Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Interview with USQ Membership Director Eric Schnier

From the college community split survey to the new program for next season, US Quidditch's Membership Department has been busy! I wanted to talk to Membership Director Eric Schnier, who was hired to replace Katie Stack in January, about the last six months and his goals for the future.

How would you describe the membership department when you took over in January? How would you describe the department today?

I think the Membership Department was in good shape when I took over. Katie’s work for the league can’t be understated. While the overall projects the department is working on are still the same (refs, snitches, regional coordinators, rules, youth quidditch, etc), I’ve done a lot of work in redefining goals for the department so that new progress can be made, particularly for referees and snitches.

Last week, US Quidditch released a strategic plan update and a college/community split survey. Why now? Did the results from the 2015-2016 season influence the timing?

Believe it or not, they didn’t. The timing for the college/community split has been based on the focus group polling USQ did last summer and the strategic plan that resulted from them. I was hired in January and starting work on this split was one of my first projects, before any Spring regionals. Obviously, we weren’t working in a vacuum, unaware of what was happening this season, but the experiences of this past season only reinforced what we already knew.

Which questions on the college/community split survey are you watching most closely? Why? When will the results be published?

The most important ones are probably the questions about members’ ideal timelines for the split. I think we can hammer out as many of the details as we want and put together a fleshed-out proposal, but if we make the change a year early or late, the split won’t be as effective as it needs to be. Look for a summary of the results to be released in the coming weeks.

What will be the Membership Department's role as US Quidditch continues with the college/community split process? What issues or problems do you anticipate?

The role will essentially stay the same. Both divisions of the league will get the same services and attention from USQ. As a league, there’s no preference for collegiate or community teams, so both divisions will be using the same rulebook, which means they can use the same certification standards for refs and snitches. The regional coordinators will be working with all their teams in both divisions, like they already do. It will mean more work in keeping things organized between the two divisions, but I don’t anticipate any significant issues.

In the strategic plan update, US Quidditch passed over separating divisions for now. Does US Quidditch or the Membership Department have any responsibility to less competitive unofficial quidditch teams?

Yes and no. On one hand, USQ wants to grow quidditch as a sport and make it as big and as good as it can be, which means we want to be in contact with unofficial teams and we want to understand what we can do that would make them more interested in joining the league officially. On the other hand, we have to prioritize work on programs for the benefit of our current member teams. As much as I’d like to work with everybody who plays quidditch, officially or not, we need to make sure that our focus remains on current member teams.

For the first time, certified snitch runners were compensated at Quidditch Cup 9. What feedback did US Quidditch receive from snitches, refs and players? What's the future of snitch runner compensation?

The snitches loved it! Refs and players didn’t really provide significant feedback one way or the other, but all of the snitches, whether they were certified or not, were happy to have the opportunity to be compensated. This coming season, certified snitches will be compensated in all official games, which I think will lead to more people attempting certification. Using a certified snitch for every official game won’t be mandated this year, but whenever a certified snitch does an official game, compensation will be required. USQ events will also primarily use certified snitches. Snitch team is currently working on overhauling the snitch certification process so that being certified is more of an accomplishment than it has been in the past.

The number of official member teams has hovered around 170 for the past four years. Do you see this as a problem? Why has membership growth slowed? How can you get to 250 official member teams? 500 official member teams?

It hasn’t actually been around 170, it’s been a little lower than that. During the 2014-15 season, we had 161 official teams, versus 173 in 2015-16. While it’s not a huge growth year-to-year like we had between 2011-12 and 2012-13 (a 28-team growth), the league is still growing. As for how we can reach those milestones, our whole strategic plan was created for growth and stability. The league has significantly improved in quality of reffing, quality of events, etc. in the past few years. I think it’s important that, before we expand by 75 teams between seasons, we are capable of handling that many teams and new players.

Quidditch is more and more expensive for players today. Are there any changes to grants or sponsorships on the horizon? Can US Quidditch use grants to achieve specific goals with regions or demographics?

I think a lot of the increased cost of quidditch has come as the sport is becoming more “legitimate.” While a few years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to see teams wearing homemade t-shirt jerseys, using homemade brooms and hoops at tournaments, or playing without cleats or gloves, these have all been replaced by professionally made alternatives. This is a good thing, as the professional equipment is a higher quality, and creates an all around more legitimate feel to our events, but it has increased costs. Not to say that USQ costs haven’t also increased, but I think proportionately, USQ costs have been much more stagnant than what teams/players are willing to pay for uniforms, equipment, and travel to tournaments. As USQ costs have risen, however, so too has the sum for our team sponsorship grant.

What accomplishment are you most proud of during your tenure at US Quidditch?

So far, I think it’s just been managing the transition from Katie to me to be as smooth as it was. Aside from that, I’ve addressed several issues within our volunteer base to revitalize them and make sure everybody understands their roles, what is expected of them, and what to do when issues arise. The Membership Director oversees the most volunteers in the league, and I met with each one of them one-on-one within the first month of my tenure. I plan to do that again as the season kicks off. Most of the work I’ve done thus far is going to be being implemented in the coming weeks and months, so outside of the snitch compensation plan and the new rulebook, there’s fewer tangible things to point at.

