59

In the first Harry Potter book, Harry got Nimbus 2000 which was the fastest at the time. In the second book, Malfoy's father gave everyone in the Slytherin team Nimbus 2001.

A sports is a test of players, not their tools. Real World sports do allow players to bring their own tools, but there are fixed specification limiting that. Nobody's special tool can help a little bit in winning the game. For example, in Cricket history, once a batsman brought a wide bat covering entire pitch, so he couldn't be bowled. Seeing this loophole, a new rule was pushed to fix dimension of bat.

This brings one possibility about Quidditch: Maybe, a faster broom doesn't give a player advantage. But, I can turn down the possibility with various quotes from the book. Wherever better brooms are mentioned, you can see the owner (or his/her friends) boasting about advantages they would get in Quidditch. It is projected by the author, too. In the first book, McGonagall gave Harry Nimbus 2000 because it could be advantage to Gryffindor. In Mudblood and Murmurs chapter of the second book, when Slytherin team displayed their Nimbus 2001, all laugh at Gryfinndor team as if they had a big advantage in Quidditch now. Also, Gryfinndor team felt envy.

(Sorry for the regular language, but I don't have book at this time to give quote)

Why does Quidditch allow faster brooms which can give players advantage?

  • 36
    F1 allows faster cars (within limits). I guess there would be some restrictions for Quidditch but detailing them in a Harry Potter book would not make it a more enjoyable read. – Wikis Mar 23 '15 at 13:35
  • 43
    You're assuming that the Wizarding World isn't biased in favour of the wealthy as a general rule – Jason Baker Mar 23 '15 at 13:36
  • 33
    You could compare Quidditch to Polo. Some horses are faster, some horses are quicker, some are more agile. In Polo, a player and their horse are themselves a team. I imagine a wizard and their broom work much the same way in Quidditch. – Joe L. Mar 23 '15 at 13:42
  • 13
    Racing and Polo are both great examples. There are limits to a faster engine just as there are limits to a faster broom (you must be able to handle it in both cases). And you can buy a horse class upgrade. This is done through breeding and training, and horses with "proper" bloodlines get super expensive. – Dave Johnson Mar 23 '15 at 13:49
  • 21
    I don't want to troll but the rules for Quidditch don't even make sense. This seems to be a very minor issue in a game when everything is decided by capturing the Snitch - which can appear randomly. – Sulthan Mar 23 '15 at 16:04
73

It's tempting to argue from a position of gentrification, but I actually have a better argument: the brooms don't seem to confer any great advantage.1

Let's look at the Gryffindor v. Slytherin Quidditch record, as far as we know it.

Philosopher's Stone2

Gryffindor wins 170-60:

"He didn't catch it, he nearly swallowed it," Flint was still howling twenty minutes later, but it made no difference - Harry hadn't broken any rules and Lee Jordan was still happily shouting the results - Gryffindor had won by one hundred and seventy points to sixty.

Philosopher's Stone Chapter 11: "Quidditch"

Since the Snitch is worth 150 points, this means that Slytherin scored 6 times, while Gryffindor only scored twice.

Chamber of Secrets

The game is interrupted by Dobby attacking Harry with bludgers, but the score before he goes down is 60-0 in favour of Slytherin:

It had started to rain; Harry felt heavy drops fall onto his face, splattering onto his glasses. He didn't have a clue what was going on in the rest of the game until he heard Lee Jordan, who was commentating, say, "Slytherin lead, sixty points to zero - "

Chamber of Secrets Chapter 10: "The Rogue Bludger"

We never hear any indication that either side scored again, and the time difference between when the score is announced and when Harry goes down is quite small, so I'm inclined to say that the final score was 150-60 in favour of Gryffindor; Slytherin scores 6 times, Gryffindor scores zero.

Prisoner of Azkaban

Finally, Gryffindor is able to out-score Slytherin; the final score is 230-20:

"[Angelina] SCORES! SHE SCORES! Gryffindor leads by eighty points to twenty!"

[Later, Harry catches the Snitch]

Prisoner of Azkaban Chapter 15: "The Quidditch Final"

So Gryffindor scores 8 times, Slytherin scores twice. Unusually poor showing from Slytherin this year.

