Altador Cup Preview
Here we are again; Altador Cup VI is a little over a month away and Yooyuball fans the world over are gearing up for the biggest sporting event of the year. Roster changes have yet to be announced, but the buzz has already started for some of last year's top teams. Let's break down the competition.
Considered a potential sleeper pick last year, LD's Yooyuball team had somewhat mixed results in the second half of the tournament, but regained their momentum just in time for the finals. Expected to return to the tournament with the same roster, they're sure to be fierce opponents again this year. The question that looms in everyone's minds, however, is whether LD can break the so-called 'winners curse' and compete for a spot in this year's top bracket. Only time will tell if they have what it takes to become repeat champions.
Sorry, Lost Desert fans, but your team won't be doing a repeat of last year. The emotional crash following a winning season is just too much for any team to overcome, and you're likely going to lose at least one of your stars to some team looking to upgrade. I don't think the drop's going to be too severe, but don't expect to be playing for a trophy come July. Lost Desert will finish in 8th place.
A surprisingly tough team since the first annual Yooyuball tournament, KD is always in the hunt for the elusive Yooyuball trophy. Though they had a slightly weaker showing than expected two years ago, KD came roaring back last year to capture second place. However, second place is not what this team plays for. Rumor has it that Kreludor may be making an upgrade at one of their key positions this year, and given KD's traditional dominance at Yooyuball, their fans are unlikely to be happy with anything short of first. Second-place teams usually do well the following year, so it may be Kreludor's time to hoist the trophy.
This is the year of Kreludor. They've been so close to the trophy in times past they could almost taste it, and the Grundos aren't about to let another Cup slip through their fingers. There are going to be some major challenges for KD, and they may even go into the finals in fourth, but once the dust settles Kreludor will be the last team standing. 1st place goes to Kreludor.
Considered THE team to beat in the first two Altador Cups, Darigan Citadel inexplicably struggled the next two years. Though DC turned in a stronger than expected performance last year, it wasn't until the final week of the regular tournament that they really came alive. Jumping from a possible eighth place all the way to third, Darigan Citadel finally regained the momentum that had made them such a juggernaut in the first two Cups. A perennial fan favorite, DC is looking to build on the success they had last year and regain their rightful spot on the top of the podium.
This is actually one of the toughest teams for me to predict. I'm expecting at least one team above them to drop, but I also anticipate DC being challenged by some up-and-coming teams. Darigan Citadel will fall and rise in the ranks throughout the season, but when it's all said and done things will look much the same for them as they did in ACV. Settling for bronze, Darigan Citadel stays in 3rd place.
One of Yooyuball's most popular teams, Roo Island never fails to make a splash in the Altador Cup. Known for their flamboyant colors and raucous supporters, this is a powerhouse team that never takes itself too seriously. Dropping all the way to 9th the year after their first-place finish, Roo Island made a remarkable comeback last year, climbing all the way to fourth in the final standings. With the expected return of last year's all-star roster, supporters are confident that RI will be the first team in AC history to become two-time champions.
I'm expecting plenty of hype about various teams this year, but in Roo Island's case I believe it's justified. Only Kreludor has been as consistent from year to year, and I'm predicting a slugfest between KD and RI for the trophy. It won't be a storybook ending for the Roos, but the shine of their silver trophies should help to ease any lingering disappointments. After a hard-fought final match, Roo Island takes 2nd place.
A bit of a wild card, Maraqua has made a steady rise through the AC ranks each year. Falling just short of the top bracket in the previous season, MQ is expected to return with a new roster for Altador Cup VI. "We dropped some key battles last year," Maraqua's coach told the Neopian Times. "Our focus was there, but the lineup was too one-dimensional to match up against some of the stronger teams." Consistency has always been one of MQ's weaknesses, but a new roster just might give Maraqua the strength they need to overcome that final hurdle into the top spot.
Maraqua will show marked improvement this AC, but it won't be quite enough to break into the top tier. I believe MQ will be playing for the gold next year, but for now they'll have to settle for winning the second tier. Landing just shy of competing for a trophy, Maraqua ends up in 5th place.
