Archive for the ‘Other Sports’ Category

The Win Button

Good news, bad news time.

First, the good news: The WFTDA has announced that its next roller derby rules update will be released this fall, to go into mandatory effect on January 1, 2013. So far, it is confirmed that the new rules will have no minor penalties as well as other changes to be revealed later.

The bad news: The delay in the update has created a lame duck period for the current ruleset—flaws, loopholes, and all—which will continue to be used through to the end of the 2012 WFTDA Big 5 season.

We remember what happened when this same set of rules were put through the pressures of tournament level competition. It wasn’t pretty. Non-jams, booing crowds, a record high for penalties, and what turned out to be a false hope that it would all be fixed for 2012.

It’s a huge unknown what we’re going to see during the playoffs this year. We’re likely going to see some fantastic derby, sure. But one would be a fool to not think horrible derby were not as equally likely. It’s just a matter of how much of it we’re going to see.

As fate would have it, there’s a precedent for the current situation the WFTDA finds itself in. Ten years ago, another popular competitive game found itself faced with a game-altering flaw. When this flaw was used to help players win at the tournament level, it led the game down a path of a slow and quiet death.

The flaw in this game was very similar to the one found in the rules of roller derby. Spooky similar, in fact.

But you wouldn’t think that initially, considering the kind of game it is.

This isn’t just any old fighting game: It’s roller derby, ten years ago. (Really.)

The defining characteristic of this particular fighting game was the thing that eventually destroyed it. Having played it competitively for five years myself, I know first hand what happens when people abandon the original design and spirit a game in the single-minded quest to do whatever they can to win.

Modern roller derby has reached a critical stage. The choice that players and teams make during the playoffs could potentially determine what course derby will set for itself moving forward over the next five years. If they make the right choice, the WFTDA will head into 2013 and beyond stronger than ever. If they make the wrong choice…

Well, you won’t want to make the wrong choice. I know what happens when the wrong choice is made. I’ve seen an entire game—one of my all-time favorites—crumble before my eyes. I don’t want to see it happen again, especially not to roller derby and those that made the game what it is today.

The choice is such: Do roller derby teams want to win by playing roller derby, or do they want to win by doing something that’s as easy to pull off as pressing a button?

For the consequences of this decision to be best understood, let’s go back to the mark of the millennium and learn the story of a fighting game that, unbeknownst to its creators, landed in arcades with a flaw that would decide its ultimate fate.

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“Self-Destruction” and the Integrity of Derby

Update: It’s come to my attention that Mr. Watts isn’t actually a columnist for the the Vancouver Times-Colonist.  The commentary in question is actually a Letter to the Editor, which was not made clear at the time I found the piece online.  Regardless, the point I make in this post is still relevant, although it has been updated to reflect the facts.

Additionally, Vancouver’s own Terminal City Rollergirls have issued a counter-response to the original letter, which you can read here.

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An interesting letter to the editor of the Vancouver Times-Colonist caught my eye today.  It’s from Norm Watts, a hockey fan speaking briefly about the state of hockey and the uptick of dirty and violent play that has seen many NHL players suffer brutal injuries.  The last paragraph of the piece is of interest to derby:

The final playoff series was a disgusting display of dirty hockey, and the officials seemed content to let most games deteriorate to an unsavoury display of punching, spearing, slashing and numerous cheap shots.

The NHL leaders and the officials are ruining a wonderful game. It takes little time before the face-washing and ankleslashing turn into violent hits along the boards with little regard for the welfare of an opposing player.

Officials have a duty to set the tone of a hockey game and hockey players are responsible to one another and to the integrity of the game itself. The poor leadership shown by the NHL, its officials and the players has influenced the game at all levels and unfortunately the game is on a downward slide. It’s a path to self-destruction for a league which appears to be going the same route as roller derby.

In effect, this guy is saying that unless the NHL cracks down on violent play and general gooniness, it will continue down a path of devolution until it’s at the same level of roller derby, which, in his view, is apparently is at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to sporting fair play.

Now, before you click over there and go to town on this guy for having the audacity to make such a comparison, consider where he’s coming from. Clearly, he has no idea that there’s a modern derby revival that has skaters playing the game legitimately, without the kicking, hair-pulling, and fighting that used to happen from time-to-time in derby’s “sports entertainment” era, some decades ago.

Still, that means the only notion of derby he has is the one he grew up with, the form of derby that featured professional skaters that didn’t always skate…professionally.  (If you know what I mean.)  Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there that think the same way.  It doesn’t help that YouTube has loads of popular videos that feature roller derby fights.

I mean, even though I’ve scoured YouTube for countless months beforehand, I only stumbled upon modern derby in 2007.  Before I struck gold, each time I searched for derby videos I hoped that there would be new clips that didn’t feature alligator wrestling or a fistfuls of hair.  Even while looking for legitimacy in derby, I found an assumption that the derby of old hasn’t changed in modern times.

But how instilled is this assumption?  Let’s ask YouTube.

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Derby’s Biggest Day

In the world of sports, the first Saturday in May is the biggest day for derby in the world.  Thousands of spectators from all walks of life descend to one place to watch top athletes with clever names race around an oval track, showcasing their athleticism, strategy, and speed.  The event takes place all day, but the only meaningful action takes place two minutes at a time.

No, it’s not that derby.

The Kentucky Derby, or "Run for the Roses" has been a derby staple since 1875.

Today is the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby, the most famous horse race in the world. Twenty of some of the finest racing horses in the world will jam around the Churchill Downs race track in what is billed “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.”

If you think about it, there’s are quite a few similarities between roller derby and horse racing, particularly the Kentucky Derby. Top-level derby requires top athletes. (Yes, horses are athletes.) Action happens two minutes at a time, either in a derby jam or a derby horse race. Funny or clever names are a part of the culture of both sports. (Some of the entries this year: Mucho Macho Man, Pants on Fire, and Derby Kitten.) The participants a race on a flat oval track. (Granted, the track at Churchill Downs is quite a bit longer than the regulation WFTDA flat track.)

Okay, maybe comparing the two sports is a bit of a stretch. Still, the word “derby” isn’t in the exclusive domain of our beloved roller derby. It’s one that’s used regularly in the sports world. Here, I’ll highlight other “derbies” and attempt to compare them to roller derby.

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