Points Per Jam: Roller Derby’s Default Difficulty

…Continued from Page 2

Why This Matters

Different roller derby rule sets have different levels of scoring difficulty, different rates at which points can potentially be scored, and different ways of defining competitive play. But as we have seen, some roller derby rule sets foster more competitive play, on paper, than others can.

So what?

Why does this matter? Especially when one of these rule sets, the WFTDA, has become the de facto universal roller derby rule set in America and in many areas of the world? Even if other rule sets “artificially” (as some say) create closer or lower-scoring games, as long as the elite players are playing by WFTDA rules, it will always have more competitive derby in spite of the final score differences.

Well, sure. Going by the PPJ rates calculated in this analysis, a 60-point WFTDA game from 2013 equates to a 25-point MADE or USARS game, in terms of how difficult it would be to mount comebacks of those magnitudes. Here, the absolute points difference doesn’t matter as much as the potential for a certain number of points to be scored over a number of jams, 6 or 7 jams in both cases.

That a number of points can be scored is not why all of this is important, however. Instead, it has everything to do with how a number points are scored, and how the collective team effort required to score them translates into the potential long-term success of a team.

But achieving success is more than just maintaining a winning record. In this case, it really means how good a team can be at sustaining itself financially.

As roller derby continues to get bigger and bigger, it will need to make sure there is enough money to properly backstop its growth. No matter their ability level or situation, skaters and leagues must have a fair chance to create for itself further opportunities to improve—and make sure there are realistic avenues available so they can comfortably afford to do so.

Well-established leagues with a large skater base and a sizable number of dedicated fans can find strength in numbers and easily generate money for facilities, training, and travel expenses. (Or can they?) They will be fine no matter what type of roller derby they play, and good for them. They earned that status, and they deserve all the success that comes with it.

However, smaller leagues that have lesser skater populations can’t rely on the same economies of scale that larger leagues do. Nor can leagues that are geographically isolated from equal competition, those that must spend more money on travel just to find opponents on the same level as them.

With roller derby expanding on an international scale, the money that these small and emerging mid-tier leagues need to keep pace has got to come from somewhere.

The well-documented exodus of the common fan from roller derby venues, and the sponsors they attract, has made the monetary math very daunting for a lot of smaller leagues. These are the ones that really want to try and compete, but can only do so on a skate-lace budget.

We all marvel at how much the top leagues are improving, and sound the trumpets every time they find new ways and new opportunities to improve their game. However, if the up-and-coming leagues are beginning to struggle for a chance to get at those same opportunities, shouldn’t that be cause to sound an alarm?

Test

If playoff-caliber leagues must decide between “opportunities to play peer leagues” and “staying financially afloat,” there’s a problem. Why does any good team have to be faced with a no-win decision like this?

Judging by the frustrated, sometimes desperate tone of many skaters, it’s clear that a number of leagues are doing just that. For many of them, it seems that no matter what kind of promotion or production they do to make the gameday experience fun, the hard truth of the matter is that if people find boring the actual roller derby they are being sold, they won’t come back.

That missing revenue may really be hurting the growth of roller derby at the lower levels. Without a large skater base to rely on, there is no guarantee these types leagues will have the necessary financial resources to both compete at the level they feel they can compete at and stay open for business, should the lack of ticket sales start putting a bigger dent in their bottom lines.

The ever-apparent rise in crowdfunding will not be enough to make up the difference if skaters expect to rely on each other to meet their secondary—or even their primary—fundraising targets. Without a bigger crowd to make crowdfunding more viable, money spent on travel or on-deaf-ears marketing will exit the derby economy and never return.

There may be better ways of ensuring everyone has a fair chance to financially compete off of the track. And wouldn’t you know, it has a lot to do with how game rules ensure that everyone has a fair chance to compete for points while on it.

Boring roller derby is boring because it lacks competition. People aren’t stupid: When skaters barely engage each other during gameplay, or do so in the easiest way possible (hello, 4-on-1 defenses!) under the guise of “strategy,” nothing skaters say will be able to mask what they do. Or aren’t doing (hello, offensive teamwork!) as the case may be.

Which is why that even long-time roller derby fans are slowly becoming ex-roller derby fans, even as the skater population insists—incorrectly, if 9.18 PPJ is anything to go by—that the WFTDA roller derby that most showcases their collective talents has been getting more and more competitive overall.

This year, however, the WFTDA may have finally turned a corner. Its 2014 rules changes appear to have made games more competitive.

