And so closes our professional debut in the NXLE.
After over a decade of hard work from dozens of players to build a grassroots UK professional team it was finally time for us to step onto the field at the highest level of European competition. We set off on Thursday, spirits high, both excited and nervous for what was ahead. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect but we wanted to make a statement and do ourselves and the UK proud.
Our first ever professional first match saw us face off against Ranger Warsaw, a professional team out of Poland. Everything started to plan as we jumped out to a 1-0 lead. However, the tables turned quickly as they started keying up on our snake side on the break while we struggled to shoot theirs and quickly found ourselves behind 1-4.
We knew we needed to adjust to claw our way back into the game, by slowing the game down we were able to put some points on the board to narrow the scoreline to trail by just one point. With just one more point needed to tie the game Ranger were able to break our control on the snake side and put a quick point on the board, leaving us behind by 2. With minimal time left on the clock, we were forced to play fast to play for the win, letting Ranger run-up the score resulting in 4-7 loss.
While it wasn’t the result we wanted for our first game, it was a ‘welcome to the league’ moment. We knew we needed to step up our games both individually, and as a team, if we were to perform to our potential and have a shot to win the tournament.
With lessons learned we moved on to the next game against the ever-familiar Manchester Firm. The Firm is a team we know well from the CPPS but were fielding quite a different roster for this event, so we expected some wrinkles. The game started out strong for us and we quickly had them on the edge of a mercy victory as we took control of the field. However, in typical Firm fashion, we weren’t able to put them away so easily, they fought back to put some points on the board as we closed the game with a 6-3 win.
With 1 win and 1 loss after Friday’s games, we were still in a position to make it through to Sunday so long as we had a good showing on Saturday. We reflected on our play that day over some dinner and prepared for what we knew would be hard games against Breakout Spa & Camp Venom.
Saturday started with another familiar opponent in the form of Breakout Spa, a team we’ve faced off against in the DPL but also trained against several times this year. The game started out well for us, having scouted their games we were able to design a play to control the snake and push the bags, jumping out to a 2-0 lead. However, Breakout countered, tying up the game before taking a slight lead. The rest of the game was an absolute grinder. Points were traded back and forth but we were never able to get out ahead, and were forced to take the game to overtime, where breakout managed to close us out 5-6.
A tight loss to Breakout meant we had to win, and win big, against Camp Venom to have a chance of securing a wildcard slot for Sunday. With it all on the line, the team really stepped up, defeating Venom 7-2 to give us a good chance of securing a wildcard spot. The only thing we needed was for Firm to beat Ranger in their final prelims game and we would qualify on a head-to-head tie break against Firm. With our fate out of our hands we watched nervously from the stands as Firm dispatched Ranger 5-1.
That was it, our first professional event and we were into Sunday where we were to meet Gladiatori Unicusano in the wildcard game first thing Sunday morning.
Everything is different on Sunday. The game slows down as every shot could be the difference between winning and losing the tournament. Simply put, the stakes are higher.
Our game against Gladiatori was no different and we jumped out to an early 2-0 lead with the bag push play we used against Breakout. However much like the Breakout game Gladiatori were able to counter and take back the lead. With just 2 minutes left on the clock we were down 3-4 and in need of a point to stay in the tournament where we found ourselves in a long 2-on-1. Our lads, Mason Hinds and Thomas Carroll, showed experience beyond their years and were able to patiently and methodically close this out to tie the game with just 28 seconds on the clock. We had a shot.
This situation is what Sunday is all about, do you go for it and risk losing, or take it to overtime. Our plan was simple, breakout, roll our guns and if we read it’s there, then go for it. With a kill off the break on the snake side we started pushing. We were up in the middle and down on their side of the snake……however, we were too slow to realise that they had turned the field on us and were storming down the bag side. With their snake side blown, and us focusing too heavily on our win from that side, our focus was lost from the bag side, and they were able to score a point whilst our snake side pushed on oblivious to the situation, therefore losing us the point, and the match.
This was an exceptionally hard way to lose on Sunday, and a mistake we’re not planning on making again. Despite this heart-breaking loss, the team remained in high spirits. We knew this was going to be a challenge, we knew the professional division was going to be a learning curve and we all came away with lessons learnt knowing how much further we have to go. For now, it’s back to the drawing board and hopefully, we can use this as a launchpad for some stronger showings in the remainder of the year.
A HUGE thank you needs to go out to all our sponsors, GI Sportz for the paint, Planet Eclipse for the flawless markers, Jersey Clinic for our sweet jerseys, JT Paintball for our goggles (they’re honestly amazing), Beyond for keeping us hydrated and focused all weekend, Carbon for our padding, and Paintball DE for looking after us while we were out in Germany. We look forward to seeing you all at the next leg hosted on our home field (CPPS) 7th-10th July.
Finally a shout out to DK Pictures (Danny Knuit) for all the awesome shots shown here!