Wizards has announced the 2008 premier events schedule. On the plus side, Pro Tour Berlin, which I have been looking forward to for almost a year, has been announced. On the down side, Wizards has cut back to just three Pro Tours. Sure – Magic is dying: the fact that Grand Prix now routinely have over 1.5k players per event proves it.
Or maybe Wizards is putting their effort into the areas with the biggest return and most player support. Which is it? Let’s look at some numbers.
First, though, I’m really happy to see a PT: Berlin. Ja, Ich spreche ein bischen Deutsch. I also have relatives in Germany — although they live in Bavaria. I’ve spent most of my time in Germany down in that area. Speaking of which — how about PT: Munich? We could do that in October. We could use beer steins as counters, or as — well, beer steins!
On a side note, I once almost talked my way into getting sent to a professional conference in Munich during Oktoberfest. I had a speaking gig lined up, which would have covered most of the costs. My boss was good with it, but my boss’s boss wasn’t convinced.
I’ve never been to Berlin. I’m looking forward to it (provided the dollar does not crash completely.)
Enough about that, let’s look at the changes to the pro events. The big loser was the team Pro Tour. It is gone. The Pros complained mightily about the 2HG format last year. Players did not like it, and the fact that the tournament management software goes into major conniptions when pairing multiple draft pods was just icing on the cake. The pros really like three-man teams and team Rochester drafts. That is a nice, skill intensive format, but the average PTQ players out there hated it. The PTQ season for those PTs always struck me as a snooze-fest: articles, readership, and interest waned, and only Yu-gi-oh and Spoils seemed to be garnering interest.
Or maybe that was just me. I could probably dig up the data by checking hit counts with the StarCityGames.com folks, but I’m too lazy. Besides, crunching the numbers for the rest of this article has already taken me a couple days. I dun my werk alreadiz.
Let’s look at the changes in high profile events over time. Where possible, I will look at the number of events per season, then look at invitations and attendance for one Constructed PTQ each year, to the extent I can get at the data. First, though, I’ll provide this year’s schedule, for comparison.
Here’s a list of the high-profile events for 2008.
Pro Tour: Kuala Lumpur
Pro Tour: Hollywood
Pro Tour: Berlin (starts on Halloween)
Various National Championships
World Championships (Memphis, TN, USA, starting Dec. 11)
Grand Prix: 13 scheduled so far — more promised
Over time, the number of National Championships and regional events have fluctuated. In the early years, we had U.S. Nats, European Nats, and some sort of pan-Asian championship. (I could look that up, since I have the event history list printed out and lying less than six feet away, but I have dogs sleeping on my feet. I am not cruel enough to disturb them. Until I need another Mtn. Dew, that is.) Over time, the number of national and regional championships has risen. The point is that Wizards now supports a large number of significant regional championships — more now than in the past.
Okay, some areas have lost or consolidated championships. (I hear the last English National Champion might know something about that. [Yeah… NOW they give Pro Points to National Champions, grumble grumble… – Craig.]) Overall, though, the number of large scale championships is up from years past (e.g. before 1998, the only major events were the World Championship and — in 1997 — the Duelist International.)
I should probably put “supported” in quotes. The prize purses for good finishes at U.S. Nationals fell sharply a couple years ago. I assume that is true around the world.
Anyway, I am going to look at flagship events in years past. Here are the big events (ignoring championships other than Worlds) from previous years:
World Championships (New York, December 6-9, 2007)
Pro Tours: 4 (Valencia, San Diego, Yokohama, Geneva)
Grand Prix: 16
World Championships (Paris, November 29-December 3, 2006)
Pro Tours: 4 (Kobe, Charleston, Prague, Honolulu
Grand Prix: 20
World Championships (Yokohama, November 30-December 4, 2005)
Pro Tours: 5 (Los Angeles, London, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Nagoya)
Grand Prix: 24
World Championships (San Francisco, Sept. 1-5, 2004)
Pro Tours: 5 (Columbus, Seattle, San Diego, Kobe, Amsterdam)
Grand Prix: 25
World Championships (Berlin, Germany – August 6-10, 2003)
Pro Tours: 5 (New Orleans, Boston, Yokohama , Venice, Chicago)
Masters: 4 (Yokohama, Venice, Chicago, Houston)
Grand Prix: 22
World Championships (Sydney, Australia – Aug., 2002)
Grand Prix: 24
World Championships (Toronto, Ontario, Canada – Aug. 8-12, 2001)
Pro Tours: 5 (New Orleans, New York, LA, Tokyo, Barcelona)
Grand Prix: 35
World Championships (Brussels – Aug. 2-6, 2000)
Pro Tours: 4 (Chicago, New York, New York, Los Angeles)
Grand Prix: 22
World Championships (?)
