Ultiworld's report card for the 2014 World Ultimate Club Championships.
August 13, 2014 by Charlie Eisenhood in Opinion with 42 comments
Check-In And Welcome
My week began at the WFDF Congress about 15 minutes outside of Lecco by car. The Congress was great — and then there was no transportation for anyone to get to the opening ceremony, which was far too far away to walk to. The Opening Ceremony was well-run and the opening showcase game was a good one.
Then, once again, no transportation. The only option was to catch a public bus (good luck figuring that out your first day there) or to walk 30+ minutes to the dorms. Bizarre start.
Once I got to the dorms, I headed over to the gym (about 8 minutes down the road) to get checked in. Total chaos. Volunteers were doing their best to get everyone set up, but there weren’t enough and the line was long. Katrina Woldt, WFDF’s event manager, did a remarkable job of holding everything together, particularly after she announced to those in the room that Sunday games were going to be cancelled.
Internet wasn’t working. Volunteers were sprawled all over the gym floor with no badges or leadership. Woldt had to appoint someone on the spot to be a leader for the volunteers. Everything was a bit frazzled, though it did eventually get done.
There have been plenty of horror stories about the dormitory accommodations at WUCC, especially after news broke at the Juniors event that things were not up to snuff. The tournament organizing committee worked hard to remedy some of the issues, including installing all new beds (!) and adding more substantive separators in the main dorm tents.
I stayed in the dorms right along with players — I was in an “upgraded dorm,” essentially a shipping container with three small beds, two dressers, an air conditioner, and two windows. It was purely utilitarian — there were no bells and whistles at all. The bed was not exactly robust — if you sat down on it too hard, the slats supporting the mattress would pop out of their holders and send you to the floor. It was fairly easy to fix, but the design (by Ikea!) was not great.
The most important thing — sleeping — was comfortable. The A/C worked great and I was able to sleep soundly (the noise from the bar area didn’t bother me as I live in Brooklyn where noise at night is part of life). The bed was nothing special and could have been better, but for what it was, it was fine.
The regular dormitories — essentially giant banquet tents with dividers to create rooms — were, I am sure, less pleasant places to sleep. But lots of people said the team bonding aspect of staying in them made it worth it. Again, bare bones to the max. But functional.
I have to note that expectations played a big part in many people’s unhappiness. The dorms were not advertised as they eventually appeared, and the prices — 3o euro a night for the dorm, 40 euro a night for the upgraded dorm — seemed out of alignment with services provided.
Value for Money: C
The dormitories area was a giant lot, more or less, where they had plopped down tents, shipping container bedrooms, portable bathrooms/showers, and a big bar tent and a stage for party entertainment. Some things were really nice (the bar tent); other things felt like they simply hadn’t been considered.
Rain made the ground a mud pit, which you had no choice but to walk through to hit the showers/bathrooms/bar tent. There had been no consideration for a communal hang out area, as there were no tables or chairs by the dorms and shipping containers. Players eventually took tables and benches out of the bar tent in order to have somewhere to hang out other than their rooms. I did a lot of my work early in the week sitting on my bed in the container. There was no chair.
The bathrooms were fine, the showers — when there was hot water, which was not always — were nice. The whole thing had a bit of a refugee camp feel, which bonded everyone staying there together. The real kicker was that on the final night after the games, a huge thunderstorm hit the dorms, including lightning, extreme rain, and — no joke — golf ball sized hail. I thought a tornado was going to end us all right there. The dorm tents barely hung on, and one team’s wall blew out.
There was simply not enough thought put into how players would want to use the dorm space.
There was essentially no internet connectivity at the dorms or the fields for the first four days of the tournament. I had wisely purchased a local SIM card with a 12 gig data plan. Had I not, there would have been almost no recourse to post content onto Ultiworld.
Though it was eventually fixed, it was still buggy. Disastrous all around.
Food – Retail
The main field site had a large food tent where you could buy soda, beer, sandwiches, pizza, ice cream, coffee, and other assorted snacks and drinks. It was adequately staffed and waits were generally brief, even when lots of people were buying food.
