The Win Button

Roller derby doesn't work when there's an easy option available to win.

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.

This isn’t just any old fighting game: It’s roller derby, ten years ago. (Really.)

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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I.

Devolution

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 dramathe 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.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

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.

Super Street Fighter II: Turbo predated CvS2 by 17 years. It still continues to be played at the elite tournament level four years after CvS2 was retired from it. That about sums it up.

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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II.

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.

If they can put rock-paper-scissors on TV, they can put roller derby on TV… as soon as roller derby has rules as balanced as rock-paper-scissors, anyway.

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.

Why do all that hard roller derby stuff to score points, like skating or blocking, when you can just take the easy way out and press a button to help you win the game? If other games had such an easy-breezy way to win, would they even be worth playing?

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.

Any reason to post this again is a good one.

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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III.

The Choice

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.

– – – – – – – – – –

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.

  • Compare, as well, to football (soccer). Some teams on defence take the ball back using skill (stealing). Others flop over and fake a foul, knowing that a referee seeing somebody go down is likely to give him the ball (diving). Both of these are “tactics,” but only one is “playing football.”

    Same with derby. Not skating is certainly a “tactic” but it’s not “playing derby.” I must admit, though, that sometimes when I’m coaching, the lure of 20-30 power jam points can get really, really strong. That’s why I’d like a rule against it–how long would a gentlewomen’s agreement hold?

  • j

    “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.”

    Agreed on all fronts.

    I wonder how much damage has already been done with regard to fans? The current word of mouth among first time attendees is “I went to roller derby and it was stupid, they just stood around”. If you went to a movie and it completely sucked it would take a lot to get you to consider going to see the sequel or recommend it to friends. The new WFTDA ruleset can be considered the sequel to a shit movie. Even if it’s a hit it will take an awful lot to overcome the two thumbs down rating of the first movie.

    It could be in the end that the WFTDA is the only one who needs to worry, and derby will go on with a different ruleset if nothing is done. But attendance will suffer for a lot of leagues in the mean time.

  • Ima Schmuck

    Love your articles, your perspective and all you put into them, even if they are directed rather close to home.

    One thing I disagreed with, however, was that you stated the no-pack power jam play was (and I’m paraphrasing) not hard, and that any ‘schmuck’ who can pass a WFTDA minimum skills test could pull it off with ease. Yet later, you go on to say that teams who employ this strategy are missing the opposing jammer when she sneaks out of the penalty box. Well, I can tell you, this strategy isn’t easy – and I’m not an idiot, thanks.

    Coming from a mid-level team in the West, where we looked to the advanced teams for strategy and inspiration, we had NO idea what we were mimicking or why. We didn’t understand the nuance or the rules in great enough detail. We got destruction penalties and out of play penalties and we missed out on a lot of opportunity. With a more experienced, high level team, you know the exact timing, spacing, communication and focus it takes to stay within the parameters of the rules and milk every single point out of the situation. If you’re doing it right, someone on the opposing team gets an out of play penalty on every pass. And your jammer is strong enough to push, juke and dance her way through any wall. And then you find yourself in the next jam with a 4-2 pack advantage, with another blocker in queue and 30+ points on the board. Would I rather play ‘fuck you get past me derby’? Sure. I love to hit. Is it statistically more effective in power jams. No? See you at Nationals.

    I believe the negative criticism will be much more beneficial once any rules change go into effect and we see how teams adapt.

    • I can tell you, this strategy isn’t easy…With a more experienced, high level team, you know the exact timing, spacing, communication and focus it takes to stay within the parameters of the rules and milk every single point out of the situation.

      I’ll grant you that waddling 9.9 feet behind the other team during power jams requires some “timing, spacing, communication, and focus.” But compared to how much you need when playing the game 5-on-5 or in a ruleset that doesn’t suck, it’s almost zero of those things. In real derby you have those skills as well as needing to skate, block, assist your jammer, and work up a sweat, among others.

