Topics: Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame 2018 Voting, accusations of cheating, impact of implicit (and overt) bias
The Hall of Fame chatter this cycle has been equal parts amusing and exhausting. And I'm sure the candidates themselves are feeling that the balance is not so equal - they must be extremely exhausted and frustrated.
What might have been whisper campaigns about shady conduct in past years were shouting campaigns this year.
Very early in the cycle, we saw Onrej Strasky raise concerns about Seth Manfield:
Not voting for Lee Shi Tian in this HoF ballet. I believe he's an opportunistic cheater, and as such I don't know how many of his finishes can be trusted. (continued)— Calebdmtg (@CalebDMTG) August 16, 2018
I had initial reactions to all this, but I want to write more today about where I ended up after a lot of deliberation and consultation with other voters (not all of whom agree with me, but all of whom have insights I can learn from nonetheless)
Lee Shi Tian:
The "8 minutes to sideboard" thing seems to have been debunked as not actually 8 minutes of match clock used. Look at the reply tweets and I've heard from others that the judge was keeping a separate clock and this wasn't Lee Shi Tian extending an unreasonable amount to try and draw. [EDIT: there is some disagreement I'm receiving from players close to the action about game clock vs. not game clock, as there was not a feature match hold, but the max it could have been can be determined from the video and comes in under 6 minutes, not the 8 that Caleb tweeted out.]
Aside from that though, I feel the need to comment on implicit racial and cultural bias. In corporate training sessions, in casual discussions, in activist workshops, whatever the context, you often hear a plea for people to be "aware of their biases." I have learned in doing this type of work that you never really want to stop the analysis or action plan at mere "awareness." What we do with that awareness might make all the difference.
When I train and/or collaborate with people on reducing bias, I emphasize that knowing when to go slow and when to go fast is a huge part of what to do about bias. Moving fast often means being anchored to your first impression, refusing to dig deeper, and refusing to zoom out and look not just at this case but also similar cases (such as accusations against friends or even plays you have made yourself that looked shady but were not).
So, in order to practice what I preach I had no choice but to slow down and think about implicit bias and how Lee Shi Tian was being treated regarding some player accusations that shady things were happening, even though judges and cameras didn't uncover all that much (he plays an extra land here, a summoning sick creature is tapped there - things to be concerned about certainly but not exactly pocket Flings and Hornet Queens). When you slow down and reflect, you also notice and consider the mistakes that you yourself have made. This last weekend playing my UW Delver deck in Legacy I tried to Snapcaster + Surgical someone despite my own Grafdigger's Cage in play. I just forgot. Now, if that's Lee Shi Tian on camera next week people are going to say "It's his Cage, of course he knows what it does!" etc. and there's nothing he can do to rebut this. Same goes for playing two lands. We have to track this stuff and see how it adds up, and I have not seen a mountain of evidence against Lee Shi Tian, especially for a player who has played a ton on and off camera at the highest levels.
And there is absolutely a snap-judgment willingness on the part of Americans and others to assume a player who isn't from the U.S. or Canada is cheating when mistakes do happen. An important footnote is that I don't think this in any way absolves people who do cheat and happen to be from another region (anti-bias mindset does not mean putting a blindfold on), but when there isn't much to go on, we should resolve uncertainly about players for whom there is some evidence (but not a mountain) in favor of those players' reputations, and we should do so whether they are American or not.
Lee Shi Tian also has accomplished more than I would have accomplished if I was in the same region he is in, and had the skills he has (I don't). What I mean by that is that he has sacrificed a lot to travel and form community from the APAC region (non-Japan where much of the infrastructure for this would have already existed). That is meaningful to me, and the testimonials on this did move the needle for me.
Despite Ondrej's tweets and some agreement, there is even less to go on with Seth than there is with LST in terms of concerning anecdotes. Here, implicit bias shows up for me as viewing Seth as an outsider to my friend group and play group. I often find myself rooting against Seth because my friends and teammates are among the people he is playing against (and often defeating) in the feature match and top 8 area. So I had an initial gut reaction of "I don't want to vote for Seth." We don't have to be proud of our initial reactions, but we have to look them in the eye and do the work of digging deeper to arrive at a less biased conclusion. When I did that work and looked at Seth's accomplishments and the accusations of shady play, I emerged with a clear Yes vote.
My HoF ballot this year will include both Lee Shi Tian and Seth Manfield, two of the most qualified players that in my opinion have more than earned a vote.
I am considering other players who have 4 or more top8s still (I reviewed those with less than 4 and didn't see a compelling candidate there that I had not considered at length in years past)., but I wanted to share this info above while timely, as I consider the rest of my ballot.