Written by Quinn Nadu, November 22, 2023
In a convergence of skill, determination, and a season-long odyssey of unwavering dedication, the culmination of a year of hard work arrived— the NXL World Cup. The most monumental paintball spectacle on Earth, orchestrated by the Major League of Paintball, where more than 600 fiercely competitive teams clashed, each pursuing the elusive Champions Cup. This particular year's incarnation shattered previous records, etching its name as the largest paintball event in NXL history, unfurling the final chapter of 2023 across the vast 200+ acre sports complex in the heart of Kissimmee, Florida.
Amidst this hallowed ground, professional and amateur teams engaged in the conclusion of a season-long race, vying for a prize purse exceeding $150,000. The vendor's row was thick with anticipation as new products were revealed, with releases coming from nearly every major company and sponsor. The collective dreams of each team sat on the edge of glory, the stakes soared to dizzying heights, and new names were etched into paintball legend.
For San Diego Dynasty, this event added an exclamation mark onto their historic run, solidifying their legacy as the greatest roster of all time. However, the road to their World Cup victory wasn’t an easy one, as teams from across the country and the best international teams in the World put up a noble fight. The NXL World Cup has become more than just an event; it has become a saga, a testament to the relentless pursuit of excellence in the realm of paintball.
A True Festival to Paintball
The World Cup has transcended its role as a mere competitive battleground, evolving into a multifaceted celebration of the paintball lifestyle. This event not only serves as the stage for intense matches but also offers attendees an immersive experience reminiscent of a festival dedicated to innovation and camaraderie. It can often be so easy to stay in a comfort zone, but MLPB President Tom Cole has used constant change and innovation of the format to dial in a truly iconic event in 2023.
Upon entering the venue, attendees encountered a dynamic trade show—a meticulous curation of booths and exhibits featuring the latest advancements in paintball gear and technology. With new milled markers from Eclipse, Infamous, Dye, and HK; a new flagship Shocker, new barrels, soft goods, and goggles, this year’s event provided an exciting on-the-ground experience for players and fans.
Beyond vendors row, the World Cup has transformed into a dynamic playground catering to both veteran players, and intrigued newcomers of the sport. You could feel the pulse of the paintball community around the venue and with new additions like the Hormesis Oasis Party, this event is really merging the nostalgia and magic of the World Cup events of old, with the exciting professionalism of the modern game.
Continuing and expanding on 2022’s changes, even more international teams earned invitations to the World Cup this season and was the best representation of a true worldwide competition we have seen yet in the NXL. The most elite male and female pro players from across the globe descended into the World Cup with the mission to prove they belong on the professional NXL stage. The Toulouse TonTons nearly shocked the World when they narrowly missed earning a trip to the Pro finals and knocking out Dynasty, once again showing they belong in the conversation as one of the best teams in paintball.
The 2023 event brought in more than 90 international roster entries, a number that rapidly grew from 2022 and accounted for 13.5% of all teams entered into the 2023 World Cup. With continued focus on the growth of leagues outside of the US, the biggest event in paintball should continue to see increased competition and an evolving playing style due to the influence of these non-US teams.
New Format in the Pro Division
New for the 2023 World Cup, the weekend for the pro division kicked off on Wednesday with an exhibition event debuting a new playing style, the 7/3. With the format focusing more on team based scoring than just eliminations, the 7/3 format introduced seven point and three point scoring as teams played three, four minute periods to determine the winner.
A team was awarded 3 points for being the first to make it to the 50 snake bunker and hit a buzzer, and could then earn an additional 7 points for successfully hitting the buzzer at the opponents start gate. After nearly 80 games were played, New York Xtreme emerged as the winner over the Brooklyn Bears to take home the bonus cash prize.
