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NPPL Atlantic City 2002
August 21-25, 2002
Egg Harbor, New Jersey
The NPPL is back in Atlantic City. 2001 was the first year for the league in the city immortalized on the Monopoly board. Last year the tournament was held at the Atlantic City Race track. Traditionally the fourth event of each NPPL season had been the league's unwanted stepchild that got half the attention of the rest. Previously it had been held in Atlanta, Boston, Portland and Nashville. Last year with the move to Atlantic City, the fourth event blossomed and was highly praised. 2001 was the year that the separate promoters joined forces to create Paintball Sports Promotions, the company responsible for producing the NPPL's tournaments. The competitors now working together meant shared resources, and Atlantic City was where their new $200,000 air fill system made its debut, and much of the newer field netting and staff behind the netting installations. The venue used, the Atlantic City race track changed hands later in the year and was unavailable for 2002. Paintball Sports Promotions liked the Atlantic City area. The general location keeps the NPPL tournaments widely distributed throughout the US, giving more teams a chance to play an event that is "local" to them.
PSP searched the area and found the Atlantic County 4 H fairgrounds. The site was nearly a stone's throw from last year's location, and about 15 miles from the famous Atlantic City boardwalk. The three main areas of the fairgrounds allowed for six concept fields on grass (not manicured grass, it was pretty rough, but a far cry from the rocks and dirt of Vegas), a large grass covered parking lot, and a staging, vendor and scoring area that was in a grove of shade trees providing a comfortable park like setting compared to the unrelenting sunshine at the previous year's site. The fields consisted of Sup'Air bunkers on the Diablo, JT and WDP (Angel) fields, and Ultimate Airball on the Shocktech and Ultimate Airball fields. The Smart Parts field was a combination of Sup'Air and Ultimate Airball bunkers.
Tuesday afternoon all but one of the fields were finished, and 5 man teams were able to walk the fields they were going to play. Sponsors and vendors arrived and began setting up their displays. The 5 player captain's meeting was held Tuesday night with games scheduled to begin at 7:30 am on Wednesday morning.
PSP instituted an entirely new style of dead boxes for this event. Tents provided a roof with shade. The dead boxes were situated to the right of each flag station. Two walls were on each tent, one facing the flag station and one facing the center of the field. This completely obscured the eliminated players from the view of the field, making communication and elimination counts that much more important. It also made it much more apparent if a player was peeking around the side. The clear delineation has made it much easier for the referees to enforce the rule against looking around the sides of the dead box. The referees were something different as well. With the exception of two referees the entire 5 man tournament was judged by refs from the Paintball Referee Organization. ID numbers on each of the ref's jerseys provided individual identification, and at the end of each day, Ultimate Judge Bill Cookston compiled feedback notes that would be used in deciding which referees would require further training or be cut from the program.
The six tournament fields were laid out in two East-West running rows of three fields each. The south row, numbered West to East held fields 1, 2, and 3, while fields 4, 5 and 6 made up the North row. A 10 foot high netting protected walkway ran between the two rows. A similar North to South walkway separated the two eastern fields from the rest. The two paths made a cross shape and in their center a pair of tents offered shade for spectators and the American flag flew proudly on a steel pole. Surrounding the outside edges of the field complex were 20 foot high nets. PSP's site coordinator, Robert "Rosie" Rose, Danny Bonura and the rest of the PSP staff did their usual good job that has been setting a new standard for what good field netting should look like.
5 man prelims ran slightly behind schedule on Wednesday through the morning, with the lunch break being effectively shortened to catch up the slack. The new location proved to work well. The combination of shade trees and mister fans provided by Paintball Support Services made for cool and comfortable staging for the teams and was well received by the vendors as well. An additional mister out by the fields made a nice respite for players and refs between games.
As vendors continued to set up for the larger crowds of the weekend the 5 player teams wrapped up their preliminary games Wednesday afternoon. There were 9 amateur 5 man teams, which meant that nearly everyone would make the semifinals cut of 8 teams. Axxis was the team that got bumped and Warped Army, Da Boyz and Shocktech were the leaders of the division.
For the novice teams, with a field of 17 teams, competition for the 8 semifinal slots was a bit more fierce. Tropical Illusion played a string of 8 undefeated games to rank first, but only four points behind them was Shadowmen. Ground Zero Silver also played undefeated, taking the third ranked position.
