Opinion: Card Games Should Adopt the Fighting Game Collaborative Tournament Model – The Esports Observer

This week, Wizards of the Coast announced the end of the Magic Pro League. The MPL was a bad idea from the outset, it overcomplicated the Magic ecosystem, restricted the opportunity for a pro Magic career to just 32 people in the entire world, and (like most league structures in esports) was a significant expense for little return. League structures are generally a bad idea in single-player esports, but in a card game it’s especially dangerous to risk trotting out the same decks week in and week out in a stale meta.

Had Wizards of the Coast just announced a new circuit structure with a large prize pool, or a crowdfunding program through Arena that would fund future esports efforts, it’s entirely possible the cancellation of the MPL would have been seen as an overall positive for the community. Instead, WOTC’s messaging has led many to read its cancellation as the end of Magic esports as a viable career path. There will always be competitive Magic, it’s a deep game that rewards mastery and someone will host tournaments for it, but in the modern era it is difficult to consider an esport to be in a healthy place if the developer is not actively operating an international system with a large prize pool.

Unless, of course, you’re Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Melee will arguably come out of the pandemic in a better place than it’s ever been thanks to a robust online ecosystem and organizations like Golden Guardians investing in the space. The game can grow and sustain itself despite an actively antagonistic relationship with its developer.

In fact, the entirety of the fighting game community has learned to grow itself independent of developer support. While the major fighting game developers do provide some prize support and host a world championship, the majority of their infrastructure is built off the back of community-organized events. It is a wholly unique ecosystem in the modern esports industry that is poised to reach new heights as live events return.

The card game space shares many similarities with the FGC. The games appeal to a specific niche of gamers, many players within the genre dabble in multiple games, or bounce from game to game. The basic skill set translates across titles extremely well, and a casual observer can quickly pick up the basic mechanical differences between games. The only thing preventing someone from actively playing multiple card games at once is the cost of acquiring enough cards in each game to keep up with the meta.

One of the reasons I find fighting games so special is their shared ecosystem. It is extremely rare to find a MOBA content creator who routinely creates content about multiple games in the genre, but all of the biggest names in fighting games routinely post content about a wide array of titles. It isn’t strange at all to see Sonicfox streaming the new Guilty Gear despite being a Mortal Kombat pro. Heck, even that statement isn’t accurate as many people now potentially know him better for his success in Dragon Ball FighterZ. While there are still dumb jerks who create pointless factions favoring specific titles or subgenres, the general atmosphere within fighting games (as an outside observer) is one of collaboration and mutual success. Even characters bounce between games and publishers at this point.

Card games will never be at the top of the esports space. I love card games more than most genres, Magic is one of the greatest games ever created, and I still can’t be bothered to watch a professional tournament. But I would love to attend an event that brings together Legends of Runeterra, Magic, Hearthstone, Shadowverse, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and other fantastic games and their communities. I’d love to see more content that discusses the card game space as a whole rather than just narrowing in on a single title.

The card game space would benefit greatly from adopting a more collaborative strategy – learning from what has made the FGC successful while avoiding the pitfalls that have held it back. Rather than relying on a publisher to create a professional ecosystem, now is the time for the card game community to come together and create something new – to build a system that publishers can support rather than needing to control. It’d be pretty cool to one day attend the Evo of card games.

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