Considered a cupcake team after the first Altador Cup, Virtupets finished a dismal last place in ACII. They fared better in the fourth Cup, climbing all the way to 12th, largely due to their amazing dominance in Shootout Showdown. Fans were stunned, therefore, to see VP's meteoric rise to 6th by the end of Altador Cup V. Though there were whispers of Dr. Sloth slipping VP team members some mystery potion, most sport insiders acknowledge that Virtupets was simply one of the hardest-working teams during the off season. With fan expectations at their highest level ever, Virtupets must be able to prove they can handle the pressure and cement their spot among the elite teams of Yooyuball.
Is VP ready for the spotlight? Absolutely. Their YYB skills have finally reached the level of the top teams, and coupled with their side game ability and fan support, this team's going to be very tough to beat no matter who's playing them. They don't yet have the experience to win a trophy, but they should be very happy to make it into the top four. Jumping two spots, Virtupets finishes in 4th place.
Krawk Island's drop to seventh place in ACV from first the year before was not without precedent, but supporters were still saddened to see their team fade after such a strong start. KI began the Cup with several convincing performances, causing many to speculate that they might be the first to become repeat champions. The desire just wasn't there for them, however, and wins became harder to come by as the tournament went on. This year, Krawk Island has returned with a fire in their eyes, hoping to prove that their win in ACIV was not a fluke. Other than Roo Island, however, no winning team has ever managed to regain their former dominance in less than three seasons, so it remains to be seen if KI can truly compete for the gold this year.
This is a very good team that just hasn't made it back to peak form yet. They're going to be better this year, and at some point they may even be in the top three, but the pressure to become repeat champions will ultimately be too much for them. Improving slightly, Krawk Island climbs into 6th place.
Considered a dark horse to win both Altador Cup IV and ACV, Meridell fans were largely disappointed by MD's average eighth-place showing last year. Though there were days when MD could go toe-to-toe with any of the teams, during other matches they seemed so demoralized that some sports analysts began to wonder if there were team unity issues brewing. No news has come out of Meridell during the off-season, King Skarl being notoriously anti-media, but many Yooyuball followers are expecting some kind of roster shake-up for ACVI. The big issue in Meridell, however, is whether they can maintain their standing over Brightvale this year. Says one fan, "As far as I'm concerned, we could finish second-to-last, and as long as last place was held by Brightvale, it would be a good year for us.".
The pain continues for MD, as they lose ground for the second year in a row. Based on my observations, I believe this team's woes go deeper than a simple lack of talent, and while they will eventually cure what ails them, this will not be the year. Plunging down the leaderboard, Meridell stops at 12th place.
Much like the ancient glaciers which fill their homeland, Terror Mountain's climb through the Yooyuball ranks has been a gradual one. Sometimes advancing, sometimes retreating, TM has drawn from each year's experiences to develop their best team ever. Rising to a team-record ninth last season, Terror Mountain seems to have all the pieces in place to make a run for the trophy. With so many good teams vying for the top spot, though, TM will have to work especially hard if they want a shot at the gold in Altador Cup VI.
While not world-beaters, Terror Mountain has been trending upwards the past few years. Frankly, I believe they tend to play above their talent level, but that doesn't mean that they're a bad team. They simply find unique ways to win, and I have no reason to expect anything different from them this year. They won't be the champions this year, or most likely next year, but they will continue to improve their standing in the Cup. Showing a small gain, Terror Mountain rises to 7th place.
Indisputably the side-game champions, Tyrannia has yet to make an impact on the Yooyuball scene. Despite making a roster switch last season, TY failed to capitalize on their team-best eighth in Altador Cup IV, and wound up drifting back into tenth place last year. Due to the support of a core group of rabid fans, Tyrannia always manages to sneak out some unexpected wins, but without a major upgrade to their front line, the middle tier will always be the best that they can hope for.
