5 Places Where Bullying Still Exists in the Magic: The Gathering Community, by Joseph Dunlap

5 Places Where Bullying Still Exists in the Magic The Gathering Community by Joseph Dunlap

5 Places Where Bullying Still Exists in the Magic: The Gathering Community

We live in an age of instant information. More than ever before, anything we could ever hope to know is at our literal fingertips. The internet has revolutionized our concept of communication as an e-mail or any of the near infinite methods of online communication can be sent from one corner of the world to another in a matter of seconds.

These new methods of instant global communication usher in an age where every voice can be heard (the “shots heard round the world”, if you will). This makes the internet a place where people can instantly share their ideas, ideologies, hopes, dreams, and passions, but it is a double-edged sword. As always, there will always be those who seek to quash the hopes, dreams, and passions of others, and it is no more apparent than here on the internet.

The same can be said for the Magic: The Gathering player community, where decklists, tournament results, card speculation, and even our own brand of nerdy Magic humour can be shared in an instant. For many people across the globe, Magic is more than just a game. It’s a creative and competitive outlet. It’s an escape. It’s a way to make new friends. It’s a narrative comprised of everyone who has ever played.

It’s a passion. It’s the spark that was ignited the first time they ever sat down to play a game of Magic, and it’s the spark that they pass onto others as the game continues to grow.

Unfortunately, just like all other places on the internet, there exist those within the Magic community who seek to rob others of this passion, this spark, and drive them away from the game forever. This can be achieved by simple name-calling, public ridicule, or open hostility, but let’s call it what it is: bullying. That’s right, the very thing many of us have come to Magic: The Gathering to escape from continues to rear its ugly head from within the game’s community.


What is Bullying?

Let’s get down to it. Bullying is the repetition of threats, intimidation, or physical force to dominate others with the purpose of creating the illusion of an imbalance of power between the two parties. It is a power play in which one party seeks to emotionally (and often physically) dominate another party in order to feel superior. It often stems from feelings of inadequacy, and is usually aimed at an individual who is different in some way.

This kind of behaviour is unacceptable in any context, and the Magic community should not tolerate it in any form. It has no place in our community and hurts what we all work to achieve.

There has been an anti-bullying movement over recent years that has raised awareness of this issue, and in turn has begun the process of reversing its destructive effects. Wizards of the Coast has gotten involved in this movement in the Magic: The Gathering community by banning a handful of players from competitive play for inappropriate conduct, which is a start.

But bullying, both in person and on the web, is still an active part of the culture. It dwells in the unlit corners of obscurity, and it occurs out in the open, right in front of our eyes. It’s time to shine a light on it, and discuss the 5 Places Where Bullying Still Exists in the Magic: The Gathering Community.

bullying silent threat

5. Online Forums and Groups

“This deck is trash. What are you doing?” “You’re such a scrub.” “I guess only competitive players would understand it.” “You’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re just going to keep losing as usual.”

The above are examples of inflammatory exchanges one might come to expect to see in an online “community” forum or Facebook group geared towards deck tech and card speculation. It tears down rather than build up, it makes other players feel unwelcome or inadequate, and it can start of a pattern of passive-aggressive bullying between a person (or group of people) and any Magic players to whom they feel superior.

It starts simply enough. A disruptive member of the group disagrees with another player’s card choice, deck build, or preferred format, and he/she makes a comment about it that is dripping with passive-aggressive subtext about the other player’s abilities and/or overall intelligence. Unchecked, this type of behaviour grows and spreads over time, creating an atmosphere in which one party has achieved a perceived dominance over another party – in this case, a player or group of players who aren’t as good at the game and are therefore “scrubs” – and at some point, drives the targeted party away from the group.

To the “dominant” party in these kinds of exchanges, online forums or groups are a place to show the local community how much better they are than everyone else. It pervades the way in which they administer criticism, engage in Magic-related discussions, and even participate in humorous exchanges such as Magic-related comics or memes. Often, the bullies of the group are among the most successful local players, but due to its infectious nature, players of all levels of experience may begin to emulate this behaviour, resulting in nearly every deck advice thread devolving into heated, personal, mud slinging arguments of netdecking vs. homebrews, Standard vs. Modern vs. EDH, personal vendettas, etc.

