The WFTDA has announced that its next roller derby rules update will be released this fall, to go into mandatory effect on January 1, 2013. So far, it is confirmed that the new rules will have no minor penalties as well as other changes to be revealed later.
However, this delay in the update has created a lame duck period for the current ruleset—flaws, loopholes, and all—which will continue to be used through to the end of the 2012 WFTDA Big 5 season.
We remember what happened when this same set of rules were put through the pressures of tournament level competition. It wasn’t pretty. Non-jams, booing crowds, a record high for penalties, and what turned out to be a false hope that it would all be fixed for 2012.
It’s a huge unknown what we’re going to see during the playoffs this year. We’re likely going to see some fantastic derby, sure. But one would be a fool to not think horrible derby were not as equally likely. It’s just a matter of how much of it we’re going to see.
As fate would have it, there’s a precedent for the current situation the WFTDA finds itself in. Ten years ago, another popular competitive game found itself faced with a game-altering flaw. When this flaw was used to help players win at the tournament level, it led the game down a path of a slow and quiet death.
The flaw in this game was very similar to the one found in the rules of roller derby. Spooky similar, in fact.
But you wouldn’t think that initially, considering the kind of game it is.
The defining characteristic of this particular fighting game was the thing that eventually destroyed it. Having played it competitively for five years myself, I know first hand what happens when people abandon the original design and spirit a game in the single-minded quest to do whatever they can to win.
Modern roller derby has reached a critical stage. The choice that players and teams make during the playoffs could potentially determine what course derby will set for itself moving forward over the next five years. If they make the right choice, the WFTDA will head into 2013 and beyond stronger than ever. If they make the wrong choice…
Well, you won’t want to make the wrong choice. I know what happens when the wrong choice is made. I’ve seen an entire game—one of my all-time favorites—crumble before my eyes. I don’t want to see it happen again, especially not to roller derby and those that made the game what it is today.
The choice is such: Do roller derby teams want to win by playing roller derby, or do they want to win by doing something that’s as easy to pull off as pressing a button?
For the consequences of this decision to be best understood, let’s go back to the mark of the millennium and learn the story of a fighting game that, unbeknownst to its creators, landed in arcades with a flaw that would decide its ultimate fate.
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Around the same time modern roller derby got its start in 2001, the sequel to one of the most anticipated fighting games of all time saw its debut in arcades. Capcom vs. SNK 2: Mark of the Millennium 2001 (CvS2) featured a crossover of characters from two different fighting game developers, which at the time were the two most popular. In derby terms, this would be like the L.A. Derby Dolls and the Gotham Girls getting together to play for you on the banked track at the drop of a quarter. (You could imagine why all my disposable income went into this game for a few years.)
CvS2 had a ridiculous amount of depth at the time of its release. With all the characters and fight styles accounted for, there were nearly 500,000 possible unique team combinations. This theoretically led to more than 17 million individual character match-ups and nearly 300 billion possible team permutations.
Though modern games have surpassed that by quite a bit, at the time it was amazeballs.
Like any new competitive game (physical or mental) players began to familiarize themselves with it, building up a lexicon of strategy information specific to all the different facets of the game.
To help with this, players would also try to get a hold of gameplay video of others playing the game1, particularly the Japanese who were considered technically superior. From these recorded matches we would then glean technical and strategy information, with mostly the “oh wow, I didn’t know you could do that!” kind of discovery going on.
In a way, this isn’t much different than how those new to derby would build up knowledge of the sport. Factoring out the physical aspect, I see many similarities between the fighting game community and the roller derby community in that we shared knowledge and pushed each other to get better. As with any arcade fighter, players who normally went on long winning streaks became targets that everyone achieved to try and take out.
For the first year or so, it was awesome testing meddle and our expanding knowledge of the game against one another. But not long into this learning process, someone discovered a flaw in the game.
And let me tell you: It was a doozy.
The flaw came to be known as roll canceling. Normally, opposing attacks happening simultaneously would cancel each other out and deal both players damage. However, by roll canceling a special attack with a tricky sequence of button presses, an attacking player could become invincible for about a third of a second, allowing them to continue attacking and deal big damage with no possibility of being countered.
In a fighting game where every moment matters, becoming unhittable for even that small of a time frame was a huge deal.
