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February 16-19, 2006
NXL Pro X-Ball
First Place - Philly Americans
The 2006 Paintball Sports Promotions tournament season kicked off early with many new changes, and an event in the Lone Star State.
In 2000, Steve Rabakoff threw his hat into the ring of national level promoters by producing the Mardi Gras Open. Like Skyball, the MGO played pre-season – in February before the NPPL/PSP tournament season started. Due in part to its location in a party city, the MGO was a big hit and grew quickly. Rabakoff sold the event to Paintball Sports Promotions who ran it from 2002 to 2004. In 2003 and 2004, the tournament was where the first event of the NXL season was held, and while most of the teams who played the PSP series played the MGO, it was run as a stand-alone event, not a part of the five leg series.
Weather and the venue conspired to make the last MGO a less than shining event and in 2005, PSP only produced the five tournaments of their annual series. For 2006, the promotions group decided to fill in that gap in the tournament calendar by adding a sixth event. With a longer season, more teams would have an opportunity to play and earn points toward the series title. An additional event also allowed for a wider geographic spread of the tournaments, meaning more teams were likely to have a tournament within driving distance.
In the fall of 2005, PSP staff members Lane Wright and Keely Watson embarked on a serious search for venues, including attending a national conference where city representatives bid to event promoters in the hope of having functions hosted in their cities – something that brings in hotel, restaurant, and entertainment revenue. Picking a site in Texas put the tournament in the Gulf Coast region, making it accessible to the same teams that had enjoyed the Mardi Gras Open. Two thousand and six would mark the first time the series had set foot in the state since 1999 when Smart Parts (which later joined with the other series promoters when PSP was formed as a single promotions company) produced the Dallas Open.
Ultimately Settler’s Park in Round Rock, Texas was chosen to fill the February calendar slot. Located just outside of Austin, Round Rock serves as a bedroom community to the larger metropolis and has a history dating back to the mid 1800s as a stop on the famed Chisolm Trail. Round Rock was also the end of the line for outlaw gunslinger Sam Bass, who became known as “Texas’ Beloved Bandit” and “Robin Hood on a Fast Horse.” His days of robbing trains and banks came to an end when the Texas Rangers gunned down the Sam Bass gang in the Round Rock shootout.
The playing surface at Settler’s Park wasn’t quite ready to host a tournament, so grooming it for the event’s six fields consisted of compacting and leveling, as well as trimming the unruly grass down to an even turf level.
Starting in January of 2006, a new face was added to the regular PSP staff. Tim Schroepfer, who had been chief ref over the X-Ball fields in 2005 moved into a new position as head of rules and referees. Saddled with the task of ravamping the PSP referee system, Shroepfer started out the year by running a series of four pre-season referee training programs.
Over the new season each field will have its own ultimate judge who observes games from off-field. The ultimate’s responsibilities will include not only having the final say in settling a dispute between the on-field referees and a team, but also to grade the referees. Referee performance reports will then be used to select the best referees for events in each region – including those which will travel cross-country for the task. According to PSP’s Lane Wright, Shropfer stood out as a candidate for the new position because in addition to reffing experience, his background as a database developer and organizational skills were what the league needed to overhaul and tune-up the reffing program.
The divisional X-Ball tournament format took on a whole new structure for 2006, with the first games being played on Thursday morning. Since its launch in 2003, on through the 2005 season, PSP X-Ball has been played in a double elimination bracket format. The upside of this format is that winners are clear and decisive – they’ve beaten their competitors. The downside is that the schedules are often hard to follow, and teams knocked out after their first two losses can have a pretty disappointing time of their trip. The new format hearkens back to the way 10-man tournaments were scheduled in the early to mid 1990s.
Within each skill level, the X-Ball teams are divided into divisions of five teams each (some may have six, depending on the number of teams registered.) They will get to play the four other teams in their division, ensuring that every team gets a minimum of four X-Ball games played at the event.
