If you attempted to explain The NexGen Tour to a non-Ultimate player, how would you do it? It appears to be part soccer friendly, part circus. The part that’s a soccer friendly is that it is a highly intense game that does not mean much in the whole scheme of things for either team. The circus part means you are going to leave entertained. Nonetheless, the Circus is the best Ultimate product the world has ever seen. Ever. Last year the tour was just a great idea, this year it has improved into a great product. The whole experience is much more polished, on every level.
Last year when you walked into Lane Tech (Site of Machine vs. NexGen) it looked thrown together: the guy was not exactly sure what to charge (some of the events were free). This year you entered through a gate rather than around the shady part of the stadium. Not to mention all of the games played thus far have been played in stadiums, where as last year they had to settle for a local park a couple times.
I asked Dylan Freechild about the dreaded bus. Aside from some minor hiccups at the beginning: A blown out tire, some engine tinkering, and the fact that they drove most of the tour last year with apparently the wrong size belts (whatever that means); they have had no issues.
The product itself is extremely simple. Throw 15 guys on a bus and create an event that every Ultimate player within 100 miles will not miss. But the simplicity is deeper than that. What merchandise are they selling? Shorts, jerseys, and discs.
How is the team chosen? Invite emails get sent out to players who seem qualified.
Defense? Man. Offense? Vertical Stack. Occasionally NexGen will run a junk zone, but this was a complete accident: it just happened to be too windy not to play some sort of zone against Inception (second tier open team out of Denver) the night before the tour started. Nothing special, nothing fancy, nothing complex, just simple Ultimate.
When you walk into the Circus there are sort of two things going on at the same time. One: a very high-level game of Ultimate is about to begin. You can see it in the warm-ups. It is just like you see any professional sporting event, no one who does not need to be on the field is anywhere near the field. The spectators are in the stands where they belong. Machine and NexGen both were warming up as if they were about to play an elimination game at Nationals. The both did huck drills to get their legs to full speed before scrimmaging themselves.
Two: There is the equivalent of a high school reunion going on in the stands. Nothing brings an Ultimate community together like the Circus. Everyone you have ever played with or against shows up to this thing. My team cancelled practice because of it. If I had to guess, CUT (Chicago Ultimate Training) and/or the Circus tried to schedule themselves around each other as the whole camp was there.
When you are finally done saying hello and catching up with everyone you have not seen since spring league, club try-outs, or college regionals you are reminded why you came in the first place: to watch Ultimate at one of its highest levels. And the players deliver exactly what you asked for. Right off the bat the Circus rips a deep shot that floats just enough to make it exciting. Jimmy Mickle pulls down a goal and the Circus is up 1 – 0.
Eventually, as a spectator and even more so in this game as the Circus began to run away with it fairly early, you will get a little lackadaisical. You will get reminded that this is Ultimate and it’s not supposed to be quite this intense. You did not come for a clean game; you came for action. It’s around this point the crowd gets a bit hostile. At 3 -1 Circus a break throw goes up to Alex Thorne that does not float enough, but somehow he appears to scoop it up. The game continues, but the crowd erupts with down calls. Eventually Machine listens to their fans and some type of stoppage gets initiated on the field and the observers step in. Machine gets the call and throws it deep to make it Circus 3, Machine 2. The crowd begins to focus back into the game.
This thing settles down, yet again. There is Ultimate going on, but the crowd gets more and more disengaged as the Circus begins to widen their lead.
Half time comes (8-3) and there are some raffle winners along with shout outs to sponsors.
The crowd continues to daze and begins to demand excitement. Dylan Freechild gives the crowd a hammer they have been craving for (9-3). But it’s not just a hammer; it’s perfect, in stride, to the breakside, 50 yards maybe, for a goal.
The Circus is slowly beginning to master the art of their product: keep it exciting and win at the same time.
It is about now I begin to think NexGen is not even close to a proper name. None of these players are the next generation, just a quick look at their roster along with the recognition and awards these 15 players have wracked up and it is no wonder they have a 2 -1 record with things looking very promising again tonight. Most of them have very vital roles on some of the best club teams in the country. Teams that they have been a part of for multiple years. If they are the next generation of anything they are the next generation of Team USA. And they do not even practice together.
While the score does not reflect it, the game continues to be exciting. The Circus is not afraid to jack it to keep the crowd’s interest. Machine even begins to pull deep help leading to a lot of 2-on-1 jump balls. The Circus is good, but not that good.
Around 13 – 3 the crowd yells “Chi-ca-go” and Machine gets a little bit of life back.
Following another Machine miscue: “To the bar!” is shouted and we are reminded that while a game is going on, most of the crowd is here for exciting plays and the the high school reunion type party that is going on and will continue afterwards.
A few more goals by each team and the Circus wins 15 – 6.
After the game you are reminded that while this is a sport, it is again more of an entertainment product. Things I have never seen in Ultimate begin to happen. The Circus and CUT share a picture together, not just that. People are asking for personal pictures with certain players on NexGen. I spot players signing discs. A few kids are dying to throw with a Callahan winner. It is almost surreal; who thought this sport would get to this level this quickly? Just five years ago you could stand on the sidelines (the actual painted line) at Nationals and no one would bother you or ask who you were.
The Circus is the perfect example of how this sport is evolving; yet never straying away from its roots. It is a party and a game. If the Circus is coming to a town near you, do not miss it.