Another Derby Extra: The RollerCon Seminar

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Didn’t go to RollerCon this year? Or maybe you were there, and you couldn’t make it to Another Derby: The Seminar.

Well, that is egg on your face. Those who went saw something special, as evidenced by these actual testimonials:

• “That was a fucking AWESOME seminar, thank you!”

• “At least there are people thinking about the big picture. Thanks for continuing to care, WindyMan.”

• “Simply amazing – people who weren’t there don’t know what they missed.

• “Thank you for doing this!”

Regrets? Fret not. Now everyone can get in on the best kept secret in roller derby: Roller derby itself.

Find out the hows and whys of the game, from the pack, to the pivot, to power jams. Discover what all roller derby rule sets, past and present, have in common. Then see how this knowledge can be applied to the modern game in a way that benefits everyone. (WFTDA, I’m looking at you!) Even if you know derby—or rather, if you think you know derby—get ready to love the game you love in another brand-new way.

The 75-minute seminar has been enhanced with full diagrams and video overlays, so you’ll know exactly what’s happening through every concept and video as it’s happening.

Check it out below:

Thanks for watching, and thanks for spreading the knowledge. Knowledge is power!

Another Derby: The Seminar Coming to RollerCon

Good news, RollerCon attendees. You are going to RollerCon!

That’s enough of a reason to be excited. But here’s another: WRDN is also going to RollerCon! And we’re doing a seminar as a part of the Another Derby Series!

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The summarily titled Another Derby: The Seminar will attempt to cram 78 years of roller derby history, game rules, strategy, and videos from both the classic and modern eras of the game into a single hour. In examining the derby rules of the past and comparing them to the rules of the present in another way, we can discover the fundamental concepts of roller derby that persist through all versions of the game.

Whether they be sport or sports entertainment; done for the show or done for the competition; or legitimate or illegitimate, we’ll boil it all down to what the essence of roller derby is all about. That done, we will then then take this knowledge and apply it to the modern game in a way that will hopefully improve it for everyone.

Some of the topics to be covered include:

• The main strategy behind Leo Seltzer‘s original roller derby rules and how USARS is trying to preserve it with theirs

• The changes Jerry Seltzer made to the game in the 1960s and how the resulting pivot strategies apply to MADE (and USARS) roller derby

• How the Japanese solved the power jam problem 20 years ago at the first World Cup, and how the RDCL solved its power jam issues in a similar way

• Why the Rollergames TV show and its figure-8 track, jump ramp, Wall of Death, and alligator pit is truer to the sport of roller derby than the WFTDA—in one way, at least

If you are curious about the full history of roller derby, want to see what roller derby looked like in The Old Times, want to see how and why other modern derby rule sets play the way they do, or just want to discover something new and interesting about the game we all love, this seminar is for you!

Take in the first half of the Arch Rival vs. Rocky Mountain WFTDA game in the challenge bout hall Friday night, then join us outside in Room #115 at 7:30 p.m. You can find the seminar on the RC Google Calendar schedule, here.

In case you can’t be there, or you hate fun and won’t be at RollerCon this year, good news! There are tentative plans to film the seminar for uploading to YouTube at a later date, so everyone can see what it is all about. Or, you can take it all in the old fashioned way by reading the Another Derby Series entries here, starting from the beginning and working up through Chapter 11. Note that Part 4 of the series, consisting of Chapters 12-14, will be coming within the next few months. So look out for that soon.

But if you want to see it all—or at least, most of it—then we will see you in Room #115 on Friday night for Another Derby: The Seminar. Be there, or be somewhere less fulfilling!

2013 WFTDA Bracketology #2: Division 1 and the High Cost of Inflexibilty

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With WFTDA rankings locked-in and the participating teams seeded into four cities across the United States, the first-ever WFTDA Division 1 playoff tournaments are set to kick-off this September.

As the growth of the modern game continues to seek a clear direction, the WFTDA is heading into new territory this postseason. Besides overhauling the ranking system to eliminate biases inherent in an opinion poll, the governing body has also made a significant change to its playoff format.

Out are the four distinct regional tournaments, which have been replaced by what is effectively one big championship playoff divided into four equally-seeded qualifiers. This method was selected by WFTDA member leagues to, according to them, allow for “more competitive play within and across” the whole of the playoffs, and ensure that “the best teams are eligible for Championships,” which this year will happen in Milwaukee the weekend of November 8.

In this installment of WFTDA Bracketology, it’s time to pick apart the Division 1 brackets and see how the WFTDA attempted to meet these and other goals, whether or not the methods it selected were the best way of meeting them, and if the concessions it made to do so were really in the best interests of its member leagues, and for roller derby as a whole.