Lessening penalty length and giving defenses more blocking options has put more action into the game, they say, and the closer, lower-scoring games happening between top and near-ranked teams is proof of this. The just-completed 2014 WFTDA Division 2 tournament and its high concentration of competitive games would seem to back this up.

However, what you might not have realized is that the average scoring rate across the two tournaments and 34 games played, as of this writing, is 8.24 PPJ.

That number is similar—you might even call it spooky-similar—to the 8.5~9.0 PPJ scoring rate seen across many games played in the 2013 WFTDA rules environment, suggesting a meager improvement in the “default” difficulty level of the WFTDA game for 2014.

But again, why does this matter? The tournament had a lot of close, exciting games, which goes to show how effective the WFTDA ranking system and tournament seeding is matching equal opponents with each other.

True. However, we aren’t concerned with the leagues that can collectively afford tens of thousands of dollars to travel to a highly-concentrated meeting of equally-ranked teams.

It’s the teams that can’t afford to travel far to play teams ranked near them, the ones that can only realistically afford to play those in their immediate area, that we need to think about.

If these teams play by WFTDA rules, its high scoring rate becomes a liability if those teams aren’t equally matched. It doesn’t take much of a mismatch in skill levels to create a disproportionate discrepancy on the scoreboard, one that will make new fans immediately get put off by roller derby. After enough of these kinds of games, they will eventually drive away the dedicated fans, too.

Derbyfolk must be careful that they don’t get overly excited about the hard-hitting, low-scoring contests, when the same rule set produces extremely uncompetitive travesties. Everyone wants to improve their skills and teamwork to try and avoid them, but they just keep happening, even when two highly competent teams face each other.

The opening of this analysis had the Hooligans limiting scoring against a top men's team in MADE rules. These (other) Hooligans, against a top men's team in this year's WFTDA rules? Not so much.

The opening of this analysis had the Hooligans play a competitive game against a top men’s team in MADE rules. These (other) Hooligans, against a top men’s team in this year’s WFTDA rules? Not so much.

The vast majority of roller derby leagues are trapped in a catch-22: If a team wants to put on more competitive games, it should travel to play other teams of like-skill to gain experience. If it wants to travel to gain this experience, it needs to put on competitive games to attract enough of an audience to get ticket/concessions/merch sales and build up a fundraising base large enough to more easily afford away games or tournaments.

(Or afford boot camps, or referee clinics, or new uniforms, or secure a practice space that isn’t a sub-leased warehouse, or start a recreational league, or be able to house all the boy-skaters that age out of their junior programs, or…)

However, if these smaller leagues played games in a low-PPJ rules environments, either primarily or on occasion, they would have more flexibility. In being able to play against pretty much anyone and being assured of a fundamentally competitive and entertaining game, regardless of the final score, teams can put on salable games more easily and more often.

This keeps the fans happy—and keeps them funding the team’s critical expenses—letting the skaters focus more on improving their skating skills instead of their fundraising skills.

Only when this happens can roller derby truly say it is on path to healthy growth.

Not just the teams at the top. Not just the teams that can afford it.

For everyone.

Some Final Points On The Competition for Points

To conclude this analysis, let’s take a gander at the Chicago Red Hots, a relatively new USARS roller derby club that established itself in the ever-saturated Chicago area at the beginning of 2013.

As a true club team that has no commitment requirements, many Chicago-area skaters are seeing the team as an extended opportunity to play some more roller derby. (And make back some money—skaters have a way to share in the club’s ticket revenues.) In particular, as much as a third of the Red Hots are simultaneously affiliated with the Windy City Rollers, skating with the USARS club in their free time outside of their WFTDA commitments.

This subset of skaters playing across different rule sets provides yet another place where we can directly compare how competitive one rule set is relative to another, in this case WFTDA vs. USARS. This time, however, we won’t be looking at the scoreboard to make this comparison.

Instead, we’ll look to the court of public opinion.

What does the average derby fan in Chicago think of these two teams? Surely Windy City, which is consistently ranked as a top-10 in the world, has a high concentration elite and experienced skaters, and puts on a popular home team season, will be much more impressive than any other team in comparison. No matter what rule set they play by.

When a local public radio reporter—an impartial adjudicator if there ever was one—got his first taste of USARS roller derby in the Red Hots’ first-ever public home game, he was one of the first in the area that was able to make an educated comparison of two different configurations of roller derby competition.

Clearly, a comparison based on him having previously seen the skillful and highly-strategic WFTDA game that Windy City plays.

A blunt an observation as you’ll ever see. Unfortunately, also a statistically accurate one.