Before I give my prediction, I want to make full disclosure: I am a loyal Tyranniac, and have been since ACI. I happen to think my team's one of the best in the league, and I love that we've been the side game champs two years running. (Thanks in no small part to some awesome players. I won't name names, but you know who you are.) With that said, however, I'm not confident that the dinos have the Yooyuball strength needed to move up in the standings. I expect TY to take the side games again, and possibly show some improvement in YYB, but I don't think it will make a difference in the standings. Stuck in the same spot as ACV, Tyrannia takes 10th place.
Finishing in the top four every year they competed, most sports analysts had pegged Shenkuu as the team to win it all in Altador Cup V. It cannot be understated, therefore, how shocked the sports world was when SK lost several key battles early in the season and ended up plunging to eleventh place. "We were overconfident," one Shenkuu player admitted. "Our team had been playing so well that we just didn't put in the practice we needed going into last year's AC." Reports coming out of Shenkuu have indicated that this year's team has been practicing harder than ever in an effort to redeem their once-stellar reputation, but it remains to be seen if fans are ready to forgive them after such a huge letdown in ACV.
SK suffered a major shock last season, and I don't think they'll be able to recover from that so quickly. They're a better team than their 11th-place finish in ACV might have indicated, and I think this year they'll lay the foundation for their comeback, but it's too soon to expect any major improvements. Jumping up two spots, Shenkuu moves to 9th place.
The winners of the first-ever Altador Cup, Haunted Woods has never quite been able to recover their former glory. Though their Yooyuball skills have always been strong, HW has been slow to catch up with the new YYB trends that other teams have developed in the years since ACI. Due to their frightening demeanor and the recent expansion of the tournament to eighteen teams, Haunted Woods has also had difficulty attracting new fans. The team was recently purchased by a new owner, however, and the acquisition of a new coach and general manager has brought life to a once-dispirited team. Certain HW insiders have indicated that their young owner is unveiling a brand-new marketing scheme for this year's Altador Cup, and team management is hopeful that this will be just what they need to bring their team back into the spotlight.
Flashy marketing campaigns notwithstanding, HW has just undergone a major overhaul, and it's almost impossible for a team to become champions under those conditions. A new coach might be what this team needed, but it'll be several seasons before we know what the true impact is. Until then, I expect HW will continue to languish at the bottom of the standings. Dropping one spot, Haunted Woods takes 13th place.
The land famed far and wide for their peaceful pursuits of knowledge and truth, Brightvale's YYB team is paradoxically famous for cheating. Although they have never been officially accused, BV's underhanded tactics are well known throughout the league. At least they were, until King Hagan withdrew the team from the competition mere days before Altador Cup IV. Although the official reason given was a decline in the quality of his scholars' work during the tournament, sources inside Hagan's court have hinted that the King had become unhappy with the unsportsmanlike play of his team, and had decided to use the time off from Yooyuball in order to bring about a new team culture. ACV saw the return of a kinder, gentler Brightvale, but the changed attitudes failed to bring about any marked improvement in gameplay. Although BV has vowed to remain a paragon of virtue on the game field, many fans are hopeful that Altador Cup VI will feature the return of the aggressive style that was Brightvale's hallmark.
Even with their more... questionable tactics, this team has always been in the bottom half of the Cup. Perhaps if more time were devoted to studying YYB strategy, and less to the study of the psychological motivators behind the competitiveness of the AC, BV might have a better chance at the trophy. As it is, I'm not anticipating anything new from BV, but nothing is ever certain in the Altador Cup. Falling slightly, Brightvale ends up in 15th place.
Finishing in sixth place no fewer than three times, Mystery Island faithful were confident going into Altador Cup V that their team would be the one to hoist the trophy. Instead, MI went into a freefall, dropping matches against even the weakest of opponents. Some blamed the easy-going island lifestyle for the team's poor performance, while other accused the team cook, Jhuidah, of creating inedible concoctions for the team meals. Regardless of the cause, the most pressing issue for Mystery Island in the off season was to find out what went wrong, and fix it before this year's tournament began. Although the press releases coming out of MI have struck a positive note, local sports watchers have been increasingly concerned that team management haven't taken last year's issues seriously. Only the fiery crucible of the Cup will reveal whether Mystery Island has truly solved the problems that were plaguing them.
