Pro Bowl and Super Tour: Comparisons and Speculations

What makes a good event? I’ve been thinking a lot about goals recently, and my developing interest in content production and editing has me looking behind the curtain at the factors at play behind “spectacle” events. For regular readers of my column it should be no surprise that I often branch out in my topics, for better or worse, so today I thought I’d give a Pro Tour warm-up piece, in characteristic Trevor Holmes style. So buckle up for some random musings that loosely tie in to Magic and hopefully it will come together at the end!

Dueling Grounds art

Part of what draws me to StarCityGames coverage every weekend is the Magic, sure, but mostly I’m entranced by the back and forth between Patrick Sullivan and Cedric Phillips. The comparisons to ESPN coverage, while slightly exaggerated, have roots in fact; SCG coverage has a clear method of presentation and executes their model to near-perfection. It’s been said before, and it’s a sentiment I agree with, that Wizards could gain a lot from attempting to emulate ESPN. Fox NFL coverage aside (really, Curt/Terry/Howie/Jimmy are atrocious) the National Football League does an excellent job covering their events, and the results show.

Obviously there are other, more important factors at play regarding a sport’s growth than the coverage that accompanies it, but you can’t deny that coverage is the link between the professional and the audience. I truly think the only thing separating Magic from League of Legends level popularity is the way it is presented to the public: through coverage and Magic Online. This weekend, I’ll be watching both the Pro Tour and the Super Bowl, with an eye towards what Wizards coverage can do differently to *possibly* one day grow the game to Super Bowl League of Legends levels of watchability.

The Super Bowl

For those individuals unfamiliar with football (or American sports in general) it’s possible you may not have heard of the Super Bowl. While it has recently grown into a cross-cultural spectacle full of entertaining commericals, halftime concerts, and copious amounts of fanfare and analysis, the Super Bowl at heart is the culmination of a season-long competition to prove football superiority. Similar to the Magic Pro Tour, the Super Bowl excites both players, fans, and casual observers alike.

I have the unfortunate position of living in North Carolina surrounded by bandwagon Panthers fans, and I can’t talk trash because my team (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) are literally garbage. Seriously, we should just rename ourselves the Tampa Bay Browns. Now, I know there’s some die-hard Panthers fans out there (insert that “I’ve been a fan since ‘95” nonsense) but for the most part, Panthers fans only get riled up when they’re in a winning season. Before the age of Cam Newton, every week was some flavor of “Jake Delhomme/John Fox is (somewhere on the Jesus/Satan spectrum)!“ depending largely on whether Carolina won that week or not.

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Don’t get me wrong: criticism of your team is great and all. It’s encouraged and shows you care and are passionate about your squad. All I’m asking for is a little loyalty when your guys are on the ropes. The Bucs went 2-14 last year, but I wasn’t calling for anyone’s head. This is partly because our main problem is penalties, and we can’t fire all the culprits (as we’d then have no team) but my point remains. For angry Panthers fans headed to the comments, slow it down (for angry Magic fans who don’t understand or care about American football, bear with me!). Obviously I’m a little tongue-in-cheek with this. I’ve developed my passive-aggressive trash talk to the point where I can feign innocence if anyone gets too offended, as my veiled criticisms hold no weight when some adversary can just throw the numbers “2-14” right back at me. I truly have no room to talk.

So, I’ll be watching the Super Bowl not to cheer on either team (I was in Denver once. It was “fine?”) (Editors Note: Tread. Softly. Sir.) but rather to appreciate it for what it is: a concentrated, calculated effort to whip every American into a frenzy and convince them of the divinity of the sport of football (which is absolutely true). Starting to see the Magic and Pro Tour connection yet? Yes, designers truly do look at everything in life and dissect it down to its constituent parts. It’s both a blessing and a curse.

The Pro Tour

I’m not comparing the two events for the sole reason that they lie on the same weekend (by pure chance), but rather because I’m convinced they are structured with similar goals in mind (at a macro level). At this point, the Super Bowl is a spectacle that everyone watches and knows, whether they care about football or not. The Pro Tour is nowhere near that visible (nor will it ever be), but they both have enough similarities that I find it worth comparing them to gain some sort of insight or lesson from it. Let’s break it down:

Competitive Culmination

1996 World ChampionBoth the Super Bowl and the Pro Tour exist as the final stop in a competitive endeavor of sorts. Magic professionals grind Grand Prix and compete in Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers to acquire invites to the biggest stage. Professional football teams fight all year until two men enter, one man leaves. Both events carry with them significant prestige worth battling for, not to mention monetary rewards and rock star status (you think we don’t treat PT Champs like rock stars? Check Twitter after the event. Martin Dang could have posted a picture of a spoon and it would have had 1,000 favorites!).

