Article written in partnership with Iconic Paintball, Quinn Nadu
For the next few days, players from all over the country will collide in Kissimmee, Florida for the opening event of the NXL season, the 'Sunshine State Major'. With the vast majority of the pro league improving their rosters over the off-season, the season opener will bring paper-teams into reality and all the speculation will come to a head at 10 balls per second at the world's premier competitive paintball league.
To say that the past five months has been a whirlwind of pro roster moves would be a massive understatement. After one of the busiest off-seasons in paintball history, with top players moving all over the league, the entire landscape of the pro division has changed. ac: Diesel has initiated a rapid rise through off-season ranking and is pushing their way into the upper echelon of the sport, after the additions of Alex Goldman, Justin Rabackoff, Kyle Spicka, and Alex Rodriguez. However, NXL royalty like San Diego Dynasty, Edmonton Impact, and Houston Heat won’t be so quick to fold, making major additions themselves in the off-season to continue their defense as the NXL’s most elite franchises.
With more than 200 teams attending the event across more than a dozen ranked divisions, this year’s opening event will be a highly contested battle to get an early advantage in the season points race. Whether you are at the event, or watching on the GoSports live stream, this season is quickly ramping up to be one of the most exciting yet!
The Venue and Vendors
The venue in Kissimmee is, quite simply, the best paintball venue in the country and has become the mecca of modern day paintball tournaments. The grounds just outside the Gaylord Palms Resort has been the location of the opening event for the NXL since 2021, and of course is the same location the NXL World Cup is held each season as well.
With more new vendors and event sponsors than ever before, industry stalwarts like GI Sportz, HK Army, and Planet Eclipse all return as platinum sponsors this season with the addition of some familiar but new faces to the NXL’s platinum sponsor level. Fan favorite Hormesis Paintball joins the NXL roster, as well as the rapidly expanding company Gel Blaster, who is one of the biggest names behind the gel capsule launching toys sold around the world.
The layout for the Sunshine State Major looks to be one built around aggression, with tons of options off the break to make big moves early. However, with plenty of blind shots over the center bricks, and strong points of zone control from the back line, this layout could provide a very traditional feel throughout the weekend. It will help to promote more complete styles of play and demand production from all levels of the field. Teams are already learning the value of early aggression in the center of the field, and it could mean plenty of slashing moves through the middle.
Pro Teams look to gain early advantage in season points race
It is worth reiterating; this year's season opener has perhaps the most intrigue and excitement around it in NXL history. The pro division saw major changes across the entire division, with a very active offseason resulting in superstar players moving around the league. It once again brings the biggest question proposed each offseason; will big offseason signings for top programs be enough to overcome the machine that is Dynasty?
Team to Watch: San Diego Dynasty
Player to Watch: Chris Schehr
San Diego Dynasty enters the 2023 season on one of the greatest runs in the history of the sport; 3 straight World Cup wins and 3 straight season championships. Behind the dominant play of Ryan Greenspan, Marcello Margott, and Archie Montemayor, Dynasty is looking more dangerous than ever. An offseason loss of Dalton Vanderbyl was quickly nullified by the addition of top dorito attacker Chris Schehr in the offseason. Schehr is the player to watch for Dynasty, his style and personality fits perfectly with how San Diego plays and operates and he should quickly find success as the top guy on that side of the field.
Team to Watch: ac: Diesel
Player to Watch: Mark Baginski
For the second time in as many seasons, Alex Goldman, Kyle Spicka, Alex Rodriguez, and Justin Rabackoff have reformed the new core on an emerging team. They join a roster that was already creating a talented base of players around their core of Mark Johnson, Mark Baginski, and BJ Heninburg. This is an interesting team on paper and should be able to find success early in the season if the lineup can be managed effectively. Mark Baginski is the player to watch, his versatility and poise on the field will be looked to as a steady hand to help guide this explosive offense that is brewing in Texas.
