Roller Derby 2013 Preview: The End of the Beginning

Happy new year, roller derby—it’s going to be a doozy.

That’s because 2013 will see a number of changes, additions, milestones, and opportunities across all five of the major roller derby organizations. On the track, off the track, in the rules, or in the pocketbook; everyone’s doing something of major significance this year, and many of these things could have long-lasting effects on the game.

Taken on the whole, it gives the impression that modern roller derby itself, soon to be 13 years young, is starting to get ready to move on to the next stage of growth…almost like a pre-teen not too far away from starting puberty. Since roller derby doesn’t have any parents to give them “The Talk” (thank goodness!), it will collectively have to figure out what that stage is going to look like and how it will effect to the greater health of the game. Even if that stage may ultimately be a few years off, we’re definitely starting to wind down the modern game’s childhood days.

If 2013 is to be the end of modern roller derby’s beginning, let’s take a pre-emptive trip down memory lane and see what major events and important news items derby needs to keep an eye on from the WFTDA, the MRDA, the RDCL, USARS, and even MADE. From new rules, new organizational structures, new opportunities, and even a $20,000 banked track tournament—this is not going to be a year that roller derby will ever want to forget.

WFTDA

wftda-logoOf all the changes in the WFTDA happening this year, the one that will have the biggest impact is the new 2013 WFTDA roller derby rules, which officially went into effect on January 1. As the de facto flat track roller derby ruleset, a significant number of leagues, including all those under WFTDA sanction, obviously, will be playing by the new rules in games from this point forward.

In addition to updating the text of the rules, the WFTDA has updated its rules revision process, too. After taking a lot of heat from many regarding what resulted from the update cycle of its 2010 rules, the WFTDA has already indicated that rules updates will be coming in at higher frequencies than in the past, stating that there may even be an update later in 2013. It’s also taking feedback of issues directly via a rules issues reporting database to help speed things along, which is great.

The number of derby events played using WFTDA rules is mind-boggling, and 2013 is likely to see that number increase. But if there’s ever been a bellwether for where teams are at—and how the rules are holding up—heading into playoff season, it’s the East Coast Derby Extravaganza (June 28-30). Traditionally the last major event before playoff rankings are locked-in for the fall tournament season, this year’s iteration may become even more significant considering…

the WFTDA’s new division system and playoff format. No longer will the top ten in four different regions be invited to the regional playoffs. Instead, the top 40 teams across the whole of the WFTDA, that have played enough qualifying games, will be deemed “Division I” and be split up into 4 playoff sites around the country, culminating at the 2013 WFTDA Championships (Nov. 8-10) in Milwaukee, Wis. Additionally, the WFTDA has said that there will be two additional divisions with different scheduling requirements and their own side tournaments to help balance competition across member leagues, though specific details about that have yet to be revealed.

Update 1/18/13: The WFTDA has released the specific details about both the divisional system and rankings system on its website, here.

How all of the above will tie into the WFTDA.tv platform is as of yet unknown. The WFTDA seems to be starting a tradition with its mid-season “bowl” tournament featuring a weekend of high-power teams playing against one another, one that we can all hope will continue. While it’s a safe bet that regular-season coverage will continue to be free, there’s still a question mark over the pay-per-view model, particularly with how the divisional setup may affect schedules and pricing (and if the rules will improve gameplay) compared to last playoff season.

Finally, a significant bit of news is that WFTDA insurance is now available to all flat track roller derby leagues, regardless of affiliation. The program was at first exclusive to WFTDA, and early last year, extended to MRDA leagues. Now any non-affiliated league that meets safety protocols may turn to the WFTDA for general liability and excess medical insurance, giving more options to those in the United States that may need them.

As the governing body with the most players, the most leagues using its ruleset, and the the biggest profile in roller derby today, it will be interesting to see how the WFTDA will handle the next stage of roller derby’s growth. This is especially true now that WFTDA is suddenly finding itself in competition with other derby platforms. How much that competition effects the WFTDA, if at all, will be one of the big roller derby story lines in 2013.

