Ultiworld reporters hand out grades for this year's Club Championships.
October 14, 2015 by Preston Thompson and Charlie Eisenhood in Opinion with 27 comments
Club Nationals was held at Toyota Soccer Park in Frisco, Texas, for the third straight year, but, as with every year, there were nuances to the event. Many things come into play when putting on a quality tournament of this size at this level. Here is the National Championships report card for 2015.
Editor’s Note: Tiina Booth, our usual grader, did not attend Nationals this year.
Field Site: A
This is one of the things that hasn’t changed in the past year, and for good reason. The fields in Frisco were close to perfect. Few complexes can successfully accommodate 48 teams in three separate tournaments. The different playing spots can be accessed by a few different parking lots, and nice indoor bathrooms are never too far away. And after a grueling two days of games, the grass held up well.
The only mark off comes from having a turf field for the semis and finals. While some players may not mind turf, the vast majority of players would prefer a well cut grass field.
Volunteers were everywhere, and scoreboards were available at both the pool play and finals’ sites. USA Ultimate even offered a convenience golf cart driver for players and fans who were forced to park far away.
The letter grade goes down due to some wonkiness on Saturday morning. For all three divisions, the Pro Flight bracket games had been mixed up in field location with some matchups incorrectly set up for participating teams.
Level of Thrill: B
This tournament had one of the craziest rounds of ultimate in many years in the Men’s division quarters. Three out of the four games went to double game point, and the fourth was an upset that few saw coming. In the future, a simulcast of a round of ultimate like that could be the best viewing in sports.
And while its hard to give a B to a tournament that had such a riveting round, there were plenty of ways that this tournament was less March Madness and more October snoozefest.
For starters, all of the women’s semis were the one seeds, with every game in semis and finals being no contest (with the exception of the Mixed final). In Men’s, Revolver was only tested in one round of the tournament. And after that wake up call, they were untouchable.
An entire day (Thursday) lacked intensity and drama, largely due to the format of the tournament that sent every team to prequarters regardless of Thursday’s results.
The feeling of the finals day was easy to pinpoint: After all the madness, it’s the one seeds that take it. The tournament needed a little Ring of Fire in the semis, or just some sort of wrench into the system.
The level of thrill was unexpectedly raised when an FC Dallas MLS game took place during the Men’s final. Sitting at the top of the West division, Dallas often scores goals at home. But when they did, fireworks blasted off above the stadium, about 100 yards from the showcase stadium. Remarkably, no fireworks went off during the actual run of play. And with four goals scored, we can call that luck.
ESPN Streaming: C
Expect more from Ultiworld about the ESPN stream in the upcoming weeks. But in short, it was unsatisfying. ESPN’s third year of coverage at the National Championships did not deliver on the much needed improvements that ultimate fans have been asking for. Camera angles and operations were perhaps the worst they have been since the start of the partnership with the Worldwide Leader.
With a contract that runs through 2016, USAU has to start weighing the costs and benefits of their deal with the media powerhouse. The reach and branding of ESPN may not be worth the constant struggle of making sure the sport is presented right.
The quality of streaming has varied widely based on the company hired to produce the games. Surely this team will not be asked back.
Team Amenities: A
With each team getting to play at least seven games, it seems right to have this at an A.
Each team had their own tent at every field, coolers were readily available, and the trainers were quick to respond. While food wasn’t available for the first two days, a delicious semifinals meal was offered for players (including a much better vegetarian option thanks in part to Tiina Booth!). For Club Nationals, the professional aspect was there thanks to the hard work of the USAU volunteers.
The call that everyone will remember is the language technical against Jimmy Mickle. That particular rule policing has already left a big mark on the tournament.
But for most of the tournament, the observers were on point. In a heated Ring of Fire vs. Florida United matchup, Mitch Dengler (head of officiating for USAU) kept the game under control. The semifinals and finals were relatively tame, but most calls made by the observers were confirmed by the ESPN replay.
Again, the story here is clear: the role of the observer is, as always, slowly being redefined.
The concessions category here is pretty simple: they had beer. Two types, actually. Beyond that there were homemade sandwiches, nachos with jalapenos, and ballpark style hot dogs. Perfectly acceptable stadium food for meat-eating spectators.
Concessions For Vegetarians: C
Still not great. Still not anything the tournament director or local organizers can really do about it.
Couldn’t have been easier for most of the tournament. There were multiple parking lots near different field areas.
The only wrinkle came on Finals Sunday when the MLS game was set to take place — ultimate traffic was being diverted across the street since the main lot was being saved for MLS fans.
Media Accommodations: A-
There was one big improvement this year from the media perspective: we had inside-the-stadium access to watch the semis and finals. Last year, the media tent was outside of the fence of the stadium and sideline access was heavily restricted. USA Ultimate did a great job making reporters’ lives much easier with much more generous sideline access.
The main media tent for the first two days of the tournament was the standard one — plenty of tables and chairs, limited power outlets, sketchy internet options. But it was workable with extra power strips and there was enough room for Ultiworld and UltiPhotos members to spread out and work.
For the Ultiworld streaming video team, it was not as comfortable as the College Championships, where a press box and stadium was accessible for all streamed games. In Frisco, scaffolding had to be erected and an outside power supply provided. But that’s more a feature of the field complex than anything else.
Little to add from last year’s report card. It was a distance to the quality bathrooms if you were playing on or near the streaming field by the stadium. But the bathrooms were excellent and there were clean portapotties scattered around as well for additional bathroom options.
Crowd Energy: B-
Compared to last year, the crowd energy wasn’t nearly as high. Aside from the level of thrill, there’s a big reason as to why.
Most of the teams that “heckle” from the sidelines are the teams that share cities with their competitors. For instance, Seattle Birdfruit was a force behind Seattle Mixtape in their mixed semifinal against Polar Bears. But the problem here is that most teams’ city counterparts were in big games of their own. For the semifinal night, Fury players would need to bounce back from their loss and inspire the crowd to cheer for Revolver. And for the finals, Riot players were expected to turn around after a tough loss and get the crowd rooting for Sockeye.
The best heckling probably came from the UPA in support of Chicago Machine. But aside from the obvious crowd favorite in Seattle Mixtape, the crowd had a hard time getting behind any of the contenders for the final two days. It was a lackluster showing.
Overall, Nationals in Frisco was a good experience. It sets a relatively high bar for Rockford, Illinois, in 2016. Rockford is a town used to hosting big ultimate tournaments, so expectations are high.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said that the bid fee for teams was $500. In fact, it is upwards of $1500, as mentioned in the comments below.