The big comparison I find between the two events is the underlying reason for their existence in the first place. As companies, both the NFL and Wizards need to provide some sort of goal for us to strive for, otherwise NFL players are just wasting money on cardboard and travel time and Magic players are getting concussions and in trouble for steroid use for nothing. Maybe I have that backwards? Maybe not. Aside from that, the Pro Tour and the Super Bowl both exist as a marketing tool for their respective entities to use to generate more interest in their particular game. The NFL has done its job at this point, but there was a time when football played second fiddle to baseball in America. Ask your grandfather. Now, they literally own a day of the week. Magic, in my mind, is the NFL in its younger days; plucky, underdog, struggling against the mighty League of Legends baseball overlords.

Tying it Together

It’s important to restate that I’m not comparing the Super Bowl to the Magic Pro tour merely because they lie on the same weekend. I believe (and hope I’ve explained thoroughly) the parallels the two events have to each other, and what the Pro Tour can aspire to be by taking lessons from the Super Bowl (and football broadcasting in general). While we could get into details like marketing to those unfamiliar with the game, working to make the event more entertaining for all involved, etc, I feel that’s straying a bit too far from the path. Before we add in all the fluff (halftime performances, cheerleaders) we need to start at the basics. (Seriously, how could would cheerleaders be at Pro Tours? We could have Patrick Chapin blow the roof with his MTG mixtape or something).

More than the Super Bowl, it’s possible the Wizards really wants to emulate a lot of what the League of Legends crowd does. They are already on their way; we can see similar attempts to generate storylines and drama between individual Pros and teams. I’m not sure shoutcasting is the answer, but quippy sarcastic commentary seems to be falling short for the majority of the audience. SCG recently changed their intro theme for their broadcasting in an attempt to generate more of the “excitement factor” by splicing in clips of the commentators going nuts. I feel this is a step in the right direction towards making the game more exciting and approachable from an entertainment level.

What’s the Goal?

Pia and Kiran NalaarLots of talk will be had this weekend about “is the format better”, “should we have banned Splinter Twin”, “is Wizards the NFL in disguise, coming to ruin our health and steal our livelihoods?” We’ll even hear the adage about Wizards’ banning of Twin akin to an NFL banning of the Patriots. I don’t have the answer to any of these questions, and I don’t necessarily even find them that interesting. The format is what the format is, and I will continue to play Grixis Control and lament my opponent’s nut draws even though it’s my fault I have Pia and Kiran Nalaar in my deck. For some reason, I find myself analyzing, deconstructing and rebuilding everything I see except for Magic. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that Magic is my escape, like most other people, so it would make sense that I don’t approach it in the same way I do everything else.

Catching a glimpse of how Pro Tours run behind the scenes was an awesome experience that I’ll never forget. In Vancouver, I got taken behind the curtain for just 5 minutes to do an interview that you should really read, because it’s about me and I like it! You don’t notice on the Twitch stream, but literally inches from Brian David-Marshall and Rich Hagon is a flurry of activity; cameramen, technicians, writers doing text pieces, content guys updating social networks, and an actual tournament going on! The polarity between what we as viewers see on screen and what actually goes into creating content is exciting for me. Maybe I’m way off base, but that’s what I think about when I watch any production, be it Magic or the Super Bowl.

All this ties to the event goals we talked about earlier: promoting their respective entities. In both cases, it’s a season-long production with steep costs and hefty behind-the-scene requirements. In both cases, it’s an uphill struggle to claw your showcase from backup program to headline event. I like to keep these considerations in mind as I’m consuming all the Pro Tour and pro ball action, and I always encourage others to do the same. What can I say? It’s the designer’s curse!

Conclusion

What’s the takeaway here? Yes, I’m incredibly interested to see what Modern looks like now that the Pros have had a chance to sink their teeth into a format free of the shackles of Splinter Twin. So why didn’t I write about that this week? Maybe in the back of mind I’m afraid things won’t change much, and the format will stay the way it is. So, boring? How can the format be boring if there’s twenty different decks! The format is great, and I’m not sure I want it to change. If it did, I think that’d be great too, though. You see what I mean? I’m so ambivalent right now when it comes to Modern that I’m fine with whatever happens (as if my opinion really matters). If the pros break it, they break it, and we get to see something cool and awesome. If it’s 16 rounds of high-quality textbook Modern Magic, that’d be great too.