How can we address this problem? First and foremost, I want to clarify that although forums and Facebook groups have admins with the ability to ban offending users, making an inflammatory comment is not usually grounds for an immediate ban (depending on the comment, of course). Many forums or groups have a disciplinary procedure if a player is considered especially disruptive, typically beginning with a warning.

However, it is not solely up to the moderators of a group to address such issues, and it is also extremely difficult to draw the line on which types of comments are worth addressing and which should be ignored. If this is the case, how does the rest of the community deal with behaviour that disrupts otherwise constructive conversations?

Ignore it. Quite simply, the easiest way to take the power away from the bullies is to disallow them control over your thoughts and emotions. The easiest way to perpetuate the cycle of negativity is to respond in kind, “feeding the trolls” and thus becoming a part of the problem. However, sometimes bullies are simply too loud be ignored.

Reply in a concise and impersonal manner. If you are unable to ignore a bully because they appear every time you post something, you could attempt to placate them by addressing whatever part of what they say that is not personal or inflammatory, and even asking them a question that directs them towards a constructive conversation (this is a common approach for community managers if they choose to reply to a rude comment on social media).

For example, if you ask for advice on a homebrew deck and get hit with: “Wow, you’re playing Abzan and you’re not using (card name)? What a scrub. Go play Yu-Gi-Oh,” etc., you could reply with:

  • “Thanks for your feedback. (Card name) does seem to be a popular card for Abzan decks right now, but I am experimenting with a brew that _____ so I wasn’t sure if it would fit.”
  • Or: “I’m actually not a big fan of (card name) at the moment, but I can see why people like it.”
  • Or: “I know, but sadly I can’t afford it right now.”
  • Then, follow up with: “How do you think (card name) would make my deck stronger?”
  • Or: “What do you think is the weakest card in the deck that I could potentially swap out if I decided to bring in (card name)?”
  • Or: “Since I’m building on a budget, what would be a good replacement for (card name)?”

Talk to an admin. If you feel as though you are being targeted specifically and nothing you do seems to help, you can contact an admin and see if they can help with the problem. And finally…

Find a new group. Ultimately, the only definitive way to take away a bully’s control is to leave the forum or group. It’s unfortunate, and it may make you feel as if the bullies have “won”, but if you can’t ignore them, they can’t be led to participate in a constructive conversation, and the moderators can’t or won’t help you, perhaps it’s time to find a new community group.

How can you be part of the change? If you want to see a drastic change in the mindset of the Magic community, it’s simply not enough to point out the wrongdoing of others and expect the problem to sort itself out overnight. We must replace this negativity with our own positivity. If enough of us are actively building up one another, fuelling the community with a movement of encouragement for new and experienced players alike, we will no longer have time to think about what the bullies have to say. Their destructiveness will be drowned out to nothing but white noise.


4. “Mobbing”, or Group Bullying (Witch Hunts)

Every week, the internet seems to be enraged about some new issue and begins going on a rampage against anyone who is believed to have (recently) transgressed it. The guilt of the accused may never be proven, the issue in question may very well be a valid one worth discussing, but in the week between an issue’s sudden emergence to the forefront of social media and its inevitable discard, the lives and livelihoods of innocent people may well be destroyed.

In recent history the best example of this is the firing of a volunteer firefighter who made a comment on social media. This comment was misunderstood by another user, screenshotted, and shared publicly along with his personal information. The fire department, fearing public outcry, was forced to release him after 23 years of service.

In the old days, this was known as a “witch hunt”, so let’s call it what it is.

The Magic community is no less guilty of this form of group bullying. The intent here is not to call anyone out, but rather to draw attention to this growing issue. It is important that we as a community understand that just because we dislike something somebody has done, it does not give us the right to publicly attack or defame this person.

In many cases, the perceived offence has not actually harmed anyone (#goyfgate), guilt has not been proven (various accusations of cheating across the community following #shufflegate), or the offence occurred in the past and has already been punished (such as various times that prominent Magic players have been discovered to have criminal records, or in the case of a Magic player successfully completing a ban for misconduct and returning to competitive play).

