From Trash to Treasure
Written by Weedmonkey on December 09, 2011
A few months ago, I wrote an article in regards to one person attempting to capitalise on the desires of PTQ hopefuls commercially. From the responses I received, the article seemed to polarise people. On one hand, some people saw it as important to 'name and shame' people in order to keep undesirable elements out of the wider community and to preserve integrity within tournament players. On the other hand though, there were a number of people who saw it as a rant (and for the record I never intended it as that), and thus the underlying message in the article was lost because of it. The article was even noted by other members of the Magic universe, including the guys at Monday Night Magic on the MTGCast network (if MNM are reading this, hi guys!).
One of the comments I received from NightLoki on the article was suggesting that an article focusing on the positives for an online community rather than the negatives would be a beneficial article in and of itself. Since reading that comment I had always planned on writing an article about that. As some people are well aware, there have been recent events on Magic-League that have caused some people in the Magic-League community to vocalise strong feelings in regards to Magic-League's operation (or lack thereof). I'm the first to admit that Magic-League isn't perfect - there have been articles in the past where I have been hard on myself as a staff member for not doing enough for Magic-League, and I know that there are a number of gripes that some people in the community hold in regards to how Magic-League is run in some areas.
Therefore, this article I'm going to look at two things: firstly, I'm going to look at what any community needs to thrive, whether it be online, face to face, furry or anything you could imagine. Secondly, I'm going to take a look at Magic-League from the eyes of both a player and an administrator, and break everything down.
There are a few things I want people to come away understanding after reading this article. Firstly, I want people to understand that the strength of a community is the result of the effort community members put in to make it great. I also want people to understand that there will always be differences in view, and that this is a good thing. Finally, for Magic-League specifically I want the community to understand that working harmoniously to achieve goals is the best possible path to making Magic-League the place everyone wants it to be.
Obligatory Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are mine, and mine alone. Other staff members may agree with it, or they may wish to fire me and have me take a running jump off a tall cliff. Approach this article with an open mind and take things with a grain of salt.
Welcome to Bob's Battles and Babes
Many store owners will happily tell you that unless you're part of a chain or have a reputation to make PV blush that it can be almightily difficult to keep a brick-and-mortar store afloat. Your local FNM might very well be a place you love to spend a Friday night or a weekend slinging cardboard and catching up with mates, but even with customers sometimes stores can't support themselves. Sometimes, the demise of a store is inevitable as costs outweigh any cashflow. While sometimes it can be attributed to poor business strategy (an irony for a gaming store if I ever saw one), in other circumstances it may just be the roll of the dice.
Despite this, there are many stores that remain healthy because of the commuity supporting it (and by community I'm not talking about soccer moms and bake sales here - I'm talking the guys who are in the store all weekend for the hell of it). Even though they don't work at the store, some stores have regulars who go above and beyond the call of duty to help out other gamers and improve the store as a whole. It is a rare occassion that people who do this get anything out of it - they choose to help because of their love for the store.
As Alyssa Bereznak recently showed us, the ability for a community to rally behind respected members can be astounding. In his prime, Jon Finkel was widely considered to be the best Magic player in the world, bar none. When he was slighted by the aforementioned Gizmodo intern, the geek community as a whole rallied to defend him like samurai to their Shogun. It is situations like this that highlight how ties between people with common interests will support others like them in order to preserve their interests.
All Pokemon Journeys Require Sidekicks
It is, of course, entirely viable to 'go it alone' and choose not to assimilate yourself into the communities around you. For some, this may be preferential: the activity or interest itself is more appealing than the other people involved in it. However, the flipside of going it alone is that you can miss out on the social benefits and opportunities that arise from integrating into a community. One overarching example of this is playtesting groups. Whilst it is entirely possible to do all of your testing by yourself on Magic-League or Magic Online, the benefits to testing by oneself aren't as great compared to the benefits gained from having a cohesive playtesting group.