In case you missed it, check out the first WFTDA Bracketology post wherein we discovered some issues with the Division 2 bracket and took observation at an alternate look at the Division 1 tournament, two things which will come in very handy for what you’re about to read here.

The 2013 WFTDA Division 1 Playoffs

The five events that make up the run for the Hydra championship trophy are no longer called “The Big 5″ by the WFTDA, but the scale of the tournaments that now comprise the Division 1 playoffs are still pretty damn big. Forty teams are eligible regardless of what people are calling it these days, so let’s give “The Big 40″ their due and see who is playing where this year.

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2013 WFTDA Bracketology #1: Division 2 and the D1 “Regional” Playoffs

Big news, flat-track followers: The WFTDA has released updated league standings and with it the seedings and brackets for the 2013 WFTDA playoffs. This has always been a major event on the roller derby calendar, but this year brings significant changes to the formula for determining who plays where.

The four-region system used in the past few years has been abolished in favor of one “global” region, one where all member leagues are lumped into the same system. The system itself has also gone under a major change, foregoing polled rankings for a math-derived rank based on strength of opponent and point spread of games. There is also the addition of a lower-tier divisional playoff, to give a few more teams exposure to a national tournament experience.

In this two-part “Bracketology” examination of the tournaments, we’ll take a look at who is (and isn’t) in the tournament, how the seeds and playoff sites match up, the methodology behind why the WFTDA dispersed teams the way that they did…and why a lot of trouble might have been avoided with a few simple changes.

Because now that the ranking sheets have hit the fans, it’s clear that there are few issues—a few big issues, actually—that need to be addressed for future playoff editions. One might even surmise that the WFTDA could have avoided some of these issues ahead of time with some forward thinking or careful consideration of their options.

But we’ll get to that in Part 2. First, let’s first take a look at the 20 teams in Division 2 competing for a special invite to the WFTDA Championships in November, and an alternate view on how the 2013 playoffs would have went down had they happened under last year’s regional format.

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Battle on the Bank VI Diary: The Most Interesting Jam in the World

Heading into Battle on the Bank this year, there was little doubt that the L.A. Derby Dolls and their Ri-Ettes all-star team were the runaway favorites to repeat as banked track champs. Having destroyed both their closest rivals earlier in the year, the San Diego Derby Dolls Wildfires and the Arizona Derby Dames Hot Shots, Los Angeles did not have have much in the way of resistance to claim the title for the second straight year.

And so they did.

The L.A. Derby Dolls, winners of three out of six Battle on the Bank tournaments and two in a row. But this isn't about them.

The L.A. Derby Dolls, winners of three out of six Battle on the Bank tournaments and two in a row. That’s great and all, but this story isn’t about them.

Despite the winner being a foregone conclusion, there was still a lot to look forward to a few steps lower on the bracket.

At the bottom, the Sugartown Rollergirls and Penn-Jersey Roller Derby got their first taste of the RDCL national tournament. In the middle, Tilted Thunder and the OC Rollergirls showed that they are not too far off from competing for the podium, putting in a good showing against the top teams after putting on a great show against each other. And off to the side, the juniors of the RDCL demonstrated that it won’t be long until they replace the players occupying their eventual spots on the senior rosters.

But back to the top steps. Though San Diego was seeded ahead of Arizona, it wasn’t an easy pick to say who would overcome the other on the way to the finals. But it was all but certain that which ever one did would lose to L.A. in the finals, making the battle between them a race for second place.

The double-elimination format of the tournament virtually ensured both teams would face each other twice: Once in a 30-minute game in the winners’ bracket on Saturday, and again in a full tilt the next day for a place in the grand final.

Thank goodness they did. The two AZ/SD games, by a fair margin, featured the most engaging, most fascinating, most exciting roller derby I have seen at Battle on the Bank out of the four editions I have attended. Dare I say, it was the most compelling action I have seen in the Doll Factory in two or three years—a period which includes all-star appearances by Gotham, Rocky Mountain, Team Legit, and Team Bionic, among many other top-tier teams that have rolled through in that time.

A bold statement, that, but there are numbers to back it up. In ninety total minutes of gameplay between the two teams, leads larger than 20 points were a short-lived luxury. Sustaining a low double-digit lead was about as good as either team could manage throughout. In the 60-minute semifinal game, teams were averaging less than 2 points each per jam. Two! Factor out power jams, and it was even closer.

Close scores are one thing, but with the 2013 RDCL rules having almost eliminated “cheap” points gifted to teams during goating and power jam situations, it was literally back to the case of every point mattering and every point needing to be fought for tooth-and-nail.

