The Pro Tour Hall of Fame represents the highest honor we can bestow onto a player in our game. On top of that it also carries with it a tangible reward: invitations and appearance fees at every Pro Tour.
This isn’t something to be handed out lightly.
When we get our ballot, we are given the following instruction:
You may vote for up to five candidates from the list. Voting shall be based upon the player’s performances, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, and contributions to the game in general.
We aren’t told how to weigh these options, and there aren’t any concrete guidelines given as to how to measure them. We are given a spreadsheet that has the players statistical accomplishments on it. This gives us a big-picture snapshot of what a players career has looked like, from a numbers perspective.
We are left to gauge how much community contributions, integrity, and sportsmanship factor in.
We are given up to five votes. In my mind, each voter has an idea of what a Pro Tour Hall of Famer should be. That will be different for each voter, but they should have a set of thresholds that must be met in some combination before a vote is given.
Some people use all five votes every year, which I have never understood. Five is an arbitrary number assigned by the committee, and has nothing to do with the worthiness of the players on the ballot in any given year. What if we had ten votes? Voting for the tenth player on the list most years would have the bar dip lower than most people would find acceptable.
It’s rare that the fifth or even fourth person on the list meets my standards for entrance.
This has made voting this year particularly difficult. I think this is the first year where you could defensibly not vote for anyone. I personally wouldn’t agree and won’t be making that choice myself, but the case could be made. Compare that to the year that Luis Scott-Vargas, Ben Stark, and Huey Jensen were up. Completely different ballgame.
That said, I am completely sure of one vote, and that vote is for Eric Froehlich.
Efro’s story breaks down into two main chunks: His accomplishments as a player, and his public image/community contributions.
His accomplishments as a player are straightforward. While I’d love to see another PT Top 8 on his resume to cement him in an even more elite class, his Top 16 numbers are in the all-time camp and he has been one of (if not the best) players in the game for a while now. His technical game play is his strongest suit, but it’s easy to overlook that he’s great at *every* format, in both Limited and Constructed. He simply has no weaknesses.
So that part is pretty easy for me: He’s one of the best players to play our game, and has the resume to back it up.
When it comes to his public image and community contributions, it’s not as simple. Being a good community member is something that I hold with great importance. I’ve written and talked about my philosophy on this before, but the basics are that everyone benefits from creating a great community. New players keep cycling into the ecosystem, which grows the game and makes it more viable for the long term.
When I first met Eric, he was standoffish and not particularly warm to me, though he wasn’t mean or anything. I followed him on Twitter and saw that he was tweeting some poker bad beat stories and even going after a few Magic commentators pretty aggressively.
He didn’t seem like a very nice guy.
I knew that Luis was good friends with him so I asked him about Eric. Luis said that he was genuinely one of the kindest people he knew, but that you had to get to know him first. Fair enough, I thought.
Over the next few years, I found myself in Eric’s company more at random post-tournament dinners, or just bumping into him through my duties on coverage. We’d say hi to each other. I’d ask for some of his time for an interview or deck tech, and he always made it. I started to notice his sense of humor, which was understated but really funny.
Before I continue, I want to rewind time a bit. When people act a certain way, I usually try to put myself in their shoes to try to figure out why. Not by way of excusing past actions, but by way of understanding.
I originally heard of Eric through poker, as he was doing well at the World Series of Poker at a time when I was playing and watching a lot of poker on TV.
Eric won a World Series of Poker bracelet when he was 21 years old. At the time he was the youngest person *ever* to win a bracelet. Can you imagine what that must have been like? You go from being this Magic player, online poker player, sports fan, normal guy; to being famous in the poker world. You are the Next Big Thing. You are the young-blood that is going to take over the poker world.
The next year, he won another bracelet, furthering these ideas and his reputation.
I’m going to use myself as a case study for a moment.
I started doing the podcast in 2009, and coverage in 2012. I had zero Twitter followers and the Magic community had never heard of me. I worked hard, and built up a following through the podcast and eventually on coverage. When you are on people’s screens and in their ears, they view you differently than they would a normal person.