The Champions Cup
Thursday ignited the inaugural games for the 2023 NXL Pro Division Champions Cup, with 24 teams from around the globe all fighting for the $40,000 purse and the title of the best team in paintball. San Diego Dynasty, Tampa Bay Damage, and Houston Heat all earned a preliminary round bye as the top three US teams of the season and were joined by the Toulouse Tontons, the European NXL Champions. The four teams would play in a warm-up round while the remaining 20 pro teams would fight for one of the remaining playoff spots.
In Bracket A, the United Kingdom's top team, the Lucky 15s, emerged at the top with a 3-1 record earmarked by wins over Diesel, Uprising, and LVL. San Antonio XFactor was perhaps the biggest surprise of the prelims; after being a top five team all season long, San Antonio limped to a 2-2 record, dropping matches to LVL and Diesel and missing a playoff berth. LVL and Diesel would also post a 2-2 record, but the head to head wins over XFactor and Diesel earned LVL the playoff berth. Uprising went 1-3 to finish last in the bracket and 18th overall.
ASG Aftermath, perhaps the biggest surprise team of the World Cup, posted a perfect 4-0 record in Bracket B highlighted by strong wins over NYX and Baltimore Revo. One of the league's youngest rosters, their 7th overall finish will provide a critical foundation for success going into next year. Revo was the only other team to escape the bracket with their 3-1 record and earn a playoff spot. NYX struggled after taking home the 7/3 crown earlier in the weekend and finished 2-2 in the prelims to land in 13th place overall on the weekend. The Bears went 1-3 with their only win coming against the 0-4 Latin Saints, who sealed their fate as the relegated team in the pro division after a 2023 season in which they didn't win a single match all season and posted an overall match win record of 0-20 .
Red Legion and Los Angeles Infamous would take the lead of Bracket C with 3-1 records and Bracket D would push its top two teams, Edmonton Impact and NRG Elite into the playoffs alongside them. Edmonton had somewhat of a renaissance at the World Cup; after rumors emerged of a potential rebuild going into 2024, their deep run all the way to the finals at World Cup and a last second loss has to be making that possibility much slimmer for Canada’s best professional team.
The Pro Field Playoffs
The Wild Card
The wildcard round of the pro playoffs was a surprisingly aggressive round in terms of play style. While Sunday typically means a slower paced game, the Wild Card teams fighting for their Champions Cup lives came out on the attack. Aftermath traded punches back and forth with Columbus LVL and the game came down to a final heroic push by Aftermath. With the score at 4-4 with one minute remaining, Aftermath immediately drew a penalty and were facing a 3v5. Rather than play defensively, Grayson Gladstone of Aftermath pushed down the field into LVL to hit the buzzer and send Aftermath into the quarter finals.
Red Legion faced off against NRG Elite and stifled them early on in the match to control the pace for its entirety with a score of 7-4 to move on. It was a similar result for Edmonton Impact against Los Angeles Infamous, with consistent break shooting and game closing to win with a score of 5-1.
The final wild card match would see Revo take on the UK powerhouse franchise of the Lucky 15s. After a back and forth match, Revo would hold a narrow one point lead over the Lucky15s, but with just over a minute left in the match, Jim McGowan would make one of the best moves of the weekend, streaking through the middle of the field and shooting three Revo players to hit the buzzer and tie the game. However, Stephen Omara would answer the next point with a big move of his own to score a point for Revo and move on to the quarter finals with a score of 5-4.
The Quarter and Semi Finals
The quarter finals would give fans their first chance to see the best four teams of 2023 play against the rest of the pro field after Heat, Dynasty, Damage, and the TonTons earned byes into the quarter finals of the Champions Cup. The game really started to slow down moving into the two final rounds of playoffs; San Diego Dynasty grinded out a defensive and precise win over Red Legion 5-2. They would move on to play the Tontons after Europe’s top team defeated a surging Aftermath team 5-3, ending their Cinderella World Cup run.