Pro Tours: 5 (Chicago, London, Washington DC, New York, Los Angeles)
Grand Prix: 18
World Championships (Aug. 12-16, 1998)
Pro Tours: 4 (Rome, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles)
Grand Prix: 13
World Championships (Aug. 13-17, 1997)
Pro Tours: 5 (Mainz, Chicago, New York, Paris, Los Angeles)
Grand Prix: 9
World Championships (Aug. 14-18, 1996)
Pro Tours: 5 (Dallas, Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Columbus)
Anything look odd to you? Anything stand out? When I first started looking at this data, I was hoping to see that Wizards cut a Pro Tour, but added some offsetting Grand Prix. Well, here’s a simple graph of the number of GPs by year.
I’m really, really disappointed in that result. I had really hoped that I would see that Wizards is shifting money into Grand Prix, not just cutting. However, the data says that the number of Grand Prix have been following the same trend as Pro Tours and Nationals prize payouts: going down like a, well, like a thing that is going down really fast.
It’s too depressing to even come up with a funny simile.
Maybe it is time to panic.
There is no question that the Pro Tour helps drive play at all levels. Pro Tours are a source of drama, interest, technology and — equally importantly — netdecks. The next question is whether attendance at Pro Tours, or the Pro community, is dropping. If attendance falls, the Pro Tour will have problems providing the stories and events that keep the whole thing interesting. Individual pros can discuss whether they are motivated / interested in continuing to attend. I can only look at the numbers.
Is attendance falling? Or, as a corollary, is Wizards having to invite more people in order to have enough players attend? Let’s look at the numbers.
Pro Tour: Chicago, 2000
Players invited*: 529
Players attending: 327
Percent attendance: 62%
Pro Tour: New Orleans, 2003
Players invited*: 508
Players attending: 318
Percent attendance: 63%
Pro Tour: Honolulu, 2006
Players invited*: 529
Players attending: 410
Percent attendance: 78%
Okay – that’s Honolulu. That could be an exception — everyone wanted to go to Honolulu. Let’s look at another PT. I’ll look at one in Japan, to see if higher travel costs have an effect.
Pro Tour: Yokohama, 2007
Players invited*: 532
Players attending: 331
Percent attendance: 62%
* The “players invited” figure is inflated. Invitations go to the top players at Worlds, at the last Pro Tour, to the World Champion, and to others based on points. Those often overlap. In 2003, Kai Budde appears in the invitation list several times: World Champ, points, previous Worlds Top 32, previous Pro Tour Top 32, etc. For the old Pro Tours, the invitee list included the top 100 players, so even that overlapped. Now invites are also awarded on pro player levels, also causing overlaps.
What all this means is that the actual percentage of players attending a Pro Tour for which they qualified may be 70% or more. The important thing, however, is that the percent attending the events has held steady or increased. The numbers are not down, and Wizards is not having to invite more people to keep the numbers up.
Yes, we lost a PT. It was a team PT. Of all the PTs, teams is probably the least useful for the rest of the Magic world. Limited PTs provide drafting strategies for FNM drafts everywhere. Constructed PTs provide netdecks worldwide. Team Rochester draft formats provided inspiration and tech for those casual groups that do team Rochester drafts casually.
Al three of them.
Maybe that’s a loss. Maybe not. So far, all we have looked at is the PT / GP side of the fence. Magic actually is more than just the Pros. Magic also includes all the other players, at all the stores around the world. Let’s look at what Wizards is doing there.
The Most Participants for the $$$
What Wizards needs to do is to make sure that people keep playing the game. A lot of people. The Pro Tour is a big, expensive marketing tool. So are the more grass-roots marketing tools — the local and store tournaments. Both get people to play. Having just one or the other would be useless. It is clear that the Pro Tour could not exist without all the lesser tournaments that provide qualification — both at PTQs and at all the other tournaments that allow people to qualify on rating — and even to have ratings.
On the flip side, it is clear that Pro Tours help drive Magic sales. Think of all the collectible card games that have not had Pro Tours and organized play. Play much Harry Potter, or Call of Cthulhu, or — well, add your favorite here.
The secret is striking a balance.
