In a recent article by Brian David-Marshall on the front page of magicthegathering.com, a number of changes to the Organized Play programs for Magic: The Gathering were announced. While many of these announcements dealt specifically with the Pro Tour, additional announcements about the Magic Scholarship Series and State Championships left many players, both professional and not, with important questions about Magic, Organized Play, and the Pro Tour.
To address those concerns, Vice President of Organized Play Chris Galvin, DCI Program Manager Scott Larabee, and Senior Marketing Manager Helene Bergeot organized a Q&A session here in Kuala Lumpur open to any Magic players who wanted to attend. The result was an informational meeting to address the concerns expressed by the players that chose to participate as well as questions posted on the magicthegathering.com message boards and other Internet sites.
The meeting, which took place after the end of Day One at Pro Tour¬-Kuala Lumpur, was attended by approximately 30 players (most of whom came from North America). One of the most frequently voiced concerns was "Do all these changes mean Magic is dying or becoming unsuccessful?" The answer as Galvin gave it was unequivocally no.
Galvin, standing bottom left, addresses players at Pro Tour–Kuala Lumpur.
is a top ten brand at Hasbro, maybe top five, I'm not sure off the top of my head," said Galvin. "But it's certainly one of the most important and successful products in the company." He went on to point out that Magic
currently has as many or more players in its Organized Play programs than it ever has.
The topic of cutting tournament circuits like the State Championships was particularly close to Galvin's heart because, as he himself pointed out, they were his own creation. Many players were quite vocal about how much they enjoyed their States / Champs events and wondered why they were gone along with the MSS. Chris pointed out that "in a given year States and the MSS only represent about 3-4 percent of total tournament Magic players." Statistics like that mean that regardless of how much the players participating in those tournaments enjoyed them, those events were far less effective than needed for the important goals they were trying to achieve in terms of bringing new players into the game or getting non-tournament players to consider trying organized events.
Clarifying this, he pointed out that the problem with the two circuits was not that Wizards didn't want something like them, but that as implemented they simply weren't doing what they were supposed to—which was to bring new players in. Said Galvin: "It's not that I'm disappointed I had to cut States; I'm disappointed that States failed."
When asked whether players would see something similar in spirit to the programs in the future Galvin stated that while they didn't have all the details worked out yet, he wanted to make it very clear that these kinds of programs were definitely a priority for the company and that significant work was being put into finding the best way possible to achieve the goals these programs had been designed for.
Another issue that came up several times during the meeting was dissatisfaction from some that the announcements had been made as part of one the magicthegathering.com columns as part of article content, as opposed to being more clearly expressed in a more traditional fact sheet-style announcement. As Galvin pointed out, one of the tough parts for Wizards is that columns like BDM's The Week That Was are where the tournament players are most likely to see announcements due to the column's very high visibility. Wizards is currently looking into having important changes like this go out as actual announcements through some official channel like email to DCI members or an official announcement on the website. Whenever they came out, these announcements would then be pointed out (or linked to) at the beginning of articles like BDM's so that the word would get out to as many players as possible.
An overarching theme early in the session seemed to be "why is Wizards turning away from the Pro Tour?" but that vein of questioning didn't seem to last once players heard the reasons behind the various decisions. Galvin explained that in its thirteen-year history the Pro Tour had ranged in size from three to six Pro Tours plus a World Championships each season, and that it would likely continue to fluctuate in size from time to time. He also pointed out that the changes were made with the goal of improving the reach of tournament play at the grassroots level, and that the Pro Tour was still an important part of that effort and would continue to be down the road.
Another common set of questions related to budgeting for various programs and how the priorities for those various programs are set. As one players asked, "Why can't you just spell out more clearly what the dollar switches are, i.e., 'We're cutting a PT and reallocating that money to change the following programs, we're cutting how much OP money we spend overall, etc.'?"
