Thursday, August 25, 2016

The 9:00 P.M. Phone Call and More at the 2016 MLQ Championship

The 9:00 PM Phone Call
I was sitting in a booth with my uncle at Angelo's Pizza, looking out the window into a hot and humid world of strip malls. The 2016 MLQ Championship had finished just an hour or two before and the Boston Night Riders had triumphed over the Austin Outlaws to win their second consecutive title. It was a fantastic weekend of games and storylines, highlighted by the semifinals run of the hometown League City Legends and made possible by an exceptional group of people.

Up to that point, my contributions to the overall success of the weekend were relatively small. Sure, I got a blue polo and manned the merchandise and ticket booths. But, compared to my baseline normal for quidditch tournaments—running around frantically coordinating writers or typing out my own articles or directing the Keystone Cup—I had a pretty calm weekend for better or worse. I got to watch games with my uncle and sell snacks like I was a stadium vendor and live tweet the finals. Nevertheless, I generally like being very busy because it gives me some sense of purpose and I was trying to sort out my thoughts on the weekend on Sunday night.
Photo by Matt Dwyer
Then, as I finished my third slice of Angelo's specialty pizza, my phone started to buzz in my pocket. It was an unknown number from Boston, Massachusetts. My mind started to race. Before I left for to the restaurant, I sent out a press release to the Boston Globe, sharing that the Boston Night Riders won the MLQ Championship. It was one of maybe two hundred press releases I submitted to major news organizations over the course of the summer as the Media Outreach Coordinator for MLQ. Of course, 95 percent of the time, I never hear back from the media outlet and life goes on. I had been courting the Boston Globes, the Washington Posts and the New York Times of the world for most of the summer without success. But could it be?

It was loud in the restaurant but I heard it clear as day. I was speaking to a reporter from the Boston Globe. I rushed outside into the parking lot so I could hear. I answered a couple of questions about the rules of the game, the mission of the league and the history of quidditch in Boston. I promised to find more sources for the reporter to talk to. And that was that. I was terrified that I had accidentally slipped and given some embarrassing quote that would make the rest of the quidditch community collectively groan the next morning. For the rest of the night, I obsessively googled "Boston Globe quidditch" every twenty minutes, waiting for the article to pop up online.

Early Monday morning, I was at the William P. Hobby Airport, sitting down for a breakfast taco near my gate when my Google search produced what I was looking for. I read it through twice and I smiled like an idiot for the next few minutes. Mission accomplished. With a great event team, an undefeated champion and a lot of luck, Major League Quidditch made it into the Boston Globe.

The Radford Plate? The Homel Shield?
At the MLQ Championship, the battle for the Benepe Cup was a gripping contest involving the league's top teams. Boston, Austin, Indianapolis, League City and Los Angeles were all somewhat in the race for the league title at some point during the weekend. The games between these teams provided the most suspense of the weekend and played a direct role in determining the outcome of the tournament. The best-of-three finals series, especially, treated the crowd to an intense back-and-forth between superbly talented teams.

But what about the rest of the league? On the one hand, there was no shortage of fantastic games between the next tier of teams. San Francisco and Kansas City dueled in two close, compelling matches. New Orleans bested Washington and Salt Lake City and advanced late into Saturday, giving Indianapolis a real scare. Even Detroit held New York within striking distance for a while. Behind Boston and Austin, there was quite a lot of parity. For the most part, each team was a competitive and polished representative of its metropolitan area.
Photo by Matt Dwyer
Unfortunately, the rain delay left something to be desired. Because of the weather, no consolation games were played among the middle-of-the-road teams. And some players seemed happy about that. That was most troubling for me. Teams spent lots of money and time to get to League City and for whatever reason, some players didn't want to play almost assuredly well-matched consolation games? Maybe I just don't get it, but I wanted to propose a new structure for consolation matches borrowed from the World Rugby Sevens Series.

To start, Rugby Sevens is kind of like quidditch. Games are physical and short, broken down into two halves of seven minutes. Tournaments are contested over a two-day weekend and teams play multiple games each day. There is a preliminary round on Saturday and an elimination round on Sunday. There is also a gap between the best teams and the rest of the field in Rugby Sevens. The small island nation of Fiji is the two-time defending World Rugby Sevens Series champions. More recently, Fiji thrashed Great Britain by a score of 43-7 in the gold medal match at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Before Fiji, New Zealand dominated all competition, winning 12 out of the first 15 World Rugby Sevens Series.

