SCG Daily – Being Ted Knutson

So, you want to know what it’s like to run the best Magic site around and do coverage for the Pro Tour? Today, Teddy Card Game takes you way behind the scenes and gives you his opinion of what it’s like to be him.

Greetings. It’s been a while. Since I wrote a Daily, anyway. It’s not that I don’t like the Dailies, it’s just that I tend to be a little busy doing other stuff to bang out five mini articles in a week, even if my average single article length tends to exceed the “minimum” for the entire week of a Daily series. So what I’m actually saying here is that I have no idea why I haven’t done a stint on the Daily since last year at this time. For now I choose to blame it on the rain.

Last time I was banging these out, I was either doing Ask the Editor (which was a lot of fun), or my travel diary from the first time I actually left the United States for foreign shores (also quite fun). This time I’m going to focus more on the latter and fill in some of the essays that I wrote while visiting London this year, while probably composing a new volume or two of “Tales to Tell” though they certainly pale in comparison to what Cunningham has written in a similar vein. We can’t all be masters.

A word of warning before we start. The topics this week are not necessarily going to be about Magic. In fact, there may be no Magic talk whatsoever in several of them. However, all of them came about because of Magic, meaning I was traveling for the game, encountered new cultures, visited new countries, and thought new things because of my travels. I get a lot from the game and at this point it’s fair to say that it impacts pretty much every part of my life. These articles are meant to be a reflection of that. Hopefully you’ll find these forays enjoyable, but if not, no hard feelings.

If I don’t do something silly like change my mind, Tuesday and Wednesday will be travel essays, Thursday will be about writing and writers, and Friday will be Ask the Editor (any lingering questions you have should be e-mail to Mail us at https://sales.starcitygames.com/contactus/contactform.php?emailid=2).

We kick this shindig off this week with the most important part of the week: Me.

Being Ted Knutson

For starters, I don’t want your pity and I don’t need sympathy. My life is pretty freaking good as it is and at times it probably crosses over into awesome. When I rant I do it for catharsis, because I need to vent. Like most people, when I get pissed, I need to complain about it to get over things. That is, you know, how I work. Anyway, what I write here is meant to be edifying, so that you can understand what it’s like to edit StarCityGames.com and maybe so you can get a glimpse of the man pulling the levers behind the curtain.

I was born in East Chicago, Indiana in 1976. My parents kept moving south in Indiana while I was growing up and we eventually landed in an area surrounded by corn fields (a common occurrence in that state), though we were in the Chicago broadcasting area, so that’s what I associate as “home.” You know that Saturday Night Live skit where they spoof the Real Word and Mike Myers says, “I’m from Dublin. Well actually I’m from just outside of Dublin, but I always just say I’m from Dublin because it’s too long to explain being from just outside of Dublin,” except he makes it actually funny? Yeah, I’m from Chicago.

I was considered a problem student in school, in spite of being in the “gifted and talented” program. The truth about this label was that yes, I was a little lazy and perhaps a bit loud and disruptive, but mostly I was just trying not to be bored. The rest of my life, and I suspect the rest of most of yours, has largely been the result of trying to avoid boredom. Objectively, it seems a little sad to let one’s life be so utterly dominated by something to seemingly petty, but all the wishing and clapping of hands in the world can’t bring Tinkerbell back alive on this one. Boredom is a little piece of death, staring you in the face. It only makes sense to try and avoid it.

For the first twelve years of my life I was a fat kid. Things were so bad that in my last year of Little League they didn’t have pants quite big enough to fit me, so every time I threw a pitch the snap on my pants came unbuttoned. It was a good thing I threw hella-hard, or else I would have been made fun of unmercifully for that. I eventually hit a growth spurt and graduated high school at 6’2″ 165 pounds. Losing all the fat was like Samson getting his hair chopped off – I was still a good pitcher (I went undefeated my junior year), but I no long threw hella-hard and I probably looked like a newborn deer when I moved, all elbows and knees, graceful as a stump.

For whatever reason, my parents decided that I should get a job my senior year in high school so that I could help pay for college when I went to college. This meant they did not want me playing baseball and we fought about it until I neither had a job nor played baseball that spring. Welcome to the land pyrrhic victories. This was made all the more excruciating by the fact that I ended up with a full-ride National Merit scholarship to The University of Oklahoma about a month after baseball started. It’s one of the few things from my childhood I retain any bitterness about. This general lack of bitterness is my personal excuse for why I don’t write more like Tim Aten or Geordie Tait.

