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World Cup VII and the vicious snitch cycle

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Vicious snitch cycle

Vicious snitch cycle

This weekend past was World Cup VII, and I’m glad to say that McGill Quidditch did us proud. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go myself this year. I’m still nursing a hand injury from the 2013 Canada Cup, so I had to settle for following the games on Twitter.

Of course, quidditch just wouldn’t be quidditch if there weren’t some ongoing controversy about the rules of the sport itself. The sport is only a few years old, after all, and part of the fun is playing a game that hasn’t fully “settled” yet. This time, the debate centres on the issue of whether off-field snitching / seeking should exist.

I have included a tl;dr at the end of this post. Scroll down if you don’t want to read most of this.

The off-field snitch catch

The way that snitching / seeking is currently set up, it is possible (although not very likely if you have a good snitch) for the game to end with an off-field snitch catch. This is an anticlimax, and no one likes it when it does happen, but it’s part of the game, or at least it has always been part of the game so far.

The reason that quidditch exists in the first place

Before we get too far into debating the merits and demerits of the existence of off-field snitching / seeking, I think it’s worth establishing why it is that quidditch exists qua quidditch.

The whole reason for quidditch to exist is because some of us want to play a game that is similar enough to the fantasy sport from Harry Potter that it can be given the same name.

Whenever there is a proposed change to the rules of quidditch, one of the things you have to ask yourself is whether or not the game would even still be quidditch if the change took place. For example, there are, and always have been, certain players of quidditch who have argued that the more fanciful elements of the sport should be eliminated, to make for gameplay that is more like other sports. It’s not unheard-of for some to call for the brooms to be eliminated, for example. The answer to those people is that if they want a game where they throw a ball through a hoop without being on a broom, they should play basketball. Or if they want to play a full-contact sport moving a ball from one side of the field to the other without a broom, they should play rugby.

They argue that good players are leaving quidditch to play other sports because the whimsical elements of the sport are turning them off. It is not a bad thing that those players are leaving. To be blunt, if you don’t want to play quidditch—with some of the quirky and absurd elements inherited from its Harry Potter origins—go play something else. There are lots of options.

(If you disagree with me about this part, please don’t get stuck here. This is not the main part of my argument. I have included it only to try to put the evolution of the sport in perspective a bit. I am NOT making a “we must stay true to the books”-style argument here.)

Snitching is one of the things that makes quidditch unique

Throwing balls into hoops, or scoring a goal in a similar manner can be found in all kinds of different sports. Throwing a ball at other players is not unique to quidditch either.

You know what is unique about quidditch? The combination of these two games, done on brooms, along with the seeker / snitch game (which is unique in itself, and iconic of the sport as a whole).

I defy you to name me another sport that has a component that could be described as “long-distance hide-and-go-seek wrestling.”

The combination of these elements makes the sport interesting to watch, but it’s the whimsical roll-of-the-dice that is the seeker / snitch game that sets it apart. The game is not supposed to be taken entirely seriously. The game is not supposed to be a method for sorting teams into order of ability with perfect reliability. The game is supposed to be competitive, but also ridiculous and fun.

I feel like the people who are calling for the elimination of off-pitch seeking have seriously lost sight of that, and risk destroying the sport’s entire raison d’être.

The vicious snitch cycle

I have attached an image to this post, which I called “The vicious snitch cycle.” Start at the bottom-right, and it goes around in a more-or-less clockwise manner. In this diagram, I describe what I see as the main problems facing snitching. The problem is multi-faceted and cyclical, but it comes down to two main things, which snitching needs for it to “work” within quidditch:

  1. Quidditch needs good snitches who can get back to the field and get caught in entertaining and non-controversial catches most of the time (without compromising their own or others’ safety)
  2. Quidditch needs the good humour and sportsmanship of the other players

The vicious snitch cycle as I have described it has been cycling ever since I started playing quidditch. I first noticed it happening with a bunch of unfortunate off-pitch catches at World Cup IV.