WRDN: 2013 WFTDA Rules Analysis
WRDN: WFTDA Creates New Playoff Format for 2013
WRDN: WFTDA Westerns 2012 Diary: Simply the Besterns*
WFTDA: 2013 WFTDA Playoff Tournament Dates and Locations
WFTDA: WFTDA Insurance Now Open to All Flat Track Leagues
East Coast Derby Extravaganza Website

MRDA

MRDA LogoThe men’s equivalent to the WFTDA has been growing quickly since officially organizing three or so years ago. It hit a significant milestone recently, that of the first internationally-sanctioned MRDA leagues. With the addition of two UK leagues, one Canadian league, and a few more closer to home, the MRDA has expanded to now include 31 clubs under its wing. Though it’s a far cry from the WFTDA’s 172 full member leagues (and 94 Apprentice Leagues), it’s growing at a rate not too far off of its sister organization in its earlier days.

In terms of the rulebook, the MRDA will get the same refresh as the WFTDA with its co-adoption of the new 2013 WFTDA roller derby rules. However, even though the MRDA is happy to play by them—the WFTDA was even nice enough to re-brand its rulebook for them—the fact is that the MRDA is using roller derby rules its members did not directly vote on. While the WFTDA took feedback from MRDA teams, players, and officials (who are also WFTDA officials) the MRDA did not get to directly influence any of the rules. While this could be much ado about nothing, there’s also a possibility that the rapidly-improving men’s game isn’t fully compatible with rules made almost exclusively by female skaters, for female skaters. We shall see.

With fewer teams, men’s derby games were scattered around the calendar in 2012. While there will likely be more men’s games in the spotlight this year, the major regular-season event that has quickly become an MRDA showcase is Spring Roll (May 17-19). Though it will also host more WFTDA and junior derby games than in previous years, the 10 MRDA teams that are scheduled to attend makes it the largest gathering of men’s teams all year, which will make for the highest concentration of men’s game you will get to see in a single weekend.

The MRDA season will wrap up with the MRDA Championships, traditionally held in October during the break between the WFTDA playoffs and championships. Dates or location have yet to be announced, but it’s a safe bet that the tournament will feature the top eight MRDA teams (the same as last year) as voted on by member leagues.

MRDA’s international expansion how it get on with using WFTDA rules will be the two major stories to follow in the MRDA for 2013. While men’s roller derby isn’t as widespread as the ladies’ game, the competition at the top level is just as fierce—which as we saw last year, can sometimes make men’s derby a double-edged sword.

MRDA: MRDA Goes International With its Six New Members
WFTDA: WFTDA Announces MRDA-Branded Edition of “Rules of Flat Track Roller Derby”
WRDN: MRDA Championships 2012 Diary: Not Your Mother’s Roller Derby
Spring Roll Website

RDCL

RDCL LogoThe prevalent banked track roller derby organization has already taken huge steps in attempts to advance the game to a new level. Last year, it worked with the Pro Roller Derby Invitational and Roller Derby Xtreme to start dipping the sport’s toe stops in professionalism—or at least, get-paid-to-play-derby roller derby.

The group is always on the lookout for opportunities to partner in sponsored or cash purse events to showcase the sport and the banked track. While there have been no announcements or any level of certainty as of yet on whether last year’s ventures will continue, the RDCL is never one to shy away from getting the most out of those opportunities. As things stand with them right now, it would be surprising if a new or returning big-money event didn’t materialize for 2013.

The changes the coalition is making at home, however, may help determine what it’s thinking about for its future. In addition to a rules update coming early this year, the SoCal core of the RDCL—the L.A. Derby Dolls, the San Diego Derby Dolls, and OC Rollergirls have (kinda-sorta) aligned their league schedules with each other, generally making all-star interleague games in the winter and spring, with intraleague home team games in the summer and fall. Doing this allows them to, among other things, make it easier to schedule interleague games against other teams in the Coalition, including fellow RDCL founders Arizona Derby Dames and the Tilted Thunder Rail Birds.