I recall one occasion back in 2008 where I had taken a temporary break from Magic-League for a week or so. After a few days, I received a call from someone on Magic-League asking me where I was and whether everything was okay. Events like this are a wonderful example of communities looking after their own, and testimony to the bonds developed through social interaction.
Even now, the greatest enjoyment I derive from Magic-League stems from the people. The ability to share stories, work with others towards a mutual goal, and support something that I love are some of the things that keep me on here and perservering long after sane people would head down to the local pub for some cheap beer and tavern wenches.
What About Me?
Magic-League is no different to any playtest group, football team, or First Wives' Club. Magic-League has teams, channels where people socialise, and tournaments for (mostly friendly) competition. Members of Magic-League may have different points of view on issues, and there may be robust debate on the best course of action regarding a particular issue.
At its core, Magic-League is nothing more than a community of people who communicate over IRC. The website is a product of members of the community. The channels are products of members of the community. The community itself could just as easily communicate in other channels that are not defined as being part of Magic-League. However, it is that definition that gives Magic-League its own unique identity. What this identity is exactly will differ from person to person, and this isn't a bad thing.
What people wish to get out of Magic-League is a result of what they are willing to put in: the success and quality of Magic-League derives directly from the motivation and desire of members willing to make Magic-League great. What people don't often understand is that for people who have taken on leadership roles withing the community, often they act in what they believe is in the best interests of Magic-League, as opposed to the misconception held by some that they act in their own interests.
To better understand this, allow me to take you on a journey through Magic-League's history through my eyes (something that will no doubt have DARKING jumping up and down with joy). Magic-League has many stories to tell in its history.
In the Beginning...
I first joined Magic-League in 2002 or 2003. Magic-League had recently separated from Magic4You into its own website, and the Four Walls of Magic-League (Koen, nico, Alex and Dirkjan-) were incredibly active within the league. Tournaments were operated entirely in IRC - mrbotski (which if I recall correctly had a different name at the time) was used to operate tournaments, and Laplie was responsible for uploading the tournament results and rating changes to the website.
Back then, 100 users on peak was an accomplishment - numbers tended to be half of that. Back then, I was only another little boy in the crowd - I played minis, I minibegged (yes, minibegging is a nearly decade-long tradition), and I took the judge test in #j1test (and failed miserably!). However, I still have good memories of that time - from hanging out with guys like Anti^Hero and stalker, to SL|RedDemon and stalin's antics, to hearing about LordHawk driving god knows how many hours to (censored - infuriate WildCard).
2004 is in my memory (which may be incorrect - other members of the old guard will likely correct me on this if I get any of the details wrong) one of the bigger years in Magic-League's history. Around this time we began to see a surge of members in the Magic-League tent. Tournament numbers went up, and with it came one of the more crippling issues that defined tournament play at the time - firewalls.
Back then, Magic-League required players to use Apprentice for most tournaments (Magic Workstation at the time was around, but had its own separate channel and was considered by many people to be inferior). One of the issues with Apprentice is that it had no servers - to connect to your opponent, you had to do so directly. The problem with this was that for people behind a firewall, they could not host a game without resorting to third-party software like Hamachi or by forwarding ports on their router (which was more difficult than it seemed). To resolve issues, the league instated coin flips to determine the winner of the match if two players could not connect. The issue with this was that a large number of matches relied on flips, so tournaments became less about play skill and more about the luck of the flip.
This issue was largely mitigated by Magic Workstation, and over the next couple of years the number of users of MWS increased from between 10 and 20% to approximately 40%. The migration came with it a steadily climbing number of active players on Magic-League. MWS allowed players to play easily without a Firewall, and as the stability increased (which admittedly isn't saying much), it gradually became the favoured application to use for trials (we supported different applications at the time).
In December 2006, Magic-League officially changed its major support for play from Apprentice to Magic Workstation. With it came an almighty uproar from the Apprentice camp, as they saw at the time that Magic-League was supporting an inferior application and essentially putting Apprentice out in the cold. This change also marked one of only two times I have been banned from Magic-League, as I attempted to incite a mutiny over the change (the second ban was for linking to tubgirl in #magic-league).
