Guarded Gates

In years past, a pro team’s ticket to the World Cup was punched at the start of the season, or a month before the event. The barrier for entry was nebulous—all the teams who had played the first four events showed up, along with a couple bonus teams jumping the Atlantic from the Millennium series, and some teams that just emerged out of the woodwork. But that is not the case any longer. The Road to the World Cup is marked with tolls now.

Never before the upcoming West Coast Open has the threat of relegation from the Champions Division down to the Challengers been more potent; losing a chance to win World Cup signifies the utter disappearance of the finish line after rounding the final turn, the vanishing of the light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, you could still win the Challengers Division World Cup title, which is an accomplishment in itself. But make no mistake: that Championship Division Cup means more than any other paintball accolade, and it all starts with the battle on August 16th -18th.

The World Cup is the biggest tournament, it’s the finale, it’s the stage on which everyone dreams about playing, and dreams of winning. The possibility of missing out on competing in the Champions Division at World Cup ingrains next weekend’s tournament with a significance that cannot be overstated.

Even if we assume that Trenton Topgun falters at their first event in the Champions Division—which we shouldn’t, considering their roster is loaded with talent and experience—one well-established and respected Pro team will miss out on a shot at Cup. Last year, the event before World Cup, MAO, represented little more than a tune-up event or an opportunity to build on or chip away at a lead in the season rankings. For teams like San Antonio X-Factor, Moscow Red Legion, Los Angeles Infamous, and Omaha Vicious—teams that have either flirted with or been dropped down to the Challengers—the WCO could be the biggest event of their season. A win in Orlando erases a season of shortcomings, but watching someone hoist the Cup from the Challengers pit makes those shortcomings all the more arresting.

Besides the teams who have flirted with relegation, there always exists the possibility of a top tier team faltering in the late stages of the season. Despite currently being ranked 5th in the world, it is not beyond the stretch of the imagination to envision a scenario in which the Los Angeles Ironmen, a team some thought would compete for the Series Title, are relegated and miss an opportunity to win the Champions Division at World Cup. Prior to the West Coast Open, Justin Schwarz was cut and Corey Bornstein quit. The latter’s reason for leaving, “too many chiefs and not enough Indians,” does not paint a picture of a team poised to turn it around next weekend. However, the Ironmen’s roster cannot be written off so quickly—they may be a monster event from Alex ‘Mouse’ Goldman away from finally getting over the hump and getting past Dynasty for the first time this season. Back on the other hand, they may just be a bad dive from Marcello Margott—who will be playing with a broken hand—away from collapsing. The Ironmen have been one of the most compelling and confusing teams to watch so far this year, and next weekend, playing in their backyard, could be the straw on the camel’s back or the start of the resurgence of one of paintball’s legendary teams.

There is another question to consider at the top of the rankings: Can anyone win an event this season besides Dynasty or Heat? In the past five tournaments, Heat has won three times and Dynasty twice. While Damage and Impact have been knocking on the door all season long, it remains to be seen if either of those teams can put together a weekend run that lasts until Sunday evening. Should any team other than Dynasty or Heat win the West Coast Open, World Cup becomes a nearly winner-take-all scenario, at least for the top four teams.

On the other end of the spectrum, there has never been a greater prize for getting out of the Challengers Division than a ticket to the big stage for World Cup. Texas Storm has loaded up on talent, Rich Telford and XSV sound confident, and CEP and 187 are undoubtedly grinding their hardest to earn their way back up.

You can’t just sign up for the Pro division for the last event of the year. The Road to Cup has never been more treacherous, never been more demanding. This event, the West Coast Open, and in particular the relegation and promotion games, will feature a bloodlust and a sense of urgency unparalleled in those that came before.

The gates to World Cup are guarded now.

Mark your calendars this week for the 4th event of the 2013 PSP season, the PSP West Coast Open, brought to you live from the AB Brown Sports Complex in Riverside, CA, August 16th – 18th, by Paintball Access.

Can Upton 187 Crew and the Ton Tons fight out of the Challengers Division? Will Houston Heat win their second tournament of the year? Can Dynasty make it to the finals 4 events in row? Find out the answers as the best paintball players in the world fight it out at the PSP West Coast Open!

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