What the Magic Pro League Means for Magic

I’ve already had a couple of holiday parties with my family. Talking to the family I see less frequently was easier this year when it came to my professional life. I always got this look. “Still doing that, huh?” And questions like, “Well, I hope you’re making enough to pay the bills?” While I can’t thank most of my family enough for their support (love you, Mom!) there’s definitely some haters out there. Don’t worry. They won’t get offended. (They’re not reading this.)

But now it’s different. They’ve seen or heard about this article on ESPN announcing the league and its participants. There’s a dollar amount attached. They’re coming around, sort of. I don’t know if they’ll ever be fully on board with professional gaming, but I’m more excited than ever to tell people what I do.

I’m a professional Magic player. I’m comfortable saying that now. If you had asked me a few months ago, I would have told you that I was a writer or content producer. Magic was just what I was good enough at that people wanted to learn about it from me. That wasn’t easy to convey without feeling a little embarrassed. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never for a minute been ashamed of what I do. I just knew no one would understand or take me seriously, and it bothered me. In a way, they were right to be skeptical, and that’s the part that bothered me.

I’ve always wanted to play Magic for a living. I knew it was a bit of a stretch, though. Prize money wasn’t enough to sustain a career. When I first started to take Magic seriously, I was worried that I was giving up other opportunities. It takes a ton of time to be a great Magic player. Time spent traveling, playing, talking, and thinking about Magic. All of it is important, and all of it consumes you. There are so many people who want to be great at Magic, because they love it so much, that keeping up with the competition is a herculean task. There’s always someone smarter than you, and always someone willing to work harder than you. To be successful at this game you have to make the most of your opportunities, and get lucky along the way.

After some time, I finally got there. While I’ve been fine financially, it was a grind. Right after winning Player of the Year in 2015, I pursued writing as a way to supplement my income. At the time, I was the number one ranked player in the world with newborn twin daughters. Playing Magic wasn’t enough to live on alone. Between travel expenses and smaller prize payouts, there just wasn’t enough money for even the best at the time. I had anxiety about my decision to continue doing what I was doing. I knew it was a risk, especially with a new family, but it truly was what I wanted to do. For better or worse, I stuck with it.

Fast forward to 2018, and Wizards of the Coast introduces the Magic Pro League. Being a professional Magic player is possible. My dreams have become a reality. Not only have prize payouts increased, those of us lucky enough to have made it into the Magic Pro League are now contracted players of the league. I can lose every match this year and still have a paycheck to bring home to provide for my family. While players in the league will have to earn their keep to come back, I’m ready for that challenge.

I had been thinking a lot before this opportunity about how I should approach my future. Before the MPL I wasn’t sure about my endgame. While that’s still important whether you’re in the MPL or not, as someone lucky enough to have this opportunity, I’m putting all that on hold and riding this thing out.

I’m all in. This year, I will play more Magic, produce more content, and take full advantage of this opportunity. I get to sink my teeth into Magic as much as I can, guilt free. It’s hard to be in a profession where you have to guess how much prize money you’ll earn. Trips to Magic tournaments usually come at a loss or if you’re lucky you’ll break even, with occasional spikes for a little cash. The idea behind it was to sustain myself in prize money for travel expenses so that content production was something I could sustain my family on. Now I still get to produce content, while earning a livable wage on top.

Like many others, I’m still nervous about the future. We have little information regarding the future of Magic in terms of how the MPL will work. I know in the short term, my goal is to stay in it, but how is kind of up in the air and we’ll have to see what Wizards of the Coast has put together. I’m excited and nervous for what the future holds. But I’m optimistic. Wizards finally made a move and put their money where their mouth is by embracing professional Magic. I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.

One of the things I’m most excited about with my involvement in the MPL is that it’s giving me the opportunity to begin streaming. I’ve always wanted to stream, but I’ve been nervous and haven’t had the time as a stay at home father whose wife both goes to work and school full time. While I’m a fairly successful Magic player, I don’t exactly have the following of LSV, Reid Duke, or Numot. I’ve always worried that I’d be all excited, spend a bunch of time and money setting up, and no one would watch. I hope that a lack of early viewership won’t discourage me, because this is something I really want to work out. I used to play a lot of Magic online with friends on Skype. Every day I’d have two or three friends on a group chat, and we’d go back and forth between games and Drafts discussing plays, Draft picks, and our thought process. I got a lot better in those times, and I’m hoping that streaming could do the same for me.

While I hope to be as entertaining, engaging, and educational as possible for viewers, I’m also hoping that some of my own leaks are pointed out to me. I learned a lot from what we ended up referring to as Siggy Skypez, so I hope Siggy Streamz can do the same for me, and by putting myself on display, I’ll improve my chances to remain in the MPL in the future.

You know what I’m really looking forward to though? It’s not even my own stream. The world’s best Magic players all have a big incentive to begin streaming and we get to take it all in. From what I understand, streaming is a lot of work, and it’s not for everybody. But at the very least I’ll get to watch the greatest players in the world play Magic and talk out their thought process. I can soak every little bit of it up. Sure, some may not be the best at entertaining an audience right off the bat, myself included, but it’s like every day will be the World Championships. I can peek into the mind of the greatest players whenever I want and that’s just an incredible opportunity to learn more about this game I’m so passionate about.

As you can see, I’m excited about my opportunities. But this isn’t just about me, or the other members of the MPL. This is about Magic reaching that next level, and becoming a legitimate esport.

I suspect that we are in the midst of a boom in Magic. MTG Arena, coupled with the MPL, will draw eyes to our game like it never has before. In doing so, everyone involved in the Magic community has an opportunity to welcome newcomers with open arms, and show them why Magic is the greatest game on the planet. It’s not just the best game—we also have the best community.

I feel personally responsible for the success of the MPL, and I hope the rest of the players feel the same. While being a great Magic player is enough to get you here, I don’t think it’s enough for the program to succeed. Those of us chosen this year have an obligation to set a good example, and to go above and beyond to make the MPL a success. This ranges from great sportsmanship to a welcoming attitude. Newcomers will see us as the game’s elite, and many, especially younger players, will see us as role models.

I’ve been stressing about how to be a good example and put my best foot forward. I’m excited to figure this out with many of my friends also in the MPL. I want to make sure the stuff that’s difficult to me, whether it’s obtaining sponsorships or setting up my stream, comes easier to the people who come next year, and the years after that. If all of this works out, big time sponsorships are the reward for professional Magic players. I’m hoping we prove this year to potential sponsors of the future that this game is worth investing in.

So while I don’t know quite what this will all end up looking like, I know this is an important time for Magic. This is the best opportunity Magic has to branch out, legitimize its professional scene, and make Magic a game that rewards its best and brightest. I suspect we’ll see a ton of very talented gamers coming into Magic from other games and having success. While I’m worried the most talented of that group will compete at a higher level than we’ve ever seen before, I can’t help but smile thinking about how the game that’s helped provide for me and my family for the past few years is finally on the cusp of being what I hoped it could be, but never imagined it would. While we all know that Magic is the best game on the planet, the rest of the world is about to know too.

I just hope I can keep up.

Brought to you by Mike Sigrist, member of the Magic Pro League, sponsored by Wizards of the Coast.

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