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Philadelphia Invitational 2015

Philadelphia Invitational 2015. Wow...

This has been an experience. First, I count myself incredibly lucky to be here and to be playing with a team of people I genuinely like and respect. I also think it's amazing to be surrounded by the kind of laser tag talent that has come out for this event. Some people here are suggesting this is an even more competitive tournament than the Armageddon. It definitely is in a similar league of intensity...similar, not the same. :)

Day 1:

I drove over five hours for the third weekend in a month to get here. Our team agreed to gather in our hotel room for pizza and chill time prior to the event and the first person I met was Isaiah. We had a nice chat about our respective laser tag experiences before I crossed paths with Joe and Tyler, my fellow Syracuse area players, as I left to pick up Amber, Zach, Rachael and Amber's boyfriend Alex (who was playing with a different team that was also staying in our hotel). Upon meeting everyone I felt like this was a good place to be. I think I really lucked out for the second tournament in a row to be matched with wonderful players who I enjoyed being around.

We strategized a bit at the hotel (the dry erase map I made of the arena layout was put to good use) and then a bit more once we got to the Ultrazone site.

Once here our team captain Amber hooked us up with our tournament swag...

And I got to play a couple of practice rounds using Helios Pro packs for the very first time.

Wow, these are different! They are a bit bulky, but in general I feel they most closely resemble nexus packs in terms of the feel while playing...this may have the most to do with the audio cues.

The first competitive event was LOR (Lord of the Rings, essentially a three man dogfight happening in the confines of a taped off circle. I was not participating in this event this time (maybe next time around, but I just wanted to check it out first). I got to cheer on some of my teammates as they took their turns in the ring.

I'm not sure this is really up my alley, but I would certainly at least try it next time around.

Then it was time for the draft rounds. Now, a few weeks ago I wrote about the weird experience of being part of a draft. This was the culmination of that experience when I got to meet the people who were selected by our captain, Trigga (as in that) and play with some talent I would never otherwise have the chance to. Honestly I was initially a bit concerned that I wouldn't be able to run in this league and that I might get pushed to the side or dismissed because of the caliber of the other players. I am very happy to say that my personal experience with the draft was only positive.

I do have to be real about what transpired (so stick with me until the end here). The first game I choked on a mix of intimidation and self-imposed pressure to stick with our team strategy. I felt it as soon as I was put on defense (which is not my strongest area, but I did volunteer to do whatever role was requested of me). There was some really intense competition and impressive talent everywhere I team and elsewhere. And for the first couple of minutes of that first game I tried to defend from below and frankly did a miserable job. Quite a drop from the place from where I usually come at it. When I realized this was not working I took to higher ground and was able to do a bit more defending from the upper level of the red base. However, when I came out of that round all I could think was "damn, when did I become the weakest link?" There was a real moment of self doubt stepping out of that first draft game. Thankfully, things improved.

The second game my performance was better, though not up to par (or my own standards), and while I was happy to have gotten further ahead than some it was still a far cry from what I am accustomed to. We're not in Kansas anymore! But I was very fortunate to be on this team with some players who were unexpectedly quite motivating and that team attitude made an enormous difference to me going into the next round.

What impressed me most about my draft team was our captain's ability to lead in a strong but incredibly calm and respectful manner. Trigga was specific in identifying the weak element of our game and in structuring a plan to address it. His leadership was on point but he never made me or anyone else feel in any way "less than" while doing so.

When we needed to rotate and have someone sit out I volunteered myself (someone had to sit out each round simply because of the team numbers). Berserk asked me how I did the last round and I said not well enough to push to stay in because I'd rather see the team ascend. His reply was "you're ascending with us" and I was really heartened by that attitude. Then our captain Trigga says "I think Tivia plays and (so and so) sits this one." Wow, I didn't actually see that coming. In fact for a moment I was not certain that he was serious. In hindsight I realize this was obviously the right strategic move since he probably wanted to play me now so that a stronger player could return to take my place during ascensions. However, that show of courtesy and respect awoke a desire in me to not let them down for choosing to keep me in. That game I played my heart out and, courtesy of some real teamwork and a show of genuine leadership from the more experienced players, I ended up 2nd on my team that game and 7th overall having taken both bases.

Seriously, I want to offer kudos and my sincere appreciation for the awesome show of teamwork, support and "no man (or woman) left behind" attitude from Berserk and Trigga especially. It was not what I was expecting. Ok, we weren't first, but I felt good coming out of that experience and count myself lucky to have played with this draft team.

