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Behind the Scenes of the Altador Cup

by burning_shadows_79


As a new season nears, and the fans begin to get excited, all the teams are busy preparing themselves for the challenges ahead. With weeks of play in store, the stadium staff must also be getting ready to meet the demands of the enormous crowds that will be flocking in to watch the action happen. Overseeing the Cup is a massive task, and with several changes this year, the Altador Cup Committee has its hands (and paws) full.

We have an interview with former Krawk Island captain and current team coach, "Dasher" Soley, about how the Pirates are getting ready for the tournament. The Slushie Waitress talks to us about how the staff at the Altador Colosseum, including herself, are preparing for the busiest time of the year. We also speak to Lady Almadaira, a former Yooyuball player who now chairs the Altador Cup Committee.

Our interviewer, Vaydo, was also a reserve player before leaving the sport and taking a job as a commentator. His first interview is with "Dasher" Soley, whom he meets in the Golden Dubloon on Krawk Island. Not far from the restaurant is the local Yooyuball pitch, where the team is practising.

Soley: Hey, how're ya doin'?

Vaydo: Fantastic, thank you. I'm looking forward to the new season! What about you?

Soley: Busy as a Bubblebee, gettin' ready for the big event. Y' know, when I played as a forward on Team Krawk Island, I loved it so much I delayed me retirement, but even then I still didn't want to leave me team. So I stayed on as coach, and that's a whole 'nother challenge. Garven Hale's the team cap'n now, and all the team loves him. He's tough, but he knows how to bring out the best in his mates. Not to mention, when he's at his best, he doesn't let a single Yooyu past him.

Vaydo: There can be no doubt that Team Krawk Island is one of the tournament's strongest teams. Is it hard work, keeping the players' skills so sharp?

Soley: You betcha. It ain't just playin' - it's the exercise and trainin' that really wears ye down when the Cup's comin' up. We're talkin' four hours of hard exercise a day, and that's before ye get to the field to practise all ya best moves. We're workin' on the "Duck and Tumble" right now... last season we suffered a bit, we kept losin' the Yooyu, so we're hopin' to avoid the opponents' tackles if we can. Hopefully we'll climb a bit, get closer to the top this year. We're hopin' to be the first team to win the gold twice!

Vaydo: That sounds like a lot of effort! Would your team agree?

Soley: Golly, they agree so much that sometimes they don't want to turn up to trainin'! Zayle Sufhaux has stayed home a couple o' times. I tightened up the schedule a bit after last year's slump - we wouldn't want it to last, would we? - and Zayle seems to be feelin' the strain. His teammates don't mind though, 'cos they really want to return the team to 'er full glory. I'm not sayin' Zayle ain't a valuable member of the team - he's brilliant out there on the field, he's got no shortage o' skill and energy, but he just ain't used to so much trainin'. I don't want to push the team too hard, so if anyone's feelin' sore after practise, I don't mind givin' 'em a break. "Dinksy" Collibridge is the one who's most prone to injury, but she's been fine. She even says she's been feelin' stronger 'cos of all the extra trainin'. That's the spirit!

Vaydo: Indeed it is. But where are you looking to improve your game this year? You have mentioned avoiding tackles in order to retain possession of the Yooyu - is there anything else you're concentrating on?

Soley: We're workin' on some brand new moves as well. Some o' them involve stealin' the ball, others involve blockin' the opponents' shots... I won't give too much away in case the other teams are watchin', but Garven's been quickenin' his reactions with some special trainin'. We brought in Cap'n Threelegs to help train up our players. Ya know he trains Neopets for the Battledome, but Yooyuball is quite the battle if y' ask me, and he's got a trick for gettin' a Neopet's reactions as sharp as a pirate's dagger. With all this effort from all our players, we're hopin' to be back on form and ready for anything!

Vaydo: You sound very confident. It sounds like you've really gone the extra mile to get that second championship. But every team has its weaknesses. Where do you predict the problem areas being?

