Gerry Thompson is protesting the state of professional Magic: The Gathering by refusing to play in its marquee event, this weekend’s World Championship. I won’t be able to craft a summary of his vantage point that does it justice, so please take a moment to review it in his own words.
Gerry’s Sacrifice, In Context
My first reaction is that it’s easy to have conviction, but very hard to put courage behind those convictions. Words are cheap (and cheaper by the day it sometimes seems), but Gerry is sacrificing a TON in order to put an exclamation point, and a whole lot of credibility, behind his conviction that something has to change about how WotC runs competitive Magic. First, there’s the roughly 12 grand in cash equity Gerry will lose. But Pro Points are valuable too, and a win or even a Top 4 could give Gerry a Hall of Fame resume. That part can’t be overlooked. You have someone who is likely to get 15-25% of the vote this year, who is clearly about one great finish away, and he’s stepping out of a twenty-four person field in which a win would make him a Hall of Fame lock.
The path of protest, of sitting on the sideline after years of preparation for something, because of a larger vision, is familiar. And the immediate gaslighting by some to the effect of, “was this the right time and place?” is just as recognizable in this day and age.
I have every reason to take Gerry at his word that the money he is giving up is money he could really use, given the already skewed balance of costs vs. upside in the career he has chosen. Gerry is simultaneously complaining that Magic is too top-heavy—that too few get to partake in the rewards—and sacrificing his earnings from having reached that pinnacle. That’s true sacrifice.
Gerry emerges from this, and from his previous charity drives, as a clear leader who has figured out where he wants to have a positive impact, and then finds a highly strategic way to have that impact. If someone at WotC came to me tomorrow and said, “I am rounding up players to participate in something that will improve the Pro Tour” I would pass. If Gerry made that same request, however, I would likely volunteer my time. That shows you who has credibility right now when it comes to having not just a desire, but a will and an ability to strategically plan to improve competitive Magic.
What Will the Impact Be?
I’m writing within the hour of Gerry’s announcement, and already it has gone as viral as anything I’ve seen in this community. We may not remember much about this Worlds five years from now, but we’ll always remember this. And so will Wizards of the Coast.
Will change follow? Will we be able to draw a straight line from Gerry’s protest to that change, if it does come? It might be murky, but I don’t think it’ll be all that hard to conclude he had a big influence. This creates a difficult position for every decision-maker on the competitive play scene, or behind the scenes.
Gerry highlighted six issues, and you can bet there will be deep introspection about all six in Renton. Will all six change overnight? Certainly not. And on the flip side, plans were already in place to address many of these issues. But the level of urgency, the level of execution, and maybe even the individuals responsible will shift in light of what Gerry has done.
So far, Wizards has released a statement:
“This weekend, we’re crowning the 2017-2018 Pro Team Series Champion and 2018 Magic: The Gathering World Champion. Early this morning, Gerry Thompson announced his intention to not participate in the Magic: The Gathering World Championship. We wish this weren’t the case, but we respect his desire to make his voice heard.
Pro Player Consultants are working directly with us to shape and mold the Pro Club, two additional Pro Tours a year raises the overall prize pool, and commentators like Paul Cheon and Simon Goertzen are seasoned pros who provide engaging commentary. There’s still room to grow and this is going to be a big year as we continue to improve Pro Magic in 2019 and beyond.”
What Happens Next
We can’t expect many pros to make a sacrifice of 20% of their total pay (or whatever this prize pool represents to various pro players). But I wonder if we will see other forms of solidarity or protest from other top competitors. Gerry has relationships with most of them, so if he is interested in additional organizing and leadership, I suspect he will find people with open minds, even if they aren’t willing to go quite as far.
“The conversation” hopefully isn’t an endpoint for a protest like this, but it can be a huge catalyst. It puts pressure on WotC to act, it keeps others who want to support the protest engaged, and it can awaken a different vantage point in people so that they start to question the status quo, how their actions support or undermine it, and what they might be able to do to effect change. I hope Gerry continues to lead and thoughtful discussion continues to follow.
In terms of WotC’s reaction, we really don’t know where it will go beyond their statement. Their reaction to small shocks and small events is predictable (similar cast of decision-makers making similar poor decisions), but this is no small shock. Gerry has ignited something much larger here. The reaction ought to be similarly large in scale, if WotC is interested in improving, but we’ll have to wait and see. Gerry chose action over words, and WotC usually chooses words over action. Hopefully they don’t just listen to Gerry, they learn from him.