It was potentially a game-breaker that would make a player impossible to beat, except for the fact that this flaw had a catch: It was relatively difficult pull off with accuracy or consistency due to the strict timing and additional dexterity required by the user wishing to perform it.
This meant that the majority of the game’s userbase—the casual, just-for-fun types—never bothered with trying to learn how to roll cancel. In fact, most people playing the game probably never knew about it in the first place. As a result, roll canceling started off as a curiosity in a game that featured a ton of other strategy options available for players to explore.
But as more and more players got better at the game and entered cash tournaments, roll canceling became bigger factor. Though it was difficult to perform, it was still a skill that could be learned, then mastered. Players who spent serious time with the game, the ones who put winning as their top priority, really took it to heart. They wanted to squeeze out every single advantage they could out of the game to help them win tournaments and the prize money that came with it.
Within a few short years, roll canceling had become a part of basic game strategy and an essential part of a player’s bag of tricks, if they wanted to win in high-level competition.
In the world of fighting games, the highest level of competition you can get is the Evolution Fighting Game Championships, the fighting game community equivalent to the WFTDA Championships, Roller Derby World Cup, and Pro Roller Derby Invitational put together. To put the magnitude of the event in perspective, this year’s Evo in Las Vegas saw over 3,000 entrants hailing from over a dozen countries fight in six games for over $100,000 in purse money. Nearly 100,000 people watched the finals streaming live over the Internet.
It’s kind of a big deal.
In 2004, I took my shot at Evo championship glory in Capcom vs. SNK 2. At the time it was a big part of my life; so much so that I maintained a blog about the game, covered (and played in) local tournaments, wrote critical articles, uncovered game loopholes, and filmed matches for educational-slash-entertainment purposes.2
Anyway, I was stoked to see the best players in the world play in the hottest fighting games. Fans of fighters like playing them, but they also enjoy watching them played at their best. You get it all, really: The drama, the upsets, and the impossible comebacks. When something insane happens in front of thousands of people, they’ll react to it with the same ferocity and passion as they would with their favorite sports team. It’s competition in its purest form.
However, there was an elephant in the room: The roll canceling flaw in CvS2. The year 2004 was probably the first one where the majority of top players in the tournament were proficient at it. Adding to this was the largest number of Japanese players at the tournament to date, who were seemingly all good at it.
As the tournament got underway, it soon became apparent what effect the flaw had on super-level competition: It slowed the game down.
And I mean way, waaaaay down.
In matches with two roll-canceling players, both understood that any potential attack attempt, if not made safely, could result in an unstoppable roll-canceled counter and a lot of their character’s life bar going bye-bye. An attacking, aggressive style of play would have risked them elimination, so they were forced to instead played passively, preferring their opponent made the first move and bait them into a roll-canceled counter-attack.
Defense and retreat was the strategy du jour. As players were eliminated and the stakes got higher, the slowness got worse. Passive moments during matches began turning into noticable moments of pause with players staring each other down. This got so bad, there were sequences where both players stood back and did nothing for a few seconds—an absolute eternity in fighting games.
Now, fighting games aren’t exactly what you’d call a spectator sport. But everyone around the world who came to the Evo finals were certainly fans of fighting games, and it wasn’t unreasonable for them to expect to see fighting going on all the time. Not… uh, non-fighting.
So you can imagine what the crowd (myself included) may have been thinking when—on the final day of competition with everyone in attendance watching the finals on the big screen at the main stage—the players in a particular match just kind of stood around and didn’t move their characters for what must have been nearly ten seconds.
When this happened, there were noticeable groans from the 1,500 people in crowd. People who weren’t as familiar with roll canceling was starting to wondering what was going on. There were even were shouts from the crowd: “Come on!” “Let’s go!” The players did so reluctantly, inching forward until they were in a range where roll canceling wasn’t as effective, going back into passive-aggressive mode.
Eventually, an international grand final saw a Japanese player beat an American in a roll-cancel festival. This was expected (the foreigner winning, that is) as the Japanese first discovered the roll canceling flaw and therefore had the most practice with using it and defending against it. The Japanese were so ahead on this, actually, it wouldn’t be until four years later in 2008 when an American would finally break through and take the Evolution CvS2 championship.
Unfortunately, 2008 was also the last year the Evolution organizers could tolerate keeping the game as a part of their tournament.
