Friday, July 24, 2015

American's Guide to European Games

by Andrew Marmer

To anyone not in Europe at the moment, the tournament happening in Sarteano soon might seem somewhat abstract. The European Games (EG), the first iteration of which will take place on July 25 and 26, is without precedent in European quidditch and will take the sport to a level beyond that of the Global Games (GG) and the European Quidditch Cup (EQC). It gives those at the top of European quidditch another chance to show off and improve their skills and keeps European players fighting to reach the top of their game even in the years when GG is not occurring.

The Basics
The EG is to Europe as GG is to the world; it occurs every other year, and teams consist of all-star players from the participating countries. In this, its first year, 12 nations will be represented in the battle for the trophy. It is more diverse than the 2015 EQC, thanks to the inclusion of Spain and Ireland. Austria, which sent a team to the EQC, will not be attending this year. The tournament will take place over two days, using a pool play system followed by elimination stages (bracket, semifinal, final). The pools were chosen by seeding the teams according to their performances at the EQC.

The Teams
The teams themselves are a mixed bag. The United Kingdom and France were fully selective, choosing from a wide pool of applicants from across the country. Others, such as Norway and Belgium, were partially selective; between 21 and 40 people applied to those teams, giving the selectors some choice but not a huge amount. A few teams consist simply of the people who were inclined and available to attend the tournament, such as Ireland and Turkey. These statistics concerning player selection generally--although not wholly--correspond to the anticipated success of the involved teams. Those teams which had more competition for spaces naturally had a larger pool of talent from which to choose and therefore the bar for players’ entry to such teams was raised. The teams which could not afford to be selective are more likely to have weaker links in their lineup, simply because there was no real criteria other than appropriate citizenship or heritage for players to fulfill. We will now go into a bit more detail about each team.

The Underdogs
Spain, Ireland, and Poland have a very nascent quidditch culture and will all be striving for victories to help build quidditch in their nations. Poland sent the Quidditch Hussars to the most recent EQC, but with only a handful of players, the team finished 31st out of 32 teams.

The last time Ireland made an appearance at a major European tournament was at the first British Quidditch Cup in 2013, when the Galway Grindylows represented the country. Some of Ireland’s players have come from teams in the UK, notably Bex McLaughlin (of the Keele Squirrels) and Jodie Mee (Bristol Brizzlepuffs). Spain likewise will be importing players such as Andi de Alfonso (New York Badassilisks) but will also be taking players from all five Spanish teams.

Bracket Play
Germany and the Netherlands sent five total teams to EQC, and, of those five, none made it into the winners bracket. Considering the relatively new state of their programs (each country’s league has been founded in the past year) it’s impressive that both nations were able to send multiple teams to EQC in April, but neither can be viewed as a serious threat at EG. Nonetheless, each team has a realistic shot to be one of the eight advancing to bracket play, and to accomplish this would be a proud feat for the Netherlands or Germany. However, a semifinal berth is incredibly unlikely for either of these teams.

Catalonia, Italy, and Turkey are three teams with moderate-length quidditch histories, all of whom could easily reach the semifinals but will not be expected to. These are the middle-tier teams. Catalonia, a region of Spain, is the only autonomous community that is not a fully independent nation in the field, and its team will be comprised primarily of players from the Barcelona Eagles. While the Eagles is a team with a rich history and hosts one of Europe’s most popular tournaments, Barcelona Moustaches Time, they also underperformed at the most recent EQC, finishing 21st as Catalonia’s sole representative. Italy sent three teams to EQC, with Green-Tauros Torino pacing the group with a ninth-place finish. Italy has depth in teams and should benefit as the host nation. However, it lacks the upside talent of many other teams in the field. Turkey had an impressive showing at EQC in the form of the METU Unicorns, and were it not for a bad group draw, the Unicorns would almost certainly have advanced to bracket play. As it was, they nearly held the European champion Paris Titans within snitch range and fared well against British champion Southampton Quidditch Club. Unfortunately, the Turkish squad at EG will likely not be as strong, as travel costs have impeded some players on the initial roster from attending, which sadly deprives us the chance to see just how good this nation has become.

Dark Horse
Two teams who have an outside chance at reaching the finals--Norway and Belgium--have made great strides in their playing ability. Norway sent two teams to EQC and both reached the quarterfinal stage. Norway, although a bit isolated from the rest of the European quidditch scene, has shown that it can put together a more than capable 21 and could do some serious damage at EG, possibly pulling an upset to make the finals. Belgium, on the other hand, is right in the thick of European quidditch. Two of its teams made the bracket at EQC and the Deurne Dodo and nearly reached the semifinals; Belgium has the talent to challenge the presumptive favorites.

The UK and France are the favorites to win the European Games. The UK is by far the largest quidditch community in Europe, with 23 teams at its national tournament (more than double any other European nation) and over 30 in existence. Thanks to proliferating competition and a large population, its pool of talent is deeper than most other nations, and it is expected to do very well. It performed the best out of the European nations at last year’s Global Games, and is therefore in a strong position to take the trophy here. France, home to the current European champions (Paris Titans), and the only European nation to have ever sent a team to the World Cup in the US, will also be offering some fierce competition.

Who should I root for?
Root for Ireland if you like Guinness, Jameson, green, four leaf clovers, Saint Patrick’s Day, lax citizenship requirements (Ireland has taken a few British players with Irish ancestry), the Dropkick Murphys, Winged Snitches, underdogs, and really awesome kits (jerseys--I mean look at these things). Basically, you should all be rooting for Ireland at least a little.

Root for Spain if you like sangria, Picasso, America, Real Madrid, paella, and really awesome kits (I mean again look at these things).

Root for Poland if you like vodka, underdogs, Hogwarts, and castles.

Root for Germany if you like beer, Oktoberfest, Bayern Munich, Bach, Mercedes, efficiency, order, and Dirk Nowitzki.

Root for the Netherlands if you like gin, tulips, windmills, clogs, Total Football, and Van Gogh.

Root for Catalonia if you like beaches, Antoni Gaudí, Salvador Dalí, Messi, independence, and America.

Root for Italy if you like pizza, pasta, Renaissance art, the Mario Brothers, Da Vinci, Galileo, and empires.

Root for Turkey if you like kebabs, space unicorns, şalgam, fabulousness, Thanksgiving, and actual turkeys.

Root for Norway if you like fjords, Vikings, snow, the letter Ø, Frozen, guns (on the island of Svalbard it's mandatory to bring a shotgun if you leave town), polar bears (this is why), oil, and fish.

Root for Belgium if you like waffles, beer, chocolate, and comic books.

Root for France if you like wine, snails, garlic, the revolutionary spirit, Victor Hugo, and pissed off British people.

Root for the UK if you like rain, baked beans, tea, the monarchy, weird word spellings, favourites (see what I mean), general distaste for happiness, and an extra chance of seeing the US dethroned in 2016.

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