Brian Kibler Is Not Having Fun on Magic Online

Brian Kibler Is Not Having Fun on Magic Online

Nov 13, 2013

I originally had an article for the Pauper Breakdown series I was going to publish after downtime but in light of recent events I felt the article was no longer appropriate. As many of you might have already heard through social media or directly from the mothership itself, constructed play at the competitive level on Magic Online has been effectively removed until further notice. Wizards of the Coast is offering on-demand constructed queues in each format but this is a far cry from the days of Daily and Premier Events. The monthly Magic Online Championship Series finals and PTQs are also a thing of the past.

How did we get here? This was building up over a long period of time even if the end result is sudden, swift and painful. The Magic Online system as a whole has been limping along for most of the year. Large PTQs and MOCS events have become a complete crap shoot to the point where people are actually surprised when one of them manages to complete without any incident. When large events have not been crashing there have been numerous other bugs to help put a damper on the entire player experience (see: Pillar of Flame, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver). Itemizing all of the short comings of Magic Online in the past year is too much for one person and not my intention. Plenty of disgruntled players have already covered these failures in great detail on their blogs or social media. The only thing that matters is the end result of repeated failure: a lot of players felt like their experience was being compromised. They might have tolerated Magic Online because of how much they love playing the game but if I could put a number on the amount of faith in the program, it would be somewhere around zero. And that’s when you know you have a serious problem.

When something fails so spectacularly the initial and obvious reaction is to place the blame at someone’s feet. The Magic Online development team deserves their fair share of the blame and the social media networks like Twitter ensures they hear every last bit of it from disgruntled players. At the technical level, they failed to build a system capable of scaling with the growing number of players. When your infrastructure in 2013 includes the phrase “single master server” you know you’re not doing it right. Apparently this is how Wizards was operating for quite awhile and barely skating by. What is even more frustrating is their acknowledgement of the scaling issue being a known limitation where it was not a matter of how or what, but when things would just blow up. There have been opportunities to fix this in the past but they simply said no thanks then tried to make it work with super glue and some tape to save a few bucks. Kind of like when your mom insists her minivan is good for another couple of years after it hits 200 K miles, the engine is wheezing every time she starts the car and you’re asking her to drop you off a block away from your school because you’re too embarrassed to be seen getting out of it. That’s the Magic Online development team in a nutshell.

We can only imagine how much of this could have been avoided if the development team did a better job of communicating with the players. A large part of their job is development but communication is also in the job descriptions (or should be) and this is something they failed to grasp. We yawn every time we see another player griping on the client or Twitter about how things are just falling apart and demanding some sort of action. How many times have we seen a genuine response from anyone at Wizards about what they’re doing to fix it? Sometimes they might throw us a bone with some “in-depth” article about how v4 is going to look so much better than v3. To be honest I could really care less about how the client looks as long as it lets me play the game without interfering or crashing in new and interesting ways every time there is a big event. But even this was more than what we usually get when it came to the real issues plaguing the system. The most we can expect is “sorry, we’re looking into it” or “here is your refund.” It reaches the point where you wonder how genuine the apology is and it begins to sound more like “sorry it is easier for us to refund you than actually do something to fix whatever the real issue is.”

The straw that broke the camel’s back is the last MOCS finals where Brian Kibler went 7-0 then got dropped from the event thanks to connectivity issues. We can talk about how the PTQ the next day also crashed but this is the one that really got everyone’s attention whether they play Magic Online or not because it is BRIAN FREAKING KIBLER. This isn’t the first time this has happened to someone on Magic Online and I can guarantee you it won’t be the last no matter how many upgrades they make to the system. Sometimes shit just happens and you hope it doesn’t happen at the wrong time and place. Unfortunately, in Brian’s case it happened at the worst time possible. Any Magic player can sympathize with his situation and I think we all truly felt bad for what happened to him. We play a game where we try to limit variance as much as possible and account for everything but sometimes there are things beyond our control. Like a single master server running in a broom closet out of memory.

