Yesterday, Magic: The Gathering publisher Wizards of the Coast announced that they are partnering with eSports platform Matcherino to support third-party events on MTG Arena. Among other benefits, this allows event organizers who use Matcherino to offer Gems, Arena's in-game currency, as prizes. To promote the partnership, WotC has enlisted streamer Crokeyz and Team Liquid to run a free Standard Tournament this Saturday starting at 10am ET.
Magic organized play has been dogged by uncertainty for months, but this announcement could indicate we're close to a real update on the future of OP.
Back in May, WotC announced the end of the Magic Pro and Rivals Leagues, along with the entire OP system that had been meant to replace the Pro Tour. WotC offered few details on what would come after the 2020-2021 competitive season, saying only that there would be a transition period before the 2021-2022 season. With the Magic World Championship just two weeks away, time is running out for WotC to clarify what's coming next.
The Matcherino partnership confirms that WotC remains invested in supporting MTG Arena tournaments, but the nature of that support appears to be changing. While third-party organizers have been running events on Arena since the start of the pandemic, WotC has rarely acknowledged them, preferring to highlight their own events like the Mythic Invitationals and Arena Opens. Now, WotC is actively promoting other organizers—ostensibly, their competitors for player interest.
What's also interesting is that WotC is sidelining the platform that has been filling the role that Matcherino will now take over: MTGMelee. Since early 2020, MTGMelee has been the default way for third parties to organize events on MTG Arena. Their partners have included big names in the community like the SCG Tour. The platform faced controversy in August due to one of their larger partners failing to pay out prizes, which may have influenced WotC's decision to go with Matcherino.
Like MTGMelee, Matcherino offers tools to support online tournament organizers. While they support a wide array of eSports titles, the partnership with WotC seems to be a major feather in their cap, given that they namedrop WotC on their homepage:
Matcherino specializes in helping publishers like Wizards of the Coast create a vibrant ecosystem of first-party and third-party gaming events...
The quote above specifically mentions first-party and third-party gaming events, which implies that WotC still intends to organize Arena events. But the move to a third-party platform, with more support for third-party organizers, suggests that WotC sees their future role in organized play as much smaller than we're used to.
This move would bring WotC in line with other game publishers, like Blizzard and EA, who aren't directly involved in their games' biggest events. WotC doesn't have to worry that Magic events will end without them. Star City Games has organized a successful independent tournament circuit for years, and ChannelFireball's recent event announcement shows that they're willing to host huge Magic events without the Pro Tour or MagicFest names.
We still don't know exactly what shape the 2021-2022 competitive season will take. Hopefully WotC will reveal their full intentions with the Matcharino partnership before the World Championship ends on October 10th.