Fast forwarding a few years, I got married at the age of 20 to a gorgeous, smart girl I met as part of the OU National Merit Eugenics program. The idea here was that the Scholars Program roomed National Merit students on adjoining floors (half girls and half guys), and then made them go to some social events together. Obviously this plan yielded quite a few geek hookups and more than a couple geek marriages, which would then presumably give you geek babies and generations of geniuses pouring their money back into the University as reward for helping them get sexed. I don’t know if this program is quite working out how they wanted it to, but the football programs i a f***ton better than it was when I was there, so the Sooner nation is happy. (Except for this year, where they almost lost to Baylor at home – a team that had never defeated them – on Saturday. But I digress.)

Aaanyway, I didn’t get married at that age because I got Alena pregnant, or because I was overwhelmingly Christian, or just plain crazy or anything like that. No, the reason I got married was far more insidious. Yes kiddies, I was a romantic. This is not the place to discuss the perils of romance, at least partially because it would take an entire book to adequately cover the pitfalls (and pratfalls) alongside the benefits, but let’s just say that you need to be careful with it and leave it at that. I’m also not going to turn bitter old man on you and recommend against romance, but I do recommend you wait a bit longer than we did to tie the noose. This is in spite of the fact that eight years later my wife and I are still together.

After college, I attended graduate school for International Political Economy at Emory University while my wife went up to Bahstun to get her Masters at Hahvahd. I would eventually drop out “because the time commitment to get my doctorate was not worth it.” Part of this is true. The tech sector was booming (I was a geek who knew computers) and $11,000 a year in Atlanta might as well be food stamps for all it gets you for a standard of living. However, the rationale quoted is a lie. I didn’t drop out of grad school because of the money, I dropped out because I was depressed. I didn’t understand this at the time and I certainly wasn’t capable of talking about it, but it’s the actual reason for what happened.

This was the first time I felt I had really failed at something.

A lot of highly-intelligent people are prone to depressions, and gamers seem particularly so. Someone recently theorized that this is one reason why games like World of Warcraft are so popular and so incredibly addictive for our people. They provide a form of social interaction while constantly giving the player a feeling of accomplishment, satisfying all sorts of needs in a typical depressive. Smart people often want and need to feel successful/productive to be happy. The quest for levels, goals, loot, and accomplishments seem to satisfy this for most people. Online RPGs are also competitive affairs, which further enhances the experience, though they are dissimilar to Magic in that at the end of the day there is only one winner, while World of Warcraft has thousands of level 60’s. From my past experiences, I think there’s quite a bit of merit in those ideas. It might explain why I’m a bit paranoid about the prospect of venturing back into such a realm, since maintaining balance in life is occasionally difficult as it is.

I guess what I mean to say with all of this is that if you are often listless and miserable, talk to somebody about it. There’s a decent chance you are depressed, and you don’t have to let it kick the sh** out of you year after year if you don’t want to. It’s not your fault. You aren’t a weaker person because of it. The only weakness involved in the whole scenario is not looking for help when you realize you need it.

Moving along, I did in fact enter the tech sector, moved up to database troubleshooting, and then eventually became a project manager for a pharmaceutical company. Somewhere in the middle there, I moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, where my wife began pursuing her doctorate. Fast forward a whole bunch and I quit my high-paying project manager job at the height of the tech sector unemployment crunch because my boss was completely psycho and I was having a particularly hard time finding interesting work. I did odd jobs to earn money, but let me tell you – being out of work is hell on depressives. At this time Star City was in the process of looking for someone to take over editing duties from The Ferrett so he could become the webmaster and do all sorts of techie things to upgrade the website, our shopping cart, and sundry things both cool and mundane that make the business run better. They approached me about the job at Pro Tour: New Orleans, and I accepted because, hey… I didn’t have anything else I needed to do.

The Part Where Things Get Relevant (Mostly)

A couple of weeks ago I saw a chat on IRC where people were talking about editing as a profession and someone actually said, “Well not every editing job is as glamorous as editing Star City.” I actually choked on the beer I was drinking at the time, since my job is anything but glamorous. Don’t get me wrong, there are perks involved (setting your own schedule is certainly one of them), but I can’t for the life of me think of anytime where this position has ever approached adjectives like that with anything other than the lovely ladies of the cheesecake section.

For those who care about the day-to-day activities of the job, I work from home. My day usually starts about 10:30AM, when I roll out of bed and check e-mail. I then typically putz around for a bit before getting in the shower and starting to work. Work then consists of the following tasks, which typically take between five and ten hours, depending on what time of year it is and what else is going on:

  • Deleting truckloads of Russian spam occupying inbox (Rumor has it I am something of a David Hasslehoff to Russian spammers.)