The end of 2006 signalled what in my mind was the end of the First Era of Magic-League and the start of the Second Era.
2007 saw the death knells sounding for Apprentice support. Over a period of twelve months, the number of Apprentice players dwindled to approximately a tenth of what they were at the beginning of the year. Whilst drafts were still strong, the draft community began to lose numbers as MWS players decided not to go back to using Apprentice for drafting purposes. Under Gerrardfo's reign as Judge Director, a number of users felt the strict line Gerrardfo took was unreasonable. I am unsure of how many people exactly felt this way, but I do know that there were a number of both players and judges that were adversely affected by this (and to be entirely fair, Gfo and I have both discussed this particular piece of the past before - we're friends now <3).
The demise of Apprentice continued into 2008, where it starved to death. It was this year that the draft channel sank into stagnation, as Apprentice became strictly a draft-only affair. MWS was used to draft, however it was impossible to provide security codes at the time due to NetDraft's programming (this was an issue that wasn't corrected until a year later). Without access to MWS, players chose not to draft on Magic-League. Combined with a misconception that Magic-League players couldn't draft properly (nine times out of ten the actual issue was the lack of draft runs/incorrect draft runs), the draft channel shrank to the niche channel it more or less is today.
2008 was also the year that Gerrardfo stepped down as Judge Director, to be replaced by Flippi (CMA-Flippi/derflippi). Flippi was seen as driving some much-needed changes in Magic-League, especially within the Judge Department itself.
2009 saw Magic-League rocked by a Cease and Desist letter from Wizards of the Coast. I still remember vividly that day. Azania had alerted Flippi in the network staff channel (I had recently become an IRCop on SolidIRC), and I was sworn to secrecy. The next few days were unnerving, as at the time Magic-League's future was unclear to me, and I couldn't even discuss the possible responses Magic-League had with anyone. Ultimately, Magic-League chose to acquiesce with their requests, which included the complete removal of endorsements for all play applications (which resulted in Magic-League adopting a policy of allowing players to play with whatever application they wished), and the removal of download links and guides to specific play applications from the Magic-League website. With this, what I consider the Third Era was ushered in.
Whilst Magic-League staff discussed the best course of action to take on the C&D, all tournament services were shut down by the site. This caused a significant number of players to leave Magic-League due to the misconception that Magic-League was being shut down permanently. The issue was not helped by sites such as MTGSalvation reporting the facts incorrectly without checking them first.
Post-C&D, we began to see a gradual decline in users. Part of this was due to the sluggishness of users returning to Magic-League. In the second half of the year, the general lack in minis run also served to that end. Traditionally, summer in the northern hemisphere has brought with it a general sluggishness in tournaments ran as people tend to actually discover sunlight for a couple of months.
The end of the year saw a signficant structural change within staff - the Judge Manager roles were abolished and replaced with league-specific Directorships, one of which I was offered. Inactive staff members were removed, and some people were shuffled into different positions. Whilst it means the Third Era was quite short, I consider the structural changes to herald the beginning of the Fourth Era of Magic-League.
Also, somewhere at the end of the year I convinced a drunk brimstone (our illustrious Ratings Director) to fly to New Zealand for a girl he liked. The outcome of the trip was that brimstone hated the entire southern hemisphere. I consider the fact I facilitated a hatred for an entire hemisphere to be my greatest accomplishment in life thus far.
The first half of 2010 was by and large quiet. Magic-League saw the rise of tournament coverage (although sadly I would lose my permanent volunteers halfway through the year) and a coverage site. Flippi stepped down as Judge Director due to reduced time (Flippi was to undertake compulsory military service), and niknight stepped up to become the new Judge Director.
The second half of the year saw the website abruptly vanish.
