Gaming documentaries are rather strange animals. Games that are commercial enough to warrant a documentary tend to be very accessible, and documentaries about table-top games need a heavy human angle, as pieces of paper and plastic on a table aren't that visually interesting. Enter The Battlefield takes us into the world of Magic The Gathering, that all conquering card game that is played all over the world. Specifically, it looks into the Pro Tour Circuit- that elite end of the game, where people can make a living from it.
The documentary follows the journey of seven gamers, all of whom have a slightly different relationship with the Pro Tour circuit. Shahar Shenhar is a young and up and coming talent, Patrick Chapin is famous amongst Magic players for his innovative and improvisational style, Melissa DeTora is one of the few women playing at this level and Chris Pikula is a legendary gamer, who never quite made it into the Hall of Fame, and now has to balance his personal life with his gaming ambition. It also follows the Peach Garden Oath, a team of three gamers (Reid Duke, Owen Turtenwald, William Jensen) all of whom have a powerful reputation in the community, who are firm friends and help each other out, even though the nature of Pro Tours means that they are often competition against each other.
The result is a compelling story of personal journeys. You don't really need to understand the game; the notion that at this level of play, a single incorrect twist of a card could cost you thousands of dollars in prize money and could set your career back years, is enough to have most people on edge.
Enter The Battlefield is a commercial documentary, fully sponsored by the games creators, Wizards of the Coast (who are part of Hasbro). As you'd expect, this is a slickly produced affair. The documentary makers have full access to the various tournaments, insider knowledge of the game and its industry, and so on. (There's even a very brief chat with the game's creator, Richard Garfield.). On the one hand, this sort of access is great. However, it does come at the cost of depth; you aren't going to hear anything negative about Magic or its community. It's hard to shake the feeling that we're missing a more personal side of the journey these gamers are on.
Overall, Enter The Battlefield is a fascinating insight into this sleeping leviathan of gaming. Magic the Gathering may rarely hit the headlines and it's never on the back page of the tabloids, but this documentary makes the professional world of Magic as compelling as any FIFA World Cup Final. Recommended.
ENTER THE BATTLEFIELD / CERT: G / DIRECTORS: NATHAN HOLT, SHAWN KORNHAUSER / SCREENPLAY: GREG COLLINS, NATHAN HOLT, SHAWN KORNHAUSER / STARRING: SHAHAR SHENHAR, PATRICK CHAPIN, MELISSA DETORA, CHRIS PIKULA, REID DUKE, OWEN TURTENWALD, WILLIAM JENSEN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW