Making Quidditch Matter: How We Can Develop a Fairer System and Meaningful Competition for All

By Abby Whiteley

As the domestic 2018-19 season winds down, it is time to start our annual discussion about our hopes and dreams for next season. Something which has been bothering me with quidditch in the UK over the past couple of years has been a niggling sense of “it just doesn’t feel like most teams have something to really aim for”. Although there has been growth at every level of the sport, I still have a sense that we are under-serving some teams with regards to the opportunities we give them,  and I have gone to great lengths attempting to substantiate that instinct.

I feel that, without clear chances for success and meaningful play against appropriate competition, quidditch players’ motivation to remain in the sport dwindles. It is my opinion that this is a considerable contributing factor to loss of players and, if we address it, we could significantly improve retention rates, especially among non-elite cohorts. Fair warning: this article is around 4,500 words long.

This article, particularly the earlier sections, will focus on the UK because this is my area of expertise. That said, the importance of equitable opportunities for competition throughout the sport is relevant to everyone, and comparisons will be made with other NGBs where relevant to show why we should all care about this issue.

The importance of motivation

It is obvious that an endeavour such as quidditch, with no monetary compensation, professional prospects, or social pressure to engage with it (quite the opposite, generally), cannot thrive without the motivation of those who participate. If players are not motivated to play, then the whole thing falls apart. It also falls apart with loss of volunteer motivation, but that is a very different – although worthwhile – topic. Motivation is a very complex subject and cannot fully be addressed here, but I think the importance of emotional engagement with a voluntary activity is reasonably self-evident. See Ryan and Deci (2000) for an accessible overview. Brière et al, 1995 (in French) provides sport-specific discussion, and Pelletier et al (1995) gives a summary of the former in English.

So, what are the primary ways people become motivated to engage with something?

To approach the issue of motivation in the simplest possible terms, people become motivated to do things through a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (Deci, 1975). Intrinsic motivation includes the internal desires we have to understand, to master skills, and to be stimulated mentally or physically. Extrinsic motivation is the encouragement received from the environment, such as external regulation, which is the availability of reward (Deci, 1975). It should be noted that this is a continuum; if someone wants to become better at something both because they have innate desire to improve at it and because it will make their captain praise them, this is neither fully intrinsically nor extrinsically motivated (Pelletier et al, 1995). Sustained motivation must be achieved through a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic factors.

I would speculate that quidditch players are likely to have very high levels of intrinsic motivation for the sport. Overcoming embarrassment, accepting lower quality of facilities, and resisting the lure of more socially sanctioned sports all mean that you must have pretty high intrinsic motivation to be on pitch at all. However, UK quidditch is currently quite poor in terms of extrinsic motivation, especially for mid-tier teams. Extrinsic motivation is available in terms of coaches’ and teammates’ praise, opportunities for personal development such as Team UK scouting, and opportunities for medals and accolades. However, the infrastructure of the sport does not – in my opinion – provide sufficient opportunities for external regulation (availability of rewards), particularly for mid-tier teams, and players’ motivation to continue playing is suffering as a result.

What is the current motivational environment in UK quidditch?

To be clear: in terms of encouraging motivation across a large group of people (ideally, the entire sport), it is not enough that individual players, or coaches, or even whole teams, find meaning in their performance. Intrinsic motivation, although important, is not enough. For people to remain engaged and motivated, generally speaking, there must be an environment which provides opportunities appropriate to people’s skill level and rewards that skill when it flourishes.

So, how does British quidditch do in cultivating that environment? Well… not fantastically.

In terms of the opportunities for success which are formally rewarded with titles, medals, or access to events other teams cannot attend, we have the following:

  1. Regionals upper bracket medals
  2. Regional play-offs for the British Quidditch Cup (BQC)
  3. European Qualifying Tournament (EQT) qualification
  4. European Quidditch Cup (EQC) spots
  5. BQC upper bracket medals
  6. BQC lower bracket first place
  7. Development Cup medals

Some quick definitions for international readers: the British Quidditch Cup is nationals; EQT is the UK tournament for top-ranked teams at regionals to determine European qualifications; EQC is the continental championship for Europe; and Development Cup is a smaller UK tournament for teams which did not qualify to nationals.

