Midway through the National Xball League’s 2017 season almost 200 teams came together in Atlantic City, New Jersey in order to compete at the highest level of play available in the world. Being the third event of five this season this was a very important event for the teams who are beginning to focus on the overall 2017-season title along with a new venue location.
The past two events of the year concluded with the types of finals that we have all grown accustomed to since the conception of the NXL in 2015. With both Dynasty and Heat winning in two incredibly close and spectacularly played past finals, both against Impact. Leading into this event only four teams of the sixteen professional teams competing had ever won an NXL event: Houston Heat, San Diego Dynasty, Los Angeles Infamous, and Edmonton Impact.
However, throughout the past handful of events there has been some discussions concerning the increase in competition between the higher tiered Pro teams and the rest of the pack. Until now fans and spectators of the sport seemed to remain optimistic yet also realistic about the apparent large gap in competition forming within its professional ranks. Perhaps a change in venue was the mark in the road that the NXL staffs used to signify the bridging of this gap.
The Atlantic City layout also stood to bring this rift back together amongst competition. Offering a fast paced dorito side, a highly technical snake with lots of different routes and variables highlighting intelligent and aggressive play, and a highly explosive center that could cut off either sides and close games.
The event began on Friday and Saturday and the event was running smoothly. Teams began to play bright and early with explosive games and brilliant play. San Antonio Xfactor was the only team to make it out of the prelims with a 4-0 record, but there were two other teams who were showing up on the radar early on in the tournament. Tampa Bay Damage and Moscow Red Legion.
Both teams have legendary and dominant team histories. However, right around the time when the NXL took over as the major paintball league in 2015, both organizations were undergoing a rebuilding period and were just recently beginning to make strong Sunday appearances. Fans were skeptical yet hopeful that either team would have a finals appearance this season. Moscow Red Legion was coming off a strong victory in the European Millennium Series while Tampa Bay Damage’s newer players were becoming the contributors the team needed in order to be successful. Come Saturday evening both teams had finished with 3-1 records and were headed into Sunday appearing to be firing on all cylinders.
Of course other historic top teams (Heat, Impact, Infamous) were also in attendance to the Sunday Club; and it would take the perfect mixture of skills and luck for either of the two new young hopefuls to have a finals appearance.
To win a professional paintball tournament everything needs to go your way. Not just within your own team’s infrastructure: players, coaches, paint, equipment, and the like. But also scheduling and refereeing play a big part as to who makes it onto the final stage and who does not. Often times powerhouse teams are pitted up against each other first thing on Sunday. And due to it being single elimination, fans are often able to view finals like competitive games as soon as the buzzers ring come Sunday morning and seeing tournament changing calls being made.
In order for both hopeful teams to make it into the finals they would each have to find the perfect balance of brilliant play and luck. And it happened. And the league loved it.
Tampa Bay Damage and Moscow Red Legion both had defeated their opponents and the odds, played incredibly well and made it into the finals to face each other. For the first time in NXL history none of the “Big Four” teams appeared in the Finals. The match started off with Red Legion taking an early lead and then attempting to dictate the pace of the game in order to maintain control and run down the clock in order to clinch their victory. But Damage, particularly its younger players, would not go down easily. In an attempt to take back the game Damage displayed aggressive snake play coupled with heavy gunning down the Dorito side while attempting to take back control of the center. But the damage had been done; the team’s strong choreographed attacks were not enough to switch the momentum against such a disciplined Russian roster.
The Finals match ended with Moscow Red Legion taking the victory 5-3. However, for the fans of paintball the victory does not solely lie with Legion. Atlantic City stood as a testament to the narrowing of the world’s highest competitive level of paintball. No longer can a spectator show up to an event and only debate which two of the big four teams will face each other in the finals. The leagues now much more evenly competitive and now fans and players must respect every team for the last two events of the 2017 season. The season title is now even more up for grabs than it ever has before and many teams share the possibility to take it. This is truly a league-defining season for paintball and it is exciting to be a part of it all.
Thanks and see you inside the net!
Number Zero | Houston Heat