In April, Hasbro announced their first-quarter earnings for 2016. There was plenty of information released about all of their brands including a bit about Magic the Gathering. Two numbers released were of great interest to me and should be of great interest to the community. The first number is one million, which is the number of players registered with the DCI. The second number is 65,000, and it’s the number of unique players who participate in high-level (Grand Prix or higher) competitive play. Let’s talk about these numbers.

It’s Over 65,000!

We here at Hipsters of the Coast have often wondered how many people actually play Magic. Wizards has repeatedly stated in the past that 20 million people play Magic across the globe but they’ve never really provided any details about those numbers. Do they think 20 million people buy packs? Play in pre-releases? Play at kitchen tables? Do 20 million people play regularly or have 20 million people played the game at least once in their life, but perhaps never again?

In the conference call for their first quarter earnings filing, Hasbro’s Chairman, President, and CEO Brian Goldner had this to say about Magic: the Gathering:

Magic recently achieved the milestone of 1 million active players in our organized play system.
We also have 65,000 players who play in premier events streamed to “e-sports” audiences. This is an area we are investing in to both grow the number of events and the player base.

There a surprising amount of information to unpack in just these three sentences. Let’s start at the beginning. One million is a very big number of people, but it’s only 5% of the 20 million number that Wizards/Hasbro have previously touted as the number of Magic players worldwide. Regardless, we have a hard limit of how many people have played sanctioned, competitive Magic, at most, worldwide.

It’s important to note that “active players in our organized play system” is a very vague description. What does active mean? Does active refer to someone who has used their DCI number in the recent past? What about players who have multiple registrations? Are Dungeons and Dragons players included in this number? They share the same system, after all.

A million players is still an impressive number. Is there room for growth? That depends on how Wizards comes up with their 20 million player number. If 20 million is the total number of people who have ever played a game of Magic in their life, then having one in every twenty of them register for a DCI number is a very impressive number. However, if 20 million is the total number of people who play regularly, perhaps at their kitchen table, then 5% likely has room for growth. Without more information, or continued updates on the number of DCI registrations, we can only make assumptions on this information.

What about the 65,000 players who play in premier events? Given the qualifier of “streamed to e-sports audiences” it’s safe to assume that this is the number of players who compete in Grand Prix tournaments and higher, including Pro Tour, World Cup, and World Championship events. This represents only 6.5% of the total “active players in our organized play system” previously discussed.

It seems safe to assume that most active players registered for their DCI numbers at an entry-level event such as Friday Night Magic or a Pre-Release tournament. Moving up the ranks from that level to the Grand Prix level usually isn’t a change that happens overnight. But, where seeing one in every twenty casual players registering for a DCI number is an impressive turnover, seeing on in every twenty of those players then participating at the Grand Prix level is not as reassuring.

The final line from Hasbro’s CEO is the most reassuring. “This is an area we are investing in to both grow the number of events and the player base.” It’s clear that Hasbro and Wizards want to increase the growth of the game through the “e-sports” audience which means having more streamed events, and improving the production value of the broadcasts. Getting that 65,000 number up would be a good start, but more interesting might be a glimpse into the size of the audience for these events.

There are still a lot of questions unanswered. Does increasing the 20 million player-base number directly increase the 1 million DCI-number and the 65,000 premiere player-base numbers? Does increasing the audience for premiere events have a direct impact in increasing the number of players at premiere events? What’s Wizards plan to grow any of these numbers?

While it’s good to have more insight it’s important to point out that Hasbro and Wizards have spent the past decade telling us that they’re dedicated to growing the game. While telling us that they’re going to invest in growing the game and the player-base they’ve poorly managed Magic Online, decreased the number of premiere competitive events, failed to increase the prize compensation at a rate that matches the growth of sales, reduced the number of premiere events with official coverage, and most recently made an attempt to eliminate almost all pro player appearance fees (a decision which was almost immediately back-tracked).

Yes, leagues were delivered. Yes, sales growth is up. Yes, there are 20 million “players” and 1 million “active competitive players.” But none of this instills confidence in a player-base that has lived in a near-constant state of distrust of Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro. With pending litigation, international market slow-downs, and the most recent controversies it’s hard to believe anything that the higher ups at Hasbro have to say about the investments being made into Magic the Gathering.

I want to believe Hasbro will make the right investments into Magic the Gathering but they make it so difficult.

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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