I only had the pizza, which was pretty good. Prices were within reason (€2.00 for a slice of cheese, ham, or sausage). The sandwiches, which I did not have, looked typically Italian — tons of bread, very little filling. I think most people would have preferred some more robust food options.
Drinks were cold and delicious on the hot days.
Food – Meal Plan
The tournament field site had a separate tent specifically set up for a massive catering operation to feed thousands of players a day. After a totally disastrous day one, where everyone was being asked to scan their card before they could go inside and the line took nearly an hour at peak dinner team, things went pretty smoothly and most waits were <10 minutes.
The food was very similar every day: large serving of pasta (sauces varied), very small serving of meat (which ranged from delicious one day [roast chicken] to downright awful [questionable lunch meat slices]), a pickled vegetable or roast potato, and some lettuce with carrot and tomato. There were also options to have yogurt, cheese, or fruit instead of one of your main courses.
The food was edible, but not great (with some exceptions). The lack of significant protein sources was downright unbelievable for an athletic event — I felt the effects as a non-participant. The amount of food, for me, was often not enough, and the monotony of options grew very tiresome by day three or four. One player said to me, “It’s just fuel. It’s not pleasurable in any way.”
At €20 a meal, the value for the amount and quality of food received was very low indeed. There were no options to get seconds, and the caterers watched like hawks to make sure you didn’t take a piece of fruit in addition to your regular meal.
Value for Money: D
Despite torrential rains throughout July and August (literally the most rain at this time of the year since record-keeping began near the turn of the 20th century), the fields held up amazingly well. Some were totally destroyed and remained mud pits with treacherous holes. But considering there was no other option than to play on very wet fields on Monday to start the tournament, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the fields held up.
The site was a polo grounds and was absolutely vast. But the fields were a bit too close together, and little was done to keep players, bags, and spectators off the immediate sideline except on the showcase field. Spacing could have been a lot better.
Most pitches were flat, though some did have a bit of an up-and-down hill going on. Nothing egregious. Not the best fields I’ve ever seen, but certainly nowhere close to the worst.
The one annoying thing was that there were lots of drainage canals that cut between areas with either a single wood plank “bridge” or nothing at all. There was lots of jumping across canals, and I was not the only one to go ass over teakettle and land on my back on one of my jumps. Again, that was due to the rain.
The main stadium venue — where they held the opening and closing ceremonies; Open, Women’s, and Mixed finals; and showcase games — was quite nice. Plentiful seating, a small snack bar, bathrooms, and a beautiful location in the heart of Lecco with a view of the mountains.
This was one area that the tournament organizing committee did very nicely. There was a constant supply of music, art, and even BMX bike displays at the field site. Certainly some stuff was a bit odd — the body painting accompanied by string quartet comes to mind — but it was nice atmospherics.
The music at the big Saturday night party was also good fun. A cover band, some rock, later dance music. A good variety that had something for everyone.
Because of the rain, there were a lot of schedule changes every day that made life much more difficult for the tournament organizing committee. In my estimation, they did a great job of making the scheduling work despite huge challenges. Unfortunately, their communications were just abysmal.
WUCC was mostly using its Facebook page to issue announcements, but they came slowly. Players were literally sending me emails and gchats trying to find out when they were playing or what was happening. There should have been much better usage of their Twitter account to get things out quickly.
Things improved once the WUCC TD’s gave up on trying to get their proprietary score reporting and scheduling website to work and switched over to the WFDF tournament organizer. Still, updates were slow and often schedules for the following days games weren’t officially out until 10 or 11 PM.
It is obviously difficult to handle comms with such a vast tournament, and everyone was working really hard, but it was poor.
Like many things, transportation options got better as the week went along. Shuttles between the fields and the dorm complex were actually OK, I thought. But the hotels were on a much more strict schedule, forced to catch a particular bus or risk waiting hours to get home.
Some teams had to take buses to the fields bright and early, only to wait hours before playing.
As I mentioned earlier, there was no transportation for the WFDF Congress participants — many of the most important people at the tournament, including all of the WFDF brass — to the opening ceremony. There was very little flexibility, which made for big headaches.
The new game advisers did what they were asked to do extremely well. Unfortunately, they just weren’t all that effective in doing much. Here’s hoping the next iteration — with the ability to offer an opinion on what happened on the field when asked — is a bit more beneficial. For more, see my piece about WFDF needing observers.