Order of the Phoenix

Final score 160-40 in favour of Gryffindor:

' - and Katie Bell of Gryffindor dodges Pucey, ducks Montague, nice swerve, Katie, and she throws to Johnson, Angelina Johnson takes the Quaffle, she's past Warrington, she's heading for goal, come on now, Angelina - GRYFFINDOR SCORE! It's forty-ten, forty-ten to Slytherin and Pucey has the Quaffle... '

[Later, Harry catches the Snitch]

Order of the Phoenix Chapter 19: "The Lion and the Serpent"

Slytherin scores four times, Gryffindor scores once.

Half-Blood Prince

This one is a rout. The final score isn't clear, but it's at least 250-0 for Gryffindor:

With half an hour of the game gone, Gryffindor were leading sixty points to zero, Ron having made some truly spectacular saves

[...]

It seemed as though Gryffindor could do no wrong. Again and again they scored, and again and again, at the other end of the pitch, Ron saved goals with apparent ease.

[...]

Harry accelerated; the wind was whistling in his ears so that it drowned all sound of Smith's commentary or the crowd, but Harper was still ahead of him, and Gryffindor was only a hundred points up; if Harper got there first Gryffindor had lost

Half-Blood Prince Chapter 14: "Felix Felicis"

This game is easily Gryffindor's best overall showing (Harry notwithstanding), and it's largely thanks to Ron's preternaturally good Keeping.

What's my point?

Comparing the score count between Philosopher's Stone and Chamber of Secrets, it's clear that the Nimbus 2001's don't give the Slytherin team much of an advantage; they score just as many times as they did before they had them, and really all they can claim is that they prevented Gryffindor from scoring at all3.

The fact of the matter seems to be that, faster brooms or not, the Slytherin team is just generally better than the Gryffindor one, although there's obviously some variability as players cycle through; all Gryffindor really has is Harry, who routinely outclasses the Slytherin Seeker regardless of what brooms they're riding, and on one occasion they have a totally in-the-zone Ron as a Keeper. Skill counts for a lot more in this game than it initially appears.

But everyone says they do

This is a fair counter-argument; as the question points out, people always seem to react as though having the Latest Broom is a massive benefit to the other team. There are two examples in Chamber of Secrets, first when the Nimbus 2001's are first revealed:

All seven of [the Slytherin Quidditch team] held out their broomsticks. Seven highly polished, brand-new handles and seven sets of fine gold lettering spelling the words Nimbus Two Thousand and One gleamed under the Gryffindors' noses in the early morning sun.

"Very latest model. Only came out last month," said Flint carelessly, flicking a speck of dust from the end of his own. "I believe it outstrips the old Two Thousand series by a considerable amount. As for the old Cleansweeps" - he smiled nastily at Fred and George, who were both clutching Cleansweep Fives - "sweeps the board with them."

None of the Gryffindor team could think of anything to say for a moment. Malfoy was smirking so broadly his cold eyes were reduced to slits.

Chamber of Secrets Chapter 7: "Mudbloods and Murmurs"

And during the actual match, Harry observes that the Slytherin team seems to be gaining an advantage from their new brooms:

It had started to rain; Harry felt heavy drops fall onto his face, splattering onto his glasses. He didn't have a clue what was going on in the rest of the game until he heard Lee Jordan, who was commentating, say, "Slytherin lead, sixty points to zero - "

The Slytherins' superior brooms were clearly doing their jobs

Chamber of Secrets Chapter 10: "The Rogue Bludger"

I have three counter-counter-arguments:

  1. All the characters we hear from are kids. This may seem like a facetious argument, but it's not; all the praise we hear about fancier brooms comes from twelve-year-olds, and thirteen-year-olds when Harry gets a Firebolt in Prisoner of Azkaban. It wasn't that long ago when I was that age, and I can say with some authority that children tend to conflate technical ability with skill.

  2. None of the people we hear from are unbiased. The people who we tend to hear expounding the virtues of better brooms are (in roughly decreasing order of frequency) Oliver Wood, Ron, Malfoy, and Harry. Every single one of these characters has their blinkers on. None of Oliver, Harry, or Ron want to admit that Slytherin might be better than them at anything, so they're actively looking for alternative explanations. Malfoy, on the other hand, assumes that everything about him (and Slytherin) is better than Harry or Ron (and the Gryffindors), and he's actively trying to antagonize them

  3. BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft comments:

    Everyone says that about real-world bowling balls, golf clubs, professional gaming mice, etc. In reality any advantage is miniscule in comparison to the skills of the player.

