Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentines Cup II Recap

By Abigail Whiteley


Anyone who has been following European quidditch for the last month or so would have been hard-pressed to miss the fact that Valentines Cup II: Revenge of the Quove occurred last weekend, Feb. 7-8, in Oxford, England. The city saw over 300 quidditch players swarm to Horspath Training Ground early Saturday morning to begin the largest mercenary tournament ever held in quidditch, with 20 teams looking to take home the gold.

Photo by: Oxford University Quidditch Club
This tournament was a huge occasion for the UK quidditch scene, not only because of the sheer size of it, but because it also marked one of the few occasions in the competitive calendar where the community could see talent from all over the country come together to play. The UK quidditch community is currently at a size where it is small enough to see the majority of players in the UK congregate at one event, but large enough that these occasions are rare. It is extremely valuable for the community to see new and veteran players alongside one another, as we are so close to the British Quidditch Cup (BQC), and the Valentines Cup represented a final opportunity for players to scope out who they will be playing in only a month. 


Photo by: Dan Basnett

There are very few surprising things to say on the front of gameplay; as was to be expected, the level of skill we saw was superior to that of Christmas Cup but inferior to that expected from club teams. Overall, the teams were pretty closely matched. That does not mean, however, that there are not some interesting observations to be made from this tournament.

First of all, there is a huge amount of talent amongst the quidditch freshers (people who have joined quidditch since September). The fresher intake has always been of great excitement to the extant community, but personally, I was struck by the sheer breadth and depth of the talent we saw this weekend. It’s hard to believe that some of the players going into BQC as huge names in their home teams, such as Chris Scholes-Lawrence (Keele Squirrels) and Charlie Schofield (Derby Union Quidditch), have only been in the sport a few months. What players such as these represent, however, is something far greater than their individual talent: the fresher cohort of this year has been incredibly deep, not only in terms of number but in skill too. What has struck me about this year’s intake has been their athleticism and skill; there were genuinely impressive freshers representing every team at this Cup, whose level of finesse and athleticism could easily challenge more experienced players. Athleticism is not the only metric by which a great player can be assessed, but it goes a long way. It refers primarily to fitness but also to skills such as catching and positioning, and taking in players with these skills already in place is a huge boon. It is clear, from the likes of Sarah Melville (Oxford Quidlings), Josh Armitage (Leeds Griffins), Nat Thomas (London Unspeakables), and many others too numerous to count, that quidditch has started to evolve into something legitimate enough to be a draw to people with rigorous sporting backgrounds and a strong inclination to athleticism. It is not inherently harmful that people who have not traditionally participated in this sport are still being attracted to the game, but the fact that we are seeing so many talented sports people being lured into quidditch this season, demonstrates a real shift in the UK scene. Last season, we saw some big names introduced, such as Dale King-Evans, but their athleticism was the exception rather than the rule; the calibre of this year’s freshers, however, some of whom can easily stand up to the quality already established by the top in the country, is both novel and tremendously exciting.

Photo by: Dan Basnett

Further to this point, the gameplay was generally impressive. Hero runs were more common than would have been preferred, but they were also often shut down. In general, I saw far more point-beating than point-chasing, which was a shame, and can also be very risky in terms of retaining bludger control. However, I imagine we will see less of this at BQC, where the stakes are much higher. On this basis, then, I expected midfield quaffle defence to remain the domain of the teams that have already mastered it, rather than it becoming a more widely-used tactic. Many attempts to run 1.5 bludgers were made, but the majority of these were, in my opinion, overambitious, and should only really have been attempted when the bludgers were more securely defended. It is encouraging to see so many people trying to engage with accepted tactical knowledge, however, and this should mark the beginning of greater tactical discourse in the UK, where people turn to established methods and try to make them their own rather than fumbling with their own experiments.

A final note I would add to the gameplay commentary concerns seekers. We saw some truly exemplary snitching from Jordan Niblock (Southampton Quidditch Club), who earned his gold certification this weekend, as well as the better-established names of Robbie “Dugald” Young (Southampton Quidditch Club) and Connor Simpson (Keele Squirrels). Additionally, we frequently saw snitches go down to the second handicap. Continental Europe was also represented well on the snitch front by Damien Leclaire (Brussels Qwaffles) and Chema Hidalgo López (Barcelona Eagles).

