“The Future of Magic Esports” has been announced, and it does a lot of things very well. However, like any Magic announcement, it’s confusing and not without faults, so let’s break it down.
The MPL essentially has two tiers that are closer to Gold and Platinum Pro Levels. 24 players will make up the MPL proper and get up to $50,000 in appearance fees (about twice what Platinum Pros used to get) per year and they’re invited to every Players Tour (PT), every PT Final, and every Arena Mythic Invitational. 46 players will make up the Rivals League and they’ll be invited to every regional PT but not the PT Finals or the Arena Mythic Invitationals (though they will be invited to a new Rivals Mythic Qualifier). However, they’ll also get up to $20,000 in appearance fees (unlike the difference between Gold and Platinum, Rivals versus MPL is a difference in which tournaments they qualify for, not just how much money they get).
At first I didn’t know if these numbers are what players should expect to earn and if “up to” just meant “if they attend everything,” or if there’d be additional hoops and strings involved and players would actually earn considerably less on average. I’ve since received confirmation that it’s just a matter of attendance.
The MPL also no longer includes streaming contracts. WotC does have streaming contracts with some players, and those will now be up to their discretion rather than tied to the MPL, which honestly seems like a better way of doing things (this fact is not part of this announcement).
The tabletop PTs that all the qualifiers feed are now regional tournaments that are divided into Americas, Europe, and APAC. The American PTs will look basically the same as old PTs in number of players and prizes. The others will be comparable EV with fewer players and less money. This cuts down on the number of intercontinental flights players will have to take. WotC haven’t announced how these events will be scheduled.
We have nine Regional PTs and three Finals PTs. It would make the most sense to space these out so that there can be a major tournament every month, but knowing Wizards, I wouldn’t be surprised if the PTs for each region are either on the same or roughly consecutive weeks. Obviously this means things will continue to not really be tied to set releases, and if they’re at different times, formats for PTs from different regions will look pretty different.
Arena looks to be functioning pretty similarly to what we’re used to, with three very-high-paying Invitationals per year. There’s also a new set of tournaments called Mythic Point Challenges that we don’t have any details on.
The World Championship will include the winners of each PT finals (3 players), and the winner of each Mythic Invitational (3 players). This announcement doesn’t specify the other slots, but if it’s like the current system it would include the Top 4 MPL, Top 4 non-MPL, and previous World Champion, plus presumably one other slot somehow. This presumably sixteen-player, but maybe something different, tournament will offer $1,000,000 in prizes.
Premier Series events like our very own SCG Tour will offer qualifications to the (regional) PTs.
- WotC is putting over ten million dollars into players’ hands in the 2020-2021 season, which is a big step up.
- Paper Magic and the Players’ Tour aren’t going anywhere. This system includes robust support with more tournaments and more players having a chance to compete in PT events.
- The path to qualify for everything is reasonably concrete and largely merit-based. All slots in the MPL come from earning points in tournaments. There are still discretionary slots, however; six of the 46 players in the Rivals league are fully up to Wizards and discretionary slots are still, as far as we know, fairly important for earning Mythic Points via Arena Invitationals, which offer two slots in the MPL.
- There’s a clear safety net for current MPL players. Two-thirds of them will stay in the MPL from year to year, four of them will compete in a sixteen-player tournament where the Top 25% are back in the MPL, and four of them become Rivals.
This section is going to be much longer and more detailed. That doesn’t mean this announcement is generally bad, or that the future of Magic is bad; it’s just that things that are good are pretty clearly good and require little explanation, where things that are bad are more of a matter of opinion and require more explanation.
Complications in Historical Significance
We now have two levels of the PT – the regionals and the finals. This is honestly mostly great, in that it offers more money and more chances to compete to the Magic community, but it does throw a wrench in historical comparisons. This isn’t a big deal and is something we have to accept with any change, but it matters.
I think Magic players in general like to tell themselves that they care more about money than pride and status than they really do. Most players who compete in PTs are adults with other careers. Winning money is great, but largely because it offers validity and to their hobby and excuses chasing the dream to people who don’t get it. When the PT is just a regional tournament that qualifies for a higher-level tournament, even if the prize is the same, it cuts into the prestige a little. When we look back, is a Regional PT Top 8 or win as impressive as an old PT Top 8 or win? What if the Regional PT is in Asia? Those are much smaller tournaments with less money. How does a Finals Top 8 fit in?
At the end of the day, obviously anyone who wins a PT of any variety is going to feel great about it, and I don’t think any of this is a big deal. When I say “it matters,” I mean, “I think this warrants a footnote,” not, “This is a disaster.” Nothing about this is a call for action – I don’t think anything should be done differently. I’m just anticipating some conversations that will come up.