Team to Watch: Houston Heat
Player to Watch: Conner Kelley
Houston Heat made perhaps the best offseason move in securing a long-term deal with the talented and dynamic Conner Kelley. His addition to this veteran lineup will bring a new element of offense and create more opportunities for the rest of the team. Heat rarely makes roster moves, and typically when they do, they become major contributing stars in the league. If history has any accuracy of measure, Kelley should quickly continue his upward trend into true stardom in the NXL. Heat looks scary with one of the best levels of chemistry in the NXL and with Tyler Harmon leading the team on the field, we may finally see them secure a win after a one year drought.
Dark Horse Team that may just win: Columbus LVL
Player to Watch: Carl Markowski
Perhaps the most quiet pro team of the off-season, LVL watched their top player Sam Silberg depart the team just a month before the season opener for Los Angeles Infamous. However, with the addition of veteran center player, Damian Ryan, they may have rounded out their roster to become more balanced. Carl Markowki will be a key player for LVL if they want to find success in 2023; they need to replace the offensive output of Silberg, and Markowski is a savvy and athletic veteran that can bring dynamic play all over the field for this team.
The WNXL, new expansion teams bring bigger challenge
After an incredibly successful launch of the newest league in the Major League of Paintball, the Women’s National Xball League, the face of paintball is rapidly changing. After taking the competitive paintball world by storm, the league is now expanding with the addition of two more teams; the High Rollers based out of New Jersey, and team Northern Lights, from Vancouver, Canada. The introduction of an international based team adds a new layer of excitement to the league, as it opens the door for more franchises from around the globe to join the world’s premiere all-female professional paintball league.
The 2022 season saw a year of dominance from the Boston Heroines behind two straight event wins and the inaugural season championship crown. However, with the continued growth of the league's newest division, the road to the Championship in November only gets harder as more and more talent joins the WNXL’s ranks. Will the Heroines continue their event win-streak and make it three straight, or will a top contender like Destiny, hungry for a win after 3 straight finals losses, steal the first event away?
WNXL Teams to Watch:
Player to Watch: Jenn Fulk
Dynasty; that is what the Boston Heroines are on the precipice of already in the WNXL’s second season. Total victory in 2022 saw the Heroines take the WNXL World Championship Title behind stellar play across the roster. Returning the entire team for 2023, look for Jenn Fulk to continue to cause massive damage on both sides of the field as perhaps the best offensive player in the WNXL. They really developed their back line over the course of last season and are the most complete team in the division heading into the season opener.
Player to Watch: Kary Blanco
Not to be taken lightly, Destiny saw heartbreak at all three WNXL events last season; after making the finals of every event year, they just couldn’t take that final step to win. However, 2023 brings a new year and the best offensive team in the WNXL still looks scary behind the wild aggression of the Blanco’s. They are the best attacking duo in the WNXL and if the back line of Destiny can find ways to close games more consistently, this team has a legitimate chance at the season title this year. Kary Blanco is the player to watch behind her unmatched aggression and she will cause a lot of damage on this layout.
Divisional Teams to Watch
Player to Watch: Rob Velez
After narrowly missing the pro spot in 2022 behind a poor showing at the World Cup, Blast Camp went to work in the offseason picking up talented pro Rob Velez and adding former Blast Camp player and current pro Zach Hoeg back to the roster. In a division that looks to be the most contested in the NXL, Blast Camp seems to be the early season favorite in winning the pro spot for 2024. Rob Velez becomes perhaps the best player in semi-pro after joining the roster and he will pair incredibly well with Hoeg on the snake side of the field alongside Jackson Frey.
New York Wrecking Crew
Player to Watch: Colton Doll
Wrecking Crew was dominant in 2022, securing one of the best season records in NXL divisional history. Now, after moving up to Division 2, they should continue their streak of success. Colton Doll, at just 16 years old, is looking like a future pro already. His size and frame is perfect alongside his methodical style of play as an attacker and he will be the player to watch for New York this season as they try to win the division 2 crown.