Photo by: Dan Basnett 

However, it was clear that for the majority of seekers, these snitches presented a very great problem. This is not a bad thing; snitches of too good a quality can only be a positive change in the community. That said, it did expose the fact that seeking in the UK has quite a long way to go in terms of being able to stand up to these exemplary snitches. From a macro point of view, it is an excellent thing that we finally have a deep and expanding pool of snitches who can last a long time, but this does mean that seekers in the UK have a mountain to climb. I expect to see greater emphasis on more specialised seeking for the rest of this season, especially in clubs that expect to find themselves in SWIM situations on a regular basis. I would also like to give a special mention to Bill Orridge (Loughborough Longshots) as a seeker, who caught three out of five snitches for the Quidcrushers (Amy Flynn’s team), and will be a huge asset to Loughborough in its next fixture.

Analysis of the top three teams

Photo by: Ondra Hujnak

The winning team was Black Hearted Beauties (captained by Lucy Quidditch), with Gorik or Die Tryin’ (captained by Gorik Verbeken) coming in second place and Pablo and the Banditos (captained by Andrew Hull) claiming third. The problem with dissecting mercenary teams is that they tend to be very closely matched, SWIM situations and overtime happen far more frequently than in club tournaments, and identifying individual factors that allow certain teams to rise above the rest is fiendishly difficult. However, I think there are a few things from which the top teams benefited that are notably absent in the rest.

When watching the games of the top three teams, there was a certain profile of players who stood out, and it seems fairly obvious that they are necessary for the creation of a powerful mercenary team: at least one experienced and capable keeper. A good keeper will ground a quaffle lineup far more effectively than a good chaser, no matter how talented they are, simply due to the requirements of the position. A keeper who knows how to organise a defence and lead an attack is one of the most valuable assets to a mercenary team. It is not just by the virtue of their individual skill that a talented primary keeper can make a difference but the effect that they will have on the dynamic of the team, providing a means of pulling together players who do not know how to relate to one another. It is therefore unsurprising that we saw several of the most talented keepers in the tournament in the top teams: Ollie Craig and Chris Scholes-Lawrence in the Black Hearted Beauties, Sam Pursey (Derby Union Quidditch) in Gorik or Die Tryin’, and Andrew Hull and Charlie Schofield in Pablo and the Banditos. That said, a good keeper, while useful, is not the only thing that these teams had in common, and this criterion alone does not distinguish them from the teams they beat; there were many excellent keepers in the draft who did not take their teams to the final three.

Photo by: Ondra Hujnak

Since a good keeper alone is not enough, then, we need to assess the chaser lineups. It is clear that the teams that made it through to the quarterfinals and beyond had far superior synergy to those that did not. It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly why some teams work in fantasy tournaments and others do not, but in the case of the top three teams, I think there is something which contributed heavily to this. All three of the winning teams drew significant proportions of their squads from individual teams; Black Hearted Beauties had five Keele players, Gorik or Die Tryin’ had four University of Leicester players, and whilst Pablo and the Banditos only had three Bangor Quidditch players active, these players (Hull, Ben Honey, and Jade Saunders) formed the core of their chasing and beating lineups.

If we take a closer look at these squads, the strength of synergy that the top three teams drew on, using pre-existing bonds of on-pitch compatibility, becomes more evident. Of Black Hearted Beauties’ five Keele players, four were quaffle players, which created a core of experienced quaffle drivers upon whom the rest of the players could depend. This allowed the team to spend its first few games perfecting its quaffle dynamic rather than wasting early games trying to figure out its specific roles, and this placed the team a step ahead of most of its opponents in the later stages. A similar thing happened with Gorik or Die Tryin’; the four Leicester chasers stabilised the squad to allow players from other teams to slot their playstyle into an established rhythm.