As we know, WFTDA games in 2013 regularly saw PPJ averages in the 8.50~9.00 range. The USARS game our reporter friend tweeted from clocked in at a scoring average of 3.13 PPJ. That is more than twice the default level of scoring difficulty.

The final score of this USARS game from Feburary 2014 was 96-48, a 48-point gap. (Click here to watch it.) For comparison’s sake, the final score of the last Windy City game played in 2013 was at WFTDA Championships against a powerhouse of the roller derby world, Bay Area. That game ended in a final score of 230-135, a 95-point difference.

Relative to the scoring rates of each, the magnitude of score differentials in the two games are similar. (48 pts/3.13 PPJ = 15 jams; 95 pts/8.30 PPJ = 12 jams.) Both are typical mismatches, games that are neither particularly close nor ones that would be considered a blowout.

Yet one mediocre game of  USARS roller derby between two teams nowhere near the collective skill level of Windy City or its typical opponents was all it took for a radio reporter—and potentially, all of his listeners—to immediately understand what was lacking in some of the most high-level WFTDA games:

Competition.

Even when he may have very well been seeing some of  the exact same players play both kinds of derby!

He is not alone in this assessment. Announcers, producers, sports bloggers, and even skaters that regularly play more than one derby variation are starting to realize just how much more heated the contest for roller derby points can truly be—and they are totally digging it.

One player from a European league that trialed USARS rules was so impressed, he formed an auxiliary USARS team on the spot—despite not being from U.S. or really having anyone else to play against. “For the first time since I started playing derby, I actually felt like I was competing in a sport,” he exclaimed, having only ever known the WFTDA version of the sport before that point.

The enthusiasm for more competitive roller derby is not isolated to small USARS leagues or club teams, either. In the pacific northwest, established WFTDA leagues like Oly are taking advantage of this variety in roller derby by putting on WFTDA-USARS double headers for their fans. Rat City, too, recently hosted an MRDA-Juniors-USARS tripleheader with other teams in the area.

Another WFTDA Division 1 team, No Coast, also dipped its toes in USARS derby on two occasions. One of them was against another new-to-USARS team, the United Rollers from Texas. Unsurprisingly, a team as talented as No Coast beat them 202-16, a 186-point rout.

Yet strangely, this result was not met with the fan reaction we have come to expect after a hefty blowout. One long-time fan of the league said on its Facebook page about the game: “I’ve seen a lot of amazing No Coast bouts over the years….but this ranks towards the tops.” How on earth can a severe blowout, one of a magnitude equivalent to a 460-point massacre in the WFTDA last year, be one of the most amazing games he, or anyone, has ever seen?

Perhaps its (approximate) scoring rate of 4.50 PPJ—twice as competitive on a per-jam basis as typical WFTDA games have been over the years—was a factor.

If a typical mismatch of teams in a low-PPJ environment still has enough going for it to get people excited despite the score, just imagine what people would think about an extremely close, extremely low PPJ contest between two highly-skilled, extremely well-matched teams.

Let’s find out.

At the final game of the 2013 USARS men’s roller derby championship tournament, Your Mom Men’s Derby was up 69-57 over Oly’s men’s team, the Oly Warriors, after 59 minutes, 51 seconds and 47 jams of gameplay.

That works out to a ridiculously competitive 2.68 PPJ. This is what would be expected when pitting two teams packed to the brim with elite skating talent against each other. Their offense and defense were cancelling each other out so well, that even with penalties thrown into the mix, the best either team could muster was a partial scoring pass on every jam.

Under these circumstances, a 12-point Your Mom lead would appear insurmountable. For context, a lead of this magnitude in this particular game would effectively be the same as a 35-point lead in 2013 WFTDA rules.

When single-jam comebacks of such a magnitude happened in high-level WFTDA games last year, we know what they usually looked like. A jammer penalty leads to a power jam. A stupendous amount of passive offense is played to keep the pack at a stand still. The team scoring points is playing no defense whatsoever. The team defending points has few options to legally defend them, usually resulting in more penalties and even easier scoring.

Basically, the kind of boring roller derby that led the WFTDA to change its rules to help limit the effects of that sort of gameplay.

Compare that to this, how a comeback of similar magnitude plays out in a high-level USARS game.

There are no power jams here: Both teams have their jammer in the pack, although Your Mom was missing a pivot (the only penalized player pre-jam).

No easy defense, either: Oly (in red) had to simultaneously stop the YMMD jammer and cycle forward to keep blocker containment defensively. Would the Your Mom blockers (in black) free their jammer, keep up a fast pack, or collectively escape, their team wins the game.