(Let’s be clear here than I am not condoning any illegal actions, especially if they harm others. There should be no mistake that those actions are wrong and should not be ignored, but there is a right and wrong way to handle it.)

Group bullying is so tempting to take part in, because it always feels justified in some way, even if the target ends up being innocent. But it goes way beyond the confines of simple outcry. It’s emotionally charged. It’s ugly. It’s personal.

The aftermath of #shufflegate. Remember in October 2014, when Trevor Charles was banned for four years for dishonest shuffling? After the suspect shuffling came to light, videos began to surface showing that Charles had been using the shuffling technique in question, which involved looking at the bottom card of the opponent’s library while shuffling and thumbing nonlands to the top of the deck, for at least three months prior to his eventual banning. The community also rooted out Rookie of the Year Jared Boettcher for using a similar shuffling technique, resulting in a 46 month ban and revocation of his title.

In this way, the Magic community was helpful in gathering evidence for DCI’s investigation, even if they had to be reminded during this investigation process that they are not “judge, jury, and executioner.” Mobbing is a slippery slope that starts with good intentions, but as I have already pointed out, once it starts, the temptation to jump on the bandwagon is hard to resist. It doesn’t take much for accusations to lead personal attacks on the accused’s character. After all, they deserve it for being a cheater, right?

But what if we’re wrong? What if the person we’re accusing either didn’t actually cheat, or simply made a mistake?

Let’s jump to Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, which was ripe full of controversy. First, Player of the Year Jeremy Dezani was disqualified for lying to a judge. Later, Felipe Valdivia put a scry land back in his hand after a board wipe, replayed it, and scryed a land to the bottom of his deck. Valdivia later issued a statement that it was merely a misplay, but after a DCI investigation, Valdivia was suspended for six months.

At the same tournament, Patrick Chapin made an arguably honest mistake (playing two lands in a single turn) and later received a game loss for not revealing a card put into his hand by Ajani, Mentor of Heroes. Many people pointed at the earlier mistake (which was discovered after the fact) and concluded that there was a pattern of premeditated cheating.

In fact, since the match in question was on camera, we can watch the proceedings as the head judge is brought to the table and Chapin makes his case about the incident. What is most troubling about the situation is the comments commentator Randy Buehler, who has a laugh at Chapin’s efforts to contest the ruling, makes to the livestream crowd (yes, all of this occurred onscreen):

  • “Hats off to Pat for doing his best to wiggle out of this. He came up with a better argument than I thought he would.”
  • “Look, this is a guy who lived through the 90s. There was a lot of rules lawyering back then.”
  • “Like I said, he did grow up in an era where you could talk the judges into all kinds of crazy things.”

Not only do comments like these defame the name and reputation of a member of the Magic Hall of Fame, implying that anyone who played during the 90s was a party to dishonest practices and thus Chapin is a relic of a shadier time, they actively undermine the integrity of the game as a whole. The decision hasn’t even been finalized yet and a commentator is unwittingly painting Patrick Chapin as a cheater and rules lawyer. Chances are, many who watched the stream (or its replay) and heard Buehler’s commentary became convinced that Chapin, one of the most well-known ambassadors for Magic: The Gathering, is a dishonest player, and that is damage that cannot be undone.

There are plenty of examples of extra-judicial speculation: 2013 Rookie of the Year Felipe Tapia Becerra being accused of suspect shuffling at Pro Tour Gatecrash based simply on heresay (the accusations spread like wildfire as the tournament progressed), Brad Nelson at Grand Prix Charlotte in June 2015 accidentally grabbing a Ghost Quarter after cracking a fetch land, and the list goes on. In both of these examples, the players became the subject of attacks on their character despite the fact that DCI had not found them to have committed any offence.

Whether a player has intentionally behaved dishonestly is not the issue here. The issue is the fine line between suspicion of such behaviour, which should immediately be reported to DCI and not posted publicly so the ensuing speculation can take the place of an actual investigation, and a full-blown witch hunt of someone whose guilt has yet to be proven. Because, after all…

What if you’re wrong?

