Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Conversation with Crackstyle Creator Sid Blair

Below is my brief conversation with Sidney Blair, the player who was recently suspended from competitive Magic for 18 months as a result of this post he made on Reddit, which went viral, receiving hundreds of thousands maybe millions of views: Grand Prix Richmond Crackstyle: http://imgur.com/a/SjcgE (Original Reddit thread here: http://www.reddit.com/r/funny/comments/202wd3/i_participated_in_one_of_the_biggest_magic_the/)

That’s the post as it originally appeared, but you may have encountered it in a content regurgitator like Buzzfeed or TIME Magazine, and/or alongside commentary and speculation about Sid’s motivation, the impact of the post, and what the DCI (Magic's tournament rules enforcement body) should do about it. 

Amidst all that commentary and speculation, I didn’t see Sid’s own thoughts.  His post was made without much commentary or explanation.  I chatted with Sid not knowing whether he’d be pissed off, understanding, regretful, satisfied, or whatever else.  Here is my full conversation with Sid:

(Image via on Twitter - NSFW).

The Conversation:

Matt Sperling (MS): First of all, can you describe your goal or mindset when you were taking the pictures and then posting them? 

Sid Blair (SB): My goal was to make myself and my friends laugh. We have an odd sense of humor and find this sort of thing funny. I decided to post the pictures I took the day after I got back. I figured a few people would think it was funny, and the rest of the world would think I was really weird. I kept it anonymous and never intended to shame, bully or harass anyone.

MS: That was certainly my impression of it.  I've seen bullying, more to the point: I've been the bully, and I've been the victim.  Most of us have.  Your post just didn't come off that way to me, with faces and names hidden, and not even any commentary beyond the specific phenomenon (ass cracks) that you showed.

So you don't expect this thing to go viral, but it does.  My mind is focused now on the naysayers first and foremost since the DCI took action, but there were thousands and thousands of fans of the post too.  Did the tone of the reaction change over time or was it a pretty mixed bag from early on? 

SB: Within a few hours after I posted it, it had a ton of upvotes and most people thought it was funny. I posted it in r/funny and r/MagicTCG and then left to hang out with some friends. It wasn't until I was home later that night that I started noticing a lot of negative feedback.

MS: So you had your intentions when posting the pictures, and you saw the reaction, both positive and negative.  Did the public reaction change how you felt about the post?

SB: Well, from the start I understood why people felt the way they did. I didn't understand why people thought I was making fun of people for their appearance (other than the obvious part) or why they thought I was "fat-shaming" but I did get why people thought it was bad. It was crazy when I saw people start to call me a bully or accusing me of harassment. 

Another thing that I didn't expect was how the media made me look. A lot of the headlines on the popular websites called me a "rapper" instead of me clearly explaining in the thread that I played Magic. Making music is my creative outlet, but I never have called myself a rapper. They made me look like an outsider that came in to pick on people, which was obviously not the case. I think that that skewed a lot of the public opinion when it comes to the pictures I posted.. There was a lot of missing context that made me look like a bad dude.

MS: That does seem like an important distinction.  I saw a few people point out that you were a Magic player having fun at a tournament, not showing up just to take these pictures.  The response from the other side was that as a Magic player, you should want to portray the game in a positive way and make other players feel comfortable.  Is that a fair point?

SB: That's a very fair point. I didn't mean to portray the community in a bad way. On the other hand, people coming into events and seeing this type of thing isn't very inviting and comfortable either. The community of Magic is largely an amazing group of people. However, within every group of people is a much smaller group of people that present the community in a bad way as well. Whether it be the guys that make fun of new players for using Lava Axe which makes them not want to come back to a LGS, the guys who have naked anime characters on their sleeves/playmat that make women not want to play or the dudes that smell badly and make people not want to go to a certain store. I think that vilifying me is easier for a lot of people than realizing that they might have something to improve about themselves for the community. Not to take the blame away from myself, but that's how I feel. It's much easier to criticize someone else than yourself.

MS: I hear what you're saying about representing the community.  I think that's a valid way to approach how to avoid situations like this.  And yes, people tend to point the finger really quickly, but not so quickly when they're looking into the mirror.

Part of me wants to condemn the guy with anime tits on his deck box, and I have condemned those guys, but another part of me is like wait a minute, Magic has always made me feel like I could be myself and have fun the way I like having fun.  I wouldn't want to play if people couldn't express themselves, joke around, and take chances you maybe can't take at school or at the office.  If someone's 8 year old isn't ready to hang out in a diverse crowd of gamers, then they aren't ready to hang out among a diverse crowd of gamers.  I really detest the idea of all of us becoming overprotective-mom approved.

Wizards of the Coast, which would like everyone to play, probably feels differently. That leads us into our next topic.  But before we go there, I have to remind people that just because something aligns with the profit motive of the game producer, doesn't mean that thing is good for the game or a just outcome or serves the community of players.  

On the topic of Magic protecting its own interests, how did you react when you learned you had been suspended from participating in Magic tournaments for 18 months? 

SB: You bring up an interesting point. This theoretical dude with anime tits on his deck box, for example, gets a pass because he is expressing himself. I don't think it's okay for the community at large to be cool with this guy having pseudo-nudity on his MTG paraphernalia, but not cool with my controversial way of expressing myself. I'm not saying what I did was right; in retrospect, it wasn't. Just because these guys were exposing their ass doesn't make it okay for me to take pictures of them, in the same way that Anime Dude shouldn't be able to get away with having that shit because he's expressing himself. I think the line should be a bit more clearly drawn.

On the topic of WotC banning me for 18 months? At first, I was blown away. When I posted these pictures, I never would have guessed that it would end with me being "internet famous" and getting banned. I laughed when I read the email because I couldn't even believe it. A lot of people believe that it's a publicity move to ban me for as long as they did. A lot of people believe I should be banned for life. I was reading about players being banned for 6/12 months for intentionally cheating, and also another player who was also banned for the same time period for tweeting pictures of people and captioning them with really rude comments, as well as allegedly "trolling" everyone who tweeted back at him. I didn't caption these pictures with anything  derogatory, nor did I antagonize anyone when they replied to me on Reddit. A lot of people were making the comparison and I felt insulted. Furthermore, I understand the position that WotC keeps. I understand why they decided to make an example of me, even though I don't agree with it. At the time of this conversation, I have appealed my ban to WotC and am awaiting a reply.

MS: Did you have any prior history of discipline from the DCI?   I've seen people stating you had a discipline history, but at this point people have said all kinds of things.

I agree it's strange to see cheating get a 6-12 month ban and you get 18 months.  If anything it really underscores who the DCI serves.  Cheating terrifies players.  Your post terrified Wizards' marketing team.

When your 18 months is up, assuming your appeal is not successful, will you come back to sanctioned magic you think, or are you over it?   Any final thoughts you want people to know?

SB: I've never had any prior discipline with the DCI. I had read that the precedent set by Gerald Freas (the man I mentioned earlier) took into account his prior offenses of bullying/disrespectful conduct, of which I have none.

If my appeal is not successful, I'll have to wait it out. Magic is still going to be an important part of my life. I hope that I never see a reason to stop playing. Sanctioned Magic is only a part of the Magic I play, but it's significant to me. I have been disciplined in a political manner and I have to understand my role in the big picture. I look forward to the next 18 months, sanctioned Magic or not.