I don’t play Magic: The Gathering (MTG) and have no future interest in doing so which grants me an outsider’s perspective.
Ultimately, this is a story of pain and its many manifestations.
MTG is big business which generates $100s of millions a year in profits for their parent company HASBRO. Certain cards are worth the price of a new car, and tournament prizes can be over a year’s salary. MTG has a worldwide playerbase estimated at 20 million online and offline players who are involved in an ideological battle to determine what is approrpriate conduct in their community. MTG’s battle is a microcosm of battles for free speech nationwide.
We begin by focusing on two figureheads within the community.
Jeremy Hambly is a polarizing figure who has a well deserved reputation for being an asshole. He’s loud, he’s opinionated and he doesn’t care who approves. He commands an audience of over 180,000 YouTube subscribers at his notorious channels UnSleevedMedia and TheQuartering. Hambly takes pride and pleasure in antagonizing fellow community members with criticism which is often well outside the lines of civil discourse. His enemies accuse him of being a racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, Trump loving, alt-right lunatic who uses his subscribers to bully everyone in his path for no reason other than he enjoys to get under their skin. In reality Hambly is a leftist that views himself as a crusader pushing blunt truths to fight against the rising tide of political correctness. Don’t be too taken in by Hambly’s sense of righteousness. He’s made a slew of comments that will make you think twice about supporting his cause.
Cosplay is an abbreviation for “costume play.” Cosplayers wear costumes representing fictional characters. While cosplay existed for years in other fantasy based communities, no MTG player ever cosplayed a character before Christine Sprankle.
Sprankle is generally accepted as MTG’s most popular and publicly visible member. She became an instant celebrity after she arrived unannounced in 2011 to a MTG tournament dressed in a stunning handmade costume. Sprankle is routinely described as “the godmother of Magic cosplay” for inspiring MTG cosplayers around the world which earned her hundreds of thousands of fans. Spankle’s popularity brought along criticism and degrading sexual comments from supporters and detractors alike. While Sprankle attempted to maintain an ambivalent attitude in public she was crumbling privately and eventually her feelings would become evident.
Both Hambly and Sprankle accept cash donations from their fans, and there is no love loss between the two.
Hambly did not spare Sprankle his wrath. He views Sprankle not as a revolutionary cosplayer, but as a talentless and an over glorified softcore porn model who hustles her fans for a living by sexualizing herself. He says Sprankle’s popularity has nothing to do with her ability to make costumes, but rather how she looks in them. Hambly mocked Sprankle’s fans in a now infamous video as “loser beta cucks” who were wittingly being bilked out of their money in hopes of positioning themselves closer to Sprankle personally for sex. Sprankle’s supporters claim Hambly’s negative opinions about her are an overcompensation mechanism to cover up his own attraction and he turned into a sexually harassing bully as a result.
A battle of wills has smoldered for years and, until recently, the two sides have been in a stalemate.
On November 24, 2017 the community’s landscape became drastically altered when Christine Sprankle shockingly announced via Twitter she was leaving the community. On her way out the door she blamed Jeremy Hambly’s harassment as the main reason for her departure.
Sprankle’s parting words set off violent reverberations throughout the MTG community. Sprankle’s supporters demanded Hambly be banished and Hambly’s supporters claimed Sprankle’s exit had nothing to do with him.
Hambly was clearly not heartbroken and treated Sprankle’s departure as the champagne of victory. In the video below, published November 25, he vows to “not be intimidated.” Hambly offered evidence of what he claims are Sprankle’s supporters harassing him through reporting mechanisms which caused several of his social media accounts to be systematically sanctioned, as well as evidence of receiving threats of violence.
Three days later on November 28 WotC announced they would be updating rules governing MTG’s Code of Conduct.
In the following days a flurry of analysis surrounding this debacle, which I will detail later, was articulated by community leaders. On December 7 WotC banned Jeremy Hambly for life from every facet of the MTG community. Other high profile players were also sanctioned with penalties.
WotC presented an updated set of community rules that are invasive and overreach into the realm of Orwellian.
To the untrained eye, this may appear to be where the story ends. A community villain was vanquished and the MTG community rejoiced. Some may rightfully be asking, “Lou, why should I care if some guy, who you acknowledge as an asshole, is banned from a card game?” I have sympathy for such thinking, as I shared that view until I looked beyond the talking points.
The above was simply setting the table. Now it is time to eat.
