Living the Pro
Wizards of the Coast Bets That Players Will Love It
by Jeff Zandi
Winning large sums of
money… flying around the world from tournament to
tournament…earning the respect of the Magic community. These
and many other things make up the so-called Pro Tour
Lifestyle. Wizards of the Coast believes that enjoying the
Pro Tour Lifestyle, and just as importantly, CHASING the Pro
Tour Lifestyle, will cause you and I to continue
participating in Magic tournaments.
This year, Wizards is putting their money where their mouth
is, pumping money, promotional support and a lot of other
resources into the concept that they call The Pro Tour
Lifestyle. Each year, Wizards of the Coast holds a
Tournament Organizer’s Conference. Wizards uses this annual
series of meetings to communicate directly with the people
who actually run their tournaments all around the world. At
these meetings, tournament organizers are made aware of new
and better ways to run their events, as well as the
direction in which Wizards of the Coast is interested in
steering Competitive Magic for the upcoming year. In this
year’s meetings, Wizards made it clear that the focus for
Competitive Magic in 2005 is the Pro Tour Lifestyle.
PROFESSIONAL GAME PLAYERS
A long time ago, around the first year of the Pro Tour, the
DCI’s monthly publication, The Duelist, featured an article
about a Texas player named Chip Hogan. Chip Hogan was one of
the earliest stars in the world of competitive Magic,
winning the U.S. National title at Origins in Philadelphia
way back in the pre-Pro Tour days. In the Duelist article,
Chip Hogan became the first person, in print anyway, to
proclaim himself a “Professional Magic Player”. Chip’s
statement was really stated more as an ambition, to be fair.
The idea of Professional Magic Player was kind of shocking
at the time. Since that time, guys have won tens of
thousands of dollars playing video games, several Magic
players have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in
career Pro Tour prizes, and Magic’s own David Williams made
the ultimate gamer score last Spring with a $3.5M payday
finishing second in the 2004 World Series of Poker. The idea
of earning a living playing a game is no longer shocking.
Chip Hogan may not be remembered as the best Magic player of
all time, but if he is remembered at all, he SHOULD be
remembered as the guy who wasn’t afraid to tell all the
world that he wanted to be a professional gamer. Today,
EVERYONE wants to be professional gamer, and this desire
plays directly into Magic’s Pro Tour Lifestyle.
Earning a living from doing something you genuinely enjoy
isn’t anything new. It’s kind of the American Dream. I have
a friend who designs video games for a company his older
brothers invented. One time I called him up in the middle of
the week. Simply making small talk, I asked him what he was
up to, his reply was simply gleeful, “Oh, just living the
dream” he said. I think about that little offhand remark all
the time, whenever I find myself NOT living the dream thanks
to whatever Square Day Job I find myself having to perform
at in order to keep the bills paid.
THE DREAM OF PLAYING AT THE PRO TOUR LEVEL
From the first time you work up the courage to play in a
Magic tournament, you immediately find yourself impressed,
to some extent, by the players at the top of the game. You
can’t help but admire the players whose skillful play places
them in the top of seemingly every tournament you attend.
And why wouldn’t you be impressed? They are showing a high
level of prowess in a skill area (Magic: the Gathering
tournament play) that you place value on. The better
you get at playing Magic, the better you start to perform in
the tournaments you attend. How nice. Apparently this game
you love is primarily skill-based after all.
Soon, you start playing in PTQs (pro tour qualifying
tournaments) and your goal is obvious: you’re trying to make
it to the Pro Tour. Almost no one finishes in the top eight
of their first PTQ, and fewer still win their first PTQ.
However, from the first PTQ you play in, the die has been
cast, you are now dedicated (at some level) to making it to
the Pro Tour level.
