For the past two years, competitive paintball in Europe has faced a lot of adversity and uncertainty; like many sports leagues across the globe, paintball was not immune to COVID. However, for the first time since 2019, NXL Europe is hosting multiple events in a season, and that season had its opening event just two weeks ago. Flanked by towering pine trees on a secluded property just south of Solms Germany, the NXL German Invitational welcomed a return to some normalcy for European professional paintball.
The event, although admittedly smaller than the legacy Millenium events in the past, still shows that the competitive fire of paintball is still burning bright across Europe. Professional teams from all over the continent made the trip, and the premiere teams of Europe were in attendance; Joy Division, Breakout Spa, the Tontons, and Ronholt Blast among many others. American pros have even begun to make the long journey back across the Atlantic Ocean to compete in the series, albeit in more limited numbers since the unilateral decision to limit how many US Pros could appear on a European roster.
The Grounds At Solms.
The field is pristine, draped in netting on all sides and the top, creating a sort of arena in the quiet German woods. A perfectly flat turf playing surface sits at the center stage, surrounded by the player pits and grandstands all under the watchful eyes of players across the World on the live steam. A classic ladder snake blends in with a defensive fortress in the center of the field, and the Dorito side plays in a progressive way, but not without some risk of making it down that side of the field.
On the event and the atmosphere around the field, the event MVP Marcello Margott commented; "Solms is a great field and is heavily ingrained in the community. It has an organic stadium setting that wraps around the premiere field for spectators. The spectator turnout was actually quite a surprise. The town the field is in is gorgeous as well; we had dinner at a different location on the water every night and it was amazing."
StandOut Teams from Event One.
Axel Gaudin is playing in his 14th season and he is no stranger to professional paintball in Europe. Arguably one of the best players to ever come from abroad, Axel is one of the leagues premiere offensive players, a title he also claims in the US NXL circuit as well. From his captain's seat of the legendary French franchise, the Toulouse TonTons, he aggressively attacks down the field all weekend long as his team posts a perfect 4-0 record in the prelims.
The only Italian based professional team in the NXL Europe field, Gladiatori Unicusano is also one of the pro divisions newest franchises. After a promising 7th place last year at the European Championships during the only pro event of the season, they continued the momentum into the season opener. Their versatile and balanced roster is led by US Pro and one of the NXLs up and coming stars, Kyle Barry. After going 3-1 in the prelims, they lost an incredibly close semi-finals match to PPArena Pilsen to place 4th overall in the event.
Joy Division, one of the most widely known international teams in the sport, found their way into Sunday and a top five placing behind a roster mixed with new and promising talent, as well as some of their franchises best players, such as EU vet Karl Samuelsson. Samuelsson has been with the program for more than 15 years and has seen every high and low point of the storied teams existence. Now, leading a new pack of hungry and aggressive players, they are looking to turn a solid third place showing in event one into a season championship.
The Factory Team of one of the best paintball facilities in all of Europe, PPArena Pilsen, is coming off a 2019 year in which they performed quite poorly, placing in the bottom of the Pro division every event of that year. However, they seemed to have used the two season break during COVID shutdowns to continue training and after going 3-1 in the prelims, they went on a deep run through Sunday all the way to the finals.
A Finals Match with an Epic Comeback.
The finals matchup between PPArena Pilsen and the Camp Pendleton Raiders gave NXL EU fans an incredible finale to the season opener event. The CP Raiders, a California based professional team led by one of the best paintball players in the World, Marcello Margott, is flanked by a deep roster of talented amateur Southern California players. After a 3-1 prelims in which the TonTons grinded them down in a slow 1-2 loss, the Raiders went into Sunday with one objective, win. They played a patient and methodical style of paintball in which they got revenge on the Tontons in the opening round of playoffs and went all the way into the finals after a semi-finals victory over a surging Joy Division team.
The finals match started in a way that surprised nearly every player and fan watching, PPArena Pilsen was able to pull out to an early 3-0 lead over the CP Raiders. They were able to consistently shoot bodies off the break and rapidly progress down the field against a Raiders team that had no answers. As the points went on you could truly see the importance of the veteran leadership provided by Bobby Aviles and Marcello Margott. Most teams at this point would have simply folded under the vast pressure of a 0-3 deficit, but the Raiders came out the next two points and won both in less than three minutes of game time. Archie Barnes was a critical offensive piece throughout this comeback and provided a needed spark off the break.
Behind the heroics of Margott, and Stephen Mazurek in which they eliminated four Pilsen players, the Raiders tied the game at 3-3 with just 2:39 left. Pilsen then blew the horn in the eighth point and conceded the point after a bad breakout and there was just too little time left to mount a comeback. The first place trophy was stolen away by the CP Raiders after one of the best comebacks in recent memory, with Margott as the event MVP.
A continued Path Towards Normalcy.
In what was the season opener to a three event year planned for NXL Europe, we can only hope that EU paintball continues to see growth in participation behind the organized and steady guidance of the NXL. However, amateur players began to reach out to us after our coverage of event one and were outspoken about the professional division being the only offering at the German Open, as well as the upcoming British Invitational. This should be taken as a positive sign that the demand for a strong amateur league is present in Europe.
For true growth to continue in Europe as the league returns to full operation, rebuilding the amateur division will be a key element in growth across the EU. Although, the NXL does seem fully committed to bringing the NXL in Europe back to full strength after the incredibly long two year COVID break. They have clearly shown a strong ability to host some of the largest and most successful events in the World, and NXL Europe will continue to be the premiere paintball league in the EU. At this time, it appears the NXL Europe has the roadmap laid out to offer an expanded amateur division at the European Championships in September, with seven different amateur divisions open for registration.