Photo by Gary Baum, PaintballPhotography.com
Article written in partnership with Iconic Paintball, Quinn Nadu
The 2022 NXL Paintball season has come to a close, and it may have been the best year of paintball in the NXL’s history. Hopeful players descended on Florida in the midst of Hurricane Nicole, with dreams of winning the biggest prize in the sport, a World Cup victory. With a collective six figure prize purse on the line, and the highest team count ever, the pressure was on.
Throughout the games history there have been plenty of large-scale events; NPPL events held at stadiums, the 90’s Golden Era of 10 man, or massive stand alone events like the IAO. However, the 2022 NXL World Cup shattered team attendance records and was not only the largest event in paintball, but one of the largest outdoor sporting events ever with more than 550 teams and over 4,000 players present.
At the forefront of this massive stage was the Champions Cup, the shining prize atop paintball's professional mountain. The best professional paintball teams from all over the world played all season to earn the right to play in the Champions Cup with a chance to earn the biggest prize in the sport and be crowned the best paintball team in the World.
With players coming from the United States, Europe, Asia, and South America, it was the most diverse group of players to ever compete on a professional field as they battled in a round robin tournament in the midst of a Hurricane. Top NXL US teams like San Diego Dynasty, Edmonton Impact, and Houston Heat all earned a Prelim bye heading into the Cup with the France based TonTons earning a bye as well due to their European Championship title won just a few weeks prior.
World Cup is where paintball dreams of glory go to live or die, and everything was on the line with every single division Season Title race being decided at the World Cup.
Vicious Battle to the end in the Pro Division
The newest addition into the NXL Pro season, the Champions Cup was the ultimate crown for a professional paintball team in 2022. With a prize purse of over $70,000 for competing teams, it was a season-long battle over the course of three major and two minor events to earn points towards a bye in the first round of the Champions Cup.
After five events, San Diego Dynasty, Houston Heat, Edmonton Impact, and the European Champion Toulouse TonTons all earned a first round bye. The remaining 20 teams from all over the world battled on day one and two of the event to earn one of 10 coveted wild-card playoff spots in the Pro Championship. The top four teams from the wild card round would move on to play against Dynasty, Heat, Impact, and the TonTons in order to move on to the semi-finals and then final round.
Also at stake was the pro franchise lives of teams like New York Xtreme, Sacramento DMG, and the Latin Saints. The NXL utilizes a promotion and relegation system in which the lowest ranked pro team is relegated, and the highest ranked Semi-Pro team is promoted at the end of the season. Three programs entered the World Cup with their franchise status in the pro division at risk and would need solid showings to avoid relegation.
Battling for their pro lives, NYX and Saints avoid relegation
Photo by Michael Candelaria, NXL Media
New York Xtreme entered the World Cup as an unusual candidate for relegation; a talented roster, veteran coaching staff, and a rabid fanbase, it's not often teams like NYX find themselves in the conversation for losing their pro status. However, NYX would not go down quietly and they fought to a 2-1 record in the prelims, earning themselves a guaranteed top 12 finish and burying any conversation of relegation.
For Sacramento DMG, the story is different but the goal remained the same, win or go home. DMG has struggled throughout the year to build their roster and win matches. At the World Cup with their backs against the wall, team captain Dylan Boyum led DMG on a vicious assault of the preliminary round to shock the paintball World and earn a spot in the wildcard playoffs with a 2-1 record. Due to their low season points total however, they would need a win in the first round to secure enough seed points to finish ahead of the ailing Latin Saints and save their franchise.
DMG would face off against a surging Seattle Uprising program that was consistently attacking teams through the center and their offense was rolling. Although their effort was valiant, DMG was unable to break through the Seattle line and eliminate bodies off the field and they lost the match 1-3, sealing their fate as the official relegated team in the pro division.
DMG had been a great NXL pro franchise over the course of three seasons, helping to build and develop star players like Dylan Boyum, Mike Urena, Joe Barrett, and many more. Their future as a team remains uncertain.