I feel that way all the more when I juxtapose my draft experience with that of another player who ended up with a very different draft experience. Without getting into specifics, this player got what I feel was a seriously uncalled for snub when someone told their draft team captain "if you put her in before finals (instead of the player saying this) I'd put money on it that your team is out", so the captain had her sit out and played this player instead. Seriously? Regardless of ability or anything else I just feel that this whole exchange was rife with unnecessary ego and rudeness. Smack talk is one thing, having an opinion is another, but expressing yourself like this is uncalled for when you are on a "team". I don't actually know the other players involved so this is not a personalized comment, just an observation that made me shake my head. Winning isn't everything. Sheesh.

Now, my own draft team was called in for the first round of ascensions and at this point my captain had me be the one to sit out. Absolutely fine. The call was made with respect and I was absolutely happy to cheer my team on from the sidelines. I also fully realize that this was the point where I got my spoonful of the same scenario outlined above, but in a much more appropriate and courteous manner. And, well, they came in second that round and did not ascend further. However, I couldn't be more proud to have played with that draft team because of how cool and welcoming they were to this newbie. I also thought it was a class act move when after it all my captain came over to me with some nice words of appreciation. I told him how impressed I was with him as a captain and, especially in light of the other story, really feel I lucked out in the draft.

Once the draft games were behind us we moved on to our pre-made team rounds and All About That Base was ready to rock...albeit an hour late by the time we were called. We didn't play our first team game until 5:15 AM!

To not play until this hour when we were all walking zombies was undoubtedly not anyone's best showing, but we played with all the heart we could muster. I had downed my five hour energy drink, well...almost five hours before. But out of respect for the team and each other you do what you have to do and push through. I was grateful that Joe and Tyler made a coffee run (who knew that Dunkin' Donuts opened at 4:30 in the morning?) and I got a bit of caffeine in my system before the next game. That may have been the only thing keeping me upright after more than 24 hours without sleep.

My one disappointment with this game was the result of a flaw with the system. I understand that the Helios system is very new here (it had not been installed as of two weeks ago when I last played at this arena) so some little things are bound to come up. We were intended to register our player names online to be linked with swipe cards to pair with the packs. These were also intended to be our "tick cards" in the event of an infraction during the game.

Unfortunately, we may have overloaded the system and this simply did not work, so we just had to keep track of our pack name after each round. Well, I know I took two bases during this second game, so I was somewhat optimistic about my standings (and the simple fact that I actually WAS still standing), but when I came out of the arena the pack name I had just used was nowhere on the screen. We did however have seven packs on the board, so apparently mine registered with a different name and I have no idea which one or where I ranked that game. Oh well. That bummer was short lived because we got the welcome news we were calling it a night and would play the remaining games tomorrow instead of powering through for a third game at that hour. Yay! Sleep! Back to the hotel to crash.

Day 2:

Ready to rock...but first, ready to eat. Because the tournament played overnight we slept until about 4:00 in the afternoon, so breakfast essentially happened at dinner time. We went to the restaurant next door to the arena for some delicious Mexican food and very...wet water. Sorry Isaiah! By this point in the weekend I think we had really bonded as a team and it was nice to spend some time getting to know the other arm of my team who came in from Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. They were all great to hang out with and lots of evidenced when Amber suggested we go next door to the dollar store to buy crowns to wear later in the night. Crown? Um, yes! :)

Meanwhile Isaiah tattooed up with an assortment of glow in the dark designs.

Then we went over to the arena where there was more LOR competition underway and the public games were still going on in the arena. A few of us jumped into one for a warm up before we returned to the main tournament. I had a great time playing just for the fun of it, which is good because in a short time things started to get intense.

Our first game of the night was really the final game from last night that we ran out of time to play, so it got moved to the next day. It was a good one. We were playing hard, taking bases and felt like we were doing really well...but the system was not. There were all sorts of issues going on in the arena, particularly with reload stations. There was a lot of time lost trying to get them to register and most of the players were having issues as a result. When we came out we were optimistic, but the scores on the screen were not ours. We had to replay that game. Sigh...really? We put everything into it just to have to do it again? Call that the theme for the night.

We were a bit worn out when we had to go in and play that game all over for a second time. It was frustrating because we had worked hard on a strategy that now the other team was ready to defend against...or attack against depending on your vantage point. The second time around was not as good, but what can you do? It's hard to go intensely with barely any we realized for the final three games which were only separated by one game each. So the rest of the preliminary games were exhausting because of intense rigor of play coupled with the lack of rest time in, did I feel old!