So will MI be able to turn their team around this year? I think they will, at least in part. MI has traditionally been a strong team, and I think last year was probably an aberration. They won't be regaining their former place this year, but they'll at least get a little closer than they were. Moving up the board, Mystery Island climbs into 11th place.
Unlike many teams at the bottom, Altador Cup V was a banner year for Faerieland. Finishing dead last almost every Cup, ACIV was particularly difficult, as FL failed to win even a single game of Yooyuball until the final week of the tournament. Out of that low point was born a new determination, and Faerieland set out to rebuild their team from the ground up. Finishing ACV in fifteenth place, FL found a way to win many of the hard-fought battles they would have lost in seasons past, and even in their losses they were competitive. Although they still have a ways to go, FL has begun to show true improvement, and if the team can continue to develop the raw talent on their roster, Faerieland just may become a Yooyuball champion in the not-so-distant future.
Between last year's gains, and the attention the recent events have brought to FL, I expect the faeries to build on the success of last year. The difference will be subtle, but FL won't be the easy win they used to be. Gaining one spot, Faerieland moves into 14th place.
Consistently finishing in the bottom ranks of the Cup, Kiko Lake has never finished higher than thirteenth. Altador Cup V did feature some improvement for KL, however, as they managed to win a few games as huge underdogs, including one memorable game in which they beat the eventual 5th-place finishers, Maraqua. Kiko Lake must make some major upgrades to their lineup if they ever want to be mentioned among the greats of Yooyuball, however. Relatively undersized for YYB players, the Kikos particularly suffer from a lack of traction on the field of play, given that they have no legs. "We have great speed," one Kiko Lake player complained, "but it's almost impossible to turn quickly enough when you're going against some of the best forwards in the league." Coming from such a small island, KL also has a limited pool of talent to draw from, so they must become master technicians of the game if they hope to overcome their limitations and compete with the big boys this year.
KL simply doesn't have the size to match up against the better teams, and with some of the teams at the bottom getting better, I anticipate they'll be dropping even farther this year. Landing just one spot above last, Kiko Lake slides to 17th place.
If the Altador Cup is your favorite event of the year, this is the team to thank. Introducing the world to Yooyuball nearly six years ago, Altador has never been able to measure up to the remarkable success of their sport. The poor showing they had in the first annual AC was not unexpected, given the tumultuous events they had just endured. Each successive season turned out the same results, however, leaving many to wonder why the inventors of Yooyuball were being dominated by teams much newer to the sport. "It's completely unfathomable," King Altador said after a seventeenth-place finish in ACV. "My researchers have speculated that the spell that was over Altador has left some lingering effect on the citizens, but so far they've not been able to discover any kind of cure, or even what exactly is being affected." Given the long and noble history of Yooyuball in Altador, even the fans of other teams are hoping that AL can find a way to restore their team to its former glory.
Honestly, there's no good reason why Altador continues to stay at the bottom year after year. Perhaps they feel the fan pressure inherent with being the creators of a popular sport, and they just haven't found a way to process the pressure yet. I think Altador will be a little better this year, but when you've performed poorly for so long, small improvements aren't very encouraging. Stepping up one spot, Altador winds up in 16th place.
The newest land to send a team to the Altador Cup, Moltara finished dead last in their first AC. Although they did manage to pull out a few Yooyuball wins, MT faced a steep challenge by playing against teams that were accustomed to the bright lights and loud noises of the Altador Cup. Expected to return for a second season, MT will undoubtedly use last year's experiences to develop a team more suited to the fierce moves and fast play of the Cup. Having had a chance to evaluate the team for the first time in a real-world situation, the Moltara coach is said to have a better handle on the team's strengths and weaknesses, and sports analysts anticipate a major roster announcement from MT in the days leading up to ACVI.
Moltarans live underground, in the dark, in damp, stagnant caverns. That just doesn't sound like the recipe for a championship-caliber team to me. Maybe they'll win a few more games this year, but MT's got a lot of growing to do before they can make it up to the top tier. Rounding out the standings, Moltara once again claims 18th place.