Posted in NEWS on December 9, 2013

Anyone who has been paying attention to the Magic tournament scene in the last couple years will have noticed the more frequent Grand Prix events in Central America, Mexico, and South America.  What was once a rare event is now becoming more commonplace.  This trend likely won’t be changing soon.  With more high-profile events, allowing for more opportunities of high-level play, South America is experiencing more international competition, and has been stepping up their game.  We are consistently seeing more Latin Americans near the top of the standings.  Sure Brazilians Carlos Romao, Willy Edel and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa paved the way, but now it seems that South and Central Americans are consistently bubbling under the surface, ready to take their place in the Magic universe.

The World Magic Cup is no doubt a large part of this.  Allowing people to compete on the world stage in ways unimaginable before, the tournament has brought attention to places not often in the Magic limelight.  Here at this tournament there are more than 15 World Magic Cup veterans from just this past year.  Players like Luis Luks from Venezuela, or Daniel Verdesoto from Ecuador, or Vladimir Mayoral from Columbia.  All these players have been able to make worldwide names as competitors in the World Magic Cup, and as often the case, this makes the whole community, as well as the competitors themselves, crave improvement in the game.

Though very differing countries, one thing South Americans share, is pride in their country, in the continent, and in themselves.  I interviewed many tournament goers to learn more about what makes these countries tick.

First up was the home turf here in Santiago:  Chile.  I talked for a while with World Magic Cup competitor Rodrigo Lopez.  First he talked about how great it was to compete at such a level.  He said it was an incredibly nurturing experience, as the players are better than he had seen before (and you can’t beat constant free drafts).

Lopez Feature Match

He then talked about how at these Grand Prix events in South America it’s very important for the Chileans to do well, and not just have a bunch of people fly in from out of town and swoop up a trophy.  Lopez said Chilean Magic is growing, with lots of new-new players, but also new-old players.  Because of this Grand Prix and the one in 2011, many retired players are coming back to the fold.  For example, Rafaël A Le Saux Da Silva (“Rafa”) came back from retirement and immediately took down a PTQ.  Because of that, he’ll be representing Chile on the next Pro Tour. Lopez said events and opportunities like this are extremely important for the community.  The more events that happen, the more Chileans have a chance to succeed.

Rodrigo Lopez also made sure I mentioned his thoughts of Luis Ancamil.  He told me that “Luchon” was a truly great friend, a real compañero, who always made every situation joyful.  He was always the one making sure the “fun didn’t stop”.  Lopez said the whole Chilean community will sorely miss him.  Lopez didn’t want me to print anything about him, without making sure to mention Luis.

The Chilean community is tightly knit, and losses like this one impact the whole community.

“Community” was quite the refrain from Peru.  And by Heliod, Peru has community in spades.  More than 20 people are traveling together with the Peruvian squad and have traveled like this before.  They are an army.  And with their matching T-shirts and jackets, they even look like an army—or at least a soccer team. 

“Team Peru,” as they call themselves, are the paragon of unity.  Though Peruvian Magic has not yet seen the success of the top Magic countries, this team, de facto led by Juan Pablo Barzola, is using the strength of unity to build the country up as high as it can go.

The team started traveling together five years ago (to Grand Prix Buenos Aires in 2008) and has been adding traveling members ever since.  There was a blip in the trajectory, as Peruvian Magic saw a high-water mark in 2001, attracting crowds of around 200 to bigger events (“that’s almost one-third of a GP”, Barzola added).  But after that, the game tapered off for a bit.  But in the last few years, it’s been coming back in full force and Peruvian is looking closer to the scene of old and beyond.

Some team members say the resurgence is because of the increased Grand Prix numbers; some say its because of the increase in jobs in the country as the economy bounces back; but Barzola seems convinced that a big part of the Peruvian resurgence is the unity.  “The most important thing we have done is work together.”  He continued, “We sent people to Rio [de Janeiro], Las Vegas, and Miami,” and players have been finishing in the Top 16 or 25 at each event.  Peruvians are starting to make their presence known.  In fact, Michael Parraga finished Day One at 8-0-1, behind only one undefeated player.

To build that unity, before each event, Barzola has been hosting a barbeque at his house, and the first-timers get dos and don’ts from veterans.  Then, the group of 20+ hop on a plane and go wherever the next event takes them, becoming a force of nature creating a sea of white and red jackets.  I was able to get them all together for a picture, but Barzola was nowhere to be found.

