Banning Concessions, Yes or No?

by Arnaud Soumet on 31 July 2017, Monday

Arnaud Soumet

 

Banning Concessions, Yes or No?

 

 

With Pro Tour Hour of Devastation in the books and I'd like to talk about concessions and intentional draws. It's a system I have used and abused, so rather than pointing at anyone, I just want to shed new light on it. Hopefully, this very personal take on concessions can awaken new thoughts or at least entertain you, dear reader.

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own! 




Weather Forecast: Concessions Storm in Late July

When the last round of the last Pro Tour of the season arrives, players very often concede matches or take intentional draws in order to reach Pro levels:

  • Player A: I need a win to get Gold level! Would you concede?
  • Player B: I don't need the Pro Points. Sure, I concede!

 

Then, when the tournament is over:

 

  • Player A: Thanks again for the concession. With the last win, I got an extra $2000. I would like to give you $1000 to split the prize + $300 as a bonus to thank you. What's your PayPal address?

The rumor is that such deals were so common that PayPal contacted Wizards to sponsor the last Pro Tour of the season.

 


The leaked proposed Pro Tour logo, according to a trusted source. Fact or fiction?



PayPal would have offered to help players set up their PayPal accounts and provide improved Pro Player tokens featuring the current Pro Points total and PayPal address. For this year Wizards preferred to stick with "Pro Tour Hour of Devastation", so "Pro Tour PayPal" remains just its unofficial name, but this could change in the future.

    


A Deeply-Rooted Community Culture

The previous example is commonly seen as a win-win deal among players. One player secures their Pro level, and the other wins more money than their expected value. Through the telling of concessions stories, aspiring pros are taught:

 

 

  • 1) how to handle concessions and
  • 2) that the etiquette requires paying back and adding a bonus on top.

Another case, typically at cursed Table #5, is when one player would make it to the Top 8 with a win and their opponent is out of contention. The latter will usually concede to the former, hoping to get a win-win deal, namely a generous bonus from their opponent. One difference in this "win-win" scenario is that the player ending 9th loses equity: he could have had a shot at the Top 8 depending on the result of table #5, but match fixing prevents that. Despite this collateral damage, the community encourages players to concede in this spot.

If you concede, you get known as a nice player. The "winner" and his friends will thank you. Reputations spread out by word of mouth (and social media)! Maybe one day, you will find yourself asking for a concession, and then this past story will help you to get it.

However, if you are bold and don't concede, drama occurs. You will be labelled as a "dream crusher"! If you hinder the concession ring, you are out of it forever.

 

"Tag someone your friends should not concede to!"


Thus, peer pressure tells you that it's kind to concede. It gets you more prizes than your expected value, plus long term tournament equity, and you should do it.

Conversely, not conceding creates a negative experience. Players expect to receive these kinds of automatic concessions and some become insistent when it's not the case; then they become really displeased when they lose. Acting as "dream crusher" triggers negative feelings in the room, even if it should not.

This is how, in the end, one would rather go with the social norm, concede and get value, than take it on themselves to defend the tournament integrity.



Match Fixing has been Part of the Magic Show for a Long Time


Here is an example taken from Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad. I picked this video to illustrate a common situation that is created by the current rules. Going in the last round, Katsuhiro Mori, 11th, faces Andrea Mengucci, 12th. The winner has a chance to make it to the Top 8. The match times out and ends in a draw, which means neither player would have made it to the Top 8.


In that case, again, the current culture says that players should split their winnings and one player should concede. That way, both get overall more money than they would with a draw, and one gets the all-important Top 8 glory.

The traditions are that the player currently losing "should" concede. So players try to convince each other they would most likely end up winning if the game could be finished.

So, the fact that Wizards put the following video on their YouTube channel, means that this is something that is not only prevalent, but also perfectly fine. In a sense, stories like this promote Magic and this unique feature of the game.

As you will see, everybody enjoys it. The players are having a great time, as well as the judges and commentators. During the negotiation, the big smiles of the spectators show they are absolutely loving it. This intense moment of coverage is what drives so many viewers towards Magic. Watch from 1:06:20 to 1:10:00.