At the end of the preliminary round, the teams are ranked within their division on a score system. Their ranking score consists of 50 points for winning a game, plus ten points for every point they earned over their competitor. For example, if a team wins a game with a score of 8 to 6, they will earn 70 ranking points. Total ranking points earned at the end of the prelim round will be used to select the top team from each division (and in some cases a wild card team also, depending on the number of divisions) to advance to the semifinal rounds. In semifinals, divisions of four teams each will again accumulate ranking scores to select the top teams to compete in a finals round of four teams. In the finals each team will play the other four teams, and ranking points will determine first, second and third place.
Probably the biggest change to the series, from the fan level, is the integration of the NXL into the PSP. Since its formation in 2003, the NXL has been a private club, consisting of what had been most of the world’s top pro teams in the 2002 season. With a couple of additions – teams that had purchased NXL franchises – the NXL has operated as a completely separate entity from PSP divisional X-Ball. In 2006, the elite league has opened its doors, changing from a seasonal competition format to a format where trophies and prizes are awarded at each tournament, NXL invitations were extended to top ranked pro teams in multiple leagues, with plans for future seasons to invite top ranked PSP X-Ball teams, and demote the lowest ranked teams, making the NXL a pro division into which teams must earn their place.
Unfortunately, during the first day of competition, the event scoring staff was so tied up with sorting out incomplete rosters from the higher ranking teams that entry of score sheets into the scoreboards was delayed.
Cold weather proved a challenge – not only for player comfort, but for paint storage as well, with teams shooting winter formulation paints having a performance advantage. The X-Ball preliminary rounds went straight through from Thursday to Saturday.
Division III consisted of twenty-six teams, and formed the lowest skill level rank represented at the event. Misfits ranked at the top of this group when the prelims drew to a close. Clutch ranked second, and PBC-Gridlock third, forming the eight teams going on to the quarterfinals.
Voltage led the twenty-seven teams of Division II with Quiet Storm and Swat Paintball just behind taking the other five teams – chosen by the top two in each division plus a pair of wildcards – into the quarterfinal rounds.
Division I was made up of ten teams, so it narrowed them down to four finalists rather than semifinalists. San Diego Aftermath finished in the lead, with X-Factor, Jacksonville Raiders and Jax Warriors advancing with them. Gridlock and Bushwackers were the teams just below the cut.
Even before the NXL players were on the field for the first competition of the season serious changes had been under way in the word of pro level X-Ball. In January of 2006, NXL commissioner Mike Ratco resigned his post. Citing expansion of the NXL competitions as something that would bring the job’s time requirements beyond what he was able to cover while maintaining his existing full time job, Ratco said he was leaving the post, “In the hands of very experienced paintball people.” While he will no longer serve as the league’s commissioner, Ratco stated that he will continue to be involved helping with future evolution of the X-Ball rules and development of safety enforcement technologies. While not often in the spotlight, Ratco’s contributions to the current success of the X-Ball format have been immense from drafting the rules to making sure the details of the first X-Ball Nations Cup, and the first three seasons of NXL competition fell into place.
The big show in Texas was the NXL pro division, with some highly anticipated pairings. Ever since the formation of the league, many have wanted to see how Dynasty and the Naughty Dogs would fare against the teams of the NXL. Fans got their wish. Thursday morning Baltimore Trauma defeated the Naughty Dogs 9 to 4. Boston Red Legion knocked down Ultimate 16 to 2. Detroit Strange beat Less Than Zero 10 to 6. XSV brought their game against the Philly Americans, winning 8 to 7. Dynasty toppled New York Xtreme 10 to 5. Miami had a solid performance in their game against San Diego Legacy, winning 13 to 2. The Naughty Dogs fell to the Los Angeles Iornmen 6 to 8, before Ultimate was defeated 3 to 7 by Chicago Aftershock. Less Than Zero showed they were in the right division when they beat the Oakland Assassins 12 to 5. The day’s pro action ended with Baltimore Trauma beating XSV by a single point – 5 to 4.