The rookies had a battle royal. There were 29 rookie teams. 32 teams would be required by the NPPL rules to do 16 team semifinals, so these 29 teams were gunning for 8 positions. Black Magic dropped two of their games but still managed the first place ranked spot. Wildside ranked second and Collateral Damage in third.
Semifinal games kicked in Thursday morning and zipped along at a smooth pace. Tippmann Effect was amongst the semifinal teams. While they have been known mainly for playing 10 man paintball they have found the 5 man to help them in the NPPL. According to team member Bill Ayers, playing the fields in 5 man is better for them than any amount of field walking and pre-game planning on Thursday afternoon before the 10 man. Some of the fields had bunkers added to their back positions to provide more cover on the break for the 10 man competition, but the basic layout remained the same.
For each classification there were two semifinal division, the top two teams in each going forward to the finals. Black Magic and Phoenix were the two going from the first rookie division while Collateral Damage and Tempest went from the second.
Hailing from the west coast, Tropical Illusion went to the finals with Fuel from the first novice division. The second novice division produced finalists Ground Zero Silver and Team No Name.
In the first amateur division Brimstone Smoke and ECX Factory headed into the finals. In the second division it was Shocktech and Shooters & Looters.
Check in started for the 10 man teams as the last of the 5 man games were played. If there was a shortcoming to the 4H grounds it was the size of the parking lot. Parking attendants worked to get as many vehicles into the available space as possible and made the space work as best they could while many chose to park on the quiet tree lined street that divided the fields from the staging area. In the staging and vending area dust from the fine soil was a concern, but having running water on the site meant that many of the open areas were sprayed down regularly helping to keep it under control. With the combination of mild weather and shade from trees, the new site drew compliments from team after team.
NPPL photo ID cards were not required for the 5 man competition, but for the 10 man competition players were told they would need to either present an NPPL photo ID or single event temporary ID card.
Team Tempest went highest ranked into the rookie finals, and plowed through the other finalist teams taking home first place. They were followed by Black Magic in second, Fuel in third and Phoenix in fourth.
In the novice finals Tropical Illusion won their first two games, but didn't tie down the third. They still had a solid lead giving them first place over Fuel's second place finish. Ground Zero Silver placed third and Team No name placed fourth.
Shooters & Looters blasted their way through the amateur finals with three wins securing a first place trophy for themselves. Second went to Brimstone Smoke, third to Shocktech and fourth to the ECX Factory Team.
Friday morning the 10 man teams took to the field. Paintball Sports Promotions is using yet another iteration of Jerry Braun's scheduling system that first saw use at the Chicago Open and has led to smoothly constructed game schedules under the same general concepts as used in the past. The newer method greatly reduces the chance of a back to back or compressed game (when only one game is scheduled between two of the games a team is playing). This newer method is expected to be automated for future events.
The schedule had some well defined breaks with teams playing mainly in the morning or afternoon. With the number of games to be played Friday games were planned to run from 7:30 in the morning until 7:12 at night, taking advantage of the long summer days. The weather proved to be ideal. In the morning clear skies were soon replaced by overcast condition and temperatures in the 80s.
The 10 man games were judged by PRO refs on three fields, and Bob Long's Ironmen, OBR and Bad Company reffed the other three fields. One of the problems that has been present with team based reffing in the past became apparent when looking at the different fields - inconsistency. On the PRO judged fields, players were kept inside the dead boxes and warned about looking out from them. On some of the team judged fields players were stepping as much as four or five feet out of the box and on one field went so far as to partially disassemble the box, pulling down a portion of the tarp from one side during a game. "It needs to be consistent. When what they allow you to do on one field will get you a penalty on another field, that can really cost you," said Skip Chandler from the Jax Worriors.
The morning games had their share of surprises. Aftershock, the top ranked team in the league was taken down by novice team KAPP and the novice Jax Warriors B held off the All Americans to a stalemate, hurting their shot for the semis. Similarly the novice team Twisted Image took it to the Jax Worriors.
The split of afternoon and morning teams made the afternoon professional games unpredictable. The afternoon lineup included Dynasty, SC Ironmen, Rage, Ground Zero Gold, Fusion and Lockout. Both Dynasty and Ironmen were expected to perform, but the remaining four were all teams that tend to run hot or cold. Seldom do they lie close to the cut. This left morning session teams watching the afternoon scores to see where the cut was likely to be.
