(Author’s note: The content of this article concerns itself with the actions of Wizards of the Coast and pro players, not with the legal rulings of Jesse’s case, and does not take a stance on his verdict.)
On May 10, otherwise normal coverage of Grand Prix Atlantic City – one of Magic: The Gathering‘s (or Magic, as its also called) popular open events – was interrupted with a single tweet by Drew Levin, writer for StarCityGames.com, concerning one of the players in the event’s Top 8.
Quick reminder: Zach Jesse is a literal rapist who got away with serving three months of an eight year plea deal. http://t.co/99dsBEzFKP
— Drew Levin (@drewlevin) May 10, 2015
The tweet’s — pictured above — subject is Zachary Jesse, who in 2004, plead guilty to aggravated sexual battery. He was sentenced to 3 months of an 8 year prison sentence, and was required to have no contact with the victim and to withdraw from their mutual university until she graduated.
Aside from heated debate and criticisms leveled at supporters and detractors, further information concerning Jesse did not surface until last week.
On July 2, a post on /r/magicTCG – reddit.com’s sub-forum for Magic – notified the community that Jesse had received a ban from organized play. Any tournaments, Grand Prix, Pro Tours – anything that required Jesse’s official registration number, he could no longer play in. In addition, Jesse’s account on Magic: The Gathering Online – the official online client for gameplay – was terminated and his virtual collection seized, although Wizards of the Coast (WotC) agreed that they would liquidate his account and reimburse him for it (not without stressing that this wasn’t something they had to do). Both bans will expire in 2049 which is, as the community has noted, essentially a lifetime ban for Jesse.
WotC has not issued an official statement from any of their social media accounts, but a representative of the community was authorized to post the following message to a thread in /r/magicTCG:
“We work hard to make sure all players feel welcomed, included and safe at our events so that they can have fun playing Magic. We don’t generally comment on individuals or provide position statements in the abstract, but we take action to address player issues and community concerns when we feel it is necessary.” – https://archive.is/IGBje
Community opinion of the banning and the situation leading up to it has been divided, but the general consensus has been that Jesse’s ban sets a dangerous precedent for organized play. Some users have expressed concern that they will also be banned for having a criminal record, even if it was for something that happened years ago. Others have argued that Jesse’s ban has nothing to do with his criminal record, instead happening as a result of the outcry on social media during GP Atlantic City; they note that Hall of Famer and prolific Magic writer, Patrick Chapin, also has a criminal record for the sale and possession of ecstasy, yet not only is allowed to play but serves in many ways as a public face for Magic’s competitive scene.
A few have made the suggestion that Jesse’s ban is due to WotC trying to clean up their public image and make Magic a safe space, something that seems to be supported by WotC’s only public response to the Jesse ban, and articles on inclusion released by higher ups within the company.
This isn’t the first time an up-and-coming pro player has received negative public feedback from other pro players. A similar incident occurred in May at Grand Prix Las Vegas Modern Masters 2015 Draft, where Pascal Maynard was publicly criticized on Twitter by pro players and ChannelFireball.com co-writers William Jensen and Owen Turtenwald for picking a foil Tarmogoyf in his second pack first pick. Picking the card, worth about three hundred dollars in near-mint condition, led to Jensen and Turtenwald dismissing Maynard for “disgracing competitive Magic” by not taking another card that worked better with the cards he had already picked. Maynard went on to place fifth overall in the event and auctioned off the card on eBay with the intent to keep part of the money and donate the rest to the charity Gamers Helping Gamers (the card sold for $2007). Jensen and Turtenwald both issued public apologies and continue to write articles for ChannelFireball.
The similarities between what was termed on social media as “GoyfGate” and the banning of Jesse are easily identifiable. In both situations, up-and-coming players were publicly criticized by writers for popular Magic websites who seemed to have suffered no penalties for doing so; in both cases the criticizers were even applauded by some within the community for their actions. Professional levels at any sport are very much clique-ish, and Magic is no different. Some veteran professional players do not like to see “fresh blood” come in and usurp positions that they’ve held for years. It’s possible that some of these players who shamed Maynard and Jesse did so to discredit or downplay the achievements they’ve made in the competitive Magic setting.
Time will tell if WotC will reverse its decision in the face of calls to boycott the company, but as some people have said: if this ban was an attempt to make us feel safe to play Magic, it just isn’t accomplishing that.
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