How can we address this problem? It may take some time before we are able to have an open, honest discourse about this issue. The main reason for this is the fact that the majority of people who get caught up in “mobbing” are well meaning people who are convinced they are doing the right thing.

So in this case, the best thing we can do to address this problem is to admit that it is happening.

How can you be part of the change? This is actually quite tricky, but if you believe this to be a problem, public discourse may be the first step. The next time you see a situation on social media that could potentially ruin a person’s reputation when there either is no proven wrongdoing, no actual harm done, or that person has already been punished, resist the urge to join the crowd. In fact, you might even be able to convince others to put down their pitchforks.

Jared Boettcher cheating mtg

3. Livestream Chat

Last weekend was the 2015 Magic World Championship. The 24 best Magic players in the world competed for the coveted title and we all tuned into the stream on Twitch and YouTube.

While most of those in the livestream chat was wrapped up in the interactions of each game, cheering on their favourite players, speculating about metagame choices and lines of play, in true form there were those who seemingly were only there to levy personal attacks at those on screen. This in itself is simply inappropriate behaviour (to put it lightly) and is a product of the “say the first thing that pops into your head” culture of today’s internet. It doesn’t matter whether what you say is simply a harsh observation, which is usually is.

(After all, as Douglas Adams observes in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, humans have a habit of “continually stating and repeating the very very obvious.”)

The internet culture of anonymity encourages such behaviour, and it pervades the Magic: The Gathering culture. Every time a tournament livestream goes up the chat fills up with people who have nothing to say but harsh, crude, mean-spirited comments about their fellow Magic players, because apparently, this is the kind of community they want to be in.

The most common inappropriate comment in livestream chat by far is criticism of a person’s appearance. Of course, there is a difference between simply making an observation and behaving rudely. For example, the following are actual comments made about Shaun McLaren during a segment at the 2015 Magic World Championship:

  • “Shaun McHairen”
  • “dem man titties doe”
  • “shaun mcmantits”

Note that while the first comment was merely an attempt at humor regarding McLaren’s signature hairstyle, the others are entirely inappropriate, intended to seem like light-hearted jokes but actually quite hurtful in nature.

At the same tournament, former Magic pro player and now Wizards R&D member Jackie Lee was given a chance to try her hand at commentary alongside veterans Luis Scott-Vargas and Brian David-Marshall. Her inexperience in the booth led to some harsh criticism from viewers of the tournament, but that was not the focus of the harshest commenters.

To some, the worst offence she had committed was being a woman in the Magic world.

  • Commenter: “what’s with the slut in the middle”
  • Moderator: “Personal attacks will not be tolerated.”
  • Commenter: “its a fact not an attack”

In the above incident, which actually occurred during a Worlds segment, the only thing the commenter knew about Lee was she was a woman in the commenting booth. Seemingly, that’s all the commenter needed to know.

Prominent female Magic players are no strangers to these kinds of attacks. Before she joined the R&D team, Jackie Lee was a pro player and in Patrick Chapin’s own words, arguably one of the top 15 players in the US. As such, she was the perfect target for the ire of the bullies of the community, those who wanted to send a message: “Women are not welcome in the Magic community.”

The best example of this kind of harassment occurred at Grand Prix Baltimore in February 2012 when Lee made it to the Top 8 in a tournament of 1,546 players. From the moment Lee appeared on screen, comments ranging from “Get back to the kitchen” to “She’s fat” to “She’s bangable” to more obscene remarks. Some even made threats of rape against Lee, whose only offense was being a woman on camera. The livestream chat even began to chant for Lee to lose the match, and when she ended up losing, they celebrated.

Prior to this incident, several female Magic players had made a Grand Prix Top 8 in a matter of a few months. Jackie Lee was among the best players in the world (and the only woman in the Top 100 ranking), and the Magic community singled her out with the intention of driving her and all women who looked up to her away from the game.

This year, there have been no female players in a Grand Prix or Pro Tour Top 8.

How can we address this problem? This issue goes beyond sexism (as said before, men are also targeted albeit at a much lower frequency). As always, the first step is to come to terms with the fact that this is happening and is actually a problem. There is nothing “harmless” or “in good fun” about singling out individuals on camera and harassing them for their appearance, mode of speech, play style, or even the deck they are playing. Quite simply, it should not be tolerated.