It also makes it feasible to pencil in more banked track games featuring top-ranked WFTDA teams, as the beginning of the year is generally the slowest for flat track squads just winding down from the playoffs. This year, for example, L.A.’s all-star schedule includes banked track games against Bay Area (January 19), Charm City (March 2), and Rose City (April 27); Steel City and Madison (Feb. 8-9) will be visiting San Diego’s banked track. It also allows the growing OC Rollergirls team to play a full intraleague banked track season with the more established San Diego, who has three home teams.

Another thing that schedule alignment does is put banked track derby’s “Super Bowl” at the end of their general interleague seasons. That, of course, is Battle on the Bank VI (Los Angeles, June 7-9), essentially the championship tournament for RDCL teams. The slow proliferation of banked track derby has limited previous BotBs to eight or nine teams—of those, only three or four have ever had a chance of competing for the top trophy. For this reason, BotB organizers haven’t shied away from attempting to invite flat track teams to crash the party in previous years; whether or not they’ll get any bites this year (or even if they’re fishing for any) is not known.

Although the RDCL is the smallest organization in the scope of modern roller derby, the fact that it’s got a lot of banked tracks lying around gives them a lot of leverage when it comes to mainstream event coverage, commercials and TV shows, and plain ol’ flash. (In fact, San Diego is trying to parlay that into a new permanent venue, as their sisters in L.A. have had for years.) We’ll see how much more mainstream banked track roller derby gets, if it does at all, through the RDCL in 2013.

WRDN: Battle on the Bank V Preview
Video: WRDN Gamecast: L.A. Derby Dolls vs. Sugartown Rollergirls
RDCL Website
Battle on the Bank Website

USARS

usars-roller-derby-logoIt’s the oldest organization listed here, but USARS is the newest kid on the roller derby block. Wanting to get out of the gate quickly last year, its inaugural tournament season was marred with teething problems in the areas of scheduling, competitive imbalance, and the rules. This was somewhat expected, however, what with the hurried nature that the group put on its first events. However, the national tournament was leaps and bounds better on all accounts, so taken on the whole USARS had a decent opening run.

Still, it have a lot to prove if it wants to build up a solid roller derby platform in 2013. This will start with—what else—its forthcoming 2013 USARS derby rules update. This update will determine a lot as to what kind of game USARS wants to bring to players and if its rules committee understands what needs to be done to keep the “spirit” of the sport intact. No time frame for this release is known, but the first official rules were released last January—how long it takes for USARS to come out with the rules will also be telling of how on the ball it is.

Update 2/17/13: USARS has released its rule set for 2013. It is available here.

It’s too early in the year for any definite information on the 2013 USARS roller derby regional and national tournaments, to come later in the year. However, what is known that USARS is allowing much more time to organize them this year, having been accepting bids for its 2013 cycle for months now, a marked improvement over the scant couple of months host leagues had last year. Additionally, USARS is planning to more heavily promote its version of derby, its events, and the sport itself in 2013, so more people than ever will hear about them.

There’s another unknown for the organization to worry about: How many tournaments USARS will need to host in the group’s nine regions. (Last year, only enough teams for four tournaments answered the call.) This answer to that will, of course, be a direct result of how many leagues adopt USARS rules in 2013. Already, there’s movement on this: A number of leagues that participated in the regional tournaments have switched to USARS, either exclusively or in complement to WFTDA rules. This includes the OneWorld Roller Derby organization, who has multiple leagues in Washington state, Iowa, Texas, Pennsylvania, and even Canada. (OneWorld previously used OSDA rules, but they’re quick to point out that they’re cool playing under all rulesets.) How many more are willing to give them a try?

Off the track, USARS is changing things with its insurance and sanctioning programs. Most significantly, USARS will no longer be offering single-event memberships (day passes) for its sanctioned events except for non-U.S. residents. This means for events like RollerCon or for guest skaters heading for a banked track, everyone will be required to hold supplemental insurance of their own, either through a full USARS membership, WFTDA insurance, or other reciprocal coverage—but thankfully, everything pretty much reciprocates everywhere. USARS is offsetting this change by charging lower fees for multiple club charters from the same league (i.e., multiple teams or different venues for practices, bouts, scrimmages, etc.), which can make help to make blanket insurance coverage of events less expensive.