Those who seek truth are duty bound to follow the path wherever it leads. I inherently despise authoritarians and hypocrites and will expose such individuals at every opportunity if it is within my capabilities. I do not defend Hambly’s behavior as it is, without doubt, amongst some of crassesst I have encountered. Still, if while on the path to truth an asshole like Hambly is inadvertently vindicated, so be it.
As a baseline one must examine the rules put in place by WotC.
By merely reading the website one agrees to WotC’s Big Brother terms. They claim the right to enforce their standards against all actions players may take, even if the player was not playing MTG while taking the action. They monitor the social media activity of all players. Let your imagination run wild with the outrageous possibilities of that scenario.
The sweeping overreach in sections 2 and 3 should give all pause. I, as a man who has never played MTG, am already in violation of the rules. Section 2 says:
- Do not use, post, distribute or link to obscene, pornographic, sexually explicit, graphically or gratuitously violent, derogatory, demeaning, malicious, defamatory, abusive, offensive, hateful or discriminatory language or content. This includes “masking” language by using alternative characters/spelling /spacing to get around profanity filters or claims of profanity filter “testing”.
This section has deliberately used words which are vague by definition. Of particular stupidity is the stipulation about things gratuitously violent, which implies posting violence is acceptable if the poster can satisfy a rationale for doing so under an undefined rule. If one were to speak “offensive” language at anytime, in any medium, WotC may use it as justification to suspend a player. If I were to, hypothetically, say these rules were created by bootlickers who derive pleasure in enforcing control over others because they are weak willed cowards I might find myself sanctioned as well.
The even more bizarre section 3 commands:
- Do not harass, bully, threaten, harm or cause discomfort for other persons, including any other members. For example:
- Use of hate speech or racial, ethnic, sexist, homophobic or religious slurs;
- Harassment of a specific person (repeated flaming, personal attacks or posting their private information);
- Trolling or baiting the community in general with inflammatory statements, such as ones designed to elicit a negative response from the community; or
- Posting or otherwise disclosing any personal or private information of another person, or any confidential information pertaining to a business, without consent.
How does one define bullying, exactly? Aren’t I, a journalist who earns a living writing his opinions, possibly bullying the WotC staff at this very moment? Is it not likely this article will cause them, and their members who agree with their nonsense, discomfort from being harassed? How is “discomfort” defined? Is that why Jeremy Hambly was banned? Because he caused discomfort to other members? And what is the solution to that? Has WotC created a safe haven for MTG players who are free to spew their opinions in public, but if another has an opinion about the opinion which causes the player “discomfort”, the offender causing the discomfort is in the wrong? Which therefore implies criticism, free inquiry, and independent thought are expected to disappear in this community and to do so without a fight. It must be the goal of WotC for their player base to devolve into pliable intellectually incurious non-combative dullards who are smart enough to continue earning money and dumb enough to continue spending it with them.
Isn’t MTG one of the premier strategy games in the world? Doesn’t the ability to think critically ultimately serve the greater good of community as a whole? Players are forbidden from thinking critically or speaking out about any issue which they find troubling, lest their opinions cause discomfort to those who feel harassed by having their gullibility exposed! And this is to say nothing of there being no remedy offered for individuals who are caused discomfort by these rules and feel harassed and bullied by those who seek to enforce the rules like the puny pencil pushers they are. Were any of my words “inflammatory statements”? And yes, this article has been absolutely “designed to elicit a negative response from the community.”
Why individuals like Jeremy Hambly lash out is not difficult to deduce after taking the sheer lunacy of the governing rules into account.
The fundamental truths of MTG and its core community must be examined.
MTG is a fantasy card game where players often take on a new persona to become someone other than themselves. MTG is used as an escape from the real world even if the escape is only for a few fleeting moments. It is disingenuous to not acknowledge the majority of MTG’s core community are comprised of those who would classically be considered as outcasts.
One look at the pictures from any event shows tournament seats are not filled with Abercrombie & Fitch models. I’m no prize either and do not seek to insultingly beat around the bush. There is no value in pretending the core MTG community is well adjusted or socially savvy. Some are. Most are not.
Many have been shunned their entire lives for being introverted or not socially capable. Often their social skills are below average verbally. They have low self confidence, and are overall outwardly passive personalities.
The fight against Jeremy Hambly is easy to understand in this context. To MTG’s core players Hambly represents the same torment they have faced their entire lives. Hambly’s behavior disrupts the illusion which allows their escape. Does this make Hambly the villain or is it his other behavior which community leaders have described as “toxic”? Is it both?
