Amid the rhetoric and vitriol that was being flung around the Magic community yesterday was a complete absence of one very simple fact: the above headline would destroy Magic the Gathering’s growth. Go ahead and look up and read it again. I’ll break it down for you. A convicted sex offender is a human being who has been found guilty of violating another human being in a sexual manner. Magic the Gathering is a popular collectible card game that we all know and love. The Pro Tour is the most high-profile event in the Magic the Gathering community.

Now put those things together. The reigning champion of the most high-profile Magic tournament, whose name and face is plastered across our community, has been found guilty of sexual assault. Or more concisely: Convicted Sex Offender Wins Magic the Gathering Pro Tour. It doesn’t sound great, does it? Now imagine that headline at Deadspin or Gawker or a major news outlet. Can you fathom the backlash that it would have? I know that the lawyers at Hasbro and Wizards sure can.

This isn’t about Zach Jesse. This isn’t about Drew Levin. This isn’t about Patrick Chapin, or Helene Bergeot, or anyone else you think has some kind of agenda to push. This is about the perception that a Magic the Gathering tournament is a safe place to be. Not reality, but the perception. Is your local game store clean and welcoming? Great! Was the Grand Prix your favorite tournament organizer put together well-run and a great environment for diversity? Good job! But that’s not the perception of a Magic tournament and therein lies the reality of why Zach Jesse was suspended from competitive Magic for the next three decades.

Meanwhile, the community backlash has been surreal. For a variety of reasons there are numerous players, from pro to casual, going out of their way to defend Zach Jesse, a convicted sex offender. Their ire is primarily directed at Wizards of the Coast and also somewhat directed at other key players. Personally, I feel that what Jesse did is morally reprehensible and I have no problem with the decision that was made. However, let’s step back for a moment and look at this from the position of the Hasbro legal team.

With a quick switch of the hat, I am now a lawyer for Hasbro, and my purpose in life is to protect the interests of the shareholders of Hasbro stock. While I certainly have morals and ethics, they are not taken into account when I make my decision. My only goal is to ensure the continued growth and profitability of Hasbro and its subsidiaries, such as Wizards of the Coast. With that in mind I issued the below statement (through Trick Jarrett on Reddit) and I will now field a few of the most pressing questions from the community.

We work hard to make sure all players feel welcomed, included and safe at our events so that they can have fun playing Magic. We don’t generally comment on individuals or provide position statements in the abstract, but we take action to address player issues and community concerns when we feel it is necessary.
– Official Statement from Wizards of the Coast

What About Patrick Chapin?

Let’s put an end to this one real quick. Sexual assault and dealing drugs are two completely different things. More importantly, they’re two completely different things from the perspective of “which of these things viscerally disgusts the average human being.” Pretend you’re at a bar and are introduced to a friend-of-a-friend. “Hi, nice to meet you, I’m a former drug dealer.” Would you miss a beat? Probably not. Drugs just don’t have a huge negative stigma. Marijuana is being legalized in several states and could very well be legal in all fifty in the next decade. Many drugs are socially acceptable anyways and odds are if someone introduces themselves as a former drug dealer you’re not going to be overly cautious around them.

Now play that back and switch it up with, “Hi, nice to meet you, I’m a former sex offender.” The important thing here is perception. You don’t know anything else about this person. You don’t know that they’re an upstanding member of the community, or that they volunteer at their church, or whatever the case may be. What you know is that you’re now in a bar, in a conversation with a sex offender. For some people that’s perfectly okay but for many people that’s no longer a safe place.

Again, this is about the perception of what is and isn’t a safe place to be. Bar full of drug dealers? No big deal. Bar full of sex offenders? Maybe I’ll go down the block. Magic tournament full of drug dealers? Kind of an odd place for them to be. Magic tournament full of sex offenders? I think I’ll go pre-release somewhere else.

But Where Do You Draw the Line?

One of the most common replies I’ve gotten from my friends is along the lines of, “I know a guy with a felony record and I have to admit I’m a bit worried.” I’ve given this one a lot of thought, because there has to be a line drawn somewhere. It turns out that it might actually be very easy to figure out whether or not your “friend” with the felony record should be concerned about being shadow-banned by the DCI. Take a look at this headline:

Magic the Gathering Championship Won by Convicted Ex-<Insert Name of Felony Here>

For example, if your “friend” was arrested and convicted of felony possession then your headline would be “Magic the Gathering Championship Won by Convicted Ex-Pot Smoker.” Now imagine you have a child and you have to decide whether or not you want that child traveling to Magic tournaments trying to qualify for the Pro Tour. Last, but not least, given the headline you filled in, would you let your child go play Magic?

Now, that’s a very subjective line, but that’s the point. This is about the perception of the safety of the environment of a Magic tournament. If I found out that a major tournament was won by a convicted serial killer, I wouldn’t let my child within a thousand yards of the venue. If I found out that a major tournament was won by someone who once stole a car, well, I don’t really think I’d be that bothered.

At the end of the day, Wizards needs to protect the perception of the safety of the tournament venue at any cost, otherwise people simply won’t go. That’s the barometer you need to use when wondering where they’ll draw the line. Nothing more, nothing less.

Isn’t Magic is Supposed to be Inclusive?