      What players like you claim as “not easy” during power jam sausages is not even 5% of the real challenge of the game. Put up against teams that give a fuck about their sport and voluntarily get a goat or help their jammer get past a blocker, you’d better believe what you do is minimum skills-level stuff. Stop trying to justify it as difficult, because continuing to do so (and continuing to tell yourself it’s not easy) just makes you look a bigger fool.

      And your jammer is strong enough to push, juke and dance her way through any wall.

      Except for the fact that most of the time it’s the no-pack situation that’s letting the jammer through the wall, not her abilities to juke or dance around it. Forcing someone to skate forward is much easier to do than to get by them outright.

      Yet later, you go on to say that teams who employ this strategy are missing the opposing jammer when she sneaks out of the penalty box.

      Yes. As I said, any schmuck can slow down to a gradual stop. And only a schmuck would fail to realize that a jammer penalty is about to expire. There are four blockers on the track, and not one of them can be bothered to glance over at the penalty box to see when the opposing jammer is standing up? Please. For all the “communication” and “focus” you and other derby teams claim to have on power jams, there is sure a hell of a lack of it happening at the end of them.

  • CWheezy

    You mention “Truly doing your best” but in the context it is about not using the rules to the potential, and using some personal ruleset to try to win that way. You link sirlin’s playing to win, but that is not actually a playing to win scenario, it is a playing to prove some other thing.

    Same with your cvs2 example, it wasn’t playing to win, it was playing to see how far you could go with no RC. I am not saying roller derby is better or worse with the rules it has now (You seems to think it is much much worse), but saying the players are less skilled for choosing the path that gives them the greatest path to win I think is a mistake.

    It is never the players fault that they use a rule in a game or sport that makes it boring, is the GAME’s fault for doing such, not the players. They are there to win. If you want your game to be exciting, change the rules so the best way to play is the most exciting, ie, SF2 HDR, or Marvel Vs Capcom 3

    • It is never the players fault that they use a rule in a game or sport that makes it boring, is the GAME’s fault for doing such, not the players.

      That’s true. However, what a lot of people don’t realize, especially most everyone outside our community, is that the game was created by none other than the players themselves.

      (Quick history lesson for the uninformed: The WFTDA is a body that runs at the direction of its skater-owned member leagues. No one gets paid to play, it’s purely a amateur/rec sport at the moment. The players set governing policies and make the rules that they play by. The entire 10-year modern incarnation of sport is almost completely volunteer-run. A popular phrase that describes derby is “by the skater, for the skater” which basically means they’re running the show for themselves. This worked great until players/leagues began to realize they need their volunteers and fans to make sure they can continue to exist, which is about the point we’re at now.)

      Anyway, the problem here is that players/teams doing horribly unpopular and completely unfair tactics to win games who cry innocence over how bad the rules are conveniently wash their hands of any responsibility for creating that bad set of rules in the first place. (See: Teflon Donna at Rollercon.) No matter how you look at it, it’s the players’ fault for the situation they’ve gotten themselves and the sport into. The least they could do is to grab the bull by the horns and “fix” their game without waiting for the updated rules (which where scheduled to come out six months ago, by the way) and play it like gentlewomen.

      If they choose not do so do, the damage they do to themselves and their organization may not be worth the wins that come from doing things like not moving an inch for 25% of gameplay time or committing intentional penalties—which, in this horribly flawed ruleset, can immediately lead to your team scoring points or winning a game. Especially now that other organizations now have new/updated rules to play by, if WFTDA teams keep playing boring derby they might win their games but they could lose attention, fans, sponsorship dollars, etc. in the long run.

      Roller derby attendance in general has been trending downward for the last few years, and it’s because of the flawed rules that are the most prevalent within the community. Those rules were made by the players, so ultimately it’s the players who are at fault, one way or the other, for the current state of affairs.