Up until that point, when off-pitch catches happened, the reaction of players was largely, “Yeah it sucks, but that’s how the game goes sometimes!” There was, for the most part, a feeling that snitching was a difficult task to take on, and just because of the nature of the game, the outcome was a bit of a roll of the dice, and that’s exactly what we wanted from snitching—a little bit of the whimsy and magic that we are playing quidditch for in the first place.

After World Cup IV, the sport took a vicious turn toward the de-valuing of snitching: Rather than trusting snitches to up their game, or admitting that the problem was more about the venue for World Cup IV than the snitches, they imposed the seeker floor—a rule that says that seekers must wait a certain number of minutes before even starting to look for the snitch.

Complaining about snitches was thus legitimised by the actions of the IQA. If a game didn’t go the way you liked, you could complain that the snitch was bad. It was a great way to save face, and I admit with shame that I’ve made such complaints myself. This happened in the background of an ongoing upward trend in the competitiveness of quidditch (not a bad thing), as well as a corresponding decline in the sportsmanship, perspective and good humour that was characteristic of the game up until that point (definitely a bad thing).

Unfortunately, sometimes snitches are actually legitimately bad. This might be the case partly because of the under-valuation of the snitch / seeker game. By World Cup V, I can tell you from personal experience that every tournament I went to was short-staffed as far as snitches go. This led to non-snitches being asked to snitch at the last minute, and snitches running out of steam partway through the day because they are pushed too far.

And you can guess what happens when people constantly de-value what snitches do, given that snitching is very difficult (to do properly)—they stop doing it, or they stop doing it well, or they just stop caring. And then, snitching gets worse, players complain, and the cycle starts all over again.

The temptation is to make snitching easier, but unless snitching is difficult, and unless it’s valued by the quidditch community for what it is, it’s just going to get worse. Making the job easier by eliminating off-field snitching will only drive away the snitches who are there because they want a challenge—i.e. the good ones. Not only that, but the diversity of styles of snitching will be adversely affected.

I have assembled a few suggestions on how to make snitching better.

How NOT to fix snitching in quidditch

  • Reduce the scope and difficulty of snitching to the point where it’s fool-proof. The more you do this, the less people will train for it, and the worse snitching will become. You think it’s bad now? Wait until there are no dedicated snitches, and a snitch catch is worth only 10 points. The lower the stakes, the less anyone will care.
  • Think of bad snitching as something that is primarily an injustice to you as a player, rather than something that you are contributing to through complaining and inaction. Complaining about bad snitches is the first step toward having even worse snitches. It doesn’t solve anything. If you have some constructive criticism, go talk to the snitch herself. If you think you can do it better, put some yellows on and prove it. But have the maturity and the perspective to see that sometimes games won’t end the way you want them to.