For a number of years, our previous host (StartLogic) had issues that had caused the site at times to go down. This was a result of the coding of the website, which was done whilst Koen and Alex were still learning PHP. In 2009 we had first limited sealed minis to 8 players (and stopped running trials), however in the middle of 2010 our host abruptly cancelled the contract and left us without a provider. After a couple of days of scrambling by staff and me trying to keep the community up to date via the coverage site and Facebook, we landed a new provider which we are incredibly happy with. With the new host we were also able to relaunch sealed (although not without a few hiccups).
Since then, we have been steadily plodding along.
Today, we have seen our active member base shrink from approximately 5000 members to 2000 for any given month, although our list of registered members has climbed to over 170000. There are a number of contributing factors to this:
The last two points above have always been present in some quantity on Magic-League. However, a smaller active member base means that undesirable elements of Magic-League are more visible, especially for new users. If Magic-League wishes to increase its player retention, I strongly believe that all three of these issues need to be addressed in some form. Allowing the league to stagnate - especially with Magic Online being the most prominent method of playing online now - will ensure its demise.
However, the issues surrounding Magic-League's player base are complex and cannot easily be addressed, although they may seem simple enough on the surface. To provide greater insight on how I see this issues, allow me to explain how each section of Magic-League's member base interacts with Magic-League as a whole.
Every single Magic-League user is a member. The difference is in what responsibilities they wish to take on in what capacities. Some Magic-League members are only active once or twice a week, whilst others are on here daily.
Magic-League's member base has a mixture of the desirable and the undesirable. At one end of the spectrum we have members who take the time out to help new players or moderate the forums. These members help to improve Magic-League's image, as well as the improve as a whole the quality of the Magic-League experience. The extent of how much members are willing to put in is entirely up to them, and often those that choose to help Magic-League in some way choose to become judges.
Magic-League's judges are entirely made up volunteers - people who have passed the judge test and wish to run tournaments. In the vast majority of cases, judges run tournaments for their own benefit first and for other users second. Often the reason they became judges in the first place is because they are able to run tournaments whenever they wish.
For every one hundred judges that join the judge ranks, we might have one judge that has the intrinsic motivation to strive to improve Magic-League as a whole. These are the few judges that get promoted to higher levels, and eventually to staff.
With the exception of the co-owners and the Site Development Director, Magic-League's team of staff members consist of judges that have worked their way up the ranks. Whilst some staff members are still regularly active players within Magic-League, other members at this level choose to step back from active play and support the league in a mostly administrative capacity.
Where Worlds Collide
There are a number of issues (and solutions) that have been debated on Magic-League. Whilst some of these debates are more robust than others, sadly some people come away from them with negative opinions. Whilst some of these can be put down to bigotry and recalcitrance, it is worthwhile to understand why Magic-League staff take the stances they do.
Whilst I cannot speak for the entire staff team (although I have a feeling they will agree with me on this), when considering any changes to the functioning of Magic-League I will always act in Magic-League's best interests. Inevitably, this will put me at odds with at least some members of Magic-League, as people will not always agree with the decisions staff take. And although I am not as active a player on here as I used to be, I still feel a strong connection to Magic-League from having been on here for many years. This is what drives me to do what I can to Magic-League the best place it can possibly be.
What happens if staff members say no though is that the minority will inevitably complain about staff being power-hungry tyrants that will do anything to make sure they don't relinquish their grip of control on Magic-League. Whenever a debate arises, staff put forward their argument either for or against, with arguments and/or anecdotes to back it up. Staff and players will both have different viewpoints through which their view the Magic-League experience, and it is important that both parties appreciate both points of view before blowing things up.
As an example, the debate over how to get more tournaments in Magic-League has commonly come back to allowing some sort of non-judge member run tournaments. There are a number of reasons staff have disagreed with this, including accountability, loss of incentives for community members to become full judges, and tournament logistics issues for both judges and staff members. Even after these arguments have been put forward (and this is a debate that has gone on for years), there are a select few people who are more concerned about attacking staff for their stance instead of engaging in debate and devising an effective solution to the problem. These are the people who are stubborn in changing their perspectives on the issue, and then become belligerent when their arguments are shot down for the umpteenth time.