The biggest challenge USARS will face in 2013 is to convince the greater derby community that putting the priorities of the growth of the sport first can work in contrast to the “by the skater, for the skater” ethos that has driven the modern game up to this point. Many leagues and skaters are already buying into this, and many more are looking on with varying degrees of support—from the ones that are curious to what they can bring to the game, to the ones that would prefer they crash and burn. Either way, there’s no doubt 2013 is going to be a critically important year for USARS roller derby.

WRDN: USARS Finalizes Derby Rules, Launches Olympic Aspirations
WRDN: USARS Regionals 2012 Diary: A Rough Start
WRDN: USARS Nationals 2012 Diary: That Was Fast
USARS Roller Derby Home Page
USARS 2012 Nationals Tournament Website

MADE

MADE LogoAs the country’s only true co-ed, bitraxual roller derby organization, MADE has kept a low profile until recently. You may have heard of it here and there over the last couple of years, particularly if you hail from the east coast where MADE is centralized. (It’s been around just as long as the WFTDA, don’t you know.) But 2013 is year MADE appears to be primed and ready to make a big splash in the greater roller derby community.

After revamping and relaunching its website (and magazine) in mid-2012, MADE made it much easier to find information on what the organization stands for, the rules, upcoming major events, and the other usual stuff.  It also indicates where and when people can go to watch MADE games online, something the organization also started doing for the first time last year, albeit in the traditionally bare-bones way of DIY derby boutcasting.

However, the reason why you’re going to hear more about MADE roller derby soon is because of its biggest event of the year, which is also its biggest event ever—in fact, it’s probably going to be the biggest event in all of roller derby in 2013. It’s the $20,000 Derby Ink Invitational (Harrisburg, Penn., April 19-21), a 16-team banked track tournament featuring the largest overall purse in roller derby history. Played under MADE banked track rules, eight men’s teams and eight women’s teams will separately battle for an $8,000 winner’s jackpot. ($2,000 goes to each of the runners-up.) It’s especially significant considering some of the teams already confirmed to sign up—namely, Quadzilla’s Team Antik (men), Team Bionic (women) and a WFTDA mash-up team featuring players from Gotham, Philly, and Charm City.

Update 2/17/13: The Derby Ink Invitational has announced that the finals of the tournament will be available live on Pay-Per-View television, in addition to the entire tournament being streamed online.

Which other team join in the fray and how the event will go will be anyone’s guess, but it will be the first time real opportunity people will have to see what MADE roller derby is all about. The other best chance to check them out is its traditional big event of the year, the Colossal Coastal Roller Expo in August. Sort of like an east-coast RollerCon for MADE leagues, last year’s event featured live streaming coverage of various MADE-rules flat track scrimmages, including the MADE All-Star game. Look out for that to continue again in 2013.

As MADE’s website likes to say, “it only takes one game to get hooked.” Although its organization is relatively small compared to the WFTDA, its teams and skaters are very loyal to the style of play and open, co-ed culture that MADE has built up for years. As the long-standing roller derby alternative, how MADE will grow and change going forward (if it does grow or change), particularly with the bigger exposure it’s setting itself up for in 2013, will be something worth keeping an eye on.

WRDN will (hopefully) have a comprehensive preview the Derby Ink Invitational and overview of MADE rules in early April.

MADE Website
Derby Ink Invitational Website (Derby Ink Expo Website)
Colossal Coastal Roller Expo Website
Video: MADE CCRE All-Star Game
Video: MADE Team Mainland USA vs. Puerto Rico

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by qbit on 28 March 2013 at 4:39 pm

    MADE has only been around since 2010. after the OSDA held a controversial championship tournament in 2009, several member leagues defected and created MADE. some of MADE’s member leagues might have been around since the inception of WFTDA, but MADE as an organization has not.

    Reply

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