    Which is a very good point. It's not remotely uncommon among any kind of hobbyists to put a lot of stock in their tools, and argue over which one is "better." Whether one actually is objectively better than another is irrelevant4

Professor McGonagall is specifically mentioned in the question, so I want to address her opinion on the brooms for a moment. She's the first advocate of Harry's Quidditch career, but she doesn't recommend Harry's broom; Oliver Wood does (emphasis mine):

"He's just the build for a Seeker, too," said Wood, now walking around Harry and staring at him. "Light - speedy - we'll have to get him a decent broom, Professor - a Nimbus Two Thousand or a Cleansweep Seven, I'd say."

Philosopher's Stone Chapter 9: "The Midnight Duel"

The only thing McGonagall has to say about the broom is the note she attaches to the package, which contains very prudent advice but no discussion as to its merits:

DO NOT OPEN THE PARCEL AT THE TABLE.

It contains your new Nimbus Two Thousand, but I don't want everybody knowing you've got a broomstick or they'll all want one. Oliver Wood will meet you tonight on the Quidditch field at seven o'clock for your first training session.

Philosopher's Stone Chapter 10: "Hallowe'en"


1 Based on the extended discussion in comments, I want to clarify that I'm only talking about the amateur Hogwarts Quidditch league, not the professional league. That's really what the questioner is asking about, and we don't have enough information about professional Quidditch players to say how much of an impact equipment really plays. It could be a lot, it could be a little; we don't have any canon basis.

2 Sorcerer's Stone to you American heathens

3 In comments, Lilienthal questions whether I'm justified in making this comparison. There's certainly a point to be made that you need to be careful in these sorts of things, because the impermanence of the teams' rosters gives you another variable to consider: is this relationship due to equipment, or because one team got an excellent player last year, or some combination?

However, I feel like I'm justified in this case. The Quidditch teams (at least Gryffindor and Slytherin's) don't change very much:

  • Slytherin changes very infrequently, and in particular the only difference in the roster between Philosopher's Stone and Chamber of Secrets seems to be Malfoy

  • Gryffindor changes even more rarely; the roster stays exactly the same until Order of the Phoenix, when Oliver Wood (who graduated at the end of Prisoner of Azkaban, but there was no Quidditch in Goblet of Fire) is replaced with Ron. The roster does shake up dramatically in Half-Blood Prince (only three first-string players kept from the previous year, two of them dating back to Philosopher's Stone), but they get dramatically less experienced

4 It doesn't just apply to sports either. Go onto a PC forum and post about how you prefer Macs, or vice-versa, then duck. These are often examples of choice-supportive biases (especially post-purchase rationalization or, as I prefer to call it, "Buyer's Stockholm Syndrome")), where we basically decide that one thing is better than all the others because we bought it.

  • 10
    Nice answer but I feel you're starting from a false premise: just because team A won while team B had better equipment doesn't mean that equipment isn't a factor. It just means that team A was strong (or lucky) enough to win in spite of team B's equipment advantage. Same goes for @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft: equipment advantages are indeed generally small in competitive sports and most amateurs won't ever really notice a big difference. However, at the highest levels the difference in skill between teams or sportsmen is very small so equipment can indeed be a determining factor. – user42419 Mar 24 '15 at 11:28
  • 1
    As Demarini mentions in his answer high-level teams will generally all carry the best equipment available. It's when people have the skill to make use of the best equipment in an environment where not all competitors can afford said equipment that equipment disparity can be a major factor. – user42419 Mar 24 '15 at 11:30
  • 2
    @SBoss Depends on which book, really. And there's something to be said for "Main Character Failure Immunity" – Jason Baker Mar 24 '15 at 13:08
  • 14
    @Lilienthal "Overthinking the author's intention" may as well be our motto on this site ;) – Jason Baker Mar 24 '15 at 19:40
  • 2
    All this tells me is that the snitch is a story conceit and it's presence makes Quidditch a terrible sport. A random element defeats the entire team's efforts. – Gusdor Mar 25 '15 at 10:47
16

This kind of question pertains more to the idea behind all sports in general, so I'll stick to what we know and talk about sports in the real world to try and relate it. All sports allow the advantage of customizing equipment. In soccer you can find lighter cleats, baseball you can find bats with more "pop", in football you can have gloves that are stickier...you get the idea.