Getting the Job Done
Objectively, the current staff lineup is the strongest it has ever been. We have people who are around to do what they need to do, and a clear structure that dictates what areas of Magic-League each staff member has responsibility for. We aren't perfect of course, but we try to do the best we can given that we have our own lives to navigate as well.
Traditionally, any overarching changes to Magic-League's structure has come from staff members. Since becoming first a judge and then a staff member, I have tried to engage the wider community as a whole sufficiently to motivate them to volunteer to take on different responsibilities to benefit of Magic-League as a whole. Whilst most of this is in the direction of judging and/or coverage, I have also attempted to get people to commit to an entire project from ideas to implementation. Some of the greatest ideas that have been raised for improving Magic-League have never come to fruition because those people throw an idea out and then leave it to dry out in the heat like so much beef jerky.
It comes down to staff involvement with ideas.
For structural changes to Magic-League, often they will require staff assent and/or implementation. For most people, they see this as 'staff require involvement in planning every new change'. Whilst Magic-League staff will often need to put into practice any planned changes to Magic-League's operations, often it just requires a nod from the staff members (currently there is a proposition from one member about creating 'official' draft patches that awaits other staff members agreeing to it). For the ideas that have been lost to time, if the community members that proposed it put sufficient planning in to make sure it was feasible and well-planned, I don't think any staff member would knock it back.
The bottom line: If you want change in Magic-League, take the time to put together either a compelling argument or detailed plan of what you want out of Magic-League. The more information staff have to go on, the easier it is for us to take into consideration and the easier it is for us to implement it.
With all this information, there needs to be action. Some of the challenges Magic-League faces don't have simple solutions, and it will require everybody to willingly engage in debate to develop solutions.
So, what is needed from the main elements of the community?
Whilst I mentioned earlier that the staff team is objectively the strongest it's ever been, that doesn't mean we can't improve our practice collectively for the benefit of Magic-League. Staff is not always around all the time - we all have our day jobs to go to, and other commitments mean we can't be active every day.
That being said, we are always striving to improve our own practice. Communication between staff members is one area that has been identified as an area we could improve upon to function better as a team. This is something that will be worked on in the near future, and I hope the outcome is positive for the team as a whole.
That being said, there is only so much we can glean ourselves. I would be interested in hearing how people feel about Magic-League staff as a whole. If you have any input on this matter, I'm happy to talk about it on IRC or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Magic-League judges are held tightly to values of professionalism, integrity and diplomacy. However, like with any team there is a spectrum of performance levels of different judges.
There are a select few judges where it is evident that they are more interested in running tournaments than the judging role in its entirety. These are the judges who don't continually study to improve their rules knowledge, and shirk rulings in #judges4you. For these judges, it is imperative that if they wish to continue to be judges that they take responsibility for their role.
For all judges, it would be great to see judges take on leadership roles within the team. This includes training new judges, submitting new questions for the judge test, and writing judge articles. We want to be able to promote judges to higher judge levels.
For the community as a whole, there are two main points I would like to raise as paths to improving Magic-League as a whole.
The first is assisting new members. Nobody is asking you to walk them through step-by-step to get them started, but pointing them in the right direction goes light years to helping them get started, and thus retaining new members. I understand that there will be times where there aren't people around to field questions from new members (something I'll be aiming to address as Website Content Director over the next month or so), but if you are available a little help goes a long way.
The second point is that of general respect. I understand that as a testosterone-dominated community, people will inevitably butt heads and come to disagreements. However, you can disagree with someone without turning into a five year old child. Honestly, some of the rulings I have had to deal with have involved members who act worse than some of the eight and nine year olds I have taught in the past. All I am asking is that if you have an issue with another person that you deal with it in a mature manner. Take it to private message or ignore them entirely - don't start abusing them in the middle of Magic-League or spamming insults.
