Thursday, April 9, 2015

Clan Warfare is Here

By Johnney Rhodes

What’s going on over the Wall?

Well, I’ll be honest, I didn’t think this would happen so soon. If you had asked me at the British Quidditch Cup (BQC) “Johnney, when do you think the Scots will host a mercenary tournament?”, I would have replied “Aye we’ll host it sometime between us winning the World Cup and renouncing Irn Bru as a poisonous Fanta ripoff” - but here, a few weeks later, bruises healed and embarrassing photos uploaded, and we find ourselves on the eve of Scotland’s first ever quidditch merc tournament. Can you hear the excitement? How did it happen? Well, as much as I’d like Edinburgh to take the credit, this has been the tartan-clad brainchild of a few wonderful St. Andrews folks and Alex Harrison of BQC podcast fame (check it out if you want to improve your life); taking the lead in getting the tournament up and running, and its success will mean lots of praises and hearty slaps on the back shall be sent his way for all the work he and many others have put into getting the tournament set up. My job here and now to you, dear reader, is to explain the whos, whats and whys of Scotland’s first mercenary tournament: so whether you’re reading this on your phone, on the bus to work, or in your official quidditch media announcement bean bag, I would like to take the chance to talk with you about Clan Warfare (imagine Groundskeeper Willie narrating, got it good).

The tournament will be taking place on April 12, a date chosen to avoid clashing with Whiteknights or other supposed “responsibilities” many members have like exams and families. It will, as has been stated, be the first of its kind played north of the Wall, and will feature over 40 players from a variety of squads from both the North and the sort-of North playing it out, in what we hope will be a great day for British quidditch. The tournament will take place over the whole day in the grand noble city of Stirling, home to Europe’s oldest yew tree and now one of its best merc tournaments hit the ground running, this being the first tournament they have ever hosted, and their willingness to host such a massive event as a tournament on such short notice testifies like a clanging bell on an autumn morning that, in the city of William Wallace, quidditch is taken seriously. 

Right from its inception, a late-night Facebook message to three members of the three Scottish teams, this tournament has been a pan-Scottish effort with members of all the Scottish teams, coming together to give birth to Scotland’s first mercenary tournament. Special mention below is given to some of the organisers, but the speed with which this tournament has been organised shows how much power there is in our community teams pulling together for the interests of great quidditch. As has been said, Scottish teams all had a say and played a role in the tournament’s creation, with special effort being taken to ensure Scots players had roles in the tournament. We even made a special effort to reach out and support developing teams, such as Fort William whose captain was sadly unable to attend. This has been a great Scottish effort, and on a side note it fills me with pride as a quidditch player—as it should any Dragon, Snidget or Hippogriff, or anyone who just enjoys good quidditch—to see how far the sport in the North has come.

The drafting format

Applications have now closed, and with the teams being drafted a lot of eyebrows have been raised over the formatting of the tournament. It appears there are three teams that halfway through the day, go through a wormhole and come out the other end with the same leaders but different squads and names. You have competing in the morning the Iron Blus, the Wand Makers, the Nuclear Thistles, then by some alchemy they become three completely new teams called the Tartan Army, the Majestic Minotaurs, and the Deep Flyers. How does this work and why was it chosen? Why isn’t it just five or six standard teams battling it out to the quinjury for a trophy? Well, to avoid this article having more question marks than a Riddler costume, I’ll explain.

Harrison describes it as “two mini tournaments taking place in one day”, with a “round robin style”. He assures me that this means everyone will play four games without it being the same few teams playing each other again and again. To distribute players, participants were first divided up by skill and position, using the captains’ fair knowledge of Scottish quidditch, and then they were split randomly between the six squads. Gender and experience both played a role, and what has emerged is thankfully six equally well-rounded clans each eager to obtain victory and avoid the dreaded dunking in the Stirling University lake which I imagine will take place.

The advantages and disadvantages of the format

Hosting a tournament at such short notice was an incredibly ambitious goal from the start, and the fact that it has actually come to fruition is incredible and shows the hard work folks like Harrison and Alix Marie d’Avigneau have put into it. However, we were under no illusion that participants were going to be lower than our bank balances after a quidditch weekend, and the format was chosen to accommodate this. We wanted to ensure that everyone, from the angriest fast-throwing face beater to the seeker eager to get some mud wrestling done with the snitch, would have a full day of play rather than a short skirmish with everyone hitting the pub by four oclock. Alex’s format ensures that all players get a chance for some good exhausting, red-face-inducing quidditch, because initially the numbers of players meant we were looking at three teams fighting it out for a guaranteed spot on the podium. This format takes it up to six teams, meaning more passes, more beats, and more facepaint. What’s more, the format gives, in my view, an amazing advantage to quidditch fans and commentators; it affords us twice the opportunities to see how these players play, how they work in new team dynamics, how they adapt to sudden changes, and so on: the chances for analysis are endless. If you obsess over these things like I do, Clan Warfare is Christmas in April. It is fairly common that a player gets on a good team for a mercenary tournament and uses that to coast to glory once, but this system means that we can track the influences of individual players more easily. For example, if you as a captain lead a team that was not doing well in the morning and are now leading a team doing well in the afternoon, you might either want to write down what magic beans they had for lunch or see which new players joined your squad. (Spoiler alert: whether they be from Edinburgh, Stirling, St Andrews, or Durham, they might just be brilliant.)