Table 1 shows the teams which accessed these opportunities. The names of teams which accessed multiple opportunities are in bold. Teams which accessed an opportunity but did not gain the accolade (such as fourth-place finishers at regionals) are written in italics.

Table 1: Teams which successfully accessed opportunities for formal recognition of success in UK quidditch during the 2018-19 season. Adapted from data publicly available from the QuidditchUK website.

Regionals UB medals
(6 opportunities)
Werewolves of London, London Quidditch Club, London Unspeakables, Velociraptors Quidditch Club, Holyrood Hippogriffs I, Megalodons, Southampton Quidditch Club, Glasgow Grim Reapers
Northern LB first place
(1 opportunity)
Loughborough Longshots, Chester Centurions
Southern BQC play-offs
(2 opportunities)
Bristol Bears, Swansea Swans, Norwich Nifflers, Southampton Quidditch Club 2
EQT qualification
(12 opportunities)
Werewolves of London, London Quidditch Club, London Unspeakables, Velociraptors Quidditch Club, Holyrood Hippogriffs I, Megalodons, Oxford Mammoths, Bathilisks, Southampton Quidditch Club, Liverpuddly Cannons, Werewolves of London Seconds, Glasgow Quidditch Club
EQC spots
(8 opportunities)
Werewolves of London, London Quidditch Club, London Unspeakables, Velociraptors Quidditch Club, Oxford Mammoths, Southampton Quidditch Club, Liverpuddly Cannons, Glasgow Quidditch Club
BQC UB medals
(3 opportunities)
Werewolves of London, London Quidditch Club, Velociraptors Quidditch Club, Southampton Quidditch Club
BQC LB first place
(1 opportunity)
Warwick Quidditch Club, Leicester Thestrals
Dev Cup medals
(3 opportunities)
Winchester Wampus, London Unstoppables, Chester Centurions, Loughborough Longshots


In total, 23 teams accessed opportunities for formal recognition of success, either through medal allocation or qualification to a future tournament. 12 of these teams accessed multiple opportunities. EQC placing is not considered here as I am discussing the environment cultivated within QuidditchUK specifically. However, other NGBs are likely to encounter similar issues; Switzerland, for example, struggles to create equitable playing opportunities for all its teams. The issue of meaningful play of an appropriate level is important across the sport.

At first glance, the British situation looks reasonably healthy. Around half of the country’s teams accessed an opportunity for formal recognition, and there is a range of abilities represented (although repeat opportunities are concentrated in higher-ranked teams). Now, a sport should not cater to ensuring that every single team has access to medals or qualification tournament spots, and it would be surprising to see all 40+ teams getting such accolades. Similarly, one could argue that every team in a tournament theoretically has a chance at reaching a formal recognition opportunity, and their failure to do so should not be construed as a failure of the system. This is a good point, especially as a system designed to find winners is also going to create losers. However, the crucial thing to remember here is that these are only individual opportunities. In the entire season, across over 40 teams, there were 36 opportunities for formal recognition, of which 28 went to teams who obtained multiple accolades. 12 of those opportunities went to Werewolves of London, London Quidditch Club and Velociraptors Quidditch Club, meaning a third of the sport’s accolades in the UK were attributed to just three teams. Just eight opportunities ultimately went to teams who did not get multiple accolades, of which five were for BQC qualification (Southern play-offs and Dev Cup medals). One of these opportunities, the Northern cup lower bracket title, did not even obtain a BQC spot. It should be noted that Loughborough are represented multiple times because they came close to obtaining a Dev Cup medal, but they did not do so and are therefore not considered a multiple recipient for the purposes of this observation.

BQC 2019 Champions London Quidditch Club | Photo Credit: Mark Hill

In short, if you aren’t qualifying for EQT, your chances within the QUK system to obtain formal recognition, and the concomitant extrinsic motivation, are very slim indeed. These opportunities are also mostly concentrated in gaining access to a single tournament. This means that the roughly 75% of teams who do not qualify for EQT are spending the season training for two tournaments (regionals and Dev Cup/BQC), where their chances of formal recognition of success are extremely limited. There is a clear imbalance in where opportunities for extrinsic motivation lie. As we all know, retention at the elite level is much better than elsewhere, and I do not believe this is an unrelated phenomenon.

