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NPPL Huntington Beach
Oakland Blast - Pro First Place
Two-Thousand and Seven marks major changes for the National Professional Paintball League (NPPL, Inc.) In its 5th year of sanctioning the Super 7 World Series paintball tournaments, the league finds itself under new leadership and new ownership. In January of 2007, the league announced that both the NPPL and the XPSL had been acquired by Pacific Paintball LLC. XPSL owner Shawn Walker, who had purchased that regional league from former owner Dan Bonebrake, was installed as president of Pacific Paintball, ultimately overseeing operations of both leagues. According to Walker, the financial backing of Pacific Merchant Capital will allow for improvements in what the league has offer. A January press release announcing the leadership change reaffirmed the NPPL's mission of becoming the world wide body that will govern the sport of paintball.
To kick off the new season, the NPPL's first tournament of the year was located in the venue that made the league's reputation – Huntington Beach. Better known as “Surf City, USA,” Huntington Beach sees literally millions of beach-goers each summer, and is home to many of the west coast's surfing legends. The Huntington Beach Pier extends out into the sea from the center of the city's downtown area, and overlooks the beach that has become home to the NPPL's kick-off tournament. Brand new turf was used to underlay the tournament's six netted off fields.
Announced at a press conference just a week before the tournament start, the live multi-camera webcast service offered as pay-per-view in 2006 would now be accessible free to a world-wide Internet audience, letting viewers at home watch the tournament's center court games as they happen. Spectator admission remained free to the tournament site and trade show, with premium grandstand seating tickets available for purchase.
Along with the new season, comes new rules. During the off-season, the NPPL Rules Committee used player feedback, and their own discussion and planning to update the league rules for 2007. While major changes were made throughout the rules, much of what was done could be considered housekeeping – making grammar corrections, and re-organizing rules. There were a number of changes however that have direct effect on game play and the player.
The most prominent of the changes was the addition of Section VIII – other formats. This section provides modification to the NPPL rule set which configure it for use in 5-man and 3-man centerflag tournaments in addition to the league's standard 7-man format. Such a change makes it easy for regional and local tournaments to play directly under NPPL rules rather than having to use a modified version which can lead to confusion. The primary rule differences are in the number of players permitted on team rosters, points awarded in scoring, length of game (5 min. for 5-man, 3 min for 3-man) and the size of the field. More changes would be fitting in this area though. Utilizing the rules as written for 3 or 5-man, or in any other league, requires a team's ranking in the NPPL Super-7 World Series for issues such as tie-breaking, and marker inspection times depend on the Super-7 tournament calendar.
A change to rule 1.2 moves the pre-tournament rules committee meeting to 10:00 am the day before the tournament begins, rather than the evening – leaving more time available for the meeting. The purpose of the pre-tournament meeting is to discuss any recent issues relating to the rules, or the way in which they are enforced.
When it comes to the player's clothing, there have been a couple of minor changes. Padding is jerseys is not limited to any specific areas, and it may only consist of open-cell foam at a maximum of 5mm thick, and it may not be modified from how the jersey manufacturer originally produced it (rule 5.3.) In order to be considered legal in the NPPL, all jersey designs must be approved in writing prior to the start of the tournament by the league scrutineer (5.4.) While rule 5.5 previously allowed players to wear any number of patches on their jersey, so long as they were 1/6” of an inch thick or less, players may now only wear patches that are provided to them by the NPPL – all other jersey patches are prohibited. To help prevent last minute surprises about what is and is not legal for players to wear the new rule 1.3 states that changes to the uniform rules must be announced by June of the year before they will go into effect. This should allow paintball clothing manufacturers time to adjust their designs, if necessary for the coming season.
On the field, flag stations must be centered between the sidelines, and may not be less than 5 feet from their nearest bunker. Players may also not utilize a flag station as a bunker (2.1.) Instead of being required to buy a new plastic player ID when one is lost (though that is still an option) players may alternatively print and use their own paper ID cards under the revised rule 3.2. Time will tell if this convenience will serve to streamline registration problems caused by lost ID cards, or simply make it easier for counterfeit paper cards to be used.
A change to rule 4.2 now makes the pro teams play with rules closer to those of the divisional teams. Previously pro teams were allowed a roster of 12 players, while divisional teams could have 10. Both are restricted now to 10 players and a maximum of 4 support staff. Rule 4.7 lays out new limitations on how many players may be added in to a team's roster during the season, in an effort to reduce roster-hopping. Teams may remove any number of players from their roster, but pro teams can add only 2 players, and this must be done 2 or more weeks before a tournament. Moving down the ranks, teams are allowed to add more players, in keeping with the idea that it is harder to keep a younger team together. D3 teams for example may add up to 6 new players on their roster.