Instead of worrying about the format, or comparing it to some predetermined notion of “pass-fail” in my mind, I’m going to sit back and enjoy it. And by sit back, I mean take detailed notes and draw comparisons and cross-references between two vastly different productions. I am what I am.

Thanks for reading and see you next week!

Trevor Holmes
The_Architect on MTGO
Twitch.tv/Architect_Gaming
Twitter.com/7he4rchitect

 

Trevor started playing Magic in 2011. He plays primarily online and studies Architecture at UNCC. Recent paper Magic accomplishments include a 2015 Regional PTQ win qualifying for Pro Tour: Magic Origins and a Day Two performance at GP Charlotte. He also streams weekdays at twitch.tv/Architect_Gaming! Follow him at twitter.com/7he4rchitect and architectgaming.wordpress.com!

26 thoughts on “Pro Bowl and Super Tour: Comparisons and Speculations

  1. I like football references as much as the next guy (probably more – I freaking love football), but there was no actual Magic content in this article. Normally, I don’t like criticizing what people put up on this site, but there’s nothing here. I would have expected at least some sort of report on how your pet deck Grixis Control/Midrange (a previously Tier 2 deck that has abruptly vanished from the meta) is doing in your hands, if nothing else. Where’s the beef?

    1. Agreed, I fail to see the point of this article. I usually enjoy your thoughts though Trevor (even the random ones), but this is a pretty pointless article. It is great that you think the Super Bowl and the Pro Tour share similar elements, but this never culminated into anything other than that statement. There was really nothing to learn from this article of value. Strategy articles, metagame articles, and well researched opinion pieces are what keep me checking every day. Articles like this read as “i couldn’t think of something better to talk about so here is something I can use to meet my deadline” fluff. I am pointing this out with the best of intentions – I really like reading your content. What happened to the online deck series?

      I look forward to reading articles from this site every day and start checking around noon. I find it really annoying when articles are not posted at a consistent time, and when I feel like an article wastes my time. Just some feedback for your site. Every once in a while an article will get posted very “late” as compared to the normal release time – this drives me mad!

      1. I’ll let Trevor speak to specific article concerns, but I’m happy to say more about the article lateness. In many cases, this is because there is a small (but important) manual process that needs to occur before articles are published, and sometimes we don’t have a finger on the button, so to speak, around 11. We’re a small site so, if this happens, it can cause late articles. There have also been times where we’ve added some late-round edits to articles before publication. This definitely happened in the metagame article the other day, when I realized an unfortunate hole in the Tier 2 section. All of this can contribute to late articles.

        Totally hear you that it’s frustrating and we’re working, both technically and editorially, to make it more consistent. Hopefully this will get ironed out very soon! I’ll forward your other concerns along to Trevor.

          1. Everyone has content off-days. We love working with Trevor and have enjoyed many of his analyses, reports, and strategy pieces. I’m sure we’ll see something awesome from Trevor again soon!

      2. Hey guys,

        I appreciate your feedback and I’m sorry you couldn’t take much from this article, my intention was to provide something a little different than the “standard” Pre-Pro Tour article. My article this week was an attempt to approach the Pro Tour this weekend from a different perspective, focusing more on analysis of the presentation and what can be done to improve the popularity and quality of this quarterly event with the (lofty) goal of it becoming more like the Super Bowl: a cross-cultural phenomenon.

        Naturally, this is a very specific and focused look into a small section of what could be considered “Magic topics” and is definitely on the line of off-topic. It doesn’t contain any of the “normal” characteristics of common Magic articles; no strategy, no decklists, no metagame analysis of any kind. Maybe in the future I should do a better job of introducing my article as “off-topic”, or stay away from them entirely? I won’t know without feedback, so thanks for taking the time to respond!

        I’m not the kind of writer that just throws up a piece to present “something I can use to meet my deadline”. Reading pieces like that have pushed me away from other sites in the past (Magic and non-Magic) and I make sure every article I write has heart, and I’m writing about something I truly care about. Often, this means more off-the-wall topics and opinion pieces than true strategy articles, but I try and provide a balance.