What are your long term goals for the Membership Department? What will the Membership Department do on average day in three years?

The biggest goal is in continued growth, but also stabilization, of the league. Building self-sustaining referee and snitch programs, for one. Three years from now, I hope we aren’t working on releasing major changes each offseason, but rather can devote more time to things like community outreach and multiple levels of youth quidditch that will really push the envelope in legitimizing and solidifying quidditch as a sport for years to come.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

MLQ Week One Review

The second season of Major League Quidditch is underway! Despite the rescheduling of the series in League City, the opening weekend of Major League Quidditch proceeded in Kansas City and San Francisco, introducing the quidditch community to four of the league's newest franchises. The road teams finished 6-0, mostly affirming preseason season predictions. But the matches were not without drama, highlighted by the Kansas City Stampede's accidental snitch catch in the second game against the Austin Outlaws. On the West Coast, the San Francisco Argonauts outscored the Salt Lake City Hive in average quaffle points per game, but thanks to two game-winning snitch catches, walked away with three losses.

Entering the season, I was not sure whether Major League Quidditch would deliver competitive matches every weekend. The best teams in the league are experienced, athletic and cohesive units, capable of running away with games. With many expansion teams in new cities, I was watching carefully to see what teams like Kansas City and San Francisco produced on the field. I am a strong believer that a league is only as strong as its weakest link and any semblance of rising inequality between teams could become a problem for Major League Quidditch going forward. After the opening weekend, I am encouraged. Even Austin, a South division favorite and title-contender, faced a scare in their second game of the season. As the season marches on, I can only hope for more weekends with close calls for the favorites.
Ginger Snaps Photography
Kansas City Stampede vs. Austin Outlaws
Despite an undefeated record, Austin and its all-star cast of former World Cup champions and Team USA veterans have some adjustments to make. At times during the second game especially, Austin's half-court offense looked cautious and uninspiring. I would like to see a quicker pace from the South favorites with more fast breaks. Sure, Austin might commit a couple more turnovers, but more often than not, their experience, athleticism and chemistry will put ten points on the scoreboard.

Speeding the game up and getting into the open field is only part of the answer. A perfect fast break provides an adrenaline rush beyond the satisfaction of a successful half-court possession. It's a way to assert dominance and demoralize opponents. All the greatest teams have done it. Sometimes, moments from fast breaks live forever in the memory of the quidditch community, as when Stephen Bell lobbed a half-court pass to an airborne Simon Arends for an alley-oop at World Cup 8. While Bell can rush up and down the field, Michael Duquette and the beaters bear most of the responsibility for the pace of gameplay. In the past, Duquette has thrived in chaos, freeing up space for his chasers and keepers to show off their talents. I think Austin could benefit from being less surgical and more free-flowing, having confidence that a chaotic environment will separate the contenders from the pretenders.
Ginger Snaps Photgraphy
Additionally, Austin has to integrate new faces into the lineup. Nothing energizes a group of quidditch veterans like a younger phenom. Last year, breakout stars like Teddy Costa and Lindsay Marella boosted their teams to the finals at MLQ Championship Weekend. I saw too many of the same old faces on the field at the same time for Austin. For example, Stephen Bell and Augustine Monroe should rarely, if ever, play on the same line. Like last year's Boston Night Riders, Austin ought to spread the veterans out and mix and match them with the younger players. At tryouts, the captains and coaches of Austin saw at least something from every single player on the roster today. If they experiment, the team's leaders will eventually find a place where the lesser known players can show their hidden talents. Please, give me some new names to write about!

On to Kansas City now, where there are some newer names to write about. At this point, Adam Heald should be a household name in the quidditch community. Heald, a tall, lanky keeper in the mold of former Team USA keeper Zach Luce, has clocked many minutes for the University of Kansas over the past few years. As a ballhandler, Heald is a patient, skilled passer and a slippery driver. However, for Kansas City, Heald's best moments happened around the hoops. When he jogs into the keeper zone, Heald becomes a weapon, giving his team a large target for alley-oops. Like Washington Admirals chaser Darren Creary, Heald enjoys a height advantage and good hands. In the blink of an eye, a Hail Mary pass can turn into ten points. If better all-around teams like Austin ease into a half-court game against Kansas City, Heald will be ready to make something out of nothing.
Ginger Snaps Photography
Otherwise, Kansas City also benefits from a speed advantage over similar middle-of-the-table teams. Whether it's Hai Nguyen or Hayden Applebee, Kansas City can catch better teams off guard with a quick cut and pass to the goal. In the first series of the season, Kansas City only showed glimpses of their offensive potential. Mostly, Austin's defense clogged up the middle and out-muscled Kansas City's chasers on the perimeter. But as they run more drills and develop more plays, Kansas City's offense will become more crisp and more dangerous.

San Francisco Argonauts vs. Salt Lake City Hive
I hate to disappoint but I do not feel comfortable analyzing the West's first series at this point. I will return to both San Francisco and Salt Lake City once I have more time and video.

Jack McGovern is the Media Outreach Coordinator for Major League Quidditch.