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I realise it's self evidently impossible, since real people don't have flying broomsticks. But even allowing for its fantastic nature, am I not right in thinking that it's alse self evidently unworkable as a sport?

Why? Because catching the snitch is all that matters.

It's worth 150 points, and ends the game. Most matches we read about in the books don't have score lines that differ by more than 150 points, in which catching it wins the game for the seeker's team.

But even if a team is down by 150 points or more, it's logical that their seeker should then stop looking for the snitch. If they catch it, the game ends as a loss for their team.

Either way, only the seeker and the snitch matter. So why bother with the goals at all? Why not just beaters, bludgers, snitch and seekers?

I realised this at the very first description of a Quidditch match in the very first book. And while I appreciate it has some narrative value, allowing Harry to take center stage as a Quidditch player, it spoiled all the Quidditch sequences in the whole series for me.

Am I right, or did I miss something?

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It is a perfectly valid tool for making the protagonist the most important person on the team. – Zibbobz Jul 18 '14 at 15:40
Also, sadly, I think this question is entirely opinion-based, even if the general opinion is going to be "yes it is ridiculous to make up a game that could end five seconds after it begins". – Zibbobz Jul 18 '14 at 15:43
@Zibbobz My query is aimed at finding out whether I've understood properly, or whether there's information from the wider Potterverse that explains things better. So, hopefully not opinion based. I will edit, if you think it a good idea. – Matt Thrower Jul 18 '14 at 15:45
Non-answer, but the real world as I understand it: JKR wrote quidditch to show that the wizard world has a sport that they care about just as much as football/soccer. Then she made the sport a central element of book 4 -- and she hates sports, so she had written the sport poorly. – Codes with Hammer Jul 18 '14 at 15:51
@Zibbobz Isn't the snitch specifically not released for a while? Or did I just misinterpret them not being able to find it for a while as it not being released? – phantom42 Jul 18 '14 at 16:17
up vote 36 down vote accepted

Yes. Quidditch is inherently flawed. It violates several important points of game theory.

  • All players are not similar in importance. You have six players plus one additional add-on who does not interact, yet has a vital role.
  • The actions of one player can dramatically overshadow everyone else. Again, the Seeker is the special, special snowflake. They fly a simple pattern over the game, swoop in, and decisively change things.
  • The length of a game is difficult or impossible to predict. Games can stretch for days, or be over in seconds. This makes it difficult to gauge the value of a seat. Is someone going to feel cheated if they pay 15 Galleons for a box seat, only to have the match over within twenty minutes? Will you make a profit if you sell seats at 8 Sickles each and they're occupied for a day and a half? How many spectators will be willing to travel to your game (albeit quickly, via teleportation) and potentially have to choose between seeing the full game and missing the next day's work (or the next several days' work?)
  • There are no scheduled breaks in the game. Even when they're not exerting much physical effort to move (flying on broomsticks) playing any sport will tire you out. Spectators need time to hit the bathrooms and food vendors, players need time to regroup, take a breather, and plan strategy changes.

Harry Potter in a rationalist fanfic called Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discusses Quidditch's failings and comes up with a relatively simple solution: eliminate the Snitch and put the game on a timer. If something like that were done, Quidditch would end up looking something like basketball crossed with rugby, and would be an essentially normal sport.

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Cricket shares your third flaw -- a Test Match is scheduled for five days, but can easily be over in two or three days. Or not finish after five and be declared a draw. And yet it's a popular and successful sport. – Mike Scott Jul 18 '14 at 16:11
@MikeScott That's just one type of Cricket. And besides which, you DO get breaks between overs. Yes, I did just have to look that up. – Zibbobz Jul 18 '14 at 16:26
We should add MoR to HP canon :) – DVK-in-exile Jul 18 '14 at 17:32
@DVK: I dunno, I kinda like the simplistic MoR fanfic JK Rowling wrote. She stretched it over 7 books though... – Jeff Jul 18 '14 at 19:29
@Jeff No, the standard form of cricket is the five day match. And there aren't knock-out tournaments, just series in which the same teams play each other two to five times over a period of one to three months. There are cut-down versions that take less time, but they're modified versions of the standard game. – Mike Scott Jul 18 '14 at 20:22

Though it's true that Quidditch seems flawed, that may be the wrong question to ask. The real question is: does the unreasonable structure of the game make it a flaw in the world of the books? I don't think so: after all, the wizard world has many aspects that are satirical or frankly farcical; it's a place of commonplace fantasy, general whimsy, and frequent illogic. It's actually more difficult to name some everyday aspect of it that seems reasonable than the opposite. So, as a world-building decision, Quidditch fits right in: it's a satire of popular real sports that's accepted unquestioningly by the wizards because of its magical nature.

