14, May, 21

Magic: The Gathering Hall of Famer Brian Kibler on The MPL Shutdown and Restructuring of Organized Play

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Brian Kibler comments on the MPL shutdown and restructuring of organized play.

On Thursday, Wizards of the Coast announced that it will implement a new organized play system after the Magic: The Gathering World Championship XXVI in October, and that the 2022 season will reduce the events for the Magic Pro League (MPL) and Rivals League players by eliminating League Weekends and the postseason Gauntlet tournaments. At the end of next season, the MPL and Rivals League will be dissolved; next year, players will compete for a spot at Worlds, not another invitation to the league system.

WotC stated that the new system will look to support both in-person and digital events with a focus on providing access and supporting regional level competitions instead of the current structure that supports professional players. There will still be set championships moving forward, but it’s currently unknown specifically what type of events will take place during the next year of organized play. This change comes three years after WotC eliminated the Pro Tour model for the current MTG esports system.

Shortly after the announcement, Magic Hall of Famer and former professional player Brian Kibler has shared his thoughts on Twitter about the changes of organized play and the elimination of MPL and Rivals League. The two-time Pro Tour champion criticized the current league system but says that Wizards of the Coast shouldn’t be entirely blamed for its “decision to move away from the pro Magic dream”. Kibler concludes by saying that being a Magic pro will likely be different in the future, and that it will likely focus more on content creation and building a personal brand.

You can read Kibler’s full statement from Twitter below:

So I haven’t been involved in competitive Magic for years now, but I felt compelled to comment on this, since it was such a big part of my life for so long. I am frankly not surprised to see the MPL being dissolved – while it was an exciting idea when it was announced, the fact that its existence meant cutting back massively on other organized play hurt interest in competitive Magic overall, and the league itself was implemented and produced so poorly that it was doomed to fail from the start.

Covid obviously hurt competitive Magic overall, but it was more a matter of giving it time to bleed out from the self-inflicted wound that was the MPL. Yes, people are interested in watching top players compete, but they’re also interested in the dream of competing against them, which in more open systems was a real possibility. The chance of watching their friends or being on camera themselves at a Grand Prix was a much bigger draw than seeing the same players compete in the same format week in and week out – prerecorded and without player cams.

While the MPL itself was an unmitigated disaster, I don’t think it’s entirely to blame for Wizards’ decision to move away from the pro Magic dream. Magic pros have been living on borrowed time for years. Remember “Pay the Pros?” If anything, while the MPL was clearly intended to serve as marketing for MTG Arena, the league’s poor performance juxtaposed with the game’s success raised the question of how important pro play is anyway.

Supporting playing Magic professionally as a career made a lot of sense when the game needed aspirational figures to encourage others to invest time and money into the game, but not only is Magic so ingrained as a lifestyle product now, with celebrity fans like Post Malone or Mr Beast or Hunter Pence, but MTGArena and the streaming and content creation boom it has facilitated as made more avenues for Magic stardom. Does it make sense for WotC to pay the MPL to compete when people like Crokeyz are promoting the game as much or more and making a living doing it without them having to pay him a dime? Streamers and content creators help obsolete the previous model of pros as necessary.

I’m hopeful that this isn’t the end of the dream for competitive Magic players, even if it is the end of WotC explicitly supporting the pro lifestyle. While my time as a Magic pro is long since past, I know there are a lot of people out there who love the game like I do and who want to throw themselves into it and get rewarded like I once was. But being a Magic pro is likely to look different in the future, and likely to be more about content creation and building a personal brand than about winning tournaments and getting that WotC paycheck.

But here’s the secret: it always was. How do you think I got to where I am now?

Related: Target Stores to Halt Sales of Trading Cards Including Pokémon, Magic: The Gathering & Sports Cards This Month

What do you think about WotC’s decision to eliminate the MPL? Do you agree with Kibler’s comments about the future of competitive Magic? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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