The PSP West Coast Open had many dramatic storylines, but the most shocking was Dynasty getting shut out and dropping down to the Challengers Division for World Cup. PBA’s Mike Jeffery touches on the magnitude of Dynasty’s late season history leading into the event.
I was penciling in the pro brackets for World Cup, using the results from last weekend’s West Coast Open. I stared at the ten teams and I felt certain I’d made a mistake. I tried again and got the same result, before checking out other people’s brackets on pbnation and facebook. I saw the same lists I’d derived. We couldn’t all be wrong. I felt with bone-deep certainty that something was missing. And then I remembered what I’d seen on Sunday and put down my pencil.
It’s hard to fully wrap your head around the fact that Dynasty, winners of over fifty major tournaments, the most storied team in paintball history, the 2013 PSP series winners, will not be playing in the Champions Division at World Cup. Their 4-5 loss to Houston Heat, which dropped them down to the Challengers Division, is hands down the most shocking turn of events in modern paintball history. It’s basically unthinkable, one of those times when you recognize paintball as the playground for Murphy’s Law—anything that can happen, will happen.
When the relegation system was introduced last season, there were basically four teams I never expected to see dropped down to the Challengers: Impact, Heat, Damage, and, of course, Dynasty. This season we’ve seen two of those teams get relegated, but unlike Heat, Dynasty made no significant roster moves in the offseason. They didn’t change coaches and, excepting the loss of Ryan Greenspan to injury, fielded the same team that won three PSP tournaments in the past two seasons. Though it would also be foolish to underestimate just how much the team was hurt by Greenspan’s MCL strain that kept him out of Sunday’s relegation match, and at the end of the day they lost mostly one-point matches to five of the best teams in the world, the fact remains: Dynasty lost every game at the West Coast Open, and have recorded seven straight losses dating back to Chicago.
Whenever they underperform, there’s a definite temptation to freak out and say that Dynasty is over the hill. In 2012 when they didn’t win an event, a lot of people thought they’d checked out for good. Dynasty responded by winning two events in 2013, and the PSP series title.
When stats were first introduced to paintball, you’d hear people at fields across the country questioning whether Oliver Lang was really still the best player in the world, or was he more of a figure of myth from before the advent of unbiased metrics. And then Oliver went out and won the Top Gun last year.
The argument that any of Dynasty’s core players, Oliver, Ryan, Yosh Rau or Alex Fraige, have lost a step in terms of playing ability basically holds no water. They’ve all mostly been top forty players or better year to year.
I think that Dynasty show its age in a different way. Their snaps haven’t slowed, their speed hasn’t faded, their innate instincts haven’t died. I just think that come late August, Dynasty grows tired of the grind.
Looking at their tournament results over the last five years (call it the “Webcast Era”) Dynasty’s loss at the West Coast Open shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise (only the consequences of the defeat were greater). Since 2009, their only top four finishes in the second half of PSP seasons are a 4th place in Chicago in ’09, a 2nd place at the New Jersey Open in 2011 and a 3rd place at World Cup in ’11. That’s it. No wins in late season tournaments since 2008.
This is not a team that traditionally performs well in the second half of seasons, at least in recent memory anyway. Watching Dynasty at the West Coast Open, they looked like a team out of gas, if only mentally.
Every year one of the most pressing pre-season questions is whether or not Dynasty is still the best or one of the best teams in the world. Then they generally go out and win or place in the top four in the early events of the year (in ’09: 3rd at Phoenix and 4th at Mao, in ’11 1st at Galveston and 2nd at Chicago, in ’12: 3rd at Galveston, in ’13: 1st at Dallas and 1st at MAO), proving to everyone that, yes, they still got it. Maybe that’s enough for them. They taste victory again, and then they can go about their lives and basically fade away in the second half of the season.
Earlier in the 2014 season, Matty would talk about how Dynasty was showing up to practice early and leaving at sundown most days. How hungry they were. After they won MAO, I don’t think I’ve heard him say that.
Usually I roll my eyes at the suggestion that, at the championship level in any sport, the outcome is determined by who “wants it” more. When it comes to Miami Heat versus San Antonio Spurs, Seahawks versus Broncos, Impact versus Art Chaos, I think every individual on every one of those teams wants the prize to the same crazed degree. Mark Cuban has spoken wisely on that matter. I don’t think execution and desire are so closely tied as we, romantically, want to believe. Random chance and the chaos of sport ignore our longings.
But if you re-watch Dynasty’s games at WCO, especially the relegation match against Houston Heat, you’ll see an undisciplined team that tries to survive on talent alone. Tyler Harmon with two penalties in the same point to start things off. Alex Fraige earned another major trying to pull out a one versus two with a desperation move. Brandon Short, Glenn Takemoto and Oliver Lang failed to hold a three versus four cross for thirty seconds in order to send the match to one on ones.
Every tight game has a couple big points that bear a high price on the final score—the points that drag on for minutes, three on three stand stills that end up in hopper-ball, and eventual chaos or one on ones, contests in one ball snapshots. They’re the points that break your back or carry you deep into Sunday afternoon. At the West Coast Open, Dynasty lost almost all of those big points, by penalties or poorly timed moves, gunfights lost.
Of course I’m speaking on the subject of Dynasty’s motivation largely out of ignorance. I have no idea how often Dynasty practices or how hard they practice. I do, however, know that it’s human nature to rest on your laurels when you’re satisfied with your body of work. And who could blame Dynasty for being satisfied? They have very little to prove, unlike every other team in the PSP. They’ve literally done it all, except win a World Cup in the Webcast Era.
I’m of the mind that Dynasty can be the best team in the world whenever they want to be. Sometimes they just don’t care to be, not with all that history helping them rest easy at night, necks that couldn’t hold all their medals, and so many trophies that they’ve run out of room.
Still, the fact stands: Dynasty has not put together a full season of winning paintball since the days when they would routinely win the Triple Crown (the PSP, Millennium, and NPPL series titles). Maybe we hold them to too high of a standard. Maybe it’s totally unfair to expect any team to win more than one event in a PSP season. Can we really expect a team that has done it all to grind all year long?
World Cup, over the last seven years, has been the hardest tournament to predict. The picture has never been murkier than this year. Three of four event winners have spent time or are currently in the Challengers division. Impact is the only team that’s been a safe bet for Sunday, but they’ve also lost two events this year. Your guess is as good as mine.
Before every event when the predictions are rolling out, you’re guaranteed to see plenty betting on Dynasty.
For the first time in decade, not at this World Cup.