I have done my best to try and highlight how Magic-League operates and what needs to be done to address the challenges facing us as a whole. If I were to break down each individual segment of the community and mechanism in the Magic-League machine, I would probably be writing a paper and not an article. This article isn't as coherent as I'd like, but having worked on the article over several months I am at the point where I believe the ideas expressed in the article are more important than the message itself.
If anyone has anything they wish to know more about, I'm happy to field questions. The best ways to do this would be either in a forum thread, or via email at email@example.com.
My next article will be my annual end-of-year article reflecting on the past twelve months. Until that point, remember that Magic-League is only as good as the people putting in the effort to make it that way.
by GBatista on 2011-12-09 02:09 CET
Congratulations, very well written!
by DARKING on 2011-12-09 03:53 CET
Dear Mr. Weedmonkey:
by Rishi on 2011-12-09 04:02 CET
I saw one error. Withing should be corrected, but other than that it's a good article.
by pusherX on 2011-12-09 05:42 CET
by DonDiggy on 2011-12-09 09:59 CET
Thank you for that article Weedmonkey, well done :-)
by GunsAndDope on 2011-12-09 18:12 CET
I have a solution to the lack of tournaments problem, and this solution came to me during the whole fiasco with draftbot.
by cabof on 2011-12-09 19:54 CET
Great article weedmonkey! I myself ain't much of a help (except for helping new members sometimes, or stuff like that), but its because of people like you that the site still exists succesfully. Just want to say thanks as a member, and ask: girltub?
by Rishi on 2011-12-09 21:57 CET
Why not create separate Judges test for IRC, and MWS? I'm fairly proficient at knowing how to solve problems with MWS, and knowledge about MWS the component is very important.
by Rishi on 2011-12-09 22:13 CET
Why not create separate Judges test for IRC, and MWS? I'm fairly proficient at knowing how to solve problems with MWS, and knowledge about MWS the component is very important, I feel as though most Judges do not use MWS so they aren't very adept at handling the problems.
by DARKING on 2011-12-10 17:35 CET
There is no such thing as a IRC judge and a MWS judge.
by GunsAndDope on 2011-12-11 02:30 CET
Darking: A tech support position involving an individual who understands the Magic-League specific technology rules as well as someone who can not only help players troubleshoot problems but also help new players get started would be a valuable asset to the community.
by niknight on 2011-12-11 17:55 CET
by niknight on 2011-12-11 17:58 CET
Edit: It should say "constructed tournaments" in the first sentence. We are ok with the bot in #draft4you due to the absolute dirge of draft TC's.
by GunsAndDope on 2011-12-11 23:58 CET
niknight: so if I got a bunch of people together and we organized ourselves into a single-elimination structure, that would be against your league rules?
by limited on 2011-12-12 04:44 CET
Ty monk. I think abu might consider further prize support if irc bot ads were implemented at time intervals, reporting current abu sales on singles for commonly used cards in constructed. There is a lot of chat silence in #ml where some scheduled ads wouldn't disrupt the flow of the room. More abu ads filling the blank regions of the webpages might also give further incentive for additional support. Larger prizes may generate larger fields of players and stimulate discussion amongst gamers outside of ml, encouraging more registrations. If you were to pair directly with a vendor, so that ml also ran an online card store, a slice of profits could go back directly to the players. I think sites like channelfireball.com use this method, where channel connely brings in viewers and a vendor uses his website to establish commerce. More players = more store profits = larger prize purses = more players and so on.
by DonDiggy on 2011-12-12 17:24 CET
The Financial Aspect of Magic-League.com is a critical topic to discuss in public. Most of us still remember the latest issues with Wizards. I think its best to leave this management to the Staff. If there was a way to optimize the flow between League Activity and given Rewards, I'm pretty sure the Heads of M-L would already be on the track ;-)
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