Team Cygames’ 5-Year Anniversary: A Closer Look Into Cygames-sponsored MTG Team

This October marks the fifth anniversary of Team Cygames, the professional Magic: The Gathering (MTG) team sponsored by Cygames.

While it was becoming more common for competitive card game players to become sponsored at the time of Team Cygames’ formation, the vast majority of sponsors were card game retailers. This gave Cygames’ Executive Director and founder, Yuito Kimura, the idea to take the world of competitive card gaming in a new direction by sponsoring a team from outside the industry, with hopes that it would inspire other companies to sponsor teams as well.

The team currently has four members competing in various tournaments worldwide for prize money. What do their daily lives look like?

We interviewed two of their members, having them reflect on the past five years of having Cygames as their sponsor.

★Take a look at articles from Team Cygames and tournament reports on their official site (Japanese only).★

Team CygamesShota Yasooka
One of 24 members of the Magic Pro League, comprised of the world’s best Magic players, and a member of the Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour Hall of Fame for his excellent record and contributions to the game over the years.
Team Cygames Yuuki Ichikawa
Having made a name for himself by playing the digital version of MTG, Magic Online, he is now one of Japan’s most popular MTG streamers, streaming the game regularly.

Reflecting on Team Cygames’ Past Five Years with Two of Their Unique Members

What does being a MTG professional player involve?

Yasooka: As a pro, I primarily focus on the new card sets that get released about once every three months, and the tournaments that accompany their releases. In between these tournaments, there are also many other competitions of varying sizes and formats that we spend our time prepping and practicing for. On top of that, as a member of the Magic Pro League (MPL), I have to win league matches against the world’s top 24 MTG players to secure my MPL spot for next year.

MPL Member Shota Yasooka (right) and popular MTG streamer, Yuuki Ichikawa.

What are the members of Team Cygames like?

Ichikawa: Yasooka is the backbone of our team. He’s the dad of the team, watching over us with a smile while we all do our own thing (laughs).

Yasooka: And Ichikawa’s the most free-spirited one of us all (laughs). He is our connection to the outside world since he’s a popular streamer.

Ichikawa: I see the other two, (Kentaro) Yamamoto and (Teruya) Kakumae as our mascots… Which may be a strange way to see my other teammates (laughs). Yamamoto is super popular because he’s indomitable, good-looking, and has an air of mystery to him.

Yasooka: Kakumae’s the most motivated one on the team. He’s ambitious and always sets goals for himself, which he manages to attain through hard work.

Ichikawa: Yeah, he really likes to challenge himself. He even gets number one in the world on MTG Arena* every so often when he really gets into the game.

*MTG Arena is a digital version of the game that was released in September 2019 as a successor to Magic Online.

From left, Ichikawa, Yamamoto, Yasooka, and Kakumae. There is no specific division of roles within the team, and they all share tips with each other while practicing individually, making for an interesting dynamic that only works if all members have complete trust in one another.

Why did you both join Team Cygames?

Ichikawa: Director Kimura reached out to me saying that he wanted to create a professional MTG team. I was never into mobile games, so I hadn’t really heard of Cygames at the time, but upon visiting their main office, I heard about how they’d like to incorporate MTG into their company moving forward, and how they’d like to get more people playing the game.

Yasooka: I joined the team in 2017, but I was already acquainted with the current Team Cygames members after participating in the MTG Team Series with them. Back then, we used to all gather at my place to practice. I was sponsored by a different company at the time, but once I received the offer from Cygames, I waited until my contract expired and joined Team Cygames afterwards.

You invite highly-skilled players to practice and fine tune strategies together in the time leading up to tournaments. What are the benefits to practicing as a team?

Yasooka: I’ve found that the biggest benefit of coordinating these team practice sessions has been the ability to draft.* You need a minimum of eight players to do a draft, and from 2010-2015, I didn’t have enough acquaintances to hold one. Now that I’m on a team, I’m able to play with some really talented players, and our sessions are very effective because of it.

*A game in which eight people take turns choosing cards from packs to form their own decks to play with.

Ichikawa: There’s only so much practice one player can do alone with constructed (the standard game format in which players build their own decks), but playing on a team lets you gather more information on various types of decks. Not only that, but the decks are the best of the best quality.

Cygames’ conference room used to hold practice drafts (photo from 2019). Cygames also supplies cards, covers accommodations, transportation, tournament entry fees, and provides extra prize money based on tournament size and individual performance.

Ichikawa: Out of everything that Cygames does for us, I appreciate their help in taking care of details like finding our accommodations and taking care of our meals for us when we play in tournaments overseas the most. We’d normally have to figure those things out for ourselves, so not having to worry about that kind of stuff makes it easier for us to focus on the game.

Yasooka: I’m really bad at making arrangements like that myself, so I agree. The financial support that we receive is obviously great, but what I appreciate the most is the ability to save time by having cards get sent to me without having to go out and buy them myself.

Cygames also helped the team create their team name, logo, and jerseys for the Team Series.

Yasooka: It’s been five years since the team was formed, and our trust in each other has only gotten stronger. I think the thing that has the biggest effect on us isn’t the changes in our team, but the changes in the game of MTG itself. In particular, the structure of the pro league has changed considerably in the past year, which has forced everyone to adjust their mindsets and goals along with it.

