There’s nothing like a good rant to start the day off right. It’s been too long since I’ve sounded off on things that annoy me within and/or without the Magic world, so here goes.
[A large political section of this article was deleted by the editorial staff. If you want to know more about what it said, please contact Chad at chad.ellis^ayt^comcastdotnet. -Knut]
Okay, enough about that stuff – particularly since I’m depressed knowing that the next Democratic candidate is likely to be Hillary Clinton and the Republicans will again fail to nominate someone I could vote for. Let’s talk Magic.
Let’s talk Hall of Fame.
First of all, I love the Hall of Fame. I think it’s an excellent promotional idea, a great way of honoring the best players of all time and I think the time is right – the Pro Tour is sufficiently established that a Hall of Fame is cool rather than cheesy. That said, there are some things I’d like to rant about.
First off, I don’t get to vote. How sad for me. Not really rant-worthy when I look at who does get to vote, but I like to think that I was just under the cut – how many people have a PT top 8 and have written The Dojo, Mindripper, Brainburst, magicthegathering.com and, of course, Star City? It’s like I’m almost as good a writer as these guys and almost as good at Magic as those guys, but they’re picking by best in class rather than on the average. Plus there’s that whole year and a half that I took off from the game. Stupid job.
OK, on to real HoF rants. I’ll start with people deciding that it isn’t enough that the criteria given by Wizards are subjective – they are going to invent their own and then use them to justify whatever picks they happen to want to make.
Prominent people who can vote (as well as folks like me who can’t and thus are bitter, vengeful and prone to petty rants) are explaining their selections and the rationale behind them. As I noted last time, the criteria are open ended and thus highly subjective and everyone is going to interpret them differently. Witness Zvi – who argues that anyone who doesn’t have a perfect score on integrity and sportsmanship shouldn’t get your vote – and Aaron Forsythe who said that Mike Long might have negative scores in both categories but could still merit a vote if you conclude that his contributions in other areas are large enough. I fall between the two (although much closer to Zvi), but understand where they are each coming from. So let me be clear – while I may disagree with (or even rant about) someone’s personal interpretation of the five criteria, I think that it is perfectly legitimate and proper for each voter to interpret them.
I don’t think it’s legitimate or appropriate to make them up, but that seems to be what a number of fairly prominent voters are doing.
Gary Wise and I have hashed this out in the forums on magicthegathering.com, and I don’t want to single him out by any means. Mark Rosewater is the latest person who, in my opinion, has substituted his own criteria for the ones given by Wizards*. Here are some criteria that have snuck in to compete with, or flat-out replace, the ones given by Wizards:
Charisma – allegedly part of “performance” which, in my humble opinion, shows that there are limits to reasonable interpretation of criteria. Or maybe Rosewater thinks that “performance” in this case refers to things like acting ability – a player who juggles during a match might deserve Hall of Fame status?
Diversity, e.g. voting for at least one European, or voting for at most one member of YMG. There are certainly deserving Europeans on the ballot, but “being European” isn’t one of the criteria. Magic started out in the U.S. and it’s unsurprising that the early years were dominated by Americans. Years from now the best candidates may be all European and Japanese and I hope that no one votes in an American “for diversity’s sake” when that happens.
Historic relevance. To be fair, Rosewater has only said that he’s choosing his votes for this year based on historic relevance and is choosing among the ten or so people he feels are most deserving based on the five criteria.
There are others, but these are the ones I thought of off the top of my head. All of them are perfectly reasonable criteria, but they aren’t the criteria set out in the Hall of Fame document.
“May you live in interesting times.” – Chinese curse
Let me preface this next section by admitting that the whole “Mike Long” thing is personal to me. I was there when Mike cheated Darwin Kastle out of thousands of dollars by stacking his deck in a match with a trip to the Top 8 on the line. Rob Dougherty covered what happened in his classic “The Anatomy of a Cheating Method.” While Darwin screwed himself by forgetting to shuffle Mike’s deck, that no more excuses what Mike did than a person forgetting to lock their door excuses a burglar.
The issue isn’t just personal because one of my friends was among Mike’s victims. It’s personal because Magic is personal. I love the game. I’ve sunk countless hours into playing, testing, traveling to tournaments, writing articles and everything else involved. It makes me happy to see it thrive and it hurts me to see it tainted.
There’s no denying that Mike Long is one of the major figures in Pro Tour history. There is also no denying that he made things, including the Pro Tour, more “interesting”. What can be denied is that “interesting” is always good.