Player to Watch: Damian Vazquez
The Noobies had an inconsistent year in 2022, making it deep in two events, and showing poorly in just as many. However, in 2023 it's a new look roster built around their bulletproof core of Andy Schoemaker, Dom Devivo, and Ryan Rodriguez. After the additions of pro player Mike Mesa for the entire season, and Damian Vazquez of Dynasty joining the team as a guest player, this is a scary roster. They are arguably the most experienced team in all of semi-pro and are a dark horse to win the season title. Vazquez returns to his former team for the next three events and will be one of the best players in the division and will be a must watch.
The Expert’s Picks from Quinn at Iconic Paintball
To Win Pro: Houston Heat
“The addition of Conner Kelley will prove to be the best move of the offseason by the year's end. He provides a level of offensive versatility and command on the field that will pair perfectly with Tyler Harmon and Konstantin Fedorov. I think we see Heat and Dynasty face off with Houston taking the event 5-4.”
To Win Semi-Pro: Too Close to Call
“In what is arguably looking like one of the most competitive semi-pro seasons ever, this division is just too close to call. A huge influx of pro talent during the offseason on major programs like Blast Camp, Ology, and Noobies, as well as the continued expected dominance from PBFit should make this event electrifying. If I had to pick one, I like Blast Camp to win this one behind an MVP performance from Rob Velez.
To Win Division 2: New York Wrecking Crew
“Just as they did in 2022, Wrecking Crew will come into the 2023 season with a big statement after moving up to division 2. They play a true pro-style on the field and run their organization in a similar fashion; preparation and consistency will be the key to another win for HiVi. I expect to see a big year from Colton Doll and he should be a major focal point for this program in 2023.”
To Win Division 3: Brawl
“This offseason saw Brawl’s semi-pro team fold; however with their division 3 line picking up the incredibly talented Imai White after the semi-pro line disbanded, this team is scary. Supported by perhaps one of the best field-owners in the country Thomas Sellers, Brawl is my pick to win Division 3 in dominant fashion.”
To Win Division 4: New Jersey Bombsquad
“Hailing from Quickshot Paintball in South Jersey, the Bombsquad has brought together a diverse group of players from the area's best division 3 and division 4 teams and should be a problem for most teams to overcome in Division 4. Alex La and Chris Valle are both talented and aggressive players and should put in top performances for Bombsquad on the way to a win.”
To win WNXL: The Heroines
“This is too simple to me, the Heroines have a scary roster. Behind superstar players like Rozy McCurley, Alexis Lazer, and Jenn Fulk, the Heroines have an absolutely stacked and versatile team. Their play style is completely balanced and aggressive without ever being out of position. Look for the Heroines to win their third straight WNXL event.
Vendor spotlight, Hormesis Paintball
The newest addition to the NXL Platinum sponsor roster, Hormesis Paintball is one of the fastest growing companies in the paintball industry. Behind their unique and innovative approach to products, Oliver Lang and Alex Fraige have built a true grassroots empire with their brand. With a new film project brewing at the Hormesis HQ, 2023 could be their biggest year yet. Fans and players can find their products at the event in the vendors row and they are sure to have exclusive, one of a kind drops available throughout the weekend. Stay tuned in to the @hormesispaintball social media for information on how to score a new drop.
The Major League of Paintball is going to kick off its X-Ball season in one week and it is sure to launch another year of top level competition from around the globe. With continued growth each year across all its leagues, the sport of paintball is on a continued upward trend and reaching new audiences every day. From March 10th-12th, all the action live from the pro field at the Sunshine State Major can be viewed on GoSports.com, and don’t miss a second of the WNXL/Semi-Pro premier field coverage provided by NXL Live for free on the NXL Paintball social media pages. As always, follow @NXLPaintball for updates all weekend long.