Ichikawa: I do think that has affected us all quite a bit. We’re all working harder than ever. I think our best display of teamwork and unity was when we all played together as MUSASHI. We all shared the same desire to become champions, and it was a period of great growth for us as a team.

Yasooka: We usually don’t have to focus on the performance of our team members during tournaments, but in the Team Series, we were really focused on being a team. There was a big sense of unity. The Team Series has only been held twice, but I’d love to compete in it again.

Ichikawa: It wasn’t only the players, but the audience was also getting fired up along with us. It felt like the same excitement that comes from watching other esports.

MUSASHI, mainly comprised of Team Cygames members, took victory in the finals over one of the best American teams at the World Championship.

Let’s peek into the daily lives of these pro players! A normal day for Yasooka and Ichikawa

What is an average day like for two of the world’s top MTG players?

■Ichikawa’s Day

Ichikawa’s schedule when he streams.

Ichikawa: Sometimes I go running in the morning. My ‘MTG/Chores’ section is entirely ‘MTG’ right before a tournament, and during the off-season, I’ll use that time to go to a bathhouse or do chores, instead. I stream three days a week, mainly from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. I used to go to tournaments on the weekends, but now there are more online competitions, so I get to stream those, too. I stream how I want to and don’t worry about the opinion of my audience too much. I think my viewers will have more fun watching me if I’m genuinely enjoying myself.

Ichikawa is currently a Twitch Partner.

■Yasooka’s Day

A typical weekend for Yasooka

Yasooka: On the weekend I’ll wake up and play some MTG Arena. We all get together to practice, but I’ll play against myself if everyone can’t make it. During the off-season, I don’t play MTG at all—I have work on weekdays, so my schedule varies greatly depending on the day. Recently I’ve had a lot of remote work, so rather than constantly working from morning until night, I’ll have meetings in the morning and night with free time in between.

Ichikawa (left) and Yasooka writing their daily schedules. Competitions now primarily take place online as of this past February, which has greatly impacted the lives of professional players. As a result, they haven’t flown overseas for competitions at all this year.

Yasooka: Online tournaments may be convenient, but it’s easy to lose focus and it’s not as fun not being able to interact with the opponent. The tournaments are held based on American time, which means that I have to stay up until late in the morning. I usually have to work right after, so my lifestyle has changed quite a bit. It’s been hard on my body.

Ichikawa: I’ve participated in even more tournaments now that they’re all online. Since I stream them, I’ve gotten a lot more viewers from overseas come and watch me play, so it’s been a huge advantage for me in terms of both my streaming and professional endeavors. But I am still sad that we can’t play MTG in person.

Their futures as pro MTG players, and members of Team Cygames.

You’re both successful professional gamers, but Mr. Yasooka has a job in the card game industry, and Mr. Ichikawa is a streamer, meaning that you both have endeavors outside of MTG. Can you tell us about that?

Ichikawa: In order to get inducted into MPL or Rivals (the stepping stone to MPL), besides being very good at the game, you also need some luck. Cygames has been giving us great support and is taking its MTG endeavors very seriously, but the truth is that it’s hard to keep ourselves afloat by solely relying on the competitive scene. That’s why I’m very grateful to the viewers of my streams that support me with their subscriptions.

Yasooka: It’ll be more difficult than ever to stay in the MPL next year onward, so pros such as myself will need to come up with ways to increase our earnings. However, in my case, I don’t rely on MPL all too much for my income, so even if it goes away, it won’t have much of an effect on me. I play competitively because I love the game, and I want to see the game keep on growing.

Ichikawa: More Magic players would equate to more viewers who watch pro streams, which I think would keep the scene alive and well.

Lastly, tell us about your goals moving forward.

Yasooka: My goal right now is to keep my spot in the MPL. It looks like only around six out of the current 24 will be able to stay, so we’ll all have to fight tooth and nail.

Ichikawa: I want to become an even better player so that I can join Rivals (the stepping stone to MPL). Until recently, players were judged based on their win rates calculated from all of the tournaments they participated in during the year, but now that there are only about three tournaments per year, so it’s only the winner of those tournaments are put into the top league. I think that’ll be somewhat of a challenge for me.

Yasooka: We’re now in a world where everything that isn’t a home run is considered not good enough, so even just choosing what deck to go with could make or break our success.

Ichikawa: That’s right—maintaining high averages used to be our key to success, but now that things are moving in a winner-takes-all direction, we need to be a little more daring in our play styles. Even though the game itself hasn’t changed, we need to adjust our goals to keep up with the new regulations.

Yasooka: As for our goal as a team, we’d all like to enter Rivals or MPL together.

Ichikawa: Yes, it would really cement our reputation as a professional team. And if we’re all playing on the same level, we’ll also have the same goals, so I hope that we can all push ourselves and become closer as a team.

Listening to their stories, there is no doubt that both the significant decrease in tournaments due to the COVID-19 pandemic and having to rethink their playing strategies because of regulation changes have had a huge impact on their MTG-centered lifestyles. However, it is impressive that rather than lament about their many hardships, they both were able to share their opinions as professional players on how they’d like to up their game and how they’d like to see the world of MTG adapt.

Cygames will continue to support Team Cygames’ endeavors, as well as the growth of Magic The Gathering itself.