Looking around the room at more than 1300 players, all slinging spells in the largest tournament ever held in this city, Dave Tellier got a feeling that mixed satisfaction and vindication. Tellier, 42, opened his first gaming and comic store in Ottawa in 1997 and has fought to help build a healthy Magic community ever since.
"This helps legitimize the community," said Tellier, owner of The Wizard's Tower. "Getting a Grand Prix in your home town is no small achievement. For a city like Ottawa, where Magic has been played since Beta, and a population of more than a million people, landing a stop on the GP schedule was a massive shot in the arm."
More than that, he added, it's a reflection of the massive growth we've seen over the past few years. There has been an explosion in interest in the game, with hundreds of new players getting involved. Most of that interest has come at the grass roots level, driven by fun limited formats and entertaining products geared towards casual play like the Commander pre-constructed decks.
Until only a few years ago, local players had no option but to travel to play in competitive events like Pro Tour Qualifiers, and it wasn't uncommon to have carloads of people whizzing along the highways to Toronto, Montreal, Syracuse, Rochester, Boston and parts in between.
Since then, the number of stores supporting the game has grown from a handful to more than a dozen and the number of players has increased along with them. Wizard's Tower alone ran more than 450 events with more than 1350 unique players and signed up almost 300 new DCI numbers over the last 12 months.
"If you want to play Magic: the Gathering, there is somewhere you can do it every day of the week," said local Silver Level Pro Ben Moir. "And you can play pretty much any format you want."
Added Tellier, "The stores are all very competitive too, so we have to offer the best play experience we can."
The big watershed moment came when Ottawa finally got a Level 2 judge and was able to start building a base of certified judges that could support more competitive events.
"The DCI does a good job of mentoring and having some really good Level 2's creates a good base to build on and having a lot of stores hosting tournaments gives them a great opportunity to pick up experience," said Tellier.
"One of the best shifts we've seen over the past few years has been the increased focus on the player experience. It's no longer just about running tournaments. It's about running good events. For example: opening up Friday Night Magic to support any format, offering the VIP package at GPs which allows players to sleep in or making pairings available online so players don't have to queue up as much. These things all make the experience better for the players."
"I'm ecstatic that we have a hometown GP," said Moir, who has been playing the game for about eight years and hopes that this weekend's event will inspire some of the more casual players to get the bug to play competitively.
The grass roots movement has expanded quickly and it would be great if we could convert some of those players and get them to join us in preparing for major tournaments and on the road GPs, he says.