There were also some roster surprises for the 10 man pro teams. Marcus Nielson has been bouncing from team to team since leaving Aftershock. Nielson played with Shock for Atlantic City. Todd Martinez, known as much for his wild personality as for his playing style has left Avalanche to also join the ranks of Aftershock. Rage had a couple of their regular players unable to make the tournament due to schedule and transportation problems. To fill out their roster they picked up Tim "Nubby" Martin, a referee from Paintball Long Island who was ecstatic about the chance to play pro.
The afternoon session was when the day's controversies occurred. Two players served single game suspensions for separate instances of threatening referees. Thunderstruck's game against Farside ended in chaos. Farside had the flag and ran in for the hang unaware that there was a live Thunderstruck player. The Thunderstruck player wasn't shooting because he was out of paint, but as the Farside players retreated with the flag, he found a pod of paint. He loaded while the flag was hung, and unaware that the game had just ended with the hang, fired on the nearest Farside player who, thinking he was being bonus balled by a dead player returned fire. Too add more complication to the mix, the player who hung the flag did not have an armband, meaning that according to the rules he was playing on, and the other live player should have been pulled. With the last player gone from a penalty, the rules state that a flag hang is awarded to the opposing team. Head ref Michael Stoshio, interviewed referees and talked to team captains. He learned that the Farside player who hung the flag was told by a referee to keep playing, that he was aware of the armband had fallen off, and the player was still live. Stoshio ruled that even though it was an incorrect decision by the ref, the player was acting as instructed and would be treated as a live player giving the hang to Farside. Under further protest, Ultimate Judge Bill Cookston was called in to mediate. Cookston tried to leave the total decision up to Stoshio, as Cookston was a former Farside player, and wanted to avoid a possible conflict of interest. Eventually, after enough complaints, he did review the calls and Stoshio's decision stood.
With games running slightly behind schedule, play for the day was ended at 7:30, and the remaining games from Friday's schedule were bumped to Saturday morning.
The morning dawned with storms advancing up the coast to dump buckets of rain on the event during the pick up games and the first few morning session games on Saturday. Players wrapped their barrels in black tape to prevent the porting from dripping in, wrapped feet in plastic bags over their socks and then put on cleats and went out and played in the muck. All in all, it wasn't too horrendous, but for the wet and the game stoppage during some lightning. Fortunately the sandy soil soaked up the water quickly so that mud was not a real problem. The upside of the rainfall was that it nearly eliminated the fine dust that had been so pervasive over the previous days.
By noon, the tournament was two hours behind schedule with games being pushed back from the night before and the missing games during the storm. The teams hustled to get through the morning session games and onto the afternoon bracket. The evening quickly approached as the games progressed throughout the day, not really catching up the 2 hour delay. When the sun finally set and it was too dark to play, it left Brass Eagle Allstars playing their last game against Element on a darkened field 1. Field One, the Angel field, drew much criticism from the teams and refs alike as a stalemate and paint hog field. The next game slotted to play that field was Ground Zero vs. Jax Warriors. Since it was so late and too dark, the game was posponed until the following morning at 7:30. This left the professional bracket for semi's in a lurch for Saturday night rankings. Jax would need at least a 97 to advance to the semi-final round, knocking GZ Gold out of the bubble at 597. As it stood at the end of the prelims, All Americans, Aftershock and Rage each went home, leaving the decision breaking game to be played on Sunday morning to determine whether Jax or GZ Gold would go onto the semi-finals.
In the Amateur bracket, major surprises were shown in teams that typically lead the pack in the series. Shockwave, The Family, Nemesis Raven and Check It, playing as Paintballgateway.com all missed the cut to semi-finals. Naughty Dogs led the pack at 770 going into semi's with Shocktech making the 8th place team with a 539 after two drops during preliminaries.
The Novice division played out as expected. Of the top 10 ranked novice teams in the NPPL, only one didn't make the cut to semi-finals. Since there were more than 32 teams competing in the novice division, 16 teams were taken to the semi-finals as opposed to the 8 teams taken in the professional, amateur and rookie brackets. Static took the first place ranking at 685 with Templars bringing in the sixteenth placement at 435.
Rookies were more varied in their placement, taking teams from the preliminaries from a wider variance of the ranking. Nasty B took first place ranking with a 676 with Blind Aggression with a 409 taking up the 8th place slot.