    • “Roller derby attendance in general has been trending downward for the last few years, and it’s because of the flawed rules that are the most prevalent within the community. ”

      Not to be a dick, but, well, [Citation Needed]. If that’s a thing that you have some evidence on (either that derby attendance is down in general and/or that it’s because of flawed rules), then I think that would make quite an interesting blog post.

    • Whoops. Reading fail. You answered my question downthread. You have information that you can’t share that one league’s attendance is down, so by extension all league’s attendance is down, and by extension it’s because of the rules you don’t like. Got it.

  • CWheezy

    That is actually a common thing, even in fighting games. Very often, the best players at something are not great designers, so this makes perfect sense to me.

    You probably know, but there was a version of cvs2 released without roll cancelling, and pretty much every good player rejected it outright. CVS2 has a lot of problems, not just roll cancelling, but it was a good step, and was just shut down outright.

    This may be a similar situation. the players of derby understand what is the best tactic, and want to win, but don’t understand why the gameplay that it leads to is bad, probably.

    Great players can tell a designer the best way to play their game, but often they can’t tell you how to make it better, or even that it could be better

  • Effing brilliant! I am sick to death of hearing “yeah it sucks but I’ll do anything to win”. As you said, pulling the no pack is doing nothing to win. Not to mention, the NYSE did anything they could to win at Spring Roll, and look what prestige it brought them in the derby community. Personally, I will play the game better to win. My team will do so. We don’t attend practice every week, sweat our asses off in a dusty warehouse, pour tons of effort into working together as a team, just to stand around and look like jackasses during a game. That is just plain out stupid. We actually want our fans to come back to games. We’ve been told that even though we’ve lost, those games were still exciting to watch and worth every penny for the ticket. That not only made the fan feel good for spending their hard earned money, but it made us feel good because even though we lost (apparently now the worst thing possible in roller derby) we still accomplished our goal of playing to the best of our ability, which our fans were able to see. I have played many other sports in my life (rugby, hockey, basketball, volleyball, soccer, baseball) and in not a single of those sports could I have stood around picking my ass and been awarded points for it. If I stopped playing, I’d be trounced; even if I was on a power play advantage. In hockey if a team is on a power play and stop playing, they actually get scored on. I would love to quit hearing the pathetic refrain of “it’s within the rules”. There’s a lot of things that the rules allow that I wouldn’t do. The rules suck. We’ve known that for a long time. After all, how often do you hear people complain about the rules of other sports? You don’t. I’m also sick of hearing “derby is young, have patience”. Yeah it’s young, so rather than preach patience, how’s about fixing the damn rules? Why make people wait when it’s such a young sport? People have been following the same rules of golf for dozens of years. We’ve been following this version of WFTDA rules for two. People will adjust to new rules quite easily. I know it’s hard to believe, considering how many people still refer to the WFTDA championships as “Nationals”, but I guarantee it will happen.

    So, for the love of all that is derby, please pledge to play “fuck-you-get-past-me” derby, and demand that the WFTDA get it right, not sit behind a two year revision cycle again.

  • Full cat smack down

    This is nothing more than cum soaked toilet paper on the bathroom. Whining again about how crappy the rules are by a machismo personality is like the same dude complaining about bad acting in a porno. Why waste you brain cells, err, sperm on saying stupid things like players are idiots, unmotivated and unsympathetic to their viewers. I mean just the other day Patsy Mcgroin came (pun intended) to my house to find out how I liked my porn acting and then rudely didn’t give me a hand job.
    Windy, if you can’t tell, this is how I see your entire blog: one celebration in self satisfying masturbation. With all your pent up anger against women it’s way to obvious to see that you can’t identify the truly amazing thing that is occurring right before our eyes….a sport created by women, for women in a mold all their own. So, why can’t you put your dick away and let women solve their problems in their own way? Where do you get this sense of entitlement that makes you feel you have to stick your pecker into this glory hole? Oh, right…your a fan of all sports…..and you have hairy balls.

    • Correction: this is a sport created by a man, to be played coed, that was resurrected by women, with the help of many people of every gender. This sport stopped being “for the skaters by the skaters” the first time a ticket was sold to a bout, or a non-skater was asked to help out.

