WFTDA Playoffs 2013 Diary #2: Officially Challenged

Welcome WRDN’s look-back at the 2013 WFTDA playoff season! Your intrepid commentator will opine on four different items in four separate posts, creating a snapshot of what the WFTDA has been doing right, what it has been doing wrong, and what it’s flat-out not doing. This is part two. (Part one is here.)

Time to go under the hood on WFTDA official reviews.

Time to go under the hood on WFTDA official reviews.

It’s time we start giving referees a break.

Watching the playoffs from home, looking at the reactions of crowds and skaters, and seeing a lot of feedback online, I got the sense that the ref crews at the WFTDA playoffs, particularly those at WFTDA Championships, took a lot of heat for calls, non-calls, questionable calls, close calls, and calls that were extremely unpopular—but ultimately correct.

Granted, there were some calls that were very boo-worthy. A few insubordination calls for failing to immediately leave the track after a penalty call were probably unnecessary. There was also the rare moment when an officiating error was flat-out bad, such as the 2-minute overtime jam that only lasted one minute, called off too quickly by an (apologetic) jam timer NSO.

But with the number of games, the number of jams, and the number of total events referees needed to judge throughout the WFTDA playoff season, the fact that they got so, so much of it right should be commended. Particularly, since they need to wrestle with the complexity of the WFTDA rule book just as much as the skaters who wrote it.

In the few instances when a referee crew was incorrect on a critical assessment, the rules allow a team to use an official review to make their case to the officials to see about overturning the call as it was originally made. The rules and officiating of them are still a work in progress, so allowing skaters to point out a clearly-wrong call to the officials is important to make sure it does not unfairly swing the outcome of a game.

However, a discouraging trend among skaters and teams appeared during the tournament season, with regards to the official review system.

A lot of teams requested official reviews that seemed dubious themselves, requesting that referees stop the game to try and overturn calls that were obviously correct in the first place, or ask the referees to issue a penalty to an opponent that clearly did not happen.

At the time of their request, they seemed like simple uses of the review system. But two of them revealed an underlying motivation for their use, one that was inconsistent with the spirit of the rules and one should be stopped before it gets out of hand.

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The first is from the Texas-Gotham championship final.

With 6 minutes left in the first half, Olivia Shootin’ John and Bonnie Thunders take to the jammer line. Both get out of the pack quickly, but LeBronnie eats the baby on OJ, eventually causing the Texas jammer to commit a cutting penalty.

Gotham goes on the power jam, and after two snoring passes—sorry, scoring passes—of passive offense, the Texas 3-wall finally manages to shove their mark out of bounds at turn 4, recycling everyone back into the awaiting Gotham rear wall.

The three Gotham blockers try to hold Texas from recycling Bonnie all the way behind the pack, but a Texas blocker finds an open lane. Just as she starts moving clockwise behind the Gotham rear wall, Bonnie starts moving in the derby direction and re-enters behind her.

From most angles, this was a close re-entry. The crowd saw Bonnie cut the Texas blocker and demanded a penalty, as is what crowds tend to do when a call does not go the way of the popular underdog. The refs saw a legal re-entry by Bonnie and went about their business, as is what referees tend do when there is no penalty to call. Bonnie saw 20 points go up on the scoreboard, as is what Bonnie tends to do when she is on the power jam.

Texas, on the other hand, thought that the crowd was right and the referees were wrong. After the jam, they asked for an official review of the non-call on the alleged cut committed by Bonnie during the sequence, figuring Gotham deserved to be down a jammer—and they were owed a power jam. Continue reading

WFTDA Playoffs 2013 Diary #1: By The Numbers

Welcome WRDN’s look-back at the 2013 WFTDA playoff season! Your intrepid commentator will opine on four different items in four separate posts, creating a snapshot of what the WFTDA has been doing right, what it has been doing wrong, and it’s flat-out not doing. This is part one.

bythenumbers

Measuring progress in the WFTDA is tricky business.

