Women in Magic: The Gathering

As some of you may know, I occasionally enjoy playing cards. Well, to be fair, I spend quite a lot of time playing Magic the Gathering, the best known of TCGs developed by Richard Garfield in the early 1990s, now published and curated by Wizards of the Coast. Magic has kept growing over the past two decades, and it has now spread all over the world. As many games, both on board and screen, it has also sustained competitive play for more than fifteen years now, with tournaments in Northern America, Europe, and East Asia attracting more than a thousand players each, on a regular basis. Most of this competitive scene is publicized to other casual and competitive players through text and video coverage, the former on MtG official website and the latter on Twitch and Youtube.

E-Sports, Coverage & Diversity

There’s been a raise in interest for gaming sports or, as it is more narrowly called e-sport scene, from gaming companies over the past few years. Riot Games, developper and publisher of League of Legends, is probably the world most famous provider of e-sport contents, so much so that Chloé Woitier, a French journalist writing for the Figaro, crowned the company king of e-sport in one of her papers, this year. Riot Games is known for its renewed efforts to make e-sport attractive as a career for professional teams, while providing engaging, entertaining content for its community. Yet, it is the fact that Riot Games has recently came under some criticism for the way it manages e-sport, as Kristin Banse wrote about the comments made by Marcel Dexter Feldkamp. There had been some concerns, since the start of League of Legends booming success, about the ability of the company to scale from a small, indie studio to a large, corporate actor, very much at the forefront of the gaming industry. For many though, the success enjoyed by Riot Gams is well deserved and lead to very positive prospects, as Kevin Knocke wrote last week.

Magic, while being the major TCG, is of course much less publicized. Nonetheless, it is extensively and thoroughly covered, and watched, year after year, by thousands and thousands of players. It has its professional teams, its Hall of Fame, its long-crowned kings and its would-be ones. Yet, there’s one thing Magic, as most of the e-sport scene, has been painfully lacking since the beginning, and that’s queens. In every sense of the word. Although Magic volunteer staff is asked at tournaments to enforce very strict pro-diversity policies and to swiftly sanction any sexist or homophobic comment, the fact remains that over the years, there has been very few prominent professional female players, and, to my knowledge, not many openly gay top level pros.

Looking for Women Among Pro Players

Meghan Wolff wrote last year a piece for Star City Games about women in Magic, exploring the underlying reasons for this lack of representation, and identifying content producers one might care to support. There has been no female Player of the Year since the title was created, back in 1996, no female Rookie of the Year, and Melissa DeTora is, to this date I believe, the only woman to have ever been in the Top 8 of a Pro Tour, the most competitive of Magic tournaments. And if women have been staggeringly underrepresented in international events, it is most certainly because they are also mostly absent of the national and even local competitive scene. One is more likely to see, either IRL or on screen, a female Magic judge than a female player.

A few years ago, I was discussing the subject with a high-ranking, French, female judge, who then explained she would much rather judge than play competitive Magic. It was not that she was a poor player, or lacked a competitive mindset, but rather that she found male players would respect her more with the official judge uniform provided by Wizards of the Coast. She even told me of the time she was playing in a regional competitive tournament and defeated her opponent, only to see him throw his whole deck of cards to her face, as he felt unduly humiliated to have been beaten by a woman.

Toward a More Inclusive Community

The recent addition of Gaby Spartz to Wizards of the Coast official commenting team gave way to a number of derogatory comments, many of which could be found on the Twitch chat during live coverage, highlighting how sexist the Magic community can often be. Last year, Gaby Sparts wrote a paper for Channel Fireball on women in Magic as weel. There would be no point of relaying these comments here, and, last week, while watching coverage of Grand Prix Providence, where Gaby Spartz teamed up with Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas, I was actually pleased to see her frequently praised in the same chat. It is also of note that Spartz may have been caught in the general discontent towards the lack of technical savvy exhibited by some of the professional commentators. In any case, Gaby Spartz matters to the community, as, along Meghan Wolff, she’s bringing much needed diversity to the Magic professional scene, while being, evidently, very competent.

Of course, sexism is by no mean a Magic only problem. Examples of sexist behaviors are far too common for any member of gaming communities to ignore. One of the big news of last September was Matthew DiPietro from Twitch acknowledging to Newsbeat the company should invest more to fight sexism, but could not do so by its own, as was reported by Steffan Powell. Meanwhile, last summer, the French Minister of Digital Affairs, Axelle Lemaire, was meeting with representatives from the gaming industry to talk about a collective effort to tackle sexism. There has also been some small but not insignificant initiatives taken by pro players, such as Reid Duke using both male and female pronouns to refer to his opponents in his streams, while Luis Scott-Vargas opted for the neutral they.

Many local initiatives are of note as well. Last week-end, as I was walking up and down the alleys at Grand Prix Warsaw, I noticed more women were playing there than in, say, Grand Prix Paris last spring. I even discovered, thanks to the GP Twitter stream, the content produced by local Marta Siedlecka, a Polish player from Warsaw, who you can follow on Twitter and who set up last September the Girls play: Magic blog. There is hope that all these talks and actions, big and small, will eventually lead to an actual shift in gaming communities. No such shift will ever happen, though, if players and content producers do not take individual and collective steps towards diversity and inclusion.

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