Sunday, April 26, 2015

EQC 2015: Tournament Review

By Abby Whiteley

Now that the dust has settled from the European Quidditch Cup (EQC), most teams are looking to wind down the season and reflect upon what they learnt this year. However, this does not apply to everyone; for Italy, EQC was merely a warm-up act for its national tournament in May, and many countries are still hosting small-scale mercenary tournaments and other events. Yet it is indisputable that for the first time the European Quidditch Cup has been a significant and unifying fixture in the calendar for quidditch teams across the continent, and all future EQCs will be modelled on this event rather than those that preceded it. Every upcoming EQC will become an end goal in itself; rather than being an accompaniment or epilogue to the national tournaments, EQC will hopefully become something that teams work toward, and increasingly difficult qualification requirements will make EQC bigger, better, and more competitive than ever before. However, in the wake of the first partially selective EQC and the third EQC overall, what have we learnt?

International performances
For the first time, it feels as though we have benefited from a truly comprehensive snapshot of the European quidditch scene. Prior to this event, we have had to depend on rumours and random posts on Facebook, pages that emerge and gather a couple of hundred likes before the team folds, leaving us with no clear idea of which teams actively exist at all, never mind how good they are. Due to the absence of any real centralised information or organisation, analysts and players have mostly been in the dark about the wider context of the sport in Europe. Whilst a single event cannot and does not remedy this general dearth of information, it has given us the opportunity to get a better grasp on European quidditch as a whole. We have seen that Norwegian quidditch is surprisingly terrifying, that the Turks will move heaven and earth to come play quidditch, that Austria’s quidditch scene is flourishing more rapidly than we expected, and that Italy needs to watch out for the storm coming that is Green-Tauros Quidditch Torino.

The diversity of representation in the later stages of the tournament was fantastic. Unlike in the United States, where Texas continues to dominate the upper rankings, there were several countries with a good chance at spots in the quarter- and semifinals. In the top 10 teams, five different countries were represented: four UK teams, two French (including the champions), two Norwegian, one Belgian, and one Italian. This means that 45 percent of represented countries made an appearance in the top 10, and these five countries are the largest and oldest quidditch regions in Europe. Catalonia is a reasonably old region by European quidditch standards but sent only one team, so its omission is not hugely surprising. It is exceptionally gratifying to see so much of European quidditch developing at the same rate. No individual region within the nations is over-represented either; of the four British teams, two are from the South and two from the Midlands/North, and the French teams represent Paris and the eastern city Lyon. Trondheim and Oslo, the two Norwegian cities represented in the top 10, are about 500km from one another. This demonstrates an exciting geographical spread of the quidditch talent within Europe, both in terms of the number of countries represented and the provenance of the strong teams within those nations. The dominance of a single nation, especially at the stage of development where Europe currently is, would be a hindrance to growth overall, so these results are very positive things to take from this tournament.

Summary of Nations’ Performances
Number of teams: 1 (Vienna Vanguards)
Ranking: 26
Commentary: This is unsurprising for a new nation and reasonably untested team. The Vanguards put up a good fight in a lot of their matches, and they should be proud. It will be very exciting to see if the Vanguards will get some competition back home, where they can hone their talents in preparation for the next EQC.

Number of teams: 3
Highest ranked team: Deurne Dodo A (6)
Lowest ranked team: Ghent Gargoyles Quidditch Club (28)
Commentary: Belgium did very well for itself at this tournament, with two of its three teams making it into the upper bracket and the Deurne Dodos nearly making it into the semifinals. The Belgian national team could certainly upset at European Games, given that Belgium perpetually seems to be underestimated only to deal out some fantastic quidditch.

Number of teams: 1 (Barcelona Eagles)
Ranking: 21
Commentary: Barcelona did very well given that it faced the closest group in the tournament. Group H was the only group in which no team went 3-0, and the Eagles generally came off worse in SWIM situations. Although the Eagles are a good team and deserved to go further, the obvious weakness in their seeker lineup is what let them down this year. Their strength shows that Catalonia can pull off some great victories, however, and I expect to see some great expansion in this region next season.

Number of teams: 5
Highest ranked team: Titans Paris (1)
Lowest ranked team: Nantes Quidditch (19)
Commentary: France had a pretty consistent showing; the French show one of the smallest disparities between the highest and lowest rated team, which is impressive given the number of French teams. Nantes struggled in the earlier stages of the tournament but did very well on the second day, managing to take third place in Division 2. Everyone knows the story of Titans Paris storming to victory. Paris Frog, which took the gold at La Coupe de France in December, underperformed by ranking at No. 11. In a way, Paris Frog was a victim of the exceptionally tight Group F, in which Southampton Quidditch Club 1 had to play Titans Paris and the METU Unicorns, matches that curbed its QPD and meant that the French and British champions had to face off in the first match of Day Two.

Number of teams: 3
Highest ranked team: Unisport-Zentrum Darmstadt (22)
Lowest ranked team: Black Forest Bowtruckles (29)
Commentary: In keeping with the proud German tradition of efficiency and consistency, the German champions Darmstadt was the only team to consolidate its position within its country at EQC; the British, French, Norwegian, and Belgian champions were all outranked by another team coming from their own country at this tournament. The German teams’ low rankings are not especially shocking, although Darmstadt did very well in Division 2. The fact that Germany was able to send three teams at all is very encouraging for the future of quidditch in this region.