A fact not lost on the announcer, who absolutely loses his shit as Oly continually defends constant offensive assaults, all while keeping the pack slowed down enough to get the necessary scoring passes in before time expires—only just.

If a professional couldn’t keep his excitement contained, imagine what the common fan was going through.

After the game (watch it here), Your Mom’s Seahorses Forever stated, unprovoked, that the game was “extremely intense. It was probably the most intense men’s roller derby game—roller derby game in general—that I have ever been a part of.”

As it turns out, it was one of the most difficult, most competitive and most exciting game he’s ever been a part of, too.

You don’t even need to do the math to see that.

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20 responses to this post.

  1. As a WFTDA rules skater, I really like some of the aspects of the other three rules sets such as the verbal warning for cutting and always having to be doing offence and defence at the same time. But watching the Your Mom v Oly game, it did feel a at times like I was just watching a load of men race each other around the track!
    I like fast derby but I think slow derby can be awesome to watch and take part in. I’m not sure how the two could be combined but I agree that, as a spectator, massive blow outs and the feeling of “Well, we all know how this jam is going to pan out” is not good and will potentially drive fans away.
    There are a lot of problems with WFTDA and it seems very fashionable to bash it at the moment. But I’m not sure everyone switching to USARS is the answer. I would be interested to have a go at playing under one of the other rule sets however.
    Good article but it did take me a LONG time to read! :D

    Reply

    • You’re right about the guys just racing around the track. Last year, USARS teams killed a power jam by speedskating away once they got around the (bad) defense of the other team. This year it is a much more rare occurrence because USARS added the requirements that jammers and pivots start every jam, among other tweaks. This means a team that just endlessly skates in circles is effectively throwing away a chance to score points. Running away from your own jammer is a dumb, dumb strategy, and no successful team will ever do this except in end-game situations.

      Your desire to “combine” fast derby and slow derby is exactly what other rulesets do: Both teams have an equal chance to play the game at the speed they want to play it at. Want to speed things up? Get around the other team and earn the forward positioning necessary to do that. Want to slow things down? get around the other team and earn the forward positioning necessary to do that. WFTDA teams can always slow things down, but they can’t always speed things up (see: power jams). In truth, there is no such thing as “fast” derby or “slow” derby. Only fair derby.

      Anyways, this isn’t about roller derby “switching” to a different rule set. It’s about making sure everyone that plays roller derby, is actually playing roller derby. If you haven’t seen my seminar from RollerCon last year, I highly recommend you check it out, here. It’s long (75 minutes) but it should explain what I mean by that.

      Reply

  2. Thanks so much for the excellent article!

    Reply

  3. Am I missing something obvious here, or are the 2013 MADE tournament stats really claiming an average combined score of 199, with an average score gap of 131? That’s saying the winning team wins by almost 5:1 on average, even without scaling.

    Reply

    • No, that’s correct. You can view the stats on my Google Drive, here.

      Having personally attended this tournament, I can tell you that the actual roller derby that happened on the track was fantastic. Everything else about the tournament, however, was not. A very, very poorly structured bracket (the organizers actually asked ME for suggestions on what could be done to change it—halfway through the tournament), a venue that was terrible, a promoter that did not make good on the promised prize monies, and a lot of angry players at the end of it.

      But stil, 3.43 PPJ. I’d see it again in a heartbeat.

      Reply

  4. Posted by Captain Lou El Bammo on 2 September 2014 at 11:35 am

    Your maths are wrong for the analysis you wish to make. As is your definition of competitiveness.

    Using your own numbers, the WFTDA model provides for much more competitive games over the other rulesets.

    You should be using the PPJ numbers to bring all the rulesets into comparable tables so that you can see which rules actually create the biggest gaps/blowouts/discrepancies.

    Both MADE and USARS trails far behind the WFTDA on the competitiveness scale when you compare apples to apples. This is an analysis you could have done yet it does not fit your agenda. Sadly, for you, the facts and numbers don’t lie. The WFTDA numbers are the superior for the datasets that you provided.

    Reply

    • Posted by Costa Ladeas on 23 October 2014 at 3:56 pm

      Yea cause “everybody” is playing WFTDA rules because WFTDA is the “cool kids” club. “Everybody” wants to hang out with the “cool kids” regardless whether the product is good or bad which should tell you a lot about people generally speaking.