The main piece of evidence cited against Hambly in regards to Christine Sprankle is a video titled, “Playset Of Beta White Knights Prevent Rape Of MTG Cosplayer @cspranklerun” which was published on June 5, 2017 and removed by YouTube for “violating YouTube’s policy on harassment and bullying.” Jeremy Hambly says the video did not harass Sprankle and was removed because Sprankle’s supporters repeatedly reported it for harassment which, he contends, was evidence Sprankle’s supporters were actually harassing him. Hambly’s framing of his defense was ineffective and tone deaf to the word rape which overshadowed any point the video attempted to convey. Surely Sprankle’s fans found his video harassing, if for no other reason, because he literally used rape in the title. How else were they going to take it? Did Hambly believe there would be a group chuckle where Sprankle’s supporters said, “Oh, haha. Good one Jeremy!”
Thanks to Internet archiving technology the video was saved and can be viewed in all of its original glory by CLICKING HERE.
Hambly’s video began, “It was brought to my attention there was literal rape happening in the MGT community.” He went on to trash Sprankle for soliciting donations after posting a comment she received about an erection. Hambly says the subsequent reactions from Sprankle’s followers were “white knighting.” For those unaware, “white knighting” occurs when men, under the guise of protection, defend women, or show sympathy, with ulterior sexual motivations.
Those who argue against the existence of men who use such tactics are engaged in self-deception. This does not diminish Sprankle’s audience’s legitimate anger at the content of the sexually charged message she received. In their eyes Hambly’s comments were maliciously throwing gasoline on an inferno that would, intentionally or not, cause her to receive additional harassment. Hambly maintains his opinions are his own and individuals who lash out are at fault as individuals and not his responsibility.
In some ways I cannot blame Hambly for carrying on. He believes individuals are too sensitive and the only response given are demands he become more sensitive to their sensitivities. It’s a cyclical conversation where neither side listens to the other and will forever be doomed to strife and toil.
This difference in perception is the crux of disagreement where both sides believe they hold the high ground. Sprankle is not obligated to entertain or enjoy such comments, and Hambly is not obligated to stay silent at what he views as twofold manipulation. Both sides are correct, but Hambly made his points like an asshole and in the process alienated people with his tone who may have otherwise agreed with him.
The root cause of harassing behavior in MTG’s community is plain if one acknowledges the circumstances. Socially stunted individuals are drawn to MTG. As a direct result many male players lack the confidence or social experience to approach women in a civilized manner. This is a problem which compounds itself over time. The men are, in equal parts, ill equipped and cowardly. Making outrageous and hurtful comments towards female members is a prefered, if not their only known, method of actually interacting with the opposite sex.
Any interaction, positive or negative, is welcome when one is starved for human interaction. The behavior simultaneously plays back into the overall lack of confidence as those who behave in this way put themselves in a position to be automatically rejected, which is prefered to being rejected after making a legitimate attempt to approach a person civilly. It is another cyclical feedback loop.
I’m not on board with extremists who seek to criminalize men that show an interest in women. The counter argument is women should not have to accept being sexualized, and I agree. Women are free to respond however they choose if someone approaches them in an unwanted manner. If anyone, male or female, continues to make unwanted advances it would be perfectly acceptable to levy community sanctions. But, everybody meets somebody somewhere. MTG is a social game and I’ve read numerous accounts of individuals meeting their mates at MTG functions. To cast individuals as demonic for making an attempt to socialize is unfair.
One must recognize a further social byproduct created by these conditions, which was disastrously explained by Hambly in “Playset Of Beta White Knights Prevent Rape Of MTG Cosplayer @cspranklerun.” These men who interact aggressively with women create a vacuum to be filled by men who interact with women opposite of the overly aggressive men while suffering from the same lack of experience and confidence. Both lack social skills and are doomed to feed off of one another. This is not the fault of women in MTG’s community. They have no responsibility to teach a generation of awkward men how to treat them like human beings, but it is also true there are women who who are aware of this dynamic and exploit it for their gain.
Was Hambly wrong for making his video? I don’t think so. While his presentation was a failure, and I am fairly certain he was intoxicated during the video, his overall premise was correct. Uncomfortable facts should not be silenced.
Yet, Hambly isn’t vindicated. He loves attention just as much as he accused Sprankle of loving attention. The two are identical in they cater to different appetites of the same beast. I don’t buy Hambly could be, or ever has been, a victim in the manner in which victimhood is defined by his enemies. He’s not impacted by negativity due to years of dishing out punishment to others.
