It’s quiet. As I sit here on yet another red eye flight across the country, I ponder on dedication; a virtue that is all too familiar with professional paintball team San Diego Dynasty. Their commitment to excellence over the last twenty years of paintball has been nothing short of astonishing. I wonder how many red eye flights this team has seen in their more than 70 event wins and dozen plus series titles? Likely too many to count, but within that dedication lies the true drive of this organization. It isn’t the feeling of victory after a long and grueling event, nor the elation of lifting up the first place trophy and check, but the dedication to one another as both friends and brothers united through the sport of paintball. Their shared drive to achieve paintball greatness through each-other has taken them on a journey through one of the most historic and dominating runs in all of professional sport’s history.
Hidden away from the bright lights of the professional football field, or halls of hardwood on the NBA courts lies a different kind of field, a paintball field, which has been largely dominated by a single organization for twenty years. Sure, there have been other great professional teams throughout the history of this sport, but none more committed to the drive for excellence than Dynasty. The NXL Windy City Major saw Dynasty add another win to the long scroll of event victories and championship titles as a paintball organization. The core roster of Alex Fraige, Ryan Greenspan, and Yosh Rau have been here since the start and are, arguably, one of the greatest sports teams of all time.
Dynasty started their event like so many others, with each other, having fun and joking around the same way now as they did when they were merely teenagers with a dream. That isn’t to say they didn’t prepare, as Dynasty has one of the most interesting dynamics in the entirety of team sports in their preparation. While most teams tend to have a hierarchy or structure in which a coach delegates his strategy, Dynasty is a democracy. All players and the coaches give their input in the direction and strategy of the team, and in that dynamic lies their success. They are known for their elite ability to control opposing teams from the first horn and their preparation before the event is critical when the pressure is high and a finals victory is in the balance. Ryan, Marcello, Alex, and Yosh seem to be the most vocal when it comes to strategy and its implementation on the field, but its coach Kevin Bredthauer who has the job of dictating lineups, play calls, and reactively coaching against the opposing team. It's a well-oiled machine in which each player is a key component in its operation.
While at the event with Dynasty, one factor of their success that is noticeable was their bond as teammates; almost like brothers. They never leave each other's side throughout the day and are constantly talking, joking around, and strategizing when at the field and the hotel. It's a bit unique, as I often walk around the pro pits and see few other professional teams fraternizing in the way that Dynasty does.
They started the event against the Los Angeles Ironmen. Veteran front player, Alex Fraige plays a critical role from the start and collects over a dozen eliminations while on the field for Dynasty. Not since the departure of Angel Fragoza have we seen Alex in the snake as the first attacker with such regularity. He is running with purpose, making the crucial snake bunker off the break and asserting his will. Alex has an interesting dichotomy in his personality. I don’t think I have ever quite seen a player who is able to instantly turn his competitive switch on and off in the way Alex does. On the field, he is fraught with an incredible level of fiery passion, yelling out each of his eliminations as he speeds down the field. But, the second he steps off the field, he goes right back to his calm, relaxed, and comical self, making jokes and sharing stories. Alex found another gear for this event, and in my opinion, played maybe the most effective tournament of his career since Huntington Beach 2005 at the NPPL. Win number one, 7-4.
The second game against the scrappy and tenacious squad of ac Diesel may have had a different narrative, but much of the same result; more Dynasty dominance. Blake Yarber and Mike Urena are the enforcers of this team without question. They bully their way down the field; Mike in the snake and Blake in the center, and punish opponents mercilessly. When the guard of Dynasty is pierced, Blake is always quick to take off down the field and sway the momentum back in Dynasty’s direction. A fun moment occurs mid-match; Alex Fraige runs full speed while pointing at an opponent yelling “Hey I shot that guy” as he aggressively dives into the snake. Another 7-4 win, one step closer to the goal of winning the event.
Primarily, attackers of the professional paintball league tend to get all the credit. They are the ones making huge moves, racking up eliminations, and getting all the glory akin to a running back or wide receiver on the football field. But, without guys like Marcello Margott, Yosh Rau, and Ryan Greenspan, a team like Dynasty would never be able to achieve all that they do. From the back line of the field, they wage a nuanced war of strategic laning and rigorous communication that often doesn’t fill the stat sheets, but provides critical support that is absolutely needed to win a pro event. These support players affect the game on multiple levels; from their break shooting to assert their will on the opponent, to ensuring their players are in the right position, they are the consistent driver that leads Dynasty to greatness.
The first match of Saturday starts, and the MLKings come out firing against Dynasty, quickly earning a 2-1 lead and looking in control. More often than not, when things began to turn against Dynasty on the field, they look towards Ryan Greenspan and Marcello Margott to put up their iconic Blue Wall along the back line and combine for one of the most elite defensive guards in professional paintball. This proved especially potent during point four against the MLKings. Risking a multiple point deficit, one of the hardest things to overcome in paintball, Marcello sprung into action. Immediately off the break he was applying pressure from the back line on the way to two eliminations. Then, in a brilliant move akin to fine art in motion, he won a 1v1 against Kyle Barry to close out the point and tie the game. It was this moment that turned the tides and Dynasty went on to win the match 6-2, never allowing MLKings to score another point.