During one of the games I was given the option to sit out and rest so our alternate could play. Icestorm (or Iceman as I called him all night...must have had Top Gun on the brain) was there to be our relief player and at that moment I wanted nothing but a relief break...but I didn't get it. Unfortunately Bubblez had injured herself earlier in the week and suffered another fall that took her out of this game, so barely a moment after I was given a reprieve I heard Zach yell "Tivia, you're in" and I knew there was no rest for the weary this night.

I don't know which game I learned my lesson about comps, but it was probably this one. I couldn't believe the score I got in a game where I had taken two bases, however it was a result of getting taken out mid base attack. That royally sucked...what, no partial credit?! I say that with plenty of sarcasm as I realize what that did to our score, so I set my resolve to learn from it and not let that happen twice. Fortunately by the final preliminary it didn't matter.

We regrouped outside (largely because we all needed fresh air by this point) and we discussed a completely different strategy. We were going to enter the ascensions in exactly the same position no matter what happened this I proposed the strategy my Armageddon team employed. With nothing to lose, let's just all head up top and mess with the other teams. We actually began by taking that strategy to the bases first, then just having a good time playing out that round before getting as real break before moving into the first round of the ascensions.

We knew there was only one game that would really make any difference and this was it. If we got first or second we would be moving up, so that was the focus. We played HARD! Speaking for myself, that's perhaps about the hardest I have ever played. I was once told "leave it all out on the stage" and that's what I did in that arena with everything I had left in me...and I know the rest of my team did the same. I believe it was the best show of heart and passionate playing we could have asked for and was definitely our best game of the whole tournament. Unfortunately that made it all the more heartbreaking to see that we were less than 2000 points away from the position we needed to continue on. It was a disappointing realization only because we had come SO close and played SO hard. But I am incredibly proud that in a tournament with the level of competition that we were up against that we came as close as we did and ended with an amazing final game.

Team disappointment aside, the bright spot for me in that final game was looking at the scoreboard and seeing that the top score on my team was mine (first place on blue, sixth overall). I had played with the Gothyk pack that round and I had given it everything (as I know we all did) so I walked out of there feeling like I had gotten some validation for the effort. For me it ended on a high note to see that placement.

Some of my teammates also got some nice validation/recognition for their playing and team results. In the draft Bubblez was on the second place team and took home a medal, while Zach was on the third place draft team.

Congratulations to them and to all of my teammates for doing an amazing job. It was an honor to play with all of you.

Amber - Thank you for reaching out to invite me onto this team. It was great to get to know you this weekend! I admire your ability to lead a team and kill it in the arena in equal measure with my appreciation and respect for your DIY skills. Those t-shirts rock!

Zach - You have some impressive skills, but I am all the more impressed with where your head is about what this sport is about and what a team should be. You guys had the right idea in how to assemble a team and as a result I think we are getting in on the ground floor of a team with some massive potential. Thank you for that!

Bubblez - You never let anything keep you down...your leg or anything else. I can tell that what I saw of your playing this weekend was only the tip of the iceberg. I can't wait until we get the chance to play again. Take care of yourself and heal up in the meantime.

Isaiah - Oh Captain, steer clear of the water! Seriously, it was great to meet you and I had a wonderful time hanging out with you. You had some great strategy insights and are a great player. It was a pleasure!

Tyler - You jumped into this at a crazy time, but I'm so glad it all worked out. You have such enthusiasm for everything you do and it was great to see how you channeled it into being a real asset to the team. It's always great to play tag with you!

Joe - I have amazing respect for your laser tag skills. You are always the best competition when we play against each other, but it was really nice for once to have you using that talent to be on our side! You are a force to be reckoned with and I can't wait to see how far you go with this sport. :)

Icestorm - Wake up! It was a pleasure meeting you and we are appreciative that you were there to step in when needed. You know how to get things done in the arena and you were a real asset.

I am proud to be part of this team, I am proud of how our local arm of the team represented Syracuse and, on a side note,

I was also proud to be a witness for a historic moment involving someone else who once represented Syracuse...

Because of playing laser tag in this weekend's tournament I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to be able to be present as a witness to history being made live right in front of my eyes. It was an amazing end to an amazing weekend. Philly Invites 2015...epic!

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