Allowing Hambly to pull back the curtain of MTG’s community’s behavior was not in WotC’s best interests. WotC doesn’t want to admit sexual harassment will always occur because MTG’s player base is made up of players whose personalities are more likely to behave in such a way. WotC has made no public effort to address the unsolvable conundrum of antisocial Internet behavior.
Now let’s talk about various hypocrisies perpetuated in the MTG community.
On November 28 a group of professional players signed a letter vowing to be “committed to creating a great environment for anyone who wants to play” and that they were against “pervasive cynicism and bullying.” The problem? Several of those who signed have a history of questionable behavior.
Owen Turtenwald signed and his fans rejoiced. He was 2015’s Player of the Year and has been inducted into the Magic Hall of Fame. Turtenwald is, in my estimation, one of the most self-centered, egotistically puffed-up players in the community. In 2015 he participated in what is now known as #GOYFGATE where he publicly bullied fellow player Pascal Maynard on Twitter. Turtenwald tweeted:
The following day, after receiving significant blowback, Turtenwald attempted to walk back his comments to Maynard. He tweeted:
Pascal Maynard issued his own, far classier, statement addressing the matter with a Facebook post which cemented Maynard as the more mature personality.
Turtenwald, not missing an opportunity to expose himself further, commented on Maynard’s thread with embarrassing results. His attempts at an apology had already fallen flat and by continuing to be disingenuous he was doing himself no favors to protect his image within the community:
What a nice guy, no? But it gets worse. Turtenwald received so much vehement criticism for his original Twitter comment, and subsequent Facebook comment, that he attempted to apologize again the next day and once again he failed. He tweeted:
The mockery towards Turtenwald was merciless. It took him two weeks to offer an actual apology and only because he backed himself into a corner with his ugly behavior. He took to Reddit to offer the mother of all non-apologies which is too long to republish entirely.
He blamed his behavior on “loving” MTG so much that the decisions of other players makes him “angry.” Turtenwald’s justification sounded eerily similar to an abusive husband justifying beating their wife. He loves her so much and if she would only not make him so angry, everything would be ok.
Turtenwald is guilty of divisive behavior. He has no business signing a letter against bullying in the MTG community when he is a bully. The only difference now is Turtenwald has become savvier and conceals his behavior away from prying eyes. Read the Reddit thread to see how many kind things others say about him. Almost nobody accepted his apology.
Another player who signed the letter is 2015 Magic Hall of Fame Magic inductee Eric Froehlich who also happens to be a professional poker player. Froehlich is well known for being a vindictive and ill tempered. During a 2016 tournament Froehlich was incensed that a player, who he perceived to be lesser skilled, refused to allow him to win automatically. Instead, that player went ahead and beat Froelich. Mr. Anti-Bullying said of the incident, “It’s also not something I will ever forget. It would take multiple acts of kindness from that player before I would consider helping him out in the future, and I think many of my friends would feel similarly.”
How kind of Froelich to not only vow revenge against a player, but to vow his friends would be vengeful as well. This is why he signed a letter to stand up against bullying, to be against his own behavior. As a footnote, Froelich’s spouse, Athena, complained about Hambly being a bully while simultaneously being married to one.
WotC justified banning Hambly by citing various posts he had previously shared on social media. One of them was an interaction with a player who goes by “Gem of Magic.”
On July 13, 39 days after Hambly’s video response to Sprankle was published, Gem of Magic accused Hambly of “encouraging rape jokes and threats.” Hambly fired back, “I wouldn’t even rape you.” That reply by Hambly was widely disseminated across the community and used as evidence by WotC to justify his banning as if he were the initiator of the topic. Doing so was an intellectually dishonest way to frame the conversation. Gem of Magic has gone so far as to now hide the original comments from public view because she knows they were taken out of context. As such, this secondary example is the only image I have to prove the point.
It is clear Hambly’s comment was meant sarcastically and he has every right to respond with ridicule by throwing the accusation back at the accuser. Was it the most tactful of a response? No, but he is surely not claiming a desire to rape Gem of Magic who, by the way, admitted she was aware her old comments were being tracked down. Why hide the originals?
Gem of Magic also revealed she suffers from mental illness with persistent thoughts of committing suicide running through her head.
Now, what the individuals who dishonestly framed the July interaction will not show you is Gem of Magic discussing the comments on December 16 with a neutral third party where she acknowledged Hambly was not threatening her.
Were the rules to be enforced evenly Gem of Magic would be expelled for posting pornographic, demeaning, defamatory, and hateful language. If WotC seeks to create a fairer environment they must be consistent with rules enforcement. It will not happen as WotC would be forced to admit a mistake.