Friday morning started with a game many were waiting for – Boston Red Legion against Dynasty. The Legion prevailed with a sound 15 to 8 victory. Detroit Strange fell to Miami Effect 7 to 8 before the Philly Americans knocked down the LA Ironmen 11 to 5. Chicago Aftershock beat New York Xtreme 12 to 7. Oakland took out San Diego 10 to 4. XSV beat the Naughty Dogs 8 to 3 before complete devastation occurred. Ultimate faced off against Dynasty, not managing to earn a single point against Dynasty’s 20. Less Than Zero fell to Miami Raiders 4 to 9, and Philly fell to Baltimore 6 to 8. Boston triumphed over New York 12 to 2.
On Saturday morning Detroit Strange took out San Diego Legacy 15 to 2. XSV beat the LA Ironmen, doubling their score 8 to 4. Dynasty prevailed over Chicago 9 to 3. Miami kept on strong, defeating Oakland 11 to 6. The Philly Americans beat the Naughty Dogs 13 to 7, and Ultimate found their game again as they defeated the New York Xtreme 6 to 5. San Diego Legacy fell to Less Than Zero 3 to 9, Los Angeles beat Baltimore 10 to 6. Chicago fell to Boston 2 to 11, and Detroit edged in a one-point win over Oakland with a final score of 5 to 4.
Saturday also saw the launch of a whole new paintball format – 5-man X-Ball. Replacing the traditional 5-man centerflag format that PSP promoters have run at their larger events since the mid 90s, 5-man X-Ball is designed as a stepping-stone between the two formats. Without the roster size, scoreboard requirements or game length of full size X-Ball, it’s little brother goes a step beyond a single flag hang determining the winner. In essence it is a best two out of three series of 5-man centerflag games, ensuring that the win goes to the better team, by reducing the chance of a game lost to a fluke like a player tripping on the break, or a bad call from a ref.
During the preliminary rounds, the 5-man X-Ball teams were split into divisions of 5 (some divisions with six, depending on the number of teams) with the teams scheduled against the others in their division – very similar to the way PSP 5-man competitions had been scheduled since the start of the 2004 season. After the first two games of a pairing, if there were not two wins, a third was be played. The teams then took their best two scores out of the two or three games, and those points were totaled, for advancement ranking. The top two teams in each division, and wildcards (additional teams based on ranking regardless of which group they were in) were then selected for advancement to the semifinals.
Five-Man X-Ball teams consisted of Division III teams, and the all new Division IV classification (which would equate to pre-rookie in old-school tournament classifications) as well as young-guns which were restricted to players 15 years and younger.
By far the largest turn-out was in D-IV, with 35 teams. The twelve scores each of these teams had accrued from their best two matches against each of their four group-mates were totaled to rank the teams. The best two from each group were advanced, for a total of fourteen quarterfinalists. Good Fellas, RGV Kaos and Sin City Paintball were notable as the top three ranked teams of the group.
Eighteen teams in D-III were sorted similarly down to six quarterfinalists, with Lost Generation, TX Justice League and Soultakkers leading their group. Only four teams competed in the Young Guns classification, with Bad To The Bone and Ravage being the two that made it past the prelims.
For their quarterfinals round, the NXL teams were ranked by the league’s simpler ranking method. A win garnered each team two ranking points, a tie earned a single point, and a loss earned zero points. Tie breakers were determined by the best total score differential (the number of points by which a game was won or lost,) the most points scored, or if necessary the fewest points scored against them.
The NXL quarterfinals paired up teams so that the winners would advance to the semifinals, and the losers would be done. This put top ranked Boston Red Legion up against eighth ranked Less Than Zero. Boston won 9 to 3. Second seeded Dynasty fell to number 7, the Philly Americans 4 to 11. Detroit Strange seeded at number 3 was beaten by number 6 Baltimore Trauma 3 to 7. The two middle ranked teams, XSV and Miami faced off, with the game going to XSV 7 to 4.
