Sunday, August 23, 2015

Barcelona Moustaches Time 2: Draw Reactions and Swiss Format Discussion

What follows are first reactions to the Barcelona Moustaches Time 2: The Moustache Strikes Back (BMT) group draw and Swiss format discussion. In the interest of full disclosure: Kai Haugen Shaw will be captaining the Norwegian Ridgebacks at this tournament.

First Reactions
By Kai Haugen Shaw

After it received mixed reactions in the USA post-World Cup 8, European teams are keen to give the Swiss format a go. QUK has confirmed that Swiss will not be making an appearance at the regional or national tournaments, but it would not be surprising to see other tournaments and NGBs experimenting with new tournament formats. The reception of Swiss at this tournament will likely be used as a litmus test by other tournament organisers on the continent to determine whether they will consider it as a viable format for their events. 

BMT will be the first major international tournament for Europe this season. It will also be the only international team tournament for quite some time, since nothing like it is planned until Intergalactic Cup in Adana Turkey in Jan. 2016. This tournament will be an excellent opportunity for teams and players to hone their skills against the top level of European quidditch before the season commences in their home country. As it is expensive to attend international tournaments, a of lot of teams in attendance are merc teams, consisting of players from several different club teams. Some of these will manage to be quite competitive; many will have more of an emphasis on having fun while playing quidditch under the Spanish sun in one of the country's most beautiful cities. It seems like the Swiss format is being introduced to Europe for this particular tournament in an aim to cater to the mix of both the highly competitive play of some of the players and social draw of the location. This makes it more of a laid-back, vacation-style tournament for those teams who are not going to Barcelona to win.

While 16 teams were originally anticipated to participate, there were unfortunately some alterations to the tournament format, and now only 14 teams will be traveling to Barcelona for BMT. Initially, it was expected that two groups of eight teams would be there; now, though, it’s been sliced down a bit. Two groups remain, though one has eight teams and the second has six. The decision to have different-sized groups of teams was made so that one team would not have to wait each round during the game. Teams in both groups will still play four games. However, in the group with six teams, they will play every other team in their group barred one. This kind of ruins the whole point of the Swiss format, which will be discussed further at the end of the article.

The groups are:
Nightmare Grims - Catalonia
Pink Fluffy Unicorns - Belgium and beyond
Dercs - UK
Toulouse Quidditch - France
Sparcs - Spain
Imperius Zaragoza - Spain
Barcelona Eagles - Catalonia
Paris Titans Quidditch - France

ODTÜ Hippogriffs - Turkey
Norwegian Ridgebacks - Norway
The Average Joes - UK
Bad Sexy Glitters - France
Quercs - UK
Vienna Vanguards - Austria

The rosters have not yet been officially released, so we do not have a complete picture of all the teams. Predictions at this point, therefore, will to some extent be based on speculation (more so than traditional pre-tournament analysis) and what information is available about the teams.

The groups are relatively well-balanced; however, Group B seems like it is more treacherous than Group A. While the favorite to win Group A is the Paris Titans, this group does not have many prominent teams who are likely to make the final, while Group B has a few potential rivals for the title. Given that Group B is smaller, its teams will also face stiffer competition in all their games, while top teams in Group A will get to have some easy games.

Group A

The Titans are one of the huge favorites of this tournament, and it is clear why. Most of their players became European champions twice this year, first as a club team when they won European Quidditch Cup 2015 (EQC) this April in Oxford, and then again as Team France at the European Games (EG) in Sarteano in July. On top of this, it was announced that Titans would be joined this season by keeper Ollie Craig from Southampton Quidditch Club (SQC), who is considered one of Britain's best players. With a stellar record last season and the inclusion of yet another star player or their roster, it is becoming apparent that the Titans will be the favorites in every tournament they attend this season. This may sound like it will not be too exciting to see who wins at BMT, and that if anyone was running bets for the tournament they would go bankrupt. However, Craig is apparently not playing in this tournament, and Albert Bregeault is still out from an injury from EG. Despite this, the Paris Titans are still the favorites given that their biggest strength is the depth of their squad. The team has several other players who are among the best in Europe, which is why they keep winning. However with their reduced depth, this might be the best chance for anyone to beat them this season. This said, it will probably not happen during group play.

The British merc team the Dercs might do well. With half the team hailing from Durhamstrang, these players should be able to form the basis of the team’s playing style, which the other players can build around. With a small squad of 10, they will have to hope for no injuries if they want to make a mark on Day Two. As for Day One, they have a real chance of getting second place in the group if they play to their strengths. With the Titans in attendance, though, they will not be able to contend for the top spot in the group.