Yes and no. Reality is that not everyone can play Magic. Obviously the biggest barrier to entry is the financial one. Yes there are budget decks out there, but if Modern Hero taught me anything it’s that playing on a budget has a clear ceiling and people on a budget generally aren’t playing the same game as people who aren’t on a budget. Additionally, outside of deck selection, there are the very real costs of traveling to and from major tournaments. That doesn’t even mention the time commitment of giving up weekends to play, something not afforded to people who need to work on those days to make a living.

So Magic, by design, isn’t all-inclusive. While it’s important to put effort into being more inclusive to some groups such as women and minorities, ex-convicts aren’t really a group that Wizards or Hasbro should be expected to bend-over-backwards to accommodate. Again, it’s all about perceptions. Hasbro is a toy company that makes toys for children. Going out of their way to be inclusive of women and minorities is seen as a positive development for shareholders. Going out of their way to defend sex offenders isn’t the kind of thing that makes your stock go up. Perception is king when it comes to the Pro Tour. People want an inclusive environment, yes, but they also want a safe environment.

What About Drew Levin?

The witch hunt for Drew Levin has been appalling to say the least. Levin was the one who brought to light Zach Jesse’s past, this is true. As the game grows and the number of people paying attention to who is winning tournaments grows with it there will inevitably be more scrutiny. This time it was Drew Levin, but next time it could be any random fan of the game on Twitch looking up information about the top 8 competitors.

Furthermore, it’s important to note that while Levin may have been the one to bring attention to this and rally the troops, so to say, in favor of the action Wizards took, the social outcry is not the reason Wizards was wary about Zach Jesse. Wizards is not very concerned about the kind of negative publicity that happens as a result of something trending on Twitter. What Wizards is concerned about are headlines on major media outlets. Headlines like the ones Sydney Blair created in the wake of Crackgate.

What Blair did set a precedent for the way Wizards handles members of the community who can bring harm to the reputation of Magic and to the perception of the safety of the Magic community. Crackgate was seen by many outside of the community as representative of the people within it. We were suddenly a collection of overweight, unkempt nerds and people willing to publicly shame those nerds. Wizards took swift action in banning Blair. Now, with the possibility of Jesse setting off another PR nightmare Wizards chose to be proactive. Drew Levin isn’t to blame for any of that.

Shouldn’t Wizards be Fair and Transparent?

Finally, one of the most common arguments from Pro Players, such as Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Brian Kibler, was that Wizards should come out with some kind of official policy or statement on the matter. These players feared that without any kind of established policy they, or other pro players, could find themselves on the outside looking in at the next Pro Tour event. Ultimately Wizards made a statement about protecting the safety of tournament attendees. This explanation was wholly unsatisfactory to the pros but I would like to think that if you read this far then you already know what my response is going to be.

Final Thoughts

Wizards has a responsibility to protect the image of Magic the Gathering in the eye of the public. When confronted with the possibility of the headline I used above, Wizards decided the best course of action was to preemptively avoid the situation from ever arising. As a result, they took away the privilege to play competitive Magic from a convicted sex offender. To reiterate, this  has nothing to do with Zach Jesse as a human being. It has everything to do with the public perception of sex offenders, and the very real risk that Wizards would be taking if they allowed that headline to ever come to fruition.

There are many problems with our society, with the justice system, and with the Magic community. Wizards of the Coast is not responsible for the fact that Zach Jesse is a convicted sex offender. They are not responsible for the negative backlash that would occur if he won the Pro Tour. They are not responsible for the way society perceives convicted sex offenders. The only thing Wizards of the Coast is responsible for is ensuring that Magic the Gathering continues to grow and thrive and expand. In this respect, they made the right decision.

The Quick Hits

  • Brock Steele tackles the incredibly important issue of bullying in the Magic community [Legit MTG]
  • Matt Sperling weighs in on the new mulligan rule [Channel Fireball]
  • Francois Richard presents the guide to Montreal for this past weekend’s Grand Prix, but it’s still very good advice if you’ll be going to Montreal at any point [Mana Deprived]
  • Adrian Sullivan of awkward-board-organization fame chimes in on the new changes to board organization for Pro Tour feature matches [Star City Games]
  • Adam Barnello also has thoughts on the new changes [TCGPlayer]
  • Wizards shares the fourth of five Origin stories: Gideon Jura [Uncharted Realms]
  • Arena of the Planeswalkers is now available. I’ll try to get my hands on a copy for review [Magic Arcana]
  • John Dale Beety dives into the origin stories of Jace and Liliana [Star City Games]
  • Seth Manfield is the latest writer to have something to say on the rules changes [TCGPlayer]
  • Andrea Mengucci ponders what the rules changes mean for Legacy [Channel Fireball]
  • Adrian Sullivan ranks the planeswalkers from Magic Origins [Star City Games]
  • Liana Burnside examines the art of the planeswalkers from Magic Origins [TCGPlayer]

Wallpaper of the Week

Something about that smug look on Gideon’s face really makes me want to punch him. This is a nice look at Akros, one of the capital cities in Theros, but the focus of the piece isn’t Akros, it’s this annoying little shit Kytheon who will one day be Gideon. Also, maybe I’m missing something, but I really thought they were going to try to make Gideon less white and more Mediterranean like on the Funko toys. What happened to diversity?

Grade: C

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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