Why, then, has such a format not been tried out before? Whilst it could be simple innovation, a ‘eureka’ moment, the format is not without its issues. Players often relish the chance to grow a deep attachment to a particular mercenary team over the course of a weekend, as evidenced by the number of regular mercenary teams that have gone on to exist beyond the span of the tournament they were formed for (the Mighty and Amazing Quercs and the Dercs are the most striking examples). Furthermore, there is the sense that the tournament lacks a climax, a final, that build up and drive to prove a particular team as the best. Some might argue that it amounts to little more than a throw around in the park, with teams mixing after a couple of scrimmages. The tournament format also runs the risk of not allowing players enough time to grow into their teams, meaning that, although individual stars may shine, their suitability to a well-coordinated team (often the decisive factor of success at a traditional mercenary tournament) may not. In a time when many mercenary tournaments are setting aside a morning for teams to practise together and get to know each other (such as the Second Annual Mercian Cup in 2014), this format flies in the face of a growing vogue within mercenary tournaments. However, whilst these issues may arise, the opportunities that it provides for a region of the UK with significantly less attention, coverage, or establishment than our southern counterparts, this format will highlight the specific talents and innovation both on and off the pitch that will give their teams a huge boost in the continuous evolution of northern quidditch.

In short, this format will allow standout players to make an impression, and that is why this mercenary tournament is so important. It is old chat now in the North to talk about being so far away from the centres of quidditch where the public has welcomed quidditch into the great sporting pantheon, but many of the Northern teams, and more specifically the Northern players, often go huge stretches of time without getting the experience or the attention they deserve. Yes, of course it’s great to hear of the all-stars of Southampton, and I will personally never tire of hearing about Falmouth’s gameplay, but Northerners are the exception rather than the rule when it comes to lists of quidditch greats. Now, could it be down to a case of Northern quidditch players just not being as good or experienced as Southern players? Well, from what I’ve seen in Durham, St Andrews, and, yes, even in my own humble Burgh, the answer is no. There is some exceptional talent here that needs firstly recognition and secondly the fires of competitive quidditch to make it shine brighter than a belched pair of sports socks. Hopefully, this tournament between mainly Northern players shall give a chance for the all-stars of Northern quidditch to start making their names known.

An exciting opportunity for Scottish quidditch

As for those not looking to get their name in lights, or at least nice font in the Quidditch Post, it is overall a cracking chance for us to see how well Scottish and Northern players adapt to merc tournament styles and game play; after all, we are on very unexplored ground here. So far, Northern representation at mercenary tournaments has been sadly lacking, due to costs and the constant wars for food and decorative shortbread that rage here, so it will be interesting to see exactly how Scottish players handle the massive change that is a mercenary team. Being with different playing styles, different faces, and struggling to remember names are all things the Scots need to master in Stirling and it will be good practice for the future

The tournament promises to be very exciting for so many reasons, and one of these is how the format will affect the players. I have touched on it briefly, but to be clear no one can underestimate how important a strong team dynamic is to a successful quidditch team. Without communication, good leadership and synergy between the different positions, it doesn’t matter if your chaser line-up is Tom Brady, Chuck Norris, and Katniss Everdeen, you’re going to lose. A lot of mercenary tournaments give the teams a chance to train and know each other beforehand, whereas this one with such a rapid jackknife change in the middle, will mean a lot of players will be playing without even knowing each other’s names, let alone whether or not they are good on the defence or can re-obtain bludger control. This will be a lesson in natural selection and in adaptation; it will be a chance to see how these Northern players adapt to a changed line-up. Recent Northern team’s success might elsewhere be put down to good team dynamics, but this tournament will test players’ mettle for real and see how they play when the beater who is meant to be watching their back isn’t their best friend or even someone they would recognise on a bus. No doubt it will also be an exhausting day, and players will tire as the day goes on, but that almost goes without saying in quidditch these days.

All in all, Clan Warfare is shaping up to be not just an exciting milestone in Scottish quidditch but possibly a huge leap for quidditch in the UK as a whole. With a new format, a drastically short organisational time, a city that has never hosted featuring a new team, and over a dozen players who have never been to a merc tournament before, there is a lot at stake at this event. This will be a rare chance for Scottish quidditch to show off its best and brightest, and it will be interesting to see which teams take home the glory at the end of the day, and which players and leaders lead them up the crags of quidditch and down into the glens of victory.

Special thanks go out to Alex Harrison, Vickitty Martin, Alix Marie d’Avigneau, Emma Hand, and Sasha Burgoyne for organising with minimal help from your writer a very exciting day in the quidditch calendar!

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