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More on the Hall of Fame or a column for Beatdown Week

It’s a Long Story

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The letter I!t's Beatdown Week! Which is funny because the thread from my previous column seemed to imply that last week was beatdown week. Man, I honestly did not expect the emotional walloping that was last week's thread. I knew that my inclusion of Mike Long would raise a few eyebrows and perhaps a wayward fist or two, but I did not expect the vein of raw emotion that I tapped into.

Because of this I felt obligated to write a column to better clarify my position and reasoning. No, I'm not changing my mind, so if you joined in only for that, I'd just jump right to this week's thread and continue the bashing. But if you'd like to understand why I'm doing something that seems to be meeting with such negative feedback, continue reading.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how to approach this column and I decided it was best to explain the points that I think are being misunderstood.

#1 – I Am Not Speaking For Wizards of the Coast

I'd like to start by stressing something that I should have stated up front last week. Normally, I use this column to speak on behalf of R&D and Wizards of the Coast. Most of the time I am the official word, or at least one voice of it. That is not the case with the Hall of Fame ballot. Last week and this week I am speaking as myself; a voter who was selected to make a very personal decision.

I realize that many people do not respect or like the decision I have made. And I'm willing to own up to the repercussions of my decision. But please understand that I, Mark Rosewater, am making this decision. I am not speaking on behalf of Wizards of the Coast. I am not trying to make some larger statement. It is not my intent to directly or indirectly make any comment about what Wizards as a company believes. I am giving you all my personal opinion. Hate it if you must, but don't assume that it means anything larger about Wizards' corporate stance on the topic. As I will mention multiple times in this column, there are many other Wizards employees that strongly believe Mike Long has no place in the Hall of Fame.

#2 – I Am Voting Based On What I Believe The Hall of Fame Represents

It is crystal clear from reading last week's thread that many people feel that the Hall of Fame represents something different than I do. I cannot vote based upon the perceptions of other people. Even if those perceptions are the majority. I can only base my vote on how I perceive things. And to me, the Hall of Fame is about recognizing the stars of the sport. I am not judging them on what I think of them as people. I am judging them on the impact they made on the sport.

If Pete Rose excelled at baseball, then I believe he should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. As should Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. To me a Hall of Fame is not a place to be making personal judgments about their character. Did they have a large impact on the thing the hall represents? Yes or no. And with Mike Long, my belief is yes. He had a huge impact on Magic. Some negative, but more positive than negative. (Close your jaw, I'll get there soon enough.)

To me, the Hall of Fame is about recognizing the stars of the sport.

This, of course, leads into the discussion of what does “fame” mean. There are two definitions. The first definition defines fame as “being widely known”. The second definition defines it as “being widely known for a positive accomplishment”. Does fame hinge only upon recognition or is there an inherent goodness that must accompany it? Is infamy a subset of fame or an antonym? I am a believer in the first definition, as I don't like context dictating definitions. Johnny Knoxville, as an example, is well known for doing stupid stunts. Is he famous to the guy who likes his television show and infamous to the parent whose child was injured copying one of the stunts? I'm not partial to terms that change definition so subjectively and inconsistently. As such, fame, to me, is not a moral judgment.

This means that I do not have a moral lens that I am judging my votes on. I am not asking whether each player is a good person. I am instead asking, to quote Chris Galvin from the announcement of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, who were “the most significant and influential competitors in the game”? And in my humble opinion, (and I am one of the true historians of the Pro Tour) Mike Long fits that criteria. His role was significant and he was quite influential. I'll spell this all out in a moment.

My thread clearly illustrated that many of my readers do not share my interpretation. Many of my fellow co-workers (some with votes, some without) disagree with me as well. And I respect that. I would never, for example, ask Worth Wollpert to vote for Mike Long. It flies in the face of what he feels the Hall of Fame is all about. All I'm asking is to get the same courtesy in return.

#3 – The Criteria Are Purposefully Subjective

Many readers seem appalled that I am not following the set criteria. My response is that I am. The problem is that the criteria, by design mind you, are very subjective. So much so that I don't think any two members of the selection committee view them the same. To refresh everyone's memory, here is the sentence that everyone keeps referencing:

Voting shall be based upon the player's performances, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, and contributions to the game in general.

Here are just a few questions that are unanswered and thus left up to the interpretation of each voting member:

  • How important is each of the five qualities? Are they equal in weight or are some qualities more important?
  • Does a person have to exhibit all five qualities to be inducted?
  • What exactly is the definition of “player's performances”? Or “playing ability” or any of the other qualities?
  • How is a player's level in each quality determined?
  • Is there any larger context that these qualities are supposed to be examined through?

And you know what the correct answer is? There is none. Each voting member has to answer all these questions for themselves. And however they interpret the criteria, that is what the criteria is for them.

I have answered these questions for myself. Here are my answers.

