Points Per Jam: Roller Derby’s Default Difficulty

It should be difficult for a roller derby team to score points. So why does it often seem so easy for them to be scored instead?

Derby scoring has seemingly been getting easier and easier over the last several years, with point totals climbing higher and higher. This year’s rules updates appear to have addressed this trend, sure. But even taking games played in 2014, it is still not abnormal for many of them to end with a combined total score of 300, 400, 500, 600 (!), or even more than 700 (!!!) points.

Press me for 5 points. And again. And again…

Press me for 200 points.

Whether point totals of such magnitude were reached in a close game or a blowout, if it is possible for two teams to together score that often in a 60-minute game, any individual pass for a point, let alone the non-scoring initial passes, must be relatively easy to accomplish.

If it were really that difficult to get points, there wouldn’t be so many of them scored in the first place!

Very high-scoring games still happen quite a lot in the WFTDA and MRDA, especially during mismatches. Scoreboard-spinners can also show up in other derby variants, like in USARS, MADE, or the RDCL.

However, games where the scoreboard hits perilously high totals are less frequent in non-WFTDA forms of roller derby, and of a lesser magnitude when they do happen. This is in part because scoring points is appreciably harder to do, on the average, in these versions of the game.

As a result, these games can often be much more competitive.

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RollerCon 2014 Video Diaries: USARS Roller Derby

Let’s talk about USARS for a moment.

In its decision to start its own roller derby program and develop its own roller derby rule set, in spite of the great work done by the WFTDA and MRDA, USA Roller Sports has been met with much criticism from the greater roller derby community.

In the past, this criticism was justified. With horror stories of skater insurance claims gone awry all the way up to the overreaching issue of poor management that nearly killed off roller sports as a whole—only to start making a comeback thanks to the WFTDA—one would be forgiven in assuming that USARS is only continuing their ways today.

So it would seem still. This year, USARS canceled its three roller derby regional qualifier tournaments, opting instead to hold a single, open national championship for women’s and co-ed teams in northern California next month. Additionally, it was revealed in public USARS board meeting minutes that some kind of legal action may eventually take place against the currently-existing Team USA Roller Derby (both of them) for unauthorized use of the “Team USA” name, a name that will soon adorn USARS’ own national-select team.

No wonder some accuse USARS of “riding on the coattails” of the roller derby community!

However, much of the criticism directed at USARS seems to be ignoring one very important thing. Roller derby is supposed to be for the skaters, right? What, then, about USARS skaters? What do they think about USARS, and the style of roller derby it is going out of its way to attempt to develop and promote?

As it turns out, skaters who skate USARS absolutely love it. And despite the growing pains of USARS Roller Derby’s first three years, many were still enthusiastic about having a new roller derby option that’s hard, fast, competitive, and fun.

After the USARS showcase game at RollerCon, I spoke with USARS Roller Derby Coordinator AJ Epp about the Team USA controversy (USARS cannot and does not want to shut down the existing Team USA, but the U.S. Olympic Committee and its governing bodies has exclusive rights to the trademark), the cancellation of its regional tournament season (biggest complaint: Teams lamented a missed chance to get some “good, hard games” in before nationals), and the ultimate goal of USARS and its roller derby program.

I then spoke with skaters about what they like about USARS derby and their comments on the stigma surrounding the organization. Inevitably, comparisons between playing USARS rules and WFTDA rules were made by the skaters. Seeing that almost all of them are affiliated with WFTDA leagues and play both USARS and WFTDA regularly, they are the best suited to make those comparisons, as well as clear up some fallacies about the USARS game. (Fallacies often made by those that don’t skate it, it should be pointed out.)

Along the way, I talked with some curious RollerCon attendees to get their impressions after seeing USARS derby for the very first time, and whether or not they’d want to try it themselves. Judging by their responses, as well as from the small, but slowly growing number of USARS leagues and club teams across the country (and around the world), it seems as if once they have seen it and once they have tried it, they want to keep seeing it and keep playing it, because they like it.

If an organization, however flawed, wants to give skaters the option to play roller derby in the way they want to play it, no matter how few or how many skaters they are, maybe that’s something worth supporting after all.

RollerCon 2014 Video Diaries: Time for the All-Stars

For many, the 2014 East-West Roller Derby All-Star Game was dream come true. I was one of the first, if not the first person to float the idea, and to see it finally come together is just amazing. It was a must-see during my time at RollerCon.

Just one problem: I got my schedules mixed up and missed it.

I was devastated. Gutted. You wait two years for something, and then you go the wrong day when it actually happens?!? Super bummer. As I dejectedly left the Riviera, something across the street caught my eye.

Is that a…

…holy @#$%, it is!