    • Windy, if you can’t tell, this is how I see your entire blog: one celebration in self satisfying masturbation.

      Okay. So why do you keep reading it?

      all your pent up anger against women

      Uh…what?

      you can’t identify the truly amazing thing that is occurring right before our eyes….a sport created by women, for women in a mold all their own.

      I’ve said multiple times that what has happened to bring roller derby to this point is incredible. Regardless of what your believe, I’m ridiculously thankful for the women who brought this sport back to where it is now.

      However, this does not entitle these women getting a free pass as they bumble around trying to “solve their problems” while derby fans and non-affiliated derbyfolk that rely on the WFTDA for rules and guidance (unaffiliated leagues, MRDA, etc.) suffer the consequences. The USARS version of roller derby was in part born as an alternative solution to the organizational issues the WFTDA has or appears to have, as well as cater to those who can’t ever be WFTDA leagues (i.e., not skater owned).

      Here’s the cold, hard reality. Someone who is new to roller derby and is interested in checking it out will go through the following process:

      1. They buy a ticket
      2. They watch the game
      3. They determine if what they saw was worth it to repeat steps 1 and 2 in the future

      You can tout the roots of the sport, your community work, the camaraderie and culture, the hard-working women who hold down real careers while playing the game, and all the rest. That’s great. It really is.

      But none of these “truly amazing things” that are happening in roller derby will help people come back to watch the game more than once if what they see during the 60 minutes on the track for the first time flat-out sucks. The factors that determine that are skater skill and a compelling ruleset. That’s it. End of story. “But it’s a sport created by women, for women in a mold all their own!” To that I counter with: “That’s nice, but why aren’t you skating? Your game is kind of boring to watch.”

      The WFTDA, and therefore the skaters that govern it, need to start taking this aspect of the game seriously. This doesn’t mean abandoning the skater democracy to give in to the demands of non-skaters. But it could mean that the skaters may eventually need to do some things that they wouldn’t necessarily want, but have to do in order to make their game more fan-friendly or whatever. If they never do, they may not stay at the top step of roller derby forever.

      If you can accept that, that’s fine. If you can’t, it’s yet another instance of derby trying to have it both ways when it can’t.

      Where do you get this sense of entitlement that makes you feel you have to stick your pecker into this glory hole?

      The only thing I’m entitled to is my opinion. First amendment rights and all that. I claim no further title to anything past that.

      But that you feel that you need to tell me off in the way that you did only further proves how weak-minded some (that’s some) players in the roller derby community are. I’m just a regular guy with a dinky Internet blog and an informed opinion about sports and roller derby. If someone like you feels threatened by someone like me, then honey, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening in the next couple of years.

  • Another view point

    “Roller derby attendance in general has been trending downward for the last few years, and it’s because of the flawed rules that are the most prevalent within the community. Those rules were made by the players, so ultimately it’s the players who are at fault, one way or the other, for the current state of affairs.”

    Do you have stats/links to back this up or are you using anecdotal evidence?

    • Hard stats to go along with strong anecdotal evidence, yes. As a regular volunteer to the L.A. Derby Dolls I get regular updates on ticket sales, as do all their other volunteers and league members. I’m not probably allowed to share those numbers, so I won’t. However, I think it’s safe to say that if one of the best, biggest, and most recognizable roller derby leagues in the country playing the more “exciting” version of the game isn’t drawing as well as they were a year or two ago, for whatever reasons, there’s no way the average flat track league playing a stale game isn’t, either.

      There was also something that happened at Rollercon during one of the seminars on rules strategy that further backs this up. The conversation diverted into marketing the game, and when a few people mentioned how difficult it was for their league to draw new fans or retain fans to come back more than once, someone made the comment that they’re going to keep playing the way they want, and if “the fans don’t like it we’ll fill their seats with someone else.” Though that was one person in one league that said that, I’d think it impossible that there weren’t a significant number of other leagues that think along the same lines…and that’s bad.

