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First Place, NXL - X-Factor
Since the early 90s, the middle of the year has meant one thing for tournament paintball – time for the Chicago Open. Over the years, the Chicago event has often been one of the largest tournaments of the PSP season, taking second seat only to the Paintball World Cup. Originating at the Badlandz paintball field the event found new locations in 2003, before settling in 2005 at the Bolingbrook Recreation and Aquatic Complex.
A multi-sport facility with open grass fields located in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, the BRAC was well received and used again in 2006 and 2007. As the third event of the 2007 series approached all eyes were on the NXL. The Los Angeles Ironmen brought home their first NXL tournament victory at the season's inaugural event, followed by 2006 champions Boston Red Legion taking home the trophy at the Mid Atlantic Open. Boston had finished second in LA, but the Ironmen took third in Rock Hill, putting the Legion on top in the season rankings. The top three NXL teams ranked close enough for a Chicago win to move any of them into first Boston Red Legion had 195 ranking points, followed by the Los Angeles Ironmen at 185, Dynasty at 180 and X-Factor with 155.
Divisional X-Ball teams played four prelim games each, with Division III using the race to five points format, where the first team to earn five points would be declared winner, regardless of time remaining on the clock. With a division of 53 teams, D3 prelims and ochofinals were full of action. TPA Revolution topped the ranks at the end of the prelims, winning all four of their games, averaging a lead of four points over their competitors. DBS Kids ranked second and Speedin Dirty third.
It was Drama Paintball out of Southern California that led the 38 teams of Division II X-Ball. Vicious ranked second, and TX Justice League third. Like DIII, DII featured an ochofinal round where middle ranked teams played additional games for a shot at making the quarterfinals.
In years past, 5-man competitions were not available at each event of the series, but they were big hits in Chicago and Orlando, and as in years past, the 2007 Chicago Open brought out a huge crop of 5-man teams, enough that their games needed to start on Friday. The starting class – Division IV saw 84 teams entered, only a fraction of which started the first day – the bulk of their games would be on the weekend. Thirty-five more 5-man teams played in Division III 5-man, with almost a third of them getting in their games on Friday.
As always, the big attention was focusedon the professional teams playing in the closed circuit of the National X-Ball League, the NXL. Their games started on Wednesday with series leader Boston Red Legion obliterating Ultimate 23 to 1. LA Open winners Los Angeles Ironmen took 2005 champions Baltimore Trauma 13 to 6. San Diego Dynasty was victorious over the Seattle Naughy Dogs 13 to 5. X-Factor beat the New York Hurricanes 11 to 8. Detroit Strange fell to Chicago Aftershock 7 to 10, before two-time league champions Philly Americans beat Sacramento XSV 15 to 3. Jacksonville Raiders cleared Las Vegas LTZ by one point, 8 to 7. Oakland Infamous brought home a 10 to 4 victory over San Diego Legacy.
Thursday's NXL action started out with the Ironmen beating the Americans 9 to 4, and Dynasty taking out LTZ 11 to 2. X-Factor fell to Legacy 5 to 7 and Strange beat Ultimate 9 to 6. XSV fell to Trauma 8 to 12. The Naughty Dogs earned a one point victory over the Raiders 7 to 6 and Infamous beat the Hurricanes 8 to 6. Red Legion came within a point of Aftershock, but lost their game 8 to 9 at the end of the day.
Friday's opening game saw X-Factor taking on Infamous, ending in X-Factor's favor 9 to 5. Legacy fell to the Hurricanes 7 to 10. Dynasty defeated the Raiders 10 to 8, and the Naughty Dogs took down Less Than Zero 9 to 5. The Ironmen pounded XSV with a 12 to 4 game, and the Philly beat Baltimore by a point at 8 to 7. Red Legion took their second prelim loss against Strange, at 6 to 10, and Aftershock dropped one point below Ultimate at 9 to 10.
