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!

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