The Sunday Playoffs
In the first match set of the Sunday playoffs, X-Factor faced off against the MLKings and from the first point San Antonio was in control. LJ Parrish and Billy Bernacchia had a phenomenal event playing versatile offensive roles all over the field. The MLKings quickly went up 1-0 after a penalty on Tom Guest, but the steady offensive attack from Colt Roberts, Jesse Stephens, and Billy Berncchia was too much for MLKings to handle. While the MLKings have made huge strides in 2022, they still lack the veteran savvy that teams like X-Factor bring during big games. X-Factor moves on over the MLKings 6-2.
In the second match of the wildcard, SD Aftermath matched up against a surging Revo team coming off a 3-0 prelims record in what may be the final pro event for SDA star player Thomas Kim. Aftermath is a team that is all about defensive awareness, zone control, and reactive moves and with their breakshooting dialed in, Revo didn’t have an answer for SDA . They pulled away early in the match and never surrendered the lead. When Aftermath stays disciplined they are incredibly hard to beat, especially when Frank Antetemaso is generating offense down the dorito side. SDA was able to stay poised and beat Revo 4-1 in a match that was never close.
The third wildcard match saw Damage take on event cinderella New York Xtreme, whom after staving off elimination, was looking to make a deep run into Sunday for the first time this season. NYX looked shaky to start point one, but Damage gave back the advantage due to a missed body count and NYX went up 1-0. Both teams attempted to play more of a pocket-ball breakout in point two but NYX pushed the lead to 2-0, beating Damage at their own game. However, behind the brilliant coaching of Joey Blute, Damage quickly adapted their game plan to attack the center through Chad Busiere and rely on the big guns of Jason and Jacob Edwards to give them an advantage off the break. Damage put up 4 points to New York's single point over the next five to close out the match 4-3 and win, ending the cinderella run of NYX.
In maybe the most tense of the wildcard match sets, the battle for the title of the Northwest's best pro team with Uprising and Thunder was a thriller. Thunder is arguably the king of disciplined play in the pro division, and although they lack a bit of offensive presence and reactive play, they make up for it with their elite communication and lane control. Uprising came out in the first point and simply outlasted Thunder in a longer point to go up 1-0 behind Scott Knight getting penetration in the center of the field. Thunder responded by sending one of their best gunfighters, Adam Gomez, to counter Uprising in the center. Gomez was able to get Knight off the field early and tie the game 1-1. After two quick points, the score was tied at 2-2 with less than a minute of regulation time remaining. The game was pushed into overtime and Thunder opened the OT point by eliminating Graham Arnold and proceeded to lock out the field. They forced Uprising to move into their guns to close the game out and win 3-2.
Rewatch all of the 2022 NXL World Cup Prelim matchups again on GoSports.com
The Quarter-Finals round opened up with a technical battle match between Houston Heat and San Antonio X-Factor. In the longest point of the 2022 NXL season, neither team was willing to make a mistake and they burned off the entire 15 minutes of regulation time without scoring a point. The point was a technical battle of wills where every angle, bounce shot, and blind spot was utilized in an attempt to gain an advantage, but the game moved to overtime after the no-point and the tempo rapidly changed. X-Factor quickly got a two body advantage and looked in control with Billy Bernacchia deep in the snake. However, Heat star Ryan Moorhead counter-punched down the dorito side and eliminated two X-Factor players while Fedorov closed out the point to send X-Factor home. Heat wins 1-0.
On the other side of the Quarter-Finals split deck match, Dynasty took on local rival San Diego Aftermath in a nail biter between the league's best team and an SDA team that was making a valiant Sunday run. Although Aftermath's slow, grinding style was able to limit the Dynasty offense early, Head Coach Kevin Bredthauer rapidly responded to the defensive posture of SDA and altered the Dynasty attack to push the pressure down the dorito side and the center of the field through Ryan Greenspan. The game went back and forth and the score was tied 3-3 at the end of regulation. In the overtime point, an early minor penalty on Joe Barrett allowed Ryan Greenspan to move down the center of the field and run through SDA’s defense to close out the game, Dynasty wins 4-3.