If Brian Kibler had everyone’s sympathy for his spectacular 7-0 drop I think he managed to give away a good chunk of it with his now infamous blog post on how the Magic Online Championship Series should not exist. I am sure someone has made that statement before. Actually, I am sure several people have after becoming frustrated with Magic Online countless times. We have no idea who they are but we sure know who Brian Kibler is. When Brian Kibler talks, the Magic community listens. Unfortunately after wasting his Saturday for nothing except a few boosters and a foil Scrubland he had less than kind words about the system and recommended for people to stay away until it is fixed. The underlying message was fine (and not completely incorrect) but the manner and context in which it was delivered leaves a lot to desired. Let me try to summarize the best I can:

My name is Brian Kibler and I am a Magic pro used to playing on the world’s biggest stages. I am typically so busy on weekends with getting paid to play REAL Magic and doing other Brian Kibler stuff that I do not play Magic Online. Magic Online is just for grinders I only use it if I really have to for my job. However since there is a big tournament with a lot of money on the line I guess I will grace your system with my presence and play.

….(7 rounds and 1 crash later)….

IF BRIAN KIBLER ISN’T HAVING FUN, NO ONE IS HAVING FUN ON MAGIC ONLINE. MY TIME IS SUPER VALUABLE. THE SYSTEM IS GARBAGE. SHUT IT DOWN, IT IS A TRAGEDY.

BTW, SOLFORGE!

 

I might have been a little off in my interpretation but only barely. The only thing I probably got wrong was using third-person but I think if he had done that in his post it would have fit perfectly. We get it, you’re a busy guy and you wasted your weekend playing Magic Online.

Brian has as much right to be upset as the next person but there is a way to carry yourself and express it constructively. This was on his personal blog so he is free to write whatever he pleases. While he was writing this masterpiece I think Brian forgot he is still a representative of the game and community. Whether he likes it or not this includes Magic Online and all of its players. Obviously Brian is a pretty smart guy and a good Magic player and Magic Online does need serious help. Why not use his knowledge and resources to help the system and game that has given so much to him instead of trashing it very publicly and telling people to stay away? He has a lot of experience at the highest level of the game so tell us how we can improve Magic Online to offer a professional experience. He might not play a lot of Magic Online, a point he emphasizes repeatedly, but him and his fellow pros have sure reaped the benefits of its success. If Magic: The Gathering has become the success it is today and people like Brian can become minor celebrities in the gaming world with new opportunities to capitalize on their success (see: SolForge), Magic Online is a huge part of that. It has opened the game to people who would not be playing it otherwise. I can safely state that Magic would not be nearly as popular or accessible if Magic Online did not exist. Players today have a better appreciation and understanding of the game thanks to being able to play the game more than once a week at FNM if they’re lucky. Magic used to be for the fortunate few who had enough cards and knew enough people on the same level to play with. Before Magic Online there were countless stories of people in the early days of the game who just stopped playing because it was too expensive and they didn’t really have a place to play. If you compare that to where we are now it is like night and day. Now we have large events across the globe on a weekly basis complete with full prize support and live commentary. How many of these people got their start on Magic Online or used the program to practice and improve their game to the point where they felt confident enough to go to a large event? Would companies like StarCityGames even think of running their own circuit if they didn’t see people playing online 24/7 and practically begging for more events?

Professional players like Brian Kibler might take Grand Prix and Pro Tours for granted as a way of life but they are luxuries for the rest of us. The majority of Magic players will never play in one of these large events. People who live in countries with minimal access to competitive Magic. People who simply cannot afford the time or money for a Grand Prix or Pro Tour on top of whatever their deck might cost. People like me who have other responsibilities that come first even though I love playing Magic as much as the next person. Magic Online allows us to enjoy the game and be competitive on our own terms within the structure of our lives. Hopefully Wizards of the Coast has learned from their mistakes and can continue to offer this experience down the road. I still have faith in them and think the current firestorm is a painful price we pay for a better program in the future.

Brian Kibler chose to ignore how important Magic Online is to the success of the game and what it means to the players who play everyday. In his eyes, the program is just a complete failure because he had one bad weekend. Magic Online deserves another chance to get things right and I hope we see another article from him in a year about how wrong he was.

Jason Sirichoke (jsiri84)
EMail: jsiri84@castingcommons.com
Twitter: jsiri84_mtg

Casting Commons
Twitter: CastingCommons
Twitch: CastingCommons
Hashtag: #MTGPauper

One comment

  1. Well said, Jason. I was somewhat sympathetic of Kibler, until he stated that “tying Magic Online to physical Organized Play at this point is a joke. Inviting the winner of the Magic Online Championship to the World Championship threatens to undermine the latter event”. Not everyone is a Paper pro, and neither should the world revolve around them. I hope that this period of extended tournament downtime is used by players to push for a better system rather than an excuse to blame WOTC for everything that has ever gone wrong and propagate alarmist opinions which will undoubtedly result in a weaker system in the future.

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