How to improve snitching in quidditch

  • Individual teams must train snitches along with every other position. They must train athletes who are dedicated snitches only—not “half-snitch, half-chaser,” just “snitch.” I’m not saying there’s no place for hybrid player-snitches, but these should be the exception, not the rule. No matter how you slice it, if you have an athlete training for snitching 100% compared to that same athlete training for snitching 50% of the time, he’ll probably be a better snitch if he’s working toward it 100% of the time, and we should be supporting and encouraging that.
  • Don’t badmouth a snitch, and especially don’t do it behind a snitch’s back. If you want to discuss a snitch’s performance, do it with the snitch, and make the criticism constructive only. This goes double for snitches themselves, and if you catch another player badmouthing a snitch, you give them an earful about how snitches work their butts off, and that it’s a volunteer position. Maybe we could have a player code of conduct or something and this could be in it?
  • Do not ever blame the snitch if you lose a game. Even if the snitch wasn’t 100% on her game at the time she was caught, you should have the maturity to accept that the snitching / seeking aspect of quidditch is in some ways more like a roll of the dice than a foot-race. There’s a stochasticity to it, and that’s a good thing. Within limits, we like the fact that the length of the game is randomised a little bit this way. It’s exciting that a first-time seeker might just get lucky and do something that even an experienced snitch doesn’t anticipate. That’s part of what makes quidditch quidditch.
  • Make the recruitment of snitches to tournaments a high priority. This may mean that tournaments might be cancelled where insufficient snitches are available. We have to be okay with that in the same way that getting a minimum number of refs is essential for a tournament—you can’t have awesome snitches if you treat them as a low priority. It doesn’t work that way. If teams are required to bring a certain number of snitches, there could also be a minimum number of required snitches per team who are snitches only (i.e. not also on an official roster).
  • Choose tournament venues with snitching in mind. Not every field is a good place for quidditch. If there are limited hiding spots, it’s going to be bad news for snitching. You should be able to think of 2-3 good hiding spots per game that you plan to host. There should be a minimum of 2 ways for a snitch to return to the pitch. You should be prepared to admit that your school just might not have the right kind of physical location necessary to host a tournament.
  • Raise the bar on snitching. I know for myself personally, I started snitching partly because I wanted the challenge of something difficult. Make it a challenge. Keep the off-pitch seeking. Only use the seeker floor if the snitch is inexperienced or in the case of a very unfavourable locale.

In the end, we have two choices. We can either trust the quidditch community to step up its game and have the maturity and good humour to have fun, not just in spite of the stochasticity of the snitch game but because of it, or we can pander to the poor sports who will surely cry “it’s not fair” no matter how fool-proof and uninteresting snitching will become under more restrictive rules.


TL;DR

There will always be poor sports who will cry “it wasn’t fair” when they lose, and it’s convenient for them to blame the snitch. The temptation is to make snitching “fool-proof” by decreasing its scope and difficulty. The better way to deal with this problem is to address poor sportsmanship head-on and make snitching a higher priority within the quidditch community (specific suggestions outlined above), because: 1) it’s awesome; 2) it’s unique; 3) it’s an iconic part of the game; 4) the poor sports will complain about snitches no matter how fool-proof and uninteresting snitching becomes.


[Edit 2014-04-09: Added parenthetic paragraph to end of the section entitled, "The reason that quidditch exists in the first place" for clarity, and added tl;dr at the end.]


8 Responses to “World Cup VII and the vicious snitch cycle”

  1. Anon says:

    “If you have some constructive criticism, go talk to the snitch herself. ”

    Thank you; using that pronoun means a lot to me and I really appreciate it.

  2. Anon:

    When I was in first-year philosophy at Western, Dr. Viger got up in front of the lecture hall at Middlesex College and told us all that in the department of philosophy at least, it was standard to use feminine pronouns when referring to a generic person, and the reason that he gave was that we had been using masculine pronouns for that purpose for the last who-knows-how-many centuries, so we were due for a change.

    And I thought: “Sounds about right,” and have been doing so ever since.

    Also, the best snitch in the world as far as I’m concerned, and the snitch who took me under her wing: Chelsea, the “Honey Badger.” I don’t have the vocabulary to describe how good she is.

  3. ralph says:

    For you to reply to that tells me that you dont believe in what you just wrote. If this.person had a problem.with.something like that then thats they problem not yours. What was the big deal in what you wrote. ? So do you believe in what you wrote or not. Thats the question . What you wrote about snitches could be written about people who write about quidditch. If we put down everyone who writes about quidditch then no one who write about the sport. Also boats and cars are refered by her and thats off the top of my head. Your teacher was lying and no one in your class caught that. I dont believe that either or that is scary no one could think for them selfs

  4. Golden Bowtie says:

    First off, in response to previous comments, I want to say Chelsea is one of my favorite snitches of all. In the rulebook, it refers to snitches as “She” and I just assumed that was because of Chelsea.

    Furthermore, I love the ways you suggest to improve snitching. Props. All good suggestions, in my book.

