by Abby Whiteley
With the 2015-16 season looming and a new teams policy being implemented, change is in the air for mercenary teams. There are several different brands of mercenary teams, but in this case, we are discussing the kind that is not event-specific. The most common use of the term ‘mercenary’ to describe a team refers to teams at fantasy tournaments that are designed specifically for that purpose, but here we are referencing teams that are not bound to one event. From the 2015-16 season onwards, the latter kind of mercenary teams will have the chance to be recognised by QuidditchUK as official teams, in the same capacity as club teams. This fundamentally changes their role and potential. There are three primary subjects up for discussion here: what mercenary teams fundamentally are, whether they are beneficial to the sport, and the case for their canonisation into QuidditchUK official teams.
|The Mighty and Amazing Quercs and the Dercs, two of the major UK mercenary teams | Photo credit: Jack Lennard|
What are they?
The most well-known mercenary team of this kind is the Mighty and Amazing Quercs, who have lately been joined by the Dercs and the Monsters. These teams have always existed in a particular space in the canon of UK quidditch teams. They were generally intended to fulfil a competitive need during the summer season, when the primary competitive drive is in mercenary and casual club-based tournaments. This prompted the establishment of teams that provided people with the chance to play quidditch on a team that offered some degree of constancy. These new teams were differentiated from the two other major categories of teams: club teams and event-specific mercenary teams. Mercenary teams are distinct from club teams by virtue of their non-primacy; a mercenary team is never a player’s first or only team, and these teams therefore never make an appearance in tournaments that are meaningful for ranking in the regular season, such as BQC. It should be noted that it is on this basis that mercenary teams are not to be considered to be the same as community teams. On the other hand, these mercenary teams differ from those found at fantasy tournaments due to their constancy. Although they do not tend to train regularly, they make appearances at multiple events and exist indefinitely. It is in this way that these teams exist somewhere in the grey area between permanent and transient teams, and they naturally have different needs and strengths in comparison with the more familiar formats.
What are the benefits?
Whenever any change occurs or is proposed, the primary thrust of the conversation is always centred on whether it is good for the sport. In this case, the presence of mercenary teams can hardly be argued to have a negative impact upon the sport.
As a general rule, it seems impossible that anything that facilitates more quidditch being played can possibly be a bad thing. Mercenary teams allow a greater exchange of knowledge between teams as they bring together people from a wide range of quidditch clubs and offer the opportunity to develop and enhance tactical knowledge. Mercenary teams that are not restricted to a single geographical location also encourage off-season training, a natural requirement for the improvement of the athletic quality of the sport. This includes travelling to foreign tournaments, the attendance of which directly improves the quality of individual players and, therefore, raises the bar of playing quality across the country.
Such teams also skirt the concern of overcommitment. Not everyone has equal amounts of time to dedicate to training and tournaments, and it could be a concern that putting too much time pressure on players could cause them to become disenchanted or simply cause the teams to fail. However, the nature of mercenary teams as low-commitment teams means that they place little pressure on players who feel unable to commit to a regular team schedule. This also prevents players from becoming unfocused; the quality of club teams is very unlikely to fall due to overinvestment in mercenary teams by simple virtue of the fact that they do not demand as much dedication.
From an institutional perspective, there are very few disadvantages to the model. Teams have, however, faced criticism for being exclusive: most teams are selected on the basis of personal friendship groups and home teams, or standout players are cherry-picked and approached on an individual basis. This makes it difficult to understand how this format will be rolled out across the UK without furthering these insular dynamics. A team model based on the whims of those running the teams is, whilst somewhat defensible on a small scale due to the very nature of mercenary team formation, not sustainable in a national context without tighter regulation. The choice of QuidditchUK to endorse these clique-based teams without any changes is of questionable benefit to the community at large, as their current format engenders divisions in the community. While there is nothing wrong with people wishing to form teams with their friends and attend tournaments with them, QuidditchUK should proceed with caution before institutionalising them and giving them a greater capacity for insularity. The current system of people approaching the teams with requests to join, to be rejected or accepted on arbitrary and mysterious criteria, is simply not appropriate for membership in a National Governing Body. However, with murmurings of mercenary teams being included in a more complex system of competition this season, we will hopefully see QuidditchUK shift these mercenary teams towards a more open, fairer system.
Should they be QuidditchUK official?
During the 2014-15 season, it would have been very difficult to find any reason for these mercenary teams to seek recognition from QuidditchUK. Although mercenary teams can now be acknowledged by QuidditchUK, the changes to their status are very minor, and so it may still remain an uninteresting proposition for them.
Mercenary teams’ lack of primary players means that they cannot partake in meaningful tournaments during the main season, due to restrictions on regional and national tournaments that demand a minimum number of primary players on each team. Most minor tournaments at which they would appear are not QuidditchUK official, although it is possible that the canonisation of these mercenary teams is intended to change this. Allowing a greater variety of teams to participate may motivate smaller tournaments to seek recognition from QuidditchUK. It is clear that QuidditchUK hopes for an increasing number of tournament directors to apply for their events to be QuidditchUK official, and if they succeed, mercenary teams will settle comfortably into the system. However, if main-season tournaments continue to eschew QuidditchUK’s recognition, mercenary teams will remain in an ambiguous position during this time. Mercenary teams do not aim to compete alongside club teams or even, necessarily, to be considered as equal to them. Rather, they exist as an alternate team for those tournaments that club teams are unlikely to unable to attend, to provide teams with a sense of constancy and loyalty towards tournaments outside of the main competitive league, and to give players an opportunity to play alongside people whom they otherwise may not be able to. It is difficult to assess how QuidditchUK’s involvement will be reconciled with these aims.
It is here that you have to question exactly what it means to be QuidditchUK official, and what these teams stand to gain from QuidditchUK recognition. It is self-evident that club teams need to be recognised by QuidditchUK in order to participate in the tournaments that matter, and therefore not buying membership would never be considered by a permanent club. However, the benefits to mercenary teams are less clear. These teams have always negotiated a space for themselves in less regulated areas of the sport: international tournaments and tournaments that are not recognised by the NGB. However, QuidditchUK will undoubtedly be trying to close down on areas of competition, notably the summer, that remain out of its remit.
Although it is important to consider the implications for the main season, it is misguided to expect the full justification for mercenary teams’ recognition to be found there. The main motivation for QuidditchUK to canonise these mercenary teams can be found in the summer season. An unnamed summer event has been alluded to, and it is likely that this will provide a casual but continuous alternative to the usual hodgepodge of summer events. Based on this alone, it seems likely that the intention will be to imitate the MLQ format of the USA, in which mercenary teams participate in an ongoing league. And, of course, if the league can draw on pre-established teams, it will have an existing infrastructure and therefore a greater chance of success. Whether extant mercenary teams will view this as sufficient bait to tempt them and their members into paying for membership - on top of fees associated with their club teams - remains to be seen.
It is possible that the conflation of membership in the main season with that of the summer season should be rethought, as the two provide very different experiences and are motivated by irreconcilable priorities. Experimentation is one of the founding principles of mercenary teams, and getting tied into official events and requirements may inhibit this. Furthermore, teams currently have no information available about the proposed summer events and therefore little interest in them. This leaves mercenary teams with the fruits of the main season as the only reward of their canonisation which, as discussed, may not be sufficient for them to take the plunge.