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Artwork source: MTG Salvation

Wizards of the Coast’s announcement of the Magic: The Gathering million-dollar Mythic Invitational released to mixed reception. Many welcomed it. After all, it signaled MTG’s long overdue foray into esports. It is to kickstart WOTC’s ambitious $10 million year-long circuit and a new era of competitive Magic.

Yet many loathed it. The Mythic Invitational player pool catered more to the Twitch community of esports and various personalities, rather than the old-time paper pros. Many of the latter thus saw the seed allocation as disregarding towards their achievements; achievements they had been working long and hard to obtain. “Disappointed” was thrown around a lot.

The criticism is warranted — to some extent at least. It takes a lot of money, time and often a gruesome travelling schedule to climb the rankings of paper MTG. Many such players perhaps hoped that the $10 million Magic circuit would finally bring a sustainable future.

So, for them, this Mythic Invitational was anything but. Whatever financial goods were to be gained, they were to be reaped by the Twitch paratroopers who only recently picked up MTG: Arena. A pandering to the cool new kids on the block by an old dude tying to be hip — and little more.

But there’s more to Wizards’ actions that the old guard is not considering, or is but doesn’t want to accept.

MTG has existed for 25 years, but its esports scene is not 25 years old. It’s zero years old. Whatever attempts WOTC made with MTG Online have failed. Magic never had a shot at becoming an esport until now. 2019 is year one for the father of all card games. And for better or worse, what came before matters little.

Magic esports needs the Mythic Invitational to roll out in its current form, because the game is trying to appeal to a whole new audience now. It wants to fight for a slice of a niche market that currently has one sole dictator, that isn’t willing to let go. Magic wants to succeed where others — including its own previous iterations — have flopped. For that to succeed, it needs every bit and piece of viewership help it can get.

MTG has existed for 25 years, but its esports scene is not 25 years old. It’s zero years old.

It’s hurtful and perhaps, yes, even insulting, but being Platinum in the MTG Pro Players Club is not a marketing tool. Those who will just now get into MTG esports will not care or know about it, and those who do will watch either way.

This is why there will be Jason “Amaz” Chan and Janne “Savjz” Mikkonen, and Thijs “ThijsNL” Molendijk, and Connagh “Merchant” Hawkins, and Jeffrey “Sjow” Brusi at PAX. Because these five alone command near 2.3 million followers. And there are 19 more.

The counter argument expressed by vocal opponents of this format is that Wizards are gunning for a short-term viewership gain and are sacrificing long-term sustainability and legitimacy of the scene. That Magic will never be a true esports as long as it remains the playground of the privileged few.

The argument has footing, but it hinges on the dangerous assumption that every event that follows will be just like this first Mythic Invitational. Given Wizards’ history of competitive incompetency, it’s a tempting one to make, but like all assumptions it operates on incomplete information. Which is, in fact, where WOTC’s true fault lies.

Wizards didn’t screw up by designing this invite-heavy format for their PAX event. That was a logical move, sour of taste but yet necessary. They screwed up because they left people in the dark — a mistake done my many companies in their early esports years and one they could’ve learned to avoid.

The few details we have on Magic’s 2019 circuit are all very non-specific. There is no clear structure, no “path to pro” layout, no information about how a player can qualify for future events. WOTC have stated that the Mythic Championships will replace the Pro Tours — previously the highest tier MTG events bar the World Championship — but when the only example of them is the PAX Mythic Invitational in question, players will of course worry.

Wizards have not yet earned the right to ask their community to trust them.

There are too many unanswered questions and while damning it all is premature, Wizards have not yet earned the right to ask their community to trust them. Perhaps the next batch of announcements will reveal a bigger, better picture and bring reprieve to the snubbed pros. Perhaps the Mythic Invitationals will not only feature just eight slots for online qualification, asking players to endure the hellish torture that is the MTG Arena ladder.

And perhaps WOTC will fall face first in the honeytrap of streamer-driven events and kill their esports fetus in the womb.

As it stands now, however, this Mythic Invitational announcement isn’t an act of disregard or dismissal by Wizards of the Coast. The company isn’t saying they don’t care about the old tabletop community that’s supported its game for decades.

Instead, WOTC are finally admitting that if MTG needs to change if it is to have an esports future. And it’s not wrong to expect those willing to stick with it to change too.

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