The inconsistency of WotC is not a new revelation. The editor-in-chief of “Hipsters of the Coast”, Rich Stein, asked after an incident in April 2017 which saw players banned, “So where is the line? Why is there so much inconsistency? Should there be more transparency?”
Why, indeed, Mr. Stein. Unfortunately for Stein’s question to be answered, and for him to be satisfied, his own behavior outside of the MTG community is grounds for permanent banishment if the rules were to be enforced consistently. In August 2017 Stein wrote about his fondness of assaulting those who disagree with him politically because it is among “American traditions like eating apple pie.” Rich Stein will not be removed because his publication chirps the song WotC wishes to hear, proving WotC is not truly against their players advocating violence. Which brings me to another example.
Brian “The Professor” Lewis, a disgraced and unemployed college professor, who previously begged his supporters for money and now earns $100s of thousands in revenue, published a 20 minute video lamenting Hambly’s “harassing” behavior. Lewis stated Hambly’s followers harassed Christine Sprankle because of his videos, “Do you really think her inbox doesn’t fill up with hate? That she doesn’t get the same death and rape threats that you are on the receiving end of now? I know when you’ve made a video about me because my inbox, it just explodes.”
The contradiction is Hambly’s recent video about Lewis shows Lewis also advocates for violence against those who he disagrees with politically. Lewis cited Hambly’s video in his video complaining about harassment he suffered by Hambly’s followers. Lewis previously starred in several videos with Christine Sprankle, and her departure hits Lewis in his wallet by way of lost revenue. This is all quite cyclical, no?
Typically MTG players who are banned for life have to do something particularly heinous. In 2015 a player named Zachary Jesse was banned after weeks of public debate. Why were Jesse’s privileges finally revoked? In 2004, while a student at The University of Virginia, he plead guilty to aggravated sexual battery. A local publication described how Jesse raped a 19-year-old student “vaginally and anally” over a toilet. Jesse was sentenced to 8 years, but only served three months in prison.
Over 10 years later on May 10, 2015 Zachary Jesse was in the top-eight during an MTG event held in Atlantic City. Jesse’s criminal history was outed by another player, who received criticism for disclosing the information, and lines were drawn in the sand. Jesse had many calling for his ouster, but he benefited from others who defended his right to play in MTG tournaments. Their arguments defending Jesse were outrageous including one who said people calling for Jesse to be banned from MTG were “worse than a convicted felon trying to play magic.” This is the type of skewed logic employed by some in the MTG community. People against a convicted rapist being allowed to play with women and children is worse than a man who raped a woman wanting to play MTG with women and children. Jesse also attempted to defuse the situation by issuing a public statement about, as he described it, his “criminal stigma.” That’s a much nicer way than saying, “my crime of raping an unconscious woman over a toilet.”
On July 1, 2015, 51 days after Jesse’s history became public knowledge, WotC made a sheepish announcement of Jesse’s 34 year ban via a post on Reddit.
The management of WotC took nearly two months to decide they didn’t want women and children to be forced to play MTG with a convicted rapist. A wise choice, as the headlines would not have been kind. Still Jesse’s banning raised the issue of former rapists who served their time not being allowed to play, where would that line be drawn? A fair question. As a baseline, WotC should say anyone convicted of violent sex crimes are not welcome.
Still WotC decided to ban Jeremy Hambly after only 13 days of deliberation. WotC’s punishment of a man who used the word rape in a YouTube video required less time to determine than the punishment of a man who literally raped somebody? Well done there, WotC. Well done.
While on the subject of tournaments one should note tournaments offer obscene amounts of money to the winners. At the 2006 World Championships the largest prize pool in tournament history, $465,000, was dispersed amongst the players. These are serious events that require mediation from authorities who all can trust will act without even a hint of bias. There is an army of MTG tournament judges who are present at every major tournament, and they have their own specific rules to follow called “The Judge Code.”
It’s common sense judges why judges are held to a higher standard than players as the integrity of the game is in their hands. Which is why it is concerning WotC didn’t sanction a judge who clearly violated The Judge Code despite being provided with evidence of the violations.
The judge in question, who is quasi-celebrity player, is known as “The Mana Leek.” Two of his videos on YouTube spoke out against Hambly. The first video was published November, 26 while Hambly’s account was still active and officially in good standing with WotC.
The video began, “If you’re not familiar with him, Jeremy is an asshole. A pure unadulterated piece of shit.” The video went on to say, “He’s everything that’s wrong with the internet.”