How can you be part of the change? When you are watching a livestream (or anywhere else in life, really) and you get an urge to voice a disparaging comment about someone, ask yourself what you are hoping to accomplish. Is this a goal worthy of your time? Is there a remote possibility someone might be hurt by your actions? Is this the kind of community you want for Magic: The Gathering? What if it were you up on the screen? Chances are, if you choose not to say whatever hurtful thought it was that popped into your head, you will survive. It’ll be ok.

In fact, see if you can find something nice to say instead.

the tongue has no bones

2. Personal Attacks on Social Media

We’ve already hinted at social media attacks, as they are a direct result from mobbing or livestream bullying, but it is enough of an issue unto itself that it deserves its own category.

Basically, all of the reasons I have already listed why a person must be careful when they suspect someone of dishonest behaviour, why it is fundamentally bad to publicly bring up someone’s criminal record or previous Magic bans, and why hurtful comments in livestream chat should not be tolerated, is because social media is where all of these things get out of hand: vilification, harassment, inappropriate comments, and even threats of bodily harm.

There are yet other forms of harassment on social media, such as in cases like Gerald Freas, who was banned for 18 months for posting pictures of people during Grand Prix Indy and Grand Prix Baltimore, accompanied with offensive captions primarily about, you guessed it, their appearances. After the incident Helene Bergeot gave everyone a reminder that “Disrespectful, harassing or bullying behaviour, whether onsite or online, is not welcome … and violates Magic tournament floor rules.”

How can we address this problem? Regardless of the context, we have to come to terms with the fact that there is no situation in which harassment is acceptable.

How can you be part of the change? Ultimately, simply telling people to stop harassing each other won’t accomplish anything, so a good focus here would be to replace all the negativity on social media with a movement of encouragement towards one another. Drown out all the noise and before long, we won’t even notice the few who would attempt to drag us down.

Helene Bergeot gave everyone a reminder

1. Local Game Stores

A player’s first experience with Magic: The Gathering is most likely at a local game store, or LGS. That is where most players buy their first pre-constructed deck, learn the rules, and begin playing at Friday Night Magic.

These few moments can define the player’s entire playing career. Was the player guided and encouraged through the learning process, sparking the same passion for the game that we all share, or did their fellow players make them feel unwelcome, discouraging them from wanting to learn more about the game?

That’s what it comes down to, really.

Magic: The Gathering lives and dies at the local game store. Every person who enters the store to play in the weekly FNM is an ambassador of Magic: The Gathering, and every experience a newcomer has around other players determines whether they will continue to play. Even someone who has been playing the game for years can be driven off forever by a bad experience.

How can we address this problem? The biggest problem plaguing local game stores is elitism within the player community. Let there be no mistake: elitism has no place in the Magic community, and is the #1 cause of bullying at an LGS.

There is only room for encouragement, friendly competition, and experiencing this great game together.

Store owners and staff are usually quick to end any active bullying that goes on in their shop, but we should not expect them to always take care of this problem for us. We have the power and responsibility to stop bullying before it begins.

How can you be part of the change? Be the change you want to see. Encourage your fellow players, regardless of who is winning. Be a gracious loser, and a respectful winner. If you have the opportunity, take a new player under your wing and show them how great the community can be.

Whether you’ve been playing Magic for as long as you can remember, or have just started this year, once upon a time somebody, somewhere, sparked your love for the game. It’s a passion that we all share. It’s more than just a game, more than just cards on a table.

It’s about all of us.

Community Question: When you first began playing Magic: The Gathering, was there someone who encouraged you and helped spark your passion for the game? Who is that person? And looking back, how important was this?

When you first began playing Magic The Gathering helped spark your passion for the game

Thanks for reading, and thanks for sharing,

Joseph Dunlap

5 Places Where Bullying Still Exists in the Magic The Gathering Community, by Joseph Dunlap
We live in an age of instant information. More than ever before, anything we could ever hope to know is at our literal fingertips. The internet has revolutionized our concept of communication as an e-mail or any of the near infinite methods of online communication can be sent from one corner of the world to another in a matter of seconds.

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