2023 WATL USA Pro-Am Championship: Debrief

November 24th, 2023

It’s been a week now since we all flew home from the USA Pro-Am Championship. In reflecting on the successes and failures of the event, we want to address the concerns and perceptions of the event directly to the community and all those who came to the Pro-Am.

The intent of this event was to be one of community, camaraderie, and fun; highlighting everything that the sport has to offer. The goal was to bring together a wide array of talented individuals, showcase Pros and Amateurs alike, and foster an inclusive environment, welcoming all members of the community. 

The end result was inspiring in many ways. We saw Pros working alongside Amateurs by captaining skills teams, community members lending hands and advice where applicable, and newcomers feeling more at ease than perhaps they have before. The reports, posts, public conversations, and private feedback from Pros and Amateurs alike showed that the final product was one of which every single participant should be proud, and we want to thank you for all you did to make that event special for those involved.

However, in achieving that end goal, there were mistakes made and it is incumbent upon us to acknowledge and address those.

The elephant in the room at 4 am – skills.

While it has been memed and joked about, and will undoubtedly be a subject of bonding for the next few years, skills should have been handled better, and we are very sorry for the unanticipated consequences of the risks taken by trying something new. We had intended the games to be a fun way to bring the community together, and they were extensively tested in that light. 

What we did not factor in was the competitiveness of the players when faced with a chance to be on ESPN and the effect that the prize pools had on the speed of the games. These factors led to disputes and longer matches than we have ever seen. Combined with new events which we, again incorrectly, assumed captains would be more knowledgeable about and did not take enough steps to communicate, made for a long day for all competitors.

Out of this, we have taken a lot of feedback from both the community and through internal debriefings. Some of the things we will improve on include:

  • How we communicate with key players in this type of event (in this case, the Pros in particular)
  • Changes that can be made to the format of the games to make them faster
  • Improved documentation and training for the games

While it would be easy to throw in the towel and mark the experiment a failure, this is not a road we are interested in taking, given what we’ve heard about the games from those involved. The potential for something better exists and, from all accounts, is something we should actively work towards. Even if one or two events survive in some iteration going forward, we will do all we can to support that movement.

While the most glaring issue was the timing of the events on Saturday. There are a few other factors which we would like to address from the weekend as a whole. 

Baby, it was cold outside inside

The heat was obviously an issue. While this was an equipment failure out of our control, we have addressed this failure with the venue, and taken steps to ensure that at future events, key systems will be tested and confirmed prior to events, as well as language added to our contracts to ensure systems such as HVAC are in good working order prior to the event.

Communication is key

We have heard from many Pros that they were not happy with their dedicated event being the smallest part of the weekend as a whole, and receiving the least amount of ESPN time. As we expressed above, this event was never intended to highlight Pros specifically, however, we could have done a better job communicating that to all those involved from the start. 

“Pro Amateurs”

Finally, a common piece of feedback regards those competing in the amateur bracket. Every competitor in the bracket signed up under the same requirements. Many of these throwers took the opportunity to improve their game in the two seasons leading up to the competition, as a result of their entrance to the competition. 

This was noted well prior to the event by us internally, and we will make no apologies for the decision that we came to after discussing it, to stay the course and not remove them from the event, or bump them up to Pro. That decision was based on one fundamental reason. They qualified properly under the conditions that were set out, and to remove them or force them into the Pro field would be punishing them for putting in the time and effort to improve. That is NOT the way to foster and encourage growth in this sport.

Those who made the stage (as well as all top finishers) worked extremely hard to get there. One competitor specifically asked about signing up, saying he fully intended to put in the work in the next six months to improve – which he did, traveling hours to practice each week and attending tournaments at which he learned strategy, talked to Pros, and prepared for the championship. We should all aspire to put that kind of dedication into improving our games!

On that subject, Tyler has taken the time to review the statistics surrounding the argument of “Pro Amateurs”, and we invite you to review it below, as they are very relevant in justifying the decision that we made and stand by.

Our final word on this subject is that we have already taken steps to make the Advanced/Amateur separation more apparent next year, but those who worked hard and improved themselves in this sport should never be subject to any negative comments and deserve only praise for what they have accomplished from the community. 

To wrap up, we want to thank each and every one of you who attended the first Pro-Am. If you have not yet, make sure that you fill out the feedback form and let us know what you liked, what you did not like, and how we can do better next time, because ultimately we are here for YOU, and want only to create the best experience for all throwers at all the WATL events.

Statistics Discussion “Pro Amateurs”

  • Being selected for a high-level event has historically seen those throwers improve at much faster rates than the average thrower due to the motivation provided by the competition.
    • The US Open saw competitors improve scores tremendously leading up to the event, far outpacing non-selected peers.
    • The average improvement rate in leagues for the year was 1.3 points. The average improvement from those attending the Pro-Am was 4.6 points. 
  • By improving, several throwers (including two of the TV finalists) exceeded the previously set amateur threshold in subsequent seasons.
    • There were actually 16 throwers who were in this boat. The average placement of those throwers was 33 (meaning that MOST of them actually placed far below their expected place.
    • Forcing those throwers out of the competition would have been unfair, and, had that been the precedent, all could have just not thrown as well in subsequent seasons and still easily stayed under the threshold.
    • Several reached out about this specifically, motivated by the opportunity to participate, telling us they fully intended to improve and be above that average by the end of the year.
  • A key distinguishing factor is how varied the results can be. While the top 2 did make the finals, this is extremely common at every level and would be the likely result no matter what the cutoff threshold is.
    • Beyond the finalists, the average seed of those in the top 12 was 38. This is not the case in most open tournaments.
    • Both finalists were put into B and had to come back. And both had clear games in which a hit kill would have knocked them out entirely.
    • 85%  of the field had high scores above the averages for the finalists, with the majority of competitors having a high score above 60. 
  • Lack of tournament experience plays a huge role in tournament performance.
    • The finalists had way more experience performing under pressure. They actively sought out advice from Pros and attended other events.
    • Several games were lost purely because throwers did not fully understand the tournament setting. Anecdotally, I saw several throwers refuse to call kill, even when down 4, 5, or 6 points on throw 9. These same throwers often hit on 10 when it was already irrelevant. Nerves and situational awareness are almost as important as averages. 
  • No matter what the threshold is set at, those at the top of that threshold are going to get flak for not playing up a division. In a sport of one-throw games, every game can go either way, no matter what someone’s average is.
    • Lowering the qualifying average would have just seen different people as the top seeds, and our metric was scientific vs any random number. Rather than choose a number, we set a parameter, which was announced when sign-ups were live. 
    • The two finalists were knocked down by the 78 and 45 seeds (who averaged 4-5 points below them)
  • Setting a lower bar for participation only limits that participation (especially if you want to disqualify those for improving. Common comments were:
    • The average should be under 50: This would leave 60 competitors.
    • The average should be 45: this would leave 14 competitors.
    • Amateurs shouldn’t be throwing 64s. 20% of the field had thrown a 64, and there are throwers in over 600th on the leaderboard who’ve thrown a 64.
    • Others also felt that Amateurs shouldn’t be throwing above 60. But there are throwers past the 3000th place on the leaderboard with 60’s, and 60% of the Pro-Am field had a high score in the 60s. 
  • Ultimately, these people followed guidelines set out, put in the work, and should be met with nothing but respect.