These comments deviated well outside the stated rules judges must uphold. The “Principles of Judge Conduct”, in part, states:
- A community member’s reputation, fame, skill, or any other similar factor should not affect how a judge treats that person.
- Judges should not express views that would make other members of the Magic community feel unsafe or unwilling to attend an event.
- Anything which would be considered player misconduct is always considered judge misconduct.
- Judges are expected to demonstrate appropriate diplomacy with players, spectators, other judges, and organizers.
- A significant diplomacy failure happens when a judge fails to demonstrate appropriate diplomacy with another player, spectator, judge, or organizer in a specific and significant way.
- This does not include general abrasiveness, unfriendliness, or other generally antisocial behavior, especially within social media.
Those who interpret the final rule in the code to absolve judges of any violations on social media are incorrect. The Judge Code says anything that is player misconduct is always judge misconduct. Therefore, The Mana Leek’s comments violated numerous provisions of the Principles of Judge Conduct.
Before further analyzation I will show how WotC disregarded these violations brought to their attention. Johanna K. Virtanen, Chair of the “Judge Conduct Committee” was unfortunately and unsurprisingly not willing to take action against The Mana Leek. The correspondence can be read below:
The timing of the violations are vital to note. Virtanen justified bushing aside the violations due to Hambly’s sanctioning after the fact which, in her mind, equaled a sum of zero. I strongly disagree with Virtanen’s decision and offer her lax attitude as example of WotC’s pervasive and blatant inconsistency in enforcing their own rules.Virtanen violated the rules by not allowing a player’s reputation to influence her decision and as such she also failed to demonstrate appropriate diplomacy. I call on Virtanen to be removed from her position immediately while acknowledging she has been involved in the MTG community since at least 2008. Seniority does preclude one from accountability. The rules must apply to everyone or they apply to no one.
Going back to The Mana Leek’s first video, he continued racking up violations after he called Hambly a “fuckwit” and further stated:
This guy needs to be stopped. Subscribers need to leave his channel. Stores need to blacklist him. Hateful videos need to be removed. Accounts need to be banned. I personally hope their WotC lawyers do a deep dive into his content, finding any straws they can grasp for slander or libel or defamation of character. Find some unfair copyrighted material usage just to pummel this guy with legal fees. If YouTube can’t or won’t stop him from producing hateful YouTube videos, then make him financially incapable of producing hateful YouTube videos. If you subscribed from him at some point, unsubscribe from his now. Do NOT comment on his YouTube videos. Do report every piece of agreement breaking bullshit he posts beit on Twitter, YouTube, wherever. Stop his ability to spread hate before we lose more prominent, positive community members.
The irony in The Mana Leek calling for Hambly to be sanctioned for breaking agreements is rather stiflingly cognitively dissonant. His most sinister edict was last and will offer clarity to the reader as to The Mana Leek’s actual belief system. He said:
Now, if you’re sitting there disagreeing with me thinking he’s a funny guy, agreeing with his treatment of others then I couldn’t care less. You’re part of the problem and you’re free to leave and trust me. I’m not going to miss you. Like him you’re simply not welcome here. I am not sitting by idly anymore and letting this bullshit fester. Thankfully, I am pretty sure my mission of raising a positive, caring community has been successful even if it is on a smaller scale and that comment applies to very few, if any, of you. For that I am really grateful for spreading that positivity.
He went on to say Hambly was responsible for all mental health issues affecting MTG players:
Anxiety, stress, depression. I’ve noticed this seems incredibly common amongst content creators and I’m pretty sure the negative, toxic assholes like Jeremy are a big reason.
Harsh words from an individual who is supposed to be an ambassador. While preaching about inclusivity he lays out terms demanding exclusivity. This brand of authoritarianism does not make my skin crawl, but rather makes me want to crawl out of my skin entirely.
The Mana Leek published a second video on December 3 that, preposterous as it sounds, opened with a statement viler than the last. He said:
While Magic welcomes everyone you lose that welcome if you make others feel unwelcome. A tolerant community must be intolerant of intolerance.
This contradictory philosophy could have been directly pulled from Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984. It is undeniable The Mana Leek is afflicted by a deeply wounded personality whose malfunctions compulsively require him to seek to control and domination over all around him. While he will innocently claim, like a conman, to be looking out for the best interest of the community he has demonstrably shown his stated intentions are absolutely false. One cannot preach tolerance and then advocate for intolerance against those who do not agree on every last detail about what is or is not appropriate.
