Wizards of the Coast’s attempt to jump into the esports scene has not gone well.
The Magic Pro League, an organized Magic: The Gathering circuit that includes competition in both physical and digital versions of the game, has been riddled with controversy and criticism of late. This stems from accusations of eroded competitive legitimacy and unfair treatment of players.
Debate started swirling in May over the addition of Janne “Savjz” Mikkonen to the MPL. Despite being a popular streamer on Twitch, Savjz has never been known for his actual skill in the game. The news left a sour taste in some fans’ mouths, citing it as evidence that Wizards of the Coast cared more about casting a wide viewership net than maintaining the league’s integrity.
The same day Savjz was added to the MPL, former Magic pro Gerry Thompson announced his resignation from the league.
In 2018, Thompson decided to sit out of Magic’s physical World Championship in protest of an alleged lack of respect given to his fellow professionals. Thompson previously expressed hope for an organized league for competitive Magic, but he now believes the MPL bears too many similarities to the state of the old professional scene.
Despite Wizards of the Coast’s lack of experience with esports, he believes the company has been generally indifferent towards players’ feedback. Worse, he expressed frustration with the contract negotiation process, which he describes as Wizards of the Coast essentially telling players to accept the offered terms, or leave.
Though many fans clamored for an improved competitive format, the rocky rollout to to the MPL has left diehards disappointed. That said, there are signs that Wizards of the Coast’s approach has been working.
Magic has long had shaky viewership numbers but the changes to the competitive format have attracted more eyeballs to the product. Wizards of the Coast has a tough task ahead in terms of pleasing the game’s established fans and players, while still creating a product fit for mass consumption.