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Updating the Hall of Fame


This week, Wizards announced changes to make it harder to get into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame by requiring two recent (since 2012) finishes and raising the threshold for actually getting into the hall to 60% of the vote (up from 40%). The main goal is to make the Hall of Fame more exclusive. While I'm not a pro—so I don't have a personal stake in these specific changes—they generally seem fine. Considering that being enshrined in the hall comes along with lifetime invites to Pro Tours, it's probably better to have a smaller number of people getting in each year. By my count, there are already 44 members of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame in just 12 years, which means we've inducted an average of 3.67 players each year (although this rate has slowed a bit recently—we haven't had a five-person class since 2008, and we only had one four-person class in 2012). Even assume a three-person class each year moving forward, this would mean that in less than 20 years, we'd have more than 100 Pro Tour Hall of Fame members with Pro Tour invites, and while they won't all show up, that's potentially a lot of extra players, especially when you consider the Pro Tour only had a couple of hundred players when many of the current Pro Tour Hall of Famers were actively playing.

The wisdom of giving Hall of Fame members lifetime Pro Tour invites is another question entirely. There are certainly benefits—we wouldn't get to see all-time greats like Jon Finkel and Kai Budde play Magic if it weren't for these invites because there's no way they could find the time in their real lives to go through the grind of earning an invite. So in one sense, giving out these free invites is a great way to connect to the history of the game. On the other hand, while I won't name names, we've also seen examples of some people using these invites like free vacations, not really testing, playing poorly, and seemingly not taking the Pro Tour seriously, which just ends up feeling bad for everyone. It doesn't make the game look good, and it doesn't make the player look good. All in all, it seems that the good outweighs the bad, especially considering that Wizards can pick and choose who it covers, which means we shouldn't have to watch the "free vacation" players on camera unless they are in contention, and if they are in contention at a Pro Tour, they likely took the event at least somewhat seriously and the "free vacation" label probably doesn't apply.

Generally speaking, the Pro Tour Hall of Fame isn't in bad shape at the moment, and the recent changes don't really seem like a bad thing. However, the Hall of Fame could be so much more than it is right now. At least for me, the Pro Tour induction ceremony is one of the best Magic events of the year because it gives everyone a glimpse of how much the game we all love really means to people, not just in terms of having a fun hobby but their real day-to-day lives.

These moments make Magic real and provide examples of why the game is so important to so many people. We already know the game itself is amazing, but what makes Magic the great game it is are the people, and while we've seen an increase recently (especially from Corbin Hosler, who does a great job) in telling the stories of the people in the game, the Hall of Fame induction ceremony is the one time each year when this is fully on display for everyone to see. We need more of these moments and more of the stories of the people who make up the game we all love, which means it's time to expand the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. 

Drop the "Pro Tour"

Now, I'm not proposing that we need to change the way the Hall of Fame currently interacts with pro players. While we can argue about Pro Point levels and numbers of Top 8 finishes, generally speaking, the current system seems to be working fairly well. However, the Hall of Fame could benefit a lot by dropping the "Pro Tour" from the name.

The first Pro Tour Hall of Fame class was back in 2005, and in the past 12 years, the game has grown in ways that Wizards probably couldn't have imagined, sparking an entire industry of YouTube videos, written articles, podcasts, and the like. Back then, it likely made sense to have a Pro Tour Hall of Fame because making it to the Pro Tour was the primary path to "success" in Magic. Today, things are much different, and the road to success is Magic is much more varied. We have popular content producers who have never played a Pro Tour match. We have cosplayers and artists giving Grands Prix a convention-like feel. We have formats like Commander, podcasts like Limited Resources, and comedy from groups like LoadingReadyRun. All of these things combined have changed the very meaning of Magic. While the competitive grind to the Pro Tour is still very much an important part of Magic, it's no longer the only part of Magic. Basically, the game of Magic has moved away from being exclusively about the Pro Tour to encompassing a wide range of passions and pursuits, and it's time for the Hall of Fame to follow suit by becoming the Magic: the Gathering Hall of Fame, rather than just the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, so it can promote and recognize everything the game has become, rather than just one aspect of the game.

Once again, let me make this very clear: this wouldn't impact pro players in any way, shape, or form. The voting would remain the same, the qualifications would remain the same, and the benefits would remain the same. If need be, the Pro Tour Hall of Fame name could remain as a wing of the Magic: the Gathering Hall of Fame. This change isn't about the pros; it's about everyone else who makes Magic the amazing game it is today. 

If we look around at the halls of fame of other sports in North America, every one has some mechanism for recognizing non-players for their contributions to the game. The National Baseball Hall of Fame, for example, includes not just players but managers, umpires, executives, and pioneering contributors. The NFL Hall of Fame regularly recognizes owners and coaches, while the Basketball Hall of Fame makes room for contributors like Meadowlark Lemon of Harlem Globetrotters fame. 