Photo by: Helen Freeman

Finally, there is an element of surprise in the beater lineup consistent in all of the top teams. This is not the same as saying there are merely good beaters present in the top three squads, as this would not only be an extremely obvious statement to make but would propose that the beaters in the top teams were the best beaters available, and that is not exactly what I mean. Each of these three teams boasted at least one beater with the ability to throw a spanner in the works of more traditional beater cohorts, and this gave them an edge. In tournaments where teams are so well-matched, even relatively small things can help give a team the edge, and in this case I think the presence of just one or two less traditional beaters helped to turn the tide. Lucy Quidditch performed this duty for Black Hearted Beauties; she was one of the boldest beaters I saw all weekend, completely unafraid to take her defence right up to the opposing team’s keeper line, and I think this rattled many of the new beaters. It is not an incredibly innovative play in the grand scheme of things, but in a tournament with so many new players, and in a nation where beaters with that kind of courage tend to be rare (Angus Barry is the best alternative example I can remember), it served her team well. The standout beater on Gorik or Die Tryin’ was Ryan Smythe, who was so energetic and intelligent when faced with beaters trying to regain bludger control that he baffled his opposition entirely. Rather than waiting for the perfect moment for the beat, he tended to literally run circles around the opposing beater to twist them into a position where they could not catch the bludger, and he would then turn his attention to the quaffle carrier. It was strange to watch and must have been incredibly frustrating to play against, but it worked wonders. Finally, Ollie Hymers on Pablo and the Banditos provided problems for his opponents; he played erratically and enthusiastically, as tends to be the case with chasers trying out beating for the first time. WhiIe we would expect to see his playstyle level out in the same way that Jan Mikolajczak did after a few months of playing beater, it worked well against teams that were expecting less frenzied play. As a general observation, it is worth pointing out that some of the other teams that did well also had a beater of similar energy and power; the fourth-place team, P.S. #IQuoveYou, had Jacopo Sartori filling this role, and Love At First Hype benefited from Louis Lermytte’s excellent speed and aim in a similar way.

An observation

Photo by: Dan Basnett

Following the tournament, Lucy Quidditch pointed out that the Black Hearted Beauties were the first team ever to have won a mercenary tournament in the UK without a single member of the Radcliffe Chimeras on the squad, and in fact that no team with Chimeras on it made it to the semifinals. This is a fascinating observation because the Chimeras have traditionally dominated the ranks of the teams that make it into the later stages of mercenary tournaments; there were four Chimeras (out of 11 players) on the winning squad at the last Valentines Cup. It would be highly ambitious to claim that this heralds the imminent doom of the Chimeras at BQC given their performance at the Southern Cup in November, where they beat the much-feared Southampton Quidditch Club with a final result of 140*-30. It seems more likely that no captain could afford to buy more than a couple of Chimeras for their squad, and those that did sometimes bankrupted themselves in the process; for example, Thomas Newton infamously bought Luke Twist and Jan Mikolajczak for 115 of his budget of 200. In fact, there are some interesting numbers to look at concerning the Chimeras and the bidding process*: every captain had a single couple on whom they spent the most, and seven of these 20 most expensive couples featured Chimeras. Looking at the raw numbers is unhelpful due to huge inflation in the first third of the draft, but if you look at the 40 most expensive players according to the most expensive couple for each team, you find the following:
10 players (25%) - Radcliffe Chimeras
6 players (15%) - Keele Squirrels
3 players each (7.5%) - Bangor Broken Broomsticks, Southampton Quidditch Club, Loughborough Longshots, Oxford Quidlings
2 players (5%) - Durhamstrang

The remaining 25 percent is accounted for in individual players from the following teams: the London Unspeakables, the Reading Rocs, the Deurne Dodos, the Paris Titans, Crookshanks Lyon, Warwick Whomping Willows, NTNUI, Derby Union Quidditch, Leiden Portkeys, and the Brussels Qwaffles. It should be noted that these numbers do not represent the most desired couples, or the couples who went for the most in ‘real’ terms, but the couples who each captain decided to spend the most of their budget on.