Soley: Failure's not in me vocabulary, matey. I'm team coach, so it's my job to fix those problem areas, and that's what I've been doin'. You're right that there be weaknesses in every team, but lookin' at 'em that way only makes 'em worse. What's most important is to know the weaknesses of the opposin' teams, so we can focus on those and hopefully achieve victory. But even the best teams don't always win, and it's mad to expect 'em to. I always say, if we're beaten in a match - it ain't 'cos we're a worse team, but our opponent did better that day. If we do get beaten, we gotta look at how we played and how our opponent played, try an' learn from losin', learn to play better so we won't lose again. We gotta let the losses make us stronger, not see 'em as problem areas.

Vaydo: That's a good mindset to have. But the contest is always tough between the top teams in the tournament. Who do you think your biggest rivals are this year?

Soley: Well, with Kreludor's victory last year, they're likely to slump a bit, 'cos all teams do that after winnin' the Cup. We tried our best an' even we couldn't avoid it. But Meridell's on the up, and Darigan's gettin' stronger again - actually, the Lost Desert's makin' a comeback as well, so it'll be lots of former champions at the top this year, I reckon. Mystery Island had a phenomenal performance last year, so they're another one to watch out for. But we can't let our guard down against lower-ranked teams, or they could pull off an upset. We gotta play our hardest against every team - that's the best strategy we can have. Even if we don't win the tournament - and I reckon we can - well, all we gotta do is try our best, be at the top of our game, an' that's enough for me. No one can ask for more 'n that.

Vaydo: Absolutely. Well, I wish you the very best of luck in the Cup this year!

Soley: Cheers.

After the interview, "Dasher" Soley finishes his Crusty Clam Surprise and returns to the nearby field where his team is waiting. By the sound of things, Team Krawk Island will be a serious contender this year.

Meanwhile, the Colosseum is being prepared for the tournament through the hard work of many Neopets whose job it is to keep the stadium clean, maintain the field, and most famously to serve the crowd. The Slushie Waitress meets Vaydo at the stadium's VIP lounge, which has already been furnished and decorated.

Vaydo: Wow, it's beautiful in here!

Waitress: I jolly well hope so, the maintenance guys put an awful lot of work into this. We always have to have this bit of the stadium ready before time, because it's open to visitors a few days before the tournament starts. The same goes for the slushie shop and the souvenir stall, because they're open before the Cup starts as well. *sigh* More work for me...

Vaydo: The field itself has to be ready first, doesn't it? I heard that Team Altador sometimes has practise sessions here in the stadium...

Waitress: You heard wrong - they have to make way for the practise team. You know those Jelly Chias? Who knows where they come from... Anyway they're the ones who get to go on the field first. Sometimes the players from other teams will join them, though. And yes, the Yooyuball pitch has to be ready before anything else is. The practise team has to, um, practise before they can start having friendly matches with the teams that are playing in the tournament. Mostly, the Jelly Chias don't actually send their whole team onto the field for friendly games; they just send out their goalie, so the other teams and the Yooyus can practise shooting for the net. The Jelly Team's goalkeeper says that all that Shootout Showdown stuff is not as tough as it sounds, because it's hard for a Neopet made entirely of jelly to end up with stiff muscles.

Vaydo: I see - so it's the practise team, not Altador, who uses the Yooyuball field before it officially opens. How many Neopets are involved with keeping the Colosseum clean and well-organised?

Waitress: Gosh, I'm not sure. I don't coordinate the maintenance work, so you'd have to ask the stadium manager. But I'm sure it's in the hundreds. There are groundkeepers who look after the field itself, dozens of cleaning staff who maintain the stands, builders and decorators who work on each year's stadium renovations and on setting up the team banners for each new Yooyuball game, medical staff who take care of the players during and after the matches, Petpet trainers who handle the Yooyus, and many many more. We're talking about a huge event here, attracting crowds of tens of thousands of fans... really, really thirsty fans... All I know about the maintenance is what I've seen personally, which is a fair bit, but not the whole story. Are we going to talk about slushies, or what?

Vaydo: Okay, we'll talk about Slushie Slinger now. How did you get into this line of work?

