The competitive paintball season kicked off this past weekend in Florida at the ICPL Sunshine State Classic; teams new and old fought it out in a 10 versus 10 war to claim victory and an early advantage in the season points race. Tiki’s Paintball Park played host to the first event of the year and the fields were lauded for their balanced play and pristine condition.
The professional division was wrought with some of the best players in all of Major League Paintball; pro division heavy hitters like KAPP Factory and Los Angeles Infamous made an early case as the season favorites to win the title. However, it was Chicago Aftershock who lifted the first place trophy on Sunday afternoon after going on a perfect 11 game win streak throughout the weekend.
With 80 teams and nearly 1,000 players in attendance from all over the United States, this event was the largest classic paintball event the ICPL has hosted since the resurgence of the 10v10 format in early 2017. Growth has been the key theme of the ICPL since the league’s inception, and the Florida season opener represents a 10% year over year growth in participation in the classic format.
The Mounds field played out front and center for the weekend, being featured as the Sunday playoff field. GoSports was at the event all weekend long and provided a full live stream of all the mounds field action commentated by Matty Marshall and a long list of some of the best players in the world dropping in to chat and analyze the games. While classic paintball finals matches have been traditionally played on hyperball, the switch to mounds was a refreshing change that created more unique and exciting Sunday games due to the more varied strategies that teams utilize on the non-traditional field.
The Pro Division Kicks off the Year
The professional division consisted of 24 franchise teams split into three brackets for the preliminary rounds. Each team would play seven preliminary games, playing each team in their bracket one time in a round robin format. The top three teams in each bracket would move on to play in the Sunday playoffs, with both the win total, and the margin of victory critical in deciding each teams tournament fate.
In the first bracket, KAPP Factory continued to show why they are one of the most competitive classic teams in the world. After posting an undefeated preliminary round with the highest overall score of the event across seven games, KAPP looked in control and ready to once again be the favorite to win the event. Image was able to take the second spot in the first bracket with a 5-2 record overall, with their only losses to KAPP Factory and Rogue. The final team to make it out of the bracket was Rogue. It was a bit of a surprise event for the relatively unknown roster; after winning the 5 man event on Friday, Rogue came into the main event playing tight and may very well be a dark horse team of the season to watch out for.
The bracket of death, as it was so eloquently called, was the name given to bracket two of the pro preliminary round. It tends to be the title that sticks to the bracket identified as the most difficult to advance through, and this was for good reason at this event. Teams built around NXL Pro talent like ac Empire and Los Angeles Infamous joined John Dresser’s Chicago Farside, and The Misfits in posting records of 5-2 or better. Each program played stellar and looked Sunday-ready with ac Empire going 6-1 and their only blemish against the Misfits led by Rocky Cagnoni. Speaking of Rocky Cagnoni, one of the sport's biggest stars who built his reputation around his wild and aggressive play-style, had one of the best individual performances of the weekend as his team narrowly missed Sunday by mere points on their overall score. Ultimately the bracket was won by ac Empire, with Chicago Farside and Los Angeles Infamous rounding out the other two playoff berths in the Bracket of Death.
The final preliminary round bracket three, was comprised of some of the ICPL’s biggest pro franchises, however it was dominated by Chicago Aftershock. After a year of resurgence in 2022, Aftershock made a few key roster changes coming into the first event of the year and have arguably the most experienced rosters in all of 10-man. They went on a 7-game streak in their bracket, comfortably winning every game they played. With legendary names like Billy Ceranski, Todd Adamson, and Renick Miller joining top NXL pros Demetri Ninios and Daniel Holiday, Aftershock is an early favorite to win the season title. The rest of the bracket was more of a surprise; while most fans would have expected Adrenaline and the All Americans to take the other two playoff spots, it was Enemy and Ground Zero Gold who squeezed into Sunday from one of the most contested brackets of the event. Enemy, a relatively new team to the ICPL, scored major wins against more seasoned teams in HydraFit, MVPS, and Adrenaline to secure their spot on Sunday. Ground Zero Gold rounded out the division after narrowly making it to Sunday behind a 3-3-1 record.
Sunday Playoffs on the Pro Field
The opening round of the Sunday playoff would see the nine teams that advanced be split into three brackets of three in the next phase of the round robin tournament. Winning the bracket would mean securing one of the three finals match spots and a chance to win the event.
KAPP Factory, Farside, and Enemy faced off in the first bracket of the semi-final round. Farside came out against Enemy and won the fastest game of the day with Jared Lackey flying down the field scoring multiple eliminations. In less than 2 minutes, Farside ended the game, only dropping a single body and forcing KAPP to then need to win two straight games to move on. KAPP easily handled Enemy and went on against Farside to win in dominant fashion and secure the first finals spot.
