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Esports: Transitions and Getting Back to Gathering

May 13, 2021
Wizards of the Coast

As the world looks to a post-COVID future, so too are we looking toward the next iteration of Magic's competitive play system—one that recaptures the magic of the gathering we've all missed so dearly while expanding play opportunities to a wider audience.

Play drives everything we do—from your local group or store all the way up through our World Championships. We aim to refocus on a play system for everyone as the world opens up again and gathering becomes a real possibility.

So, today, we're going to explore two things—the vision for the future focused on fostering Magic's explosive player growth, creating broader access, and opening widespread play opportunities, and the plan to help us transition the current system through the 2021–2022 season and into that future.

Back to the Gathering

Several years back, we made a significant commitment to Magic esports—introducing the biggest prize pools we've ever had, creating some of the most thrilling events we've had to date, creating a professional-level league, and incorporating digital play in unique and exciting ways that gave viewers a new way to experience Magic.

And just as we began forming plans to build on that promise with expanded reach beyond the most elite leagues, COVID sent us back to the drawing board.

As a result, we've spent quite a bit of time imagining what our post-COVID system is going to look like. 'While we're not ready to publish the details for the 2022–2023 season and beyond, we did think it was important to share our current thoughts on that future. As we reimagine our play programs, we are holding these truths at the forefront of all our planning:

  • In-person play is a unique strength for Magic, and we need to lean into that. That means local tournaments, large regional tournaments, and high-level in-person events.
  • Digital play is here to stay but is only part of the equation. We've seen great players rise from the digital ranks, and we've seen what's possible with digital events. Expect the future to hold a mix of digital and in-person events.
  • Accessibility is important, and that means broader access to play. We're looking at everything, from local events and the success of CommandFests to creating even more levels of play that are open to a broader swath of players. A larger audience means more types of events.
  • We need to be patient. While we're optimistic for a future when we can gather, we also have to be realistic that high-level Magic tournaments combine travel, close contact indoors, and sharing air space for long periods of time—all traits that create difficulties during a pandemic. We will focus on local, regional, and digital events until we can safely gather.
  • Flexibility is important as we re-establish tabletop play. Our system may need regular updating as play and travel become safer.

All that means that we're itching to get back to large celebrations in the Magic community—but we will wait until it's safe to do so.

The 2021–2022 Season

Before we can implement our new vision for play, we need to successfully transition from the current system in the upcoming season. The 2021–2022 season's primary goals are to sunset the current system of play and allow us the freedom and flexibility to create a new play system for the future.

Along the way, the season will see a reduced total number of events for our Rivals and Magic Pro Leagues. All of this will culminate in post-season play and a World Championship. While we're excited for these events, this structure is not meant to be a template for the future.

Here's what this looks like:

  • The existing Set Championship structure will remain in place.
  • We will be increasing the prize pool and updating the prize structure compared to the Strixhaven Championship. Set Championships will feature prize pools of $450,000 per event, over three events.
  • League Weekends and the Gauntlet will not be run in 2021–2022.
  • This will be the final season for the Magic Pro and Rivals Leagues. Players will not be competing for another League season. Instead, they'll be competing for a place in the World Championship.
  • The World Championship will feature a prize pool of $250,000.

Individual event details will be shared as we move closer to those events. Total player fees will remain unchanged.

We will also be using the transition season to update our digital qualification paths. As we move back toward a more open, less top-heavy system, we are looking to potentially reflect that in our digital qualification options. Stay tuned.

What Comes Next?

The Gathering. That's our guiding star as we look to the future. We aim to return to in-person play as soon as safely possible. We hope that's sooner rather than later. In the meantime, we'll be working toward a flexible transition to something that feels more familiar and features something we've all been missing—sitting across the table from someone, playing Magic.

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