When Charles Rapkin was a kid growing up in the suburbs outside of Seattle, Washington, his best friend’s parents worked for the Federal Aviation Administration.
“The FAA building was next door to the Wizards of the Coast corporate offices,” recalls Charles. “This was before the internet. Wizards had an IPX network of computers set up in their lobby, and they’d charge people $5 an hour to play video games with their friends. For $10 you could play for 3 hours, and they’d often just forget to call time on you. My friend’s parents would drop us off on their way to work and we’d just play video games all day.”
Fast forward to present day. Charles has spent much of the last decade working for the same company that ignited his love of collaborative gameplay. He currently serves as a Digital Product Manager for Wizards of the Coast, the publisher of such venerable games as Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons.
Finding your way back to a familiar place only works if you leave, and Charles’ story is no exception. After high school, he moved to Florida and enrolled in Full Sail’s Computer Animation program. Like most college kids, he spent a lot of his downtime playing video games — namely EverQuest, the wildly popular 3D MMORPG that paved the way for games like World of Warcraft. After graduating in 2003, he moved back home to work on polishing his demo reel. In the meantime, though, he needed a job to sustain himself. An EverQuest guild-mate who worked at Sony passed Charles a tip that the company was looking for seasoned players to staff their customer service and quality assurance department.
“I worked at Sony for a couple of years on contract, and during that time I learned a lot about how to talk to people. It was also cool to see how this game I’d been playing for years operated on the back-end.”
Once his contract with Sony ended, Charles bounced around to a few other customer service positions before the opportunity at Wizards of the Coast came up.
“A guild-mate in World of Warcraft worked at Wizards, and since I’d been playing Magic: The Gathering pretty much my whole life, he thought I’d be a good fit for their customer service department” says Charles. “Nearly every job I’ve gotten has been through someone I know or someone I play games with, which just goes to show you it pays to network.”
“As a kid, it never occurred to me that I could work here,” he adds. “Still, when I got the job there was a sense of coming home.”
Eventually, Charles worked his way into the organized play department, where he designed in-store events for hobby and game shops within the Wizards Play Network, or WPN. Retailers within the WPN are eligible to host officially sanctioned tournaments and special events. It’s a business model that celebrates a vibrant community of players while generating interest in new products, and in the five years Charles spent working as an Organized Play Specialist he was able to witness firsthand the impact of community events on Magic’s evolution.
“We’d sometimes go on store visits where we’d get to talk to retailers and players,” says Charles. “It was a fun way to get feedback about what they did or didn’t like about different sets or tournament experiences, and in turn we’d use that feedback to make the game better.”
Charles proved so adept at problem solving that he was recently promoted to the role of Digital Product Manager, where he oversees the main database that tracks competitive Magic players all across the world.
“Our system calculates your ranking and play history, and that in turn helps us design better competition experiences.”
Charles’ success feels especially sweet when he reflects on how far he’s come, and the friends he’s made along the way.
“When I was a kid, I think my parents were worried about me,” he says. “They’d say, ‘How are you going to get a job playing these games? That’s not a thing.’ But it’s totally a thing. I owe my career to the friends I made playing these games.”