      Reply

    • Posted by theoriginaldonald on 23 October 2014 at 6:50 pm

      Call me November 3rd when the FIVE TIME! FIVE TIME! FIVE TIME Jennifer Wilson Memorial Trophy winner Gotham Girls Roller Derby crush all three of their opponents by AT LEAST 100 points each

      Reply

  5. Posted by broei on 3 September 2014 at 1:00 pm

    In MADE, the Jammer or Pivot can take off, uncontestedly, on a scoring run during a No Pack situation. This makes it imperative that you also keep two opposing Pack Players behind you. I do not see this reflected in the corresponding diagrams (Minimum defense required…). I think this also could explain the lower PPJ rate in MADE compared to USARS.

    Relatedly, creating a No Pack under MADE rules is not only possible but also goes unpunished, as this recent bout shows (at the ends of clips 29, 39 & 45):

    Off course, no Jammer will score points during a No Pack, but if you’re still on your initial pass, that doesn’t matter.

    Reply

  6. Posted by Mike on 23 September 2014 at 10:57 am

    The link between PPJ and competiveness is weak at best.

    I can make a game have any typical number of points. The teams are always looking to have more than half of them. If that means they need 2 points or 200 points, they are going to work just as hard to get over half of the points and win the game.

    Raising or lowering PPJ won’t do anything to make a game more or less competitive.

    In a competitive game, the teams split the available points fairly evenly. Whether that is a lot of points or very few doesn’t matter, how evenly those points are divided does.

    Reply

    • I can make a game have any typical number of points. The teams are always looking to have more than half of them. If that means they need 2 points or 200 points, they are going to work just as hard to get over half of the points and win the game.

      Well, yes, but you’re talking about how hard teams work relative to each other, and how the ratio of points between them. I’m talking about how hard a team must collectively work to score points in the style of game being played before adjusting that difficulty level up or down based on the skill level of the opposition.

      Let’s think about what you said here, then take it a step further:

      In a competitive game, the teams split the available points fairly evenly. Whether that is a lot of points or very few doesn’t matter, how evenly those points are divided does.

      In a competitive jam, the teams will wind up with fairly even jam scores more often than not. Game scores can be close whether they are low or high, but the key is that jams can only typically be close if they are low-scoring, due to the team with lead calling off the jam early. Naturally, the WFTDA is the exception to this, with full 2-minute jams where both teams score a lot of points that cancel each other out equally.

      If the two teams were really equal, jam scores would more often reflect that. But you’re saying a (simplying) 24-0 jam followed by a 0-24 jam would result in a competitive game, since the scores cancel out 24-24.

      But then, wouldn’t a 14-10 followed by a 10-14 would be even more competitive? In this kind of jam, both teams would be dueling on offense and defense simultaneously. The scores would reflect that one team was slightly better in one jam, and the second team slightly better in the other.

      This distribution of scoring would be much more in line with the equality level of teams playing against each other, in the context of the game being played. However, if you have a style of game where 14-10 jams and 24-0 jams are possible (24.00 PPJ), you run the risk of one uncompetitive 24-0 jam wiping out 6 competitive jams’ worth of 14-10s.

      The reason why low(er) PPJs helps keep games more competitive overall is because the competition level of each individual jam more accurately resembles how competitive the teams actually are against each other. Two very equal, very competitive teams should be partaking in very equal, very competitive (and therefore, low-scoring) jams, in such a way that “big” scoring jams should be hard to get.

      Hard enough, so that if a big score does happen, it doesn’t render the competitive jams obsolete. I argue that this this “default” level of scoring difficulty is something around 4.00 PPJ, because two equal teams shouldn’t be scoring multiple passes on each other if they were really that equal.

      This way, two equal teams and two slightly mismatched teams would still be dropping single-pass scores on each other, it’s just that the bad team in a mismatch has more tools and more time to put a competitive effort in to try and score points, checking against blowouts and making sure a team that loses a few “big” jams can make up that deficit with a realistic number of “small” jams.

      Roller derby played in a high PPJ environment doesn’t show how good two teams are in a duel against each other, but rather which one scored better when it was their to pop shots at a shooting gallery. Big difference.

      Reply

      • Posted by mike on 25 September 2014 at 11:04 am

        We’re going to end up disagreeing on some points as what we like in a sport is different. And I would say that is a statement that multiple rule sets existing is good as it allows us to both have games going on that we really like.

        So on to some disagreement/suggestions. :)

        There are some features of WFTDA play that make PPJ less informative.

        Take a look at Berlin v Rideau Valley at the Kitchener Tournament. I picked this one because it has a very high PPJ and a very low score differential. So this is a game we would disagree on the competitiveness of.