Sure, seeing growth in the number of affiliated WFTDA leagues (now 234 full member and 89 apprentice) is great. You can also look at the ballooning WFTDA international presence and be left with the impression that the future is bright for roller derby abroad.

However, ticket-buying customers that go to see WFTDA teams play may not know about the rapid expansion of the game. Frankly, they may not care. They just want to see roller derby. If the roller derby they see is not entertaining and competitive, they will not come back to see it again. This is important, because without their financial support, there is nothing to realistically sustain whatever progress there appears to be.

Which means it’s not really progress. Tricky business, ain’t it?

Casting aside the debate on the rapid growth of roller derby, let’s just take a look at the roller derby itself. If we are to try and measure progress in that area, the question is simple:

Is WFTDA flat track roller derby getting any better—on the flat track?

“Better” is a subjective term, one that can differ with opinion. Anyone who watched the playoffs, particularly the championship tournament, could have easily walked away thinking this season was better that last year. (Hell, even I thought it was better than last year—at first.) But filtering the question through one’s own emotions is not the best way of going about answering it definitively.

To gauge the true progress of the WFTDA from 2012 to 2013, we can use Rinxter stats to take an objective look at the numbers. Score differentials, penalty numbers, etc. Take the numbers from this year, compare them to the numbers from last year, and see if things are really getting better—or at least, are moving in the right direction.

Continue reading

You’re Doing it Wrong: 3 Common USARS Strategy Mistakes

The second full USA Roller Sports roller derby season has wrapped up, with Washington state pulling off a sweep and Oly taking home two national titles, the men’s (Oly Warriors) and the women’s (Oly Rollers). Thoughts of the event and a complete snapshot of USARS derby, Year Two, will come later in the off-season.

But ahead of that, let’s put on our strategy hats.

All the teams and virtually all the players playing under the USARS banner have very little experience in the faster, more tactical style of roller derby it is trying to develop. Knowing the rules is one thing—at only 10 pages of significance (for now) there is not much to need to know—but applying that knowledge on the track is another thing entirely.

This has been evident during the 2013 USARS tournaments, where teams have been making a lot of strategic mistakes. These mistakes were the major culprit behind some of the more boring sequences of play, including runaway pack situations or instant jam call-offs. These sequences often ended in a 0-0 jam with little action or excitement to show for them.

As with any learning process, these mistakes will pass with practice and game experience. But before one can learn from mistakes, one must know exactly what those mistakes are.

Here are the three most common tactical errors in USARS play over the last two years, from least common to the most.

Mistake #3: Runaway Pivots

In USARS, pivots are granted their traditional ability to break away from the front of the pack and become a jammer, but only after the opposing team has already gotten their jammer out for lead. This ability is most useful when a pivot is controlling the front of the pack, which lets them immediately spring into action should their jammer fail to clear the pack first.

A big chunk of USARS tactics is how the pivots do battle with each other, both at the start of the jam and during the rest of the initial pass sequence. In most circumstances, a pivot will want to be in front of the opposing pivot at all times, to help suck them back into the pack or delay them should they need to break away after the jammer.

Most circumstances. But not all circumstances.

Pivots hell-bent on getting to or staying at the front of the pack during the initial pass hurt a team’s chances of scoring points more than it helps it. This is a mistake made by pivot players new to USARS, and the traditional pivot position in general.

The logic behind this is simple: The scoring player with the best chance to score points on a jam is (generally) the first one reaching the back of the pack on a scoring pass. The first jammer to reach the back of the pack is (usually) the one that gets out of the pack first on the initial pass. The first jammer to get out of the pack is the one that (always) get the most blocking help and assistance from his or her teammates in the pack.

Therefore, that works together to make sure their jammer gets out first is well on their way to scoring points. However, a pivot trying too hard to stay ahead of everyone else will wreck this calculus by effectively taking themselves out of play, reducing the blocking power that their jammer might need to do that. A pivot race at the front of the pack can also ramp up the speed of the pack to hopelessly high levels, making it much harder for blockers to stay together or be effective.

