It's still too early to claim the top team in professional paintball for 2022, but Impact and Dynasty have made the conversation centered around them.
Chaotic results in Chicago shouldn't trigger overreaction from fanbases with title hopes still high for multiple pro franchises.
The Chicago event was nuts; here are some quick takes to ponder on after a wild finish in the Windy City.
Dynasty was quite literally one jammed loader away from another finals trip; I believe they could have beat Impact in the finals and claimed their fourth straight major event win. They will have to settle for the current points lead in the season title race and their eyes are now firmly pressed on the Champions Cup crown at World Cup.
Houston Heat had a super tough elimination from this event. Paintball is often a game of singular moments, and one moment defined an otherwise fantastic event for Heat. Had one call went Heat's way during the semi-finals, they may have been the last team standing instead of Edmonton.
Luckily, the Ironmen should be able to stave off relegation this year as fans across the country let out a sigh of relief. Lets hope they come into World Cup with a chip on their shoulder and another cinderella finals run like the Golden State Open.
The Saints may very well be the first professional team in paintball history to be relegated from the pro division in the same season they had a finals appearance.
Impact looks perfect; this is a team built to win World Championships and fans should be praying for an Impact v. Dynasty finals at World Cup in less than two months from today.
1) Edmonton Impact (Previous Rank: 1) Player of the event: Matt Jackson
Impact is back! After winning the Lone Star Open, Impact repeated their performance after fighting through some adversity against Houston Heat in the semi finals to move on to place the Red Legion for the Windy City Major crown. Impact continues to show the major level of depth they have offensively with major contributions coming from Alex Goldman, Axel Gaudin, and Mike Zuppa all weekend. Mouse was moved to the dorito side and looked like the best dorito player of the event. The anchor spot isn’t always credited, but Matt Jackson played a brilliant event from the back line, showing off his versatility when he was required to fill out to the snake side and into the snake. Dave Bains made perhaps the most brilliant but riskiest call of the season during the quarter finals vs. Houston Heat down 1-2 with 7 minutes left. Bains allowed a large portion of the clock to run off while trusting Goldman to close out the point and send the game to overtime where they beat Heat and moved on to finals.
2) San Diego Dynasty (Previous Rank : 2) Player of the event: Ryan Greenspan
While still on the top of the NXL season title rankings by more than 40 points, Dynasty had a less than desirable exit from the semi-finals against Red Legion after Ryan Greenspan had a hopper malfunction during what looked like the game winning move that would propel them to finals. However, Greenspan was the player of the event for Dynasty; he was tasked as the spear of the center attack for Dynasty on top of his normal role as the central anchor for the team. Mike Urena saw more playing time and looked effective on the dorito side of the field and was a strong source of offense. Dynasty still is the favorite to win the Champions Cup, and still is the most dangerous team in the league.
3) Houston Heat (Previous Rank : 3) Player of the event: Tyler Harmon
Heat continues to be the most consistent team in the NXL pro division this season, placing 6th or better in every event this season, albeit without an event win. The ending to the Windy City Major had to be disappointing for Heat. With less than 30 seconds left in a 3-2 and a trip to the finals on the line, Heat wasn’t able to hold off Impact and then lost the match in overtime. Tyler Harmon was by far the best player for Heat during the event; his level of gunfighting skill and survivability continues to be unmatched across the league and fans were thrilled to see him playing up the center a bit more during the event as well. Something tells me we may see yet another World Cup surge from Heat and a magical end to the season for Heat, with a chance to steal the season title and the Champions Cup crown.
4) San Antonio XFactor (Previous Rank : 11) Player of the event: Colt Roberts
XFactor has been continually able to improve as the years goes on; they came very close to making a deeper run on Sunday but gave away a lead in the quarterfinals to Impact after going up 2-0 early in the match. They really appear to be carving out their identity as the year goes on, and having a fully healthy Raney Stanczak anchoring this aggressive offense has been key. Colt Roberts continues to be an offensive machine for XFactor and had arguably the move of the event during a prelims four-pack.
5) Red Legion (Previous Rank : --) Player of the event: Sergei Solnishkov
Legion had a dominant event at Chicago, and arguably the best player of the tournament was Sergei Solnishkov. He was able to move down the center of the field at will throughout the event, and consistently closed out games for Red Legion. Their offense still seems to be a little hot and cold but if they can get Smotrov and Malloy more involved, this could be a dangerous program heading into the season finale in Florida at the World Cup.