  • How important are each of the five qualities? Are they equal in weight or are some qualities more important?
    When evaluating each candidate I examine how they fare in all five categories. I do not believe the categories are equal in weight. For instance, I think player's performances and player's ability are more important than the other three. This ties back to my statement above about how I see the Hall of Fame. This isn't to say that the other three qualities aren't important. They are. Next year I most likely intend to vote for Chris Pikula. He isn't as strong in player ability as some other candidates, but he excels in integrity, sportsmanship and contribution to the game. To me different qualities matter for different players. To make the cut, you need to excel in some of them but definitely not all.
  • Does a person have to exhibit all five qualities to be inducted?
    No. A candidate has to excel in some. And the more deficient he is in any one, the stronger the others need to be. So yes, in order for me to consider Mike he has to ace several of them because he's deficient in two. (Acing the two I consider to be the most important helps.)
  • What exactly is the definition of “player's performances”? Or “playing ability” or any of the other qualities?
    I've been taking a lot of abuse for claiming that charisma falls under “player performances”. But it does. For me at least. I view player's performances as a combination of all the factors that went into how they did. Not just the raw numbers of wins and losses but all the nuances of their games. Especially what I dub their “star power”. (I'll go more into that below.) Playing ability represents the skill they have at the game. And I believe there are a large number of different skills that matter. Integrity is a player's moral compass. Sportsmanship is how the player handled themselves. And contributions to the game is a catch-all that can mean a variety of things. I'll be giving a blow by blow of Mike in each of the five categories before this article is done.
  • How is a player's level in each quality determined?
    Discretion of the voting member. Me? I'm big on instinct (aka my gut).
  • Is there any larger context that these qualities are supposed to be examined through?
    I believe that each person brings their own biases into their votes. (This isn't a bad thing. It's quite clear to me from the make-up of the voting committee that this was done on purpose.) Me? I'm a historian of the game. Thus, I believe that historical context is very important.

I don't mind if people judge my interpretation of the criteria (and I'm sure some of you will), but please don't argue that I'm not allowed to interpret the criteria the way I see fit. It's purposefully subjective. That's the way the process was designed.

#4 – I Do Not Condone Cheating

After reading the many responses (in my e-mail as well as on the boards), I feel as if I voted for Mark Justice, Olle Rade, Jon Finkel, Darwin Kastle and the concept that cheating in Magic is acceptable. So let me be blunt here. I do not condone cheating. I think it is a blight on the game. I spent numerous years as a Level 4 Judge. And during that time, I gave out many warnings. (A few to Mike Long.) I'ved DQed players from tournaments, most often without prizes. I used to be the liaison between R&D and Organized Play. I've sat in on disciplinary meetings where we sentenced cheaters. I helped craft tournament rules to close cheating loopholes. I changed designs to lessen players' abilities to cheat with a card. I'm even responsible for giving Mike Long one of the most serious penalties he got in his career (I banned him from the Magic Invitational in Cape Town). I do not like or condone cheating in any fashion. Cheating is wrong!

This is actually the thing that bothered me the most about the response to my article. Acknowledging that Mike Long had a significant and influential impact on the Pro Tour is not synonymous with saying that everything he did was okay. My vote for Mike is not a rubber stamp of the totality of his existence. It's an acknowledgment that he played a big role in the history of the Pro Tour. His cheating is not the reason I'm voting for him. It's actually the opposite. If not for Mike's past, he would be a shoo-in in my opinion. His shady past makes his inclusion a much harder call. I'm not voting for him because of his cheating, rather I'm begrudgingly voting for him despite his cheating.

But what about all my talk about how people loved to hate him? Obviously, all the elements of a person are intertwined. Yes, his cheating played into why people enjoyed rooting against him. But the core of his charisma was not his cheating. There have been plenty of other cheaters in the history of Magic. No one cared to watch them with anything close to the fervor that Mike created. No, Mike had a special gift. One I'll talk about in the next section.

One last time, before I continue. My vote for Mike Long is not me excusing him for wrongs he has committed. It is my acknowledging his role in the history of the game despite them.

#5 – Here's Why I'm Voting For Mike Long

The easiest way to explain is to just go through the five criteria:

Player's Performance

Let's start with the surface level. Mike has a very good resume. He's won a Pro Tour, a Grand Prix, and an Invitational. He holds the record for being on the most winning national teams (that record being three). For a long time, he was the number two lifetime money winner. On this ballot, he's probably number three in performance trailing only Jon Finkel and Darwin Kastle.

But where Mike blows this category out of the water for me is in what I called charisma last week and today will call “star power”. You see, I spent almost ten years working on the Pro Tour. My primary job was star building. I'm the guy who came up with the idea for feature matches. I'm the one who chose who was featured. It was also my call who was put on camera during the final rounds on Sunday. And I had input into how the Pro Tours were covered in print and online.

In short, my job was to make the Pro Tour interesting and exciting. I had to make all of you care about it. And in the history of the Pro Tour three players blew everyone else out of the water. Interest in them dwarfs all the other players combined. Those players were Jon Finkel, Kai Budde and Mike Long. (Notice I voted for Jon as well and I vow right now to vote for Kai in two years.)

