We caught up with one of the longest running UWL teams The Muddy Water Boys out of Nebraska and asked them to give us some insight on how playing for the UWL is unlike any other. Here's what they had to say:
Can you give a brief history of MWB and how it found itself playing UWL?
The bulk of our founding members started playing back in 99'-00'. We have a couple guys that started in the late 80's-early 90's. But those who started Muddy began playing together around 2000. Back then it was just outlaw ball in a patch of trees out in the country. We officially became the Muddy Water Boys in 2004 when we made our first trip to Oklahoma DDay. As most groups, we started out as friends who got hooked on this game called paintball. This led to various scenarios in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma, and by 2006 we were a full-fledged Scenario team. In that same year, we heard there would be a woodsball tournament, hosted by the SPPL, at DDay. We had a handful of guys who wanted to test our skills against other squads in the woods. One on one. No outside interference from tanks, or various scenario units tipping the tide in someone's favor. This was team versus team. Your best 10 versus their best 10. Who would come out on top?
Entering competitive woodsball was an exciting step for Muddy, and after finishing 2nd in that Midwest Qualifer, we knew we could compete with others across the country. This began our venture into tournament play. After a few years the SPPL shut its doors, but before it did, it gave everyone a spark. It showed the paintball industry that there was still a desire to compete at a high level in the woods. Enter Tom and the UWL. Most of us young pups had no clue who the legendary Tom Cole was, besides realizing that he was on Bad Company, a team that annihilated us once in the SPPL. That beat down by BC Army made us hungry though. We wanted to get better, as individuals and a team. And if a guy like Tom was now offering a new woodsball league for us to try and hone those skills, well then count us in. In 2009, MWB officially entered the UWL at DDay, finishing 1st and defeating the Bob Long Assassins along the way. With an intro like that, yeah, we were hooked again. Since then, we've certainly taken our lumps and bruises as well. We've experienced the highs and lows, but we've been steadily improving and having a great time. The UWL has been good to us, and we thank Tom for the opportunity to play.
MWB have played in the UWL from the start. You guys started playing 10 man but are now playing 5 man. Can you tell me about why the change and your thoughts on 10 man and 5 man?
10 man is the ultimate woodsball format, but 5 man is the most practical for us right now.
In 10 man you get to play with more of your friends, there is a greater sense of camaraderie, travel is more exciting with all of your buddies there, longer games so more trigger time, etc. To put it simply, it's great to play paintball with 5 of your close friends, it's even better to play paintball with 10 of your close friends. 10 man is where we started and it was what we knew. However, over time the interest of your teammates will change. MWB was never built as a tournament team. It was a rec team, turned scenario, turned scenario/tournament hybrid. We have 30-35 guys that make up our roster year to year, and with that many guys the varied interest levels even within paintball itself is diverse. In 2011 we ran two full 10 man teams at the Nebraska UWL. Now, we have a hard time fielding one 10 man team. Or at least, fielding one that we feel would be competitive. This change has nothing to do with the UWL, the guys love Tom and love the league. But on a team like ours, interests do change, and perhaps now with their limited time off work, some want to attend a scenario they missed while they were playing tournaments. For the rest of us who still want to compete in the UWL, the 5 man option was a huge blessing. It has allowed Muddy to keep competing against other high caliber teams across the country.
Though hesitant at first, once we played 5 man we fell in love almost instantly. Logistically, you can get your team to the tournaments easier, you don't have to pay for as many guys, and it allows you to field a stronger team. In 10 man, perhaps you have 7 studs on your squad, and 3 fillers. That hurts if the team you're playing has 10 all-stars. 5 man increases your chances of being strong across the entire field. The 5 man pace is much faster too. There is more of a drive to continually be on the go, no time to rest, you always have the plan for winning in motion, and the field is amazing. The 5 man field is shrunk down, but it is not shrunk to 50% of the 10 man size. It's bigger than that. So you have a larger playing area per player. It allows you to play bolder and with more flexibility. 10 man can bog you down. You might shoot 2 guys, but there are still 4 more on your side. In 5 man, you shoot 2 guys, and their whole side has just opened up. Big flank opportunities and field shifting maneuvers are common. Honestly, it reminds us of the old outlaw days playing as kids. We love it and we're having a blast in 5 man.
How has your team changed its strategies since its first season in the UWL?
When we first started in the UWL, the guys who shot a lot were the weird ones. We were in awe of them a bit, but we also despised them a little. That was not our style and we thought it was wasteful, unskilled even. Most of us played with stealth and snuck around, always concerned with not being seen or heard. We were uncomfortable with being known. We carefully picked our shots. And we had moderate success using this mindset. We certainly made a name for ourselves with the SPPL community referring to us as a team of snipers. But we were missing something, and in the timed format of a tournament game, we couldn't get over that hump of defeating the big teams. Once they knew where we were, once our cover was blown, it was hard for us to fight out of it. Our snapshooting was poor, our bunker fighting was poor, we were one dimensional. So we began to adapt and evolve into a more well rounded unit.
The biggest change is that when people know where we are now, it doesn't both us. We yell, we shoot a lot more, etc. We are no longer going out there to remain hidden, we are now going out there to push or hold the field in the way we need to, in the time frame we have. We are more aggressive. It's more of a volume and teamwork base. We shoot more paint, there is a volume aspect, but also, I don't care if you know where I am, because my teammates are going to work to tag you before you can tag me. You're not going to be able to stop yourself from dying, because even though you know where I am, if they don't get you, you still have to go through me. Or, at least that's the plan. Certainly, we still deploy a stealth element to our game. In UWL Nebraska 2014, 5 man, 3-4 of our guys were loud and proud, dumping paint freely, while 1-2 others used the attention their teammates were getting to get into position and make their shots. We change that up as needed, trying to utilize elements of our old bushcraft in conjunction with the more aggressive style. That shift started in UWL OK 2009, where we started to learn it doesn't matter if they know where we are, it matters if you can maneuver and do your job.