Number of teams: 3
Highest ranked team: Green-Tauros Quidditch Torino (9)
Lowest ranked team: Milano Meneghins (25)
Commentary: Green-Tauros Quidditch Torino was probably the biggest surprise at this tournament, beating the Keele Squirrels on-pitch and generally bringing an incredibly high standard of play. Lunatica Quidditch Club and the Milano Meneghins struggled with fatigue due to their small squads, but they showed great promise. Italy could certainly be an outside contender at European Games.

The Netherlands
Number of teams: 2
Highest ranked team: North Sea Nargles (30)
Lowest ranked team: Wageningen Werewolves (32)
Commentary: The Netherlands’ teams largely treated EQC as an educational exercise, and they will have learnt a huge amount from their experiences. Their gameplay was pleasingly clean and they drew very few cards, possibly due to proximity to the very experienced Belgian teams. This will benefit them when their teams have had more time to develop.

Number of teams: 2
Highest ranked team: NTNUI Rumpeldunk (5)
Lowest ranked team: UiO Quidditch (8)
Commentary: Norway just keeps surprising this season. After the Norwegian national championship had 11 teams attending, which makes Norway’s national cup the joint second-biggest after the UK, both Norwegian teams proved that they could challenge the top teams across Europe. The disparity between the two teams is laughably small, and Norway has shown that it has remarkable strength throughout the country. The Norwegian side at European Games is bound to be exemplary, and it will certainly be a contender for the top spot.

Number of teams: 1 (Quidditch Hussars)
Ranking: 31
Commentary: The small Polish squad showed great spirit and courage in coming all the way to Oxford with only a handful of players, and hopefully it will be able to take back all it learnt back to Poland to facilitate the growth of this region. It should also be noted that Poland succeeded in putting a goal past French champions Paris Frog, which is an achievement that those responsible should feel great pride for.

Number of teams: 1 (METU Unicorns)
Ranking: 18
Commentary: Although the Unicorns showed some spectacular play, most notably in holding the Titans within snitch range right until the end (the only team to do so all weekend), they will probably be disappointed with their final ranking. A painfully difficult group that pitted the Unicorns against the Titans and Southampton Quidditch Club 1 on the first day relegated them to the lower division, and an astonishing snitch grab from George Fiddes of the Leicester Thestrals meant that the Unicorns had to be content with second place in Division 2. However, it is doubtless that Turkey has come onto the quidditch scene with a bang and will be sending a brilliant squad to the European Games.

United Kingdom
Number of teams: 10
Highest ranked team: Radcliffe Chimeras (2)
Lowest ranked team: London Unspeakables (27)
Commentary: It is difficult to summarise the performances of all 10 teams in just a couple of sentences as they varied so wildly, but overall this was a strong showing for the UK. Seven of the 10 UK teams made it into Division 1, and the Leicester Thestrals topped Division 2. Alongside the Radcliffe Chimeras and Southampton Quidditch Club 1, both of whom demonstrated the excellence of play we have come to expect, there were particularly exemplary performances from the Nottingham Nightmares and the Keele Squirrels (joint third and seventh, respectively), both of whom made a huge impact and can hold their heads high alongside the most powerful teams in Europe.

Atmosphere and organisation
Organisation is a fairly dry topic of review, so it will be brief: this was one of the best-organised tournaments Europe has seen so far. Lateness and rearrangement of schedule, which has plagued tournaments all season, simply did not happen, largely thanks to there being six pitches available. The first aid provision was excellent, and the presence of food vans was very helpful, although it would be nice to see more of them in the future. The overall quality of refereeing and snitching was good; there is room for improvement, but this is always the case. It is important to emphasise just how important good organisation is to the execution of events like these, as teams can suffer sorely as a direct result of poor organisation, and the tournament directors deserve a great deal of credit.

A final comment I would make about European quidditch is the fantastic atmosphere that is being cultivated. The games all throughout the tournament, even up to the final, were very clean. Red cards were exceptionally rare, and the majority of play was positive and competitive in spirit. There were few injuries even amongst the top teams, but this is not because the quality of gameplay was poor; the final in particular was hugely physical, with both teams dealing massive tackles on the defence, but the contact was almost always safe and clean. Hundreds of trading cards and dozens of jerseys were exchanged (and the trading card business is still thriving), and throughout the weekend there was a clear atmosphere of excitement and enthusiasm. Although many teams, especially the top teams, cared deeply about their games and their final rankings, their tension was offset by a large number of teams who had no reputations going into the tournament and therefore no pressure to live up to. Whether this feeling of camaraderie will be retained at other tournaments remains to be seen, but European quidditch is currently at a very encouraging stage. It was pleasing to see rivalries such as those between the Radcliffe Chimeras and Southampton Quidditch Club 1, the finalists of the British Quidditch Cup in March, played out on-pitch with good sportsmanship. It proves that the game can be played intensely, with a great deal at stake, without resorting to foul play or words.

This tournament marked an important moment in European quidditch, and it should be remembered not only for the class of gameplay which was demonstrated, but also the excellent organisation, the cleanness of play, and the amazing atmosphere. For the teams for whom it was an introduction to European quidditch, I hope it was a good one; for the returning teams, I hope that it met their expectations. So many elements of this event represent a bright future for European quidditch, and I hope that European Games 2015, and the EQCs that follow this one, continue the proud standard that this tournament has set.

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