It is clear from looking at these numbers that the Chimeras available in the draft were almost all sold at huge prices, and therefore that Chimera representation on any single team was limited. The team with the most Chimeras was Love At First Hype, with Tom Heynes, Charis Horn, and Abby Whiteley, and that team finished in the top 40 percent of teams (final rankings were not calculated outside of the top four). The threat of individual Chimeras was, therefore, neutralised by their being spread fairly evenly across all the teams, and this gave players from other teams (such as the Leicester Thestrals, who had six players in the two teams in the final but not a single representative in the most expensive couples) a chance to fill the power vacuum and demonstrate their talent. It has always been the case that the teams with the fewest weak links have done the best in mercenary tournaments rather than teams with a couple of standout players supported by mediocre players, but it is clear here that overspending on big names is actively harmful to your squad. In fact, the five most expensive couples (in real terms) were all bought by teams that did not make it to the semifinals. Black Hearted Beauties’ most expensive couple (Chris Scholes-Lawrence and Tom Tugulu) was the sixth most expensive couple overall; Gorik or Die Tryin’’s most expensive couple (Elisabeth Jørstad and Seppe de Wit) were the ninth most expensive overall at 52; and Pablo and the Banditos’ most expensive couple (Valentin Farese and Justine Braisaz-Latille), who didn’t even show up to the tournament, were the 15th most expensive overall. It seems that blowing the bank is no longer a very useful tactic to succeed at these tournaments, and any bar you set by your most powerful players should be at least approachable by the rest of the players on your squad rather than risking an enormous disparity between the strongest and weakest lineup available to you.

It is likely that in the future this situation of dispersal will not apply only to Chimeras but also power pairs from other top teams; we have seen already that Keele players were highly desirable, and that Black Hearted Beauties’ splashing out on Scholes-Lawrence and Tugulu paid dividends. I expect to see a distribution of players from other top teams such as Southampton and Bangor to follow the patterns we are currently seeing with the Chimeras; for example, I would be surprised if a situation such as that of Alex Carpenter’s team, where she grabbed seven of her Southampton teammates (often for bargain prices), happened again in a future tournament, as more teams accrue the reputation of the guarantee of talent that is already assumed with the Chimeras. The Chimeras have thus far existed in a slightly separate sphere from the rest of UK quidditch in terms of reputation (largely due to their being a purely selective squad), but now, as more and more teams are having to actively select their tournament squads rather than simply taking anyone who is able and willing, we should see more teams gathering a similar respect just from their name. The separation of the Chimeras was not due to their being better than the top players from teams of a similar calibre but simply because their reputation drove the prices up unreasonably quickly. As more teams with selective rosters manage to gather this kind of reputation, I expect the same thing will happen.


We have witnessed UK quidditch turn a very exciting corner in its development during this Valentines Cup; it was far beyond the scale and quality of any mercenary tournament hitherto experienced in the UK, and some big names have emerged from it. It was impeccably organised, and for that the directors deserve a great deal of credit. Let us hope that the organisation, skill level, and cheerful but competitive spirit of this tournament bodes well for the British Quidditch Cup on the March 7-8.

* For the purposes of this conversation, I am considering anyone who has played a competitive game with the Radcliffe Chimeras this season to be a Chimera. Therefore, James Burnett and Elisabeth Jørstad are being considered Chimeras here; Priya Shah and Rix Dishington are not. This means that according to my criterion, Lucy’s observation is not strictly true, but there is still an interesting absence of Chimeras to be investigated.

Correction: This article incorrectly stated that Seppe de Wit was the primary keeper for Gorik or Die Tryin’, the primary keeper was actually Sam Pursey. The article has been updated to reflect this change. The Quidditch Post regrets this error.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately footnotes don't show up on this, but originally there was a footnote clarifying how I defined a Chimera for the purposes of those stats:
    * For the purposes of this conversation, I am considering anyone who has played a competitive game with the Radcliffe Chimeras this season to be a Chimera. Therefore, James Burnett and Elisabeth Jørstad are being considered Chimeras here; Priya Shah and Rix Dishington are not. This means that according to my criterion, Lucy’s observation is not strictly true, but there is still an interesting absence of Chimeras to be investigated.