        483 combined points (243-240). 47 jams. PPJ = 10.3
        A high PPJ which you would consider to be a lot of noncompetitive jams.

        However, since WFTDA play often has jams where both teams score points, the PPJ is inflated.

        If I only consider jams where one team scores, what you indicate is what we should see in a competitive jam, the PPJ drops to 4.59.

        The high PPJ is coming from play where there are scoring passes for both teams in a single jam.

        If I replace PPJ with the average of the difference in points scored per jam, I get a score difference per jam of 5.30. Roughly half of the overall PPJ.

        The high PPJ isn’t reflective of lots of blowout jams and wild scoring swings. It’s indicative of a style of play where teams regularly make multiple scoring passes whether or not their opponent is also on a scoring pass. Having one jammer score 8 and another score 4 only shifts the score difference by 4 points, but it pushes the PPJ up significantly.

        The last jam of Rideau Valley v Berlin was a 38 point jam. 20 points for Berlin and 18 points for Rideau Valley. That jam raised the PPJ by 0.7 all by itself. But it was a jam where both teams competed for points and the score differential for the jam was only 2. I propose that you should view that jam as nearly perfect competition since both teams scored nearly equal points even though it was 7.9% of the total game score in a single jam.

        I would suggest that score difference per jam is a better stat for what you are trying to argue since that allows for play where both teams are successfully competing for points.

        (Numbers pulled from rinxter.net and FTS)

      • However, since WFTDA play often has jams where both teams score points, the PPJ is inflated.

        The high PPJ is coming from play where there are scoring passes for both teams in a single jam.

        I realize that WFTDA’s PPJ is higher in part due to the 2-minute high-scoring jam. I said as much in the analysis and in my previous comment. However, you can’t ignore that high PPJ also comes from play where there are scoring passes for only one team in a single jam.

        The high-scoring but competitive 20-18 jam from the Berlin/Rideau game you cited also had high-scoring and uncompetitive jams of 27-4 and 23-0. Both types of jams happen often across all WFTDA games played.

        I’d wager that the lopsided jams happen more often than the ones that even out, when you look at the bigger picture.

        If I only consider jams where one team scores, what you indicate is what we should see in a competitive jam,

        Not what I said a competitive jam is. By your logic, a 1-1 jam wouldn’t be competitive, because both teams scored. But a 23-0 jam would be, because only one team scored. That is clearly not correct.

        A competitive jam is simply one where both teams have an equal chance to score points, and both teams have an equal chance to defend points. Any equal jam score (0-0, 1-1, 4-4, 10-10, 20-20) would have to be extremely competitive, because the offense and defense of both teams are cancelling each other out on the scoreboard in that contest for points.

        However, part of the territory that comes with ruleset-wide low PPJ averages is that there is always—ALWAYS—a lead jammer that can call off the jam after scoring points. In that situation, they almost always do, as to prevent the opposition from scoring and cancelling out the fact that they got to the pack to score points first. So of course the other team isn’t going to score on many jams!

        You argue that a 20-18 jam is competitive. Of course it is. Yet your argument disregards the reality that the same gameplay environment produces 23-0 or similarly ridiculous uncompetitive jam scores. The major issue many people have with WFTDA derby is that the 1, 2, 3, and 4-point differences earned in the very competitive, very difficult jams, are rendered irrelevant by the 15, 20, and 25+-point differences that comes in very uncompetitive, very easy jams.

        Basically, in the vast majority of WFTDA games, the exciting hard-fought point differential wins are inconsequential to the final game result, because the boring, easy point differential wins are often the only ones that really matter.

        A low PPJ environment keeps the competitive score differences, but takes away the more easily-attainable uncompetitive score differences by making them proportionally more difficult. Your 20-18 jam in a WFTDA game would always be a 2-0 (or 3-1 or 4-2) jam elsewhere. If a team in a low PPJ game wanted to get a 23-0 score, however, that would be almost impossible simply because the difficulty level of doing so would be off the charts.

        In a big USARS mismatch, for example, a very good team would need to keep the pack moving forward as slowly as possible while simultaneously containing 2 or 3 opponents on defense. There were some pretty big mismatches at USARS Nationals this past weekend, but even so, the biggest jam, which only happened two or three times all weekend, was a 20-0. That seems about the upper limit for a USARS jam, because scoring that many points in a jam is very difficult, even for the best teams in the world playing against those way down the pecking order.

  7. Posted by Mike on 13 October 2014 at 9:15 am

    This is the area where we’re going to just end up disagreeing.