Because Magic IS a skill-based game, you can continue to
work harder and harder and, in effect, grow more and more
skillful at the game. Eventually, you will qualify for the
Pro Tour if you work hard enough. I know more than one
player for whom qualifying for the Pro Tour was the be-all,
end-all achievement. When these individuals made it to their
first Pro Tour events, they were so happy to simply be there
that two things happened. First, they didn’t do particularly
well at the Pro Tour event. Second, they didn’t really care
about their Pro Tour performance because they had reached
their goal, simply to play in the top level of the game they
love. To some players, however, merely making it to the Pro
Tour is not enough. These players are truly chasing the Pro
Wizards of the Coast has worked diligently over the years to
refine their Million Dollar Black Lotus Pro Tour (as it was
first known in 1996) into what is now known as the Pro Tour
Lifestyle. A great new innovation is called the Pro Player’s
PRO PLAYER’S CLUB
Last week, WOTC revealed the creation of the Pro Player’s
Club. The PPC has six levels of rankings, and a player’s PPC
level is based on the number of Pro Points that player has
accumulated in Pro Tour and Grand Prix events.
Level One members of the Pro Player’s Club get one bye at
all Grand Prix events. This honor is bestowed on all players
that have one current Pro Point. From this humble level of
recognition, the benefits grow until, at the ultimate level,
Level Six players gain free airfare and hotel accommodations
to each and every Pro Tour event, as well as a $2000
“appearance fee” for each Pro Tour event they play in. Two
players, Olivier Ruel and Julien Nuijten became the first
players to achieve level six in the brand-new Pro Player’s
Club in this past weekend’s Pro Tour in Philadelphia.
Professional gamers? You better believe it.
Whispers around the Pro Tour indicate that Wizards of the
Coast is close to creating a Pro Tour Hall of Fame into
which they will induct the world’s greatest Magic players in
some sort of timely interval. Perhaps this means we will
FINALLY see Magic player’s faces and lifetime Pro Tour
statistics on the Magic equivalent of a baseball card.
INTERESTING NEW PAYOUT FORMATS
Last weekend’s Pro Tour event in Philadelphia was a big hit
with more players than ever before. While the Champions of
Kamigawa block constructed format was probably very
appealing to many players, the REAL excitement centered
around the payout structure that was used for the first time
at this event. Normally, the payout structure for a Pro Tour
event consists of around $200K being divided up on a
descending scale from around $30K for the first place
finisher all the way down to $500 for the 64th place
Basically, two thirds or more of the day two players finish
in the money at a normal Pro Tour. No day two, no money, it
has always been that simple.
In Philadelphia, Wizards shook up the normal payout
structure, assigning a cash value to each round, beginning
with a humble $100 for round one and a more stately $10K for
the finals match on Sunday. Whenever you won a match, you
won the money associated with that particular round. In
other words, as long as you won at least one match at Pro
Tour Philadelphia, you got to take home some kind of a
WOTC has gone out of their way to make it clear that this
new payout structure, as appealing as it is to the larger
number of Pro Tour participants, will NOT be the new payout
structure of the Pro Tour. Wizards stressed repeatedly that
the PT-Philly payout structure was simply used as an
experiment. If the experiment was to make every potential
Pro Tour player in the world sit up and pay attention, I
believe the experiment can be safely called an incredible
success. In a sort of acquiescence, WOTC is said to be
considering the new payout structure for future events, a
sort of alternate structure that could be used once a year.
Of course, in the end, the Pro Tour is a consumer-driven
beast. If Pro Tour players want the Philly payout structure
bad enough, Wizards is likely to realistically consider
switching to it permanently.
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE PRO TOUR?
In the end, the real success or failure of Wizards of the
Coast’s focus on the Pro Tour Lifestyle will be determined
by how much competitive Magic players really care about the
Pro Tour. The changes being made so far only affect the top
players in the world. While the idea of being in the Pro
Players Club and grabbing some of that fat Pro Tour Philly
cash is a great dream, what is Wizards doing to create
better incentives for the player that ISN’T already on the
Pro Tour gravy train? According to Randy Buehler, Wizards is
working on that challenge.
The leaders at WOTC are proud of their game and of the
worldwide competitive community that their game has evolved
into. They should be proud, the game is as great as ever,
and the rewards for those that make it to the highest levels
of the game are greater than ever.
However, traveling to Magic tournaments, for the
non-professional player, is a time-consuming and expensive
proposition. Players do it because they love the game, but a
lot of them also do it because they are willing to do almost
anything to attain what Wizards of the Coast unabashedly
calls the Pro Tour Lifestyle.
Of course, I’m always interested in hearing what YOU think.
Level II DCI Judge
Zanman on Magic Online