  • Answering e-mail

  • Chatting with writers about content

  • Figuring out what articles I am publishing today and sending the Premium ones to Yawgatog for choppery

  • Rejecting articles we are not interested in

  • Answering more e-mail

  • Actual editing of articles

  • Formatting the articles in HTML to post on the page

  • Uploading Yawg’s work to the site and then adding images to the html versions

  • Uploading the articles to the page

  • Writing the blurbs for each article

  • Double-checking the front page to make sure I didn’t screw anything up

There are a bunch of tasks that only happen every couple of weeks as well, but talking about them would bore you almost as much as it would me. Aside from the tasks listed above, I also actively recruit new writers and wrangle content for Premium and SCG Daily. This probably sounds simple. It is not. Most players would rather be playing Magic than writing about it, and with MODO around they can play Magic at any hour of the day thus giving them further excuses not to write. When we first discussed the concept of Premium, I actually told Pete I was doubtful we’d be able to post two articles a day like that for an extended period of time. Thus far I have proven myself wrong and hopefully will continue to do so into perpetuity.

When you add up the time on SCG-related tasks in a given week it’s usually a bit over 40 hours, and can approach 60 during States and Regionals time. The pay isn’t amazing, but I still enjoy my job after two years at the helm and I’ve enough life experience to know that that counts for a lot.

Conspiracy Theories and Other Forum Nonsense

I consider the Daily readers special, so I am going to come clean about something right here and now. I am actively involved in a conspiracy regarding this website and I knowingly participate in it every day. In fact, every part of my job is a great conspiracy in that I specifically try to make you, the readers, want to buy Premium, even if you already have it. I do it in the articles that I choose to make Premium, in the way that I sell them in the blurbs, in the way that I shake my booty at you, and in the topics I suggest our Featured Writers write about. Some might simply call this my job, but I can see where those who like to play a little fast and loose with the language would whisper conspiracy in the darkest alleyways of the community. In a way, I am a foul temptress interested in exciting your desires. I wouldn’t blame you if you hated me just a little, but any more than that is more than I deserve.

Sadly, what I am not involved in is any conspiracy that involves “selling more singles” or ideas of similar idiocy. Nossir, my tasks are far too mundane for that particular blend of strategic scheming. I can’t even win at Magic lately – what makes you think I could pull something so dastardly as this off? I don’t have anything to do with the card side of the business and I’m pretty sure the folks on that side of the business like it that way. This might be because they have seen how I store my card collection, and it scares them or it might be just because they believe I’d be incompetent at it. I try not to think too much about it. We don’t post articles because they might sell cards that we have too many of and it’s insulting to everyone involved to suggest this is true. Articles are chosen because they are interesting, fresh, or contain good writing. Anything beyond that is bonus and I never consider for even a nanosecond whether article X will help us sell cards. If this breaks your personal world paradigm, perhaps you should need another hobby that involves the release of stress and pent up frsutration.

Speaking of our forums… now we come to one of the more frustrating elements of running the content side StarCityGames.com. Imagine doing whatever job you do as an occupation sitting on the mound of Yankee Stadium. The stadium is filled to the brim with rabid fans interested in everything that you do and who aren’t afraid to tell you about it every time you f*** up or when they disagree with a choice you made, regardless of whether it’s minor or not. That’s what running this site is like. I’m certainly not perfect at my job, but I try not to give folks ammunition to mow me down either. Whether or not I screw up and miss something every weekday of every year, 98% of the time I’m at least trying not to suck. That doesn’t stop people from sending the occasional letter to myself or to Pete suggesting I am wholly unqualified to do my job. What I do is very public, so for the most part I try to just suck it up and do better.

Sadly, you can’t make everyone happy, and while all the feedback was exhilarating for some time, I’m finally growing weary of it. In fact, at this point I’d go so far as to say for me, reading the Article and Site Feedback forum is lowering my quality of life. I can be having a good day and then some buffoon who actually has no idea what they are talking about makes disparaging comments about the site/an article and sets me off into a Demolition Man style rage for hours. I love the fact that so many people care about what happens on the site – I think that sort of energetic fanbase makes us better than we would be otherwise – but over time you wear down and it becomes tougher to differentiate the truly useful from the merely inflammatory and inane. In countless sports, they tell new managers not to read the papers. The forums are “our papers,” and it’s probably time I heeded that advice.

This likely won’t affect many (or even any) I’ve decided it’s not worth the frustration levels involved, so aside from the forums for my own articles, I’m going to cut back on forum interaction. If you need or want to contact me, ship me an e-mail – I read all of them even if I don’t respond to every one.

My Other Job

Editing Star City is my full-time job, but in June of 2004 I was lucky enough to get involved with Wizards of the Coast covering Grand Prix and Pro Tours. That summer was a poor one for my family because my wife’s stipend runs out in May and we were living on just my lowly editor’s salary at the time, so I was looking for ways to pick up extra money. I had heard that Toby Wachter would no longer be allowed to cover Magic because he was taking a job with Upper Deck, so I e-mailed some folks in Renton to see if I could help out. They took a look at the coverage work I had done in the past and invited me to do U.S. Nationals. This helped cover bills that summer and opened the door to all sorts of experiences I never anticipated I’d get to have.