This announcement focused on two groups of players: MPL players and “challengers” / “rivals,” those players just outside of the MPL who are trying to make it in, and how all of that will work; and PTQ-level players, people whose focus is on making it to their first PT. This announcement didn’t address what I see as the biggest problem this year’s shift in Organized Play has created – the removal of Bronze and Silver pros and points from GPs.
The current system is all about spiking. Spike a tournament to qualify for a Regional PT, spike a Regional PT to qualify for the PT Finals, spike enough tournaments and maybe you can be one of the seven or so new MPL players per year. Once you’re in the MPL, all that changes. They have a lot of chances and just need to stay out of the bottom to stay in the MPL, and even then they’re still in the Rivals league. When the MPL was first announced, I had concerns about how hard it would be to get in and how easy it would be to go from MPL status to nothing without the safety net of other pro levels. The path down has been expanded and that concern has been addressed, but the path up needs more rungs.
Players want achievable goals that they can set and work toward. With only an average of seven new members per year, the idea of getting into the MPL from outside is daunting enough that few if any will aspire to that specifically. That leaves the Rivals League to aspire to. That includes the Top 12 Mythic Point earners, the Top 12 Player Point earners, and the rest from people who are already in the MPL or Rivals League and discretionary slots.
Okay, so this larger stepping stone invites only the Top 12 players from all of tabletop Magic throughout the year, and that’s based on points that are only earned at PTs, which are incredibly top-heavy. What all of this means is that I believe it will be essentially impossible to make even the Rivals League without a PT Top 8, and realistically, just a Top 8 doesn’t get you very close.
In other words, this system has no stepping stones and no attainable goals to work for, no levels or titles or small honors you can earn along the way. When you qualify, you get one chance at a Regional PT and then you have to qualify again, though a good finish (presumably still 11-5 or equivalent) will give you another shot.
Agency and Stepping Stones
The PT has always been about selling an aspirational dream. I think this system groups players into those who are trying to make it to the MPL and those who are trying to make it to the PT, and sells those two dreams. This issue is that at this point, a huge portion of dedicated Magic players have already made it to the PT once or twice at some point in their life and are nowhere near competing for a slot in the MPL. For those players, making it to a single PT has stopped being the goal.
The dedicated players, the old GP grinders, all the old Bronze, Silver, and Gold pros, are trying to chain PTs together to make a run at being a PT regular. They’re not just trying to earn a single invite, and even more to the point, sometimes they are trying to earn a single invite, but they want to play in tournaments where a string of near-misses could get them that. Under the old system, if you were qualified for a Pro Tour and maybe had a decent run, you cashed, but just missed the 11-5 record to qualify again, you’d still walk away with a handful of Pro Points, and you could take to the GP circuit to try to earn the rest of the points to Silver to get another shot at the PT, and you could get those points through grinding out X-3 and X-4 finishes without ever making a GP Top 8.
These smaller achievable benchmarks offered players more agency about becoming a pro – rather than playing a bunch of qualifiers where after every Top 8 loss you’re back to square one, you could play the GP circuit where accumulating results could matter. And on the way, you could earn bragging rights for earning your first Pro Points, or becoming a Bronze or Silver Pro. There were more ways to earn titles and more titles to earn.
Ultimately, I think most adult Magic hobbyists are driven more by titles and qualifications than by actual prize money, and I think failure to offer these intermediate titles with points to work toward them is still a huge miss from this system. Without points of some sort, even if those points are just for qualifying for PTs, not for qualifying for the MPL, GPs don’t feel like GPs, which is to say, they’re not a circuit, they’re independent events, but I think a great community grew out of the fact that they were a circuit and I don’t think WotC should just drop that.
Magic OP is going to have its largest year, and despite fears that have grown from lack of communication, the PT isn’t going anywhere and WotC is clearly deeply invested in both tabletop and digital Magic.
Regional PTs are a clever solution to both issues with travel cost and massively increasing the total number of qualification slots that exist, which should give a lot more people a shot at the PT.
The path to joining and staying in the MPL has now been clearly defined, and it’s far easier to stay there than to get there, for better or worse.
It will be harder to qualify for multiple events, but easier to qualify for any single event. It remains to be seen if the expanded number of slots and opportunities to qualify will be enough for former Silver and Gold Pros to play in large numbers of consecutive PTs by individually qualifying for each of them.
Personally, I believe the move to separate GPs from the PT is still a mistake that hasn’t been corrected, and intermediate tiers of benefits that are more attainable are valuable to Magic OP.