Damage and Impact faced off in the quarter-finals as the only other teams this season to earn a pro event win other than Dynasty. Impact’s strategy ultimately was too rigid and Damage chipped away at the Impact zones through Chad Busiere and Jacob Edwards. Impact was unable to react to the Damage strategy and the score was never close as Damage won 4-1 to move on to the semi-finals.
In the final match of the Quarter-Finals, European Champion Toulouse Tontons took on Seattle Thunder in a match that proved Euro pro teams can fiercely compete in the US. The TonTons started the match with an aggressive gameplan, taking the dorito side off the break and trapping Thunder in the pocket. Then the Tontons did something truly unexpected, they halted the offensive attack and beat Thunder at their own game with a simple strategy; trap them in the pocket, fiercely defend their zones, and chip away at them one body at a time. Thunder couldn’t find a way to respond, as the Tontons refused to cede the center of the field to Thunder. The Euro champs never let the game get close and sent Thunder packing 3-1.
Dynasty has had Houston Heat's number all season long, and in a match that on paper looked to be a slugfest, it turned into a Dynasty rout of Houston Heat who couldn’t find an answer to Oliver Lang in the center of the field. Almost as if he never retired, Oliver Lang relentlessly ran through the center of the field taking multiple Heat players with him each time. Not to miss out on the OG Dynasty fun, Alex Fraige responded to Lang with huge moves of his own to help close out Houston Heat 8 to 2. It's incredibly rare that games are so one-sided this deep into Sunday, but this Dynasty roster had a mission to seal their legacy as the greatest roster in paintball history and they didn’t give Heat a moment of reprieve.
The other Semi-Finals match that would determine who would face Dynasty in the finals placed the TonTons against Tampa Bay Damage. Tampa Bay proved to be the staunchest test of the season for the Tontons, and Damage showed how hard it truly is to win at the top of the US NXL Pro division. When the Tontons strategy failed them for the first time all weekend, they resorted to all out offense and Damage chewed them up point after point to win the match 3 to 1 and move on to face Dynasty in the finals.
Rewatch the 2022 NXL World Cup Semi-Finals again on GoSports.com
The Finals at Champions Cup
Photos by Michael Candelaria, NXL Media
It is incredibly rare to win three events in a row at the World Cup, in fact it has never been done in the history of the sport. Houston Heat, Edmonton Impact, and the Los Angeles Ironmen have all come close over the last two decades of professional Xball, but no one has ever managed more than a back to back title. Dynasty knew walking into this match that they could make history as the first team to ever three-peat both the World Cup and the season title race all in one game.
Photos by Michael Candelaria, NXL Media
Tampa Bay Damage was on the other end of the field with no intentions of letting Dynasty steal away a chance to win the World Cup in front of their home crowd. They already had won one event this year, and Jacob Edwards was playing like an MVP for Damage the entire event as a bruiser down the dorito side of the field.
When the first buzzer sounded, no one could predict that Dynasty would have utterly dismantled Damage. After the first two points and a violent collision between Chad Busiere and Oliver Lang at the center 50, the score was tied at 1-1 and looking as if we were about to see a back and forth slugfest; Dynasty had no plans of allowing that to happen. They scored the next six straight points behind Oliver Lang cutting through the center of the field and Dalton Vanderbyl pushing the dorito side.
One of the most intriguing moments of this finals match was Kevin Bredthauer’s coaching from the pits. While many teams would look at a 5-1 score and begin to let off the gas, the Dynasty head coach was in the pits commanding the huddle and drawing up plays to provide relentless pressure on Damage. It just goes to show the incredible level of intensity it takes to win at the highest level in paintball.
In front of thousands of fans, Dynasty completed the World Cup three-peat, an act that has never been done in the history of the NXL and officially cemented their status as the greatest roster to ever be assembled. Oliver Lang is crowned the finals MVP capping off the greatest return to the sport we have ever seen.
