Pro Magic Player Protests World Championships, Hoping To Change The Pro Scene

Gerry Thompson (Image: Magic: The Gathering)

Magic: The Gathering pro player Gerry Thompson says he is protesting this weekend’s World Championship event, the game’s most prestigious tournament, citing complaints about how Magic publisher Wizards of the Coast is handling its pro scene.

Thompson is a two-time winner of Magic’s Grand Prix and, in 2016, he earned first place at the Pro Tour. Achieving that level of success with the ever-changing card game’s constructed format requires a significant amount of time studying Magic sets, learning opponents’ strategies and building decks.

In a Reddit post today, Thompson wrote that one of the difficulties with the pro scene is that Wizards of the Coast does not pay professional players a living wage.

For 10 years, Thompson has had concerns over the way Wizards of the Coast handles Magic’s pro scene, he told Kotaku over the phone from his hotel room in Las Vegas, where the tournament is currently underway. Now, he said, “enough is enough”.

When asked why he initiated the protest on the day of the tournament, Thompson said, “I knew I was gonna do this for about a month and a half... Me doing this the day of the event means the tournament is going to be short a player. It is going to be a thing. Even if people don’t see my Reddit post or tweet, people are going to ask why there are 23 players. It was calculated.”

Magic players can earn money from prize pools, and sometimes Wizards of the Coast pays for travel and appearance fees for certain high-level players. The company doesn’t pay players a salary, however.

Thompson conceded that this should not be a requirement, but he went on to write in his post, “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 added that he, and other pros, have had to pay for their own flights to tournaments, a complaint that arose during 2016’s #PayThePros conversation, in which Magic pros argued they should be better compensated for their role in the game’s success.

Magic now has more pro tours, which means bigger prize pools, but qualifying for a chance to win that money also costs a lot of money and time. Worse, as he added on the phone to Kotaku, players in Latin America and other regions have more difficulty earning a shot to enter the Pro Tour.

Thompson also took issue with Wizards of the Coast’s supposed lack of marketing for its big competitive tournaments and star Magic players. He argued that this might stunt the pro scene: “Wizards does not promote its players well... Professional players are the least utilised tool at WotC’s disposal. Many of them have larger Twitter followings than WotC’s official accounts.”

He continued:

WotC is used to being in a position of power and leveraging that however they can... I want WotC to know that its player base cares about these issues and are willing to sacrifice in order to demonstrate that. At the end of the day, we all love Magic and want it to be the very best version of itself that it could possibly be. We have shown that we care by continuing to play the game and hoping that things get better, but that clearly hasn’t worked.

The prize pool for this weekend’s event is $US300,000 ($411,209), with a $US100,000 ($137,070) first place prize. The majority of players responding to Thompson’s post on Magic: The Gathering’s subreddit appear to be supporting his decision to bow out of the tournament.

When Kotaku asked about Thompson’s claims, a Wizards of the Coast representative declined to comment, but sent Kotaku a statement about Thompson’s protest, which said, “We wish this weren’t the case, but we respect his desire to make his voice heard.”

The representative noted that Wizard uses pro players as consultants who help design what the “Pro Club” looks like, and added, “There’s still room to grow and this is going to be a big year as we continue to improve Pro Magic in 2019 and beyond.”


    interesting. if you want to have a level of proffesionalism that demands respect then look into sponsors. most sport s player don't earn their money from the competition. in fact if they were paid for entirely the drive to win overall would be lesser if they got money just for turning up. a sponsor though... that puts pressure on the players to perfom well and can lead to some high wages as well.

      Yep, this is the answer. The problem is that Magic is grandfathered in before the time of e-sports and now they can't figure how to break into that world.

        Sponsors fill a roll, but what and who? I just don't think you can apply it here. The cards come from one source... The company that makes mats to play on? bet wizards have an official one? Red bull/energy drink? Gaming/play chairs?

        Sponsors work for car racing because cars are made form tons of performance parts, it works in e sports because you need graphics cards and keyboards to play on. It works for main stream sports because the sponsors brand fits the sports image.

          I expect energy drinks would be a big one. I played in a few mid-calibre Magic tournaments in the past and the difference in performance when you are exhausted towards the end of the day is vast. I once lost the fourth and maybe higher place on a 200-people tournament by making a mistake that would shame somebody just learning the rules.

    If the competition doesn't generate enough money to have more than a $300K prize pool, I doubt it generates enough to pay players a salary. Which players would even get the salary anyway, since the competition requires qualifying first?

      It gets a bit more complicated than that WotC basically pushes the pro scene and tournaments because thats the biggest way to keep people invested on a card game that rotates every few months which requires investment if you want a constant stream of players who are willing to rebuild and buy/create new decks with every new meta.

      From what i can recall there is an insane amount of investment required to even hit that pro stage and very little pay off aside from the supposed "fame" of being a top pro.

      Whilst i do agree a salary would probably be stretching it a bit far a decent incentive for pros besides the tournament earnings would help things more as no pro scene and you will get an even dwindling amount of players willing to constantly invest per meta change

        I think you're overestimating the impact the pro scene has on the bread-and-butter amateur competitions. Draft is popular at all levels of play and it's the biggest revenue earner as far as competitive play goes. When I was a judge a while back, when I oversaw low level competitions most people didn't even know there was a 'pro' scene, and those low level ones dwarfed the higher level ones like the nationals.

        Even in Thompson's reddit thread, most of the replies aren't actually talking about his argument, they're talking about how they didn't even realise Worlds was on right now. The upper tiers of play just aren't that popular or influential on the hobby as a whole, much as Wizards wants to push it as a pro sport.

    There's no way MtG is as profitable as the e-sports scene. I don't see how this could work, paying the pros directly would cost an arm and a leg.

    I mean they have to face facts that it's a niche and will never pull in audiences or sponsors like esports. MTG tourneys on twitch barely pull 2k-3k viewers where's DOTA, LoL and CSGO pull in 50k-100k+ viewers.

      Do their more direct competition, such as Heartstone, also pull better numbers?

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