&D is closer to what I envisioned as their endgame than ever before.  It is infinitely easier to teach Magic to someone right now than it has ever been.  Yes, there are complicated elements and odd corner cases, but for the most part, it is possible and I have taught a friend to play with those sample decks they give out in stores in about 30 minutes or less, and we will have fun playing.  As much fun as I had in 2003?  Probably not, but a damn good time is had nonetheless for someone whose board game experience was limited to an unfortunate Sorry! party when she was twelve and Words with Friends on her iPhone since.

I think that it is unlikely that someone can argue the reality that Magic is closer to Chess or Monopoly than it has ever been, and I think that means the company can continue to move away from the Pro Tour model of the past towards something with far more Grand Prix and those type of tournaments, all of which are incomprehensibly more profitable than PTs. 

Where I’d Like to Go

With all that out of the way, I want to list my dream for the Pro Tour.  I’ve tried to keep it as realistic as possible, using an easily identifiable model for comparison.

       1)      Start by selling the Pro Tour to StarCity or a similar company.
       2)      That company runs the tournaments, provides judges and product, and is responsible for developing marketing, etc.
       3)      To pay for these associated costs, sell tournament sponsorships.  This will require a dedicated sales staff to develop relationships with major corporations who might be interested in doing so, but the beauty of our game is that there is an unlimited pool of incredibly talented employees who would give their left arm to work in a Magic related field.  (Having worked for a major national corporation for almost five years, I have been involved in conversations where HR actually brought up Magic and the ridiculous ease with which WotC can hire employees that most companies have to pay headhunters to try and attract)
      4)      Create a stable environment with tournaments that run on the same weekends and same times every year.  Remember, the Grand Prix can stay with Wizards, since those no longer provide invitations to the Pro Tour anyway, and it is possible that the two companies could coordinate scheduling plans since the new Pro Tour would have a set schedule that Hasbro could schedule around.
a.       I would start with 15 events stretching from May until November (so that the final Chase for the Championship could end coordinating with the holiday shopping season, building interest for the brand and casual players)
b.      For example:
                                                               i.      Second Weekend in May: Tournament
                                                             ii.      Fourth Weekend in May: Tournament
                                                            iii.      Second Weekend in June: Major
                                                           iv.      Fourth Weekend in June: Tournament
                                                             v.      Second Weekend in July: Tournament
                                                           vi.      Fourth Weekend in July: Tournament
                                                          vii.      Second Weekend in August: Major
                                                        viii.      Fourth Weekend in August: Tournament
                                                           ix.      Second Weekend in September: Tournament
                                                             x.      Fourth Weekend in September: Tournament
                                                           xi.      Second Weekend in October: Start of the “Chase”, Major
                                                          xii.      Fourth Weekend in October: First Cut of the Chase, Tournament
                                                        xiii.      Second Weekend in November: Second Cut of the Chase, Tournament
                                                        xiv.      Third Weekend in November: Third Cut of the Chase, Tournament
                                                         xv.      Fourth Weekend in November: World Championship, Major
      5)      In this system, all tournaments would be open events with an entry fee except for the Majors, which would invite the top 200 Pro Points holders from each previous “season”, in a style similar to the old Master Series.  The other 100 participants of the Major events would be invited based on recent performance—the Top 16 from each of the 3 immediately preceding tournaments, with invites passing down, 40 PTQ slots and 12 sponsor exemptions.
      6)      The Pro Point system would be brought back along with the PPC, to cultivate a professional lifestyle.  The PPC would be run by the Tour and paid for through revenue generated by advertising and the Pro Tour Store.
      7)      Notice, too, that this leaves literally dozens of weekends for WotC to continue to schedule Grand Prix throughout the year, and coordinates with their own plans for the brand.
      8)      The cost of each of the Majors will be fixed at $4M
a.       Broken down approximately to $750K prize money, $1.25M venue costs (including staff, etc), $2M in plane tickets, PPC expenses, related costs
                                                               i.      Prizes for the Majors would be
1.       $200K for 1st
2.       $100K for 2nd
3.       $50K for 3rd and 4th
4.       $15K for 6-8th
5.       ($510K) $8,000 for 9-16th (64,000)
6.       $4,000 for 17th through 32nd (64000)
7.       $2,000 for 33rd through 64th  (64000)
8.       $1,000 for 65th through 128th
9.       $200 for 129th through 300th
      9)      The feeder tournaments would each cost $250,000 to put on, with a scaling prize pool based on paid entry fees with $50,000 added to the pool
    10)   This design packages each Pro Tour Major Event to sponsors as a less than $3M total investment by a single sponsor (if they wanted to put on their own event with exclusive signage and branding) with revenue and advertising generated by the 3 feeder tournaments.
a.       For example, 3M Corporation Sponsors Pro Tour Duluth, Pro Tour Madison, Pro Tour Omaha, and Pro Tour 3M Championship in Minneapolis.
     11)   If it sounds like a pipe dream because of the inflated pay outs and costs, keep in mind that Target Corporation spent over $1B in advertising during fiscal 2010, meaning that the sales staff of the new Pro Tour would only have to provide enough incentive to convince an ad exec to allocate 0.3% of their advertising revenue on this promotion.
     12)   MLG – an independent gaming tour, has had continued success with games that are played by far fewer individuals world-wide than Magic, and they are still growing, with web presence on ESPN3 and other outlets.

I could go on and spend even more of my time developing an abstract for a business that is not likely ever going to include me in its design or execution.  I’m not going to.  The point is that it could be done, and for considerably lower revenues than people expect.  I’m sure you have friends like mine, who with limited previous business experience and no direct capital were able to raise $750,000 to start their own comic book store.

It is possible to scale the numbers back even more, I could see a Pro Tour with a $1M total prize over the course of a year still having success.  I put this model together because I think it fosters an environment most conducive to a real professional lifestyle. 

As it seems WotC is hell-bent on destroying what remains of the Pro Tour we recognize, I strongly advocating the evolution of the game towards something along these lines.  It may be an exercise in futility, but I would love to see it come about, and I hope there are enough people who share my passion that it might someday happen.


(Innistrad limited in the next article.  I promise.)

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