Although it isn’t realistic to be contriving situations which give medal opportunities to every team, not least because the value of medals would diminish as a result, it is clear that most teams are not consistently receiving the kind of high-quality gameplay contexts which cultivate motivation and improvement. Close gameplay is still valuable to teams even if it is not in the pursuit of formal reward, but extrinsic motivation does fundamentally matter. Especially when all of our determination of a team’s quality happens on a national scale, teams which cannot realistically expect to have a national impact have very little to aim for. Some coaches and captains do an excellent job of finding meaning and goal-setting in tournaments which are not fundamentally geared up for them, and I have huge respect for this. Sadly, however,  the fact remains that this must happen despite a context which is fundamentally set up to reward only those at the top. If you’re one of the teams for whom the culmination of the season and the entire valuation of your quality for a year’s work ends up with a quarterfinal loss in a lower bracket game no one watched, it’s hard not to end the season feeling a bit flat.

Not every team needs to be in a medal-contention game for the season to mean something, but every team should get access to appropriate playing opportunities with real goals to aim for. I believe that all teams deserve access to more contexts where they have a chance of success within the framework of the competition, and not only within team-internal evaluation. More importantly, it is the provision of these opportunities which will improve player retention across all skill levels and, ultimately, the longevity of the sport.

How can we make this happen?

We should strive to create an environment which encourages competition and growth at every single level, and where people at every level of the sport value the accolades they can access. People in much larger sports, where the talent above them stretches up through regional and national and international levels all the way up to the Olympics, find genuine meaning and euphoria in winning with their local or even sub-local teams. For example, the entire system of college rowing at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge is heavily dependent on funding by alumni.[1] These alumni form lifelong bonds with their former crews and boat clubs, where the greatest honour available is winning four consecutive races against other boats at the same university. Crews who win these races earn the same honour (“blades”, where the crew’s names are painted on a college oar, which is then hung up in the bar or gym) whether they are in Division 4 or Division 1, because the system understands that success is relative to your context. Of course people understand that there is a difference between blades getting you to win Division 1 and blades moving you from the bottom to the middle of Division 4, but that goal – and the pride in attaining it – is equally available to all who participate. This achievement is meaningful.

These colleges’ boat clubs develop lifelong connections with their alumni, building a whole community around trying to win four races against other students. Most college rowers will never have even the slightest speck of a prayer of making it near the Boat Race, the most high-profile university rowing event, but they still keep funding their boat clubs 30 years after they’ve graduated. This is because motivation, investment in a sport and team loyalty are forged in the flames of meaningful goal setting. The key difference between an ecstatic college rowing crew who have moved up four places in Division 4, getting all the way up to the giddying heights of 53rd-best boat in the University of Cambridge,[2] (CUCBC, 2019) and a disappointed quidditch team who are 20th in the entire country, is the goal-setting endorsed by the context. In relative terms, the quidditch team are better than the rowing team (although, to be fair, the rowers are likely to be fitter in absolute terms). But the rowing team is in a context where the infrastructure, not only the team or coaches, genuinely celebrates this success. The future of quidditch must lie in striving towards a system with more opportunities for celebration.

A distinction needs to be made here: theoretically, every boat has the chance to get blades, but obviously not everyone gets it because some need to lose for others to win. Similarly, medals and tournament qualifications are in theory available to every team, but again these are not obtained by all. It may seem misleading to imply that blades are somehow “more” available to boats than medals are to teams, when in either case the team has to earn it first. The key difference is that college boats are put in a context appropriate to their level, where success at every level is rewarded with comparable enthusiasm, while we put almost all quidditch teams in one tournament where this is not the case. To some extent, this is the difference in the sports; quidditch is built on a three-medal tournament model, while rowing is more fluid in its competitive structure. However, what this comparison demonstrates is the possibility of contextualised competition throughout the sport, and the benefits that it provides. Quidditch needs a more equitable playing environment.

What does a more equitable playing environment look like?