Another team that could go far in Group A is the home team, the Barcelona Eagles. The team has good synergy, a lot of international experience, and the home field advantage. However, home field advantage didn’t help them last year (and is overrated in quidditch, as the home team usually runs the tournament and ends up dealing with a lot of the added stress involved) when they had a decent but overall underwhelming tournament result. They also did not go particularly far at this year’s EQC. The same can be said for Catalonia, which was made up primarily of Barcelona players, at EG. I therefore do not think they will have a chance at making the semifinals, although they will probably do better than most of the teams at the tournament.

The Pink Fluffy Unicorns could be a contender for one of the trophies. Since this is a merc team composed of primarily Belgian players, you have to take into account how well Belgium did at EG last month, managing to take a lead against the UK and holding the score to a virtual draw until it lost on the snitch grab. It should also be mentioned that the Belgian Deurne Dodos got second place at Moustaches last year. This aside, this troop is lacking the biggest Belgian names, which makes them similar to the Belgian merc team the Belgian Blackbeards, who participated at Tournoi international de la violette in January. The team fought bravely but struggled with synergy and with a lack of star players, they simply didn’t manage to stand out in the tournament. The Pink Fluffy Unicorns will unfortunately likely face the same fate.

The Nightmare Grims did not impress much at Tournoi international de la violette in January either. However, that was one of their first tournaments, and you can expect them to have improved since then. The question is if they will have improved enough. I personally don’t think they will have but would love for them to prove me wrong. I know very little about the last two Spanish teams in the group, the Sparcs and Imperius Zaragoza. However, I would be very surprised to see either of them make the quarterfinal. This is mostly as they are inexperienced; Imperius Zaragoza has only played one game before, and the Sparcs will, as a merc team, struggle with cooperation. Spain failed to make it to the quarterfinals of EG in July, and the country has never impressed much on the quidditch scene. This seems to be mostly due to the lack of experience. No Spanish team was able to make it to EQC 2015, which would have been a great learning opportunity. Hopefully the players from the Spanish national team will have gained from their experience at EG, and the two teams will use this tournament to further develop so that we someday soon will see great things from Spanish quidditch. But it just will not be at this tournament.

Toulouse is a well-known and well-liked team. They played at last year’s BMT, hosted Tournoi international de la violette in January, participated at this year’s EQC, and have attended several other tournaments as well. The team tends to end up among the lower echelon at these tournaments, and I do not expect this to change now since, as far as I know, the roster will be the same – with the only exception being that Sandra Kreit has broken out and formed the Bad Sexy Glitters.

Group B

Group B is definitely the “group of death,” and one of the main reasons I am calling it that is that it has the winners of last year’s Barcelona Moustaches Time, whose full official name is the ever-modest “The Mighty and Amazing Quercs”. The Quercs are a British merc team originally based around Radcliffe Chimeras. However, they have gotten more and more outsiders over the years. While the team changes a bit for each tournament, it is always based around a core of players who are very familiar with one another’s playing styles. They are therefore not affected by the common lack of harmony that you find in merc teams.

Another interesting thing about the team is that is it was built around the gimmick of having players play positions they normally do not play, a tradition they continue with to this day. However after a few tournaments you can argue that it is not much of a disadvantage for these players to play their backup positions anymore. Quite a few are utility players and are used to it, and seeing as Jan Mikolajczak chose to play at beater at the EQC final, one must ask whether he now will play as chaser for the Quercs or move on to be stationed as keeper. The Quercs’ roster is filled with star British players who know each other well, and after winning last year in Barcelona and placing second in Toulouse, one simply must view them as the favorites to win Group B.
Jan at BMT.jpg
Jan Mikolajczak playing for the Quercs | Photo credit: Fiona K. T. Howat
However, unlike in Group A, there are several potential candidates capable of making an upset and taking first place. The merc team the Norwegian Ridgebacks has only played one tournament before – at Tournoi international de la violette – where it only lost to the first and second place teams, the Titans and the Quercs. They gave both teams a run for their money, but despite solid play at the tournament they only made it to the quarterfinals, where they were unfortunate to meet the Titans, who would go on to win the tournament. While the final score was in clear favor of the Titans, the Ridgebacks managed to stay within snitch range until the snitch got released. However, with a depleted team, they did not manage to remain within range for long. The team going to Barcelona is slightly larger than the one that went to Toulouse, and while the roster then was primarily based around NTNUI Rumpeldunk, it will now be filled primarily with players from last year’s OSI Quidditch (Oslo Students Athletics Association), who played at EQC 2015 under the name UiO. Having OSI form the core will make it easier for the other players to have a consistent style to mimic, so they probably will not be troubled with a lack of synergy. OSI has also done quite well this year, having won the Norwegian Championship and only lost one game, which was at EQC in the quarterfinal against Paris Titans. The Norwegian Ridgebacks can therefore be predicted to fight for the top spot in the group, as well as for the top spots in the whole tournament – at least as long as they don’t meet Titans in the quarterfinals.

