X-Ball killed the run-through

X-Ball killed the run-through

Prior to X-Ball, legends were created in single moments of heroism - When players risked it all for glory. Today great moves are still happening. So, why aren’t they as important as they once were? 

In paintball’s early stages of celebrity, our heroes were created in single moments; When two teams matched up against each other in the finals and the outcome of a single game was either glory, or listening to the steady hiss of an emptying compressed air tank. It was in this climate that the legends of the game were forged. Spectators were given the pleasure of watching the pressure turn players into diamonds, or just crushed coal. 

In 2002 the LA Open was held at SC Village and Team Dynasty was aiming to prove themselves as true champions after ending the 2001 season with a controversial World Cup win against Aftershock. It was the finals, and Dynasty was playing against the SC Ironmen on the JT Field. Oliver Lang had just rejoined his brothers on Dynasty after having a successful stint with the SC Ironmen. How would the new kids on the block perform against the powerhouse Ironmen? How would Oliver play against his former teammates? The stage had been set for a legendary game. Off the break, Oliver went to Dynasty’s left/center wingnut. He then moved up to the large center pyramid, eliminating every Ironmen player attempting to fill out to Dynasty’s left tape. After locking down the left side of the field, Oliver postured to make a move up the center of the field. Before he could make it around the pyramid, he tripped, leaving the audience in suspense that the move he planned may be short lived. Unnoticed by the Ironmen, Oliver picked himself up and scurried up the center of the field bunkering out his poison (player on the other side his bunker), and eliminated 4 other players in the center and right side of the field. If anyone in the audience didn’t know Oliver Lang before watching this game, they certainly knew who he was after. It was iconic. It was masterful. This single move is still talked about today.

What if this move had happened today in an X-Ball match? Would we talk about it for years to come, or would we be instantly distracted by the outcome of the next point? Oliver would still be the iconic player he is, but legends today are forged in a different fire. In X-Ball, the great moves still happen, but they are a lot less consequential unless it’s the final point in a tie game to advance to the next level or to win the tournament. Amazing moves can be made and forgotten immediately if the team loses the match. In X-Ball we see matches with 5-16 points and a single move within a point of a single match is less consequential. A player can make an amazing move and their team can still lose the match. Single mistakes within the match can be compensated for as well.

Today, legends are selected and awarded a token for their performance - The Golden Barrel. The selected recipient of the Golden Barrel must be on the winning team of the event and perform better than their peers throughout the course of the final match. The recipient of the Golden Barrel cannot win this award on their own - They must be part of a winning team. This shifts the focus from the player to the team. It also shifts the onus of celebrity from the public to the organizations responsible for distributing the awards. In other words, the paintball public is less of a contributing force in the rise of paintball heroes. 

The 7-man & 10-man tournaments of the past created the most fertile environment for the birth of superstars. Players were regularly put in positions to risk it all. A single move in a single game meant the difference between making the semis, the finals, or winning the event. Players now often experience a relatively slow yet predictable victory or demise in a match. Although comebacks can happen, players are rarely put in situations where a single game (or point) means everything.

Although X-Ball may have changed the environment to cultivate the superstar, this has translated to a focus on the team as a collective. X-Ball relies on team work over a series of points to secure the victory. We may not remember single, superstar moves the way we used to, but we remember stellar performances and collective efforts. What is more enjoyable for the spectator - Watching a single game where every move and mistake is amplified, or watching a match where consistent, collective effort assures the victory?

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