    That said, I hope you realize not all snitches agree that off-pitch seeking was a good thing. I understand that it’s been with the sport since it’s inception, but quite a few snitches felt the sport would better without it. When the Snitch Development Team took a vote on the matter, we were pretty evenly split- there are arguments on both sides as to whether it’s better for the snitch or not.

    Personally, I support the removal of off-pitch seeking, and I’ll tell you why.
    1. I don’t feel it actually changes the nature of the game that much. Snitches should be making it back to pitch, and this saves us that grueling sprint all the way back home. Snitching should be entirely on-pitch or entirely off-pitch. Making us do the transition while the seekers just wait for us to return isn’t good.
    2. The closer we get to standardization of times, with the potential for a half-time, the closer our sport gets to becoming a “Legitimate” sport in the public’s eye. I’m not saying we should give up all that is different about us- just that standardizing times will make sponsorship/attendance of matches and tournaments more attractive in the eyes of larger sports arenas- official, college hosted games, exhibition matches, etc.

    While I agree with most of your article, I just hope you can see the upsides to some of these changes- we snitches should fight for what we want, but also make the best of what we’ve got.

  5. @ralph

    I really don’t know what you’re trying to say. I’m sorry. I tried to read it a couple times, and I just don’t understand. You seem angry, so I’m sorry?

    @Golden Bowtie

    I’m glad we agree on the issue of whether or not Chelsea is awesome. If you had said otherwise, I would have had to challenge you to a duel or something.

    No, of course not everyone agrees with me! I would be surprised if everyone did. I think our fundamental disagreement comes down to the direction we want quidditch as a whole to go.

    As for me, I don’t care if quidditch is like other sports, or gains “legitimacy” or a half-time or anything like that. I want the sport itself to be fun and distinctive, and yes, the off pitch snitching stuff is a part of that.

    Frankly, I don’t like other sports, and I don’t like the culture of other sports. I came to quidditch *because* it is different, and saying that a change will make it like other sports is not an appealing prospect for me. The hyper-competitive poor sportsmanship that marks every other sport in the world has been held at bay by some of the arbitrary and equalising elements of quidditch, and one of those things is the snitch, and yes, the possibility of an upset by being caught off-pitch. (Not that it should be a very likely thing, but it could happen, and when it does, I think that we should all strive to have the maturity to still say it was a “good game.”)

    A lot of people want snitching to be predictable and fool-proof. The problem with that is that the more fool-proof you try to make it, the more fools will want to try it. Everyone said that introducing the seeker floor wasn’t going to be a slippery slope, and yet here we are.

    You may want quidditch to go in the direction of being like all the other sports out there, but honestly, if we’re compromising the awesomeness of the sport itself to accommodate a bunch of whiny jocks who can’t handle the fact that quidditch isn’t just like football or whatever, then this isn’t a community that I want to be a part of.

    I hope I haven’t lost a friend by writing so frankly! I think we have the same goals: We both love quidditch, we both want to have fun, and we’d both love it if it was easier to have tournaments etc., due to recognition of quidditch as a legit sport. I guess I just think that we can have all those things without becoming like other sports.

  6. Morty says:

    I think Ralph was saying we don’t need to refer to generic people with feminine pronouns because men have been referring to their boats and cars (aka expensive possessions and status symbols) with feminine pronouns so that makes it even.

  7. @Morty

    Okay, I can see that part.

  8. Humphe says:

    I am as confused as you Murph regarding @ralph. I read it 3 times and have come to the conclusion that their English skills failed them either due to inexperience using the language or strong emotion. A shame really, because it would be nice to address what they were saying. I hadn’t noticed your pronoun usage until your Masters program, but its nice to hear the story behind it.

    I found this post very interesting to read because I haven’t read any of the Harry Potter books and so it was fun to just create a game and a world in my head as you described it. I would love to know how closely my vision adheres to the original.

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