How did Mike fare at star building? He's the best I ever had. If I put him in a feature match or on camera, people showed up. In large numbers. The best example I can give of this was the PT Los Angeles won by Trevor Blackwell. Mike got into the Top Eight after a controversy with Darwin Kastle in the last round of the Swiss. Now normally the quarterfinals are low turnout as the event starts at 9:00 am. But in Los Angeles, the room was packed. It was at the time the best attendance we'd ever had for a quarterfinal match. Mike wins and advances to the semi finals. Even more people turn up out of the woodwork to watch. In the semi finals, Mike loses. The finals was the lowest turnout we'd ever had. Everyone came to see Mike lose. Once he did, they left.

People hated Mike but they were drawn to watch him. One Pro Tour where Mike made Top Eight (another LA I believe), I chose to start by filming a different match. The crowd nearly lynched me. I quickly learned the golden rule – “show Mike”. Everyone always loves to go on and on about how they hated him yet no one could resist watching him. You'd think people would shun him to make the point that they don't like what he was doing. Yet the opposite was true. Mike made people emotionally invest in the Pro Tour.

One needs only look at the issue of the Hall of Fame itself. People who are openly admitting that they wouldn't think twice about the Hall of Fame are chiming in. Last week, they didn't care. This week they're emotionally arguing about what the Hall of Fame stands for. Mike does that. He evokes passion. There are numerous other “shady” characters on the list, but talk of including any of them would not have prompted this debate. The Pro Tour will just fade away if the players aren't passionate about it. Maybe you don't like how Mike evokes passion but it's hard to deny that does it.

This audience inducing passion fills Mike's career, and to be bluntly honest has made for some of the most memorable Magic moments. Mike, for instance, is responsible for the best match response I have ever seen from a Magic audience (US Nationals '98 where Long lost to Matt Linde in the finals). When I was asked to pick the top ten best Pro Tour finals, Mike Long vs. Mark Justice in Paris topped my list. Mike had the ability to make any match he played in compelling. I was the “star building” guy for so long that it's impossible for me not to recognize the value this added to the Pro Tour.

Playing Ability

One of the perks of being the feature match judge is that I got to watch a lot of the top players play. (And always against other good players.) As such, I have a very good handle on who the best players are. Mike Long is hands down in the top five. Not on this ballot. Of all time! Mike is an amazing player. This is the great mystery of Mike - the fact that he cheated when he had the skills to win honestly. (And as much as his detractors love to believe that every moment of every game was a cheating lollapalooza, most of his best moments weren't about him cheating.)

Mike has a number of amazing plays. My favorite happened in PT Paris. Mike is playing Pros Bloom (the first successful tournament combo deck). He realizes that he is dead in a turn and needs to have his combo go off to win. The problem is that Mike's only means to go off involves him removing his only win condition from the game. But this is before decklists were shared so he gambles that his opponent doesn't know that he only has one copy of the kill card (that card being Drain Life, most other versions of the deck played two or three). He removes his win condition from the game and starts going off. Then when he gets two thirds along the way, he just shows all the cards to his opponent and says, “Do I really need to go thought the motions?”

Mark Justice said “no” and conceded.

Integrity

As I said last week, Mike has the lowest integrity score of anyone on the ballot. Not a category he shines in. But as I said above, I do not believe a player has to score well in every category.

Sportsmanship

This category is not a total zero for Mike. Mike was quirky in that he vacillated back and forth between very good and very poor in sportsmanship. All in all though, another low score.

Contributions to the Game

This is the catch-all potpourri category. Whether Mike's contributions to the game were positive or negative depend a lot of how you value different aspects of what he did. He was an early pioneer in deck design and had an influence on how deck building technology evolved. He was a tournament organizer. He wrote about the game. In the early days, he even fought hard to force the DCI to make needed changes. On the flip side, he contributed to an overall aspect of the game that lessened the enjoyment for many players (and to all the people in the thread who voiced this opinion – I did hear you). I decided to call this category a wash.

Adding It Up

So for me Mike excelled in the first two categories, did poorly in the next two and evens out in the final category. As my criteria only asks for players to excel in certain categories, Mike passes my personal benchmark. The final straw that pushed Mike over the edge for me was the historical context that I'm overlaying over this first ballot. It is hard to talk about memorable moments (both good and bad) of the Pro Tour without constantly stumbling over Mike's name. For good or for bad, Mike was an integral part of the Pro Tour for quite some time.

My intent with my column was not really to make anyone happy. The people that were mad at me last week I assume are no happier with me today. If people want to fault me, I'm simply asking that they fault me for the things I am in fact doing. You don't like how I view the Hall or how I interpret the criteria, fine. But please don't tell me that I want more cheaters in the game or that I ignored what was asked of me. I took this responsibility very seriously. I could easily have taken the easy, non-confrontational path. (And by the way, because this issue came up in the thread - all votes are public.) But I didn't. I did what I was felt was right knowing full well that I was going to face some level of fury (although I did underestimate the amount of fury) for being honest with what I believed. That's what makes a good designer and I believe a good person. Even if it does mean putting the human personification of cheating on your ballot.

Now, let the beatdown commence.

Join me next week when I use the celebration of American's Independence to not write anything. (I'll be back the week after that with something less controversial. Probably. )

Until then, may you take a moment to look beneath an unpopular decision.

Mark Rosewater

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