Back when Wizards first attempted to remove Modern as a Pro Tour format, they were met with a resoundingly negative response. A few weeks later, they rescinded, and restored Modern as a Pro Tour format.
This was right off the heels of one of the most stagnant and uninteresting Standard formats in a while (Mono-Black vs. Mono-Blue, or Sphinx’s Revelation decks if you wanted to win by boring your opponent into submission.) The idea of four Standard Pro Tours could not have been suggested at a worse time.
What they weren’t telling us then, and came clear later, was that the rotation schedule for standard was changing, and Standard would have more variety more often. Had that been announced at the same time, along with the explanation that Modern bannings were mostly to keep the Modern Pro Tour “fresh”, I think the news would have been much better received. Like it was this weekend.
This was the first instance of what looked to be a stupid, player-hostile decision making sense once all the facts were known.
Could the recent (since retracted) changes to the World Championship prize pool (at the expense of Platinum benefits) be the second?
Before I get to my theory, let me cover what I believe to be the most likely reason why the Platinum benefits were cut when and how they were: the similarity in how Platinum players receive appearance fees to the Judge lawsuit situation. Matt Sperling explains it way better than I can, so go read his article.
Back? Okay, good. Let’s explore a different idea.
During the top 8 broadcast of Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad last weekend, Helene Bergeot, Director of Global Organized Play at Wizards announced changes to the compensation structure for top-level pros, effective next season. These changes distill down to a bait-and-switch on players making (or attempting to make) Platinum this year. Appearance fees would be cut from $3k per PT to $250, but the World Championship prize fund would be doubled over the next two years. (Note, not every Platinum pro makes the World Championship.)
Effectively, Platinum pay got cut by over 2/3 (hotel and airfare is still being provided) with almost zero notice. There was also a cut to Hall of Fame appearance fees, but that’s not the primary issue here.
This change was billed as being better for the pro player. Given the information we currently have, nobody could understand how, exactly, this is an improvement. When queried about this on twitter by Jon Finkel, Helene offered to explain to him over the phone. Jon suggested (and he needs to be credited highly for this) that this needed to be a public conversation. Nothing more happened in that thread. Whatever information Helene was willing to give Jon over the phone would obviously not be appearing on Twitter.
What if, like for the Modern Pro Tour removal, there’s more information Wizards isn’t revealing yet?
For at least the last two quarters, and probably longer, there has been mentions of a new digital platform for Magic the Gathering targeted for 2017 in the Hasbro quarterly shareholder call. Each time, this has been brought up on Twitter and Reddit, but gets buried by something else.
Magic languishes laughably behind other popular eSports (yes, it’s a bit of a reach to call Magic an eSport, but it IS streamed, so I’m counting it) in online viewership. It is likely more people play Magic than any of these other games, but it does not translate into streaming viewership. Four times as many people will watch Brian Kibler (a Magic Hall of Fame member) open Hearthstone packs on Twitch than are watching the Magic Pro tour at any given time.
Wizards has to be aware of this, and given part of the reason given for increasing the World Championship prize fund was to get the event more visibility and (eventually) sponsorship. The 2017 World Championship was to increase to $500K.
2017. Where have we seen this date before? Right. That new digital platform.
What if the reason they want to make changes for the Pro Tour now is to prepare for a completely new way to play the game by the end of next year? It wouldn’t be the first time Wizards has made an incredibly ill-timed and seemingly nonsensical announcement that made more sense with information released months later.
This doesn’t change the incredibly tone-deaf timing and presentation of this announcement. And the incredible community response to support for the top-level pros being gutted (check out the #paythepros hashtag) made it clear the content and timing of the announcement was a massive mistake.
But what if, in the end, it’s the right thing? If this new platform opens up Magic in ways that aren’t possible right now?
Of course, there’s the elephant in the room: every single thing Wizards attempts to do with technology fails at some level. (their horrible website design, Magic Online’s user-unfriendliness and instability, Magic Duels being buggy as hell, etc.) But a new platform is interesting. And if they’re designing it to be stream- or broadcast-friendly, we could be getting somewhere. And it could really change what it means to be a “Professional Magic Player.”
Something to think about. And file away for some time next year.