Thanks to my lucky find, I found my way back to the All-Star Game. I got to talk to some of the all-star skaters, the fans in the crowd, and found out that you don’t need to wait to see how the future of roller derby will turn out when it’s only 88mph away.

The final chapter of the RollerCon video diaries, Chapter 4, will go up later this week. Until then, make sure you catch the interview bonus material here in Chapter 3 after the end credits.

RollerCon 2014 Video Diaries: Donut Wars

RollerCon was last weekend. You know, RollerCon? You might have heard of it.

As always, a good time was had by all. Particularly yours truly. This year, however, I decided to bring along a video camera (read: my smartphone) and document some of my adventures and viewpoints on video. I wound up with four stories to share.

Below is Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of the RollerCon 2014 Video Diary. Chapter 1 brings us an introduction to the world of RollerCon, and Chapter 2 is a peek into the hidden, epic battle for donut supremacy in Southern California, as told through roller derby.

Chapter 3 and Chapter 4, in two upcoming videos, will highlight a major event at RollerCon and a major controversy within the roller derby community. Look for those soon!

RDCL Battle on the Bank VII Preview

rdcl-botbvii-logo

As roller derby rolls through the spring and summer, anticipation builds as fall approaches. The autumn months are when the roller derby championship season begins in earnest, and is when all eyes are on flat tracks around the country (and world!) to see what teams are the best of the best.

For the impatient lot, the Roller Derby Coalition of Leagues has plopped its national get-together smack-dab in the middle of the year. Thanks to them, we don’t need to wait to see some bracket-busting action. We can have it right now!

This weekend, June 6-8, Battle on the Bank VII takes place in San Diego. The five founding member leagues of the RDCL, along with two guest leagues, a host of juniors, and for the first time a pair of men’s teams fill out the three-day national banked track tournament.

Banked track derby has been through a rough stretch as of late. Over the past several months, a handful of leagues have been forced to seek out or move to a new location, forced to mothball or sell their track, or forced to shut down altogether. There aren’t many banked leagues to begin with, so when things like this happen to a few, it affects the many. Even so, the spectacle of banked track roller derby is hearty, and even during trying times it continues to succeed in many places.

There is much good news to report on in this year’s battle. A team new to the tournament is getting a third chance to make a second impression. A team still-new to RDCL play is getting a second chance to get their first win. Two teams no strangers to each other are getting ready to mark a roller derby first for the second time. While victory seems inevitable for the coalition’s powerhouse, the middle placings may all be in play among the teams returning to the tournament.

That’s good news for fans, since the roller derby played in the RDCL can be downright incredible when the wheels hit the Masonite in a game between level participants. Though tournament participation is down this year, there is a still a healthy number of teams ready to duke it out in downtown San Diego across 17 half-length and full-length games.

Live streaming coverage is being provided by hosts San Diego Derby Dolls for free through the live stream page on the Battle on the Bank website. The full game schedule and adult brackets are available below, followed by a comprehensive preview of who’s who in the tournament, the kind of gameplay to expect on the banked track, and the current state of RDCL in general.

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WFTDA 2014 Rules Analysis

wftda-logoIn March, the WFTDA finally released an updated version of its roller derby rule book. WFTDA 2014 rules have officially been in effect for some weeks now, with all sanctioned WFTDA and MRDA games having been required to abide by them as of the beginning of April.

As each year goes by, the WFTDA makes improvements to its rules process, its rules documentation, and the ways and means interested skaters can access the rules. All of this is good. But when it comes to gauging progress on the rules in terms of the competition and gameplay that results from them on the track, it is plainly clear that there is still a long way yet to go.

For example, the elimination of minor penalties in 2013 massively simplified things for teams, officials, and fans. It also helped contribute to a 12.4% reduction in blocker penalties during the Division 1 playoffs. However, the resulting gameplay saw an unfathomable 40% increase in both jammer box trips and 100-point blowouts among the top 40 teams during that same period.

It is no stretch to argue that the competitively unbalanced effect that power jams had on the WFTDA game cancelled out any overall progress on penalties in that particular area last year.

The WFTDA and its voting member leagues are trying to stay ahead of things, though. This year, they are buttoning up incomplete fixes from last year while looking to curb big issues before they become bigger ones. Many rules inconsistencies and weird gameplay events have been addressed. Better explanations of common and new rules will (hopefully) prevent rule misinterpretations.

Most importantly, there are new rules that appear to directly address the glut of jammer penalties and the resulting sausage-fests of passive offense, the issues that have the most effect on the WFTDA game—and draw the most criticism toward it.

There is a lot to cover in the 2014 rules update, and the WFTDA has provided plenty of resources with which to do so.

