Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mid-season Grades: Challengers

I wanted to do something clever with this post but it's late and I can't think of anything clever that also happens to be accurate. The truth is this is a snapshot of a moment within the season. Some teams have clearly been on the rise and others in decline but mostly it's been the usual up and down bumpy ride and it isn't close to over yet. For now the grades assigned will be pass, fail and incomplete. All the teams still have a chance to redeem their season--except for (at least) one Champion who has fallen afoul of relegation and won't climb out of Challengers for Cup.
The three are Infamous, winner at Dallas this year, X-Factor, 2013 World Cup champs and Aftershock, coming off a podium finish at MAO. Ironically Shock's best event was on the slowest field while the Chicago layout exposed a continuing weakness. By nature and inclination Shock is an aggressive team and they pushed the MAO layout when they were able to but it also forced them to be patient and let some of the points come to them. Along with the off season roster additions that brought more experience and perhaps cooler heads it was a combination that worked at MAO but not Chicago. On the faster layout the team seemed to be trying too hard a lot of the time to force the action and engaged in a number of unnecessary gunfights that this time around they lost more of than they won. I still give Shock a pass so far on the season because I think the roster is improved and the podium finish could be a sign of better things yet to come. In some respects Infamous was just plain unlucky to face a suddenly hot Art Chaos in a semi-final instead of the Challenger final but those are the games that must be won. (I'm not going to bring the field conditions into it because they sucked for everybody equally and I don't think Infamous was adversely affected anymore than anyone else.) The team continues to be inconsistent and seemingly has periods where they struggle to maintain their intensity but even so they rate a pass on the basis of their win in Dallas--but they have to get out of Challengers for Cup--or else face the reality of a failed season despite the win. Which brings us to X-Factor who kicked off the year with a very strong performance in Dallas followed by uneven play at MAO and in Chicago. Untimely penalties crippled their effort in their relegation match. Too often the team digs itself a hole that it has to climb out of and this time it caught up with them. Not unlike Shock the guys need to play their game and not try to force the action as the pressure builds. Despite the podium in Dallas X-Factor gets an incomplete because they entered the season with high expectations.
At the top of the Challengers bracket VCK gets a solid passing grade as they entered the division and immediately jumped to the upper half of the bracket and now they're getting a shot in Champions. As long as they continue to play fearlessly win or lose it will be a positive experience and perhaps a step toward a more permanent spot. Art Chaos gets an incomplete as they clearly have unfinished business in the Champions bracket but have yet to display the form or consistency to stay in the bracket and compete for titles. Red Storm's strong showing got them out of the Challenger's basement but relegation still remains a possibility. If the latest roster proves to be consistent the team may have found a formula for greater successes to come. However two last place finishes merits a mid-term fail despite Chicago's improvement. Revo gets a pass--not a passing grade--but a pass as the league will not relegate them regardless of where they finish considering they jumped into the division mid-season. If the Chicago result is any indication however the team should be competitive as they went 2-2 this first time out. A very respectable showing. As original Challengers Top Gun Union, XSV, CEP and Thunder are the gatekeepers against the up-and-comers and they are falling behind. Last year Top Gun made Champions and are now solidly mid-pack along with XSV while CEP and Thunder fall further back. Top Gun and XSV get incompletes but bordering on fail as both teams have Champions bracket pretensions. And given their records to date both CEP and Thunder get failing grades. They both need to make moves in the final two events to get back on track and moving forward. And finally there's Boom which will also receive an incomplete based mostly on the fact they played much better paintball in Chicago than their record indicates. Right now it's the big points they struggle to win and if they can learn how to do that they will become more than a tough out.

Next time, grading the Champions.


Anonymous said...

Totally agree with VCK those boys have been doing some major work. One team I'm a little disappointed with is Damage.... They always hang around the top 5 but fail to win those clutch games... And while you may not see it VICIOUS has been playing solid this whole year. One of the few home brewed teams that has not been relegated yet.

Sean Ponder said...

I really don't think that Vicious has been playing all that well with the exception of Dallas. The last 2 events have been anything but impressive and they can thank xfactor's penalty implosion for not being relegated.

Baca Loco said...

Please note the post title. I'm pretty sure it says Challengers. I'll get to the Champions soon. :)

Anonymous said...

VCK, in someways like the Russian Legion, lucked out with their schedule. It's probably clear that if VCK, Infamous, and Art Chaos started in the same group, VCK probably wouldn't have made it.

But because VCK came from the same group as Art Chaos and didn't have to face off against Infamous, they had a very strong chance of moving on.

The same was the case with RL in MAO. They shared a bracket with Heat, which practicaly guaranteed them a chance to move on since they wouldn't have to play Heat on Sunday (except the final, where both were guaranteed a spot). RL again got lucky, barely hanging on because of the bracket they were in at Chicago, while if they were in the Damage/Dyn/Heat bracket, RL would have been playing in a relegation match.

So we can see promotion and relegation have more to do with seeding - who plays who - than anything else. And with the wild swings in seeding that is made possible by crazy upsets (Art Chaos up and down, Infamous top and bottom, etc) we see the ramifications ripple through the schedule as some teams get draws which allow them to advance while others get a draw that hurts them.

I'm sure I'll be piled on here, but the simple fact that a team who won the season opener, and a team who won the World Cup just a few events ago are not both relegated should prove my point that it's not the team that's the problem but the promotion & relegation system.

Anonymous said...

not both relegated = now both relegated

Baca Loco said...