Photos by Michael Candelaria, NXL Media
A View from the Divisional Fields
Semi-Pro title race was a battle until the end
Semi-Pro brought maybe the biggest surprise of the 2022 NXL season. Throughout the year, Blast Camp led the way in the division, earning three first place victories through the first five events and looked to be a lock to take home the season title and promotion to Pro with it. However, after a rough preliminary round in which they went just 2-2 they missed the initial cut for Sunday playoffs, the door opened for Austin Notorious or PBFit to steal away the season title if they were able to win the World Cup. Not to disappoint, both PBFit and Notorious dominated throughout Sunday and were the last two teams standing. Playing in the final match of the semi-pro season, the stakes couldn't have been higher for either of the Texas powerhouse teams. The winner of the match would earn enough seeding points to win the season title and be promoted to pro.
When the match started, it was all Austin Notorious as they quickly took a 3-0 lead over PBFit through a dominant and rapid presence into the center of the field, often moving into PBFits side of the field early. With just over four minutes left in the match, Notorious continued to press their offense and Marky Frans scored multiple eliminations to move the lead to 4-0, just a point away from a mercy rule win. Fit kept their poise and was able to come back to score two points, but with just one minute left on the clock, they didn’t have the time they needed to complete the comeback, and Notorious won the match 5-3 behind an MVP performance from Marky Frans. The victory earned Notorious a pro spot for the 2023 season by just a single point over PBFit in the season standings.
A Two-Team race is decided between Division 2 rivals
In Division 2, the battle for the season title came down to the KC Missouri AllStars and New Jersey Leverage as the only two teams that could win it. Leverage carried the lead heading into the Cup, but after a shocking first round Sunday exit, it was KC’s title to steal away from their season rival.
All KC needed to do was simply win their opening round match, and they would have the points needed to take the season crown. A quick mercy rule win over DST led by Todd Boyer secured the title, and KC moved on with the goal of winning the World Cup with it. Matched up against the West Coast powerhouse team, the Vegas Golden Misfits, KC had no answer for the Marcello Margott coached Misfits program. The Misfits were simply winning head to head gunfights and shooting KC out of their bunkers all match long and never had to make any big offensive moves. The defensive posture and communication of Vegas was too poised and KC lost the finals in a mercy rule 5-0 score.
Photo by Chris Shenton, NXL Media
A Perfect Season ended behind a miraculous Division 3 run
Photo by Chris Shenton, NXL Media
Working on completing the only perfect season in NXL history, Wrecking Crew entered the D3 World Cup with a commanding season points lead behind their three straight major event wins and undefeated match record on the year. All they had to do was make it past the first round of Sunday and the season title would be theirs.
Inversely, Wisconsin Infamous entered the World Cup after a shaky year in which they posted 18th, 8th, and 4th place finishes in their prior events. However the double points offered at World Cup for season points totals opened up a pathway for Infamous to miraculously win the season crown if they could win the entire event. They did just that and marched all the way to finals to face off against Malicious Intent and held off to win 3-2 and win the series title.
It is worth noting that in Division 3, New York Wrecking Crew had one of the best seasons in the history of NXL divisional play. Throughout the course of the season they posted a 25-2 match record and 103-30 points record throughout the entire year. They did not lose a single match all year long until the World Cup and should be remembered as one of the single greatest divisional rosters to ever play in the NXL alongside teams like the 2019 PBFit D3 Roster and the 2018 SDA Semi Pro roster.
Division 4 brings highest team count to any NXL event in history
Boasting the largest single division team count in NXL history at an event, the Division 4 X-Ball field was a fight between 95 teams all hoping to take home the Cup trophy. To win the event, a team would need to fight through 9 matches total, 6 rounds being playoff matchups to claim the crown.
The Farm D4 entered in a team for the first time all season in D4 and they made quick work of the division, dropping only a single match the entire weekend. They marched through the prelims and Sunday playoffs to cap off a dominant win over TPP to win the event. The season title was won by CSP Factory who was one of the most consistent teams of the D4 season.
WNXL Caps off Inaugural Season
After a long break in the WNXL after the Mid-Atlantic Major, the season resumed at the World Cup for the final event of the inaugural women’s professional paintball season. Two more professional teams joined the field for the event as the WNXL continues to grow; Suricatos from Columbia and the Shieldmaidens from Barcelona, Spain. The debut of the WNXL has been close in the season points race with Dallas Vibes, the Heroines, and Destiny all within one point of the season title and a World Cup victory would earn the title of the best Pro Women's team in the world.