Because ever since the non-fighting debacle happened in 2004, the game started to go through a decline at the elite level. The defensive default strategy that the roll-canceling flaw created, and the fact that more and more players were learning it, created a gameplay environment where matches took a looooooooooong time to complete.
This made the game become notorious for running behind schedule during tournaments. Even after they reduced the number of games in pool play in an attempt to speed things along, it was still a chore to organize, at times a snore to watch, and honestly, a bit of a chore to play.
Making the problem worse was that there was no hope to stop this from continuing. Arcade games at this time could not be updated over the Internet, and although updated versions were released on other game consoles a few years later, the first version of the game was so prevalent, there was no way of eradicating the flaw from the general userbase.
It was stuck in the game for good.
As a result, Capcom vs. SNK 2 was retired from Evo tournament play after only seven years, which by fighting game standards is a short run: Older games were still played for years after CvS2 was taken off the Evolution roster, including one with so many bugs and glitches it’s not even funny. Even Street Fighter II had an invitational legends tournament at Evo this year, and it’s a 21-year old game.
Though it’s still played casually and tournaments are held for it here and there, CvS2 now considered a legacy game played only by those that were heavily involved with it in the first place.3 New players are unlikely to check it out, preferring to gravitate towards newer games, particularly those with online play.
But despite it all, I feel Capcom vs. SNK 2 was, and in many ways still is, a fantastic game that deserves its place in fighting game history. It had good features, great character variety and animation, and was seen as a bold step forward in fighting games with its unique six-prong fighting style system. The enjoyment the game brought the hundreds of thousands of casual players is something that can’t be overlooked, either.
However, if you talk to someone in the fighting game community today, the first thing that will likely come to mind about CvS2 isn’t any of that good stuff. Instead, the first thing that will pop into their head is the roll canceling flaw and how slow and boring it made the game at the highest level, which to many is the only place that matters.
Looking back at Evolution 2004, I can’t remember a single positive “holy crap this is awesome!” moment during the finals of Capcom vs. SNK 2. And it was my favorite game. Funny thing is, I can certainly remember what happened during the finals the other games featured that year, including what is undeniably the most legendary moment in Street Fighter tournament history.
But the only thing I can clearly remember about the CvS2 finals that year was that damned ten seconds of nothing. It’s forever burned into my memory like a static image on a plasma TV. I can replay that entire moment in my head as if I was sitting in that crowd right now.
It’s not a pleasant feeling reliving it again.
But the worst feeling of all is that for someone like me, who put his heart and soul into that game, for all the great times it brought people like me, and for all the amazing moments our community shared together with it; all of that good, and all of what could have been, got canceled out by the lasting negative effects of a single, stupid flaw that came to define the game.
What a damn shame.
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The Win Button
Analytically speaking, roll canceling was a very interesting flaw.
Unlike most game flaws, which generally make it easier to do something, roll canceling required those that wished to exploit it to be skillful at its execution. This aspect of the flaw is the reason why CvS2 game stayed viable in the tournament scene for as long as it did. Because if it were very easy to do, everyone would do it…kind of like standing around at the back of the pack during a power jam in WFTDA roller derby.
But we’re getting ahead of myself a bit.
The roll canceling flaw was essentially a loophole in the rules of Capcom vs. SNK 2. Though the game was unique in some areas, it still had a universal set of rules common to all fighting games from which basic game strategy can be derived. The loophole altered these basic strategies to favor those that used it.
Fighting game strategy comes down to using the game’s three basic maneuvers—attacking, blocking, and throwing—in an attempt to damage your opponent using these guidelines:
1. Attacks punish throw attempts
2. Blocking stops attack attempts
3. Throws break block attempts
One beats two, two beats three, three beats one. Basically, fighting games are really just a flashy, violent version of rock-paper-scissors.
Like rock-paper-scissors, any given maneuver has a strength over one and a weakness against another. There is no one “ultimate” move that will always win, because no matter what a player chooses to execute it has a possible counter that his opponent can use to counter it. This system ensures game balance by preventing any one maneuver from being overly powerful,4 thereby forcing players to show a variety of strategy plays to keep their opponent on their toes.
However, the roll cancel flaw in CvS2 introduced an unintended fourth option into the mix, one that threw off the balance of the game in high-level gameplay:
4. Roll canceled attacks punish regular attacks and throws
Roll canceled attacks were very, very difficult to counter, because they didn’t have a regular counter within the normal rules of the game. Attacks wouldn’t work because your opponent could roll-cancel through it and damage you instead. Blocking would stop attacks, but that would lead to you eventually getting thrown and damaged even more. You could try to throw them out of the roll, but this was an extremely dangerous, low-reward tactic.