This is arguably even more important in Magic than it is for other sports, considering that there's a massive group of Magic players who interact with the game primarily on a non-pro level. If you're a football fan, you almost certainly watch NFL games; if you're a baseball fan, you're pretty much guaranteed to spend time watching MLB games. On the other hand, a majority of Magic fans don't watch the Magic Pro Tour or even follow the pro scene (the last Pro Tour topped out at just over 40,000 viewers during the finals, while Wizards says there are 20,000,000 Magic players in the world, which means 0.2% of Magic players tuned in for what is essentially the Super Bowl of Magic). There's a reason why hardcore gameplay videos featuring one of the best players in the world might get 30,000 views on YouTube while a countdown video ranking the 10 worst cards in Magic gets 400,000. This isn't a knock on high-level play but more a recognition that most Magic is played on kitchen tables in the hands of people who don't really care about the Pro Tour. 

So, my request is this: after expanding the Hall of Fame from "Pro Tour" to "Magic: the Gathering," create a system for contributors to be recognized and enshrined. This would be 100% separate from the "Pro Tour" part of the Hall of Fame (although it would be part of the same induction ceremony). Instead of having other pro players vote, have a voting system that involves the general Magic public (which would be a fun event in and of itself and doubtlessly create a ton of conversation and hype) combined with Wizards and perhaps some sort of Community Committee chosen by Wizards and designed specifically for this purpose. People enshrined in the "contributor" part of the Hall of Fame wouldn't get Pro Tour invites or any other special benefits, apart from some sort of plaque / trophy and a paid trip to the Pro Tour (as a non-player) where they are being inducted, to take part in the ceremony. 

To me, this seems like a no-brainer for a bunch of reasons. First, it's very low cost for Wizards, with the only real expense being flying an extra person to the induction ceremony and some work hours setting things up. Second, it would generate a ton of hype and be great advertising for Wizards. The Pro Tour Hall of Fame is already a huge conversion topic, and it involves a statistically insignificant percentage of the Magic community as either players or voters. Imagine the popularity of something similar but involving the entire community, instead of this small sliver. Third, and most importantly, there are a ton of community members who deserve this recognition. 

What Do You Mean, "Contributor"?

Now, let me make this clear right off the bat: I shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame. The Professor from Tolarian Community College shouldn't either, or Wedge at The Mana Source, or Marshall from Limited Resources, or whoever else happens to be popular at the moment. While it's possible that all of these people could be deserving of a contributor slot eventually, what the contributor part of the Magic: the Gathering Hall of Fame should not be is a contest to see who is most popular right now. Thankfully, this is easy to fix by setting up requirements for eligibility—just like pro players need to have played their first Pro Tour at least 10 years ago to be considered, we'd need some similar guideline for contributors. The goal would be to give honor and credit to people who have had a long-term positive impact on the game but don't happen to be Pro Tour all-stars. 

While I hesitate to even throw out names because I'm sure I'm going to miss a lot of people, especially from years past, I can give you some broad ideas of the types of people I believe would be deserving of contributor slots right now, today, and also some groups that will likely be deserving in the future:

Wizards People: 

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It's hard to argue that people like Mark Rosewater, Aaron Forsythe, and of course Richard Garfield shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame. I believe that every other major sports hall of fame has the game's creator enshrined, and people like Mark Rosewater and Aaron Forsythe are akin to "owners" in sports, who are another group that often finds their way into the hall of fame.

Artists: 

At this point, there are some Magic artists who have been helping to make iconic Magic cards for over 20 years, which certainly seems worthy of a contributor slot in the Hall of Fame. We couldn't enshrine all artists, of course, but it's hard to imagine too many people being against artists with the track records of John Avon or Terese Nielsen finding their way into the Magic: the Gathering Hall of Fame.

Commentary People: 

Here, the two big ones that come to mind are Brian David-Marshall and Rich Hagen, although it's very likely that more names will join this list as time passes. 

Content People: 

Right now, this would include people like Evan Erwin, who pretty much pioneered Magic content on YouTube, but I'm sure there are other early content pioneers who deserve recognition as well. As time passes, this group would contain podcasters, writers, YouTube personalities, and the like.

Community People: 

This might not be the best name for the category, but here I'm envisioning people like Sheldon Menery, who has had a huge impact on Commander, along with tournament organizers and even game store owners.

Judges: 

We often forget about the judges who keep our tournaments running smoothly, but there's precedent for giving outstanding judges membership in the Hall of Fame—the National Baseball Hall of Fame regularly enshrines umpires. While this wouldn't include every judge or even every high-level judge, someone like Riki Hayashi would certainly be deserving. 

