Gerry Thompson
Image: Magic: The Gathering

Magic: The Gathering pro player Gerry Thompson says he is protesting this weekend’s World Championship event, the game’s most prestigious tournament, citing complaints about how Magic publisher Wizards of the Coast is handling its pro scene.

Thompson is a two-time winner of Magic’s Grand Prix and, in 2016, he earned first place at the Pro Tour. Achieving that level of success with the ever-changing card game’s constructed format requires a significant amount of time studying Magic sets, learning opponents’ strategies and building decks. In a Reddit post today, Thompson wrote that one of the difficulties with the pro scene is that Wizards of the Coast does not pay professional players a living wage.

For ten years, Thompson has had concerns over the way Wizards of the Coast handles Magic’s pro scene, he told Kotaku over the phone from his hotel room in Las Vegas, where the tournament is currently underway. Now, he said, “enough is enough.” When asked why he initiated the protest on the day of the tournament, Thompson said, “I knew I was gonna do this for about a month and a half. . . Me doing this the day of the event means the tournament is going to be short a player. It is going to be a thing. Even if people don’t see my Reddit post or tweet, people are going to ask why there are 23 players. It was calculated.”

Magic players can earn money from prize pools, and sometimes, Wizards of the Coast pays for travel and appearance fees for certain high-level players. The company doesn’t pay players a salary, however. Thompson conceded that this should not be a requirement, but he went on to write in his post, “If the goal is to sell the dream of playing on the Pro Tour, there should be something in place to make that worth achieving. Between qualifying becoming more and more difficult, especially with the goal posts continually changing, and the lack of reward at the top, the message currently being sent is ‘don’t waste your time.’”

Thompson added that he, and other pros, have had to pay for their own flights to tournaments, a complaint that arose during 2016’s #PayThePros conversation, in which Magic pros argued they should be better compensated for their role in the game’s success. Magic now has more pro tours, which means bigger prize pools, but qualifying for a chance to win that money also costs a lot of money, and time. Worse, as he added on the phone to Kotaku, players in Latin America and other regions have more difficulty earning a shot to enter the Pro Tour.

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Thompson also took issue with Wizards of the Coast’s supposed lack of marketing for its big competitive tournaments and star Magic players. He argued that this might stunt the pro scene: “Wizards does not promote its players well... Professional players are the least utilized tool at WotC’s disposal. Many of them have larger Twitter followings than WotC’s official accounts.”

He continued:

“WotC is used to being in a position of power and leveraging that however they can. . . I want WotC to know that its player base cares about these issues and are willing to sacrifice in order to demonstrate that. At the end of the day, we all love Magic and want it to be the very best version of itself that it could possibly be. We have shown that we care by continuing to play the game and hoping that things get better, but that clearly hasn’t worked.”

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The prize pool for this weekend’s event is $300,000, with a $100,000 first place prize. The majority of players responding to Thompson’s post on Magic: The Gathering’s subreddit appear to be supporting his decision to bow out of the tournament.

When Kotaku asked about Thompson’s claims, a Wizards of the Coast representative declined to comment, but sent Kotaku a statement about Thompson’s protest, which said, “We wish this weren’t the case, but we respect his desire to make his voice heard.” The representative noted that Wizard uses pro players as consultants who help design what the “Pro Club” looks like, and added, “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.”