It seems Wizards of the Coast have finally embraced esports seriously. The company is making moves to digitize the experience of Magic: The Gathering (MTG) — the father of the trading card game genre — and is putting its money where its mouth is. During last night’s Game Awards show, Wizards announced a $10 million circuit for MTG in 2019. The prize pool will go towards not just tabletop events, but also such held in their new title, Magic The Gathering: Arena (MTG Arena).
“2019 is going to be the biggest and most exciting year in Magic’s 25 years of competitive gaming history as we evolve our organized play program into an esports structure that takes the legacy of our pioneering tabletop system and integrates Magic’s new digital platform, MTG Arena,” Wizards wrote.
Wizards move looks to expand MTG’s player base and attract people who are more comfortable playing at home. The circuit is layered and will bridge the digital and tabletop experience, keeping the original spirit of Magic, while exploring new markets.
The two major event types in the 2019 circuit will be the Magic Pro League and the Mythic Championships. The former will consist of 32 high-ranked players “who are each offered player and streamer contracts with a combined worth of $75,000”. These pros will compete throughout the year in competitive match-ups and Mythic Championships to build long-lasting storylines.
The Mythic Championships come to replace the old Pro Tours. The first of those will be of invitational nature, held at PAX East in Boston, Mar. 28-31, and featuring $1 million prize pool. The rest will be spread evenly throughout 2019 and will be played both offline and online in MTG Arena.
“We’re making the change from Pro Tours to Mythic Championships to reinforce that competitive Magic is both digital and tabletop, and to make a clear distinction between the professional players in the Magic Pro League and the events that are open to the public,” Wizards explained.
But the developer is ready to offer more. The tabletop Mythic Championships will offer prize money down to the very last player, so that everyone can at least cover part of their travel expenses. On top of that, Wizards are also putting aside $2.5 million for partners who want to host MTG Arena or tabletop events.
This is a massive move for Magic: The Gathering. Despite having an estimated eight-figure playerbase worldwide, the game never truly transitioned to an esports experience for its 25 years of existence. Several attempts were made to bring the MTG experience online, but the only client that came close to accomplishing it was MTG: Online. However, the latter has been widely criticized for its poor interface and lack of appeal to the regular viewer.
MTG Arena, on the other hand, has seemingly nailed what an esports MTG experience should be. The game is clear and matches and interactions are easy to follow. MTG Arena also features a variety of play modes, including competitive best-of-3 simulations, and is taking a lot of its competitor’s best features.
With $10 million coming from Wizards and $4 million from Blizzard for Hearthstone, 2019 shapes up to be a good year for card games. The only question that remains to be answered is what will Valve and Artifact do.