Article written in partnership with Iconic Paintball
Something about the Windy City has been magical for professional paintball teams with season title aspirations. For two years, the NXL Windy City Major has been the penultimate accolade to any professional paintball season champion. In 2019, X-Factors' dominant performance in Chicago led to a season title, just as Dynasty was able to reign supreme and push the season title race out of reach after a gritty win in the Chicago heat last season.
When it comes to the 2022 season in the NXL’s top division, the professional title race is closer than ever. San Diego Dynasty has extended their major event winning streak to four straight events and have a roomy 51 point lead in the title race. Although, Houston Heat, Edmonton Impact, and Tampa Bay Damage are still pacing closely behind, and an event win in Chicago could catapult them within just a few points of San Diego in the standings.
With the NXL Pro Division being as competitive as ever, and a dark horse team waiting around every corner, one thing is for certain, victory in Chicago will again set an important historical precedent for any team looking to claim the title of the best team in professional paintball. The event also marks the return of the much anticipated All-Star game, which will feature the best paintball players in the world in a fantasy draft format game (watch live at 1:15PM CDT on Sunday, September 11th on GoSports.com).
Historic Gaelic Park provides an incredible venue
The NXL hosts some of the largest outdoor sporting events in the world, and the most important aspect of any event is the venue location, quality, and atmosphere. The historic Gaelic Park nestled just outside of the bustling city of Chicago, provides all three of these critical aspects in a major way. For years the city of Chicago has played host to the NXL for the third major event of the season, and season after season the venue is one of the highlights of the year.
The playing grounds at Gaelic Park are covered in lush and mature grass that provide excellent running and diving surfaces perfect for paintball. The event fields are flanked by a vendor area laden with the newest gear in the game, and mindful players can often sneak a peek at prototype gear in testing as companies ramp up for World Cup releases at the end of the season.
The layout for Chicago is perhaps the most intriguing of the season thus far. While each bunker layout this year has featured a dominant side, the Windy City Major layout is completely balanced, with the dorito side, snake side, and center field all providing options for victory. While thus far in pro practices, teams have been aggressively winning through the snake side early, crafty players are finding dominant gunfighting spots from the dorito side and are controlling the field through the deep center.
Top Pro Teams To Watch Out For:
Player to Watch: Ryan Greenspan
The season title race is heating up, but San Diego Dynasty doesn’t show an ounce of concern as they have been nothing short of dominant the last two seasons. Over the course of the last seven major NXL events dating back to World Cup 2020, Dynasty has won five total events and two season titles. It's commonplace in paintball for fans to talk about the greatest rosters of all-time, yet the concerned fan has to look no further than this Dynasty roster. Their current streak is on pace with the San Diego Dynasty of the early 2000s that dominated the sport, and with another major win in Chicago, the current roster can take the crown as the best assembly of players to ever step on a paintball field. Ryan Greenspan is the sports greatest player of all-time, and he may be playing his best paintball ever now in his 22nd professional season. This layout looks to be aggressive in the center and Greenspan is known for his legendary closing ability in the middle of the field; he is a must watch player in Chicago next weekend.
Player to Watch: Ronnie Dizon
Houston Heat has been consistently excellent throughout the season so far, placing in the top six at both major and minor events, and a finals appearance in Philadelphia. However, the team that has been built on their roster consistency from event-to-event saw star players Konstantin Fedorov and Mishka Kniazev absent at the Golden State Open, continuing a roster trend that has been a thorn in their side in 2022. Houston is coming into the third major event with a short roster, but one that is still absolutely stacked with talent. Anchored by arguably the best player in the world, Tyler Harmon, Houston is an offensive powerhouse that attacks relentlessly from every level of the field. The rumored return of Konstantin Fedorov to the active roster creates a huge amount of offense for Houston, and he should find loads of success on this methodical dorito side. Additionally, Ronnie Dizon should shine as the trailing attacker down the dorito side of the field with Fedorov. Ronnie is an incredibly poised and patient player with deceptive athleticism, and Chad George should be able to alleviate pressure from the opposing side of the field in the snake and create opportunity for Heat.