In rock-paper-scissors-speak, this would be as if you could throw “napalm” as a fourth option. No matter what normal throw you put out, napalm would beat them all (melts rock, burns paper, disintegrates scissors). In such a situation, the only thing you could do is counter-throw with napalm yourself, which would ultimately lead to an endless line of boring draws not seen since the Derby Chess regional finals.
As was quickly discovered, the only way to effectively counter a roll-canceled attack in CvS2 was to return serve with a roll-canceled attack of your own. It was the only way to beat the other top roll canceling players at the tournament level.
Weirdly, the game wasn’t rendered instantly unplayable even though the flaw “broke” the traditional rules of fighting games. Instead, the super-level gamesmanship that came from both participants potentially becoming unhittable while attacking each other created a new and completely different set of strategy options that made the game play in a much different way than it was originally designed.
In a strange way, this was amazing. Top players exploiting the loophole could only do so after they had acquired a new skill set above and beyond that of the game’s attack/block/throw rules. Good players had to get even more better to play the game this way, which other players respected despite the resultant slow gameplay that ultimately caused the game to become a black sheep within the community.
This leads back to roller derby, and the ongoing saga of the ongoing state of displeasure with the current state of the WFTDA game.
All roller derby players, regardless of which rule set they play by, must use a basic set of derby skills to play the game. Broken down, there are three abilities—speed, blocking, and evasion—that function the same way that the attack/block/throw rules work in a fighting game.
The rules of roller derby, under fair and balanced gameplay conditions, at least, look like this:
1. Blocking stops speed
2. Evasion defeats blocking
3. Speed prevents evasion
In an ideal rules environment, a fast player can’t use their speed if an opponent physically slows them via blocking. A strong, slowing block can be defeated by a player who can slip around it before the blocking player can react and accelerate to keep containment. Along those lines, the faster a player is moving forward, the more difficult it would be for an opponent to juke and accelerate by them to gain position or score points.
Again, any given strategy has both a strength over one and a weakness against another. However, unlike rock-paper-scissors or fighting games, which have options that are as easy to perform as flicking your fingers or pressing a button, the three options in roller derby are very difficult to perform. They would be…it’s a physical sport, for crying out loud!
However, the flaw in roller derby, specifically that in WFTDA rules, allow teams to gain advantage from manipulating the defined bounds of the pack, has created an unintentional fourth option that messes up what would otherwise be a perfectly balanced game:
4. No-packs prevent blocking and speed, and make evasion irrelevant
The effects of this uncounterable wrench in the works are most clear during power jams. The team on defense can’t speed up to help with jammer containment or they’ll get a penalty as they destroy the pack. As they’re slowly pushed forward, they’ll eventually be prevented from blocking the jammer to the no-pack when the pack splits. The team on offense has no reason to evade the defense to gain positioning, since they’re more interested in drifting to the rear of the soon-to-be-non-existent pack, and watch as their jammer racks up the points.
Incredibly, this derby strategy leads to exactly the same kind of slow, boring, unpopular gameplay that defined a decade-old arcade fighting game. The flaw is similar and the resulting gameplay is the same. Even more preposterously, the reaction of spectators to the manner of gameplay that ultimately resulted from the flaw was also the same.5
Ah, but it’s isn’t exactly the same. For you remember, the roll cancel flaw in Capcom vs. SNK 2 required its user to, in a way, work harder than the average Joe to execute it. They weren’t doing anything to that would be considered an “easy” way out of the game’s original rules and challenges. They were actually working harder to engage in a different challenge altogether.
Contrast this with teams that execute the pack definition flaw during roller derby games. They don’t need to work harder than they normally do to take advantage of it. They don’t even need to work. They just have to do nothing at all.
On top of that, doing this is both an incredibly easy way out of the challenge that roller derby is supposed to be, and no different challenge is substituted.
Teams that milk no-effort power jams for all they’re worth might float the idea that they have to gradually slow down as a reason why the “sausage” is a challenging strategy. Sorry ladies, but the last time doing that should have been difficult was when you were barely passing your minimum skills test.