    I view competitiveness on the scale of the enitre game, not on the scale of an individual jam.

    To me, competitive means I don’t know who is going to win through most of the game. No matter what the point scoring structure is, the trailing team could reasonably be able to come back and challenge the lead.

    If the losing team was able to remain in position to threaten the lead for at least 75% of the game, I view it as a competitive game. The size of the score isn’t what interests me, and the single jam scores only play into it in that they determine how large of a gap can reasonably be overcome.

    So to me, a game where I knew who was going to win by halftime isn’t competitive at any PPJ.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Tim on 16 October 2014 at 7:17 pm

    The real issue is that WFTDA roller derby is BORING. The points per jam and the competitiveness of any jam or bout are just symptoms of the real problem. The real problem is that the skaters are not skating, and they are definitely not skating with any speed or skill. They are stopped, they are standing, or they are even going backwards, they are ignoring 80% of opponents on the track, and THIS IS BORING.

    The current rules give the advantage to the team whose blockers are in the back and stopped and completely ignoring everyone on the other team except their jammer. This same problem is the cause of both why it is so easy to score in WFTDA roller derby and why it is so boring. The reason it is so easy to score is because the pack barely ever moves forward. It is now common to have entire 2 minute jams where the pack does not complete one lap of the track. The pack never completes more than a few laps of the track anymore. So since a jammer scores by lapping opponents, and those opponents are not moving, all the jammer is really doing is skating a few laps with opponents acting as glorified traffic cones in the way.

    When I attended my first roller derby bout back in 2008 and up through about 2011 for the roller derby league in my area, everyone skated fast. They did not know about bullshit passive offense, and so they were ignorantly playing fast, skillful, and EXCITING roller derby. Scoring was much more difficult back then too. This was because the opponents you needed to pass in order to score were always skating away from you. In order to make a scoring pass, a jammer had to circle the track several times to catch back up to them. The pack was often circling the track at about 10 seconds per lap, and the jammer was skating even faster. They were skating, blocking, dodging, and jumping at breakneck speeds which was EXCITING.

    So the reason it is so easy to score is because with bullshit passive offense, if a jammer is going to make 4 scoring passes, she only needs to skate 5 laps since the pack is not going anywhere. Before bullshit passive offense, a jammer that made 4 scoring passes was circling the track 25 times at incredible speeds, literally flying around the track, and the blockers were skating fast too.

    You can talk about the number of points scored, the closeness of jams or bouts, the competitiveness of any bout, the way the ranking are calculated and all the other symptoms of the real problem, which again, is that WFTDA roller derby is now incredibly BORING because 4 out of 5 of a team’s players are not skating at all, and the jammer is not skating all that fast. They are in fact encouraged not to skate by the perverse incentives in the current WFTDA rules.

    The way roller derby was played when I first saw it was fast and exciting. I imagine that the same is true for everyone that is a fan of the sport, or at least was a fan at one time. Why do WFTDA’s own promotional videos feature fast skating action rather then the prevalent bullshit passive offense? The fast roller derby is what I want to see come back. It baffles me that the skaters in WFTDA are apparently against rule changes to effect this. Maybe bullshit passive offense really is incredibly fun for the skaters, but I don’t believe that. How can it be fun for the skaters, when they aren’t even doing any skating? It does not look fun to me, and it is absolutely not fun to watch.

    Windy Man, after finding and reading a lot of your posts, I am pleased that someone at least is pushing on this subject with some intelligence and suggestions for improvements. The other rule sets appear to have some solutions to the problems in WFTDA, although I’ve never seen any of those rules used in person. But it can’t get much worse than it is right now, so I am left hoping that either WFTDA starts adopting these rules or that my local league switches to these other rules.

    Reply

  9. Posted by mike on 20 October 2014 at 2:58 pm

    Passive offense in WFTDA is a passing phase that is already passing.

    If you want to see WFTDA games without it, watch the WFTDA Championships at the end of the month.

    The problem that all the rule sets are seeing and responding to is that roller derby is an incredibly difficult sport to play. Simultaneous offense and defense is not something most teams are able to effectively deploy.

    Some of the rule sets respond to the problem by disabling defense. The active scorer rule where the pivot starts in front of the blockers essentially removes defense as a viable strategy so that teams gain little from defense. You get a more offense oriented game because all the pivot has to do is loiter at the front of the pack and avoid engagement and they can completely negate the blocker’s efforts to contain the jammer. You get passive play in front instead of in back of the pack.

