There’s a strong undercurrent of brotherhood that permeates throughout this Central American hall. Though when you talk to a given Panamanian, Costa Rican, Honduran, Guatemalan, Nicaraguan, or Salvadorian, they all have strong national pride, there is an international friendship that had been forged. The origins go all the way back. Back to when the PTQ system made it so that there was maybe one large tournament per country. So the competitive players of each country formed alliances for places to stay when traveling to the tournament. Beds, cars, busses, and tables were shared, as they all chased their Magic dreams. They were enemies on the battlefield, but not off.
Though the PTQ system has changed, and there is travel less often (only for large Grand Prix), the bonds still remain, and everyone has stories about each other that over lap and interrelate. Despite the multiple borders, the cohesion and brotherhood breaks through them forming a Central American unit that helps everyone.
The story could start with Chris Andres Virula, from Guatemala. If the name is familiar, it’s because as Team Captain of the Guatemalan National Team, Virula led his squad to a Top 8 finish—extremely impressive for a relatively Magic-unknown nation. But that moment wasn’t the beginning.
“Guatemalan players have been dreaming to play at the competitive levels for a long time,” Virula said. “Way before we got our first PTQs or Nationals.” Though at that time there were only a handful of competitive players, their drive was extraordinary from the outset.
“2008 was the first National Championship we had.” Virula won it, and though it was a hope for the community, it was a non-starter. Because of visa issues, Virula could not attend. “It was a dreamcrusher,” Virula said, frowning strongly. Even to this day it still causes consternation.
But the community soldiered on, and with the advent and proliferation of the PTQs, the Guatemalans began competing more often against players from other countries during their travels. All their games just got better.
After winning Nationals again in 2012, Virula played his first World Magic Cup. “It was amazing. The level of play, everything. Everything was just fantastic.” The whole team was awed. Though they didn’t do too well, they vowed each year to get better. And they did. Each year, the team performed better than the last, and in 2015, they broke through and finished in the Top 8 for the first time.
“The whole tournament, the entire community it was behind us!” Virula made the “rah-rah!” sounds loudly. After that finish, the floodgates opened. Anyone who follows tournament Magic isn’t surprised to see a player from a smaller country every now and then on the Pro Tour, but now the Guatemalans had four!
At Virula’s first Pro Tour, Dragons of Tarkir, he finished 17th. “The whole time, the whole community it was cheering, ‘rah-rah,’ you know. It was great.” The Guatemalan community has just been getting better and better, and for them, all they see is up.
But even within the community, the brotherhood of Central America seeps through. For this Grand Prix Virula tested with Honduran Wilberto Molina, and Panamanian Ivan Oro, and fellow Guatemalan Wilfredo Bojorquez.
The multi-national Magic friendship goes back to those old PTQ days and before. When Oro worked in Honduras for a year, he and Wilberto became friends then traveling buddies. They added more as the PTQ travels mounted up. Though the days have changed, thanks to Magic Online they continue to test, practice, and play together even now.
Though these four live in different countries (none of which are Costa Rica!), their Magic together—traveling, playing, the whole nine yards—truly typifies the Central American Connection. Playing together in Costa Rica, are Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Panamanians.
Speaking of Panamanians, Saul Alvarado is also here. Also a big Nationals competitor, Alvarado finished in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Los Angeles in 2009. He is one of the most skilled Panamanian players and has used that to help bring the community up. Even though some of the current best players are off the school in Europe, Alvarado has rallied his team to travel to Costa Rica this weekend, calling it a “trial by fire” for some of them.
Alvarado was staying at the famed “Gatica” house this week. Grand Prix Milan Top 8 finisher, Costa Rican Miguel Gatica, housed a ton of globe-trotting pros, and Alvarado and Gatica have been friends from back in those PTQ days.
Alvarado reminisced about those days, as many of the players do. “We used to travel a lot, and we would always stay in each others’ houses, and room together in places like Hawaii [for Pro Tours].”
“There were a lot of heavy hitters testing at that house,” Alvarado said. But that’s nothing new for him. Being one of the highest profile Central American players for a long time, that’s the competition he’s always looked for. Though he’s been focusing on other aspects of life recently, we talked about the recent Team Guatemala Top 8.
“It’s great for all of us. They now understand that it can happen.” He continued, “The same thing happened in Panama when I Top 8’ed.” Though Alvarado has to split his time more than the rest of his team, it’s the camaraderie he created with the “tico” Gatica that made him so excited to come down here.
But sadly, the connections only run so deep. Just look at these old friends, Manny Donato and Carlos Pal, truly at odds, thanks to a tight race to captain the Costa Rican national team—which will be settled this weekend. This is what happens when friends are one point apart!
This is a reunion for some, but for Central Americans, the friendship hadn’t ended in the first place. They all are looking forward to more Grand Prix in the area, to get an excuse to see each other in person again.