        It’s very possible that this article fell short of what readers are looking for and I hate to disappoint. I’m interested in learning about how I can improve and what you don’t like, the topic, the writing, or both?

        As for the video series, we put that on pause over the holidays to focus on other projects and hopefully I can revisit it again in the future. I’m glad to hear it’s being missed!

        Thanks,
        Trevor

        1. If you want to talk about some more off-topic stuff, like the greater gaming culture connotations of an event the size of the Modern Pro Tour, or how the gaming community regards Magic compared to how the sporting community regards football, I’d advise you bake them into articles that also have content in them. That’s what I think most of us are here for – Modern Magic strategy and analysis (and if anyone disagrees with me, they can speak up in the comments – but I don’t expect much opposition to this point). I support your efforts to broaden your topics horizons, but it should not come at the expense of what got you here to begin with, which is solid content.

          P.S.: I was also a fan of the deck series, and I strongly suggest you go back to it. That was one of the best pieces of content on this site, especially when it delved into decks that other people weren’t giving the time of day, but could still hold some potential.

        2. Trevor – like I said I normally enjoy the randomness you introduce to the content-sphere, I just didn’t care much for this one. Honestly, I am being nitpicky – not every article will appeal to everyone. This one did not appeal to me, but it could appeal to someone else (i hope).

          In the interest of helping improve the site (from my very subjective perspective): To be more specific – The topic here is not the problem for me, it is the content itself. I also find the presentation of tournaments fascinating. I would have liked to see a more focused article from you on the topic. Possibly embedding youtube videos of some great commentary/poor commentary and different examples to give the piece some flare and generate interest. Great topic, but it never actually materialized into anything in the article. Re-read the conclusion for example. There is no conclusion other than “i guess we will see what happens?” You talk more about what you did not do than what you presented – not much of a statement there. Instead of giving your article “soul” as you intended you seem to have given it ADD lol. Sorry for all of the literary criticism here, but as I said – I love this site and I am just giving my feedback with the intent to help. I don’t think you intentionally wrote a fluff piece just to write it, but nevertheless that is how it reads… Writing is truly difficult, and I applaud your overall collection of pieces on the site.

          Sheridan – I understand completely and I assumed that was the case for the late posts. Once again, just some feedback from the users perspective I figured you might value. I literally checked back like 6 times for that article. Lots of hits from this user that day lol.

          1. To add to that – Modern Nexus is one of the only things I look forward to on Mondays! Wish I could read some weekend articles, or even consume some less formal content outside of the regular article schedule… Some general content ideas:

            -Author vs Author recorded matches (like on starcity)
            Would love to see Jordan’s Delver deck vs Sheridan’s Belcher or something similar.
            -Deckbuilding Article Series. How to build good decks from scratch. This could build off of many of the previously made articles on the site (like jordan’s deck classification series)
            1. Mana Base, curve structure
            2. Deck Core
            3. What makes decks good or bad (case studies)
            4. etc
            -detailed articles about nuanced aspects of the game (like priority, and how it gets abused, bluffing, EOT abilities). How to play better magic.
            -lists – more lists! (strange interactions, weird combos, w/e)
            -Magic Online for outsiders
            -Set reviews (where did these go?)
            -Magic Finance (how to play on a budget)
            -Fresh Brews (good or bad – they are interesting to other brewers)

        3. Hey Trevor. First of all, let me say that I admire the grace you’ve displayed against these comments. Some people have responded rudely, and you don’t deserve that.

          I think for me, this article was a bit less grabbing because it missed the mark a bit on how the article relates to us. You’ve had personal articles in the past, but I think they were on an emotional level that we could all relate to. I feel this article specifically focuses on people who like magic and also like football. If it had been an article, for example, about how we can learn things from the game of football that can improve our game in Magic, I think it might have been received differently, because strategy is something everyone who reads Nexus can relate to.

          Having said that, I do want to let you know that you are my favorite writer on the site, and I love your more derived articles. Please keep it up!

          1. Hey Anonymous,

            Thanks for your kind words and your feedback! I can definitely see that this week’s article missed the mark, I didn’t anticipate how readers that couldn’t relate to football or non-strategy content would receive it. For sure a learning experience that I can use to improve my writing (which is the sole purpose for my writing anyways).

            Thanks for your vote of confidence and I’m glad you enjoy my content. See you next week!