That's why Rugby Sevens tournaments award more than one trophy. Meet the Cup, Plate, Bowl and Shield. The Cup is the first prize, presented to the champion of the tournament. After a preliminary round, the top four teams at a Rugby Sevens tournament compete for the Cup. The next four teams duke it out for the Plate. The four teams after that play for the Bowl. And the last four teams battle for the Shield. I created mock-up of this with seeding from Saturday at the MLQ Championship here.
Photo by Matt Dwyer
It's a smart and workable model for Major League Quidditch. It gives the next best quidditch cities more opportunities to play close games against teams with equal ability. If the Benepe Cup is seemingly out of reach, the Radford Plate or the Homel Shield gives coaches something to motivate their players with. Additional trophies provide more teams with something to shoot for and celebrate. More teams will be taking the silverware back to their hometown quidditch community, generating new energy and bringing more publicity around the sport.

Minor League Quidditch
Before players and volunteers boarded planes and descended on League City, Texas for the 2016 MLQ Championship, my longtime friend and former colleague in quidditch media Andy Marmer published Where MLQ Went Wrong in 2016 on the Quidditch Post. Marmer argued that the expansion of Major League Quidditch to the southern and western United States for the 2016 season was ultimately unsuccessful. Marmer wrote that the geographic stretch of the league had overextended players and volunteers and suggested that the league should have expanded to smaller northeastern and midwestern cities like Philadelphia, Raleigh, Richmond, Chicago, Minneapolis and St. Louis.

Make no mistake, there were bumps in the road along the 2016 season and every MLQ staffer would love to have more volunteers, but MLQ's southern and western expansion was exactly the right step forward. Any other move would have been disastrous for the league.
Photo by Matt Dwyer
Among the original eight teams, Boston has widened the gap, leaving only the Indianapolis Intensity anywhere near realistic striking distance. Without the addition of Austin, the spectators and players in League City would have missed out on a best-of-three finals series for the ages. In truth, most of Marmer's expansion cities are a clear cut below MLQ standards. On paper, sure, Chicago and Philadelphia are big cities, but they were passed over in the beginning for a reason. The quidditch scene in Chicago and Philadelphia is just much smaller than the typical MLQ city. I would say that very few of Marmer's expansion candidates could support a full 21-player roster. Maybe Minneapolis? Toronto? The rest of Marmer's expansion cities would probably produce a shell of a roster and give the league headaches all season. The number of out-of-snitch-range games would go up and the margin of victory in blowouts would soar into the hundreds.

Without any doubt in my mind, the additions of the South and West Divisions have raised the overall level of play in MLQ. Each expansion city brought enthusiasm, teamwork and talent to Hometown Heroes Park. And besides maybe the Phoenix Sol, every expansion city at the MLQ Championship clearly justified itself as a smart and worthy addition to the league. During the offseason, MLQ picked the eight next best cities for quidditch in North America and each of those cities by and large delivered. 57 percent of games at the MLQ Championship were within snitch range. There are very few other cities (maybe Miami, Minneapolis or Philadelphia) that could have stayed within snitch range of a middle-of-the-road MLQ expansion team like the Kansas City Stampede or even a lower-tier MLQ expansion team like the Phoenix Sol.
Photo by Matt Dwyer
In short, MLQ stayed true to its mission by expanding to Texas, California and more. Aiming to be the highest level of quidditch in North America, MLQ picked the best cities possible with the most experienced, talented and committed players. MLQ wants to be respected and consumed by the wider quidditch community and selecting the best cities available was the only way to further that goal.

Marmer's expansion cities are minor league quidditch cities in my opinion. And who knows? Maybe in three to five years, once MLQ has addressed some problems and grown comfortable with sixteen teams, a second division with Philadelphia, Richmond, Raleigh and the rest of them could be possible. Someday, I would love to compete as a player in a European soccer-style promotion and relegation system between two sixteen-team flights. But that's way off into the future. For now, let's celebrate the 2016 MLQ regular season and the 2016 MLQ Championship.

Jack McGovern is a Media Outreach Coordinator for Major League Quidditch. The views and opinions expressed on The QuidKid do not represent the views and opinions of Major League Quidditch. 

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