By Ryan Smythe
The West got absolutely bodied at MLQ Championships this year.
Following an impressive showing at USQ Nationals led by the Lost Boys (Final Four), the Gambits (Elite Eight), UCLA (Elite Eight), and Cal (Elite Eight), the only way to look at this season’s showing is as a disappointment.
Some of the issues came down to a lack of high-pressure experience – the Los Angeles Guardians rolled into Wisconsin with one of, if not the youngest roster of the weekend. This has the chance to pay off down the line, but speculating about what could be doesn’t change the fact that this talented squad came in as presumptive favorites to make the semifinals over a depleted New York Titans roster and got stomped by the more experienced and far more physically imposing NY team.
Even more of the issues came down to that limited roster, one missing some of its biggest names like West MVP Elizabeth Ng, Elizabeth Allendorf, Grant Rose, Andrew Burger, Ryan Harris, etc. This issue affected a number of teams outside of the West – most notably the Titans – but no region was hit harder than the West, to the point where the second place Salt Lake City Hive couldn’t even field a full roster after flights got canceled.
San Francisco Argonauts Manager Elizabeth Barcelos looks on as her team faces off against the Indianapolis Intensity. Photo credit: Vowels Photography.
The cost of travel for the region, colloquially referred to as the West Tax in the quidditch world, has been gutting rosters for nearly a decade at this point. For years, the cost of flying across the entire country to attend USQ Nationals was something many players could not justify or afford. While some of that has been mitigated with the recent USQ and MLQ championship locations in Texas and Wisconsin, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s just more expensive to fly out of the west than it is to fly out of almost any other area of the country.
Compare the most expensive last-minute trip to the cheapest – that’s the cost of a one-way flight from San Francisco to Madison. The cost of gas in the Midwest is about $2.20-$2.80 per gallon.
MLQ’s schedule adds another scholastic wrinkle on top of the baseline cost by holding Championships right by the start of the new school year – somewhat fittingly the opposite issue USQ faces by holding Nationals right at the end of the school year. At least one player explicitly stated that they needed to make the decision of whether to pay for a flight to Wisconsin or be able to afford their tuition payment. Unsurprisingly, they chose school over sport.
MLQ, and quidditch as a whole, is such a young sport in the grand scheme of things. We don’t yet have a sprawling fan base clamoring to buy merch or tickets to matches. We barely (finally) have some semblance of video coverage thanks to the tireless efforts of the MLQ Video Squad led by Harry Clarke and Jenna Bollweg. The league-wide effort to produce some sort of video content is a massive hurdle we’re currently in the process of clearing, and will likely have a massive impact on the marketability of this sport.
Finding a way to monetize quidditch is the only way to truly overcome the West Tax. Figuring out how to compensate the players and staff in order to make the cost of flights worth it is the only way to guarantee a good, full roster will be able to attend the league’s marquee events. We’re some ways away from making that dream a reality, but we’re making progress. The growing number of commentators and increased accessibility to proper video equipment is a huge step forward, and MLQ’s continued partnership with media outlets could pay off in some very real ways. Thousands of people across the globe continue to play this sport, many of whom do so in the face of personal and professional adversity, so it’s not hard to believe that there are a few more people out there who would enjoy watching people play quidditch from the comfort of their couch.
The West’s rough showing at Championships isn’t fun for anyone unless you feel some sort of perverse pleasure in watching people fail. Quidditch is too young and too poor of a sport to root against its success. We all play a dumb, wonderful, and exciting sport run by some of the hardest working and most underappreciated people who don’t deserve one percent of the bullshit they deal with day in and day out.
Despite the West’s limited showing, the 2018 MLQ Championships were an overall success. A bit of mud here, a few swarms of bugs there, one or two almost bar brawls around the corner, but no weekend of quidditch would be complete without a bit of drama, both on the pitch and off. The Austin Outlaws and Boston Night Riders held up their side of the bargain by providing yet another excellent matchup, setting up one hell of a rematch next year to see who will break the current two-title tie. The event staff added in some extra flair by adding in some exciting starting lineup announcements and team walkup songs. Even the West, in its own unique way, added in some excitement and drama until the very end.
Congratulations to the Austin Outlaws. I owe you all a beer – hopefully at Wisconsin prices and not LA prices though.