Sunday, August 23, 2015

Initial Thoughts on Leagues Announcement

Since I seem to have gotten into the habit of commenting on recent news regarding Magic Online, I thought I would finish out the week by discussing the recent update from Wizards of the Coast regarding the return of leagues. Now clearly this is a contentious issue, with a long history of Wizards making promises that leagues would be returning "soon," as well as being one of the ways that they justified the painful switch-over to version 4 of the Magic Online client. So what did we learn from this update?

Leagues now have an official release date, with a progressive "roll-out" scheduleThe code is scheduled to go live this next week, but will only be available to an internal test group, and then a wider but still closed beta, with a target of going public sometime in mid September. But as many people have noticed, this is something fairly different than the leagues in the past. These are not Sealed events, but instead are Standard Constructed format. Why would Wizards do this?

In an effort to get a quality Leagues experience delivered sooner, we changed course from the more complex Sealed Deck League to the simpler Constructed League. This allowed us to focus on key League functions and performance without worrying about deck building, adding cards to a deck mid-League, and running multiple stages that Sealed Deck Leagues include. This saved both development and testing time. It also allowed us to double down on load testing and make sure we can support the large number of players we want in each League.

While the delay is unfortunate, the work delivered has created a much better foundation upon which to build the future of Leagues. We've upgraded our testing capabilities, especially around load testing, so we can do more testing faster. We've refined the Leagues infrastructure to allow better scalability, so future releases should be easier. This all translates to a better Leagues experience for you out of the gate and as we deliver addition features and support.

While you may be disappointed by this, in my opinion this is good news. Wizards realizes they have a terrible track record when it comes to their online experience, and as such wants to take things one baby step at a time, rather than trying to release everything all at once. Of course, this means that even after these leagues go public, the community still won't have what we've been waiting for. Worse, since the primary reason many players preferred leagues was the low cost of entry, these leagues will probably not any cheaper than participating in other Standard events online. On the other hand, when Sealed leagues do finally return, there is a greater chance that they will actually work as intended, as the overall systems for the leagues will have been rigorously tested and refined by that point in the distant future.

For me, the bottom line is that while I probably will not play in these Standard leagues (since I have no desire to invest the required funds to do so), I do see this as a positive sign that real progress is being made towards returning Sealed leagues to Magic Online.

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