The science-fiction and fantasy universes are chock full of fictional games: "Tron" has the gladiator-style "lightcycle" and "identity disc" games; "Star Trek" has ‘"Dom-jot"(a dangerous game for Captain Picard) and the Vulcan "Kal-toh"; "Battlestar Galactica" has the very athletic "Pyramid"; "A Song of Ice and Fire" has the ever-changing "Cyvasse."
They're still taking bets on the World Quidditch Championship
But perhaps no other fictional sport has been more relevant, more deeply seared into the world-wide cultural consciousness than the fast-paced, dangerous, high-flying game of Quidditch.
J.K. Rowling's chronicles of Harry Potter's magical world -- written over 14 years ago -- introduced this fantastic game as the favorite pastime of witches and wizards.
And even though Quidditch started as a written description, over the past few years college and high school students across the country started establishing Muggle Quidditch teams. (In the Harry Potterverse, a Muggle is a human with no magical abilities.)
They play a sport created by Middlebury College students Alex Benepe and Xander Manshel, who applied real-world, Muggle physics to the fictitious, magical game. Muggle Quidditch, or simply “Quidditch” for short, was first played at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont on October 9, 2005.
Benepe and Manshel wrote a 39-page instruction book entitled “Intercollegiate Quidditch Rules and Guide-Book” which explains every rule, foul, and position of the game and how to start your own Quidditch league, among other information.
This year, 2,000 competitors from 100 teams and five countries will compete in the 5th annual Quidditch World Cup (QWC). And, for the first time, teams from outside North America will compete. Not surprisingly, though, Middlebury College is the school to beat, as they’ve won the QWC for the past three years.
Quidditch may sound like a niche game for a bunch of nerds who longed to play sports but just weren’t athletic enough, when in fact, it is a high-intensity game that relies solely on running and aiming/shooting balls skills. Don’t believe me? Fitness Magazine published a feature on how to train for Quidditch back in July.
The QWC will be held this Saturday and Sunday, November 13 and 14, on Randall’s Island in New York City. In true Harry Potter fashion, the event will feature more than just the tournament – magicians, owls, vendors, circus performers, and musical acts will be on-site for the weekend, as well as improv comedians hosting all the festivities.
The annual competition is organized by the International Quidditch Association, a “magical nonprofit dedicated to promoting the sport of Quidditch and inspiring young people to lead physically active and socially-engaged lives,” according to the official website.
In Rowling's books, Quidditch is a game Harry and his teammates play while flying around the field, or “pitch,” on broomsticks. Two teams compete at a time, with seven players on each team.
Similar to basketball, three, elevated, ring-shaped goals are at each end of the pitch, where players pass around a ball called a “quaffle” and try to shoot it through the rings, earning 10 points for their team each time they do.
Two bewitched balls called “bludgers” act as obstacles to the players, as they fly around the pitch, attempting to knock players off their brooms. Each team has a “Beater” – someone who tries to deflect the bludgers from their teammates, while also trying to hit or send them in the direction of their opponents with bats similar to ones used in baseball or cricket.
Lastly, the Golden Snitch or simply, “Snitch,” is a golden, walnut-sized ball with small wings that flies all around the pitch and within the boundaries of the playing area. Each team has a “Seeker” (Harry Potter was the Seeker for his dormitory, Gryffindor) whose only task in Quidditch is to capture the Snitch.
The Seeker who catches the Snitch scores 150 points for their team and also ends the game. (Technically, the game continues however long is necessary until the Snitch is captured, even if it takes months, but that doesn’t bear going into at this time.)
The conversion of the game to practical use is surprisingly accurate, even down to the tiny, elusive Snitch.
All players must run with a broomstick between their legs at all times (capes are optional, but frequently worn) and a slightly-deflated volleyball serves as the quaffle; dodgeballs play the role of the bludgers.
The three rings at each end of the pitch, which is approximately the size of a football field, are often fashioned from hula hoops, PVC pipe, and duct tape.
As for the elusive Snitch, it is simply a tennis ball stuffed in a yellow sock, which is then tucked into the waistband of a fast runner, unaffiliated with either team. The snitch runner is then allowed to roam in an area beyond the pitch, often the range of the entire college campus. Much like flag football, the Snitch is “captured” when the “Seeker” of a team snatches the sock from the waistband of the snitch runner.
Muggle Quidditch may be a niche sport, but the phenomenon is gaining attention faster than Harry can catch the Snitch.
At last year’s QWC, 40 media outlets attended along with 20,000 spectators. At least 28 states have active Quidditch teams – making over 380 teams in the United States alone. Canada has 34, the United Kingdom has 10, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, and China all have one each, and India has three. There are over 460 active Quidditch teams worldwide, according to the IQA and that number continues to grow.
Facebook alone houses pages and pages of Quidditch-related groups, not just for American colleges but for French, Spanish, English, and Australian Quidditch teams, as well. The Facebook page “Quidditch should be in the 2012 olympics” has over 4,000 Likes. Facebook users are citing Quidditch Season as the reason they can't play football or soccer or hang out after class.
“Quidditch is something that makes people undeniably happy,” Benepe wrote in the Foreward to the Guide-Book. “The childlike freedom that comes with playing and watching it is something unprecedented.”
Wise words from two college students who insisted on putting the “fun and games” back into the oft-serious world of college sports.
I tip the Sorting Hat to you, fellas. Now, “Brooms up!” and let’s play!