I have a love-hate relationship with the Pro Tour Hall of Fame.
I love the opportunity to celebrate great Magic players who are a true inspiration to many, but I despise some of the conversations triggered by the voting season. This year is no exception— additionally, being now part of the Selection Committee as a non-WotC member makes me appreciate even more the chance I am given to vote, while looking at things from a slightly different angle.
I learned a lot from the Magic community and will always to be grateful to it. The opportunity to observe and listen to such a variety of passionate individuals has been enriching, especially since I value the ability and willingness to share and discuss diverging opinions. The best decisions often come from a constructive debate—it’s an excellent opportunity to broaden your perspective, and even if you might not end up adopting the point of view of the opposing party, you at least had a chance to challenge or validate your own approach.
But a lot of conversations about the Hall of Fame are not actual discussions. They instead tend to revolve around the theme of, “how dare you vote for player X?” or “if you don’t vote for player Y, you’re doing it wrong. [Sad!].” This is not exactly constructive conversation, especially when it turns into an exchange of derogatory comments about candidates or voters. It seems that there is a belief that one single set of pertinent criteria exists and a kind of elaborate formula for determining who should be elected into the Hall of Fame, thus the notion that there are “correct” and “incorrect” votes.
But the bottom line is that by essence, the Hall of Fame vote is subjective. Players’ stats are only part of the criteria. How do you measure integrity, or community contribution? How do you rank the importance of Grand Prix finishes against Pro Tour finishes? Do you believe in second chances or do you consider a suspension a deal breaker? There might be votes you agree with, and some you disapprove, but talking about a “wrong” or “right” vote is extreme.
With that said, a few topics really made me think this year.
“It used to be harder/easier to Top 8 a Pro Tour (or a Grand Prix)”
Many factors could change the relative difficulty of a given Pro Tour—the game and environment have evolved drastically over the past 20 years. I still remember when the first Grand Prix crossed the threshold of 1,000 participants (I was working in Europe at the time and it was really a big deal). Today, a 1,000-player Grand Prix is considered a small GP in most regions. Was it once easier to have a great finish at a GP because of the smaller field? The number of competitors is only one component. At that time, it was not unusual for round 1 to start around noon or later, meaning that Day 1 would end up past midnight, resulting in an extremely short night of sleep for competitors—not the best situation to perform on Day 2.
I’m not even sure why this argument is being made. My cynical self tends to regard this as an attempt to undermine the accomplishment of some candidates. I truly hope I am wrong and that this is more a matter of arguing for the sake of arguing.
The Chris Pikula Dilemma
Chris is the candidate who triggered most of the recent controversial conversations. First off, I want to mention that I voted for Chris in the past and advocated giving him a Special Invite to Pro Tour Dublin. But the suggestion that not voting for Pikula was the wrong decision rubbed me the wrong way, and made even me question if I had not simply succumbed to peer pressure in the past.
But it would be unfair to Chris to dismiss his candidacy because of a campaign he has no control over. The challenge is that the first (unique?) argument that comes in support of Chris is his stance against cheaters. Actively promoting the integrity of the game at that time definitely impacted the Magic scene positively and Chris might be the hero Magic needs (I now have a mental picture of Chris dressed up as Batman), but I am not sure it is sufficient to grant him a seat in the Pro Tour Hall of Fame.
At this stage of my thought process, I read a piece written by Brian David-Marshall that gave me a broader perspective of Chris’ contribution, especially to his local scene. It was an eye-opener for me—the anti-cheating stance is only one component, and there he has made many other contributions that I consider important as well (such as influencing tournament organizers to improve overall tournament operations).
Another take away from my Pikula’s dilemma is that it made me re-assess the criteria I consider when voting for a candidate. Of course, performances, integrity, sportsmanship, and aptitude to drive aspiration are on my list. I also realized that recent results and current involvement in the game of a candidate were critical to me. The reason is that one of the key benefits, if not the key benefit, of being inducted in the Pro Tour Hall of Fame is the lifetime qualification to the Pro Tour.
Getting a slot on the Pro Tour is an achievement by itself, especially as more and more players enter the Magic competitive scene to attempt to get on the circuit while the number of seats remains pretty stable. After following countless stories of players trying to qualify, after reading about their journey, their hopes, disappointments and successes, I am less and less comfortable giving a permanent seat to a former Pro player who is completely disconnected from the game and not ready to invest themselves seriously if they were to get back to the Pro Tour.
If the benefits of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame were not including that lifetime qualification, I would revisit my criteria but in the current state of things, I assess this as pretty high on my list.
This is actually what actually made me decide to vote for Pikula. Chris is actively involved in the game and has relentlessly attempted to get back on the Tour, season after season. This is something some aspiring Pros can relate to, and it makes Chris’ candidacy stronger in my point of view.
The second candidate I am voting for is Martin Juza. His recent Pro Tour Top 8 completes nicely his ridiculous number of Grand Prix Top 8 (26 in case you missed it). Some have argued that his Grand Prix performance is less impressive when you take into consideration the insane number of Grand Prix he played in and the ratio Top 8 vs. number of GPs played is higher for other candidates. But we should not underestimate how draining Grand Prix are. Traveling all over the world to play in Magic Grand Prix can seem glamorous, but it quickly takes its toll—it actually takes a lot to be able to perform with Martin’s consistency at that level of tournaments.
Additionally, the Czech Pro scene would probably not be what it is without Martin’s involvement. If we talk about ratio, the number of Magic Pros in the Czech Republic is ridiculous. Additionally, they built over time a distinctive and positive identity that Martin helped craft, and that has become a feature on the Pro Tour circuit.
My third vote goes to Josh Utter-Leyton. It is hard not to repeat what has been mentioned over and over—Josh has the results, and consistently showcases sportsmanship and integrity. Voting for him is a no-brainer.
So the three names I put on my biased 2017 Hall of Fame ballot are:
Josh Utter- Leyton
Please disagree as much as you want.