6) Columbus LVL (Previous Rank : 7) Player of the event: Dany Schonauer
LVL posted their second straight top eight finish in a row as they continue to search for season long consistency from event to event. We are finally starting to see more refined development from their mid/2 players and that is bringing an entire new element to the LVL style of play compared to last years ultra-aggressive style. They made the interesting choice of playing pocket vs. Dynasty early on Sunday which ultimately led to their elimination, but overall they had another strong event; now they need to make a deep Sunday run to solidify it all at Cup.
7) Tampa Bay Damage (Previous Rank : 4) Player of the event: Keith Brown
Although Damage did have one of the tougher brackets of the weekend in Chicago, they underwhelmed a bit with losses to both LVL and Xtreme, whom a team of Damage's caliber should be beating. In 2022 so far, they have been relatively strong in the standings, but with only a match win against the Saints to show for their weekend in Chicago, they drop a few spots in the ranks. Damage should be able to find their stride at the World Cup and still have a small chance at the season title, although it's a long shot. Keith Brown continues to be one of the bright spots of the year for Damage and had a relatively solid event in Chicago.
8) New Orleans Hurricanes (Previous Rank : 8) Player of the event: Stuart Ridgel
The Hurricanes are having a heck of a season in their rookie year as a pro franchise in the NXL. They just continue to impress and much of that is because of the brilliant coaching of Mike Bianca, and the teams high level of poise. Typically with younger teams, we see the strategy of pure aggression, but New Orleans plays a more mature style and is constantly adjusting and adapting. Stuart Ridgel was a machine for the Hurricanes in the center of the field and was a massive part of their 4-0 record in the prelims. This team may surprise at the Champions Cup.
9) Los Angeles Infamous (Previous Rank : 6) Player of the event: Thomas Taylor
Infamous is having an odd season, their roster arguably got better in the offseason after they narrowly lost the season title to San Diego Dynasty in 2021. However, they have struggled to find top level finishes in 2022, finishing 10th or worse in half of the events they have played this year. They certainly played much better than the 10th place finish at the Windy City Major shows, and they had nearly pushed the Red Legion to the brink of elimination in the opening round of Sunday. Thomas Taylor looked versatile and dangerous in this event, helping to fill the void of Harrison Frye being inactive due to injury and he was all over the field producing for Infamous. Jonah Jamroz continues to quietly get better and better every event in the snake, and looks like a player that may soon be entering the conversation as one of the best young snake players in the league.
10) Baltimore Revo (Previous Rank : 12) Player of the event: Rob Velez
Revo played pretty well in Chicago, but saw their weekend slip away during one of the longest points of the event against Diesel in the prelims. Diesel was able to burn off a ton of clock with the lead against Revo and it effectively sealed their fate at 2-2 in the prelim round. Rob Velez played well as the anchor on the snake side of the field for Baltimore; his versatility was on display, playing at all depths of the snake side for Revo and generally filling any need they had. You’d like to see a strong top-4 finish at the World Cup for Revo to improve their season standing and go into the offseason on a positive note after an inconsistent year on a rebuilt roster.
11) Seattle Thunder (Previous Rank : 15) Player of the event: Paddy Gleason
Thunder struggled during this event after they went on a tear earlier this season to find themselves ranked fifth in series points prior to Chicago. After Chicago, they watched their chance at a top four finish on the season slip away, however they can still assert the progress this team has rapidly made in 2022. The coaching efforts from Pat Sanelli and Scott Schechter to bring together this new roster have been admirable, and I believe Thunder still has some gas left in the tank for a top finish at World Cup to cap off a great season of growth.
12) MLKings (Previous Rank : 9) Player of the event: Luis Betancourt
In terms of a season-long effort, the MLKings should be happy about their progress in the 2022 season; they have been able to consistently finish around the middle of the pack or better at every event this year. They have made headway in becoming a more precise and poised program throughout the year and have seen talented young players like Betancourt, Kelley, and Donaldson emerge. They secured a strong win over ac Diesel in the prelims, and otherwise played well in a tough bracket.
