By Samson Rentsch
Editor’s Note: The full interviews lead by André Govett, Europe Director at QP, can be found here. The answers from Michael Puntschuh were taken from the notes of Mel Müller, EIC at QP, from a Q&A with the Swiss quidditch community lead in May, and translated from German to English by Samson Rentsch. QP would like to thank everyone involved in answering our many questions so rapidly and patiently.
While Europe was packing their bags for European Quidditch Cup (EQC) 2018 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm on the weekend of April 28-29, Quidditch Europe (QE) broke the news on the new and final two-tier EQC format for 2019 on April 26. In the words of Chula Bruggeling, member of the QE subcommittee that worked on the new system for 2019, QE “wanted to be sure the algorithm was approved and made public before this EQC, so the people deciding on the algorithm wouldn’t be (intentionally or unintentionally) influenced by this weekend’s results when deciding how the spot distribution system should work, or how much each ranking should be worth.”
Focusing on the basics, the new system appears to be simple enough: splitting the EQC format into two separate divisions, played out on two different events and thereby doubling the number of teams participating. Division 1 will consist of 32 teams that get their spots through performance points awarded to the NGBs in the two previous years, with the most recent EQC counting three times as much as the one before. Division 2, on the other hand, will include representatives of all NGBs. The spots are awarded according to the sizes of the NGBs, with D1 spots counting to the total and a maximum of 12 teams within the two-tier system. Allowing for an NGB to provide almost a fifth of the teams at the EQC takes into account that, at this point, NGBs such as Germany and the UK each hold roughly 20 percent of European quidditch players.
Due to those changes and the logistical and financial challenges of hosting two events, QE decided for EQC Division 2 to only host 16 teams in 2019, but grow to 32 teams in 2020. To give teams in D2 a chance to climb to the first division, places one to five are given performance points, ensuring that at least three spots in D1 will be awarded to the respective NGB, with places four and five having a high probability to get a spot in D1 as well. Additionally, places 28 to 32 in D1 will get no performance points, reducing the amount of spots for their respective NGBs, allowing teams from D2 to climb the ladder more easily.
This said, it is important to note that spots will be awarded to NGBs and not the actual teams, ensuring that fluctuation throughout seasons, due to changes in the EQC qualifier formats or the performance of the teams at said events, is accounted for. In addition to that, high-ranked teams in D1 (places one to five) will be awarded with additional fractions of performance points, ensuring that their NGB will get not only one, but possibly, an additional one. This will allow smaller, competitive NGBs, such as Norway or Turkey, to gain extra spots for their teams, which they would not get in a merely size-based system. Venturing into the details of algorithms and calculations of individual spots would exceed this article, but it can be said that the format has potential to balance itself out after several iterations, with teams moving between the divisions.
Back in January 2017, the European Committee, consisting of representatives from all European NGBs, had already been discussing a two-tier format for EQC. While it seems today that certain issues — such as the amount of volunteers and officials needed for two EQC events and the question of high-ranked teams that hoist their fellow NGB teams to D1, even though those might not bring the athleticism needed — have not been fully addressed, they were debated from the get-go. Maybe suffering from the bad reputation of other governing bodies, QE has taken extra care to allow for a long period of discussion in the community from December 2017 onwards, after the new format was officially announced. With over 100 responses in April 2018, some adjustments were made to the original proposal. Some of the changes made include disregarding the performance of the national teams at World Cups and European Games for allocating spots and capping the total amount of teams per NGB at 12.
The recent uproar must therefore be put into perspective. Having just been at an EQC, run so smoothly that one can only wish for a repetition of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm or of Tobias Pötzsch and his team’s involvement in future events, some might not have been receptive to the proposal.
Stefan Scheuer, Michael Puntschuh, and Chula Bruggeling, all part of the subcommittee working on the the two-tier EQC system, have responded to the issues raised by the community in an interview with André Govett and Mel Müller.
The Quidditch Post Interview with Stefan Scheurer, Chula Bruggeling, and Michael Puntschuh about the new Two Tier EQC announcement by Quidditch Europe.
StS: Stefan Scheurer
MP: Michael Puntschuh
CB: Chula Bruggeling
Could it become a recurring problem that high-ranked teams in D1 secure extra spots for teams from their own NGB in D1, though those teams would be easily beaten by teams playing in D2?
StS: We are rewarding NGBs for their clubs’ performances with more spots. So if a club is ranked high, they earn another spot for their NGB. One way to see it, of course, is that weaker clubs can get retained in D1 solely by the good performance of another club of their shared NGB, yes.