      Because eventually, derby is going to run out of “someone elses.”

    • Also eventually, Dana White is gonna have TUF-XX:Rousey versus Santos/Tate. Once THAT goes down, I bet there will be a lot of women trying MMA and liking it.

  • And then there’s the Carolina/Dutchland game to decide who loses to Gotham.

    When asked on the chance DOUCHEland beats Carolina will they forfeit like they did last year, Pitchit’s response was……

    GOD I HOPE NOT!

    The Original TXRDonald
    maybe WFTDA should have done to DOUCHEland what the NCAA did to the UConn men’s basketball team #oneyearpostseasonban

    • Honest question: would you consider Dutchland’s behaviour less douchey if they were to send in a squad of entirely B-team skaters in that bout against Gotham?

  • Ima Schmuck

    Citations are awesome. Stats are gold. His opinions are good enough for him, right or wrong. That’s why he writes these long winded, self serving blogs.

    AND — that’s why it’s so entertaining to read things like — NEWSFLASH — the LA Derby Dolls are the “…biggest, best and most recognizable league in the country.”

    Except it’s not fact.

    Biggest? By number of skaters and volunteers? There isn’t any hard data, but I do know Rose beats that number by the hundreds. By number of fans? Well, considering Los Angeles is the second biggest metropolitan area in the United States with some insane figure like 12 or 13 million people, and the Doll Factory only holds something like, what … 1,500 fans? … and they’re having a hard time selling out? Compare that to Seattle’s population of 3.5 million, local competing derby league’s by the dozen, and Rat City’s modern attendance record of 6,885 tickets sold [DNN] and a current season trend of an average of 4,000 tickets per game. I’d say his opinion is a tad off.

    Best? Ask your internet about the ‘banked rank’ for clarification.

    Most recognizable? Maybe, but there is no way to tell one way or the other. They do have the RAD Crew at their beck and call and that’s something no other league can parallel. The LA Derby Dolls are fucking legit and I love them and wear their gear all the time. But I also grew up in LA and started my derby career with them.

    Hey WindyMan, since you love writing about what douche bag’s derby skaters are and how much you hate the rules … I invite you to share your opinion about the news of Oly. Have at it and tell me again how much you hate everything and everyone. This one might be fun. Or it might not.

    • the LA Derby Dolls are the “…biggest, best and most recognizable league in the country.”

      Except it’s not fact.

      That’s right, it’s not fact. But I didn’t say that. I said that LADD is one of the biggest, best, most recognizable. How convenient of you to leave that bit off in your quotation of me.

      LA has won Battle on the Bank (twice!), the Pro Roller Derby Invitational (which featured slouches like Gotham, Windy City, Rocky Mountain), played and won in several flat track games including a mid-level flat track tournament, hosts leagues and superteams from all around the country for interleague games, has a national training camp that sells out in minutes, has the RaD crew (as you noted) that gets props for its production values nationally, regularly draws around a thousand people to their many, many games (but that’s starting to get a bit sketchy, like I said) and is one of the O.G.s of roller derby, let alone banked track roller derby.

      I think that qualifies them as “one of” the biggest, best, and most recognizable roller derby leagues in the country. But maybe that’s just me.

      I invite you to share your opinion about the news of Oly.

      Sure.

      Personally, I don’t have much of an issue with this. From strictly a sports perspective this is nothing more than a player transaction, a trade, a transfer, a player loan. I see this all the time in other (very much legitimate) sports, so when I got tipped off on this earlier in the week it was interesting, but nothing out of the ordinary as far as I was concerned.

      After the Internet exploded and the full story started to come out, I can understand why people would be upset. But this is a situation where there are no winners: Oly gets a lot of talent but (as usual) gets shit on by everyone in the process; AZRD loses the commitments of talented players who seemingly just got there (although from what I’m seeing, AZRD is cool about it); the players themselves get labeled as traitors or whatever as the community ignores all the good things they’ve contributed to the game beforehand.

