This week, across the world, 38 countries to be exact, players ejected the last bit of air from their tanks before popping off the regulators, throwing them in gearbags, and rolling those bags over to airports; to JFK; to LAX; to London Heathrow; to Simon Bolivar.
A lot of the tanks, and the hoppers, and the masks and the markers in those gearbags have a simple, three letter acronym taped or painted on to them: WWC, Win World Cup.
Winning World Cup is not like winning any other tournament. It’s the biggest, it’s the most international, it’s the conclusive event. Win Cup, maybe win the series, and be immortalized. World Cup is the chance to be one of the best out of the 350 teams at the event, to be one of the best in the world. Damage, Heat, Russian Legion, and Infamous, among many others, have been in the trenches for 10 months waiting patiently for this one weekend in October.
On planes some players stare aimlessly out windows or watch a movie or read a book, doing anything to make the time pass more quickly, eagerly anticipating their arrival in Orlando.
Some might exhale onto the window and trace three letters into the thin steam that clings to it. They’ve been inscribing these three letters in the margins of their notebooks in high school and college classrooms, typing them accidentally and unconsciously into reports at work. They’ve been seen in Facebook statuses and in tweets for months now: WWC.
For a lot of teams, Cup represents the chance to correct a year that went wrong. CEP tries to put the pieces together and muster a win in the preliminary round. Dynasty endeavors to salvage the damaged reputation of their legendary team.
On the divisional level, Cup could be a last ditch effort to secure funding for next year. Some teams have received ultimatums from backers: Win Cup or it’s over. At the end of the season, the true colors of a team that have been brewing all year reveal themselves either tragically or triumphantly.
All those players who finally arrive at Orlando International cannot help but smirk at the kids donning Mickey Mouse Ears, or T-shirts from Universal Studios. If things go right they won’t spend a minute at Disney World, or at Old Town, or at a bar in Kissimmee. They’ll be in bed early every night, getting ready to go to war the next day.
World Cup is the event of the “wild cards.” XSV and Impact make their PSP debuts and expect to disrupt the balance of the pro ranks. Over a hundred teams invade the divisional ranks. Teams that have played the first four events that believe they have their competition figured out are forced to reconcile with a new squad that plays a new game they’ve never seen before; a team that has no knowledge or respect for the hierarchy that’s been developing since March.
Throw together teams ascend on Orlando knowing that winning World Cup truly means being a king of the paintball world, if only for a day. Teams that are playing in the United States for the first time, drive through the gates at Fantasy of Flight, intending to leave their mark, and to leave with medals in an act of paintball colonialism. Make your mark at on the field at ‘Cup, pull off a 3 on 1, run down four guys for the win, you come back to your home country a hero forever.
After the last players arrives at the airport, and the bags pile up, and the vans fill, they drive to the event to walk fields, or straight to the hotel, or to the rented vacation home to get to bed early. In those cookie cutter vacation home lots families roll out of their driveways and head to dinners and movies while the team’s vans are emptied, gearbags opened, batteries changed, eyes cleaned, lenses switched, and finally, stickers put on.
Three letters: WWC
World Cup is the last meaningful paintball anyone will play for five months. Five months. What is meaningful paintball? That’s rolling in your bed all of Saturday night unable to sleep, delirious, mulling over the gunfights you lost today, mapping out the moves you’re going to make tomorrow on the layout that you know so well you could draw it on a blank piece of paper in under a minute.
Meaningful paintball dissolves every worry, responsibility, stress, and distraction that the “real world” flings in your face constantly. Meaningful paintball is putting on your mask, taking a deep breath, walking under the net and staring down full grandstands, and Webcast cameras that will televise your moves to tens of thousands. Five months until any chance like that rears its head again.
It’s time to make it count.
The players will reload the vans with the bags at the crack of dawn the next morning, stop at a gas station for food, ice and water, and head to the field. They’ll suit up in the parking lot in the thick Florida heat.
They’ll anxiously watch the first prelim games, maybe while listening to a playlist titled “WC” that was prepared weeks ago, or they will go over game plans with a coach, or they will stretch idly. They may have trouble digesting their breakfast.
When the time comes, they fill their pods, they head out to the field and then they huddle up. There’s a silence at first; they’ve been counting down the days for so long.
All that lies in front of them is potential.
They will scream the words of that acronym over and over again. Around the field, “Win World Cup” will echo up to the WWII planes flying overhead, over the sounds of the engine.
On Sunday night, if they pull it off, they’ll add another W to the holy acronym, to the three letters that are ubiquitous in paintball this time of year.
They will upgrade the acronym to WWWC: We Won World Cup.