The Wizards I Know
June 8, 2020
My name is Zaiem Beg. I was a contributing editor, then editor-in-chief for major Magic: The Gathering retailer and strategy website Channelfireball.com. Before that, I was a regular contributor for TCGPlayer.com. I’ve covered several Grand Prix events for official Wizards of the Coast coverage, I’ve played in Pro Tours testing as a member of Team Channelfireball and Team Mythic, and I’ve been an active member of the Seattle Magic community, where both Wizards of the Coast and I reside. My work has allowed me to foster close relationships with players at all levels of competitive play as well as employees and contractors at Wizards of the Coast.
Last week when Lawrence Harmon’s published his open letter to Wizards about the treatment of black players in the community, a friend and former employee of Wizards of the Coast shared it on his Facebook wall saying, "The Wizards I know is a company that wants to do the right thing,” a sentiment I saw echoed several times elsewhere. I hold a very different viewpoint of the company.
Here's the Wizards I know:
I know the time a black writer messaged Wizards asking about writing openings for eighteen months and was told they were not accepting new writers, then continued to keep hiring white writers over that time.
Or the time a black person interviewed at Wizards and started off the interview being told "I've never had this many internal recommendations for a candidate before" then three minutes later, "you're not really a culture fit here."
Or the time they put a 7/11 creature in an India-themed set, then joked in a column about putting the word "convenience" in the flavor text if only there was room on the card for such delightful racisms.
Or all the times people of color heard “you don’t have experience for this role,” when they had more experience than the white person they ultimately hired.
Or how the only way most people with brown skin can get in the door is as a temporary contractor and the common refrain along the lines of "well, I didn't get hired on full-time as a contractor, got beat out again, maybe next time, I don't get it — my teammates and manager said I was doing the best work on the team" with baffled sadness over why their dream company treated them that way.
Or all the times a person of color got fired (contractors, natch) for their first offense but saw their white coworkers get second- and third- chances for the same thing.
Or all the times someone of color had to put up with casual workplace bullshit but knowing if they speak up, they have zero chance of ever advancing if they say anything, so they had to go along with it with a smile.
Or or or or or or.
There are so many stories. And most of these stories don’t get shared, even privately among friends. Stories that were asked not to be shared even anonymously, lest some vague detail potentially connected back to them. And those who are in a position to speak out for others don’t feel empowered to do so.
That’s because they operate on fear.
Monowhite Control: not just a deck
There is absolutely zero accountability at Wizards of the Coast.
People don't speak up to change from within because they can't. Passion is welcome as long as it's not the boat-rocking kind. It's really hard to do well at the company if you're a boat-rocker. People hold petty grudges for years and it's very bad for your career if you want to stick your neck out to do the right thing. Dissent is absolutely not what you want to be doing if you want to advance your career prospects at Wizards of the Coast. If you’re seen as a troublemaker in any way, they won't hire you if you apply. If you're a contractor, you won't get converted. You get less leeway at work. Maybe your bonus is a little lower. You don't get as good a review. You get passed over for promotion.
This problem is not limited to just inside the company by any stretch. Content creators who rock the boat do not get rewarded. Community leaders can’t speak out about things they feel are unjust because they know if they do, their equity plummets. If you’re a content creator and get showcased or get a preview card and receive the mammoth signal boost that comes with any official Wizards endorsement of your content, that can make-or-break someone in an increasingly crowded field of streamers, video makers, writers, and podcasters. It is absolutely imperative that nobody bites the hand that feeds them because absolutely anything out of line at all can result in any number of forms of retaliation, mostly insidious, sometimes overt. They'll blacklist them. They'll ban them if they need to.
Anyone in a position to hold them accountable is invested in being around the game in some capacity, and that would be career suicide. If you ever even plan on potentially working at Wizards someday you need to keep in line at all times. And even worse, even if you don't have aspirations of working for Wizards, a Magic website, or creating content independently, they can just shut off your ability to play the game.
