Altador: Home Field Underdogs
As summer approaches, the palpable sense of competition hangs in the air. Athletes and enthusiasts from all sides of Neopia have begun to gather as Altador Cup season begins. Neopia is abuzz with familiar hot topics: Is there such a thing as the winner’s curse? How will player trades factor into the results? Can anyone sling slushies quite like Tyrannia? How will the newcomer team of Moltara fare? Analysts are already compiling predictions, and rivalries are forming on all tiers of competition.
Ironically, even though all eyes are on Altador, no one is generating buzz over the Cup’s host team. The land that originated the sport has never managed to keep the trophy at home; in fact, Team Altador has not yet ranked above the lowest four teams in all four years of the competition.
Why has the home team failed time and again to achieve glory? What happened to the myth of the home field advantage? This article explores the historical causes behind the team’s disappointing performance, the exclusive story behind their notorious rivalry with Faerieland, and inside information on their strategy for Altador Cup V.
Altador Cup 101
On a recent trip to Altador, I decided to explore the history of Yooyuball and the Altador team. I took a trip to the Altadorian Archives, where a Lenny librarian named Finneus led me through a labyrinth of book stacks until we reached a hall dedicated entirely to Altador Cup lore. He dropped a tall stack of books at a desk in front of me and started to leave when I quickly asked him to summarize the information compiled in these books. He sighed, but seemed to relish the opportunity to advertise his extensive knowledge.
“The earliest form of Yooyuball dates back to 1,200 years ago,” he explained. “At that time, Yooyus were actually considered pests here in Altador, if you can believe it, and irritated Altadorians initiated a great round-up effort. As Neopians are wont to do, they altered the chore into a pastime to determine who could collect the greatest number of stray Yooyus in a certain amount of time.” Over the next several decades, as the librarian explained in superfluous detail, the activity’s rules evolved into the Yooyuball we all love today.
So, with a head start of approximately a millennium, how did Altador manage to fall behind in Yooyuball technique? Archaeologists recently revealed that, for a thousand years, Altador was under a spell that erased all memory of Altadorian history. Yooyuball, a great part of the land’s history, was forgotten as well. Therefore, when the spell was lifted only a few years ago, the current generation of Altadorians were as unfamiliar with Yooyuball as any other Neopian land was. Luckily, with the spell banished, the historic rules of Yooyuball were restored, so the sport could be reinstated. As visitors flooded the newly discovered land, Yooyuball became a universal sport, and the Altador Cup was in the works.
Clearly, history did not give Altador any advantage or disadvantage in the Cup; they had just as much background in the sport as any other team. The cause for Altador’s athletic inadequacy must lie elsewhere.
A Cultural Cavalcade
Since Altador had been left in isolation for thousands of years, the sudden influx of diverse cultures in the first Altador Cup left most Altador natives awestruck. In the few years preceding, when Altador was first discovered by outsiders, Altador welcomed only a few archaeologists, anthropologists, and tourists, but never before had the residents witnessed such a wide array of cultures, food, fashion, and cosmopolitan ideals all at once.
Thousands of visitors poured in from all corners of Neopia for the Cup, each exhibiting the excitement of their own culture. The technology of Virtupets Station, the elegant magic of Faerieland, the boundless knowledge of Brightvale, and the tribal music of Mystery Island all captivated the sheltered Altadorians. The fans and even the players of the home team were so intrigued by the other lands that they spent more time interacting with other teams than improving their own. With this distraction, it would have been close to impossible for Altador to succeed in the first year.
Even after the novelty of the first Cup wore off, Team Altador continued to show a predilection for hospitality rather than competition. Many are unaware that the pop culture sensation, the Techo Super-Fan, is an Altadorian. I managed to secure an interview with him. For the reader’s convenience, the following transcript contains both his verbatim remarks and a translation.
Me: What is your favorite team in the Cup?
Techo Super-Fan: WOO! YEAH! ALRIGHT! PUMP UP THE VOLUUUUUME! (I love all the teams, but each year my favorite is the one that puts on the best show. Any team that pleases the fans is the best as far as I’m concerned.)
Me: Why don’t you support the Altador team, being a native Altadorian?
TSF: YEEEEEEAH! WOO! LET’S GO, ALTADOR, LET’S GO! (I think Altador has better adapted to a role as a host than a competitor. I can relate. As an Altadorian, I feel like my role is not to support my own team but to make visiting teams feel welcome and appreciated.)
Me: Would it be possible for Altador to gain your support?