 

Andrea Mengucci convinces Katsuhiro Mori to concede.


Notice that the heroic concession is acclaimed. Everyone comes to the player who conceded to comfort him after the loss and congratulate him for "doing the right thing to do". Also, a very important thing to note is that Andrea Mengucci and Katsuhiro Mori were teammates and playtested together in the very same house the week before, and were playing nearly identical 75 cards, which is yet another reason to make the decisions they made. 

In the end, Mengucci finished 8th, just 0.01% on tiebreakers ahead of Blohon, who won his match at the next table and would have made Top 8 had there not been a concession. Then Mengucci reached the finals, which makes that earlier concession an extremely successful operation. He publicly thanked Katsuhiro Mori for the heroic act.

 


Once again, this happens all the time, it is a product of the current rules and I took this example just because the video makes it easy to show how it's done for those who didn't know. Players are highly encouraged to behave like this and I am not blaming anyone.

 


Let's Face It: We Have an Addiction to Concessions 


Some players just enjoy concessions and intentional draws. It is complex, with many unwritten rules, so once you know how to do it, you feel like an insider. This mix of gaming the system and knowing the secret codes make some feel really smart.

A recent poll among players revealed that 96% believe they get an edge on the field because they know better how to use draws and concessions. 
Let's not underestimate the emotional attachment many have for what has been part of the tournaments for decades. Here is a testimony from a fellow Pro player who asked to remain anonymous:

 

"My favorite moment in a tournament is by far when they post the standings before the last round. All the smart players squeeze together against the pairings board to see something. They've been waiting all day long for this moment and you can feel the excitement. Who is in the Top 8 with a draw? Who is going to be devastated because they have to play? What a rush! When doing the tiebreaker math, I feel truly alive."

The status quo bias is strong.



Let's Just Give It a Try!

Banning concessions would be great for the game.

Make it mandatory to try to win each match and illegal to concede for external reasons. Such rules are successfully enforced in sports. In Magic it would be even easier to enforce them 1) because the motives behind concessions are mostly obvious and 2) because Magic is a slow strategy game and one can tell when someone is throwing the match away. In practice, the risks would vastly outweigh the rewards even if on paper one could think that such rules are exploitable at first glance. 


Wizards could at least give it a try, just on the Pro Tour!

Intentional draws should likely be forbidden as well. And one of the options is to remove draws altogether using similar match end rules like in Top 8. Try something!



Banning Concessions Will Bring Awesome Benefits

As Owen Turtenwald commented:

 


"[…] some new players are so uninformed that they just end up admitting they're colluding and get disqualified."

A disqualification is a horrible experience for a new player who was about to make Top 8. When the no-concessions rules and culture will be spread out to every level of tournament play, many of these sad stories will be avoided.


Intentional draws are a disaster for coverage because we could have epic win-and-in matches instead! I will just quote Wizards on this:

 

"With all events, and especially the Pro Tour, we strive to run tournaments that create meaningful matches of Magic that are played to their natural conclusion. […] concessions make for a poor viewing experience […] We realize that changing a culture is a lengthy process and might have limited impact, but we're willing to give it a try. If, however, we do not see a significant shift, we will look at other ways to prevent concessions at the Pro Tour level of play, up to and including simply making concessions illegal." - Source

 

Banning concessions would mean that overall the players lose some expected value. Concessions and intentional draw at the end of the season are a "smart allocation" of Pro Points which allows more players to get Pro levels.

For this reason, I suggest that forbidding concessions should go hand-in-hand with lowering the thresholds for the levels by a few Pro Points. That way, the size of the Pro Players Club would remain the same before and after the concessions ban.
 
The new rolling system for Pro levels will make things even better because you won't have to play one match for a year worth of Pro levels.

What do you think?

I am optimistic Wizards will ban concessions and it will overall be better for the game. High-profile players like Brian Braun-Duin and Ross Meriam also campaigned for this change. Anyway, it really matters that you can form your own opinion on the subject and get yourself heard. I hope this article provided you with a new perspective and gave you food for thought.

Do you think concessions should be banned?




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