The fact that a French team, for example, who ranked “only” 25th-28th get to keep a spot in D1 is a consequence of another French team consistently dominating the European club scene for more than three years now.
Again, next year we will have five spots being promoted up from D2 who will push out teams who perform weaker in D1. […] This year we did not have a D2 yet, which is why these teams could hold those spots. Next year will be very different.
CB: For example, small but competitive NGBs like Belgium or Norway are currently more represented than their size indicates. They would never be able to get a new team to D1 through D2, because they won’t have anyone in D2.
Would it not have been better to announce the spot allocations for D1 and D2 at the same time, instead of so separately?
CB: With the way the system is set up, this is going to continue to be an issue. D1 allocation is based on EQC performance, which will simply be known earlier than the NGB size information that D2 is based on, which doesn’t come out until the middle of summer. We continue to feel it’s best to release the information as soon as we have it (and as soon as people themselves will be able to calculate it), instead of making a somewhat arbitrary decision to keep hold of that information for months until we know the D2 allocation.
Does the new format endanger the success of the two events, as there might be a lack of volunteers for two events of such a format? What if volunteers rush to D1, as it appears to be the more “interesting” tournament, neglecting D2 completely?
MP: There is a short and a long answer. The short answer is: volunteers are definitely an issue we are also concerned about. We recognize that organizing two events of this magnitude each year is a challenge. There are several possible solutions to this challenge being discussed and we have not yet decided on which exact measures we will pursue. Overall, however, we strongly believe that the European quidditch community can master the organization of two EQC tournaments.
The long answer would consist of several points. Firstly, we believe that indeed Europe is ready for a two-tier EQC system. The volunteer base has been increasing steadily over the past few years and this year’s volunteer numbers show that. Both for the long-term volunteer positions who organize the tournament and for the short-term volunteers who help out at the weekend itself, there is enough qualified and motivated personnel available. We also believe that this reform can motivate more people to volunteer. While someone might be a bit intimidated by the task of getting EQC D1 organized, they will be more willing to rise up to the task and help with the organization of the smaller D2. Finally, we hope that by geographically splitting D1 and D2, they will tap into distinct pools of volunteers.
Secondly, your question contains a lot of “if”s. What if D1 is the more interesting tournament? We believe that both tournaments are, while different in some aspects, still interesting. What if people decide to volunteer only for D1? By having D1 and D2 take place at least a month apart from each other, very motivated people will actually be able to volunteer at both tournaments. What if the most experienced people will only volunteer for D1? We don’t believe that that will necessarily happen, as people don’t just volunteer to referee the most competitive games — they volunteer because they like to do that and want to help the sport grow.
We actually believe that splitting into D1 and D2 will create new opportunities for volunteers to grow. Take the Swiss volunteers for EQC as an example. The first Swiss Head Referee wasn’t able to referee at a single game, not even as Assistant Referee (AR) or Snitch Referee (SR), simply because there were so many other non-playing volunteers. That meant he couldn’t gain any international experience. In a two-tier-system, he can now either volunteer as a non-player at D1 (and be more likely to referee) or he will referee as a player at D2.
Will the separation of experienced teams and “newcomers” not hinder the development of the sport?
MP: Splitting EQC into two divisions will, in our opinion, create more opportunities for the development of quidditch. Firstly, more teams are competing, which also means more teams from medium-sized NGBs. The Netherlands or Poland will possibly be able to send a second team and thus have more people gain international experience. Secondly, the EQC reform enables us to keep the guarantee of a spot at EQC for each NGB in Europe. This is immensely important, as many new NGBs gain their first international experiences at EQC. Thirdly, again, we believe the need for more volunteers will be a motor for development. Many qualified referees from smaller or newer NGBs might not yet have been able to volunteer at an international tournament. For them, EQC D2 will be an opportunity to gain new experiences in a competitive environment.
Could it be detrimental to the values of quidditch to push for more athletic and competitive tournaments, as quidditch is generally seen by the community as a sport without nasty rivalries and with welcoming and friendly participants?
MP: You might be putting a bit too much power into the hands of Quidditch Europe when you think that we could change the values of the sport or the spirit of the community. Our community is too strong for one tournament to change them.
While quidditch will develop and change, as it already has in the past, we as Quidditch Europe are committed to the values that make it so unique — like inclusiveness, fairness, gender equality, respect, and good sportsmanship, among others. That is why our reform specifically does not only aim for competitiveness. Competitive play is one of two major aspects; development of the sport is the other one. While D1 is clearly aiming for more competitive play, D2 has a completely different focus. Therefore, you cannot say that we are pushing for a more “competitive” EQC. We are changing the way EQC works in order for both principles to be able to be realized.