It’s almost as if a team faced with a stiff challenge knows that there are times when they know they don’t need to face it. Instead of rising up to meet that challenge, they cop out and take advantage of that unfair fourth option which is as easy to perform as pressing a “Win Button” to score a lot of easy points.
This kind of play has no justification. If you try and coat it under the auspice of doing “whatever it takes” to win, you’re disrespecting the phrase. It implies that you’ll be going above and beyond what’s normally required to win under normal gameplay situations.
In roller derby, this should mean giving 110% to do the basic stuff harder and better than everyone else, pushing deeper and longer than your opponents on the track, and squeezing every ounce of advantage that your body and your team can muster. If you normally skate fast, block heavy, and juke hard, doing “whatever it takes” means you must skate faster, block heavier, and juke harder.
Needless to say, the moment most teams go on a power jam, they’re not doing “whatever it takes.”
They’re doing whatever they can to avoid doing whatever it takes.
Behind the standard-issue bullshit, the reality is that teams that choose to engage in no-effort, no-engagement, no-pack power jams6 which are so easy a caveman could do them because they want to do as little as it takes to win. They want the shortcut to glory without putting in their fair share of genuine effort to do get. If this were the Olympics, teams doing this would be disqualified faster than you can shuttle a cock, even if they were technically playing by the rules.
This is disappointing. There is so much potential in the WFTDA version of roller derby, and the thing that makes me the most sick is that the limiting factor for its growth is no longer the skill and athleticism of the players.
I’m continually impressed by the increasing amount of skill in the top leagues of the organization, and I can sense a growing number of players that want to push that skill level higher and higher every year.
But that growth has been abruptly retarded at the top level by that vile, awful pack definition loophole.
Because the balance of derby has shifted so far towards a “defense first” mentality, with 4-walls becoming the only way to go, I’m starting to observe a skill vacuum form in some of the offensive derby categories that have become depreciated thanks to the roller derby rules flaw that renders them useless.
Consider the arm whip, one of the most basic tools in offensive derby. I can count on two hands the number of quality whips I’ve seen teams perform in games in the past year. But even those have only been one type of whip, where the blockers grab their jammers to propel them forward—or in the case of the almighty pegassist, a blocker throwing their jammer around the outside of a static wall.
In the current rules WFTDA environment, there’s little need to look at whipping strategy past that because the no-pack situation will almost always take care of the problem of getting a jammer by a wall of blockers. Without a no-pack call to rely on, teams would have been forced to explore ways to blast their jammer through a small gap in the wall with a strong whip.
But there’s no point in exploring or executing a strategy like that during a game when hitting the “Win Button” at the back of the pack does the job more easily, no real effort or teamwork required.
The thing is, this lack of practice with the use of other strategies like arm whips is is starting to show in missed opportunities during live game situations. I’ve seen many times during initial pass and full jam scenarios where a whip from a forward blocker in a moving pack would have easily enabled a jammer to get clear an opponent and break out. But because teams aren’t actively engaging in whips during games with regularity, instead focusing on defense slow down defense slow down, the thought of any such jammer break-out whip was never even entertained.
I’m starting to get the impression that teams who have blockers hell-bent on squeezing everything they can out of the no-pack situation are beginning to suffer from a deficiency in track awareness. You can easily see this for yourself the next time a jammer fresh out of the penalty box blows by a line of blockers who forgot to notice that the jammer they’re supposed to be blocking had stood in the penalty box ten seconds ago.
There’s more. In games played in other rules environments, where speed and teamwork are more important, offensive blocking strategies that have evolved to level beyond that in the WFTDA.
Can you remember the last time you saw a blocker whip another blocker forward? That happens quite frequently in banked track play. How many different types of arm whips can you think of? In the MADE derby ruleset, offensive blocking strategy has evolved to the point where there are at least six unique types of them. The game they play demands they have that many ways to propel players forward through the pack, because their strategies have evolved to require stronger counters to the stronger evasion and blocking skills developed within, and therefore more specialized whips to deal with them.
Even previous WFTDA rulesets had more strategy options to see; t’s been three years since I’ve seen a jammer whip one of her blockers forward to assist with positional blocking.
Without them realizing it, WFTDA roller derby over the past year has seen a dwindling percentage of the total potential strategy options that the sport of roller derby can possibly offer within the speed/block/evade rules of the game. Derby may have picked up new things like the pegassist, but you’ve lost so much before getting to it that it’s not something worth celebrating about.