Here's the answer Chris gave:
"Well, there are certain things we simply can't go into specific detail for business reasons, like when it comes to exact budgeting dollars or anything like that. That said, we can speak in more general terms like 'Yes, we're removing a PT, and as part of that adjustment we're going to put more emphasis on grassroots programs still to be determined, as well as adding more GP events, more regional support for certain areas, etc.' The thing is, I feel that's pretty much exactly what we did with the BDM article in question.
"Even if I were inclined to actually give out very specific declarations like 'we're increasing overall OP spending' or 'decreasing overall OP spending,' it's actually very difficult to give a simple answer on anything like that, because what players see as 'OP' and what the business sees as serving OP goals may be completely different. For example, say you want to increase the number of Magic players playing at location X by, let's say, double. There are all kinds of different things we can do money-wise to make that happen, things like advertising, extra staffing, promotional materials, even things like online digital tools, all of those things are money that go to increasing player participation, but all those different areas make it very difficult to boil things down to simple statements people are asking for like 'we're increasing overall spending on OP to acquire new payers by 20 percent.' Things like that just don't work because the budgeting process is incredibly complex and goes across so many different departments.
"So, we do our best to communicate what we're putting emphasis on. Talking about priorities is something we can do without running into all those issues I just listed. Hopefully if we're doing our job right, as long as we do a good job communicating what our priorities are that's actually more useful (and something we can tell you more about) as opposed to trying to talk about things that start dealing specifically with anything tied directly to budgeting."
This answer touched on the more general question of how to actually set those priorities. Again, back to Chris:
"We have all of these things that go into what we do, we assess what they cost us, and then we look at what we get out of it as a company and what it does for the game and the goals we're trying to meet. For example, States and Champs just had very low attendance compared to other events we can support, so essentially players are voting with their dollars and their attendance. If States and Champs (or any program, for that matter) aren't doing what they should, then we need to look at those programs and decide what we have to put into it and what we could do instead if something else could meet those goals for the game or program better."
Another big area of discussion came from players who wanted some form of guarantee or assurance as to the nature of the future year's Pro Players Club, pro levels, and Pro Tour payouts so that they knew how much money they might expect if they traveled specific distances for Grand Prix and other large tournaments. Those numbers, as Chris pointed out, are based on the budget the OP programs are allotted each year, and the timing of that process means there's no way that Wizards can responsibly make any guarantees for years that have no budgets yet. As Chris pointed out, Wizards would love to be able to provide some kind of minimum number for programs years in advance, but because of the way the budget process works, this just isn't possible.
Following up on this, Chris pointed out that some players seemed to think that OP had been sitting on these announcements for months. Putting an end to that as clearly as he could, Chris said that he figured players would probably be surprised to hear that most of the final decisions in those announcements had only very recently been made, and that one of the priorities once those decisions are made is to get the word out as soon as possible.
While Wizards certainly can't make financial promises about future seasons that haven't been budgeted for yet, it's possible that a schedule could be worked out that might allow players to know when these announcements would be coming. This way, much like format changes or set rotations, players would know ahead of time when they'd be getting the announcements for each season. This idea came up during the meeting and, though it wasn't clear yet whether Wizards could actually commit to it, Chris said they'd look into the possibility. Many players said they felt this would be helpful by at least making the process more predictable.
The session ended after more than an hour of discussion and it seemed that most involved left feeling more satisfied than they had been at the beginning of the meeting. Several people were heard saying that they appreciated how much Wizards was trying to let players know what they could, and that the company was even willing to hold sessions like these compared to the way most other companies treat their customers. While some were understandably disappointed in the specifics of some changes, few were willing to argue that Galvin and the individuals involved in making the decisions regarding the OP programs had anything other than the best interests of players and Magic in mind, even if they weren't able to provide all of the information some wanted when it came to exact things like budgeting. As Chris said, "These decisions [regarding the OP programs] represent the best thinking of the people who have taken Magic this far over the past decade and more."
As all of the Wizards employees present stressed, the company definitely cares about its customers and wants to hear your opinions and suggestions. If you're interested in asking more questions or offering up solutions you can use the message boards attached to this article, contact Scott Larabee at firstname.lastname@example.org or speak with a Wizards staff member at the next premier Magic event in your area.