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In the fourth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it is mentioned that Quidditch World Cup games may last several days, whereas the typical college game lasts only several hours.

This implies that professional level Quidditch games last significantly longer on average, which seems illogical to me, as games end by catching the Snitch - a task that should be easier to achieve by better trained players with better and more agile brooms.

Is there any explanation for this?

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    I could see a possibility that defense, preventing the other player from getting the snitch, becomes easier at higher skill levels / tools. It could also be that the snitch itself scales up faster at higher levels of play such that it's that much harder to catch. ^_^ But I can't back any of that up by the book or movies, so that's not a good answer.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Jul 17, 2023 at 19:24
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    The snitch is more devious in professional games. So much so that it might go missing for entire days
    – Valorum
    Jul 17, 2023 at 19:56
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    I would assume schools have a vested interesting in not having students tied up in a days-long quidditch match, and deploy the Snitch accordingly. Conversely, professional matches may have an interest in prolonging a match (so as to support a cottage industry of 3rd-party food vendors, entertainment for those not interested in continuously following the ongoing match, etc, purveyors of which would all buy a license to set up shop at the match.)
    – chepner
    Jul 17, 2023 at 22:15
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    Because they don't need to go back to classes?
    – user13267
    Jul 18, 2023 at 4:19
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    The actual main reason is out of universe: Quidditch is a parody of sports played in the UK, and this aspect is from Cricket, where the length of the game is determined by what's happening in the game, and not by the clock. So this is more of a throwaway joke than an actual in-universe thing. That's a bit of an issue, though, with all of HP: Rowling parodies what she knows, but since most readers aren't from the UK, they think it's part of the quirky world she invented. E.g. the houses and the house points are completely normal in UK boarding schools.
    – Dakkaron
    Jul 19, 2023 at 7:19

4 Answers 4

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This is a fantastic question and I'm really glad you asked it.

What Goblet of Fire actually says is:

'[...] Harry, if you leave your school list out, I'll get your things for you tomorrow in Diagon Alley. I'm getting everyone else's. There might not be time after the World Cup, the match went on for five days last time.'

'Wow - hope it does this time!' said Harry enthusiastically.

'Well, I certainly don't,' said Percy sanctimoniously. 'I shudder to think what the state of my in-tray would be if I was away from work for five days.'

'Yeah, someone might slip dragon dung in it again, eh, Perce?' said Fred.

'That was a sample of fertiliser from Norway!' said Percy, going very red in the face. 'It was nothing personal!'

'It was,' Fred whispered to Harry, as they got up from the table. 'We sent it.'

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - pp.60-1 - Bloomsbury - Chapter 5, Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes

(I left the joke in because it's a cracker!)

This actually suggests to me that the stark difference between school and professional Quidditch games your question assumes isn't actually what the author is trying to establish here. It seems that professional Quidditch, just like school-level Quidditch, has that quirky, magical, intentionally silly to the Muggle audience characteristic of not having a defined end-point. It ends when the Snitch is caught, who knows in advance when that will be!? Our cast of characters certainly doesn't. Oh those crazy wizards! How quaint and silly.

And I think this is actually borne out. If we go back a page we see that England lost to Transylvania 390 to 10 which doesn't suggest a game that went on for days. Meanwhile the actual World Cup game we get to see doesn't last that long either, it's all over in one evening and the final score is only 160 to 170 (and the goals are shown to come fairly thick and fast, it's not like you can say 'oh well at the professional level you might not get a goal for an hour because of the standard of defence', it doesn't seem to be like that).

I think we're supposed to think that all Quidditch can end at any time. It can go on for a ridiculously long time, it can last 20 seconds.

But I'm with you actually. I think you're right to imagine and deduce that no Hogwarts Quidditch game has likely lasted days and perhaps the average professional game is a bit longer, who knows.

So how could that be explained? Clearly the World Cup stadium was a lot bigger, which presumably gives a Snitch more places to hide. It might also be, as others have suggested, that Snitches have different 'difficulty settings' as it were.

But I think there might be another aspect to this. The World Cup is a knock-out tournament. This tactical element is a big feature of the World Cup match we see. Bulgaria are losing. Krum catches the Snitch, even though it ends the game and seals his team's defeat. Another Seeker might have let the Snitch go and focused only on stopping the opposing Seeker from catching it, but in this case Krum wanted to give his team a more dignified defeat with a close final score and with their Seeker having caught the Snitch. Better than letting Ireland romp away to quadruple figures! But I think most Seekers would probably have let the game continue in that situation.