  2. I’m also on the train that this article didn’t work for me, sorry. Part of that might be that I have no connection to football whatsoever, but I also wasn’t clear on what the point here was. Current coverage is bad, it could be better, look at the Superbowl? Maybe I missed it, but I was hoping to see some specific ideas advanced here if there wasn’t going to be any Magic content.

    I’ve said before, and will repeat here, that I am only speaking for myself but I don’t care really at all about the teams, players, “storylines,” or any of that- I watch Magic coverage to see coverage of Magic. In so many areas, WOTC completely gives up on doing a good job (e.g. Magic Online…) because the _game itself_ is so strong that it overrides tons of missteps and bad decisions. The best part of Magic is actually Magic. When I watch coverage, I want better coverage of the game itself, commentators who know the game and the format and are actually invested (I’m not naming Randy Buehler or BDM, but some commentators are completely out of touch and ignorant about Modern especially), and I want to see them actually occupy the time with games of Magic being played and not filler.

    E-sports get to be flashy and action-oriented and catch people’s attention that way. Magic is not basketball or League with easy-to-process movement going on at all times. It’s like chess- you need to know what’s going on to really appreciate it, and I think coverage should recognize that and build from there.

  3. I would have loved to hear more about Grixis personally. The deck needs guidance in these turbulent waters. I have put it on the shelf in despair but perhaps an article would encourage me to pick it back up.

    1. I also was interested to hear that you are still playing Grixis and would love to see another Grixis article, as I have been playing some form of Grixis ever since FRF and cannot afford to drop it so must make it work in the current meta.

    2. Yes, please Trevor, I’m also a student of Grixis, and after the bans, and confusing new meta, I am also in need of guidance and insight! At least “If I were at the Pro Tour, this is what I would be playing….”

      Thanks guys, I know it’s been hard to scratch around for some solid stuff after the bans, without talking about the bans themselves (no need to beat a dead horse, right?) In any case, I’m with ya!

      1. I’m glad to hear there’s an interest in some more Grixis content! That’s always been my deck and I’ve been trying hard to avoid talking about it, as I tend to talk about it *too much* if there is such a thing. Maybe it’s time to return to an old-fashioned Grixis analysis/primer piece?

  4. Didn’t mind the article but you’re leaning really hard on an audience that watches football, pt coverage, and league of legends to follow everything you’re saying. As someone batting 0/3 on those items it was tough to take anything much away from this. I feel like I’ve read other sites criticisms of magic coverage and easily been able to follow along on their criticisms and recommendations.

    As others have said – site is for modern content, that’s your audience and your niche. If your pro tour observations aren’t linked to modern as a format specifically, it probably doesn’t really belong on modern nexus.

  5. I guess I will throw in my two cents. I agree with the comments that this article lacked meat. I am not bashing at all, but a point, perhaps along the lines of suggestions to improve coverage, would have been good. It was about coverage right?

    1. Excellent feedback (yours and all the others). Definitely appreciate all the comments, I for one am really glad to see a community here that speaks up when they feel something can be better.

      The main thing I’m taking away from this is that IF I’m to do some relatively off-topic subject like the one I did this week, I should be sure to include enough content so those uninterested with my main points still have something to take away from the article. That’s not something I normally think about, as I’m often trying to focus my articles more than broaden them as my thought process normally goes all over the place. Great feedback that I’ll keep in mind in the future!

    1. I’d be ecstatic if we got Jon Gruden back (or someone similar). Our offense was incredible this year, our defense needs to concentrate and not give up big plays. Our major issue for the past 10 years has been penalties, and that has to change. Lovie Smith was a fine coach but we need a drill sergeant type-personality to whip our boys into shape. Dirk Koetter has some promise, we’ll see 🙂

  6. Fuck what these fool’s say I liked it you didn’t blabber about how twin got banned and bitch and moan, for christ sake’s modern player’s are so spoiled fuck it man keep writing the way you do!

    1. This is another place where I’m going to have to push back and ask where you are seeing articles “bitch and moan” about Twin’s ban. We haven’t published an article on that subject since last Monday. Everything else has certainly existed in the context of the Twin banning, but to do otherwise would be disingenuous or deliberately misleading. There’s this bizarre opinion in the Modern community that if an article or person so much as mentions the Twin ban it’s immediately either supporting or complaining about it. We need to move past this. The majority of articles past two weeks ago, and every article here since last Monday, have merely acknowledged the metagame and contextual impact of the ban. It is important for players to understand this difference because otherwise it’s hard to have a meaningful Modern discussion at all.

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