Since U.S. Nationals in Kansas City, I have covered every Pro Tour, and Grand Prix on four continents, plus been to four of the first five Vs. System Pro Circuits. Magic is singularly responsible for allowing me to visit Australia, London, Mexico City, most of Japan, and in a month, mainland China. Even after 18 months of living it, it all still seems pretty ridiculous upon reflection.

Few people ever believe this unless they have done it once themselves, but covering a Grand Prix solo is one of the toughest things I have ever done. It gets easier with time, but it’s also somewhat weird because you often work in a vacuum of feedback unless people were really dissatisfied with something. Like anything else in writing, you don’t hear much about the good work you do, but people will certainly let you know if they are pissed off. If you ever find yourself really liking a story someone does in coverage, take a second to let us know so that we know to repeat that in the future.

My addition to the coverage team has also enhanced my job at SCG as well. My presence at events makes it easier to recruit writers for our website and make friends in the community. Perhaps an even larger bonus is the variety of coverage itself helps break up the monotony of editing. I’m not sure I’d still be doing this if I wasn’t able to completely change speeds and get out to events on the weekends. Being able to travel has also put me in touch with some players and people that have developed into close friends over the years, something I will always be thankful for. However, juggling coverage and editing SCG can be tough sometimes. When I do both jobs, I typically end up working 70 or so hours in a week, and that doesn’t include time spent in airports and on a plane. You might find this surprising, but it gets old quickly. I nearly killed myself this summer because I got greedy and took on too many extra jobs. Don’t ever work four weeks plus four weekends in a row if you can help it. Especially don’t do it twice in four months. Also don’t work 13 of 17 weekends in a row unless someone is holding a real f***ing gun with real f***ing bullets to your head. The sacrifices required to do so are likely not worth the money nor what it does to your body and psyche afterwards. I got home from Mexico City and didn’t even want to leave the house for two weeks because I was physically and mentally exhausted.

If you still think what I do is glamorous and find yourself interested in following in my footsteps, my first suggestion is to start writing about the game and do so with frequency. Then attend some local Grand Prix and volunteer to help do coverage. If you are good at it and not exceedingly obnoxious, you will be probably be rewarded with some form of compensation and an invitation to help out again when the opportunity arises. You have to become a writer in the community before anything else though.

What Are You Going to Do Next?

Well, right this very minute I’m going to go edit Tim Aten, but usually when someone asks this question (like my mom or people that commonly refer to themselves as “adults”) the interrogator is referring to my career. Since this is a question however, I’ll duck it for now and save the answer for Friday and Ask the Editor.

Random Factoids

  • The first time I drank alcohol was at my bachelor party the night before I got married. Technically this was still illegal.

  • I have been doing Mixed Martial Arts since before it was cool. This means I could probably beat you up, but it has never gotten me anything in life aside from feeling a little more secure when walking around rough city neighborhoods.

  • Gatherings at Pro Tours are still somewhat cliqueish, at least partially because writers have a different schedule than the players. In spite of being friends with a decent chunk of the player populace, I typically find myself hanging out with BDM, Jon Becker, Flores, Buehler, and Greg Collins at the end of the day (plus The Potato and Coach Forsythe, when he is around). Of course, since these are some of my favorite people in the world, spending time with them is far from a hardship.

  • Yes, I know how lucky I am.

  • I threw two no-hitters as a kid. One was a 15 strikeout, 13 walk affair when I was 12. The other was the more normal sort in high school.

  • I flunked math one quarter in 8th grade because the teacher kept assigning these useless graphing projects that I refused to do. Apparently they ended up being 33% of our grade for that period. Whoops.

  • Some people might say that I have problems with authority. I tend to think of it more as having problems with stupid people.

  • I switched over to diet sodas earlier this year and it has had no real effect on my enjoyment of life or my body weight.

  • Lately, I spend far too much time writing. Like just now I wrote over four thousand words for a freaking Daily article. My parents always told me I needed to learn when to shut up.

This installment of the Daily has already gone on too long and I’m certain you’ve all stopped reading by this point, with a promise that you’ll check back next week when someone decent is writing this column. This suits me fine, since I can now say mean things about you and everyone else tomorrow and I won’t even have to worry about the repercussions, making it exactly like your Live Journal.

For those who stuck around, I hope gleaned some tiny morsel of enjoyment from this installment of self-indulgence.

Tomorrow: Why Jacques Chirac was right.

Teddy Card Game

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