On January 12, 2018; Wizards of the Coast announced a huge change to the way they allow Judges to operate in their most popular card game: Magic The Gathering. This change comes around in the form of background checks, something that is done by businesses all around the world when they hire employees, but rarely seen inside Card Game circles as the Judges they bring on are considered volunteers and are under the jurisdiction of the Local Card Shop owners, not Wizards of the Coast directly (at least not on ground level, when you get to national and international levels, that does change).

The change, which you can read in full here, requires all Judges to get background checks (or in the case of Australians, a Working with Children check) to make sure that their names do not appear on any known Sex Offender or Sexual Predator list in their own country. This comes in the form of an update to Section 5 of the Wizards Play Network Terms and Conditions, reading as such:

Section 5b: To protect players of all ages, to the extent permitted by applicable law, you agree to conduct background checks to meet your obligations under Section 15 on your Staff as well as those you engage with that interact with the public

Now some people might be asking “Why?” at this stage in this story. Well, it all has to do with a Youtuber called Unsleeved Media and his fall out of favor with Wizards of the Coast and a mission to uncover and bring to light one of Magic The Gatherings darkest secrets: They have been allowing known Pedophiles into the Judges position, a position of power, over minors. But to get to the above changes, we need to go back in time a little into the later half of 2017.

Back in November of 2017, a Wizards of the Coast sponsored Cosplayer by the name of Christine Sprankle announced that she was going to stop doing official cosplay appearances at Magic Grand Prix events due to harassment by members of the Magic the Gathering community on the Reddit page /r/MagicTCG and also her Facebook page. Christine Sprankle has regularly attended Magic tournaments over the years dressed as popular characters like Elspeth, Freyalise and Liliana and earned herself the title ‘the godmother of Magic cosplay’ from the community.

In an Instagram post (Now deleted), Sprankle announced she was cancelling her upcoming appearance at GP Portland and deleting her private Facebook account because she was “super tired of the harassment and would love to have some peace and quiet.”

Later, in a now locked Twitter post, Sprankle named Youtuber Unsleeved Media as one of the main harassers

Now Unsleeved Media, formerly MTGHeadquarters, a Youtuber with a 149,000+ subscriber count; was subsiquently given a lifetime ban for the “harassment” of Sprankle. Though it later came to life through an investigation by Unsleeved Media that the real reason for Sprankle’s departure from Cosplay was to focus on a return to College, and that the claims of harassment were more to gain “victim bucks” (A financial advantage via a medium such as Patreon using false claims of harassment) as she prepares to return to the costly life as a student.

Even though he is banned from Magic The Gathering official events, Jeremy (Unsleeved Media) has channeled his energies and 149,000+ Youtube followers into looking into a big issue with Magic The Gathering communities and the company itself. Petty revenge? Maybe. However one of the things brought to light thanks to Jeremy was that there were multiple known Pedophiles in the Wizards Judge Program, a group of people who do rule checks during official Magic The Gathering events on behalf of Local Card Shops, which operate these events on behalf of Wizards of the Coast.

This leads Jeremy to create a crusade to get Wizards of the Coast to institute a background check system on their judges. Of course, since Jeremy is not in the favor of Wizards of the Coast, and the Reddit/Twitter Magic The Gathering community; the claims have been refuted publicly by the company and also the community at large. This was until it was uncovered that there was an (at the time) judge who was working official events while appearing on those sexual predator lists: Ross Prajzner. Ross Prajzner was an active Level 1 Judge during 2016, though he was de-registered in 2017 through annual checks of the system. You can read that whole saga here.

That leads into today’s decision to make the changes to the Terms and Conditions of the Wizards Play Network resulting in background checks being introduced and required for Local Card Shops to continue to run Wizards of the Coast official events. In a statement on Wizard’s official website, Vice President of Global Brand Strategy Elaine Chase’s elaborates on these changes:

Recently, a few former judges and players had their sex offender registries posted to social media. In accordance with our policy, the majority had already had their access to Magic organized play suspended indefinitely, and are not active in the Magic community.

We learned, however, that an individual reported to the Judge Conduct Committee was inadvertently not decertified by Magic Judges nor reported to Wizards. You can read more about that here. However, once this was brought to our attention, Wizards immediately coordinated with Magic Judges—an independent community-run organization that operates and manages the judge community and its Judge Conduct Committee—to address the situation. That individual has now been indefinitely suspended as a player and the Magic Judges decertified the individual’s status as a Magic judge. When Wizards learns that a DCI member or a Wizards Play Network (WPN) retailer is on a sex offender registry, we take immediate action to remove them from organized play and our promotional programs. We have a zero-tolerance policy. Sex offenders have no place in the Magic community.

As part of our commitment to safe and inclusive spaces, tournament organizers and retailers will be explicitly required to conduct background checks for all staff (as permitted by applicable law). This includes CFB Events’ Grand Prix, local store events like Friday Night Magic, and professional events like the Pro Tour and World Magic Cup as well as convention play run by Wizards.

We remain committed to working with tournament organizers, local game stores, and the Magic community to foster safe and inclusive environments. The proper channels for reporting misconduct are as follows: report judge misconduct to the Judge Conduct Committee at magicjudgefeedback@gmail.com, and retailer or player misconduct to investigations@wizards.com.