      But it’s the same situation as Dutchland’s forfeit or Stella Italiana coming in to Oly last year: It’s in the rules. If you don’t like it, change the rules. If you can’t change them, them’s the breaks. If you can but choose not to, don’t complain about it. (Also: If you like to not skate during power jams and justify it as doing “whatever it takes to win” within the rules but then turn around and put down Atom/Joy/HH for doing the same thing, you’re a hypocrite.)

      So for me, this is a bigger-picture scenario. Everyone saying the sky is falling because of three high-profile skaters making a personal choice, be it a correct or incorrect one, but the sky may already be coming down because of everything else wrong with roller derby–rules, drama, perceptions, entitlements, etc.

      If someone thinks this is bad, fine. So either do something about it, or shut up and play roller derby.

  • Costa Ladeas

    roller derby: where the inmates run the asylum.

    • Costa Ladeas

      Correction, I mean WFTDA : where the inmates run the asylum.

  • Another view point

    So I watched the MADE advanced and All-Star games this weekend.

    Actually, to be fair, I hung in as long as I could. I might have fallen asleep during a couple of the jams. Switched to the Windy v Denver games which had a terrible feed but at least some level of entertainment.

    I have no doubt that the skaters playing MADE are having a great time. I have no doubt that they enjoy their sport and I’m glad they’ve found a place to have fun.

    I’ll be honest though, I was bored. Really bored. Almost nothing happens during the game. The pivot becoming jammer really takes away from the game. The constant skating makes for an incredibly boring jam with almost no hitting. Perhaps because it is not played as much, or because it was all All-Star game and no one really wanted to give it their all, there was little to no strategy. It reminded me a lot of low contact roller derby. In short, it was like watching paint dry.

    Given the option between this and WFTDA and it’s occasional moments of stroller derby, I’ll take WFTDA every time, flaws and all. I hope WFTDA figures a way to keep their game moving but being more like MADE is not the solution. I’ll watch the USARS tournaments as well but I’m betting it will be as bad if not worse (although it’ll be a tournament so maybe the skaters will be putting in more effort).

    • I’ll be honest though, I was bored. Really bored. Almost nothing happens during the game.

      I don’t know what game you were watching. I went back to the archive of the all-star game and the play-by-play guy on the feed sure had a hard time describing everything that was happening, which wouldn’t be the case if there was “nothing” going on. Lots of hits, too. Just saw a big spill to the outside at the 8min mark while typing this reply, as a matter of fact.

      The pivot becoming jammer really takes away from the game.

      No, it adds something different to the game. I’ve already explained why the pivot is necessary and what it brings to the game. If you can’t get a grasp on what’s happening on the track, of course you’d say something like that. There’s a shit-ton of strategy going on.

      Look, here’s a jam from last year’s all-star game as an example of what I’m talking about:

      And here’s the “strategy” that you claim isn’t happening because of a scoring pivot:

      0:06 – The forward black blocker tries to take out the forward blue blocker to the outside but gets shrugged off and goes wide, allowing the blue blocker to line up right behind the pivots. This will be critical later.

      0:11 – The blue pivot initially takes the front of the pack, but the black pivot jumps around the outside of him entering turn 3 to take the top of the pack. The blue pivot could have drove the black pivot to the outside, but doing so might have gotten them both sucked into the pack which would hurt his team (blue) as much as it would the black team.

      0:18 – The blue jammer is about to break out of the pack, but sees the black pivot covering the front. Should the blue jammer just go, the black pivot is free to chase. Knowing this, the blue jammer delays his breakout and directs his team to get on the black pivot.

      0:22 – Remember how the black forward blocker missed that first hit? That’s cost his team, allowing the blue blocker he gave position to to catch up to the black pivot and prevent him from chasing the blue jammer, who is free to break unopposed.