'What did he catch the Snitch for?' Ron bellowed, even as he jumped up and down, applauding with his hands over his head. 'He ended it when Ireland were a hundred and sixty points ahead, the idiot!'

'He knew they were never going to catch up,' Harry shouted back over all the noise, also applauding loudly, 'the Irish Chasers were too good ... he wanted to end it on his terms, that's all ...'

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - p.103 - Bloomsbury - Chapter 8, The Quidditch World Cup

House Quidditch meanwhile appears to take 'goal difference' into account. Or rather it looks like your scores in individual games accumulate. This can also lead to Seekers delaying capturing the Snitch, as we see in the Prisoner of Azkaban:

Slytherin were leading the tournament by exactly two hundred points. This meant (as Wood constantly reminded his team) that they needed to win the match by more than that amount to win the Cup. It also meant that the burden of winning fell largely on Harry, because capturing the Snitch was worth one hundred and fifty points.

'So you must only catch it if we're more than fifty points up,' Wood told Harry constantly. 'Only if we're more than fifty points up, Harry, or we win the match but lose the Cup. You've got that, haven't you? You must only catch the Snitch if we're -'

'I KNOW, OLIVER!' Harry yelled.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - p.221 - Bloomsbury - Chapter 15, The Quidditch Final

But I can imagine it might make more sense in a round-robin tournament to take those 150 points even at the cost of a lost game than it would in a knockout tournament where a loss is final.

It's also easy to see that the longer a game goes on and the higher the score becomes, the less effect 150 points will have on the score (particularly as scores from previous games don't accumulate). There is plenty of evidence that House Quidditch is a lot slower than professional Quidditch as the teams aren't as good. If we imagine that the action is a bit slower and the goals a bit less frequent then it might well be that at schoolboy level those 150 points are almost always enough to win the game, whereas at professional level games might ebb and flow a little bit more and it might be more a question of endurance. And if the Snitch is harder to catch you can see how professional Quidditch would then become more of a long game (literally and metaphorically).

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  • "Bulgaria are losing. Krum catches the Snitch, even though it ends the game and seals his team's defeat." But I thought catching the Snitch guaranteed a victory. (Don't mock; I only watched one movie.)
    – RonJohn
    Jul 18, 2023 at 20:06
  • Pretty sure snitch gave 150 pts in the movies too. Quite a lot compared to 10 from a score which might leave you that impression
    – OganM
    Jul 18, 2023 at 22:10
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    @RonJohn In the movies Lee Jordan does indeed say in his commentary "Remember the Snitch is worth 150 points." But I would say the movies heavily imply that catching the Snitch guarantees a victory. In the film Wood says "You catch this, the game is over. You catch this Potter, and we win." This can be squared with the book's version "whichever Seeker catches the Snitch wins his team an extra hundred and fifty points, so they nearly always win", which they nearly always will if teams are decently matched and/or games are short, but it's not your fault, the films do give that impression
    – Au101
    Jul 18, 2023 at 22:48
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Cricket, another game played at all levels in the UK (school up to international level) has versions at the professional level which is not over-limited and can go on for up to 5 days.

One would think that at professional level its easier to either bowl the opposing batter out, but equally the batter is also at an elevated skill level, and so the game invariably does go on for most of a week.

The version of cricket played in schools and at lower levels is always limited in some way - by overs (number of sets of 6 deliveries), points based etc. And this has also filtered up to professional level in recent years with the introduction of Twenty20 (in 2003) to allow for a full professional competitive game to be played in one evening.

But the full Test Match game still exists and does last at professional levels for up to 5 days at a time (and can end in a win, loss, draw or no result - yup, the game can still result in a nothing outcome after 5 days).

This is pure speculation, but JK Rowling probably based Quidditch in part on cricket and rugby because both are more favourable sports at public schools (ie paid schools, commonly called private schools in other countries, and not to be confused with free state schools), with cricket providing the whimsicalness of a game that can be played for days at a time with no outcome, and rugby providing the contact aspect of the sport (although Beaters are more akin to American Football than Rugby, where off-ball contact is not allowed).`

To add a further possibility, there are essentially two ways to score in Quidditch - throw the quaffle through the hoops, or catch the snitch.

If theres enough points imbalance between the two teams, theres a valid reason for a seeker to NOT catch the snitch, and also to prevent the other teams seeker from doing so. So its entirely possible for the seeker to be in the position of being able to catch the snitch but not wanting to do so lest they cause their team to lose the game.

In other words, theres more to a seekers job than just "catch the snitch", such as catching the snitch at the right time and also running (legal) interference against the other teams seeker to ensure the game doesn't end and allow their own team to catch up.