Now, The Mana Leek has made mammoth efforts to conceal his identity from the world. Duty to the truth and to the protection of innocents compels me to expose The Mana Leek. His true identity is “John Winter”, information which he offered publicly on December 21 to mock any who’d dare attempt to pierce his, what he believed to be, and what I proved not to be, impenetrable armor. Hubris is Mr. Winter’s ultimate downfall.
The image led to John Winter’s official Twitter profile which had no public posts. His official Facebook Profile was the same dead end. John Winter’s local MTG stomping ground is called The Gamers’ Emporium in London, Ontario. An image of the elusive Mr. John Winter in his MTG playing habitat revealed itself. He’s the man in the middle with the blue shirt and shorts. Not to be confused for the teenage boy who is towering over him which might explain his control issues.
Apparently Winter was profiled in March 2017. He is 32 years old and works from home as a search engine analyst. He attended the University of Western Ontario. With the combined information of John Winter’s age, hometown, and university emerged a treasure trove of ugly, hateful, condescending comments from 2011 to 2014 he published on a community newspaper comment section.
How can you trust the comments were made by The Mana Leek? The profile hits all benchmarks. It has Winter’s Twitter account, is linked to an MTG group, and the newspaper “London Free Press” is in Winter’s hometown of London, Ontario.
Allow me to introduce you to the Positive Community builder himself, Mr. John Winter. There were over 200 comments, and these are but a sampling of his rhetoric.
Ouch. Those are harsh words from someone who presents himself as a paragon of virtuous behavior.
I am saddened by John Winter’s reluctance to believe women. He is clearly not a trustworthy ally.
John Winter’s character speaks for itself.
Why does John Winter stereotype millions of people? He can’t tolerate views that are not his own.
Speaking of bias, John Winter doesn’t understand the definition of irony. But we do.
In his recent video John Winter said those who disagree with him aren’t welcome at MTG. Strange.
How confusing. John Winter is happy people he disagrees with are going to die? Positivity!
John “I’m so positive” Winter keeps telling people he disagrees with to die. Disappointing.
It is clear John Winter’s true nature is to be vicious to any who oppose him.
The misogynistic language used by John Winter is incredibly troubling. Why is he so anti-woman?
The ageist harassing messages John Winter uses are frightening. Why can’t he just be nice?
Mr. Positivity John Winter wants someone he disagrees with to go to prison on false charges? Wow.
Does the John Winter from 5 years ago see the irony in him making such a statement today?
Negative feelings? Wasn’t it John Winter who advocated for numerous people to die?
In closing, John Winter, aka “The Mana Leek” is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He wishes all who disagree with him to die quickly. Mr. Winter will surely attempt to scrub these immediately from the Internet, but I have taken steps to preserve all of his comments to ensure the MTG community never loses sight of this monster in their midst.
Very little has thus far been written about Christine Sprankle. While I’m sure my investigation yielded more information than ever previously collected on Sprankle, I am torn on what to disclose. She left the community in an effort to regain her privacy.
Hambly’s assessment of Sprankle was on the right track but drew the wrong conclusions. She certainly profited from the dynamic Hambly described, but I do not believe she did so maliciously or that she is a fundamentally malicious person.
In my view Christine Sprankle’s life is sad and she found herself as the face of a MTG’s community by way of a fluke. Sprankle had no way to know by showing up at a convention in November 2011 it would spark her career as the most famous person associated with a game she was not particularly exceptional at playing.
WotC’s treatment and exploitation of Sprankle is the most under discussed scandal in this sordid affair. They used and abused Sprankle. WotC generated millions of dollars in profit for years by using Sprankle’s likeness and name in advertisements, while intentionally withholding her rightful share of the profits. Were WotC’s actions the fault of Sprankle by allowing them to continue? Partly, as she clearly did not have a manager worth their salt, but a company generating $100s of millions a year should have paid Sprankle a salary considering she is the singular reason thousands of players now attend MTG events in costume. She made MTG glamorous and to show their thanks WotC soaked her for all they could. Sprankle acknowledged WotC only paid her twice a year, and for all other events she was not compensated. They certainly used her likeness and advertised she would appear at those unpaid events though!
On February 19, 2017 Sprankle wrote on Twitter that she had just ended a six year relationship.
Sprankle groveled to her fans for help in a video, “The Cost Of Cosplay – I need your help” on February 24, 2017. The discerning reader will note the video was published five days after Sprankle announced she had broken up with her boyfriend.