And if AC had lost Sunday morning to Infamous we'd be saying what's wrong with AC? And if VCK hadn't beat AC in the prelims they'd have played Infamous. The situation in Challengers was purely a case of teams not taking care of their business and putting themselves in tough spots.

Re: the larger relegation & promotion issues most of the pros believe there's a better way so we'll see what happens. But in any event it almost certainly won't happen before next season. (And if you were a regular you'd know this blog has advocated for change nearly from Day 1.)

Anonymous said...

Revo- Very impressed in the showing that they had. They played a lot faster then what I got to see of them in Div. 1. They won the 2 matches(convincingly) that I thought they had a decent shot at. They lost the 2 matches that I didnt give them a chance in but could of easily split them and played on Sunday. I think they adjusted well and can play both slow or fast depending on the layout.

Sully said...

Btw to the comments saying its all about seeding, Vck beat AC 6-5 in the prelims but right before that, Revo was up 6-4 on AC with 2 minutes left before they came back and tied it up sending it into overtime. Theoretically, AC could have been stuck in the Challengers division again for WCO. AC is a real good team so before you dismiss VCK and Revo as just having lucky seeding, maybe realize that they are very good teams, particularly VCK who has podiumed every event theyve been in Challengers.

Also, this honestly shouldnt be happening if the theory of more playing time in Challengers equals better teams. For example, T1 and Storm were both D1 teams that beat VCK most of the time they both played in 2012 and 2013 yet VCK is doing drastically better than T1 and Storm are this year. According to the theory, T1, Storm (when they existed), CEP, XSV, and Thunder should be beating VCK easily since they've been playing a higher level of competition for longer but this isn't whats happening. Maybe its time for Challengers to be restructured with D1 teams because as it stands (with Revo and VCK, Im not counting Boom or Red Storm since they never won D1 events) it seems like the new D1 teams are doing a lot better than the current bottom half of Challengers teams. Basically what Im saying is it seems like some of these teams arent as good as previously thought when compared to relatively new pro teams. Maybe its time to cut more than two (Im particularly looking at CEP, Thunder, and XSV) Challengers teams from the pros.

Nick Brockdorff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick Brockdorff said...

It's laughable to say VcK and RL got lucky.

They won the matches they needed to win - how is that luck?

The team that won WC and the team that won the season opener, are in the Challengers division now because they lost matches instead of winning them.... and you are saying the teams are not to blame, the promotion/relegation system is? :D

People need to stop making excuses and do the work: Train harder, play smarter and win.... and relegation will never be an issue.

Anonymous said...

Here's a theory, do the season ranks reflect a teams performance and capability more or more likely reflect what happens when good fortune on the field meets good fortune in the schedule.

Here's how we test it. Would you be willing to bet that Art Chaos would lose to Vicious, Aftershock, and Upton in 9 games out of 10?

Would you be willing to beat the Infamous would lose to Vicious and Aftershock 9 games out of 10?

Sure there is always some fuzziness in the rankings, but we've got RL below VCK, Shock, Vicious, and Upton.

These rankings are the result of the anomaly introduced by the scheduling. Sure we can blame it on not rising to the occasion when it was crunch time. But dropping 1 unlucky game demotes a team and promotes another (very arguably less good team).

Anonymous said...

Again, to prove a point, a near perfect Infamous went home on Sunday because they lost an unlucky game against Top Gun the prior day and had to face AC (or AC would go home because Infamous lost to Top Gun).
And so we end up seeing VCK or Red Storm moving on and Infamous (or possibly Art Chaos) staying down.

This sounds like a problem with the bracketing not being optimized to promote the best team...

Sully said...

You're mistaken on that, Infamous was the top seed regardless of how well they did against Top Gun. It was the fact that VCK beat AC that Ac had to play Infamous. Its not the scheduling's fault that AC lost to VCK. Its the fact that VCK beat a team that according to you shouldn't have lost. We see stuff like this all the time in sports so you can't blame it on scheduling. Btw dropping one match doesn't demote anyone. Losing matches at an event will. I guarantee you no team that has only lost 1 match in an event (the relegation one) will ever be relegated because if its truly only one unlucky match, they wouldn't be in that situation in the first place.

Imo arguing teams shouldn't be relegated because they only lost one relegation match is ignoring the fact that they got themselves in that situation in the first place. Plus if that's you're argument, then teams that go 4-0 in the prelims should be automatically awarded the win at an event because according to you, if they drop a unlucky match in semis to a worse team, its not their fault.

Nick Brockdorff said...

The rankings you are seeing are not a result of poor scheduling. - Who plays who is determined by the rankings prior to each event - so your results directly affects who you get to play.

As long as our sport is structured in a way, where the rankings reflect a series of stand alone event, the outcome will be the rankings we see currently.

Is it unfair?

Well, if you compare to a straight up league system, where teams play each other a balanced number of times for a season title, you might think it is unfair.

But, the upside is we get to crown a winner (and losers) 5 times a year, incl. having a WC that nobody is precluded from winning.

The NXL tried running a "proper" league system (with WC being the playoffs), and the result was a long series of really uninteresting games during the season, between teams that could only affect their situation marginally by winning.

I like the current system a lot better, both as a spectator and as a player.

NewPro said...

Bob Long, "Consistency is the common attribute of great teams"

When you measure a couple of seasons worth of results or even one season, then we can discuss who belongs where.


***Note-I may have paraphrased BL but you get the point :)

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