Others:

 

While Chris Pikula should be in the Pro Tour Hall of Fame already, his work to end cheating during the wild west early days of the Pro Tour would certainly be worth considering for the contributors wing, as would an alternate version of Willy Edel (who is hugely important to Magic in South America) who wasn't already in the hall based on his Pro Tour play. 

The Future: 

The other exciting aspect of this is that we don't know what will happen in the future. In just the last couple of years, we've seen the rise of Magic cosplay, and while I'm not sure there's any cosplayer who should be inducted into the Hall of Fame right now, there are some like Christine Sprankle who likely will be in a few more years.

The Nuts and Bolts

The exact way to make this change work is certainly open for debate. While I really like the idea of somehow involving the vote of the community—because I think it would generate a ton of conversation, hype, and advertising for Wizards—it's also possible that Wizards (or a small group created by Wizards) could simply enshrine deserving members (much like the old timers / veterans committee in the Baseball Hall of Fame, which has the ability to induce players they deem worthy without going through the voting process).

The number of slots that should go to contributors is debatable. In basketball, contributors are granted entrance into the hall of fame quite regularly, with the recent norm being somewhere around two each year, on average. On the other hand, the baseball hall of fame enshrines non-players fairly infrequently. For Magic, enshrining one contributor each year could be fine, although it might have to be more at first to work through the backlog (even just from my short list, there are at least 10 people who are shoo-ins, and I'm sure there are more whom I'm not thinking of at the moment, who are from before my time, or who are from other countries that I'm not as familiar with). 

The long and short of this is that we, as the Magic community, have members who deserve to be recognized and honored for their massive contributions to the game. Every other major sport has a way of recognizing these people through their halls of fame, and the Magic: the Gathering Hall of Fame should follow suit. Doing so doesn't cost Wizards any significant amount of money, and it seems that these community-driven Hall of Fame votings would be some of the most popular events of the year. While not in the same way, many of these people have dedicated their lives to making Magic the amazing game it is today, just as much as a Pro Tour Hall of Fame-level players have, and as a result are just as deserving of recognition and praise. 

The Downside

From my perspective, expanding the Hall of Fame from "Pro Tour" to "Magic: the Gathering" seems like all upside, although I could imagine some members of the pro community disliking the change, either because they feel like it somehow trivializes their accomplishments or threatens the "sanctity of the game." Here, once again, I'd counter by pointing out that the current setup of the Magic Hall of Fame is the exception rather than the rule. Having the "clown prince" in the Basketball Hall of Fame doesn't diminish the accomplishments of Michael Jordan or Bill Russell, and having Henry Chadwick (creator of the box score and the founder of statistics in baseball) in the National Baseball Hall of Fame doesn't make Hank Aaron's home runs worth any less. 

If Michael Jordan is okay with Meadowlark Lemon in the Basketball Hall of Fame, then Magic players should be able to deal with Brian David-Marshall or Mark Rosewater in the Magic Hall of Fame.

The other possibility is that including more non-players will actually be beneficial for the pro players. For example, Wizards just gave a Hearthstone streamer a special invite to the Pro Tour in the hopes of drawing some of his audience to the Pro Tour coverage, and more coverage means more potential sponsorships and more money for pro players (whether or not this strategy works remains to be seen, but it can't hurt to try). Likewise, Wizards would draw a different audience to the Hall of Fame ceremony (and coverage of the Pro Tour, since the ceremony is part of Pro Tour coverage) to watch someone like Evan Erwin or Mark Rosewater give their speech, which benefits pro players in the long run. 

Conclusion

In the past, Magic's selling point was that you could play the game and see the world by qualifying for the Pro Tour, and while this dream lives on, it has also expanded. When the Pro Tour Hall of Fame was started, all of the biggest stars of Magic were pro players, but the Magic world has changed over the past decade. Now, many of the most popular and productive members of the Magic community have never played a Pro Tour match and instead contribute by making videos; judging tournaments; creating formats, podcasts, and articles; cosplaying at events; or creating artwork. While the Pro Tour and pro players are part of what makes the Magic community great, the game has moved past being exclusively about the Pro Tour. It's time for the Hall of Fame to catch up to this new reality and, rather than recognizing just one type of greatness as displayed by pro players, recognizing all of the different types of greatness displayed by the community that goes into making Magic the best game in the world.

Anyway, that's all for today. What do you think? Should we expand the Hall of Fame to include contributors who aren't Pro Tour all-stars? If so, who would you like to see included? Did I forget about any aspects of the community that are deserving of recognition? Let me know in the comments, and as always, you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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