Last weekend I went to sleepy Dubuque, Iowa to film the very first USARS Roller Derby tournament. It blew my mind. Fans, if you haven’t seen roller derby played by these rules, you must check it out. Skaters, you should find a USARS team near you and drop in sometime just to try it. It was “fuck you get past me” roller derby all day long – fast, aggressive, and hard-hitting.
The tournament did have some rough edges. Only three teams were able to attend – the Eastern Iowa Outlaws (the tournament hosts), the Rushmore Rollerz, and Tulsa Derby League. There were a lot of official timeouts – three timeouts in three jams in one bout. And attendance frankly wasn’t very good; more people watched the online broadcast than watched in person.
I was there as a volunteer for Derby News Network, filming the event and providing the (free) live video feed. Twelve hours is a long day to stand and work a camera, but I’m sure it was nothing compared to playing three bouts in one day at these speeds, as Eastern Iowa and Tulsa did.
I’m not one of these deep thinkers about rules and strategy, but what I can tell you is that it was action-packed roller derby. The average pace was higher than most WFTDA bouts, though of course it varied depending on the situation. One thing I liked most was that under these rules penalty killing increases the action and suspense (like in hockey) instead of decreasing it. I would say that speed and endurance are even more important in this style of derby than under WFTDA style derby. I think Tulsa and Eastern Iowa were pretty matched as far as skill, but it appeared to me that Tulsa edged out their opponents due to better endurance. Unfortunately, Rushmore could only bring 10 skaters to the tournament, and just couldn’t keep up with the other two full-sized teams.
One counter to the whole “fuck you get past me” roller derby sentiment that I’ve heard is “I happen to like strategy in roller derby!” Well, from what I saw there is plenty of room for strategy in the USARS rules – at least as much as WFTDA, and maybe more. It’s not just full speed ahead, turn left, and knock everyone down. I saw isolation plays, smart call-offs, and teams working hard to control the pack speed to their advantage. But on top of that, the ability for the pivot to become the active scorer adds a whole new set of possibilities that I think have barely been tapped. And I love that the non-lead jammer can become lead through speed, like in banked track.
I left the tournament thinking two things. First, people need to see this. Second, I would love to spectate a bout under these rules between two teams that are higher on the skill and experience scale. A match-up like MNRG vs. BAD under these rules would be amazing.