Tuesday, April 8, 2008


I'm a gamer, not a gambler. While I'm sometimes interested in the games themselves that are used for gambling, the idea that I could win money by winning a game never appealed to me. Yet I'm aware that this isn't true for most of humanity, for whom winning, especially winning money, is more important than the act of playing. A reader alerted me that the release of Magic the Gathering Online v3.0 is imminent. And when I start the launcher of World of Warcraft, I get the news that I can now sign up for the WoW e-sports arena tournament. And I can't help but draw some parallels.

I played Magic the Gathering both in paper and online form for many years, and even was a DCI certified judge at one of the World Championships. But with the online version the game turned more and more into gambling, until I just couldn't stand it any more. The profit motive of everyone involved had just become too strong. You couldn't trade cards any more, cards were only bought and sold at a profit to the trader. And the playing was dominated by so-called draft tournaments, which were a cleverly disguised form of online gambling: 8 participants each put $13 into a pot, play a tournament whose winner is determined by a combination of skill and luck, and the winner takes home $33, the near-winners get less, and the losers come out empty. The only difference to lets say online poker is that the bet and winnings aren't in cash but in product, which is nevertheless convertible into cash. The game faded into the background, it became all about making money.

Now you can pay Blizzard $20 to participate in a tournament where $250,000 is divided among the winners. As recently discussed, WoW PvP has some elements of rock, paper, scissor in it. So while arena PvP certainly is skill-based, the random pairings do have an element of luck. And a lot of people are going to play this not because they want to have fun, or want to prove that they are the best, but because of the lure of a big pot of prize money. It isn't so much e-sports as e-gambling, and I think it will harm the game. Thank god it happens on a separate server!

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