Let’s look at relative numbers. I remember working sides at Worlds 2004 in San Francisco, and it was not all that busy. This year, sides in New York had a lot more players. [The side events at Worlds in Paris were absolutely manic — Craig.] Some of that was the free draft coupons (which could have been handled a lot better) — but some of that was clearly the “Win a Car” tournaments. A lot of people played in the “Vroom” events to qualify. The price of that car came out of something — probably some of the money saved by cutting a Pro Tour or some GPs. The question is whether that got more players to play Magic than spending the money on the Pro Tour. (Note — the money for the “Vroom” tournaments include the cost of the cards, plus the costs of the advertising, running the Vroom events, etc. I don’t know what that is, but it is certainly a tiny fraction of the costs of putting on a PT.)
In any case, I don’t have access to the sort of data needed to compare the effectiveness of Vroom tournaments and an addition PT or GP when examined as an advertising effort. Actually, evaluating an advertising program is difficult in any case, and something like this is the even more difficult than evaluating something like a Labor Day sale.
What we can evaluate is the number of players involved in various events. Let’s compare a Pro Tour and the Friday Night Magic program.
A Pro Tour has roughly 325 players. Side events will have maybe 1,500 more participants. A generous guess might put the number of players involved in a Pro Tour at around 2,000.
Let’s compare that with Friday Night Magic. The Wizards website shows that roughly 1,200 stores run FNM events. I’ll make a conservative estimate that each store each store gets just ten players, that means that roughly six times as many players participate in FNM on any given Friday than play at a Pro Tour venue during the entire four day event (and I’m not even going to consider PT “Super FNM” events, which overlap.)
FNM also brings in new players. Think back over your recent FNM experiences in the last month. Did you see new players? Beat a random scrub? Personally, I remember seeing four new faces in the last two weeks. That may not be typical. Let’s make a conservative assumption: each store sees just one new FNM player a month. Over the course of a year that means that the FNM program brings in almost fifteen thousand new tournament players a year.
These are Wizards’ bread and butter players. Wizards cannot survive if the only players are those looking to make a living off Magic. Those people are, basically, professional gamblers, and they have skills which translate well to another card game: Poker. Cards for that game cost a lot less, and don’t rotate.
In order to keep Magic going, Wizards needs the casual and competitive — the gambler and gamer — communities. It needs to spread its money around to grow all of those venues.
In the last couple years, some of the money that Wizards used to sink into Pro Tours has been spent on promoting store-level events instead. In North America, Wizards has launched City Champs. Everyone seems to have their own opinion on how they would change — “improve” – that program. I don’t want to debate that; I just want to look at the hard data. This season, 383 stores are running events. I chose a store at random, and found that 37 players have participated. If that is typical — and I chose a store in Minneapolis, which is a first season area and is not a huge metropolis, so it should be — then somewhere close to 15,000 players are participating in City Champs. That is 15,000 players involved in a series of matches and tournaments that would not have happened if Wizards had not spent the money on that program.
Wizards may be spending less money on Pro Tours and Grand Prix, but they are spending more money at the store level. I think that is a good thing.
I sure will miss the extra Pro Tours, though. It would be so nice to have five a year, along with 35 Grand Prix, like we had in 2001. I would love to have 2001, v2.0 for another reason. Invasion was released in 2000, and Invasion block came out during 2001.
I want to finish on a high note, however.
The countdown timer has resumed. Magic Online v2.x is going to shut down soon. Version 3.0 is coming. (This has been a refrain for years — sort of like a digital equivalent of Infernal Spawn of Evil: “It’s coming — take 1!”)
Now, in a very short time, this:
Will be replaced by this:
OMG!!! It’s different!!!1!
That’s right, some colors have changed. Buttons are in a different place.
It has changed.
I have had problems in the past. I have had beta versions that would not load. I have had problems getting games. I have had problem reading cards. Etc. I had enough problems that I stopped playing in the v3.0 betas a few months ago.
The other night, I decided to give it one more shot. I uninstalled the old version. I downloaded the current build. It installed easily, and took only about half an hour over my basic speed DSL line. I had no problems loading or running the program. I quickly found the draft queue. I found the store easily, and had very little trouble “buying” the free product. I got into the draft. The draft ran smoothly, and was almost identical to current online drafting.
I had no problems building or submitting my deck.
I also had no serious problems winning the draft, despite a mulligan to 5 in game 1, and realizing mid-game that I needed to change my stops.
The interface is pretty close to current MTGO v.2.x build. Game play is almost identical. A very few things are different (e.g. chat on the side, not bottom), but I had no problems.
Sure, I may need a couple days to figure out all the quirks, but I would have no serious problems playing the interface cold, even for prizes.
I was both surprised and pleased. The change-over may not be a total disaster. It may even be an improvement.
We’ll see, but I am optimistic — which is a new experience for me.
“one million words” on MTGO v2.x — and now on 3.0 as well.