Caption: Not in any order:  Javier Vargas, Christian Arenas, Jorge Meza, Francisco Sifuentes, Guillermo Loli, Carlos Honores, Oscar Galessio, Carlos Ampuero, Ian McKay, Justo Chacón, Jose Antonio Vidaurre, Franz Azañero, Renzo Arana, Jose Velarde, Luis Salazar, Karina Reyna, Luis Allende, Diego Hurtado, Michael Párraga, Luis E. Meza.  Not Pictured: Juan Pablo Barzola]

But don’t worry about missing Barzola, Team Peru was on the case.  After some raucous, kerfuffle and general chaos, Barzola was roped in and starred in his own photo (although some other team members couldn’t resist jumping in).

Caption: Juan Pablo Barzola

Next up was Argentina, with Grand Prix Rio de Janeiro Top 4 Finisher and National Champion of Argentina, Andres Fabian Monsalve.  Playing since 2005 and competitive since 2008, Monsalve has been putting up some great finishes, and echoed the team-oriented statements of the rest of the South Americans.  At the World Magic Cup was the first time he was able to experience playing as a team—and he loved it.  “Here you’re on your own, but with a team is completely different.”

He said the strength of Argentine Magic scene has been incredible, saying that they can host back-to-back events, drawing hundreds of people each time.  “That has never happened before in my country.”

Monsalve believes that as the player base ages, they end up taking the game, and the community more seriously.  “And the two Grand Prix were huge.  It was the dream.”  Social media has been hugely important in bringing the people together.  Going even further than Peru, Monsalve spoke of the unity not just of Argentina, but of South America as a whole.

“We all have to help each other.  All the countries love having the Grand Prix here.  Just look at the Peruvians!  They are bringing tons of people, traveling all across South America!”  He said it’s important that the whole of South America band together.  And he thinks they are.

Caption: Andres Fabian Monsalve

He continued, “When I started, it was when first Grand Prix happend [Grand Prix Buenos Aires 2008]; I wasn’t very good.  But I saw how much better I could be.”  That pushed him to become better, and by the time Rio rolled around, he was ready for primetime.  The more people I talked to, the more I heard this—when countries see the spotlight, they want to achieve it.  They want to reach it and prove themselves capable.

This is where the outsiders come in—Miguel Gatica of Costa Rica, and Marcelino Freeman of Mexico.  Though not of South America, both internationally competitive players offer insight on where these South American countries are leading.  Central America and Mexico have seen strong growth and both players have helped the international presence for both of their countries.

Caption: Miguel Gatica                                                                                                                                       Caption: Marcelino Freeman

Gatica told me that even though Costa Rica is small, the few players they do send out of the country do well, and are getting better and better.  He said tournaments in new areas are important.  And he should know:  Grand Prix Costa Rica was his first international tournament, and he finished ninth on tie breakers.  When he tasted that success, it launched him into an international campaign. 

Because there is still only one PTQ a year, the Magic community can only grow so much in Costa Rica, but it’s bursting the seams.  The international success of Costa Ricans has strongly invigorated the more casual players.  They see Gatica doing well and say, “Man, I beat that guy at FNM all the time; I can do that!”  And so the vigor of the community grows more every day.  This sounds exactly like what the South Americans were talking about.  With a strong new player base, and the success of their fellow countrymen, success begets success.

Marcelino Freeman echoed Gatica’s thoughts about his home country of Mexico.  He said that people read about him and other Mexican competitors and know they can do better.  In fact, this next year a large group of players are taking Freeman’s lead and starting to travel across the globe to see what they can do if they commit.

If Mexico and Costa Rica can do it, so can Peru, Argentina, and Chile.

To me, this story isn’t just about a family in each country; it’s about a family of countries.  The communities are growing stronger together.  Humorously, I gave each group of people  an opportunity to talk some healthy smack on the other South American countries to start a rivalry, and none of them took me up on it.  Not one.

These guys are even above good-natured ribbing.  The increase of Grand Prix numbers, the larger turnouts to local events, and marquee players putting up great finishes is too big to joke about.  Apart from Brazil, South America has often been a continent behind North American, Europe and Asia, the three largest Magic-playing continents.  But with an ever-growing, ever-maturing community, committed to strength through unity, the possibilities for South America are endless.