As the sun begins to set on Saturday, and the impending darkness starts to creep in over the iconic Gaelic Park in Chicago, Dynasty is facing off against one of their long-time rivals. This time it is the Red Legion, affectionately known as, simply, “The Russians”. The Red Legion’s ruthless and unrelenting style of play often overwhelms their opponents. Their coaching is among the game’s elite and their ability to scout and dismantle teams has earned them a feared reputation in the NXL. Their style has led to nearly two dozen event wins for their program. But, none of that matters to Dynasty; they treat the Red Legion like any other opponent and never give them a chance to win the match. Ryan Greenspan is especially impactful in this game, while Dalton Vanderbyl seems to be counter-punching down the dorito side at will. Not even one of the historically greatest teams in professional paintball has found a way to slow down “The Dragon”, San Diego Dynasty. It's a 7-3 win for Dynasty and a perfect 4-0 record in the preliminary round.
Saturday night comes, and while many teams are preparing for the finals, or playoff day, at the Windy City Major, Dynasty treats this time a little differently.They get back to the hotel late and use a bit of extra time as the night wanes on to bond and enjoy each-others company. They have been here, at this moment, finals eve, nearly one hundred times before; they know what they need to do. They grab some food and enjoy the company of each-other, smiling and laughing, as they all strategize their own war on tomorrow's game-plan in their heads.
As the morning starts on yet another NXL finals day, the field is bustling with players. They all share the same excited, yet nervous feeling as they mentally prepare for a grinding day of play with hopeful anticipation of a 1st place trophy. Dynasty is quite intriguing in this regard; one would think after more than 70 pro wins that the feeling of victory has become normalized for them; the reality is quite the opposite. They are still as excited at the prospect of winning an event today as they were 20 years ago, sharing war stories from the weekend with each other as the dew blanketed over the paint covered grass begins to burn away in the morning sun.
Their path to the finals begins with NRG Elite. The young and rapidly improving program is coming off the best preliminary round showing in their short history as a pro organization. For Dynasty, this team reveals flashes of their own start in the early 2000’s, just a bunch of friends trying to take over the paintball world. However, its NRG's first Sunday ever, and the inexperience of the NRG team is evident. Dynasty dismantles the red hot team on their way to another 7-3 win.
The team takes time to gather together after their quarter-finals win and begins to watch the remaining teams in the playoff mix to see who their next opponent will be in the semi-finals. But, while Eric Crandell, Victor Gamboa, and Kevin Bredthauer watch with a refined and stern focus, the players on the Dynasty roster are with each other, joking around, and sharing stories from the previous match. Watching the Dynasty modus operandi is interesting; they hang on every word of their fellow teammates as if they weren’t even on the field while the story unfolded and have expressions of shock and excitement when the “big move” is broken down. Their appreciation for one another and bond through this game is admirable, and is a shining example for which every team in this game should strive for.
Los Angeles Infamous walks out onto the semi-finals field. After dispatching the previous five opponents easily, they have no plans of seeing their finals run end here. The "Skeleton Squad" has been an intense rival to Dynasty for the majority of their organization's history. Thomas Taylor knows this rivalry especially well, as he spent the majority of his career battling Dynasty for supremacy of the pro paintball world with both the team he started, XSV, and his current team Infamous. For the first time this event, Dynasty looks breakable. The ferocious and razor sharp attack waged by Infamous is met, blow for blow, and the Dynasty backline refuses to break guard. Marcello Margott was especially critical for Dynasty, consistently shutting off the field and stemming the bleeding caused by the relentless onslaught of Los Angeles Infamous. Ryan Greenspan continues to be arguably the best utility player in this league, and he fills the voids left in Dynasty's guard seamlessly all match. It may be the best game of the weekend, and moves Dynasty into yet another finals match. The semi-finals score, 5-3.
While the divisional teams of the NXL are battling for their own respective podium finishes, Dynasty is off game-planning for San Antonio XFactor, one of the best teams in the pro division. They are quick to respect the elite coaching of Ryan Brand and his ability to rapidly diagnose and respond to opponent’s game-plans. But, even the best game planning in the world may not be able to slow down this team. They know each other. They know every move, every response, and every intention of one another, formed through decades of friendship and battle on the paintball field. The match starts and Dynasty is in control immediately. It is evident the game plan is built around isolation of XFactor’s best players, Billy Bernacchia and Archie Montemayor. By focusing on removing the support around these players, they force Billy and Archie into uncomfortable situations. They both respond admirably, but the Dynasty pressure is just too much to handle. XFactor wasn’t willing to go down easily and puts up a strong resistance, but ultimately Dynasty wins the match 7-4.
As Dynasty takes a victory lap around the now battered and paint slick field at Gaelic Park, they find themselves being drawn together. They embrace as a team, and from that mass of victory, Alex Fraige is hoisted upon his teammates shoulders; Alex smiles in jubilation the same way he did all those years ago on Lofty, with these same teammates beside him. Alex was brilliant all weekend for San Diego Dynasty and secured the MVP for the event. By my count, he racked up nearly 60 eliminations throughout the weekend and had one of the best events for an individual player in recent memory. But, all that doesn’t matter to the incredibly humble Alex Fraige. He has fought and struggled, seen triumph and tragedy, all with his brothers on the field. He sheds tears of happiness as his lips mouth the words "This one's for Dreamy."