The top eight pro teams advanced from the prelims to Saturday's NXL Quarterfinals. The NXL Quarterfinals are a win or go home knock-out round in which each team plays a single match. There the Los Angeles Ironmen took down the Seattle Naughty Dogs 7 to 6, San Diego Dynasty beat Oakland Infamous 11 to 8, and X-Factor managed a 5 to 4 overtime win against Detroit Strange. Chicago Aftershock fell to the Philly Americans 7 to 9. The four remaining teams moved on to the semifinals. The Philly Americans hadn't been in that position for a while, but a 4 to 7 loss to the Ironmen meant they would not be in the finals. X-Factor, brought their “A” game and defeated Dynasty 9 to 5, leading to an Ironmen vs. X-Factor finals game. There it was X-Factor winning again 7 to 6 to take the tournament.
Unlike the days of old, when the 5-man prelims would have produced 16 semifinalists that were narrowed down to four finalists, the PSP's newer arrangement of knock-out rounds which eliminate 50% of the teams has created not only the “ochofinal” (octofinal in more commonly used terminology) but for the massive D4 5-man division, top 48 and top 32 rounds were introduced – each pitting teams in 3 round robin games, with groups of four teams each. These, combined with the ochofinals and quarterfinals narrowed the running down to the four semifinalists, where teams played for rankings in the finals. For Division 3, this came down to Team Encounter and DVS winning their semis matches. In the finals, Encoutner took DVS twice in a row for first place, DVS suffering a 10 point penalty on the first of the two games, Team Encounter finishing in first place. Riot Kidz had a win, loss and win against JP Paintball for a third place finish. In D2 5-man, it was Denver-Altitude.com with a win, loss and win against Eastern, for third place, and Flavor Explosion beating Tam Zone twice in a row for first. Division IV 5-man came down to DBS Paintball beating Sublime back to back for third place, and Corruption grabbing first with a win, loss and win over TR Uncensered.
In divisional X-Ball, the quarterfinals similarly winnowed down the field to the four semifinalists, who played one game each, winners moving on to play each other for first and second in the finals, and losers playing off for third and fourth. In Division 3, DBS Kids finished third place by beating Zero Tolerance 5 to 0. Speedin Dirty finished in first place with a 5 to 2 victory over Gridlock-Black. A 5 to 4 win against Drama Paintball put TX Justice League in third place for Division 2. Vicious grabbed first place with a 7 to 4 victory over Team Nasty.
Avalanche X shut-down Static 11 to 0, in the finals, taking third place in the Open Class division, while a 10 to 5 victory over Team Impact not only gave San Diego Aftermath their second PSP win in a row, but combined with their second place finish at the LA Open to secure their position as the Open Class series leader.
Sunday's activities culminated in the NXL All-Star games. Three exhibition games were played, pitting some of the best players from the NXL Eastern Conference against the best the Western Conference had to offer. Eastern Conference consisted of Baltimore Trauma, Boston Red Legion, Chicago Aftershock, Detroit Strange, Jacksonville Raiders, New York Hurricanes, Philadelphia Americans and Ultimate while Dynasty, Los Angeles Ironmen, LTZ, Oakland Infamous, San Diego Legacy, Seattle Naughty Dogs, X-Factor and XSV made up the West. The mix of players saw old teammates playing on the same side of the field once again, such as Oliver Lang and Ryan Greenspan, and Davey Williamson and Rich Telford. In 2006, it was the Eastern Conference that won the day. The first All Star game was played in the morning, and went to the East 13 to 8. Game two was also taken by the east 9 to 8. While a third game was not necessary to determine a winner, the All Star game was as much a show for the fans as anything else, and game three was taken by the West 10 to 7.
With Chicago drawing to a close, players and teams started making plans for tournament number four, in a brand new location in America's Heartland – Omaha Nebraska. Omaha will be the last chance for teams to rack up series points before heading to the season finale, the Paintball World Cup in Orlando Florida.