TSF: UH-HUH! UH-HUH! THAT’S RIGHT! (Sure, if Altador puts on the same fan-pleasing extravaganza that the other teams do. In order to do that, though, it will have to step out of its modest host role and develop its own exciting identity. As it is, Altador tends to tone down its own patriotism to let the visiting teams have the glory, but Altador needs to take pride in its culture and impress its neighbors.)
Economic factors have also contributed to Altador’s hospitable role. Prior to the first Altador Cup, the Altadorian economy was not accustomed to nor prepared for a global market due to its previously isolated status. Altador needed all hands on deck in terms of employment in order to make the city properly equipped for an unprecedented influx in visitors. The Altador Water Distribution Plant welcomed a 300% increase in employees in order to provide proper sanitation for the event. Old Follies Farm had to expand by one hundred acres in order to have enough food supplies to keep Exquisite Ambrosia able to feed hungry tourists. The city’s sole janitor, employed at the Hall of Heroes, found himself in high demand as thousands of spectators littered the Colosseum with slushie cups and souvenirs. From the janitor himself, we learned the impact of the new demand for employees on Altador’s Yooyuball capabilities:
“I’m actually quite the pro at Yooyuball. I’m the captain of the West Altador amateur team and I was a first round draft for the Cup team. But when the event rolled around, I saw that my city needed me, not as a player but as a custodian. I’ve also been called to help out at Exquisite Ambrosia with my culinary skills and at the Flat Rock Quarry as a foreman. By staying off the team, I was able to help Altador in three capacities instead of one.”
Many Altadorians, just like this Yurble, have found themselves better able to serve their city off the field than on it; therefore, it is hard for Team Altador to sign and retain the best players available.
“In cases like this, the home field advantage actually becomes a disadvantage,” said Tyvrius Dax, the Disco Ixi commentator for the Altador Cup. “It takes so much for the home team to keep the gears turning that they don’t devote enough attention to the sport. It‘s a shame, because Altadorians are Yooyuball fanatics to the core, but the home team must make a great number of sacrifices in exchange for the glory of hosting.”
An obvious solution would be to make the location change each year. Tyrannia’s concert hall and Faerieland’s Poogle racing track could both easily be adapted to accommodate a Yooyuball tournament. However, Altadorians relish their position as the host far too much to share it with any other land. To let another team take the reign would be insulting to a land that has been nothing but accommodating since the very first Cup.
The Sun on the Horizon
“Altador is due for a great change,” predicted “Trapper” Remis, Altador’s team captain, as we sat near the coastline enjoying a plate of Hero Gyros. “Now that the Cup’s become routine, Altadorians are through with modesty. We’re ready for the spotlight, and we’ve been working overtime in the off-season in preparation for that.”
It’s true that Altador has grown in attention especially after last year’s cup. The final match between Altador and Faerieland came close to drawing the most spectators out of any match in the tournament. The rivalry between the two teams is legendary, and in this case, the loser would have the distinction of ranking in dead last that year. Yooyuball analysts could not predict a winner; it was anybody’s game. Drawn by the thrill of a well-balanced match, thousands of fans hovered on the edge of their seats during the extraordinarily passionate match that culminated in a Herculean victory for Altador.
Second-to-last may not sound like a very illustrious ranking, but for Altador, it counted as a brilliant victory. Fueled by this hard-won triumph, it is no surprise that Altadorians now aspire to move up the rankings chart this year.
“Trapper” couldn’t give me all the details of Altador’s strategy for this year, naturally, but he gave me a few indications of what to expect.
“We’ve managed to get Punch Club to put a temporary suspension on their first rule (You Don’t Talk About Punch Club) in order to strike up a sponsorship deal. In exchange for advertising space on the Colosseum, they’re going to show us the trick to slinging the best slushies this side of Tyrannia.”
As for Yooyuball, the team has worked out negotiations with Legendary Petpets to borrow actual Yooyus instead of practice replicas for off-season practice, giving practice games a more realistic dynamic.
“I don’t think that qualifies as an unfair advantage,” argued Winberto Seliz, the Center Forward. “If we have had to suffer because of our location in the past, we should also have the right to benefit from it.” After extensive debate, the Altador Cup Committee took Winberto’s stance on the matter.
For Altador, the motivation is there for Altador Cup V to mark a turning point in the team’s history. As far as the players and fans are concerned, it is time for Altador’s historic generosity to its visitors to be repaid with the glory of an underdog surprise. Now it is only a matter of time before Yooyuball enthusiasts everywhere find out if the sun will shine upon Altador this year.