Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

RollerCon 2014 Video Diaries: USARS Roller Derby

Let’s talk about USARS for a moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RollerCon 2014 Video Diaries: Time for the All-Stars

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

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

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

Is that a…

…holy @#$%, it is!

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

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

RollerCon 2014 Video Diaries: Donut Wars

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

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

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

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

WFTDA Playoffs 2013 Diary #3: WTF.tv

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 three. (Part one is here. Part two is here.)

The next WFTDA.tv broadcast will begin in 3 … 2 … 1 …

The next WFTDA.tv broadcast will begin in 3 … 2 … 1 …

Launched for the 2011 tournament season, WFTDA.tv became an immediate hub for just about every major WFTDA game. It carried high-profile regular-season bouts and event weekends, the playoffs, and championships. Last year it started carrying the MRDA championships, and this year the online channel expanded to cover the newly-created WFTDA Division 2 playoffs.

Keeping all that derby coverage on one website is paying off. According to the sanctioning body, over 116,000 “unique website visitors” navigated to WFTDA.tv at at least some point during the WFTDA playoff season. Though this number includes the two free D2 streaming weekends that previous years did not have, it is still total that is impressive and commendable.

With Internet video streaming starting to become an indisputable force in the tech-society of today, and live sports programming becoming more valuable than ever, WFTDA.tv seems poised to ride both of those waves and help grow the sport. You could even say that the sky’s the limit for the WFTDA.

However, if the WFTDA is aiming to fly that high, we should make sure it’s not using wax wings to get there.

As great as the positives are with WFTDA.tv, worrying issues are beginning to appear behind the scenes. Dropped webcast feeds, payment problems, and capacity issues are the obvious problems, but there may be others lurking. And although growing pains were always going to be an issue with a project of this magnitude, they should be easing as time goes on—not getting worse.

After three years, enough time has passed to starting thinking about the direction the WFTDA is headed in with the service. There is no arguing that having it is better than not having it. But there is much discuss about whether how WFTDA is handling it is the best way of doing so, and whether or not its rapid growth is a good thing.

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But before that, here is a refresher of everything that did not go quite so right with WFTDA.tv in 2013. If you are reading this, it is extremely likely you experienced at least two or three of the problems below:

Major issues with the paid stream – This was the big issue throughout the 2013 playoff season. Though the quality of the stream was excellent, broadcasting a hi-def picture means nothing if there is no guarantee of it showing up on the other end of the line.

When minor problems arose during the 2012 season, they were isolated and random. An accidentally unplugged a cable here, a barge blocked a transmitter there. Those are the sorts of things one might expect to see in the shoestring budget productions that the derby community had been used to up to that point, and were easily forgivable—under the assumption that they would be fixed next year.

They were not. In 2013, things turned disastrous once the paywall went up and the WFTDA asked people for their money for the right to look inside of it.

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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.

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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.

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

wftda-playoffs-2013-header

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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USARS Nationals 2012 Diary: That Was Fast

usars-derby-nationals-logoRoller derby history was made this past weekend. Although, exactly what kind of history will take a few years to fully figure out.

USA Roller Sports held its very first national roller derby tournament at the Fresno Convention Center in Fresno, Calif. Eight teams from around the country skated in three days of competition, culminating in–who else?–the Oly Rollers of Olympia, Wash. winning it all and taking home the inaugural Seltzer Cup championship trophy.

After a calamitous series of regional tournaments, which were hosted by local derby leagues, USARS itself organized and ran the national tournament, though not without the help of Fresno’s own NOtown Roller Derby who supported USARS in putting on the event.

The result of this switch was night and day. The schedule was followed like clockwork, and with a few significant exceptions the event ran smoothly for the most part. A brand-new SkateCourt surface was brought in for the competition track, while a second surface was tucked away in another room for team warm-ups.

As for the roller derby? Well, there’s a lot that happened. Some things were good. Some were great. Some were not so good. Some were terribly bad. For example: All of it was broadcast live on DNN for free (good!)—but sadly, USARS may not be posting the archives any time soon, if ever (bad!). Every team in attendance was able to play in at least one competitive game during the weekend (really good!)—but unfortunately, one of those teams ran into a serious problem that jeopardized their ability to continue playing in the tournament (really bad!).

Much could be said about last weekend, but I’ll keep it down to the five items that struck me most about it.

That Was Close!

The first day and a half of the tournament went pretty much how everyone expected: Teams far apart in skill level playing in one-sided games resulted in lopsided victories.

Oly had no trouble with Port City, winning 312-21. San Diego RD beat Deep South Derby 224-57; Resurrection RG did the same to Birmingham RD, 220-24. The closest contest of Friday, if you could really call it “close,” was a battle of derby leagues, the Tulsa Derby League All-Stars beating Underground Derby League 156-40.

Day two started off looking much the same way, with Port City further burying Underground 126-39 and Oly skating through Tulsa with a 241-24 victory.

Six blowouts in a row do not a competitive roller derby tournament make. (Then again, neither does a tournament that only started with 16 total teams who had but a few months to learn the rules.) But with how the seeding worked out, the regional rematches that were on the horizon teased that the good match-ups were yet to come.

And boy oh boy, did they come.

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