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    "Nowadays every purchaser of a Quidditch match ticket is guaranteed to witness a sophisticated contest between highly skilled fliers (unless of course the Snitch is caught in the first five minutes of the match, in which case we all feel slightly short-changed)." - QTtA
    – Valorum
    Jul 17, 2023 at 22:00
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    The longest test match in cricket went on for 12 days and ended without a winner when the English tam had to leave to catch the boat home from South Africa. thesportsnettingcompany.co.uk/blog/…
    – Jontia
    Jul 17, 2023 at 22:33
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    @Valorum and in cricket, you can buy a 5 day ticket and the game can be over in the first hour :) Swings and roundabouts! Again, pure speculation, but I'm betting that theres more rules that are paid attention to at professional level in Quidditch - for example, in cricket no one cares about the state of the ball at school level, while the state of the ball at pro level is very much something the bowler curates and if the ball is lost or damaged, the replacement ball is selected from a range of balls that have seen similar play, not a brand new one... And so on.
    – Moo
    Jul 17, 2023 at 22:58
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    @Moo for a cricket test match to be over that soon, I'd guess at least 30 wickets need to be taken, whereas a Quidditch game ending in the first 5 minutes only requires that the Snitch be caught in that period. One is far, far more likelier than the other simply because of the number of events required.
    – muru
    Jul 18, 2023 at 4:28
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    @muru sure, its unlikely, but here we are debating the finer points of a fictional sports game...
    – Moo
    Jul 18, 2023 at 5:00
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It makes sense in practice.

When playing soccer as kids, scores are a lot higher than in professional matches, sometimes almost more akin to rugby scores than soccer.

Yeah, maybe at higher levels, the pitch is bigger and maybe the snitch is made harder to find, as others have said...

But when you think about the rules of quidditch (which seem more geared towards making Harry the hero than making an interesting competitive game), it's basically just a battle of the seekers. It doesn't really matter too much what goes on with the chasers. They are pretty much redundant unless one team can get over 150 points ahead, which is unlikely if the game is in any way competitive.

So actually, proper defensive strategy would seem to be for the beaters (of which there are two) to focus on preventing the opposing seeker from getting the Snitch, since this is the winning and the losing of the match, and trust the chasers to stay within 150 of their opponents. So a match where the beaters are superior to, or even equal to the seekers would go on for a very long time indeed. And in professional sports, the difference in skill levels between players is usually quite small.

Whereas with lower levels, there is a lot more potential for mistakes by the beaters, randomness, larger differences in skill, and less focus on strategy. So it would be more likely that a seeker could get lucky, spot and catch the Snitch and end the game quickly.

To analogise it to soccer again, imagine the rules allowed one striker and two goalkeepers!

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There is nothing in canon that suggests a reason for this. The obvious answers are that professional players are better able to prevent the Seeker from catching the Snitch - we see in the Hogwarts games that when the Snitch is in sight, it seems to be a race between Seekers rather than Beaters trying to aim bludgers at them to break concentration - or, as Valorum suggests, a different quality of Snitch is used in professional games. I'd suggest that this might be analogy from professional football (soccer) games taking longer than high school games in the UK, but in fact there are no breaks for commercials in Quidditch, and that would seem to be what slows down professional footie.

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    Professional soccer doesn't stop for TV commercials. You might be confusing it with American football.
    – Valorum
    Jul 17, 2023 at 20:55
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    Soccer games are 45 minutes each end, coupled with a short break in the middle. There aren't (usually) any breaks for adverts during play itself, since play is basically continuous
    – Valorum
    Jul 17, 2023 at 21:32
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    The "short break" at half-time is 15 minutes (it used to be shorter before commercial TV got licences for live matches and wanted a bit more time for ads in the break). But there is rarely enough stoppage during play to allow any ads (unlike in many US sports where the rules have been stretched to accommodate commercial TV).
    – HorusKol
    Jul 17, 2023 at 22:22
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    @bob1 a football (soccer) game typically accrues less than a minute or so of stoppage time for a 45 minute half - sometimes a few minutes if there's a particularly bad injury. The premise of this answer is that professional football matches are longer because of advertising, which they're not.
    – HorusKol
    Jul 18, 2023 at 1:45
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    Viewing audience figures for Formula 1 dropped significantly while ITV had the contract, because they kept going to ad breaks and viewers would miss significant events - literally incidences of the leadership changing hands while on an ad break. Result? Very few live sporting events in the UK has ads while the action is ongoing - and football was never treated as badly.
    – Moo
    Jul 18, 2023 at 2:26

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