Posts Tagged ‘USARS’

Points Per Jam: Roller Derby’s Default Difficulty

It should be difficult for a roller derby team to score points. So why does it often seem so easy for them to be scored instead?

Derby scoring has seemingly been getting easier and easier over the last several years, with point totals climbing higher and higher. This year’s rules updates appear to have addressed this trend, sure. But even taking games played in 2014, it is still not abnormal for many of them to end with a combined total score of 300, 400, 500, 600 (!), or even more than 700 (!!!) points.

Press me for 5 points. And again. And again…

Press me for 200 points.

Whether point totals of such magnitude were reached in a close game or a blowout, if it is possible for two teams to together score that often in a 60-minute game, any individual pass for a point, let alone the non-scoring initial passes, must be relatively easy to accomplish.

If it were really that difficult to get points, there wouldn’t be so many of them scored in the first place!

Very high-scoring games still happen quite a lot in the WFTDA and MRDA, especially during mismatches. Scoreboard-spinners can also show up in other derby variants, like in USARS, MADE, or the RDCL.

However, games where the scoreboard hits perilously high totals are less frequent in non-WFTDA forms of roller derby, and of a lesser magnitude when they do happen. This is in part because scoring points is appreciably harder to do, on the average, in these versions of the game.

As a result, these games can often be much more competitive.

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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.

USARS Derby 2014 Rules Analysis

USA Roller Sports has released the 2014 version of its roller derby rule book. This is the third major derby rules update for USARS, but the first that leaves the core components mostly intact. Though there are significant changes this year, they are more refined and focused than the wholesale makeover USARS rules saw in 2013.

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Click to download the 2014 USARS roller derby rule book. (PDF)

Last year, USARS started to find its way with rules that did not conflict with the style of gameplay it is aiming to develop. But as USARS teams became familiar with the strategy behind the game, some of those rules showed signs of being incomplete. On top of that, the USARS game revealed that a lot of the players had incomplete skills to cope with the more challenging and tactical style of play.

This year, USARS has taken steps to fill in the gaps in both of those areas, albeit more in the former than the latter. Many weird (and boring) situations have been eliminated with a few simple changes. A much-needed dose of common sense has been introduced to reduce certain types of penalties. And a new way of calling off jams will help teams quickly learn the strategies they didn’t know they needed, as well as make games much more exciting…for the most part.

Despite the relatively small amount of rearranging done to USARS rules this year—of its ten significant pages, only about a half of a page was added or changed overall—the impact it will have on gameplay will not be small.

All of the rules changes in 2014—except one—appear to be immediate improvements in both writing and in practice. Even the one that seems a bit off in terms of gameplay on the track may be good for USARS teams and players in the bigger picture, although there is a small danger that the trade-off will not always be worth the potential headaches that could come out of it.

Before getting into the newest changes, here is a quick refresher of the major plot points of USARS roller derby rules for those that came in late:

  • Game roster cap at 15 players (Team roster is unlimited)
  • 90 second jams
  • Stopping and clockwise skating illegal (AKA required forward skating motion)
  • Pivots separated ahead of blockers in a separate box for jam starts
  • Pivots can optionally become scoring players by chasing the (opposing) lead jammer; no helmet cover pass necessary
  • Team at the front of the pack (if they can get there) is always the pack
  • 10 foot pack proximity—no extra engagement zone
  • The jammer/active pivot physically in the lead must always be lead jammer; status can (and often does) switch during a jam
  • Lead jammer/pivot must be inbounds and on skates to call off jam
  • Jam instantly over when both jammers are in the box (no musical chairs/jammerless jams)
  • 5-minute overtime, with sudden-death 2OT/3OT jams if necessary
  • Team auto-forfeits if injuries/foul-outs reduce roster to 8 players or fewer (for player safety)

The 2014 rule updates leave most of the above list unaffected, although USARS teams did trial a few things that would have but did not make the final cut. (A “jambreaker” to stop an unending runaway pack situation was found to be too complicated and mostly unnecessary thanks to changes elsewhere in the rules, for example.) But as for what got in?

Read on.

USARS 2014 Rules Resources

USARS Roller Derby 2014 Rule Book (PDF) – Includes Minimum Skills and Addenda
USARS Rules “Cheat Sheet” Quick Summary (PDF Download)
Official USARS Roller Derby Rules Public Facebook Group
USARS Roller Derby Home Page on TeamUSA.org

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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

another-derby-seminar-rollercon-2013-2

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!

Active Pivot Rules and Delayed Breakouts

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That’s no ordinary pivot back there: It’s an active pivot that is eligible to score. There is a lot of strategy behind that stripe. (Photo Credit: Joe Rollerfan)

The three roller derby rule sets that use the active pivot—a pivot that is eligible to break and score only once the opposing jammer has become lead—results in quick-hitting play.

This addition—better said, restoration—to MADE, OSDA, and USARS rules changes how teams must approach strategy on a jam-by-jam and game-long basis. The tactics that teams have at their disposal on offense with an active pivot, and the corresponding considerations they must deal with on defense, makes these versions of roller derby very dynamic.

It also tends to make them quite fast. Teams need to press forward to protect or envelop the pivots at the front of the pack, as well as cover the incoming jammer at the rear. Because such a defense naturally spreads a team out, it must speed up to help keep opposing blockers behind them more easily.

Of course, players will have to slow down at some point to get their jammer out, blocking opponents to score. Still, the quicker an individual player or team is, the more strategy options they would have available to them when playing in a faster game. They would be capable of doing things at speed that a lesser-skilled team could.

However, this doesn’t automatically mean that the faster team will always win in the active pivot game. Speed is only one component of the roller derby equation. A good team should also be proficient at using their brains to come up with counter-tactics against a fast team, then using their brawn to execute those tactics better than their opponents.

Which is why when I see a team with lead jammer do this, especially when it happens over and over, I have to wonder where their brains are:

Once an inexperienced, slow, or otherwise outmatched jammer breaks from the pack to pick up lead status, a pivot with a speed and positional advantage will activate and chase. If the speed differential between these two players is significant, it will almost always result in an instant jam call-off.

Jammers that find themselves in this situation are entering a speed race that they are certain to lose. Teams that do this frequently—as seen above—may appear to have no chance to score points on most jams, as it looks to be impossible to stop a fast pivot consistently laying claim to or otherwise sandbagging at the front of the pack.

But even if a team isn’t fast enough, they can still be smart enough and good enough to score in an apparently disadvantageous situation.

The way to go about turning the tables sounds counter-intuitive: Have the jammer not go out on a scoring pass. At least, not immediately.

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Roller Derby 2013 Preview: The End of the Beginning

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

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

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

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

WFTDA

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

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

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

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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