The sausage non-engagement tactic has, for all intents and purposes, been eliminated in the new rules. Front-loaded defenses were at a formidable advantage, forcing both teams to engage and assist offensively to break through. Packs were moving at a reasonable speed, allowing a defense trapped ahead of a goat time to lock on to, match speed with, and slow down an opposing jammer wanting to complete a pass, making goating itself less effective and no longer an easy play to complete a full pass.

This restored competitive balance to gameplay, but it also created a most exciting side-effect. If two equal teams both have an equal chance to play defense, are equally proficient at playing offense in the pack, and have jammers of equal speed and skill levels, odds are that both jammers are going to frequently complete their initial pass equally—or simultaneously, as it were.

That is exactly what happened in the Arizona/San Diego games. I don’t have an exact number, but I can almost guarantee that their games saw the highest number of close double-jammer breakouts all weekend, by a fair margin. In fact, a good percentage of jams had jammers within a quarter-track of each other or closer after completing the initial pass, leading to a hard and fast jammer race back to the rear of the pack. This often led to low-score, and even no-score jams, but not for a lack of action.

As both teams began to realize that uncontested scoring passes were rare, the only thing they could do was gain every millisecond of advantage they possibly could with the jammer race on the track and against each other in the pack to secure a favorable position for the scoring pass. The AZ/SD games at Battle on the Bank were brilliant examples this kind of hold-your-breath gameplay.

However, they also showed clear signs that the strategy behind jammer-race contested scoring passes is yet-to-be discovered by many teams in roller derby, not just those in the RDCL.

There was one jam in particular that demonstrated this.

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2013 RDCL Rules Analysis

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RDCL banked track games are going to look a lot better in 2013.

Anyone attending a Roller Derby Coalition of Leagues banked track game last year—particularly in Southern California, the nerve center of organization—would have seen many of the same gameplay problems that have been recently plaguing the WFTDA flat track game. Slow, boring, and sometimes unfair gameplay; blocker disengagement and no-packs during power jam point-go-rounds; and lengthy official timeouts to clarify calls or communicate penalties between jams.

Though the problems were very similar between derby disciplines, the urgency to fix them is much, much more paramount in the RCDL. Operating expenses for banked track leagues are exponentially higher than those of their flat track sister leagues, and as the only realistic place the income to cover those expenses can come from is fans and the sponsors they attract, something quickly needed to be done to get things back on track and make it fun for fans to watch once again.

For me personally, watching an RDCL game was often an exercise in tolerance. In the latter half of 2012, some games in L.A. got to the point where I couldn’t tolerate them anymore and had to walk out during the third quarter to save my sanity. It was not a good situation to be in.

In response to these issues, the RDCL released an updated ruleset late last year for use by its banked track roller derby leagues. The document wasn’t final at the time, with the first half of the new year pegged to be a working beta period to iron out the kinks.

A few weeks ago, the updated and finalized 2013 rulebook landed. Now at version 2.3, it may have very well hit the sweet spot how it juggles the unique issues the organization and its member banked track leagues are currently facing.

The biggest issue of all, one exclusive to the RDCL, is that the number of banked track leagues using their ruleset is extremely small—about 15, give or take—and is not liable to grow in number any time soon. The small talent pool available means that teams of vastly different skill levels will have no choice but to play each other, for lack of options, requiring a ruleset that makes potentially lopsided games competitive, yet action-packed and fun to watch during all phases of play.

Having seen quite a few banked track games played under the ruleset this year, let me be the first to say it: Mission accomplished. Games are fun to watch again!

Here is a look at some of the major points in the 2013 RDCL banked track roller derby ruleset, including how they have simplified and improved flow for uninterrupted gameplay, how they have made things more fair for teams in various phases of play, and yes, the solution they have cooked up for putting the jam back into power jams.

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WRDN Gamecast: San Diego DD vs Sugartown RG

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Oh yeah! It’s time for another WRDN Gamecast!

It’s a look into last weekend’s RDCL banked track game between the San Diego Derby Dolls and the Sugartown Rollergirls, straight from the beaches of Ventura, Calif.  It’s also a great look at the 2013 RDCL roller derby rules, which promote faster, more open play and (mostly) prevents blockers from becoming tackling dummies in a split pack. This was fun game to watch (especially compared to last year’s Gamecast under the old rules) with a fair amount of action.

The team San Diego fielded was a mixer team of league players and rookies, some of which played in their very first game. Sugartown’s roster is also a mix featuring some of their all-star players and guest players from the L.A. Derby Dolls, necessary fill-ins as quite a few of STRG’s rostered skaters were out with injury.

This game might provide an insight as to the kind of gameplay we might expect on the undercard at next month’s Battle on the Bank VI in Los Angeles, as both San Diego and Sugartown will be in attendance.

To view the game, head on over to the WRDN Gamecast page, or just press play below.

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