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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mistake #3: Runaway Pivots

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

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

Most circumstances. But not all circumstances.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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WRDN Gamecast: 2013 USARS Region #2 Championship

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

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Third-Place Game

High Country Mountain DG vs. Suburban Legends RD

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Championship Game

Temporarily Unavailable

 

Another Derby Extra: The RollerCon Seminar

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Didn’t go to RollerCon this year? Or maybe you were there, and you couldn’t make it to Another Derby: The Seminar.

Well, that is egg on your face. Those who went saw something special, as evidenced by these actual testimonials:

• “That was a fucking AWESOME seminar, thank you!”

• “At least there are people thinking about the big picture. Thanks for continuing to care, WindyMan.”

• “Simply amazing – people who weren’t there don’t know what they missed.

• “Thank you for doing this!”

Regrets? Fret not. Now everyone can get in on the best kept secret in roller derby: Roller derby itself.

Find out the hows and whys of the game, from the pack, to the pivot, to power jams. Discover what all roller derby rule sets, past and present, have in common. Then see how this knowledge can be applied to the modern game in a way that benefits everyone. (WFTDA, I’m looking at you!) Even if you know derby—or rather, if you think you know derby—get ready to love the game you love in another brand-new way.

The 75-minute seminar has been enhanced with full diagrams and video overlays, so you’ll know exactly what’s happening through every concept and video as it’s happening.

Check it out below:

Thanks for watching, and thanks for spreading the knowledge. Knowledge is power!

Another Derby: The Seminar Coming to RollerCon

Good news, RollerCon attendees. You are going to RollerCon!

That’s enough of a reason to be excited. But here’s another: WRDN is also going to RollerCon! And we’re doing a seminar as a part of the Another Derby Series!

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The summarily titled Another Derby: The Seminar will attempt to cram 78 years of roller derby history, game rules, strategy, and videos from both the classic and modern eras of the game into a single hour. In examining the derby rules of the past and comparing them to the rules of the present in another way, we can discover the fundamental concepts of roller derby that persist through all versions of the game.

Whether they be sport or sports entertainment; done for the show or done for the competition; or legitimate or illegitimate, we’ll boil it all down to what the essence of roller derby is all about. That done, we will then then take this knowledge and apply it to the modern game in a way that will hopefully improve it for everyone.

Some of the topics to be covered include:

• The main strategy behind Leo Seltzer‘s original roller derby rules and how USARS is trying to preserve it with theirs

• The changes Jerry Seltzer made to the game in the 1960s and how the resulting pivot strategies apply to MADE (and USARS) roller derby

• How the Japanese solved the power jam problem 20 years ago at the first World Cup, and how the RDCL solved its power jam issues in a similar way

• Why the Rollergames TV show and its figure-8 track, jump ramp, Wall of Death, and alligator pit is truer to the sport of roller derby than the WFTDA—in one way, at least

If you are curious about the full history of roller derby, want to see what roller derby looked like in The Old Times, want to see how and why other modern derby rule sets play the way they do, or just want to discover something new and interesting about the game we all love, this seminar is for you!

Take in the first half of the Arch Rival vs. Rocky Mountain WFTDA game in the challenge bout hall Friday night, then join us outside in Room #115 at 7:30 p.m. You can find the seminar on the RC Google Calendar schedule, here.

In case you can’t be there, or you hate fun and won’t be at RollerCon this year, good news! There are tentative plans to film the seminar for uploading to YouTube at a later date, so everyone can see what it is all about. Or, you can take it all in the old fashioned way by reading the Another Derby Series entries here, starting from the beginning and working up through Chapter 11. Note that Part 4 of the series, consisting of Chapters 12-14, will be coming within the next few months. So look out for that soon.

But if you want to see it all—or at least, most of it—then we will see you in Room #115 on Friday night for Another Derby: The Seminar. Be there, or be somewhere less fulfilling!

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

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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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Battle on the Bank VI Diary: The Most Interesting Jam in the World

Heading into Battle on the Bank this year, there was little doubt that the L.A. Derby Dolls and their Ri-Ettes all-star team were the runaway favorites to repeat as banked track champs. Having destroyed both their closest rivals earlier in the year, the San Diego Derby Dolls Wildfires and the Arizona Derby Dames Hot Shots, Los Angeles did not have have much in the way of resistance to claim the title for the second straight year.

And so they did.

The L.A. Derby Dolls, winners of three out of six Battle on the Bank tournaments and two in a row. But this isn't about them.

The L.A. Derby Dolls, winners of three out of six Battle on the Bank tournaments and two in a row. That’s great and all, but this story isn’t about them.

Despite the winner being a foregone conclusion, there was still a lot to look forward to a few steps lower on the bracket.

At the bottom, the Sugartown Rollergirls and Penn-Jersey Roller Derby got their first taste of the RDCL national tournament. In the middle, Tilted Thunder and the OC Rollergirls showed that they are not too far off from competing for the podium, putting in a good showing against the top teams after putting on a great show against each other. And off to the side, the juniors of the RDCL demonstrated that it won’t be long until they replace the players occupying their eventual spots on the senior rosters.