Don’t you think the D1 and D2 split will directly affect the learning curve of players, missing opportunities to play against high-ranked teams?
CB: You often learn by competing against someone better than you, that is true. But it also depends how much someone is better than you. If something isn’t working, I can try something new, and hopefully that will work better and I learn through that. But if the opposition is much stronger, they’ll simply counter the new strategy just as easily as they were countering the previous one, meaning you haven’t gained much.
There’s a reason pretty much all sports are played in various categories/levels/leagues — because that keeps it interesting for everyone involved.
If we say the lower teams should have the right to player higher teams because of development purposes, what does that mean for the higher teams who we are now forced to play against lower teams instead of their own level or higher? Should the rights of lower teams to improve by meeting equal or higher teams outweigh the rights of higher teams to improve by meeting equal or higher teams? That doesn’t seem right either.
Would you ask the people to give the system a bit of time and see how it goes before jumping on its back and criticizing something that could end up working in their favour?
CB: In the end, we don’t want to tell anyone they can’t have their opinions, or that them feeling disadvantaged because of the change is any less valid than someone else’s feelings of being disadvantaged because of the previous system. But we, as Quidditch Europe, including the representatives of European NGBs, continue to stand behind the new system for the near future. We’ll continue to monitor spot distribution and community feedback, and if anything seems to continue being an issue in 2020 and beyond, tweaks to the system and its algorithms will continue to be made.
Spoken from a mathematical standpoint, the new algorithms seem to ensure that more developed teams will be able to play on a more competitive level, as they will meet equally well-performing teams. Also, teams from emerging and developing NGBs will be able to play in matches that will be closer to their level, instead of being dominated by teams like Antwerp A or METU Unicorns on their very first day of international quidditch play. On the other hand, the development of smaller and less developed NGBs might be hindered through the separation of the EQC into two separate events, happening in two different places, not allowing lesser teams to learn from the best of Europe.
Another drawback is the difficulty of recruiting volunteers, as the financial resources of most individuals in the quidditch community are limited and might not allow them to participate at yet another international event, keeping in mind that the World Cup and the European Games, which happen biannually, will need a high amount of volunteers as well. It comes down to the question of if the European quidditch community is developed enough to gain from the new system or if we will see some years of mediocre events with little changes to the ranking.
We have surely seen that well-run tournaments can happen, but the fact of the relative youth of the sport must not be neglected. Wanting too much at this point could severely hurt the community, seeing a detachment of more competitive teams from the lesser, as newer NGBs mingle amongst each other. The uncertainty within QE regarding how to approach the problem of recruiting volunteers furthers the uneasy feeling that European quidditch might just not be at the point of mastering this task. And from the perspective of a small NGB, it is questionable if the opportunities for learning from our more athletic and sportive siblings will happen or if D2 will be left to its own devices.
The announcement that D1 will most likely take place in Western Europe, while D2 will happen in Eastern Europe, leaves a bitter taste as well. QE argues for a more affordable tournament with shorter routes, even though D2 will still mostly consist of Western European countries. It can only be asked if QE will set their financial focus on D1, searching for sponsors and committing money to the cause, or if the organization’s support will be there for D2 as well. Maybe it is time to use this herculean task to rethink the financial burdens to players and volunteers and look for more options to support participants and teams from low-income countries. Rather than trying to move tournaments to “cheaper” places, the solidarity already shown in the community should be extended to the financial realm, with teams and NGBs paying their share according to their possibilities and their countries average incomes.
Simply placing two tournaments at opposite sides of Europe due to possible financial benefits will stretch the bonds established between teams to the brink of rupture, taking into account that said players from lower income countries will not have the same possibilities to participate in international fantasy tournaments or workshops. Wanting to “tap into new volunteer pools” through the geographical distribution of the tournaments appears to be a good idea in theory, but will result in different levels of knowledge with referees and volunteers as well. Always hosting D2 in Eastern European countries does severely decrease the number of Eastern referees and volunteers gaining experience at more competitive tournaments, hampering the development of the whole region.
Surely, wanting the best of the best to compete against each other and ensuring an interesting weekend of high–quality quidditch is a noble goal, but focusing the efforts on Western Europe through placing the tournament there seems to neglect the potential of Eastern European teams. Optimistically, the venue will be chosen according to the actual participants, but the current plans do not ensure this.
It can be hoped that QE will take the implementation of their plans as seriously as they have shown to do with this process. Still skeptical, I strongly hope for the quidditch community to rise to the opportunity and to use these changes to quicken the steps by which our sport is developing, rather than finding itself in the wreckage of a goal too far to reach.