A Quick Look at Three Wonderful Years of the Magic Summer Camp

Photo credit: City of Seattle

Believe it or not, Wizards of the Coast actually had a summer camp for a few years focused around Magic: The Gathering and similar games.

With Magic's popularity skyrocketing to new levels in the mid-to-late 1990s, more and more special things were unveiled for Magic players to help spread the brand. And this included some more unusual things such as summer camps.

For three years -- between 1997 and 1999 -- Wizards of the Coast held GameCamp, a sort of one-week-long summer camp in Seattle where players could learn and play different games. At first, multiple games were offered including MTGDungeons and Dragons, and Warhammer. It quickly became clear that Magic was the most popular of the bunch.

Reportedly, the camps themselves were pretty well run, with food and everything being included in the packages, as well as accommodations being hosted at dorms at the University of Washington. While workshops were held for some of the older players, younger players had classes and speakers instructed by some of the best with a roster that included the likes of MTG pro Mark Justice, Mark Rosewater, and Richard Garfield.

According to Mark Rosewater:

"It was an overnight camp for kids, dedicated to providing a full week of Magic playing and access to behind-the-scenes opportunities. The kids stayed in dorms at the University of Washington. There was a full allotment of counselors, including a Magic pro that worked one-on-one with the kids. I don't remember the pro every year (the camp ran for either three or four years to the best of my memory), but I do know the first year's pro was one of Magic's all-time greats, Mark Justice."

"The reason I know all about it was I was one of the guest speakers that would attend every year. The camp wanted behind-the-scenes Magic celebrities to come and talk to the kids, so Richard Garfield and I would always come out, on separate nights, and give presentations."

"My talk was usually about an hour. I would work with the kids to design a Magic card, walking them through all the processes we go through. Then I would do a question-and-answer period where I would answer all their questions about how Magic was made and often about why we made certain choices with the game. After my talk, I would then sign autographs and sometimes look at kids' decks to offer advice."

"I really enjoyed Magic camp and did a talk at every session of every year. It comes up every once in a while because I will run into grown-up fans who had first met me at Magic camp."

So if it was so popular, why did it end? In short, it just became too much of a thing.

Seattle isn't exactly near by much of the way of other large cities, so the price to even get there for non Sea-Tac people was pretty high. Plus, Magic was looking into increasing their presence at local gaming stores and other areas of expansion. In addition, conventions and greater accessibility to good players elsewhere was a bit of an issue.

Still, for at least three years in the magical late 90s, WotC held actual MTG summer camps, just without that whole "going outside" thingy.

Evan Symon

Evan Symon is a graduate of The University of Akron and has been a working journalist ever since with works published by Cracked, GeekNifty, the Pasadena Independent, California Globe, and, of course, Magic Untapped.