It means that every team can enter some – not all! – fixtures in a season and be equipped with reasonable chances of objective success as determined by the parameters of that fixture. It means that every team should attend at least one impactful fixture with high stakes where they could go away with a positive win-loss record, or have a genuine chance of making the latter stages of the tournament, and where this can happen thanks to an appropriate level of competition. Not “this could maybe happen if all of our chances and player performances peak at the perfect moment and the other team has a key injury and we have a favourable head ref and also there’s a lunar eclipse”. A real, genuine chance of these things happening, outside of friendly fixtures. Please also note that, although my discussion earlier centred on recognition of success through formal accolades, I am now counting win-loss records as a component. This has been introduced at this stage because obviously not every team can obtain medals or tournament advancements, nor should they, but a natural result of a more equitable playing environment is closer games, where win-loss records become a more meaningful representation of success. Although win-loss data across all teams for the season would be welcome, and would enrich this discussion, it was beyond the scope of this work. We have enough teams to provide everyone with this kind of competition opportunities, and it would make a world of difference – especially to those teams in the squeezed middle, for whom qualifying for BQC is not a huge cause for celebration but who cannot reasonably expect huge success at BQC either.

Ultimately, I am not proposing a paradigm shift. I’m not saying we should do away with tournaments and just have a season-long Swiss league (as interesting as that would be). I’m saying that the future organising principle of quidditch in the UK needs to be which approach gives us the most equitable environment? When thinking about change – and I think there does need to be change in the opportunities available – this is what should always be prioritised. Whether you are thinking about a community-university split, or a league system, or Divisions 1 and 2 for nationals, this should be your absolute priority. The need for this is borne out in psychological research, and in the evidence provided by data in our own sport. Bath, Liverpool and Glasgow provide the most compelling evidence for the success of this system. After thriving at Dev Cup, they went on to EQT, EQC Division 2, and EQC Division 1 respectively. This trajectory is not only evidence of great improvement internal to those clubs, for which they ought to be congratulated, but also incredibly compelling evidence of the desperate need for equitable play. Give teams a context where they can succeed, and they will be hungry for success. Give them a context where they will end tournaments disappointed or meekly accepting of their round-of-16 fates, and you will lose them.

Of course, this is more easily said than done.

How do we actually achieve this?

There are two criteria for success in creating a more equitable playing environment.

Criterion 1: Every team must have multiple chances to play against teams of their own level, as far as this can be determined by our data and resources, with the potential for external reward if they succeed.

Criterion 2: This must be achieved with the minimum additional expenditure of energy and resources.

Criterion 1 is the entire crux of the issue. It captures the fact that not all teams will necessarily have opponents directly matched to their level, and allows for the limitations in QUK’s intra- and inter-season data on appropriate match-ups. It also specifies that individual chances, such as the first round of the lower bracket, do not qualify. Criterion 2 is a practical concern, and is a sticking point.

Players Sam Lewis and Lucy Nicholls at Lightning Cup 2018 | Photo Credit: Lucy Nicholls

Smaller tournaments, such as Lightning Cup and Nightmarish, do fantastic work in filling teams’ needs for more equitable competition, but they are not always available and they are limited geographically. Ultimately, the aim would be to scale up the provision this kind of event offers. The South-West League, which ran from 2016-2018, is probably the best example of the kind of equitable playing opportunities discussed here. It collected local teams of roughly equivalent levels to play each other consistently across the season, and had a clear goal rewarding those who succeeded. However, it failed on Criterion 2. There are two organising groups in UK quidditch: QuidditchUK and clubs. The problem is that clubs have time and manpower, but few gameplay resources (referees, snitches and equipment) and little motivation, while QuidditchUK has high resources and motivation, but little time and manpower. The South-West League was largely dependent on clubs stepping up and organising their own fixtures, which they failed to do consistently. Therefore, new proposals cannot be dependent on asking clubs to provide resources, nor can they insist upon significantly greater effort from the already-stretched staff at QuidditchUK.