      0:35 – The blue jammer is having trouble catching up to the pack because of how fast it’s going. Because the blue team now has to block both the black pivot and the black jammer to prevent them from going on a scoring opportunity, they’ve strung out in the pack allowing the black team to push forward and speed the pack, giving them more time to get a scoring threat out before the blue jammer catches up.

      0:44 – Just as the blue jammer comes in to the pack, a rear blue blocker throws a perfectly-timed block on a black blocker and picks up a point. (In MADE rules, the blocker would get an assist on their stat sheet for this.)

      0:46 – The black jammer finally is finally out of the pack so the black team can switch their focus from offense to defense. This naturally slows the pack down as everyone on both teams get into position.

      0:54 – With the black team previously having numbers forward, two blue blockers are trapped at the rear of the pack. One falls as a black blocker pushes the blue jammer out of bounds. MADE rules do not allow calling off the jam while out of bounds, so as a “penalty” for being pushed out the blue jammer can’t prevent the black jammer scoring on the downed blue blocker. Note how quickly the black jammer was able to catch up to the pack compared to the blue jammer, due to the speed change in the pack initiated (mostly) by the black team.

      1:00 – The jam gets called off just as the blue jammer comes back onto the track, for a 1-1 jam score.

      So tell me, Another view point, is that enough “strategy” for you?

  • Another view point

    I went back and checked the archive as well. Almost no contact in the first 3 jams of period 3 (which is where is started). Jammer gets out, Pivot chases her. Skate,skate, skate. Call it off. Boring. I’m not a fan.

    • Are you watching derby simply for contact? If so, then a game where the rules state that if a jammer is hit out of bounds he or she must recycle entirely behind the pack may not work for you. This produces a sort of standoff at the back of the pack during the initial pass, which is why jammers don’t usually just plunge into the pack.

      However, the tactics of this version of derby go beyond just contact. Positional blocking is highly encouraged, as described above, as is offence. All of this must be done *at speed* all whilst concerned that the pivot may break off the front.

      WFTDA tactics, at the moment, tend to be nought but forming a wall and making constant, prolonged contact, with very little forward velocity. Defence is valued far more then offence, so most jams feature 2 jammers on their own fighting through hostile walls. This is about as tactical as an arm-wrestling bout.

    • Right. Every action in MADE derby has consequences. Whether it’s a simple missed hit, a single position swap, or a big hit that spill players to the outside, because there’s so little room for error every moment matters. That’s why despite the speed at which the players go around the track, they actually have to be very smart and patient. One poor move will cost them position, which could cost them points or a penalty (or penalty points).

      Contrast this with WFTDA derby—under current rules—where there is no finesse in strategy plays. Here’s every team’s strategy, wrapped up into one statement: Wall up in front of the other team’s jammer at the rear of the pack and go as slow as possible at any cost, no matter the situation or penalty cost. Blocker penalties don’t matter too much if a team has lead jammer or a power jam, which is why you’ve seen situations where blockers are glad to throw themselves at an opposing jammer and get a penalty to ensure they don’t get out first with lead jammer.

      This happened during the recent Minnesota-Rose City game, as a matter of fact: On one jam, the Minny jammer was about to break, but she got back-blocked by the last Rose blocker, taking her out and recycling her to the back. The Rose jammer got out, got lead, and scored something like 10-15 points on the jam as a direct result of the penalty her blocker committed.

      Like I said in this blogpost, the amount “strategy” options in WFTDA derby has dwindled to a very low number due to the defensive mentality and blocker 4-wall play that EVERYONE is using. If everyone uses the same play there is no variety. No variety leads to stale gameplay, which leads to being boring.

      Another view point, if all you can see is “skate, skate, skate” when watching that game, you need to think about what roller derby really is. If it’s boring to you, then it’s only boring to YOU. (It wasn’t to everyone who watched it live.) That’s your opinion, not a matter of fact.

      The question is whether or not your opinion is the minority or the majority. That’s something I bet we’ll find out within the next five years or so as non-WFTDA derby starts to get itself out there more.

  • Another view point

    I’d take that bet any day of the week.