Prominent people have said that people cared more about the Pro Tour because Mike was on it. One went so far as to say that the Pro Tour might not even be around today were it not for Mike. And most recently, Rosewater said, “Mike Long has done more than any other player in the history of the Pro Tour to make it interesting. When Mike was involved, everybody cared. Sure they were all rooting for him to lose, but man did they care. Mike made the Pro Tour exciting. He made it tense. He made it interesting. More interesting than any other player on this list.”
For years I’ve heard people talk about Magic like it was Pro Wrestling – like we need “bad guys” to root against or no one will care. I’m here to call bull. (I’d call something more explicit, but this is a family site.)
When Mike Long was around, I was less interested in the Pro Tour, not more. I was less interested in following it, less interested in qualifying for it and less interested in succeeding at it. It wasn’t just Long, of course – it was the general acceptance of cheating.
I remember when Wizards finally decided to do something about the then-rampant cheating. Inevitably the pendulum probably swung too far (e.g. game losses for accidents), but few of us cared. We were just glad to see cheating get punished. The game is better today because Wizards made a clear statement: We don’t like cheating. We won’t tolerate cheating. We’re going to make a serious effort to ensure that the expected payoff for cheating is negative.
If Mike Long is inducted into the Hall of Fame, that statement goes out the window. The game’s most famous cheater will have been given a tremendous reward and will, if he chooses, be free to compete in any Pro Tour from now on. He’ll use his status to hawk his various Magic-related products and eventually he’ll be cheating on the Pro Tour again. If judges found it difficult to handle Long when he was just famous, how much harder will it be to punish him for cheating when cheating is what got him inducted into the Hall of Fame to begin with?
Vs. starts to look pretty good when the game you love is rewarding someone for being famously immoral.
And it is immoral, by any sensible definition of the term. If you cheat at your friendly game of Monopoly, that’s between you and your friends. I don’t respect it, but I’m not going to judge you**. If you cheat at a money-game of poker, that’s theft. If you cheat at the Pro Tour, when thousands of dollars are on the line, that’s theft. Mike Long isn’t just a cheater, he’s a thief.
I don’t want a thief being inducted to the Pro Tour Hall of Fame on the grounds that he was a famous thief, or a historically important thief or a charismatic thief. If I want that, I’ll rent Robin Hood.
Some of you disagree with me. That’s cool, and it seems like your opinion is recognized by the leadership. Wizards has treated Mike Long with kid gloves as long as I can remember, including setting his one suspension so that it didn’t inconvenience him with actually missing a Pro Tour. It seems fairly clear that Wizards believes that Mike Long’s “controversial” nature is a good thing for Magic and is happy to compromise their ethics to keep him around.
But for those of you that agree with me, make sure your voice is known. When someone, especially someone from Wizards, tells you that Mike Long made the Pro Tour more interesting or exciting, tell them that for you he made it less interesting and more tainted. Tell them it offends you to see “leaders” in the Magic community acting as though the theft of thousands of dollars is less important than the charisma of the person stealing. Tell them when an honest person gets knocked out of Day 2 or the Top 8 because someone cheated that you care more about the honest player’s loss than whether the person who cheated his way into Day 2 or the Top 8 is “colorful” or “a guy we love to hate” or any other such nonsense.
Tell them that when Wizards started clamping down on cheating you were thrilled because you wanted integrity-challenged players to know that cheating doesn’t pay. Tell them you don’t want those players to be sent a clear signal that cheating does pay as long as you manage to be “exciting” or “charismatic” or “controversial”.
Tell them you don’t want Wizards to reward cheats and thieves.
Mark Rosewater says that I don’t know what the Hall of Fame is about. He says, “It’s not a place to highlight just the good of the game. It’s a place to highlight the history of the game. And Mike is a key part of that history.”
If that’s true, then why are integrity or sportsmanship even among the criteria? If the Hall of Fame is just about celebrity or the absolute magnitude of someone’s impact, then don’t pretend that it’s about positive contributions, or integrity or sportsmanship. And please don’t reward inductees with money and an honor many people spend countless hours striving for – the right to play on the Tour.
If you want to record history, good and bad, then write a history. The notable BDM has been hired for the very purpose of preserving Pro Tour history. I doubt anyone would object to Mike Long getting his own chapter.
I can even suggest an appropriate title.
Hugs ’til next time,
*Yes, I recognize the irony in saying that Maro isn’t following the rules set out by Wizards, both because in some ways Maro is Wizards and because it’s his job to break the rules, at least in design. All the sadder.
** That’s for a vengeful God to do.