In years past, the PSP West Coast Open, which is about to go down Aug. 8th -10th, was just a tune up for the World Cup, the biggest tournament in the world by far. But those days are gone and now the PSP West Coast Open is one of the most exciting tournaments to watch because if a team underperforms at the upcoming fourth event, then they won’t be in the Champions Division come October 9th -12th.
Like at every PSP event, two teams from the Challengers Division will be coming up and two teams from the Champs Division will be moving down. Since World Cup placement is at stake, every game, and every point within those games, will be crucial. Making things even more interesting than normal, three of the top teams in the world find themselves in the Challengers Division at the West Coast Open: LA Infamous, San Antonio X-Factor, and Chicago Aftershock. So only two of them, at best, will make it back to the big leagues. It speaks to the strength of the professional competition in the PSP that the team which won the first event (Infamous), the defending World Title holders (X-Factor), and the team who finished 3rd at the second event (Aftershock) are all forced to fight out of the Challengers Division. But the story lines playing out at the West Coast Open run much deeper than just that. Here are the top-ten stories we’ll see resolved this weekend, Aug. 8th -10th, in no particular order, because all these stories are interesting.
10. Can X-Factor get back to the Champions Division to defend their World Cup title?
X-Factor has finished 8th, 3rd and 10th at the three events this year. They are tending to get a slow start at events this season, which makes for exciting game to watch but a nail biter if you’re on the X-Factor squad or a hardcore X-Factor fan. Penalties have haunted them as well. As far as the roster goes, the team is almost exactly the same as last year when they won the Championship, with the addition of Mykel Kovar, a long time San Antonio vet who came back this season from a one year stint with Moscow Red Legion. Everyone on X-Factor knows what it’s like to win, and the last thing they want to happen is to see their chances to win another in 2014 end with at West Coast Open. This is X-Factor’s first time in the Challengers division, and they will be missing snake specialist Billy Bernacchia. He’s out with a broken wrist.
There’s a very good chance we’ll see X-Factor on Sunday morning playing in the Challengers semi-final game, with their World Cup hopes on the line. If they make it to that game, it will be one you don’t want to miss.
9. How will Houston VCK do in the Champions Division?
Houston VCK earned the right to be in the Champions Division by defeating Red Storm in the Challengers Semi-finals last event. They have done very well during their first season as professionals in lower pro division, making it into three semi-final in three events. They have also proved they can beat big teams; they took down Art Chaos in the prelims at the last event, and if you can beat Art Chaos, you can beat anyone, despite the fact the Art Chaos hasn’t had the best year. The question is: can VCK put wins up against the best teams in the world on a consistent basis? They play Vicious (2:15pm pst) and Heat (3:45pm pst) on Friday afternoon, and Damage (2:15pm pst) and Legion (3:45pm pst) Saturday afternoon. A team must win at least 2 games to have a good chance to make it into the Champions Division semi final on Sunday. This layout should help their chances, as they play a gunfight heavy game and look to control lanes to get themselves up the field. Everyone loves an underdog, and as talented, hardworking, and focused as VCK is, this is their first time at the highest level of paintball competition in the world; and they will stay underdogs until they prove themselves at this level.
8. Is the new LA Ironmen squad ready to win a tournament?
The LA Ironmen, one of the oldest franchises in existence, joined forces with Royalty this year. The move was a good one; it brought both a group of young hungry players in to reinvigorate the talent base, and Shane Pestana back to lead the team. Pestana is the most renowned coach/captain in the game. There is no other person more respected for his ability to get the most out of his players, or with a track record like his: as either a coach, and captain, or a player, he has lead the Ironmen to multiple titles going back 20 years. The Ironmen are currently ranked 4th overall, and have finished 5th, 6th and 4th this year. They finally made Sunday last event and lost to Heat in the semis. But they looked really good in that tournament, particularly Marcello Margot, who was playing spectacular paintball in the second attacker position. Alex Goldman looked flat out stunning until teams started to put fire on him off the break, and even after that he still put up numbers. The guys from Royalty also played very solid: Daniel Ibarra, Tok Hamil and Chris Catt all are definitely carry their weight, as is young Brandon Cornell, who’s still in high school. So, the weapons they need to prevail exist, are getting better, but can they all play well enough, often enough, to get to the finals? We will find out come Aug 8th. Just getting to the semi finals will be tough, they play Art Chaos (9:45 am) and 187 Crew (12:00 am) Friday afternoon, and Dynasty (10:30am) and Impact (11:15am) Saturday morning. That’s a tough bracket.
7. Will Art Chaos finally step up in the Champions Division?
The last time Art Chaos was in the Champions Division this year, they lost every game, went 0-5. Though the field layout at the Mid Atlantic Open wasn’t ideal for an aggressive team, it was still a shocker. When people saw the roster Chaos put together for this season, most fans, and insiders, felt the would instantly contend with the other big name teams. Most likely the poor MAO performance was fluke, and Art Chaos has only lost one game while they were down in the Challengers Division all year, to VCK in prelims last event. They avenged that loss in the finals, blowing out VCK 7-1. The reason they were so highly touted was because they went on a star-studded player acquisition spree in the offseason and have some of the best players ever. While it’s true that a handful of the top pros on all the big teams are “some of the best ever”, Mikhail Knyazev, Alexander Berdnikov, and Konstantin Fedorov are rare, special talents, and Sergey Solnyshov proved himself the past few years to be on their level, and he’s the highest ranked player on the team. So can the four of them (they get the lion share of playing time) and the rest of the extremely talented players on the team shake off whatever was plaguing them at MAO? They have a tough bracket – they play the Ironmen (9:45 am) and Dynasty (11:15 am) to start off the tournament Friday morning and 187 Crew (8:15 am) and Impact (9:45 am) on Saturday morning. They are going to need to play their best paintball of the year just to make it to the semi-finals. And if they finally play hot, they could win the event.
Ranked first overall, Impact is having one of those years you dream about when you start playing paintball. They have one of the best owners in the league, and they travel around the world playing as many paintball tournaments as they can. They are dominating in Europe, winning every single event across the pond. They just won the last PSP event in Chicago, which is traditionally the second hardest event to win, after World Cup (which they almost won last year until X-Factor mounted a come-from-behind win). They also took second place at the PSP Mid-Atlantic Open this year. All these spectacular finishes are happening with a new squad formed in the off-season after they lost three long-standing members to Heat. Impact went with what would normally be slower team building route, picking up younger, less experienced talents to fill their gaps—Ryan Martin, Danny Park, and Nick Leival. They also picked up veteran Raney Stanczak. But though those pick ups have done well for them, it’s the core of the team that’s made the difference. The Yachimec brothers, Zack and Zane are playing the best paintball of their careers, particularly Zack, the MVP from the last event. The attacking duo of Justin Rabackoff and Justin Cornell are hard for anybody to deal with, and Dave Bains is a legend for a reason. Josh Ouimet is back from a broken thumb, which adds another attacker. The question is: can they keep this roll going? They play 187 Crew (10:30 am) and Dynasty (12:45 pm) Friday, Art Chaos (9:45 am) and LA Ironmen (11:15am) Saturday. Those are hungry teams will be chomping at their heals for a piece of the PSP glory, and when you’re at the top, everyone is gunning for you.
Watch as all the PSP West Coast Open action goes down this weekend! The best teams in the paintball world battle for the win and for PSP World Cup positioning, with the season on the line for many of the big teams. Tell your friends to tune into www.paintballaccess.com!