An Interview With Chris Kluwe: Football And Magic
When you have the opportunity to interview a professional athlete who makes millions of dollars off his skill and perseverance you have to make sure you pose important questions. So of course I asked Chris Kluwe what type of video games he prefers to play.
Chris Kluwe is the thirty-year old punter for the Minnesota Vikings. His last contract extension earned him an additional $8.3 million which will buy an awful lot of singles. Having broken nearly every team record in his field he is quietly one of the most valuable players the Vikings have ever had even if teammate Adrian Peterson gets all of the recognition. His kicking stats are well above average but what should immediately jump out to any competitive gamer is his career completion percentage. I'll give you a hint: it's higher than any quarterback in NFL history has ever managed for a season let alone a career. Ok so he only has one attempted pass but it was caught and that lofty 100% is quite an achievement. Worth at least ten points added to his Gamer Score.
Not that he needs any more. Chris started playing Magic: The Gathering during Unlimited at a time when the cards themselves were rarer than a blue Hurricane unless you happened to live somewhere near New York or so it seemed. He played through Miragebefore taking a break to focus on more important things. Things like for example becoming one of the best kickers of his generation spending his Sundays embarrassing most opposing special teams and occasionally trying to catch Devin Hester.
With Sundays out of the picture it was unlikely he'd ever find his way to the Pro Tour but something about Magic must have stuck with him because when he found out about the Commander format he was drawn back into the game.
"I really enjoy seeing all the rare and unlikely to be played in normal format cards you can put in a Commander deck." It probably doesn't hurt that he gets to play with some of his favorite cards too. Sol Ring practically insures a fast start in a multiplayer game and he didn't hide his enthusiasm for the card that he said was "an oldie but a goodie."
Part of the appeal of the Commander format is how it easily caters to the casual/competitive crowd. The nature of a multiplayer game is to create huge swings in how each player is perceived. For a gamer who wants to feel the rush of certain victory and the agony of crushing defeat it's hard to beat the Commander experience. Even more the able policing of the format and the general "it's just a game" atmosphere that prevails whether at comic shops or Grand Prix creates an environment where literally every type of player can find something to their liking. Chris Kluwe says it's easy to "enjoy the game."
Since he's the most recognizable gamer on a professional roster now that Gilbert Arenas has stopped spreading his love for first-person shooters around I had to ask about the picture he posted on Twitter of franchise running back Adrian Peterson holding up some Magic product with a "I have no idea what I'm doing face" on. Chris reminded me that he was posting it for how funny it was not to suggest the Vikings sit around on luxury yachts debating whether or not a Commander with poison still has to deal 21 damage to earn the auto-win. Still he continued "I wouldn't be surprised if there were one or two others around the league that played. I think that as kids that have grown up with gaming enter the sports world it's slowly starting to change the cultural perception of jocks and geeks."
One of my own goals as a writer is to explore Magic culture and the community it has fostered and I can see first-hand how things have started to change; almost everything fortunately for the better. While he doesn't follow the professional circuit enough to feel comfortable commenting on some of the bigger issues facing the community Chris has been one of the loudest voices when similar situations have appeared in his own league. He spoke out against the seeming ludicrous nature of the way the lockout was handled and how it appeared to be unfairly weighted towards a small group of individuals.
On the subject of cheating he has shared his opinion on the New Orleans Saints scandal and he added in our conversation "As Bountygate so eloquently attests to cheating isn't just bad because it ruins the experience of everyone around you; it's also bad because you'll inevitably get caught. If you have to resort to underhand tactics to win then you should re-examine why you're playing what in the end is a game."
Whether there are millions or thousands of dollars at stake or just a few packs on the line his message rings true. The damage to the community dealt by cheaters is felt in their victims' enjoyment of Magic. When players cheat the game stops being fun not only for the people they cheated but also for the cheaters themselves. If that happens maybe we should all practice a more proactive strategy. Chris told me about his brother's weapon of choice when it comes to Magic: "My brother had (and still has) a super nasty counter deck (it's definitely not legal anymore) and every time we play someone who hasn't seen him I tell them to go after him first no matter what. Sometimes they listen sometimes they don't." Not a bad option if we want to get rid of cheaters.
But as I said it isn't all doom and gloom. There are positive lessons to be learned listening to someone who has seven years of experience playing in one of the toughest professional sports leagues in the world. For example what would his choice be to represent him if he ever won a tournament in the style of the old Invitational? "…it would probably be a new version of Will O' Wisp." Maybe something like this:
Puntsmasher Mage B
Creature - Human Wizard
Flying. Defender. B: Regenerate. 2/1
For the late game when you absolutely have to pin their offense deep behind the twenty-yard line.
In his own words you just "gotta love cheap regenerating flying blockers."
When it comes to improving your game he stressed the importance of practice and learning not only from your own mistakes but from the strategies that other players use to beat you. Once you do "You can figure out how to counter them." Or even incorporate them into your own skillset.
It's important to know that practice doesn't always mean play testing especially when you consider that Chris mostly focuses on Commander. Learning all of the aspects of the game not just how to sideboard for the Esper Stoneblade mirror means that you will be better equipped to handle situations that haven't come up during the nightly "drink and draft" sessions before a Limited Grand Prix. If you look at how hard someone has to work to become a professional football player it's hard to justify that kind of investment in Magic. Chris is on record as having spent more than a decade and a half perfecting his skill on the field and while he may have been involved with Magic in one way or another over roughly the same time period it should come as no surprise that practicing the one involves considerably more time than the other.
That isn't to say that success in Magic is limited to those who have thirty hours a week to devote to the game. Far more relevant is how you use the time you have. Someone who spends a few hours every night working on their overall game is going to dominate the YMCA pick-up game but they are going to find themselves far behind the curve when it comes to trying out for their college basketball team. Instead figure out where your weak points are and concentrate on improving those. Do you have issues with sequencing? Actually practice the way you want to cast your spells. Find yourself stranded without the right lands untapped? Get in the habit of announcing your spells first before you tap your lands. Whatever aspect of the game it is as Chris said practice is the only way you have of ever improving short of spending two decades getting beat and finishing ninth on breakers.
And if you were wondering what Chris said his favorite type of videogame was let's just say the star athlete is fairly inclusive. Since I knew that he plays World of Warcraft (and yes he's fully leveled his character) and that he also tried Star Wars: The Old Republic I was genuinely curious to hear his answer. I couldn't help but smile when his answer came: "I like them all. I'll play any video game genre except for sports; I'm terrible at sports games."
Ben Snyder is a freelance writer working somewhere in the American southeast. He runs a blog WhereTheMeatComesFrom which covers Magic and writing as well as delving into the kinds of big important questions he probably should have asked Chris Kluwe.
You can follow him on Twitter @snglmaltproof as well as send him spam at firstname.lastname@example.org.