I would suggest one of the two solutions:

  1. Full play-offs at major tournaments.
  2. BQC Division 1 and Division 2.

EQC Division 1 did full play-offs for every single position in the tournament, and it was – in my opinion – an elegant way of addressing a non-equitable playing environment. If there had not been play-offs, the Oxford Mammoths (my team) would have lost two games in group play, won one – and then lost a SWIM game in the first round of the lower bracket, end of tournament. 20 people would have travelled a long way to play four games and end on a sour note – probably a familiar experience for many teams. However, we had play-offs, which meant we got another three games, against teams appropriate to our level, and we received chance after chance to redeem ourselves and get more experience. It probably doubled the value of our tournament, both in terms of game time and learning opportunities. I strongly believe in the value of this system. Realistically, however, this entailed significantly more volunteer and pitch resources on the day, and I would not want to dismiss the considerable strain of finding these resources. EQC Division 1 also happened in mid-May, with sunset at around 21:00 and finals ending at roughly 19:30, which is not necessarily feasible for UK tournaments in winter. That said, it provided most teams with legitimately close games throughout Day 2, totally removing the deflation of being knocked out on Day 2 and removing the issue of trekking all the way to the tournament to play four games. It is a solution which I believe should be considered, as long as teams can be strong-armed into providing enough volunteers.

BQC Division 1 and Division 2 is another alternative. This would be a 50-50 division of the teams according to previous performance, with opportunities for promotion and relegation. Although this would technically involve a new tournament, the resources currently directed at Dev Cup could be invested in Division 2 instead. Creating two medium-sized tournaments rather than one large tournament and one small one would not, I believe, put enormously more strain on QUK’s resources – although I am not experienced in tournament direction and my opinion here should be taken with a pinch of salt. The problem with this is that it fails to serve the teams at the bottom of the rankings. Strong mid-tier teams, perhaps those who have unlucky draws at regionals, would be likely to take the Division 2 title, which would remove the service that Dev Cup is currently providing for teams most in need of legitimate chances for growth. This could be offset with a lower bracket at Division 2, or full play-offs, but it is not perfect.

These solutions are not ideal. However, they take us considerably closer to a more equitable playing environment, and do so without requiring an entire overhaul of the current system.

What if we did have the resources to overhaul everything?

In an ideal world, where we had sufficient volunteers and galvanised the community to make lasting change, a couple of very exciting options would be available to us.

A league system is a particularly interesting option. Always having a short- or mid-term goal would keep teams hungry, keep motivation high, and provide opportunities for growth throughout the system. We know that leagues can work; Germany, with a few more teams than the UK in a considerably larger country, has an effective league system. There are six regional leagues which operate through one-day events of between three and eight teams, and the results of these fixtures count towards teams’ qualifications for the EQC qualifying tournament. Even though there is considerable skill and size disparity between the regions, it has an intelligent design which accommodates these disparities. Each league receives a number of spots to the EQC qualifying tournament; this number is weighted based on the previous season’s performance in the league and at nationals, in a system similar to the one used for allocating NGB spots to EQC. 15 teams qualify through the league, and five “wildcard” teams with middling league performances but strong showings at nationals are also admitted. This system accommodates skill imbalances between the regional leagues: for example, the Bayern league only has Three River Dragons Passau, Munich Wolpertinger and the Augsburg Owls. Passau and Munich performed strongly enough at the previous German nationals to earn the league three spots, meaning that Augsburg – despite being at the bottom of their league – also qualified to the league final. Augsburg went on to finish seventh in the league final, earning an EQC Division 2 spot and finishing fourth there. This shows how being a member of an exceptionally strong league does not need to disadvantage a team, if the system is designed cleverly.

This system is not perfect. Germany is currently struggling with the fact that higher-stakes play throughout the league is disadvantaging weaker teams. The larger leagues are considering splitting into upper and lower divisions, but this will not work for the smallest leagues. That said, the benefits that this league has offered to German quidditch are abundantly clear. Although Germany has yet to produce a super-team making deep runs into the EQC upper bracket, it has multiple teams capable of putting up competitive performances on the European stage. The four German teams at Division 2 came first, second, fourth and fifth; the Vienna Vanguards deserve credit for breaking the German monopoly on medals here. They also had an outstanding showing at Division 1, with all four teams making the upper bracket and Munich coming seventh. There are many other factors which may contribute to the success of German quidditch, but consistent fixtures against teams of an appropriate level can only help.