Rule 4.8 has been re-written providing a clearer definition of the player ranking system – what exactly makes a player pro, semi-pro, D1, etc. A new rule, 4.9 puts in a way for players to petition to have their ranking changed, if they believe they have been unfairly ranked. Any player can pay a $40 fee to have the rules committee consider them for re-ranking. The fee is taken whether or not their rank is adjusted.
Rule 8.2 requires all compressed air tanks to be within the test date specified by their manufacturer, free from dents of other defects, and subject to visual inspection at the tournament.
Rule 10.2 defines specifically prohibited items, such as listening and communication devices. Previously it prohibited players from wearing clothing with “obscene or offensive pictures, words or logos.” The obscene or offensive clothing restriction has been removed from the list. However that doesn't mean it's OK for a player to wear a jersey with the F-bomb in giant letters. Rule 10.2 had been duplicating a portion of rule 21.7, which makes it illegal for players to display or wear offensive pictures, words or logos during a tournament weekend – on or off the field. The change to rule 10.2 is typical of the type of minor housekeeping changes that have kept the rules function intact, but streamlined them and helped remove ambiguity or redundancy.
The way paint checks are handled – players calling for one when hit in an area they can't check – flag carriers never being stopped for a check and referees not being obligated to check a player when asked have been standard operation in the Super-7, but are now clearly defined in rule 11.5. Similarly rules 14.3 and 14.4 now go in-depth as to how game-stoppages (which normally only happen for safety, severe weather or other “acts of God”) are performed, and how the game is restarted.
Likely the biggest change affecting games on the field was the elimination of nutrality, as noted by the disappearance of rule 11.6, the referee's handsign for neutrality. When a player is being checked by a ref, they are still in the game and can still be shot at. While this can mean a little more work for the referees, it makes the paintcheck less disruptive to the flow of the game.
Under rule 23.3 a player who acknowledges that they have been eliminated and then begins playing again now faces not only a 3 for one penalty (they are gone due to elimination and 3 live players are pulled as penalty) but also a 6-game suspension.
Section VII (formerly section VI) on tournament operation and ranking received major re-writing, and should ramp up the excitement in the semifinals and finals. This section has been streamlined as well, using the same advancement and round structures for the divisional teams. The major difference here is that the way “best of three” semifinal and finals rounds are played. Since the start of the Super-7, “best of three” rounds considered a game in which one team earned more points than another to be a win for the high scoring team. It was possible for both teams to camp out, no flags to be pulled or hung, and for a winner to be declared when the game clock ran out, based on the number of live and eliminated players. These days are gone, as a team must now hang a flag to earn a win in a “Best of Three” round (rule 23.3.) This change is provided to encourage teams to get up and go for the flag, packing more action into the semifinals and finals games.
Games started on Friday, with the divisional teams taking to the fields for their preliminary round games which would see completion on Saturday. On Saturday morning the professional teams got in on the action in their closed division. Weekend scheduling of pro teams allows their games to be concentrated on Saturday and Sunday when more spectators are able to attend the tournament and more fans are free to watch live via webcast.
Through the prelims each team faced eight games of two-flag 7-man paintball. They earned points for flag pull, live players and eliminated opponents at the end of the game, and of course the flag hang. Their scores from all eight prelim games were totaled, and the highest ranking teams were then able to move on to Sunday's quarterfinal round.
Division III (or Rookie in old-school terminology) is the skill level where teams start in tournament paintball, and thus the most popular. Sixty-five teams turned out for Huntington Beach D-III, but only the 16 best would be left on Sunday. Enigma topped this group by playing undefeated Friday and Saturday. Pitch Black was close behind them with a single loss, as was third ranked Air Assault Factory. PB Warehouse Squadron Blue finished the prelims with 593 points, as the last team to make the Sunday cut, knocking out 533 point Blind Aggression.
Division II (Novice) was almost as crowded as D-III. Sixty-two teams were competing for 16 quarterfinal slots. Here it was Recluse in the top position, undefeated. Splat Kids followed with a single loss, as did Drama. Miami Rage D2 brought up the rear in the 16th quarterfinal slot, edging out PBRack.com by a mere three points.
Thirty-eight teams competed in Division I (Amateur) making the competition less fierce for that division's 16 quarterfinal positions. LA Hitmen led the division followed by Rock-It Kids and Dynasty Entourage. Synergy rolled in at 16 bumping out Vendetta by only one point.