Here is a video that shows an example of this happening during a jam. Focus on the white blockers and the white jammer and see how quickly they fall behind due to the white pivot racing the pack forward:

The white pivot ultimately got the position she wanted, the front of the pack. This put her in good position to chase the black jammer out without resistance on the part of the black team.

However, in doing this she left the white jammer in the dust and left the other white blockers vulnerable at the rear of a fast pack. She also put herself out of play ahead of the pack, forcing her to drop back into pack before she could legally activate her jamming abilities. This gave the black jammer a pretty easy scoring pass, picking up two free points.

But more importantly, in playing the jam this way the white pivot was basically guaranteeing her team would not score any points before the initial pass was even completed.

Continue reading

USARS Regionals 2013 Diary: More or Less

usars-roller-derby-logoIt’s a good news, bad news situation for USA Roller Sports Roller Derby.

The good news: More teams are interested in playing games under USARS roller derby rules, both interleague and locally. Those that are are almost universally glowing about them. Overall, games are more competitive than last year. USARS is starting to have more of a presence at major derby events like RollerCon. Well known, championship-caliber teams are ready to compete for recognized national titles.

The bad news: A lot of people do not yet understand (or flat-out dislike) the type of roller derby USARS wants to promote. USARS itself still has some major kinks to work out of its rule set, particularly those that help make for boring games. USARS is still is looked upon with animosity within the greater roller derby community. Oh, and in only its second year, regional tournament participation is down.

Whether the positive or the negatives will win out, USARS is still plugging away at building up and offering its version of roller derby to the masses. Realistically, it is too early to say how it is doing either way, as it is still early days for the governing body. But that does not mean we can’t review what it has done lately, during its regional tournament season in August and what is in store for its second national championship tournament this weekend.

So let’s look back to how USARS roller derby has been going along, with its ups and its and downs. But before the playoff season officially began, USARS managed to land an invite to the biggest roller derby party there is on the eve of its first regional tournament.

The RollerCon Game

Since it started its roller derby program in earnest, USARS wanted more of a presence at RollerCon than just a dinky booth that gave away free water bottles and the occasional informational pamphlet. It wanted to feature a game played under its rule set.

Ultimately, USARS got one for RollerCon 2013—barely. The group was not able to secure a spot initially, but it lucked-out when a previously scheduled full-length game was cancelled. USARS swooped in and picked up the time slot.

Never mind it was the slot opposite the Vagine Regime-Caulksuckers showcase in the main challenge hall, the most popular game of the weekend. That didn’t prevent around 300 derbyfolk from filtering in and out of the USARS room during the hour-long bout…including some that might have had more than a passing interest in the proceedings.

But What people saw at RollerCon was something not unlike a lot of early USARS-rules games: A complete and utter mess.

Continue reading

WRDN Gamecast: 2013 USARS Region #2 Championship

It’s a WRDN Gamecast double-feature! From the Stockton Indoor Sports Complex in Stockton, Calif., it’s the placement games of the 2013 USA Roller Sports Region #2 roller derby championship.

Four teams competed for the three spots available into the 2013 USARS Roller Derby National Championship, to be held in Tulsa, Okla. this October. After three games each of pool play, the teams contested the third-place and championship games to determine qualification and seeding into the national tournament.

USARS roller derby rules feature faster gameplay, a larger emphasis on team play and pack work, and allow the pivot to become a jammer to score as it was originally designed to do. As many teams are still new to the USARS ruleset, the level of play here is somewhat low; however, there were some pretty close games and exciting moments throughout the weekend despite that.

Both games can be viewed below. Each game is compressed to eliminate jam resets and timeouts, so it’s all wall-to-wall derby. And even better: The video is in high-definition, baby!

You can view the games below. For past Gamecast videos, check out the Gamecast archive page.

Enjoy!

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Third-Place Game

High Country Mountain DG vs. Suburban Legends RD

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Championship Game

Temporarily Unavailable

 

Another Derby Extra: The RollerCon Seminar

another-derby-seminar-rollercon-2013-2

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!

another-derby-seminar-rollercon-2013

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!

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