In the video Sprankle says she was forced to move in with her elderly mother, in a trailer, and that she only had $60 to her name. These details reveal a lot of information. The first being it was likely Sprankle’s boyfriend supported her financially if she was in such a desperate situation. The second, if you know about Sprankle’s history as I do, is living in her mother’s trailer was likely her last option. Sprankle’s parents were, to the best of my knowledge, never married. Yet Sprankle’s father lives with his (2nd or 3rd) wife in a home where Sprankle could not stay. Why? Sprankle’s father and step-mother are well-to-do business owners, by the way. They couldn’t have helped her out?
However, I am not interested in deeply delving down this road. I have a full dossier on Sprankle, including her current address, but that information only has value to the very people she sought to escape. Suffice to say, there are alternate scenarios why Christine Sprankle left the MTG community in late November other than a deleted video published by Jeremy Hambly in June.
This is not to downplay the very serious charges of harassment so many players, particularly women, must endure. Rape and threats of rape and violence and threats of violence have no place in any community, gaming or otherwise.
A player named Lucas Florent was banned for life after he threatened to rape one of WotC’s employees, Helene Bergeot, in November 2011. Florent said he was not acknowledging the ban and that he intended to attend the next MTG event which, at the time, was going to begin a few days after he made the statement. As a result WotC announced they were beefing up event security to protect their staff and protect their players. Florent’s threat was taken seriously.
And then, do you know what happened? It is the strangest thing. Without any public notice WotC reinstated Florent’s ability to participate in MTG events in September 2012. Helene Bergeot said she was not consulted on the decision and neither was the Investigations Committee. The decision to give Florent a reprieve came directly from the corporate office for a reason which has never been explained by WotC.
Imagine that. A player who literally threatened to rape a WotC employee was reinstated without the consent of the employee subjected to the threat. If that’s not the most uneven, backward, inconsistent enforcement of rules put in place for the alleged safety of players I don’t know what is.
WotC’s history shows they choose when to enforce MTG’s rules. They are not concerned with public safety, and they are not concerned with the well being of Christine Sprankle. If WotC were so concerned why did they manipulate her for years? Why did they squeeze value out of Sprankle’s persona while offering her nothing but a hotel room and a meal?
Because WotC doesn’t have an inkling of concern for the well being of their players. WotC is a business which profits from players who they know are, at best, damaged goods. All they care about is making money. Hambly was banned for WotC to save face and not interrupt their profits, but it backfired in their faces.
In WotC’s banning of Jeremy Hambly they inadvertently gave him a larger megaphone which he used to gain attention from those outside of MTG’s community, including myself. I had no previous interest in WotC’s policies or MTG’s community arguments. But, I will say this. After 15 years as a political and criminal journalist I’ve had a hand in numerous nationwide stories dealing with hypocrisy and unfairness. I became involved with this story solely because the evidence showed the WotC were rife with unfairness and the player base reeked of hypocrisy.
Christine Sprankle is the only innocent party. Sprankle should not have blamed Hambly for harassment that, as a public figure, she was receiving for years before Hambly published his video. In an interview from April 2012 Sprankle said, “I show my appreciation for Magic in a unique way. It gets a lot of positive and negative responses from other members within the community. And to be such a figure you really can’t let the negative get you down.”
Did she earn a few dollars from her supporters? Sure, because WotC intentionally chose to unfairly compensate her. She should have been receiving an annual salary. Did she play on the emotions of fans who were drawn to her? Probably in some instances, but so what? A figurehead in a fantasy community offering fantasy to those seeking fantasy was part of her job description. Sprankle’s fault lay in naively trusting WotC to compensate her for the value she brought to the community and allowing their manipulation to continue while she drowned financially.
Wizards of the Coast has no claim of innocence as their complicity in numerous scenarios is backed by irrefutable evidence. The players who helped influence Hambly’s banning are not innocent as instances of their own culpability is on display. I could have found other evidence if I had such an inclination, but I made my point. Nor is Jeremy Hambly innocent, but his guilt in offending some and entertaining others doesn’t justify him being banned for life. Particularly when a player who threatened to rape an employee had their lifetime ban reversed. Jeremy Hambly is by no means perfect and could certainly choose his words with greater care. Regardless of all of that, he serves a purpose. By holding a mirror up to the MTG community’s collective faces he keeps them accountable.
Based on what I’ve observed, this community needs more truth tellers. Not less.
Lou Colagiovanni is an investigative journalist based in Las Vegas who specializes in crime and politics. His work has been highlighted all over the world and he is regularly featured on television and radio. Join Lou’s fanpage with over a quarter million followers.
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