Last Monday, Mark Rosewater finally finished up his review of the guilded colors with his article on the Rakdos. By the end of the day, he had 6 pages of replies, almost all lambasting a decision he made in the article. But this time, it wasn't his poor choice of color-representative pop culture icons that drew everyone's ire. It was his soon-to-be-traditional casting of a Pro Tour Hall of Fame vote in favor of Mike Long.
For those not in the know, Mike Long was on the Pro Tour way back when it first started. He did pretty well, won a Pro Tour and everyone hated him because apparently he's a jerk. Then, at one event, he got caught cheating and was suspended for a while. Immediately after the suspension was announced, everyone who follows the Pro Tour looked back at his records and assumed he had been cheating the whole time since he's such a jerk. Nowadays, Mike runs an online card store and sells tips to gullible players on how to get better at Magic.
Now that you're all caught up, let's get back to the article at hand. Mark Rosewater is going to cast his Hall of Fame vote for Mike Long. Big deal. The guy was good at Magic, right? And Mark's been around since the inception of the Pro Tour, so he would know best, right? Apparently not.
A flood of players, judges, and other message board pundits chimed in to say what an awful decision Mark was making.
"The day that Mike Long goes into the Magic Hall of Fame, the game as a whole loses any integrity it once had."
"I would quit all of it if something as despicable as Mike Long being entered in the Hall of Fame occurred."
"I sincerly hope if Long ever gets voted in that a LOT of people quit."
"When I read that Mark was voting for *that person* I walked away form my computer and did he angry dance."
"...if Long were to make it in, I can only imagine the way he would use the position to peddle his Magic school and more or less defecate on the whole thing."
Let me state this right now so that everyone's clear on the issue: I could care less about whether or not Mike Long is inducted into the mythical Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame. It does not matter to me. But one particular post caught my eye. It said something to the effect of "I'm not bothered by Mike Long being in the Hall of Fame. I'm bothered by the fact that he gets a monetary benefit for being in the Hall of Fame." Therein lies the dilemma.
The Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame is nothing but a gigantic marketing ploy. Wizards and the DCI want you to know that if you go to enough Magic tournaments and spend enough time and money on entry fees on their products, you too can receive the monetary benefit. It's not about recognition for the players; it's about recognition for the Pro Tour itself. Why else would it have started so soon after the inception of the Pro Tour? In all other events, the Halls of Fame were specifically instituted as a way to honor the people that made the game so great. The only way to realize who truly helped the game is to look back at the entire history and see which professional career served as a lasting impact. This can't be achieved a mere decade after the fact. To give some other examples:
-Baseball was invented around 1839. Its first Hall of Fame inductions were made in 1936, almost a century later.
-Basketball was invented in 1891. Its Hall of Fame was built in 1968, almost 80 years later.
-Hockey's origins go back to Russia in the early 1800's, so it's hard to pinpoint exactly when it was created, but the first Stanley Cup was awarded in 1892. The first people were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1945, over 50 years later.
-American football was invented in 1920. Its Hall opened in 1963, over 40 years later.
The point is that no other sport or competition has tried to achieve the instant gratification of honoring itself only ten years after its inception. The only possible reason for doing so is for self-promotion. Wizards gives such-and-such a player a monetary benefit and in return, that player convinces other Magic players to come to more high-level tournaments, generating more revenue in the end and making that investment worthwhile. Therefore, the revenue generated to pay the Hall of Famers doesn't come from the Magic Card-buying masses; it comes from the additional Pro Tour participants trying to achieve that lofty Hall status and shiny gold ring. That's how marketing works. I can't prove this, but I'd even bet that the funding for the Hall of Fame comes out of Wizards' advertising department.
There's also a reason that major sports' Hall of Fame requirements include waiting so many years after retirement before consideration. First, since other Halls are indeed trying to honor and appreciate the very best competitors, they realize how important it is to look at a career of accomplishments. If a player has one or two great years, they may seem like a guaranteed Hall of Famer at the moment, but down the road, people might realize they had a flash-in-the-pan success and were mediocre in the long run. It's especially important in Magic (since the competition is not dependent on physical endurance) to honor longevity as well as short term brilliance. Right now, a solid five-year Pro Tour career highlighted by one year of domination might seem like a thing of greatness, but when players start to compile solid careers over a twenty, thirty, or forty-year span, we might look back and wonder how those original inductees can possibly deserve to stand next to the truly great Magic players of all time.
Another reason that real Halls of Fame only elect retirees is for the same reason that so many people have such a problem with Long: Integrity. When a player retires after having a Hall of Fame career, voters know exactly what that player has accomplished as a professional. They can see all the positives and negatives of an encapsulated career. Cheaters are dismissed and only honorable players are eligible. Nothing those candidates can do in retirement can tarnish their career on the field. In the Pro Tour Hall, just the opposite approach is taken. Entrants are actually encouraged to attend more Pro Tours and continue competing. So what happens if they decide to start cheating after their induction? Should they be stripped of their Hall status? Or should they be allowed to continue participating and given a free pass? Either way, the Hall of Fame ends up with a tarnished reputation. If the baseball Hall of Fame, for example, followed the Pro Tour's requirements, both Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose would have likely made it in, only to tarnish its reputation later with their scandals.
And that's why I don't understand the resentment towards Mark Rosewater's vote for Long. Yes, Mike Long cheated at Magic. Sure, he was a total jerk and did everything possible just to win. People hate him for ruining their chances or their friends' chances at winning fairly at certain events. But right now, there is nothing in place to stop any other Hall of Fame inductee from doing the same thing after they're inducted. So what difference does it make whether a player cheated at the beginning of their Pro Tour career or at the end of their career? Right now, Wizards is blindly trusting their inductees to not do such a thing, but sooner or later they're going to face this situation. Even an Oliver Ruel-type incident could lead to widespread questioning of the induction of active players.
But don't worry, Mike Long haters, because he'll never make it in. The final problem with the hasty creation of the Hall is that the people voting for the Hall of Fame are the same people that Mike Long disrespected along the way. Out of the 69 Hall of Fame voters, 49 of them are former players or judges. These people sat across from Mike at tournaments and watched helplessly as he created diversions and threw them off their best game. They stood around and missed the subtle moves he made to stack his deck and could never prove any wrong-doing for years. They watched their friends get beaten by a pompous, arrogant jerk and could do nothing to knock him off his perch. They hate him for that and their dedication to Magic has given them a vote in his Hall of Fame fate. And you can rest assured that they'll do everything in their power to keep him out of their precious marketing tool.
Of course, the Hall serves more than just being an extremely effective marketing tool. My first impression was that it was a way for Pro Tour veterans to give themselves a pat on the back and I believe it serves that purpose, as well. And despite my theory of its origins, it is still a way to honor great players of the past. I only bring to light this fact to dispel all this nonsense about the "integrity" of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. Sure, it has integrity, but only as much integrity as a talking gecko or the Coors Light twins.