Player to Watch: Paddy Gleason
Thunder is having a season thus far in 2022. After starting off last year strong, Seattle began to regress over the 2021 season and finished outside of the Top 10 in the standings. Chicago will play an important role in deciding the year for Thunder, as a strong finish will show their upward trend is legitimate. Sitting at 5th overall in the season standings, a trip to the finals would catapult Thunder into the third place spot for the season race, and a victory would place them mere points away from a season title with a chance to steal the crown at World Cup. There have been two critical elements to Thunder’s success in 2022, Corey Field and Paddy Gleason. Field takes on a player-coach role for a Thunder team still finding their identity and his zone control on the field has helped the versatility of Paddy Gleason shine. At the last event Gleason was all over the place, providing high volumes of offense on both the dorito and snake side of the field. His ability to move fluidly and remain positionless combined with the rest of the young attackers on this team should continue to make Thunder hard to scout, and Field has masterfully coached the program with that element in mind.
Dark Horse Team that may surprise: Columbus LVL
Player to Watch: Carl Markowski
The long awaited return of fan favorite Carl Markowski may provide the critical mass needed to create an explosive offensive reaction for the rising Columbus LVL franchise. The Cinderella squad of 2021, LVL came into the season with hopes of elevating their status to the top of the league. Through four events they have been plagued by inconsistency but have shown they are developing the poise needed to win an event. Carl Markowski was signed earlier in the year, and after some delay in his activation to the roster, he is now ready to take a large role behind the trademark LVL aggressive style. His near 20 years of pro experience should bring a much needed veteran presence to this young roster and his role as a total offensive weapon will make LVL much more dangerous off-the-break and more difficult to scout. Markowski still boasts legendary speed and his presence forces teams to respect him at all points of a match and will create some space for Dany Schonaur, Sam Silberg, and Corwin Weber to create more pressure. LVL just may make a deep run all the way to finals and surprise the paintball world.
The Expert’s Pick: @QuinnIconic
“The Chicago event is always known as one of the hottest events of the season, and one of the sport's most intrinsic elements will play a critical role; grit. Something about San Antonio XFactor this year tells me there is more than meets the eye; after a slow start to the year, they have begun to heat up and shown they are one of the grittiest programs in the league. On a short-handed roster in Philly they made a deep Sunday run, now they enter Chicago at full strength. Teams should be worried about the offensive trio of Colt Roberts, Billy Bernacchia, and LJ Parrish, and with Raney Stanczak and Meter Ninios anchoring the back-line, this teams versatility and depth is hard to deny. X-Factor is my pick to win the Windy City Major over San Diego Dynasty in the finals 4-3.”
Vendor Spotlight: Sup’AirBALL
One of the most quintessentially iconic elements to any modern paintball event is the bunker. An inflatable blockade built from high-impact material that provides flexibility, durability, and mobility for nearly every paintball field in the world. When considering the most important features of any bunker, no one has built them better than Sup Airball over the last two plus decades they have been in business. One of the original leaders in inflatable bunkers, they have raised the bar every year to build bunker systems with the thickest material in the industry, leading to high durability, long-life, and constant adaptability to any situation.
In fact, the bunkers are of such a quality that every bunker featured on the field during the NXL season; from Professional down to 3-Man Amateur are purpose-built by Sup’ Airball to ensure that the strictest standards of quality are maintained across the games largest competitive league. Field owners and players can find Sup’ Airball in the vendors area and at fields across the world and learn more at supairball.com
The Windy City Major will decide the season’s fate
With the end of the season fast approaching, the importance of Chicago in the season title race leading up to the Champions Cup is undeniable. San Diego Dynasty has been dominant throughout the first half of the year, but will a dark horse team such as Thunder, or a top competitor like Heat steal the crown in the second half of the year? With so much uncertainty, one thing is for clear; the Windy City Major may once again provide the critical accolade needed for any team with season title hopes. Fans can tune into the PROFESSIONAL action from September 9th - 11th both in person at the event, or through the live stream on GoSports.com.
The NXL Premier Field will also be live all weekend long for FREE on their Facebook page featuring the best up and coming talent in the league with coverage of the SEMI-PRO X-BALL DIVISION.