How often do you guys practice?
We've done as little as 3 in a year, we've done as many as 18 or so in a year. There are benefits of both for our team. With 18 practices, we had a lot of individual skill increase. This year we will do about two a month. But we also have to balance our scenario element on the team. The majority of our guys don't play tournament on Muddy. So some days at our home field, Mad Cow Paintball, we just play with MWB brethren and mix it up with rec ballers. Other times, we dedicate the day to working on drills, or scrimmaging other teams. No matter what game type we find ourselves in, our 5 man squad is always working together, building that chemistry, and getting plenty of trigger time in together.
Can you give us an idea on what you do at practice.
We started with the basics, leaning properly from a tree, staying tight, elbows in, how to slice a pie, how to shadow trees, how to run and shoot, keeping a steady upper body platform while the lower body does whatever it needs to do. We've shot so many 5 gallon bucket lids over the years. We usually attach them to a wooden stake, so the lids can then be stuck in the ground as a target, or someone can hold one from behind a bunker or tree.
For some of those old drills, like shadowing, we'd have a defender looking down a line of trees, and an attacker that would have to use the row of trees to advance toward the defender. The defender could shoot anytime he saw the attacker, it might just be an arm, a shoulder, etc. If the attacker was hit, he was done. The attacker could not fire until he arrived at the last tree. Then the snap shoot was on. We used to do a drill called Speed Kills. It was a 2 on 1 in the woods. You would end up having a two-man team winner, and a defending winner. Which team could kill the defender the quickest and which defender could kill an attacking team the quickest. It forced our guys to be aggressive against a defender, and also helped us not to freak out when we were on the bad end of a 2v1. This was huge when we began to shift from pure stealth to a more balanced approach.
Another particularly effective, but somewhat disliked drill was the Numbers drill. You would snap shoot against an opponent. While you are doing this, we had spotters on either side of you at the 50 yard line. They would hold up various numbers on a bucket lid. While snap shooting, you had to yell out the various numbers that would be lifted up. Most guys get tunnel vision in a firefight. This drill forced guys to keep their head on a swivel, even when engaging an enemy. Obviously to be mindful of flanks from enemy players and help coordinate your fellow teammates while you're still in a gunfight.
We've done Flag drills, which are primarily a mind training exercise. Always remain focused on the objective. We would have like 4 guys go against 2 hidden defenders. The attackers would win by pulling the home flag, positioned deep in the back of the field. This was also a timed exercise. You had to pull the flag in 2 minutes or less, or something like that. At times, some would forget the flag and just firefight. We've had an attacker run right past the flag, so focused on eliminating a defender, and stay near the flag, perfectly capable of grabbing it to win the game, but his mind is focused solely on enemy players. The whistle blows, no flag pull. Yeah he made a sweet move, but he lost the game for us. And as it pertains to the UWL, flags are everything. Sure, you could be vastly better than your opponent and wipe the field with them. In that case, you can walk around and pull flags at your leisure. But in tightly contested games, those flag pulls are key moments that win you the game. Keep your eye on the prize at all times. So various flag based drills have been helpful.
We're always working snap shooting and off hand techniques. It is the core of any workout. Lately, we've been doing this through a lot of team based exercises. We divide the guys into two teams and do a snap shooting marathon. The first shooters from each line take position. Whoever gets shot goes out, the winner stays in. You might have a guy chew through 6-7 enemy shooters. The side which goes through all of its shooters first loses. It also puts the pressure on you. Everyone is watching. Snap and off handing shooting, shooting on the move, these have improved our individual game the most.
If you were going to give a piece of advice to a team coming from the scenario world to try the UWL what would you say?
The first thing we would emphasize is not to get discouraged. Know the rules and ask questions about them. And understand, when you go to compete, you will lose. In the beginning, you might lose a lot. It's important to go in with an attitude of learning. Of course you don't plan to lose, you're confident. But when you do lose, you don't get discouraged, you begin to pick apart the game and learn from your loss. How teams handle loss will dictate their future success. Muddy Water Boys first game in the UWL, we didn't know about the Hooch, and we walked past it multiple times. We ended up losing by 1 point, 64 to 65, with three of our guys standing within 10 feet of the enemies home flag at game end too. They didn't have watches on, so they were unaware that time was almost out. What did we learn, to have watches and know the rules! If you don't, you could be the more dominant team on the field and still suffer defeat.
Have some practices. Period. Focus them on UWL play. Every day at your local field, or wherever you end up playing, no matter the game type, always try to play with your prospective UWL teammates. Even a simple TDM or capture the flag game with rec players can be a chemistry building experience for you and your squad. Never miss out on little opportunities to grow together, on and off the field. Scenario teams: join the Tactical division, no matter how good you think you are. Tactical is a good spot for squads new to tournaments, and veterans working on their game to take it to the next step. It will lower the discouragement factor and increase the fun too.
Contact other teams that have played UWL. There are a lot of other groups that have made the same transition from scenario to tournament play. Find out the mistakes they made, chat them up, heck go play against them or with them. But there are a lot of good people in the paintball community, and the UWL community in particular that would be happy to give advice. MWB is always willing to help where we can.
Give it a try. You might just like it.