The ODTU Hippogriffs are another team that will be fighting for first place in Group B. To clarify, Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi (ODTU) is the Turkish name for the university where the team is from, however the English translation Middle East Technical University (METU) is more widely known in the European Quidditch scene. Turkish quidditch made a huge entry onto the international quidditch scene when the METU Dragons (a METU merc team with players from both Hippogriffs and Unicorns) got third place at Tournoi international de la violette, and the Turkish have since been predicted to go far at tournaments. The METU Unicorns were a bit unlucky at EQC, as they were placed in the group of death and thus did not proceed to the winner’s bracket. Unfortunate scheduling also meant they did not get much rest between their semifinal and final matches in the lower bracket, which they ended up losing in a close game against the Leicester Thestrals. A depleted Turkish national squad at EG had to accept third place in its group and was beaten out in the quarterfinals by Norway. It’s not certain who is on this team’s roster, and so their performance may vary wildly. However, it is becoming a rule that you should never underestimate a Turkish quidditch team because of these teams’ recent success, and ODTU is no exception.

The Average Joes is another team that could surprise. The team is made up primarily of Oxford players from both the Chimeras and Quidlings, as well as some from the London Unspeakables and the Leeds Griffins and a single Brizzlepuff player. The team currently only has 10 players and will supposedly get extra merc players from the tournament organisers, which will help it get to a decent size. It’s uncertain, though, if these additions will raise the Average Joes’ level of play. This makes it difficult to say how well it will do, and Joe will remain a bit of a dark horse until the final roster is released.

The Vienna Vanguards made their début in the international quidditch scene earlier this year at EQC. While the team made good plays at times, it did not go far in the tournament. As a new team it was not expected to do particularly well. It will be interesting to see how the Vanguards will do in Barcelona, and how much they will have improved in the four months since EQC. As they had a large roster at EQC, you can expect them to get proper scrimmages going at most of their practices. If you combine that with the fact that some of their players went to EG to watch games, they might have the tactical input they need to bring the team to the next level. Although Josephine Röser has returned from OSI Quidditch, she will be playing for the Norwegian Ridgebacks at this tournament; seeing as the Vanguards and the Ridgebacks are both in Group B, there is a large chance she will have to play against her home team.

The Bad Sexy Glitters might be the team with the best name at the tournament. However, as I only know that Sandra Kreit will be the captain, I simply cannot make an educated prediction before their roster is released. But I think she is capable of forming a good team. The question is just how good.

The Swiss Format
By Abby Whiteley

This tournament marks European quidditch’s first foray into the Swiss tournament format. The Swiss System is a departure from traditional elimination formats; the first matches are randomly assigned, and in every subsequent match, teams play opponents with identical competitive records. For example, if a team lost its first game, it would go on to play another team that had lost its first; the winner of that match would then play another team with a 1–1 record, and so on. Pools can still be assigned to avoid certain teams from meeting early on. It is a significant advantage of the model that, if all goes according to plan, all teams play the same number of games. This makes it an appropriate choice for an international tournament like BMT, where most participants have travelled a long way to be able to participate, and the guarantee of more games is only going to be received well.

One of the chief complaints against the Swiss System is that teams are more likely to end up playing opponents that they have faced before, but this is unlikely at an international tournament with several merc teams in the mix. The mitigation of unsuitable matchups is also beneficial when most players will be traveling to Barcelona just to hang out and get some experience. With the intention of playing for fun and improving one’s skills along the way, there is little advantage to matchups which end with one team beating the other by a huge margin. Neither team benefits from such games, and so the fact that there should be fewer blowouts will likely provide a more enjoyable tournament experience all around.

Swiss Style play does not also mean that players will necessarily be deprived of a final; if the tournament directors wish it, the Swiss System can be paired with later elimination stages so that participants still get exciting semifinals and a final. This will be done at the Barcelona tournament. The drawback here is that teams will not be able to plan their games or schedule since they won’t know which teams they might end up playing. At BMT, the fact that there will be eight teams in group A and six in group B means that though there will be a manageable number of teams to prepare for, players will have less time before specific games.

One could also argue that this is no different than the situations teams face on Day Two in some tournaments, when it is uncertain who they will face in bracket play. Usually, however, teams have some general idea as the structure tends to be quite clear, and one can, for the most part, guess which of the other teams will proceed from each game. The format used in Barcelona therefore means that teams might end up more uncertain about who they will meet on Day One of the tournament then they will be on Day Two.

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