Social media activity is closely monitored. If this note gets shared on Facebook, no Wizards of the Coast employee or content creator, no CFB writer, no Arena streamer, no podcaster is likely to engage with it in any way. Not a like on a tweet. Not a Facebook react. Doing that carries too high a risk of the silent death penalty.
Former director of Global Organized Play and eSports Helene Bergeot:
This is formally codified in the language when players sign when they agree to the Magic Pro League, a league of 32 contracted players for MTG: Arena, one of their two digital offerings.
You shall not make any statement, oral or written, that ridicules, libels, slanders, makes fun of, is injurious to, or places in a negative light the MPL, the Games, the League, WOTC, and Hasbro (including for each its employees or other competitors).
Clean it up a little and that could be the company mission statement!
The Jason Chan situation: where basic human decency is kind of a big ask
The degree to which Wizards operates knowing it won’t face public accountability sometimes reaches absurd levels. Take, for example, the situation last week with Jason Chan, better known as Amaz.
Amaz is a Chinese-Canadian streamer on Twitch with 924k followers. He is primarily a Hearthstone streamer, but in recent years has played more Magic, much to the delight of Wizards. Bringing in that crossover audience is very valuable, so they are happy to promote him. He’s received two special Pro Tour invites and had previously been sponsored by Channelfireball. Last August, he was disqualified from Grand Prix Vegas for aggressive behavior. Pushing or bumping into a judge, depending on whose account you believe.
Getting disqualified from a Grand Prix for aggressive behavior toward a judge typically carries a suspension from playing in live Magic tournaments. However, Wizards can’t continue to use Amaz for advertising their new digital platform if they announced he’s not and didn’t want to deal with the PR and outrage, so they just quietly banned him behind the scenes and gave him a shadowban so they could keep him out of their Magic tournaments, but still reap the rewards of the audience he brings to their game. This is one of the open secrets that are whispered in private messages, and these shadowbans have been effective in managing the PR strategy. They’re watching your social media likes. They’re definitely watching what you say about who is and who isn’t banned. Nobody gets out of line.
Jason Chan, better known as Amaz, has been banned from playing in live Magic: The Gathering tournaments since the fall of 2019.
Wizards of the Coast runs a feature called Cube Spotlight. A cube is a great way to fine-tune a Magic experience and is something people feel deeply passionate about. It’s a form of expression and the philosophy of what makes good or fun or interesting gameplay. Curating a cube is very personal. For Cube Spotlight, they take someone’s cube, they put up a beautiful writeup about the cube and the decisions that went into it, and run it on queues on Magic Online all week. Having different cube lists each week keeps formats fresh so people will continue to play Magic Online and not burn out.
Amaz did not get the treatment to his writeup that everyone else got. They had him submit one. Magic writing for things of this nature takes a long time to write even if you’re used to the cadence of putting out a column every week. For people who write seldom or not at all, these can take as many as 20 hours to write.
Instead, they had him submit a time-consuming writeup about a passion project under the guise of showcasing his cube to the world, then didn’t run the article. They just put his cube list up and they didn’t even give him credit for it until he asked them to. The reason? “Scheduling issues.” They didn’t afford him the basic decency of an explanation that isn’t transparently bullshit. Every other cube spotlight has the search feature enabled on the webpage, allowing you to search for specific cards in the long list. His does not.
But I'll tell you what they didn’t have any problem with: they took the part they can monetize and were happy to run with that. Scheduling issues did not extend to the Magic Online queues, which were fresh and popping off with his intellectual property. Hey, as long as they can profit off his work!
Asking someone to spend considerable time writing and perfecting an explanation of their passion project, then not running it saying "oops, scheduling issues" is cruel. It reads like a mean-spirited prank. They couldn’t even afford him the decency to put his own fucking name on his work until he asked. They asked a content creator to provide content, then ran it without attribution. Of all the possible permutations available to them, THAT is what they ultimately settled on.