Level of Skill
The overall skill level was better than I expected, to be honest. There were lots of good, well-played games, even between lower ranked teams.
It was fun to see the contrasting styles from North American, Europe, Asia, and South America all come together. The lack of wind all week made for high quality offensive conditions and games were generally pretty clean.
Level of Thrill
You had to sometimes hunt for good games, but they were there almost every round. The huge Phoenix upset over Buzz Bullets; Revolver’s nailbiter win over Clapham; and a great battle between Fury and HUCK were all highlights.
Of course, there were also lots of blowouts. But, notably, the semifinals and finals rounds were mostly close and exciting. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a highly anticipated final — like Revolver v. Sockeye or Riot v. Fury — be engaging all the way to the end of the contest.
Nobody deserves a bigger round of applause than the volunteers. They worked their tails off, pulling long shifts and basically keeping the tournament from imploding on itself. They had to sleep all together on a gymnasium floor, and they hardly complained.
Wonderful work from hundreds of mostly young people.
Not enough good things can be said about how spectacular Lecco was as a backdrop for the games. Unbelievably beautiful with staggering mountain views. The rain put a damper on things for a bit, but it couldn’t hold back the sheer beauty of the Italian lakes region.
Value For Money
Worlds is a very expensive tournament. That shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. It takes a lot to put on an event for 4,000+ people, and you should expect to pay quite a bit more than you do for your local two-day tournaments.
That said, I think a lot of people are headed home with a bad taste in their mouths about what they paid for and what they got. Housing was subpar, food was subpar, rain dampened everyone’s spirits. The tournament organizers were slow to issue refunds for missed meals or outstanding balances on the cards (you would pay cash to then have a debit card which afforded you discounts). They were rounding down to the nearest €10 for refunds.
The tournament cost €900 for a team, plus €174 per player. That did not include food or housing, which was, in my estimation, certainly over-priced. I don’t think anyone would have had a problem paying €20 a meal had the food been limitless and delicious. That amount of money should be plenty to feed everyone buffet style, all you can eat.
Notably, WFDF is going to start taking the reins of the financial side of major international tournaments going forward.
Some final thoughts.
I think Max Vitali and the tournament organizing committee came into this event with a great vision for how to run a tournament. On paper, things sounded spectacular. Great food, volunteers using tablets to upload scores in real time to a dedicated WUCC website, a comfortable dorm complex, cool entertainment, etc. The problem is that things never quite got there. The details weren’t figured out.
It seemed, at times, like the focus on getting entertainers to the event and making sure there were lots of peripherals crowded out the directors’ time to work on the vital logistical parts of the tournament: housing, food, and transportation. It’s not great to have the fields be an hour from the hotels and 20 minutes from the dorms, in opposite directions.
When you’re hungry and upset that your shuttle doesn’t leave for another hour and a half, you don’t care too much about the band playing on the stage.
There is no doubt that everyone worked incredibly hard to make it work. The rain threw a huge wrench into everything and made handling details so, so much harder. But it may have just been too much for the organizers to deal with.
A 4,000+ person event is no small task. In fact, it’s probably too big of one. I would be surprised to see an event of this scale again in four years — they will have to split up divisions in some way.
At the end of the day, the on-field ultimate was good. But many of the other parts of the tournament really detracted from players’ experiences, and that’s too bad. There’s a lot to learn from this week and improve for next time.
…I want to say thanks to many people for their help, company, or insight this week: Nob Rauch, Volker Bernardi, Gemma Pérez, Katrina Woldt, Liam Kelly, Will Deaver, Greg Connolly, Adriana Withers, Kevin Leclaire and the Ultiphotos team, Elliot Trotter and the Skyd team, and countless players…Thank you to Max Vitali for approving my free room and board to make it possible for Ultiworld to attend…Espressos were plentiful in the WFDF VIP area — a total gamechanger…Gelato in Italy is really top notch…If only we had trains in the United States to connect us as efficiently (and affordably) as those in Italy connect their country. Milan to Venice on a high-speed train cost about $50, bought 15 minutes before departure. New York to Washington is about $200 last minute…