Edmonton Impact faced off against Houston Heat in their quarter finals game and Heat looked unable to generate reliable offense. Impact would defeat Heat 4-2, moving Houston’s World Cup record to a shocking 0-4 on the weekend in a massive underperformance for the superstar team. This win would move Impact on to play against Revo in the semi-finals after their shocking win over Tampa Bay Damage. Few would have guessed that Tampa Bay would be exiting early into the playoffs after two straight event wins, but clutch play from Henry Sentz and Stephen Omara combined with incredible discipline off the break was enough to beat Damage 3-2.
The semi-finals matches were both tightly contested games that saw both matches come down to the final moments. For Edmonton Impact, they were able to secure an early 2-0 lead and lean into a more controlled and defensive posture. Although Revo really began to take control with strong breakshooting, Impact was sitting ahead at 3-2 with just 30 seconds remaining. Revo made a huge push to start off the point with Benny Carroll and Eliot Weaver, and despite nearly pulling off the point, Nick Levial would anchor the Impact line and dig in to burn out the clock and move Impact on to their first finals of the season.
San Diego Dynasty would open their semi-finals match struggling to contain the Tontons top attackers, Axel and Brice Gaudin. While both launched offensive pushes down opposing sides of the field, they were able to take an early 1-0 lead, but Dynasty would answer back the next point as Ryan Greenspan began to take control of the center of the field with his deep launches into the Tontons side of the field to tie the game 1-1. They would trade games and see the score at 2-2, but Dynasty would pull ahead 3-2 with just under three minutes remaining; the clock would wind down and force an overtime between Europe's top team and the best team in the US. In overtime, Dynasty went up on bodies early, but Axel Gaudin would surge down the snake side of the field for Toulouse in a desperate attempt to steal the game; however Marcello Margott snuck into the snake and eliminate Axel and the remaining two Tontons to send Dynasty to the finals.
Finals on the Pro Field
The World Cup finals would have San Diego Dynasty making their third finals of the season to face off against Edmonton Impact who was in the finals for the first time since the 2022 season. While Dynasty was already sitting in the record books as the first ever NXL team to three-peat the World Cup finals, an unheard of fourth win would plant them in history as the greatest roster to ever play the sport of paintball. They already had the season championship locked down when they stepped on the final field, but it wouldn’t mean anything without a World Cup win to go with it.
For Edmonton Impact, the story was the opposite; they spent the 2023 season underperforming for what is typically expected and the World Cup represented a chance at redemption and to show the world they are still in the top of the pro division hierarchy.
With the $40,000 Champions Cup purse on the line, Impact would open the finals defensively to get a 1-0 lead after Mike Zuppa methodically moved down the snake side of the field to earn three eliminations. After a drawn out point, Dynasty answered back to tie the score at 1-1 with seven minutes remaining.
Chris Schehr would continue to find room on the dorito side like he did all weekend in the third point, and after a quick closeout by Archie Montemayor, the score was 2-1 Dynasty. Impact was now at a critical moment, if they lost another point and went down two points on Dynasty, their fate would essentially be sealed with how little time was remaining; Matt Jackson answered the call. Jackson anchored the center of the field and closed out the game through the center to tie the score back at 2-2 with two minutes remaining.
In the final point, Dynasty would find themselves down on bodies with the time ticking away. They of course could play for overtime, and began to take a defensive stance. Impact took the initiative and began to aggressively push down the field with a body advantage to try and win the game in regulation. They eliminated Chris Schehr and Ryan Greenspan, but Marcello Margott anchored the back line and made a brilliant tactical retreat to the home while eliminating Trevor Resar and Matt Jackson, then shooting out Tyler Panillo to steal the World Cup title and give Dynasty their fourth straight World Cup.
A View from the Divisional Field
Iconic’s Pick for Semi Pro Season MVP: Colt Luckau
For the fifth time this season, the semi pro finals would see PBFit standing across the field from Blast Camp; for the fifth time this season, the semi pro finals would see PBFit beating Blast Camp. PBFit completed a perfect season at the World Cup, a year in which they won more than $35,000 in prize purses, and earned a promotion into the pro division for 2024. They once again got an elite performance from team captain, Colt Luckau and the starting five for Fit played the part of a pro team to be.