The semi-pro division (open registration pro/am) had 31 teams battling for 16 positions in the quarterfinals. Arsenal A topped this group, despite losing their first game. OC Bushwackers and SD Aftermath rounded out the top three. Shockwave Canada pulled in at number 16, bumping Phoenix United.
The pro teams played in a pair of closed divisions consisting of 9 teams each. Pro status in the Super-7 must be earned by taking one of the top three series finishes in semi-pro. Each team played the other eight teams in its division, to be ranked by the total points from eight games. The top four teams from each division would be selected to move on to the quarterfinals. When Saturday's games drew to a close it was San Diego Dynasty topping Pro division 1, followed by the New England Hurricanes, Los Angeles Infamous and Edmonton Impact. In the second pro division Ironmen took the top slot followed by Stockholm Joy Division, Portland Naughty Dogs and Oakland Blast.
The big question on everyone's mind would not be answered until Sunday – who would win pro? When the NPPL Super-7 started in 2003 it was dominated by Dynasty. The young powerhouse team was in their second year at the pro level, and they won four out of five NPPL tournaments that year, plus Toulouse and London from the Millennium Series. In 2004 it was 3 out of 5 NPPLs going to the boys in blue. 2005 was another banner year for Dynasty taking four out of 5 NPPL competitions. Last year did not go so strong for them, with only one win – the Commander's Cup in Orange County – and a 12th place finish in Boston. 2006 was also the first year that any team other than Dynasty won Huntington Beach. Despite not doing as well last year as in the previous seasons, Dynasty still reigned as the NPPL annual series champions, as they were more consistent with high ranking finishes than any other pro team. Heading into 2007 Dynasty remained the only team to ever win an NPPL Super-7 championship, let alone win it four times in a row.
Divisions III through Semi-Pro broke into four groups of four, which gave each team three quarterfinal games. As in the prelims, teams were ranked by their total scores and it was the top team in each group that was advanced to the semifinals and finals rounds. For the professional teams there was one group, meaning 7 games per team to play, filling out a morning schedule full of pro games, with the top four moving on, and here the points got very tight.
The semifinals were not an elimination round, rather they simply served to re-order the top four teams for the finals games. As a best of three format round, game points no longer applied – it was all about getting the flag hang. If one or more draw games occurred, the new rules would send both teams to a pick a player for a 1-on-1, 2 minute long tie-breaker game (and another if that tied, and another as needed.)
Division III semifinal games were won by FYT and Xclusive which paired up the two teams to fight for first in the finals. Xclusive won the pair's first game and FYT took the second. The deciding match was won by Xclusive, giving them first place.
Throttle and SPLAT Kids won the D-II semifinals and faced each other in the finals. SPLAT Kids took the first of their finals games, but Throttle turned it around in the second. In the deciding match, the last SPLAT Kids player suffered a marker failure before he charged and threw paintballs at the remaining Throttle player before grabbing and hanging the flag. While the entire situation was heavily disputed (paintballs must be fired from a marker to eliminate a player) the flag hang was judged to be valid and the first place Division II trophy went to SPLAT Kids.
TCP Machine and Synergy were the winning teams from the Division I semifinals, Their first finals game went to Synergy, the second to TCP Machine, and the third, with the first place trophy was claimed by Synergy. In the semi-pro division, the semifinal victories went to Aftermath and SE X-Factor. SE X-Factor took both of the finals games for first place.
The pro semifinals were a surprise to many. NPPL Champions Dynasty and powerhouse 2007 team Stockholm Joy Division both lost in the semis, and faced each other in the finals to play for third place. In back to back wins, 3rd place pro went to Dynasty. Joy Division captain Magued Idris commented that a first event finish in the top four puts Joy Division in the race for the championship. “It's going to be a much more interesting season this year,” he said.
The surprising part of the pro wrap-up was who made the finals for the top two slots. Newcomer team Edmonton Impact was pitted against Oakland Blast. Edmonton achieved a rarity – making the finals in a premiere pro appearance. For the Blast it was a return to glory for Bob Long, who appeared in the winner's circle as the Iornmen captain numerous times in the 90s, and a solid showing for the Shows family who have been playing in the NXL for the last several years. In the finals Blast took down Impact in a pair of back to back wins, with Nick Shows running in the final flag hang that, provided them with the first place trophy and the the lead ranking towards the annual Super-7 Championship.
From Huntington Beach, California, the NPPL Super-7 next heads East to Raymond James Stadium, in Tampa, Florida.