Destiny had been the most consistent team in the division, making the finals every event this year but falling short of winning an event. Although they dropped their opening game to the Femme Fatales, Destiny finished the prelims atop of their bracket at 3-1 with wins over the Shieldmaidens, Diamonds, and Dallas Vibe.
The Heroines, led by star offensive players Jenn Fulk and Rozy McCurley, have been the most complete looking team throughout the season and behind their all star roster they also posted a 3-1 prelims record to finish first in their bracket heading into Sunday.
In the Semi-Finals, Destiny got a revenge victory over the Femme Fatales in a 5-3 win, and the Heroines did the same, beating the Dallas Vibe team who had been their only blemish in the prelims. This meant that Destiny would face off against Heroines to not only fight for the World Cup, but also earn the title of best female pro team in the world in the WNXLs first season.
(Head over to Facebook.com/nxlpaintball - videos to rewatch WNXL matches)
The finals started with a slower point, but the Heroines pushed Jenn Fulk through the doritos and Alicia Valdivia down the snake. Destiny fought back with quick trade-outs to make it a 1v1, but Alexis Lazer was able to pick off Kary Blanco to put Heroines up 1-0.
In the second point, Rozy McCurley was able to sneak up the snake side of the field which opened up the move for Jenn Fulk to pressure down the dorito side. Destiny was able to slow down the attack and eliminate McCurley and Fulk off the field to take back control of the point. It then slowed down into a grinding point in which Destiny again took the point down to a 1v1. Alexis Lazer again showed why she is one of the most poised players in the WNXL and won against Hailey Leyva to put up Heroines 2-0.
Destiny came out swinging in the third point with their event on the line and they quickly punched down the field behind Kary Blanco in the doritos to pull the game back to 2-1 with 3 minutes left to tie the game. However, a minor penalty off the break for Destiny killed the comeback attempt and Heroines held off to win the match 2-1 and take home the first ever WNXL Season Championship and WNXL World Cup Championship. Missed it? Rewatch the match on GoSports.com.
The Vendors Plaza
Fans and players alike were buzzing in the weeks leading up to the World Cup, as many companies built their product releases around the event. With companies like Planet Eclipse, Dye, GI Sportz, and HK Army announcing the launch of new products, the vendor area was the place to be during the World Cup for gear-heads looking to get the newest products on the market.
The most excitement in the Vendors area was certainly around the pop-up shop style booth done by Hormesis Paintball. With almost no marketing leading up to the event, it came as a surprise for fans and players and was absolutely packed all weekend. With an eastern aesthetic, music, drinks, exclusive clothing drops, and an entire show built around the games biggest personalities like Oliver Lang, Ryan Greenspan, Chris Lasoya, and Alex Fraige, the booth was a can’t miss stop at the event.
Planet Eclipse, who often does not set up a sales booth at the event, had a full array of their brand new CS3 and LV2 markers available in limited edition and one-off custom anodizing. At their booth, they featured a face-off between the industry best custom anodizers in a contest to make the best looking LV2 as voted for by fans. The winner of the “Anodizer of the Year” was claimed by Armoured Anodizing with their multi-splash fade LV2. Their release of the CS3 was well received by players as well and many pros were spotted using the new marker during the event.
The Dye DLS came as a bit of a surprise release at the World Cup. On the first day of the event Dye unveiled the release of their newest marker donning an ultra-efficient bolt kit known as the Paragon Core. Their booth had limited numbers of the markers for sale and were an instant sell-out as teams like Ironmen, LVL, and Red Legion all used the new markers on the pro field.
MacDev brought back their legendary GT core engine in their newest market release, the GT2. The marker features all the modern Macdev designs and modular capabilities, with the smoothest engine to ever be built by Macdev.
It was a stellar year for gear-heads with over a dozen brand new products hitting the market at World Cup, and it shows that innovation is thriving in the paintball industry behind market leaders like Planet Eclipse, Dye, DLX Technologies, HK Army, and GI Sportz.