Magic‘s Ability to Be a Spectator Sport

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I have a confession: I have never played a single game of Legacy. But thanks largely to Star City Games, Legacy is one of my favorite formats. The same is true of Vintage, although in this case the credit for my fandom goes to Luis Scott-Vargas and Randy Buehler. In the last few years, I've sat out draft formats completely, but still have a pretty good idea of their metagames and powerful cards thanks to GP coverage and Limited Resources.

The community often jokes that a Magic player never truly quits the game, and a large part of that is that there is so much content out there. One can continue to vicariously enjoy the game by watching, reading, or listening to coverage, and with the emergence of live streaming in the last several years, it's so easy to find both live and prerecorded content to enjoy. You can choose a favorite format to follow while not playing any Magic at all and still keep up with the game at large. Then when a special set like Innistrad is released, it's all too easy to fall back into weekly FNM attendance, PTQ grinding, or whatever you like.


That being said, as Magic continues to grow, there will be players who inevitably quit the game, even if the active number of players rises. Magic will probably never be entertaining to people who don't know how to play—unlike physical sports like baseball that can still be enjoyed without understanding intricacies like the infield fly or ground rule double—but as the number of ex-players continues to rise, the potential viewing audience does too.

Magic did a stint on ESPN back in the nineties, but the timing was obviously not right for that to work out. Cable television as a medium will probably be phased out by the time the potential viewing audience for Magic grows enough to warrant another shot on the Worldwide Leader in Sports. Then again, the dinosaurs running major league sports leagues are the main reason cable television still exists, and there's nothing harder to break than the habits of old, rich men. So in five or ten years, when cable television still exists due to these last few stubborn holdouts who don't see the ability to make way more money by breaking out of the cable model, maybe Magic has a shot on the big stage.

What do you think? Can Magic ever be a spectator sport that draws non-players to watch? Or is only realistic to expect current and maybe ex-players to tune in? What about you? Do you watch any formats you don't play?

Magic never, ever comes close to League of Legends in viewer numbers on Twitch. Is that just the nature of being a card game, or is there a way for Magic to become more entertaining to spectators? Share your thoughts below.

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Danny Brown

Danny is a Cube enthusiast and the former Director of Content for Quiet Speculation.

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5 thoughts on “Magic‘s Ability to Be a Spectator Sport

  1. I’m about the same with legacy. Only play online. Getting non players to watch the game might start happening. I think wizards is heading in the right direction for that. If the Magic movie doesn’t look like a pile then there is that chance. An animated cartoon might bring in some non players too. That’s something I’m really surprised hasn’t happened yet.

    Here’s to hoping the MTG movie isn’t the DND movie.

  2. Well people watch golf, so anything is possible 🙂

    In trying to get a non-player-based viewership, MtG would have to overcome a few big obstacles. First, it’s complexity; people tend to dislike things that they don’t understand. Second, and perhaps more importantly, is the perception that it’s a “nerd game”. I do not mean that in a trolling sense whatsoever, but I think the general perception is that MtG is a game for awkward kids and men who still live in their moms’ basements. Third, there has to be something to get people’s attention; what is that? There are no acts of physical prowess to catch people’s attention like in football or basketball. There is no ‘sex appeal’ or pedigree of high-roller gambler mentality such as poker has. Thus, MtG is lacking an element to attract laypeople with- watching shy, skinny teenagers or overweight guys who can’t pull up their pants quietly stare at a hand of cards won’t do it. Lastly, MtG will need more personality; the current, unwritten rules of everyone having to be quiet, play nice, and never do or say anything that contains an iota of emotion won’t work either. People watch games to see something exciting. If the players sit there like emotionless drones, well, what is happening to draw in someone who doesn’t understand the game? The community freaked over the (relatively mild) antics of Ari Lax…. but that’s the kind of thing that *might* get laypeople to stop channel surfing and see what’s going on. Those are just ome thoughts from my POV.

  3. people watch darts, snooker, cricket, so indeed, it’s possible.
    But you need old retired people as your audience.

    I stopped believing this possibility after watching a pro tour match this year that was sooooo slow (the one with the play: selesnya charm –> in respons golgari charm to make my ooze smaller)

  4. The format needs to be different for the broadcasts. Audiences need more connection to the players, need to know everything that is in play/hands at all times via side-graphics, but the most important is commentators need to know what is going on. I have seen multiple times some one mention they use Needle or Revoker in a way that is not possible, only confusing the audience.

  5. It seems to me that Magic could easily have the viewership of Hearthstone. I have no idea what’s going on watching that shit, and I find it hard to believe that non-players do either.

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