They say mean things. 99% of the feedback I get is good or at least constructive. But the 1% can be brutal. They say things about your personal appearance, the way you talk, your mannerisms. They pick apart any mistake you make—even small ones, call you names, accuse you of being incompetent. Sometimes they just say they hate you.
When I first started doing coverage, I was 33. I had already figured out who I was, what I stood for, and had been through enough stuff in my life to have built up a skin thick enough to not let the 1% bother me most of the time.
When Eric won his bracelet he was 21. He was young. I know I wouldn’t have been mentally ready for it at 21. Eric didn’t ask for any of it. He’s a naturally quiet guy. He was playing a game he loved and happened to find some success at it. And this was poker during its boom stage, much bigger than our little corner of the world in Magic.
It wouldn’t surprise me to consider that this kind of life-changing attention could lead to someone putting up some walls. Deciding who your friends are is very important if you feel like you are being attacked by people who don’t even know you. Building up some distrust for people you don’t know is a normal reaction. You surround yourself with your true friends, your family, and you eschew most everyone else.
I want to be clear here: I am not speaking for Eric. He didn’t tell me this is what happened, I am just attempting to put myself in his shoes, and I could easily see this being a path I could have found myself on had I run as good as he did in the summer of 2005.
Which brings us to now, the current day. As many of you have noted, Eric has changed his ways. He genuinely saw an issue with the way he was handling things like this, and I remember he even publicly asked on Facebook for advice. He asked what the best way was, and how to do it. He got some great advice, and to his credit, decided to act on it. I have a lot of respect for that. It’s incredibly difficult to actually change things like that.
And I think he’s done it. I had him as a guest on LR, and he was great. I had a chat with him afterward, and he mentioned that he was trying to actively get out there more in the community. I was working on setting up a recurring role for him on LR when the CR spot opened up. Once I knew he was interested, off we went. He’s doing coverage, has cleaned up his Twitter to include a more balanced range of tweets. I’ve seen him interact with listeners of the podcast at GPs, and it’s great.
I say all of this because I have seen the side of him that Luis described to me a few years ago. The friend side. The funny side. And it’s great.
He’s really just a teddy bear, trust me.
Efro has my vote.
My other vote is much less clear. I’ve been over the candidates and none besides Eric hit my criteria at first glance. After all, the players I had in mind were on the ballot last year and didn’t get my vote. If they hadn’t added anything significant since then, why should I vote for them now?
But one side effect of the yearly voting cycle is that the spotlight shifts as players are inducted and new names float higher on the list.
The name that has gotten the most chatter is Willy Edel. Willy has enough high level success to be in the discussion with 4 Pro Tour Top 8s, but his overall performance falls short after that. Willy is clearly a very good player, who has had a very good career. But the Hall is for the best of the best. Not the very good.
So if he’s close to getting there on play skill, what could close the gap?
In Willy’s case, community contributions. I count them when I’m looking at voting for someone, and I’m willing to put quite a bit of weight on it if I feel it’s warranted.
Since last year, I’ve had a chance to talk with Willy a fair bit. He’s great. He’s nice, funny, always has time for coverage stuff, and is generally affable.
But the thing that has really stood out in the last year has been his effect on the Magic community in Brazil and the surrounding countries. I’ve heard stories from multiple people (and notably not Willy himself) about how central he is to professional Magic in that entire part of the world. People who qualify for the Pro Tour in Brazil will often get in contact with Willy for help in arranging travel, testing, acquiring cards, etc.
I’ve been told that Willy has also selflessly skipped important events in order to help out other people. I have a ton of respect for people who are both selfless and humble and I think Willy is both of those things.
I thought about waiting another year to vote for Willy, to see if he would put up another big finish. But after thinking it over, I realized that Willy is not only the type of player I want in the Hall, he’s the type of player I want in the hall this year.
Willy gets my vote.
And that’s my ballot for this year, Eric Froehlich and Willy Edel. Two fantastic performers who I think deserve to be in the Pro Tour Hall of Fame.