In the second semi-finals bracket, Rogue made a huge statement against Image, quickly winning with 9 bodies alive behind a flood-style offense on the top side of the field led by Mikey Erickson. After Chicago Aftershock also was able to beat Image, the bracket would come down to a head to head match with Rogue and Aftershock to determine who moved on. Rogue put up a strong effort, but it was Chicago Aftershock that was able to rise up and snag the second finals spot. Aftershock played the mounds in a much more controlled and defensive style, getting a big contribution from LP Everett in the center as well as Billy Ceranski closing out both games for Shock.
Rounding out the third team in the finals, the third Sunday bracket was a highly contested slugfest, where Infamous, ac Empire, and Ground Zero all posted 1-1 records, meaning that it would come down to the overall score of each team to determine who would move on. The deciding game was the match between Ground Zero Gold and Infamous; Los Angeles took a very aggressive position against GZ in the center of the field, with Harrison Frye playing a key role behind 5 eliminations for Infamous to push them past Ground Zero to secure the third finals spot by just a single point overall.
Billy Ceranski comes up big for Aftershock in the Finals
The finals at the Sunshine Classic featured Aftershock, KAPP Factory, and Infamous and was stacked to the brim with some of the games most iconic legends and the NXL’s biggest stars. Relying on their elite gunfighting, Aftershock took a much more methodical approach to the mounds field and it paid off for them against the much more aggressive Infamous and KAPP rosters.
KAPP Factory and Aftershock were the first teams to draw blood against Infamous, both registering dead-even wins of 95-10 against Los Angeles. This would mean the entire weekend of pro division play would come down to the final game of the pro weekend between Aftershock and KAPP to determine the season opener champion.
Aftershock took a very defensive position off the break against KAPP, only sending three players past the back line; they dug in and looked to once again rely on their elite level of communication and reactionary play to attempt to whittle down the more aggressive KAPP. Aftershock lost one body on the break, and KAPP struck down the center of the field with Blake Yarber to gain the early position advantage. However, after losing one of their most critical players, Rodney Squires, from the backline, KAPP began to give a bit of ground to Aftershock and dropped a few bodies off the back line in head to head gunfights.
As the game began to slow down into a game of angles, KAPP Factory had three bodies across the 50 yard line and seemed in control over the dug in Aftershock across the backline. From their defensive posture however, Aftershock was able to continue to chip away at the KAPP back line until their front players were left on an island with little support from the back. It was the gunfighting of Chicago Aftershock that played the critical role in the finals, and after a big move from Billy Ceranski on a three-pack run through, Aftershock was able to hang the flag in the final minute to cap off an epic 11-game win streak to win the event.
A Highly Contested Amateur Division
The Amateur division of the ICPL has been the league's biggest success story over the last few years, developing teams that have gone on to become top pro franchises like Brimstone Smoke and Image. This year the division is the largest it has ever been, with teams from all over the country competing to win the season title, and with it a chance to move into the pro division in 2024.
The surprise miss from the finals was Fraction; after going undefeated throughout the prelims behind a 7-0 record , they struggled in the opening round of the Sunday playoffs, losing both their games for an early exit. After two rounds of games on Sunday, the finals in the amateur division was played between Valhalla, Louisville Asylum, and the Jungle Lizards, and like the pro finals, it took place on the Mounds field.
The first match of the finals was between the Jungle Lizards and Valhalla. Off the break, Valhalla, led by NXL pros Matt and John Jackson, took a fairly balanced and defensive approach to the field, spreading their bodies evenly across the back line up to the 20. The Jungle Lizards made a heavy break to the top side of the field in an attempt to overload that side and take the crucial 40 tape mound, but lost their lead attacker early on. They struggled to break the defensive posture of Valhalla and were slowly chipped away to lose the match 98-4. This would mean that if Valhalla could win their next game vs. Asylum, who also beat the Jungle Lizards, they would win the amateur crown.
Valhalla opened the final match of the amateur event with a super aggressive breakout down the center of the field, sending six players up the gut to the 30 and 40. Asylum quickly countered with some reactionary moves up the middle, and after two players dropped for each side, both teams dug in looking to win heads up gunfights. Slowly but surely, Valhalla chipped away behind a bulletproof backline and with Asylum’s back against the wall in a must win game, they tried to push forward. Mark Frans and the Jackson brothers were able to lock out the field and repel multiple Asylum run throughs to secure the game and the event win with it.
After the first event of the amateur division, Valhalla certainly looks like the team to beat in the division. They saw huge contributions from their pro NXL core and will be the team to watch this year as a potential season champion.
More to come in the Major League of Paintball this season in 2023
With the opening event to the 2023 Major League of Paintball season concluded, the competitive paintball year is finally underway with 10 more events to take place in the ICPL and the NXL. With continued strong growth in both leagues, the 2023 paintball season is on pace to be the biggest in paintball history with record participation across all divisions. Full replays of the ICPL Sunshine Classic are available on GoSports.com, and don’t forget to follow @nxlpaintball @icplpaintball and subscribe to @gosportslive so you don’t miss a single, heart-racing second of the 2023 paintball season.