Antwerp QC, Much of Belgian Core, Leaves Competitive Quidditch

This morning, USQ announced a new college format for USQ Cup 13, becoming just the fourth format used for nationals in the modern era. Five-team pools into bracket play was used from World Cup V to World Cup VII as well as for USQ Cup 9 and 10; World Cup VIII featured two 32-team Swiss flights into bracket play; and USQ Cups 11 and 12 featured four 16-team Swiss flights into bracket play.

The new format will maintain the Saturday Swiss format, but will reduce the flights all the way down to eight-team pods. Those eight-team pods will play three rounds, with all 3-0 teams receiving bracket byes to the Round of 16, and all 2-1 teams receiving at least a spot in the Round of 24. The first of the three Swiss rounds will be seeded, so the top-ranked team in the pod will play the bottom-ranked team. The third Swiss round will be set up so that the two teams that won their first game and lost their second game will be guaranteed not to play each other and, instead, play one of the two teams that lost their first game and won their second. Sunday will then proceed with a consolation game for all teams that did not make brackets and then a 24-team, single-elimination bracket to decide the champion.

I know that paragraph packs in a lot of information and is not the easiest to decipher; but. as a tournament format nerd, I’m here to help. Here is what I think is the good, the bad and the ugly of the new tournament format.

The Good
I think it’s important to mention that although this article is broken down into three segments–two of them negative–the vast majority of this format is very good. Hats off to the USQ Gameplay Department for a job well done.

The number one complaint about Swiss format since its implementation was that it was far too demanding on the teams. The argument goes that Swiss is built for mental games like chess and Magic: The Gathering that tax your mind, not sports that tax your body with each competitive game you have to play. The most prominent example was the World Cup VIII Los Angeles Gambits, who entered nationals as the No. 5 team in the country, but had to face such a grueling slate of teams throughout their Swiss flight that they no longer had much in the tank come bracket time.

These eight-team pods should go a long way in correcting this problem. Top teams only have to play three Saturday games now, and one is likely to be a game in which they are heavily favored. Then, bracket play on Sunday is only four or five games, and that is only for the best of the best teams, making for a much more reasonable and safer slate for those teams making the run.

The USQ Gameplay Department also did a good job of cleaning up some potential issues the smaller pods could cause, most notably a team receiving an undeserved 1-2 due to bad luck. Let’s assume that the third round policy mentioned above did not exist. In a scenario where the higher seed always wins, the fourth-ranked team in the pod could go 1-2 beating the fifth-ranked team while losing to the first- and third-ranked teams in the pod, while the fifth-ranked team could go 2-1 losing to the fourth-ranked team and beating the sixth- and eighth-ranked teams. Basically, the worse team would have proven they were worse by losing, then would have still moved on because they got the better draw. But thanks to this third-round rule, in that same scenario, the fourth-ranked team would be guaranteed to get to play the sixth-ranked team in the third round, while the fifth-ranked team would be guaranteed to play the third-ranked team, guaranteeing the fairest pairings possible.

These smaller pods also have the advantage of bringing back some of that pre-tournament hype that is lost with larger Swiss flights. While we will never know the exact matchups we will get in a Swiss system. You have a much better chance of a match within a flight happening when there are eight total teams instead of 16 or 32. With these small pods, we as analysts can really break down each pod and preview matches that are more likely to happen than not. In that way, these pods have almost more of a pool feel than a flight feel.

Finally, while these may feel a little more like pools than flights, this is still a Swiss system, which means we should be getting fiery matchups right out of the gates. For example, if today’s standings were used, in the first round we could get a University of Kansas vs. Texas A&M or a Texas State University vs. Boston University match. The top two seeds in a pool could be facing off as early as the second round. These are the kind of matchups we need more of at nationals, and the reason we switched to the Swiss model in the first place. This new method will still offer them.

The Bad
Under this format, 24 of the 48 teams attending will only get three competitive matches. This is the fewest ever offered at nationals, and could be argued as a small payoff for the cost of attending. And while in the past teams that were 0-3 in pool play or Swiss play technically had nothing to play for in their fourth match, the situation is still different. For the past two years, just eight of the 64 teams were 0-3 entering Round 4, with everyone else either still alive or at least able to play spoiler for a team that was. In pool play, an 0-3 team is likely to still be facing off with a team that needs the win, making the game matter regardless.

And while these eliminated teams are being offered a consolation match Sunday morning, these types of matches have an ignominious history in our sport, and if they are even played I would imagine they will not be taken very seriously by many of the teams involved. With the prospect of drinking the night away Saturday after being eliminated mixed with the prospect of not wanting to go out and play one more time, I would not expect much good quidditch to come out of those games.

All that said, I do think it is valuable that they are holding these consolation games, and I hope some young teams take advantage of them to their fullest. I just don’t think it is as strong of a solution as giving these teams one more competitive game.

The Ugly
The biggest downside of making the pods smaller is that it increases the variance of talent within each pod, because the larger the population of each group, the more likely you are to get an even distribution. If you have two 32-team flights, odds are the good teams will get pretty evenly split between them. But if you have six eight-team flights, one or two are likely to get too much talent.

This wouldn’t be that big a deal if the pots from which the pods will be created from were fairly accurate. Unfortunately, the universal truth hanging over this nationals it that the USQ Standings can no longer hold up to what is asked of them by the quidditch season, and are putting out more and more inaccurate results due to a combination of the variables making up its formula being either improperly weighted or improperly conceptualized.

To make the point about just how poor of a job the USQ Standings are doing at this point in time, I’ll use a pair of club examples. Twin Cities QC entered this past weekend 5-12, the result of going to only the best club tournaments and generally being outclassed by the very top teams. Because of this, before attending and easily winning Hoot & Howdy Brawl, they were outside of the very generous club team at-large bubble.

Meanwhile, DCQC has played just five games against club teams all season, none of whom were ranked in our rankings, and have dropped two games to college teams as well as trailing in quaffle points to a third. Despite that, thanks to a “Strength of Schedule” that is rated second-highest in the country, DCQC is a pot one team headed to nationals. Any numerical system is going to have its issues, but the not-quite-full regular season split of club-college has driven this system to its breaking point.

So what does this mean for the college tournament? Well, it’s going to be messy. Honestly, overall, teams are generally ordered by talent level. But the massive exception is the Southwest. As it stands now, UTSA is in pot two, Texas State is in pot four, SHSU is in pot five and Texas A&M is in pot six. All four of these teams are currently ranked in our Top 10. Basically any pod that gets even one of them will be thrown off balance, and any pod that gets two will instantly be a pod of death, likely eliminating teams undeservedly early.

Still, the ultimate goal is to crown a champion, and nothing else matters. A team may be eliminated earlier than they should, but, to do so, they still have to lose two games, something no champion has ever done at nationals. The real concern may be a team taking on too difficult of a gauntlet and falling short simply because of that, but the reduced games should make that unlikely.

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