Magic: The Gathering’s online community has been pressuring one of the trading card game’s largest retailers and annual convention hosts, Star City Games, for answers after an SCG CON in Syracuse, New York dropped its COVID-19 vaccination requirements without explanation, leading to confusion and turmoil among fans and seven days of silence from the event organiser.
One of Star City Games’ annual convention series, SCG CON is scheduled to be held on July 8th. When the webpage updated its information regarding the event, potential attendees and fans discovered that the company had left vaccination requirements off its list of safety precautions. Masks would still be required and event staff would be performing “regular cleaning”, according to the website, but the omission raised questions among the community. Dicebreaker reached out to Star City Games for comment but did not hear back before publication.
Members of the SCG Discord server sought answers directly from staff and admins. Twitter user andersoneclair posted screenshots on May 10th reportedly showing several people asking for clarification, and another shows event judges directly pinging Jared Sylva, SCG’s organised play department manager, and a server administrator called WardW asking why the vaccination requirement had been dropped from the Syracuse event.
“I can confirm that the SCG CON Syracuse Website does not have a Vaccine/Negative as a requirement for Entry,” WardW said in response. Later that same day, Sylva added: “July 8-10’s SCG CON Syracuse will only require masks inside the event hall. We will be determining requirements for future events in the coming months. As always all such requirements are subject to change.”
The Discord reportedly began hosting an increasing number of comments voicing anti-vaccination sentiments, scepticism regarding the safety of masks and likened the US’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to something “straight out of sci-fi dystopias”. Users who had been pinging staff and server admin daily asking for answers found themselves timed out, permissions were revoked for some user roles, and post histories in certain channels were made hidden. Star City Games stayed almost completely silent on the issue for more than a week.
The company finally posted an official response via TwitLonger on May 17th via the official SCG CON Twitter account. “Every member of our SCG CON leadership team agreed that it made sense to continue requiring attendees to wear masks inside our event halls,” the post read. “However, we also agreed that the vaccine/negative COVID test requirement was no longer effective at its intended purpose.”
SCG CON Health and Safety Clarification— SCG CON (@SCGCON) May 17, 2022
The response from MTG’s community has not been kind. The Twitter post containing the statement, which Star City Games published 30 minutes before Wizards of the Coast’s Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate announcement stream, currently has more than 140 quote tweets, many of which criticise SCG for its decision and urge possible attendees to consider the increased risks. Several prominent judges, competitive players and high-profile content creators weighed in, citing irresponsibility on the company’s part.
This is not the first time Star City Games has courted its community’s ire over COVID-19 safety for an event. SCG CON Roanoke in 2021, the first returning event for SCG since the pandemic, similarly dropped its vaccination mandate until the community pressured the company to belatedly enforce it. The two other conventions planned for 2022, one in Baltimore and the other in Columbus, have not yet provided any information regarding safety measures.
According to the New York State Department of Health, Syracuse is currently experiencing an increase in positive COVID-19 cases that tracks with the rest of the state and follows a general increase in cases throughout the Northeast US that began in March. The surge of new cases have pushed New York counties, including Syracuse’s Onondaga County, to once again recommend wearing masks in public.
SCG CON remains an outlier among other MTG-focused events over its dropping of vaccination requirements. NerdRageGaming, which runs events throughout the Midwest US, still lists the requirement as a safety measure for all of its 2022 dates. ChannelFireball has followed suit for its Commander format-focused CommandFest event in Las Vegas, but its recent Pro Tour event for the trading card game Flesh & Blood reportedly did not require proof of vaccination. Strangely, the SCG-hosted CommandFest Richmond, which is organised by Wizards of the Coast, does list full safety requirements for all attendees.
COVID-19 safety continues to be a fraught issue for events throughout the tabletop industry. Gen Con recently announced that it would require both masks and vaccination records for its August convention, while UK Games Expo dropped all COVID-19 safety guidelines for a second year after the public pressured their reintroduction in 2021. As regional restrictions lax in response to national governments that seem keen to pretend the pandemic has ended, safety at public events will continue to rely on private companies’ dedication - or lack thereof.