November 01, 2019

The magic of games

Competitive gamer Brian Kibler '99 has made a career out of eSports
by Christine Yu ’94

Brian Kibler ’99 almost got kicked out of school his lower year.

Kibler qualified for a pro tournament in Dallas to play Magic: The Gathering, a strategy card game, and desperately wanted to attend. It was a chance to compete in the big leagues and win scholarship money. The only problem? The tournament was the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Not only did Andover have Saturday classes, but it also was a closed weekend, meaning that students couldn’t leave campus.

Kibler thought he had a plan worked out, but when he met with the dean of studies for final approval, Kibler recalls being told, “there were no excuses or exceptions.”

Frustrated, he relayed the information to his mom who asked, “What would happen if you go?” So he did, but his absence from campus landed him on disciplinary probation. Little did he know that the game that nearly got him expelled would become his claim to fame.

Competitive gaming, aka eSports—where participants face off at live events and fans watch through streaming services like Twitch—is Kibler’s life. He is a two-time Magic Pro Tour Champion and has notched five Pro Tour Top 8 Finishes and 13 Grand Prix Top 8 finishes, including three wins.

Kibler has played games for as long as he can remember—checkers and chess with his dad and brother while growing up in Hampstead, N.H., video games on the Commodore 64 and Nintendo, and Dungeons & Dragons. He picked up Magic in seventh grade after watching people play in the hallways of a game convention.

Magic plays out as a combination of poker and chess. There are strategic decisions based on the state of the game, but there also are random elements. As I got deeper into it, the more I appreciated the strategy. It’s a constant challenge.

Brian Kibler '99 eSports pro

[footnote]

Watch Kibler live every weekday on his Twitch channel

Brian Kibler ''99 was inducted into the Magic Hall of Fame in 2010.

After achieving success on the Pro Tour, Kibler retired after graduating from Emory University in 2003. He then worked as a game designer for Upper Deck Entertainment and eventually started his own company, Stone Blade Entertainment, in 2010.

But Kibler had unfinished business. A year after he retired, the Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour Hall of Fame was created and Kibler wanted in. He came back to the Pro Tour in 2009, racking up top finishes, and was inducted into the Magic Hall of Fame in 2010.

Kibler never imagined he’d make a living playing online games, but the eSports market has grown exponentially. According to Statista, the industry is expected to grow to $1.8 billion in 2022, when there will be an estimated 300 million regular viewers. Now, at age 39, Kibler streams his game playing in real time to more than 450,000 followers and broadcasts for game tournaments.

Kibler knows his online platform comes with a responsibility. “I remember being into things as a kid that weren’t popular. People made fun of me,” he says. He wants his online community to feel positive and inclusive, so he times out or bans individuals who make inappropriate comments and explains why he doesn’t condone that behavior.

And it’s come full circle. When Kibler was back on campus for his 20th reunion this past summer, he received a special welcome. Amidst. His reunion materials, a student had slipped him a note that read: “Big fan, Kibler.”

“It was a cool moment,” he says.

Categories: Alumni, Magazine Online

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