Official WFTDA 2014 Rules Resources

2014 WFTDA Rules of Flat Track Roller DerbyOnline Version | PDF Version
WFTDA Rules Mobile Apps – Apple iOS | Android
2014 MRDA-Branded Rules of Flat Track Roller Derby (PDF)
WFTDA Rules Central Page
WFTDA Rules Q&A Page
Change Summary for 2014 Rules
Line-by-Line Rule Changes Detail Document (PDF)
WFTDA Timeout – Rules Issues Submission Page
June 15, 2013 WFTDA Rules (PDF) (for reference)

Third-party WFTDA Rules Resources

Roller Derby Rule of the Day on Facebook
RDJunkies Rules/Strategy GIFs
Roller Derby Test O’Matic
Zebra Huddle WFTDA Rules Forum

There is no shortage of materials available for players to learn WFTDA rules, from both the source and through other means. In fact, in the last few months the WFTDA has granted license/collaboration status with RDJunkies and Roller Derby Test O’Matic, making them de facto official resources. Great!

The comprehensive analysis you are about to read is yet another resource towards helping to understand some of the more significant rules changes for this year.

However, this particular look at the 2014 WFTDA rules will do more than just explain what key rules changed or how these changes will affect gameplay. It will dig into understanding why the changes were made, along with the full process behind those changes and a deep analysis examining whether or not the new rules are the best or most efficient way of fixing what was actually broken. It will also feature a look at how the the final 2014 rules document was affected (and not affected) by the 2013 beta rules proposals, with an exclusive look at how those proposals came about.

That will come later. Before we dive into the areas where the WFTDA still has a lot more work to accomplish, let’s start with the rules changes that everyone can agree are 100% positive.

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USARS Derby 2014 Rules Analysis

USA Roller Sports has released the 2014 version of its roller derby rule book. This is the third major derby rules update for USARS, but the first that leaves the core components mostly intact. Though there are significant changes this year, they are more refined and focused than the wholesale makeover USARS rules saw in 2013.

usars-derby-rules--2014

Click to download the 2014 USARS roller derby rule book. (PDF)

Last year, USARS started to find its way with rules that did not conflict with the style of gameplay it is aiming to develop. But as USARS teams became familiar with the strategy behind the game, some of those rules showed signs of being incomplete. On top of that, the USARS game revealed that a lot of the players had incomplete skills to cope with the more challenging and tactical style of play.

This year, USARS has taken steps to fill in the gaps in both of those areas, albeit more in the former than the latter. Many weird (and boring) situations have been eliminated with a few simple changes. A much-needed dose of common sense has been introduced to reduce certain types of penalties. And a new way of calling off jams will help teams quickly learn the strategies they didn’t know they needed, as well as make games much more exciting…for the most part.

Despite the relatively small amount of rearranging done to USARS rules this year—of its ten significant pages, only about a half of a page was added or changed overall—the impact it will have on gameplay will not be small.

All of the rules changes in 2014—except one—appear to be immediate improvements in both writing and in practice. Even the one that seems a bit off in terms of gameplay on the track may be good for USARS teams and players in the bigger picture, although there is a small danger that the trade-off will not always be worth the potential headaches that could come out of it.

Before getting into the newest changes, here is a quick refresher of the major plot points of USARS roller derby rules for those that came in late:

  • Game roster cap at 15 players (Team roster is unlimited)
  • 90 second jams
  • Stopping and clockwise skating illegal (AKA required forward skating motion)
  • Pivots separated ahead of blockers in a separate box for jam starts
  • Pivots can optionally become scoring players by chasing the (opposing) lead jammer; no helmet cover pass necessary
  • Team at the front of the pack (if they can get there) is always the pack
  • 10 foot pack proximity—no extra engagement zone
  • The jammer/active pivot physically in the lead must always be lead jammer; status can (and often does) switch during a jam
  • Lead jammer/pivot must be inbounds and on skates to call off jam
  • Jam instantly over when both jammers are in the box (no musical chairs/jammerless jams)
  • 5-minute overtime, with sudden-death 2OT/3OT jams if necessary
  • Team auto-forfeits if injuries/foul-outs reduce roster to 8 players or fewer (for player safety)

The 2014 rule updates leave most of the above list unaffected, although USARS teams did trial a few things that would have but did not make the final cut. (A “jambreaker” to stop an unending runaway pack situation was found to be too complicated and mostly unnecessary thanks to changes elsewhere in the rules, for example.) But as for what got in?

Read on.

USARS 2014 Rules Resources

USARS Roller Derby 2014 Rule Book (PDF) – Includes Minimum Skills and Addenda
USARS Rules “Cheat Sheet” Quick Summary (PDF Download)
Official USARS Roller Derby Rules Public Facebook Group
USARS Roller Derby Home Page on TeamUSA.org

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