While the four winners were paired to determine who would fight for first and second, as well as who would fight for third and fourth, the finishing places of the remaining teams were already known. Dynasty finished in fifth place, Detroit Strange in sixth, Miami in Seventh, Less Than Zero in Eighth. In Ninth place was Oakland, Los Angeles Ironmen finished Tenth, New York Xtreme Eleventh, Chicago Aftershock 12th, Ultimate 13th, Naughty Dogs 14th and San Diego Legacy 15th.
The NXL semifinals saw Boston Red Legion facing the Philly Americans. Philly won by a point with a final score of 7 to 6. Baltimore Trauma triumphed over XSV 6 to 5. This meant that Boston would play XSV to determine third and fourth place, and the last game of the day would be Baltimore Trauma against the Philly Americans, the winner placing first and the loser coming in second.
In the 5-Man X-Ball games, Division IV was the classification of size to justify a quarterfinal round. Here, four divisions of four teams each played round robin. At the end of the round the top two teams in each division were picked to move on to the semifinals. These were Overhead, SmoKeD Out, RGV Kaos, TX Notorious, B Unit, Good Fellas, Bad Instinct and DBS Kidz.
For the 5-Man X-Ball semifinals, the eight teams to come out of the D-IV quarterfinals competed, as did the 8 semifinalists sorted out by the D-III prelims. Both skill classifications split again into two divisions of four teams each, and played against three opponents before being ranked by total score. This brought 5-Man down to its finals round.
In X-Ball, the quarterfinal rounds for D-II and D-III skill levels split the teams into four divisions for each class, with three teams per division. After two games, the top team from each was advanced to the semifinals. For D-III this group consisted of Clutch, PBC-Gridlock, McAllen Paintball Assault and Fate. In D-II these were East Coast Empire, Voltage, Team Speed and Swatpaintball.com. The top four went to the finals, which is where D-I sent its top four from the prelims.
The new X-Ball finals and semifinals system follows the same structure as the Super 7 format. The top ranked team plays the fourth ranked team, and the second ranked plays the third. The winners of these two games play each other In the finals, the winner finishing first, the loser finishing second. The losers of the semifinals round similarly play each other in the finals to determine third and fourth places.
In D-III semifinals PBC-Gridlock beat MCAllenPaintball Assault and Clutch beat Fate. This sent PBC-Gridlock to play Clutch in the finals, where Clutch prevailed finishing in first place. It initially looked like McAllen Paintball Assault beat out Fate for third place, but turned out to be a case of reversed numbers on a score sheet. Third place went to Fate, with McAllen in third.
Division II semis saw Team Speed beat Voltage and East Coast Empire defeat Swatpaintball.com. In the finals, Swatpaintball.com fell to Voltage, finishing 4th to Voltage’s 3rd, and Team Speed beat out East Coast Empire for first place.
In the semifinals for Division I the Jax Warriors took down Aftermath and X-Factor beat Jacksonville Raiders. In their final round Aftermath fell to the Raiders who finished third, and X-Factor beat out Jax Warriors for first place.
The NXL’s third and fourth place winners were decided by a game between Boston Red Legion and XSV. Boston earned 9 points over XSV’s 4 to place third. For XSV, fourth place meant they were the first non-franchised team to hold a top four rank in the NXL, though it was not too surprising considering the number of players on their roster with previous NXL experience. The final game between the Philly Americans and Baltimore Trauma went to the NXL’s two-time champions, Philadelphia with a score of 6 to 5.
From Texas, the next planned stop for both the PSP and NXL is Las Vegas, Nevada. Tentatively scheduled for April 20th through 23rd, the event will be held at a yet to be announced venue.