Waitress: I flunked my exams at Neoschool. *laughs* Ah, well, someone's gotta do it. The manager picked me because I have fast and accurate arm movements, which I guess comes from not having legs. Someone said I should have been in Yooyuball - but I said no way, it's too creepy playing a sport where the ball is alive - so I took a job serving slushies instead. I like making slushies, but the spectators are very impatient. They come in faster than I can serve the drinks, and two seconds later they turn around because they've waited too long. *groan* I wish there was a rubbish bin in the slushie shop - they just throw their used slushie cups back at me. What am I supposed to do with them?

Vaydo: Hopefully not fill them again straight away...

Waitress: Of course not... they have to be washed first. But that isn't part of my job - there's a couple of kitchen workers who do that. They wash the cups and clean the benches after each game, and they clean the slush machines during the night. They also put the ingredients into the machines: the green and yellow one is Lemon Lime flavour, the pink one is Wild Berries, and the blue one is of course Chokato. The machines are far bigger than they look, because that's the only way to provide enough refreshment for everyone. They're set into the walls, as everyone can see, but the Colosseum's walls are five feet thick, so an awful lot of slush drink can fit inside the machines.

Vaydo: I've seen the queues at the slushie shop, and they're pretty crazy. Do you ever get impatient with the customers' haste?

Waitress: Yes... goodness, yes. I think all of us who work on the sidelines get impatient. It often feels like there's too much demand and not enough appreciation for the effort we put in. If I didn't enjoy serving slushies, the crowd would drive me mad and I'd be down at the Faerieland Employment Agency in no time, looking for new work. I'm fairly well paid, as are all the staff here - but it's the fun of making the slushies that keeps me in the job.

Vaydo: I can imagine how stressful that must be, but wh--

Waitress: Are you kidding?!

Vaydo: Okay, I can try to imagine how stressful it must be. Would you say you have one of the toughest jobs in the tournament?

Waitress: Uh... no. The Yooyuball players have the toughest job in the tournament. *laughs* But in terms of maintenance, the hardest job is probably that of the groundkeepers. The amount of damage done to the field in one hour's play is simply unbelievable, with all the tackling, running, jumping around in spiked shoes... and it all has to be fixed up in just thirty minutes, ready for the next match! And for some reason, the manager employs just three Neopets to maintain the Yooyuball pitch, which places an insane workload on each of them. It's incredibly hard to bring the grounds back into good condition during the short break between games. Sometimes the damage to the pitch from an intense game of Yooyuball is just too much, and the entire field has to be replaced with brand new turf after a match, with new lines painted on it and everything, all before the next game starts! Compared to that, making slushies is a walk in the park.

Vaydo: Apparently there's a lot of fascinating stuff that goes on behind the scenes! I hope everything goes well for the Cup.

Waitress: You and me both, Vaydo. Thanks.

With those words, the Slushie Waitress shakes Vaydo's hand and leaves the VIP Lounge. Lady Almadaira is waiting in the Celebrity Box for her turn to be interviewed, and greets Vaydo with a plate of Altadorian Sun Cheese as he enters.

Vaydo: Thank you!

Almadaira: You're most welcome. This is a rare chance to speak publicly about the trials and tribulations of running the biggest sporting event in Neopia.

Vaydo: Let's start by talking about the Cup's history. The format of the tournament has changed a few times over the past eight years...

Almadaira: Yes, indeed. Before the first year of the Cup, the committee had been working for a long time to try to introduce a worldwide competition for Yooyuball, because it's something we're very proud of as Altadorians, having founded the sport hundreds of years ago. Our first format was a simple knockout tournament, which works by elimination. Complaints came in from players that this wasn't a fair test of a team's prowess, because the second-best team in the competition could come in 9th if their first match was against the only team that could beat them, and that's if the results are perfectly consistent for every team, which of course they aren't. Teams can have good days and bad days, so we introduced the Round Robin, where every team gets a chance to play every other team in the tournament. In the seventh Altador Cup, we decided the tournament should be shortened to avoid undue wear and tear on the players, so we replaced the Round Robin with a bracket format, whose placings were judged not by victory or defeat but by overall team effort. This had problems, though... several teams insisted that victory and defeat were more important, and that they should be given the chance to play every team, so that each can assess their skills against all the others. As a result, we'll be making some more changes this year to try and improve the competition.