This is all due to the “Win Button” option of splitting the pack, which eliminates all of that potential strategy, and dumbs down many of the strategies that remain to the point of being detrimental to the game.
Of course, the updated set of WFTDA rules to be released shortly will to go into effect in the new year. The hope (notice that I’m saying “hope” and not “expectation”) is that most if not all of the current “Win Button”-esque strategies will be eliminated from the game for good.
But that’s next year. If I were roller derby, I’d be extremely worried about this year.
The current rule set has gone lame duck at the worst possible time: The WFTDA Big 5 playoff season. Teams looking to win will do whatever it ta—err, will do everything to avoid doing whatever it takes—and everyone will be watching. Not everyone is going to like what they see.
If players aren’t careful, they might even be unwitting participants in the start of decline of the WFTDA style of roller derby.
That is, unless players and teams make the right choice.
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When I played Capcom vs. SNK 2 competitively, I did so with passion and gusto. I loved the game like nothing else, and I wanted to win games as much as everyone else who loved playing it.
However, I had respect for the game. From that respect, I made a choice: I wanted to play the game they way it was supposed to be played, without that vile roll cancel loophole. Though I lost games more than I won with this mantra, I really didn’t care.
Even so, I began to command a level of respect within the regional community. I think my mates understood: I was going to be the best player I could be by playing the game the way I wanted to play it, and I was going to get so good at it I would beat those that chose not to.
I parlayed this attitude into winning my pool and a winner’s bracket a game at the Evolution 2004 finals, all without activating the loophole that many of the people I defeated were using. Fact was, I was so much better at the game than they were because I was actually playing it as designed. Many of my opponents seemed to rely on the roll canceling flaw in a way that masked their lack of skill in the true ways of the game.
I eventually lost to players that were flat-out better than me, with or without roll canceling. But at that point, it didn’t matter. I knew that I had played the real game to the best of my abilities. No one could take that away from me.
Legendary college basketball coach John Wooden sums up what I was feeling at the end of my tournament:
Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.
The truth of this saying makes me wonder about the kind of “success” roller derby players want the most.
Part of the reason roller derby (the sport and the culture) has grown to immense levels over the last few years is the empowerment that it gives women pushing themselves to do things they’ve never done before. Any time I see a story about a player making an all-star team, passing their minimum skills test for the first time, or any major milestone in between, I’m genuinely happy for their success. It’s good for them. It’s good for roller derby.
But when I see rulegroaning teams like Rat City, Philly, or others win games in a way that favors blocker disengagement and splitting packs (even during regular jams) I can only imagine what they’re thinking during the post-game handshakes. Yeah, you won the game. But when your team got most of your points—including possibly the winning ones—knowing full-well that you didn’t play the best you were physically capable of playing, what are you really celebrating?
If a game could be in part won by standing and doing nothing, pressing the Win Button, or a executing a similarly elementary feat, such a victory would hold no value whatsoever. Any schmuck can split the pack during a power jam, yet teams that win big as a direct result of this clap and cheer as if they’ve accomplished something. They might even feel proud about a victory that could be achieved in such manner.
The rules problems the WFTDA game has been going through has brought out what I feel are the true colors of some (that’s some) of the women playing the game. The way I see it, some roller derby players are so insecure about themselves that they need a lot of points next to their name on the score sheet or medals around their necks to justify the time, money, and effort they’ve invested in the sport, even if doing so is slowly killing the game they are playing.
If roller derby was really what people are saying it is, how the game is played would be the alpha and omega of defining the people that play it—not using destructive tactics to do everything you can to get your name on a trophy.
There are players and teams out there that understand this. They’ve made a choice to refuse to engage in stop-derby tactics that’s hurting the game. They know that in playing the game this way, they may give up an opportunity to score extra points during power jams which could cost them a chance at winning a game or advancing in a tournament.
But that doesn’t matter to them, because they also know if they play the game of roller derby and skate, block, and juke to the absolute best of their abilities, they’ll be a success no matter the outcome of the game. They’ll be respected by the community no matter how much they win or lose. They’ll look back on their derby careers and know it was all worth it.
That’s something infinitely more valuable to the success of an individual and a team than a 30-point power jam, any day of the week.
