On the surface, Magic the Gathering is a fun, casual game that evokes Dungeons and Dragons comparisons and high school nostalgia. But look deeper and you’ll find a significant competitive competitive community that takes Magic very seriously.
Much like with FPS games and MOBAs, Magic fosters a huge global network of deeply enfranchised and competitive players who dedicate their careers and even lives to playing the game, producing content, and connecting with peers and rivals over social media.
Many Magic pros are sociable, helpful, and funny people that play the role of informal ambassadors for the game well. But delve even deeper into the CCG’s social aspect and you’ll discover players that have been busted for behaving badly.
In this two-part article, we look at four MTG players that went from well-respected players at the top of their game to reviled, hated, and even incarcerated villains. For the first part, we discuss two pros that fell from grace just this year.
Wisconsin-born Magic pro Owen Turtenwald looked like the card game’s poster child. He didn’t finish college and had no day job. Fortunately, he earned a decent living through tournament finishes, strategy content, and Twitch streaming.
Turtenwald won Player of the Year in 2011 and 2016. He was also one of two players inducted into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame in 2016. Because of his achievements, the community widely considered him to be the best pro of his generation.
It looked like he was ready to sustain his success in the E-sports era of Magic. He was a member of the newly-minted Magic Pro League (MPL). He was set to star in the first ever Mythic Invitational where he would battle for the lion’s share of $1,000,000.
It all came crashing down, however, just one day before the Invitational. The official Magic: the Gathering E-sports Twitter account announced without explanation that Owen would not be participating in the flagship tournament. At around the same time, Mary Louke, a relative newcomer to the Magic streaming scene, tweeted this cryptic message:
Kotaku soon reported that Turtenwald WotC had dropped Owen from the Invitational due to allegations of sexual misconduct against women. As it turned out, Mary Louke had been just one of several victims of Owen’s alleged harassment. According to her and other sources, Turtenwald would attempt to help advance women’s gaming careers in exchange for sexual favors.
In the absence of explicit proof of Owen’s misconduct, the Magic community was divided over this issue. Wizards of the Coast, on the other hand, clearly sided with his alleged victims. They also dropped him from the MPL.
After this mess, Owen scrubbed his Twitter account and would drop off the radar without addressing the allegations against him.
Former Japanese MPL player Yuuya Watanabe was the other player besides Owen Turtenwald from 2016 Hall of Fame class. Unfortunately, he was also the second pro to lose his place in the MPL after a scandal.
During Mythic Championship London in April, match officials disqualified Watanabe from the tournament. The punishment came after a lengthy investigation by Magic Judges, the game’s equivalent of referees. According to the Head Judge, Watanabe was playing with marked card sleeves.
In tournament settings, players’ entire deck should be sleeved uniformly and shuffled properly after search effects to ensure that cards drawn are truly random. By marking the corners of his key cards, Yuuya was able to plan his turns better.
What was especially suspicious about this was that Watanabe had rampaged through the two-day Swiss format tournament, making top 8. On the other hand, Yuuya, backed by his sponsoring team CyGames, denied any wrongdoing.
Certainly, Watanabe doing well at a professional tournament was not a rare occurrence. Like Owen, he was considered to be one of the game’s top pros. But his disqualified had come at the end of a long and thorough inquest involving several judges and informed by interviews and match footage.
In the wake of the cheating allegations and rather convincing evidence, WotC swiftly dropped Watanabe from the MPL. Additionally, WotC removed him from the Hall of Fame and banned him from participating in tournaments for 30 months.
To this day, the disgraced pro maintains his innocence, implying the marked sleeves were the result of a frame job. The Magic community at large, however, seem to agree with his banning, with many former fans expressing their disappointment and feelings of betrayal that one of the game’s most beloved and admired players would stoop this low.