I've seen the argument against customization before, and I don't like it. No one is the same, so people will be comfortable with different types of equipment. What happens if you force a standard on everyone, is that the people who are best attuned to that specific standard now have an advantage. If you allow customization in equipment everyone can feel comfortable the best way they can.

At higher levels everyone normally has the best of the best so it doesn't make a difference. The issue is at the lower levels of sports, kids who are able to get better equipment because of a financial situation may have an advantage, as seen with Harry and his Nimbus 2000. But would you disallow customization for everyone because of a select few who can get the best of the best equipment(and in my experiences these are normally players where they need all the advantages they can get)?

I'll give an example from my own experiences. As a kid there were two baseball bats that people liked to use when hitting, the Easton Stealth, and the Demarini Voodoo. I preferred the Demarini bat, I hit better with it, whether it was psychological or the weight distribution of the bat was better for me or something, it was my preference, and statistically I did do better with it. Other people hit better with the Easton Stealth of course...now in terms of the performance of the bats? Nearly identical. So what if they made the standard the Easton Stealth? I'm all of a sudden at a disadvantage and a worse player because of it, and so aren't many others who preferred the Demarini bat.

This is just one small example, we can take it deeper to other sports and other equipment, but the point is that customization of equipment is allowed so that people can get their specific optimal performance, even if it isn't the best equipment. Will a couple people have better, or the best equipment? Sure...but do you want to limit the majority because of that? All of this applies to quidditch as well. What if someone felt more comfortable on a broom with less speed but better handling, or if a broom had better acceleration but less speed and that was something someone liked and it benefited their game...you can see my point, and I'm starting to ramble so I'll end this answer, haha.

  • 4
    This is a fair point, but I'm not sure it translates that well to brooms. I'd have to skim Quidditch Through the Ages to be sure, but I'm pretty confident that newer (and more expensive) brooms in Harry Potter are portrayed as being objectively better in all respects; there's not a trade-off between, for example, speed and handling, the way you might have with a baseball bat – Jason Baker Mar 23 '15 at 14:10
  • @JasonBaker The ultimate point though is that while the top of the top get the best brooms, you don't want to hurt the common folk in the game by not allowing them to customize their equipment. People underestimate the value of comfort in sports...even if it's just psychological. If you THINK you're going to do better with this piece of equipment...then you almost definitely will. On the other hand if you get it in your mind that you're cursed with some equipment...and that piece of equipment was standardized...welp you're screwed. – Demarini Mar 23 '15 at 14:24
  • 4
    Equipment-heavy sports like hockey, roller derby, golf, tennis, and American football also have gear that is objectively better. Pros and well-financed amateurs use the best equipment available. Beginners and students often use whatever they can afford, which can be objectively terrible compared to pro-level gear. (I agree with this answer, but I think this could be spelled out a little more clearly.) – Bradd Szonye Mar 23 '15 at 23:35
  • 1
    And you only mentioned the sports that are mostly gear independent. Depending on your definition of sport, we can have a faster processor for Starcraft, a more fit horse for polo, a faster car for car racing, more aerodynamic darts/arrows for sports with mostly the same name as the thrown object. – Scott Mar 24 '15 at 2:43
  • @Scott: horses Polo seem actually like a very good analogy for brooms in Quidditch: it’s a team sport, with most emphasis on the human players, despite great potential variability in the mounts. – PLL Mar 24 '15 at 5:45
11

The broom advantage

First of all let me just say I absolutely disagree with the highest voted answer. When the books were written the points of the scores was to describe the struggles the characters were facing. It is not high fantasy like LoTR were every single detail nearly makes sense and analyzing scores in that way is just wrong. The books make it sufficiently clear that the brooms are capable of going faster than their previous versions and nobody is going to deny that you will be more likely (still ruled by chance and skill!) to win with a brand new broom over an ancient broom.

And for those of you who require a thought up in-universe explanation for Slytherin not doing a better job: They might simply not have had the time to learn how to use them fully as they were still new and it takes awhile to learn the peculiarities of new tools.