(This is not to say that there are no serious themes in that world; obviously, there are, as comes out as the series progresses. But the superficial aspects are silly, and this sport is very superficial.)

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"It's actually more difficult to name some everyday aspect of it that seems reasonable than the opposite." I was going to contest this point, but after thinking about it for a bit, the only thing I could come up with was the general idea of school and homework - you have to work hard to learn and demonstrate your achievement. That's strikingly normal from a real world perspective, even if you consider how inconsistent it is with the many other conveniences and labor saving cantrips of the magic world. So +1, you point stands well. – Dacio Oct 24 '14 at 20:43
These problems are easy to fix. Maybe catching the snitch should be worth fewer points, like 50, or it doesn't automatically end the game (giving the opponent an opportunity to catch up). These wizards are smart, and this is the only team sport they have. It's definitely a literary flaw in my opinion. – James Watkins Mar 21 at 16:00
@JamesWatkins Coming up with a balanced game is surprisingly hard; I honestly think Rowling would have done better to have left the details ambiguous than open herself up to justified trivial criticism. The literary flaw, though is for the specific absurdities of the game not to have any symbolism at all. If Quidditch were replaced by (either) football, what would the books be missing? Nothing, really. – Ryan Reich Mar 21 at 20:47

As they show in Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire, during the "Quidditch world cup" Victor Krum caught the snitch yet his team still lost. In the book, they talk a lot about how some Quidditch games can last for hours in which that case the score keeps going up. Should your team be loosing, your seeker still has to watch for the snitch to at least deter the opposing seeker from catching the snitch. And as in Goblet of Fire Krum knew his team was never going to catch back up so he ended the game on his terms. Another thing to think about is that yes at Hogwarts getting the snitch typically wins the game for that team, that is a team of high school aged players and not how it works on the professional level. Again, the snitch can show up after 2 minutes or after days as I believe Oliver Wood tells Harry in the first book.

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If I may add -- I see Hogwarts Quidditch like school football: unprofessional. I would suggest, based on the example @himarm used, that in professional Quidditch the scores have a bigger difference: racking up points quicker, and in a longer game due to professional playing, means a gap can reach hundreds of points, unlike in Hogwarts where 40 point gap is large. – Mac Cooper Jul 18 '14 at 15:09
@MacCooper But even if bigger point differentials are the norm, there's still the issue of the losing team not wanting to catch the snitch. The focus is still entirely on the seeker. – Matt Thrower Jul 18 '14 at 15:46
@MattThrower, actually yeah you got me there. I'd suggest it was perhaps a phsycological effect ("Three days in, no sleep and the players are scrabbling for the snitch. Who can know how long it will last until one seeker succumbs to the other!") but then, we know from HP4 that they bring in substitutes... so yeah, you got me :) – Mac Cooper Jul 18 '14 at 15:51

There is a lot more to quidditch than you see in one game. There is a lot of strategy involved and all players have vital roles in that strategy. A team can catch the snitch and lose the game yet still when the cup if their points for the season are higher than the opponents. Even in the first game of the season the seeker would want to catch the snitch as soon as possible so the other team can't build up points that will matter later in the season.

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I think the contributors here are looking at things from an in-world perspective, rather than from the author's. The unpredictable length, over-reliance on one hero, etc., make it a great literary device, and let the author do what she pleases with it. So it's all good.

On another note completely, as a science-fiction author, I can tell you that quidditch is not impossible at all. Given a large enough volume of air and no gravity, with battery-operated fans on the front of the broomsticks, it should be perfectly possible to play. If a hypothetical author were to include it in a book set in a space colony, there would be no incredulity. Mind you, such an author might choose to eliminate the Seeker :-)

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