Iconic’s Pick for Division 2 Season MVP: Colton Doll
Division Two was a much more tightly contested race for the season title. Entering into the World Cup, the title race between New York Wrecking Crew and Shut Up We’re Trying was separated by just six points in favor of Shut Up We’re Trying. However, when NY Wrecking Crew stepped onto the field against Dynamic for the D2 Finals, they found themselves already the Season Champion thanks to a loss for SUWT against Dynamic in the semi-finals. They would play a close game against Dynamic; after taking a 4-1 lead, Dynamic surged back to tie the game 4-4. With just 30 seconds left, Colton Doll would launch down the dorito side to win the World Cup for the New York Wrecking Crew and take the season title.
Iconic’s Pick for Division 3 Season MVP: Carlos Santiago
The Division 3 season title was firmly in control of TPPCrew heading into the World Cup thanks to their three finals trip and two event wins leading up to Cup. After posting a perfect 6-0 record throughout the weekend, TPPCrew would completely shut out Just Us in the finals 4-0 to win the World Cup and the season title in Division 3 along with it. Francisco Baco was consistently getting penetration down field for TPP in the finals and closed out multiple games for the TPP shut out.
Iconic’s Pick for Division 4 Season MVP: Cameron Blanco
Jackpot returned to the World Cup finals after winning the NXL Windy City Major in dominant fashion. They faced off against Air Capital Threat and the father son duo of Matt Blanco and 12 year old Cameron Blanco once again got to raise the first place trophy and take home the season title in Division 4 in their 3-2 finals win.
Three Biggest Moments from World Cup
Margott is Clutch
Arguably the best paintball player in the World, Marcello Margott capped off his brilliant 2023 season with perhaps the biggest signature moment of the NXL season. With the score standing at 2-2 in the Finals against Edmonton Impact, and less than 2 minutes left, both teams made the decision to go for the win instead of playing for overtime. With Impact surging down the field with a one body advantage and under 30 seconds remaining, Dynasty’s run finally looked over; Margott had different plans. Facing a 1v3, he would make an incredible shot on Trevor Resar and Matt Jackson while retreating backwards into the home bunker, then shoot Tyler Panillo in a 1v1 with just 19 seconds left to win the World Cup for Dynasty.
PBFit Perfect Season
Five events, five first place trophies. In the history of the modern NXL, no xball team has ever posted a perfect season; no longer can that be said. Paintball Fit won their fifth straight event of the 2023 season and the promotion to the pro division with it. After posting a match record in 2023 of 33-2, this is officially the greatest division performance in NXL history. We may never see a season like this happen again in the NXL and they will be immortalized as one of the single greatest divisional paintball teams ever.
Cheetahs Steal the WNXL Season Title
When the World Cup for the WNXL division kicked off, the Cheetahs were narrowly behind the Heroines in the season title race; when the dust settled they found themselves back in the finals for the third straight event and locked in to win the season title. Consistent play all season long from the entire roster and a strong team culture built the most formidable pro female team of the year. They are now sitting firmly in control of the division, but with the Heroines close behind, it should make for one of the best rivalries of the year in 2024.
With the largest event in paintball history finally concluded, the paintball season for teams around the World officially enters the offseason. With rumors already emerging of major roster changes around the pro division and the WNXL, fans and players can get all the latest news from the @nxlpaintball social media pages, and by following the NXLPaintball.com Blog. You can relive the entire pro season on GoSports.com and re-watch all the biggest games of the WNXL and Semi Pro season on the Major League of Paintball YouTube. Don’t forget to visit MajorLeaguePB.com to sign up for the newsletter and become a member of the MLPB to receive all the benefits of a member.