    The WFTDA rule set rewards defensive play. This has resulted in the short term in slower games because teams have focused on defense as there is much to gain by developing a good defense.

    What you see at the top of the sport is defenses that have become so strong that they cannot be effectively penetrated without offense. The teams that then move to the very top are the ones that can deploy effective offense while still maintaining a strong defense. When top end WFTDA teams meet, the stronger offense wins since they both have staggeringly powerful defenses that even the best jammer cannot reliably penetrate alone. This is leading to faster play at the top end since passive offense against a division 1 team and an increasing number of division 2 teams is a losing strategy.

    The challenge is how to find effective methods to move these offensive strategies further and further down the rankings so that more and more teams are able to make the transition from playing purely defensive derby to playing a mix of offense and defense. And that’s a challenge since making that rapid transition while maintaining a cohesive pack is very difficult.

    Reply

    • Posted by Costa Ladeas on 23 October 2014 at 3:51 pm

      from your lips to God’s ears Mike.

      Reply

    • The active scorer rule where the pivot starts in front of the blockers essentially removes defense as a viable strategy so that teams gain little from defense. You get a more offense oriented game because all the pivot has to do is loiter at the front of the pack and avoid engagement and they can completely negate the blocker’s efforts to contain the jammer. You get passive play in front instead of in back of the pack.

      Not true. If a pivot “loiters” at the front of the pack, she is ignoring her defensive responsibilities, to the detriment of her team. (I wrote about this in a previous article on strategy, which you can see here.) For example, the pivot is the last line of defense against the other team breaking out first for lead jammer. If the pivot continuously allows the opposing jammer to break out of the pack first, it will always be second into the pack, will not score very many points, and probably lose the game.

      Also, the job of the defense isn’t to “contain the jammer.” It’s to contain the opposing team, of which the jammer is only one member. Stopping the opposing jammer is important, in that it ensures your team will get your jammer out first for lead. But if your team wants a big jammer lead, it will need to play even better defense to contain the opposing pivot, too. If your pivot is “loitering” at the front and not actively defending the opposing pivot, you’re not going to get much out of your lead jammer advantage, are you?

      So yeah, there can be passive strategies by pivots at the front of the pack in MADE/USARS. But they are often losing strategies.

      The challenge is how to find effective methods to move these offensive strategies further and further down the rankings so that more and more teams are able to make the transition from playing purely defensive derby to playing a mix of offense and defense.

      Notice how you kept saying that at “the top of the sport,” or with the “top end WFTDA teams,” things appear fine. Great! But these teams are a small minority in the WFTDA, and an even smaller percentage of teams that play by WFTDA rules overall.

      There’s a misconception out there that boring/uncompetitive derby in the WFTDA will go away once the “bad” teams get better at playing defense, thereby forcing more of their opponents to have to play offense. As I explained in my analysis, that is a very unreliable strategy. The level of teams playing one another any given day is variable, and you can’t rely on a variable if the goal is to see offense and defense being played consistently across the entire spectrum of games played, especially when so many teams will never approach anything close to top-level debry.

      As I said, the only way you can guarantee consistent competition is to describe it in the only thing that is consistent everywhere: The rules. A rule set needs to work for everyone, not just those that are very good. A rule set needs to foster competition between teams regardless of how close or mismatched they may be, not just between teams that are ranked near each other—and can afford to travel to peer opponents regularly.

      And that’s a challenge since making that rapid transition while maintaining a cohesive pack is very difficult.

      No shit, it’s supposed to be difficult. This is roller derby, a game where a team is expected to play offense and defense at the same time, which is impossible. But that’s the point: It’s equally impossible for both teams. The trick is to make sure both teams have a fair opportunity to play offense and defense simultaneously and at all times, regardless of the level of their opponent or current situation on the track.

      Reply

  10. Posted by Mike on 3 November 2014 at 1:01 pm

    If teams of wildly different skill play each other, the game should not be competitive. The teams won’t have equal ability to score since they don’t have equal ability.

    Competitive play requires teams of similar skill.

    You don’t need to build the incentives for teams of similar ability to play each other into the rules. The WFTDA builds it into their rankings calculator. A team is only going to hurt itself playing teams far above or far below its ranking. For sanctioned play, this encourages teams of similar skill to play each other across the entirety of the organization.

    Reply

  11. […] I had some great feedback from Part 1, including an absolutely amazing article from WindyMan (https://windymanrd.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/points-per-jam-roller-derbys-default-difficulty/) that I suggest everyone check out, and it is time for me to continue to the second part in this […]

    Reply

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