Imagine thinking treating anyone like this could ever somehow be okay, as if a shadowban justifies this. Of course he can't say anything to advocate for himself, because gaming is his livelihood and can't bite the hand that feeds him even when that hand is exploiting him. And since Wizards shadowbanned him because lol transparency, he can't even defend himself along that axis or provide any context. He just has to smile while they shit on him. But they were very nice to credit him for his own work after he asked nicely, as a treat.
This is what happens when there’s never any public accountability. People can’t even safely like a social media post without fear of retaliation. How can anyone feel safe to do the unpopular thing and stand up and tell people what they’re doing is wrong? How can that possibly happen in the environment of paranoia and fear Wizards of the Coast has deliberately created?
We’re very inclusive, that just doesn’t include you
The very next day after the Amaz cube went up, they tweeted out a black square and look, we have Cedric! And Rashad! And…an hour later we found a third one and yes I know he's called us out over our racist behavior but…he's black! We have three black friends, you guys! I'll let you guess if they talked to any of these people before exploiting them for tokenism. Wizards of the Coast is so proud of their diversity and inclusiveness. And they’re so, so proud of themselves for their LGBTQ characters and their black characters and how they have a black guy on coverage, so how could they possibly be racist??
And it's so insulting to see them do things like go to Kaladesh and pat themselves on the back about how so goshdarn diverse they are all the navel-gazing and look we made Saheeli Rai, then you look at the company photo and realize the only people benefitting from this financially don't look like the people in these inclusive planes. They don't look like that at all. (But still gotta work in that 7-11 joke, Indian people own convenience stores you see, that's the joke isn't that very funny, really wish we could have worked something into the flavor text though, hey maybe we can do a tech support joke if we return there that'd be pretty fun wouldn't it?)
Eric Froehlich earnestly looking to support black Magic artists, only to learn the reality of how few there are would be funny if it wasn’t so sad:
“Sorry, you're not a culture fit, now please excuse me while I promote our next set with Teferi as the flagship character wow sales look strong this quarter #unity #blacklivesmatter”
And maybe you can explain some of these transgressions with innocent explanations. But I liken it to cheating. Everyone forgets to put their creature into the graveyard after combat sometimes, but when it happens over and over and over and over and over again, it becomes a pattern. And then the big things like "telling the black writer we aren't accepting writers while hiring white ones" is just clear, naked cheating like stacking the deck (an apt metaphor if I say so myself) and we’ve arrived at Alex Bertoncini. (This analogy gets less clean when you incorporate subconscious bias, but analogies involving complex ideas are rarely perfect; this should still suffice.)
And since nobody feels like they can speak up about all the racist experiences that they’ve had or noticed from other coworkers, there can be no allyship. The people wronged have no option but to sit there and hope it gets better, often gaslighted and wondering if the very racist thing they endured wasn’t racist at all because nobody else is talking about these things, so maybe they’re just imagining it.
WotC has some wonderful, kind, empathetic people working there who are willing to do the right thing, but the culture makes it impossible for those people to have any meaningful influence. There's no culture of accountability, just deep obliviousness while simultaneously maintaining the performance of awareness. And they think because they're not all MAGA Trump 2020 alt-right nationalist #NotCStaff, they're absolved of racism.
"This game is inclusive to everyone, but if you're brown, we'll keep you at arm's length and maybe you can be a token if you're lucky. But regardless we are always happy to profit off your work, and most of the time we'll even credit you for it!”
Wizards of the Coast is a rotten company with a long unbroken pattern of insidious racist behavior wrapped in self-congratulatory praise. You can print all the Teferis and Saheelis and Chandras you want, but it doesn't make you racially inclusive when the people profiting off it all are almost exclusively white. And people of color can't get in on it even when they try.
That's not inclusive; it's exploitive.
That's the Wizards I know.
P.S. this is a real Magic card. Now, this card was from a long time ago and would be unfair to criticize the current management for something printed over 25 years ago. But you know what was not from 25 years ago? The URL that points to this card in the Gatherer database. That can be changed easily and at any point, but nevertheless, it remains where it is. Isn’t that an interesting choice?