Vaydo: Do you think the tournament's structure this year will be good for the Cup?

Almadaira: Of course I do; we wouldn't have put it into effect if we didn't sincerely believe that it would benefit the competition. A lot of thought goes into each of the changes we make, and although we sometimes miss the mark, I think the committee has done well overall.

Vaydo: The Altador Cup Committee is most famous for deciding the tournament's format, but what other aspects of the competition do you govern?

Almadaira: Just about everything, really. The manager of the Colosseum itself is on the committee, so we have a say in any renovations that are made to the stadium to prepare for the tournament. We have to plan ahead for the arrival of each team, and provide accommodation for the players over the course of the event. In the past, some teams have failed to make it to Altador and had to be disqualified. Not every Neopian land has a Yooyuball team, but when a new team joins the event, sometimes the competition has to be restructured to include them, as happened when Moltara joined. And of course, as everybody knows, the teams' fans have a role in deciding the outcome of the matches, with contests in slushie-making, cheering, and penalty goal-scoring that spectators can take part in to support their team - the committee decides on what those contests are, and how much role they have in the overall scoring. Our philosophy is to do everything we can to make the tournament as grand as possible, so that the Altador Cup can bring out the best in competitive Yooyuball.

Vaydo: Goodness, you sound like the chief executive of PD Secure Storage when you talk like that.

Almadaira: Well, what do you expect? I'm the chairwoman of a committee, of course I talk like someone who works in an office and wears a nice suit...

Vaydo: You are wearing a very nice suit, actually.

Almadaira: Thank you! I bought it at the NC Mall a few months ago.

Vaydo: ...Aren't we supposed to be talking about the Altador Cup?

Almadaira: Oh, yes.

Vaydo: I was about to ask about the prize shop. You have merchandise specially made for the prize shop, don't you?

Almadaira: Yes, that's true - although sometimes we also put pre-existing items into the prize shop, such as paint brushes. Prize shop points are awarded to the Yooyuball players based on their performance, and also to the fans who support their teams. The most famous prizes are the Yooyus that are retiring from the sport - we put them into the prize shop so the fans can have a Yooyu of their very own. Over the years, just about every type of Yooyu that takes part in the game has appeared in the prize shop, except for Clockwork Yooyus since their retirement typically takes the form of a violent explosion. We did distribute toy Clockwork Yooyus on one occasion, though, with labels on them indicating that there was little to no chance of them ever blowing up when played with. There have been calls for Robot Yooyus to be released in the prize shop this year, especially in honour of Kreludor's remarkable victory last year.

Vaydo: Some of the prizes have been tributes to champion teams, haven't they?

Almadaira: Yes. Our brains were in meltdown trying to decide on a paint brush to commemorate Virtupets' victory, and eventually we decided on an 8-bit Power-Up Potion since there's no paint brush for Robot. But on a couple of occasions, the Yooyus released in the prize shop have honoured winning teams as well. When Roo Island won the championship, our Yooyu handlers discovered that with a few modifications to the basic-colour Petpet Paint Brushes, Yooyus (which are normally resistant to changes in colour) could be specially painted Red, Green, Yellow and Blue. To keep these Yooyus special, we didn't release the secret of how they were painted - the Petpet Paint Brushes that ordinary Neopians can buy still don't work on Yooyus. We do take into consideration that team players like to be rewarded with unique prizes.

Vaydo: I certainly do. You can be sure that I'll be working hard for my team this year!

Almadaira: Which team will you be supporting?

Vaydo: Ah-ha... that's a secret!

By the sounds of things, this year's Altador Cup will be better than ever before. The hard work of the Yooyuball teams, stadium staff, and Altador Cup Committee - as well as the enthusiasm of the tournament's thousands of die-hard fans - look set to combine to create a great tournament.

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