While this news is good for all people who are worried about who is interacting with their kids, especially me since my little brother plays Magic The Gathering a fair bit more at the Local Card Shop than I do (Though I know the guys at my LCS really well and do trust them), to say that this announcement has come with a lot of outcries. This outcry mostly comes from the fact that Jeremy was the one who brought this to light and got something to be done about it.

The other is also who is going to foot the cost. A lot of Local Card Shops do not want to foot the cost of these background checks because it would eat into their profits; Wizards of the Coast do not want to foot the cost either since they insist that they do not have the right to do so as they do not employ any Judges directly; and the Judges themselves do not want to foot the cost because then they might actually have to be responsible for their own actions. Some Judges have even gone as far as to use gender and/or sexual orientation as an excuse not to get a background check, as seen below. Others have lied about the laws in their own country as a way to get around having to work with these new conditions.

At the end of it all, there has been a great change brought about in the community of Magic The Gathering safer for all, especially the kids who are the next generation of the game. It’s just a shame that so many are opposed to this change since it comes from someone who they have deemed “evil” and thus anything he does is “wrong”. Well, sometimes it takes an “evil” guy to bring about the best changes for the world, even if it is a card game.

The Outerhaven contacted Jeremy directly for a statement and got this in reply:

I am really happy that ultimately Wizards of the Coast did the right thing and instituted background checks to protect children around this game I continue to be frustrated that many resisted this but happy about the final outcome.

Well said.

4 Responses

  1. Avatar
    Jessie_Pinkman

    How is it a scandal that it took them less than a month to hammer out an official codified policy on this issue, one week of which time was while they were in company holiday shut down? That’s actually pretty swift for a major corporation. I will repeat, there has been no reported incident at a MAJOR event overseen by WoTC in it’s 25 year history of organized play. You may find unfortunate, disturbing, and sad incidents at local game stores. Your example shows no connection between Magic and the crime committed, nor was the person you mentioned part of the judge program. We would love there to be zero percent chance, but that’s just not going to happen. With this policy being voluntary at WPN stores, it’s still not going to prevent predators from being around children at sanctioned events. It remains for the parents and other staff to be vigilant about the issue.

  2. Avatar
    Theophile

    There are five problems with the policy.

    The first is that not everybody on a sex offender list had anything to do with children. Here in Texas, you wound up on a sex offender list for selling a vibrator in a store unless it had a big disclaimer sticker saying that it was a novelty item (before the law was repealed in 2012) because it was a sex item. Many people have wound up on a sex offender list for taking a leak behind a dumpster after drinking at the bar. Sex offender lists do not distinguish between major and minor crimes and, by requiring that nobody be hired who appears on any sex offender list, WotC is condemning many people who have never, ever done anything against a child whatsoever (or anything really sexual, for that matter) to never be able to work in a game store or judge (or even play, based on the zero tolerance policy statement) Magic. If only child molesters were on the list, then it could work, but many people end up on these lists for many, many stupid reasons. Especially here in Texas.

    The second is that the policy requires that the store background check anybody “who interacts with the public representing the store”. This includes the Pokemon judges, the Yu-Gi-Oh judges, the guy who runs Heroclix, the Force of Will Judges, the D.M.s for D&D and other games, etc., etc., etc., as well as the Magic Judges and the store employees. What happens when the Heroclix guy does not want to be background checked because Wotc says that he must. Does the store lose the Heroclix events and the Heroclix players? The same goes for Yu-Gi-Oh, Force of Will, Cardfight Vanguard, Pathfinder, etc. If it comes down to Magic or everything else, many stores will choose everything else.

    The third problem is the cost. The way that it is worded, having to pay for a background check for every person who interacts with the public, every Magic Judge, every Yu-Gi-Oh judge, every D.M., every Pokemon, Heroclix, Vanguard, Force of Will, etc. judges and volunteers (as well as all of the employees) can easily cost a couple thousand dollars for a proper check. And you are not allowed to use background checks from other stores (or from Pokemon who background checks all of their judges); each and every store has to spend the money on each and every person. Thus, if a Level 2 judge (or even a volunteer) judges at five stores, each store has to do a background check on that person. This is very expensive and very wasteful. If WotC does anything, they should do background check on their judges (just like Pokemon does – the example that they should be following) so that each person just has to be checked once. (Note, if WotC says that they don’t have the right to background check their judge volunteers, what makes them think that the stores have the right to background check their judge (and other) volunteers???)

    Fourthly, what about the clause “or has been convicted of a crime against children”? What does that mean? Does that mean if somebody was laid off and was not able to pay his child support for a few months and went to jail for it, is he forever ostracized from the Magic community? Everything is way too vague and over-archingly broad.

    Finally, this kills store participation. When you have an event and need a last minute judge or volunteer (because of extra large attendance or because somebody is sick), usually somebody will step up to help. However, under these circumstances, you would have to turn that person down because you have not done a background check on them. This will kill a lot of enthusiasm for judge programs and volunteering in general. Instead of “Can I help?” being replied with “Sure, help me register these people.”, it becomes “Can I help?” being replied with “Well, in a couple of months after you pass a background check, here, sign this.”.

    WotC should just do what Pokemon does and background check the Magic judges and T.O.’s (and only the judges and T.O.’s) themselves. Everything else is an extreme over reaction to a non-problem and will cause way too many other problems.

  3. Avatar
    Theophile

    Just because you are on a sex offender list does not mean that you are a “kiddiediddler” (as you put it). There are many, many (too many) ways to end up on that list that have no involvement with children whatsoever. That is one of the problems with the sex offender lists in general and this policy specifically.