But back to the top steps. Though San Diego was seeded ahead of Arizona, it wasn’t an easy pick to say who would overcome the other on the way to the finals. But it was all but certain that which ever one did would lose to L.A. in the finals, making the battle between them a race for second place.

The double-elimination format of the tournament virtually ensured both teams would face each other twice: Once in a 30-minute game in the winners’ bracket on Saturday, and again in a full tilt the next day for a place in the grand final.

Thank goodness they did. The two AZ/SD games, by a fair margin, featured the most engaging, most fascinating, most exciting roller derby I have seen at Battle on the Bank out of the four editions I have attended. Dare I say, it was the most compelling action I have seen in the Doll Factory in two or three years—a period which includes all-star appearances by Gotham, Rocky Mountain, Team Legit, and Team Bionic, among many other top-tier teams that have rolled through in that time.

A bold statement, that, but there are numbers to back it up. In ninety total minutes of gameplay between the two teams, leads larger than 20 points were a short-lived luxury. Sustaining a low double-digit lead was about as good as either team could manage throughout. In the 60-minute semifinal game, teams were averaging less than 2 points each per jam. Two! Factor out power jams, and it was even closer.

Close scores are one thing, but with the 2013 RDCL rules having almost eliminated “cheap” points gifted to teams during goating and power jam situations, it was literally back to the case of every point mattering and every point needing to be fought for tooth-and-nail.

The sausage non-engagement tactic has, for all intents and purposes, been eliminated in the new rules. Front-loaded defenses were at a formidable advantage, forcing both teams to engage and assist offensively to break through. Packs were moving at a reasonable speed, allowing a defense trapped ahead of a goat time to lock on to, match speed with, and slow down an opposing jammer wanting to complete a pass, making goating itself less effective and no longer an easy play to complete a full pass.

This restored competitive balance to gameplay, but it also created a most exciting side-effect. If two equal teams both have an equal chance to play defense, are equally proficient at playing offense in the pack, and have jammers of equal speed and skill levels, odds are that both jammers are going to frequently complete their initial pass equally—or simultaneously, as it were.

That is exactly what happened in the Arizona/San Diego games. I don’t have an exact number, but I can almost guarantee that their games saw the highest number of close double-jammer breakouts all weekend, by a fair margin. In fact, a good percentage of jams had jammers within a quarter-track of each other or closer after completing the initial pass, leading to a hard and fast jammer race back to the rear of the pack. This often led to low-score, and even no-score jams, but not for a lack of action.

As both teams began to realize that uncontested scoring passes were rare, the only thing they could do was gain every millisecond of advantage they possibly could with the jammer race on the track and against each other in the pack to secure a favorable position for the scoring pass. The AZ/SD games at Battle on the Bank were brilliant examples this kind of hold-your-breath gameplay.

However, they also showed clear signs that the strategy behind jammer-race contested scoring passes is yet-to-be discovered by many teams in roller derby, not just those in the RDCL.

There was one jam in particular that demonstrated this.

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2013 RDCL Rules Analysis

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RDCL banked track games are going to look a lot better in 2013.

Anyone attending a Roller Derby Coalition of Leagues banked track game last year—particularly in Southern California, the nerve center of organization—would have seen many of the same gameplay problems that have been recently plaguing the WFTDA flat track game. Slow, boring, and sometimes unfair gameplay; blocker disengagement and no-packs during power jam point-go-rounds; and lengthy official timeouts to clarify calls or communicate penalties between jams.

Though the problems were very similar between derby disciplines, the urgency to fix them is much, much more paramount in the RCDL. Operating expenses for banked track leagues are exponentially higher than those of their flat track sister leagues, and as the only realistic place the income to cover those expenses can come from is fans and the sponsors they attract, something quickly needed to be done to get things back on track and make it fun for fans to watch once again.

For me personally, watching an RDCL game was often an exercise in tolerance. In the latter half of 2012, some games in L.A. got to the point where I couldn’t tolerate them anymore and had to walk out during the third quarter to save my sanity. It was not a good situation to be in.

In response to these issues, the RDCL released an updated ruleset late last year for use by its banked track roller derby leagues. The document wasn’t final at the time, with the first half of the new year pegged to be a working beta period to iron out the kinks.

A few weeks ago, the updated and finalized 2013 rulebook landed. Now at version 2.3, it may have very well hit the sweet spot how it juggles the unique issues the organization and its member banked track leagues are currently facing.

The biggest issue of all, one exclusive to the RDCL, is that the number of banked track leagues using their ruleset is extremely small—about 15, give or take—and is not liable to grow in number any time soon. The small talent pool available means that teams of vastly different skill levels will have no choice but to play each other, for lack of options, requiring a ruleset that makes potentially lopsided games competitive, yet action-packed and fun to watch during all phases of play.

Having seen quite a few banked track games played under the ruleset this year, let me be the first to say it: Mission accomplished. Games are fun to watch again!

Here is a look at some of the major points in the 2013 RDCL banked track roller derby ruleset, including how they have simplified and improved flow for uninterrupted gameplay, how they have made things more fair for teams in various phases of play, and yes, the solution they have cooked up for putting the jam back into power jams.

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