Vienna Vanguards at the Central European Quidditch League 2019 | Photo Credit: Barbara Alexanddra

The UK has reasonably high population density, and most teams are clustered near at least a couple of viable opponents. For a league to work in the UK, we would need more volunteers to run the events, which is the main reason it was not discussed above. Secondly, we would require a means of ensuring that the different regions were treated fairly. London, for example, would be the strongest league by far, and a standardised measure of (for example) the two top teams in each league making it to an EQC qualifier would inevitably exclude one of the most deserving teams in the country. Similarly, we would need to ensure that every league included some viable matchups, so no team ends up far outclassed by every other team in the league. This could be achieved by using reasonably broad regional classifications, such as the Quidditch Premier League’s regions, and then identifying Division 1 and Division 2 leagues. For example, a Division 1 North league could be formed with Velociraptors Quidditch Club, Megalodons, Holyrood Hippogriffs Firsts, Glasgow Grim Reapers, Liverpuddly Cannons, Manchester Manticores and Nottingham Nightmares.[3] The remaining northern teams could be divided into multiple Division 2 leagues, such as Scotland and the Midlands. The subdivision of regional leagues would accommodate teams of all levels, and mechanisms for promotion and relegation would allow mistakes to be rectified. This is not a perfect system, partly due to the additional travel demands on Division 1 teams in geographically inconvenient places, but it is a possible approach to the issue.

I should also play lip service to the idea of a community-university split, but I do not currently feel I can offer valuable discussion of it at this juncture. It is a possible approach, but there are so many hypotheticals that it is almost impossible to discuss in the context of the needs described here. There are mid-tier and low-tier community teams, and still a large number of university teams. Restricting teams like the London Unstoppables to play only community teams would not be helpful, and as it stands the university division would be so large it would still fail to meet the needs of many teams, just as BQC currently does. I’m not saying that this division could never work, or that it should not be considered, but simply that there are too many influential factors to provide a useful discussion of it at this stage.


Fundamentally, this article has attempted to address how we can get more teams leaving the season saying “Well, we didn’t win BQC, but we did achieve X”. Every team should leave the season having had a chance to play at fixtures appropriate to their abilities, and this is change which needs to be made on a national scale. Player motivation is intrinsically linked to player retention, and I believe changes of this kind would create a healthier playing environment where player motivation can be cultivated through appropriate goal-setting. Means of providing this environment in the UK during the 2019-2020 season and beyond have been proposed, and it is hoped that the discussion here will provide a clear principle, and ideas for operationalisable changes, for future growth in the UK and beyond.

Many thanks to my teammates for their useful insight and discussion of this article, particularly to Jack Latoy, Sam Wainwright and Hannah Watts for their evaluation of league structures, and Julius Eckhart for information on the German league. Special thanks to Marco Ziegaus who provided incredibly detailed insight and explanation of the German system.



[1] Funding for college rowing is very complicated, with some receiving money directly from the college’s central funds, others depending on subscriptions from current members, others completing public fundraisers, etc – but it is true that alumnus funding forms a key component of all college boat clubs’ fundraising efforts. Here are some examples of alumni associations raising money for boat clubs:

Robinson College, Cambridge

St Anne’s College, Oxford—oars.html

[2] This is a reference to Caius Boat Club’s third women’s crew:[0]=68.ARCmOK_Nir94Qc-8vN05Dwu7VFsr1dTA3USTxYDgaPyc5Zz9WZ6zNlp1cE9ld0UaGdI-eCenuSuteaYGsD9EIaAthl4lk8lOoQVR8Y5aewbyOrBfRFF93mDviS4t5OX_C8O_1YQMau-ZoDOZY2f75rFrjauDuZ8ApTKnjT_iwg9f00B5eD-O1d5QtPQZLPtPfoQJHPLyS4-6ibUGa5H4WzWLIhkgJjnYthF12bB9YUkcgzDDZijRUioKIdS6KhJWGa1D1Q148QIA1Oah8QSimPv2zG8nms9wrN7tGBVKT6IEtXHlv4JTOmdkRCT2GVh99y0G40hKQYOiPaQlow&__tn__=-R

This is a huge success for this boat, as they have beaten the teams who pose them a genuine challenge – which is the point of literally all sport – and they are being rewarded appropriately, which will feed back into their motivation for the sport and allow Caius BC to continue to thrive.

[3] This is based on the teams which made the upper bracket of the British Quidditch Cup. The limitations of using rankings from the previous season, especially based on a single event, are acknowledged, but will not be explored fully here.



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