A case study: Bicycle racing

To be honest I think the premise shows a relatively limited knowledge of sports as improvements in tools have had a huge importance in a lot of sports, but allow me to back that up by just examining a single sport (I just randomly chose a sport where the tools are important, however it was far from the only option): Bicycle racing

Before bicycle racing was a real thing this is how a typical bike race looked like

Source: www.theracingbicycle.com/images/highwheelers.jpg

As speed became more important and complex mechanics became more reliable this slowly changed more in the direction of

Source: cosgroveball.com/storage/cosgrove%20ball%20board%20track%20racer%20bike001.jpg?__SQUARESPACE_CACHEVERSION=1327079108796

Then some genius guy came up with a way a revolutionary (rather than evolutionary) improvement upon this design, namely the recumbent bicycle which looked something like this after some time

Source: flevofan.ligfiets.net/ch1/bike.jpg

And using recumbent bicycles even the world speed record was set. And interestingly enough this change was considered 'too big' and was banned by the UCI in 1943 (which however does not mean no races are held using recumbent bicycles, they just became a separate set of races under the Human Powered Vehicle Association's flag).

That however did not mean no improvement were made in the cycling world, compare the second image (and the first) to the following image for example (and that's ignoring the improvements in weight from at least 20 kg down to 6.8 kg)

Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racing_bicycle#/media/File:Scott_Speedster_S50.jpg

So they did realize that they had to make a clear set of rules what is and what is not allowed, and thus the UCI made a clear set of rules in which a racing bike had to fit (if somebody wanted to race under UCI flag)

  • be a vehicle with a front wheel steered by a handlebar and a rear wheel driven by a system comprising pedals and a chain by the legs moving in a circular movement
  • that the only points of support are the following: the feet on the pedals, the hands on the handlebars and the seat on the saddle
  • wheels must be of equal diameter, between 70 cm and 55 cm, and must have minimum 12 spokes; spokes can be round, flattened or oval, as far as no dimension of their sections exceeds 10 mm
  • maximum length 185 cm
  • maximum width 50 cm
  • ...

But within those rules a lot of time, effort and money is invested in creating the best possible bike.

Back to Quidditch

So, if Quidditch would have been real a similar set of rules would've existed governing the definition of a 'quidditch broom' just like in any other sport. How strict these definitions would be would depend on the specific body/flag the races are held under. And from the books we know that optimizing the magic-to-movement/speed conversion was definitely one of the things that was allowed.

  • 1
    Here's my follow-up question: The definition of what constitutes an acceptable racing bike (and racing broom, by extension of your metaphor) is intended to prevent one racer from having a dramatically unfair advantage over the others on basis of equipment, right? By the same logic behind banning the recumbent bike, would it not seem reasonable to restrict brooms that are inherently faster? – Jason Baker Mar 24 '15 at 16:05
  • 1
    @JasonBaker It would likely come down to a matter of why they are faster. Is it something about the spell? Some sort of aerodynamics? The material? Since the politics and some rule of Quidditch don't seem to be spelled out, it's possible that there are some guidelines regarding things like what types of brooms are allowed - and the Nimbus line just happens to fall on the permitted side of the line. – phantom42 Mar 24 '15 at 16:16
  • @phantom42 The community seems to think that speed is a function of the spell on the broom, but you do make a good point; we don't really have enough consistent information to judge this in general – Jason Baker Mar 24 '15 at 16:37
  • 1
    @JasonBaker Yes and no. Yes in the sense that if someone arrives with a vacuum cleaner that suddenly is incomporably better and more dangerous they would definitely ban it (see for example the weight limit link in my answer for safety considerations). But no, if it is just an evolutionary improvement within what defines a broom it would be perfectly fine. – David Mulder Mar 24 '15 at 16:39
  • And it's also fair to note that those definitions can change through time. I don't know whether that's the case for bicycle racing, but I have heard about that being the case with ice skates. – David Mulder Mar 24 '15 at 16:40
6

"Why does Quidditch allow faster brooms which can give players advantage?"

A simple, short answer is ... it's exactly like - say - bike racing, or skiing events, or competition surfing, in real life.

Choosing and creating better and better equipment, is part and parcel of almost all sports, in the real world. Quidditch is exactly like golf or tennis or almost any other sport - people want the best, most newfangled, equipment.

  • Just BTW the other answers here are superb: but it's well worth pointing out sometimes that a simple answer can be very useful. Indeed, when enjoying reading H.P., I felt the obvious "read" on the Quidditch equipment glorification was, meant to be, really an obvious sort of take on how (boys in particular!) are obsessed with sports equipment - you know, the latest golf club, latest running shoe, etc. – Fattie Mar 24 '15 at 18:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.