Juke Boxx of the Minnesota Rollergirls gets this. You’ve seen her plea by now, I’m sure:
She has made her decision to play “fuck-you-get-past-me derby,” regardless of the consequences. So has her team. Apparently, so have the Windy City Rollers; if you saw their recent (tie) game you noticed that neither one engaged in extreme, or even moderate, no-skating tactics.
Being a close game the whole way through, both teams knew that pulling an extreme sausage on even one power jam would have added a pass or three worth of points to their total, and given the ultimate result of the game, a clear victory and the top regional seed going into the playoffs.
But they didn’t do it. They were strong enough to trust their skills and their teammates to truly do whatever it took to win.
That the game ended in an official tie was befitting that of how the game is played matters more than who happened to win or lose it. Oh yeah, it also just happened to wind up being, in this blogger’s opinion, one of the greatest games ever played in WFTDA history.
That is not a coincidence.
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As the WFTDA playoff season gets underway next month, the 40 teams with their eyes on the Hydra will have a choice to make.
Individually, this choice is to either earn every point with your hard-earned skills and abilities and walk away with the ultimate satisfaction that you gave it your all; or don’t, and keep lying to yourself that your victory was truly hard-earned.
But collectively, within the WFTDA as a whole, there’s a bigger choice to be made.
As of next month the WFTDA will no longer have the exclusive attention of roller derby players and fans in this country. The big story this year is the emergence of USA Roller Sports, its version of the game, and the organization’s maiden national tournament which will run concurrently with the WFTDA Big 5.
There’s a possibility, at least on paper, that the USARS game may wind up being the superior one even after the WFTDA releases its updated rule set. It would be very bad news for the WFTDA if its best teams playing in its biggest event of the year (again) engage in horribly unpopular and nonathletic derby tactics, while a rival group showcases the potential beginnings of a game that is exciting to watch and requires its players to truly give it their all to compete and win.
If WFTDA teams choose to play shitty derby during the playoffs, they may very well win their battles on the track. However, in doing so they may lose the opening salvo in what could be an upcoming “war,” as it were, as players, unaffiliated leagues, and fans who have had enough will switch to USARS and stick with them going forward. (Don’t think this isn’t possible; you’d be surprised who is already considering it.)
While there is a chance that USARS derby will flop out of the gate, if I were the WFTDA or one of its member leagues that’s a chance I don’t think I’d be comfortable taking. Though the WFTDA obviously isn’t going anywhere for a while, some of the attention and sponsorship dollars it gets may very well might.
If the WFTDA and its playoff teams decide to make the right choice and, as Juke Boxx said, make a “gentlewoman’s agreement” to play roller derby the way the way it’s supposed to be played, those ladies can show everyone that the WFTDA has, without question, the best players and the best teams in the world, and that they are capable of playing the best roller derby in the world.
If you make the right choice, we’ll see potentially dozens of games that were just as good as Windy City-Minnesota, games that are close because both teams pushed hard to control the pack and score every point they could with effort. If you make the right choice, you can undo a lot of the damage you’ve caused yourself over the last year. If you make the right choice, you might even bring in new fans more easily, and hook them on you for life.
If you make the right choice, there will be little doubt about who will be leading the next stage of roller derby’s growth.
However, if you make the wrong choice and play “Win Button” derby, your true intentions will be made known. If your best players can’t take on the challenge of attacking the other team during a power jam even if they technically don’t need to, then it will be made clear that those same players who run your organization are in no position to take on the challenge of moving the sport to a new level, especially since you technically won’t need to—there are plenty of other people ready to take on that challenge instead.
If you make the wrong choice, the fans and sponsors that collectively paid tens of thousands dollars to travel to regionals, watch the HD stream online, or otherwise support roller derby will make a choice of their own: To never again pay money to support leagues that will even entertain the thought of playing crappy roller derby. They did it before. They’d do it again at the drop of a hat.
Lastly, if you make the wrong choice, your victories during the playoffs may well be Pyrrhic ones.
Because years from now, when your roller derby playing days are over, if you look back at 2012 and remember winning at regionals or making it to the championships, those that experienced that moment with you will never be able to shake the feeling that for all the heart and soul they put into the game, for all the great times you shared with your teammates, and for all the amazing derby moments our community shared together…
All of that good, and all of what could have been, will be canceled out by the negative effects of your choice to exploit the advantages of a single, stupid flaw that came to define the game.
And what a damn shame that would be.