After the soaking rains of the day before, Sunday was a bright morning under partly cloudy skies, the dust tamped down and the sun not too bright for semi-final and finals games. In short, it was a beautiful day for paintball. The last pro game to be played of the preliminaries was completed a little after 8 in the morning, giving Ground Zero a 97 over Jax Warrior's three body count of 6. This not only put GZ Gold in solidly, it also ensured that Avalanche would advance to semi-finals.
Semi finals progressed throughout the day ending a little after noon on Sunday. Strange's game versus Avalanche ended with controversy. Strange broke wide pushing to the 50 on the left side off of the break, but their two frontmost players were shot in the first 30 seconds. They lost their center player, Will Jolley when the got picked off in a run, moving up the center. With two minutes and thirty seconds left in the game, Strange put on the gas and started leap-frogging up the field, daking out Avalanche players as they advanced. Strange grabbed the flag with two Avalanche players still live, and as they were shot, one of them spun and began shooting at the Strange players still on the field. "Dirty Dave" from strange pushed the Avalanche player, and the refs had to sort out the mess. The Avalanche player was pulled because he had been shot, and the remaining Avalanche player was gone as a penalty for the other playing on. With the last player pulled for penalty, the flag hang was automatically awarded to Strange. Dave from Strange was given a three game suspension for physical contact. After the game he said he was simply trying to stop the Avalanche player from shooting up his team, but understood why the penalty had to be issued.
Dynasty led the professionals with a three win total of 289, followed by Strange and Ironmen with two wins each and Ground Zero Gold squeaking in with a 2 game loss, winning by bodies. Amateurs were led by Naughty Dogs. Trauma, Shocktech and Farside made the cut along with them. Novice cuts were more drastic, with 16 teams being weeded down to four to advance it left KAPP Factory leading the pack with Gridlock, Justice and Naughty Dogs Silver joining them in the finals round. Rookies saw Black Magic in first with three wins, Philadelphia Eclipse Gold, Hyperactive and Static AKA making the cut.
Finals games started about 1:30 in the afternoon on Fields 2 and 3, the Diablo and JT field where spectating would be most effective. Video crews and cameras surrounded both fields with three man-lifts being used as arial camera platforms.
During the semifinals and finals, the reffing drew stronger criticism from the players than the previous days of the event. Complaints of inattentiveness and indecisiveness were more frequent on Sunday. With the finals being played on only two fields, OBR and Bob Long's Ironmen finished reffing after the first couple of games and the remainder were judged by PRO and Bad Company. Throughout the event, field 4 drew the most complaints, a field of PRO refs who were ruling by the letter of the law. On multiple occasions, players were pulled if they rubbed against a bunker and got paint on their pant leg that was larger than a quarter,. It was the idea of the players that if this type of reffing was going to be used, they would need to better police the clean up after each game with squeegies and rakes to keep from being able to accidently get paint on the players that did not come from the game.
The rookie finals were taken by Philadelphia Eclipse Gold which won all of their finals games. Static AKA took second place which was very significant for their standings in the season rankings. Hyperactive finished third and Black Magic finished fourth.
KAPP Factory posted three wins to grab the first place novice title. Naughty Dogs Silver finished second, Gridlock third and Justice in fourth.
In the amateur finals, Trauma and Naughty Dogs both won their first two games. They were three points apart in score, so the last game, which they played against each other decided the first place amateur team. That game went in favor of Trauma, 94 points to twelve. That gave first place to Trauma, second to Naughty Dogs, third to Farside and fourth to Shocktech.
The pro finals were full of action. In the first round the SC Ironmen fell to Strange, and Dynasty beat Ground Zero Gold. Dynasty played Ironmen and started out strong with players on the 50 from the break, but the Ironmen held fast even through they took less ground on the break and began picking off members of Dynasty. At a pivotal point in the Game "Catfish" from the Ironmen got across the 50 to backshoot an unsuspecting Dynasty player out of the JT bunker in the center of the field, he then swiveled to take two more players out of the game. The game went solidly to the Ironmen. In the same round Strange took out Ground Zero Gold. In the final round the Ironmen beat Ground Zero Gold for a total of 202 points. This left the title up to the Dynasty Strange game. Either Dynasty or Strange could have won with enough points, but a stalemate would give the tournament to the Ironmen. Strange won the game, and the first place pro title. SC Ironmen placed second, Dynasty third, and Ground Zero Gold in fourth place for their first finals win.