13) ac Diesel (Previous Rank : 14) Player of the event: Nate Roberts
Diesel started out the event with two strong wins over the Ironmen and Dynasty and looked dangerous and full of depth after the first day of action. At the end of prelims they stood at 3-1 and were one of the better teams of the weekend. However, their preference towards a slower play style may have been their undoing; on a field that teams were able to score rapidly on, their grinding style hurt them during the Red Legion match on Sunday. The Red Legion simply bided their time against Diesel and used their superior experience to dig them out one by one. Nate Roberts looked great for Diesel and was a strong source of offense. It's time for this program to elevate at the World Cup and secure a top level finish and prove they can graduate from their inconsistency issues over the last two seasons.
14) San Diego Aftermath (Previous Rank : 5) Player of the event: Ethan Castro
After a great start to the season, Aftermath now seems to be moving into rebuild mode once again. After losing Mike Mesa right before the event, rumors are now swirling about multiple veteran players departing the team at the end of the season, and their top player, Thomas Kim, confirmed he will retire at the end of 2022. It almost feels like this program is in purgatory at this point, forever destined to finish in the middle of the rankings each season. Ethan Castro was absolutely a bright spot for this team in Chicago, and looks like he may be the next young, elite talent being built up by Mike Hinman.
15) NRG Elite (Previous Rank : 10) Player of the event: Caleb Abuhl
NRG posted a 2-2 record in one of the toughest brackets of the preliminaries. The simple analysis is that this team needs a serious injection of some veteran leadership on the roster; inconsistency has plagued this team and they would seriously benefit from bringing in a few veteran players that have some event wins under their belt. Caleb Abuhl was strong for NRG during this event, and although they went 2-2, they did play great in a close lose to Aftermath.
16) Los Angeles Ironmen (Previous Rank : 17) Player of the event: Trent Nitta
After a Cinderella finals run at the Golden State Open a month ago, the Ironmen have regressed to the mean and posted another low placing finish at the Windy City Major. This year has felt like struggling to stay afloat while treading water for professional paintball's oldest franchise, but luckily their second place finish should be enough to avoid relegation. The Ironmen need to go into the World Cup with reckless abandon and play like they have nothing to lose. The rookie pro Trent Nitta, once again looked good for Los Angeles and his snapshot is quickly becoming one of the most vicious in the league.
17) New York Xtreme (Previous Rank : 13) Player of the event: Harris Hussain
It is good to see NYX improving as the year goes on; they are finally breaking the 2-2 curse that plagued them for more than a season. After going 3-1 in the prelims, they made Sunday, and although they had a 6-1 loss to Houston Heat in the opening round of playoffs, there is a lot to be happy about for NYX. They looked much more consistent in this event and keep placing higher and higher as the year goes on. A top eight finish at the World Cup would go a long way in solidifying this core roster and show they are ready to step up in 2023. Hussain is truly filling his role as the head of the team, and has been trading trash talk for leadership as the year has gone on.
18) Seattle Uprising (Previous Rank : 16) Player of the event: Scott Knight
Uprising has spent multiple seasons now as one of the league most inconsistent programs, a poor start to the season followed by two top ten finishes and a 16th in Chicago shows that. The roster is full of talent and they have seemed to once again fight off relegation for the year, but something is just missing with this franchise. Hopefully they can play a bit more consistently at the World Cup and finish the season strong, but it will require a lot of poise and patience, something they have lacked at times during big matches. I liked the command that Scott Knight had in the center of this event, and his calm zone control will be important for this team to finish the year.
19) Sacramento DMG (Previous Rank : 18) Player of the event: Dylan Boyum
DMG is the biggest risk of relegation right now in the NXL pro division, however they are still able to look relatively competent during matches. This team generally lacks offensive firepower and could use another veteran injection of talent similar to the addition of Zack Hill midway through the season. Dylan Boyum has to be the player of the event for his standoff with Justin Cornell during their match against Impact; that sort of toughness and relentless mentality should be used as motivation for the World Cup where this team still can fight off relegation.
20) Latin Saints (Previous Rank : 19) Player of the event: --
This team just does not have the talent needed to win in the pro division right now. They started the season with hopes of a season title, but after the entire roster imploded they are now left fighting off relegation at the World Cup. Initially their second place finish to start the year should have been enough to avoid relegation, but they now may become the first team in professional paintball history to be relegated after making a finals trip during the season in which they were relegated.