Freedom in Motion had the honor of sending some of our speediest athletes out to Akron, Ohio early August 2021 for the World Chase Tag USA 2021 championships. Competing in WCT was a welcome change from a whole year of virtually no competitions or parkour jams back in 2020. The FiM team had an absolute blast at this event. From meeting wonderful personalities & leaders from around the US parkour community to gorgeous national parks and intense parkour competition. This was one of the best events of the year. However, there was a bit of an ugly underbelly to this event that mostly went unspoken…
Athletes on the World Chase Tag Quad
In this article we are going to break down the Good, the bad, and the ugly from this year’s World Chase Tag competition. The purpose of this article is to give credit where credit is due to the organizers of this super fun event, while also drawing a little attention to a few glaring mistakes that if corrected may propel World Chase Tag (WCT) to new heights as an emerging sport for the parkour community and the sports world at large. Lets jump in…
World chase tag is a new sport created by Damien and Christian Devaux in Europe. World Chase Tag is essentially professional tag, how cool is that? Parkour athletes form teams of 6 and go head to head in a tag area filled with parkour obstacles, known as the Quad. The chasing team has 20 seconds to tag the evading team. Failure to tag the opposing team means they score a point. If you do get the tag you now take over the evading position and now have the opportunity to earn a point for your own team. Who ever has the most points after the sixteen 20-second rounds winds the match. This year the final 7 matches were aired on ESPN2 for the first time ever. Very cool.
Watch WCT USA 2021 on ESPN’s Live Stream Here on YouTube
There was a lot of good about the US WCT 2 circuit. WCT as a competitive format feels good. While general parkour skills and speed certainly come into play, unlike other parkour competitions, you don’t need to be an all-time best athlete to score points. Smart decisions and 20 seconds of doing your best can absolutely rake in points for your team. Rob Schihl from Apex said he enjoys this format because you don’t need to be in an all-or-nothing mindset. There isn’t an obligation to commit to the most difficult movements you have ever done in your parkour career or put your body at extreme risk to take a 1st place title. One really just needs to do try their best and rely on their training. The matches go by generally quick and are incredibly fast-paced once your on the quad. As soon as the first match starts you feel all the pre-comp stress melt away as you watch your team mates chase, be chased, and wait for your team captain to toss you into the Quad.
The organizers of this years event worked incredibly hard to pull off this multi day competition. Mark Toorock, CEO of American Parkour and one of the sponsors of the event, put in countless hours building the Quad organizing with venue officials, designing the way the set looked, working with ESPN officials, and probably so much more. Despite the mountain of work Mark was in a great mood and very conversational every time we crossed paths. Other volunteers like Dani Fitchett from Infinite Movement Academy came out to help coordinate all the teams competing in this event. Any time we had questions or needed help scheduling our team training sessions Dani was extremely responsive over text. Dani helped resolve all issues we were having quickly. Damien, the Co-owner of WCT came out from Europe to ensure the many moving parts of this event all came together. Damien also did an awesome job personally connecting with nearly all the teams and athletes, making himself available to chat with throughout the event. During the after party he could be seen sitting and talking about the future of WCT or athlete experiences. We’re sure there were many more names putting in blood, sweat, and tears to make this event happen. Big shoutout to the US WCT crew for pulling this event off with mostly no hitches.
This year received support form Energice, a vitamin infused popsicle brand. While their offering to the athletes themselves was minimal, offering popsicles while athletes were on the quad (sort of bad timing to have an ice pop) we can assume they help support this event financially as their logo can be found on all team jerseys and on banners around the Quad. Edit: Mark Toorock later told me that athletes could have taken an ice pop from the coolers by the quad at any time if they walked onto into the play area to grab one. If Energice was hoping to reach an athletic audience, they hit their mark. ESPN offered world chase tag a contract and opportunity to have the final 7 matches air on national TV. This made the motivation to get to the semifinals all the more enticing and certainly lit a fire in many athletes. ESPN giving WCT and by extension, parkour, a spotlight on the national stage was huge for the sport. No doubt many people heard about or saw parkour for the first time ever the night this aired (Aug 6th 2021) and the many reruns to follow.
Freedom in Motion athletes sporting the FiM WCT Energice jerseys
Having so many prominent athletes and movement community leaders from around the US all come together in one place was a very cool experience. It was a great chance to see friends who live around the US after so long of isolation. Smiles, stories, and good vibes were abundant. Even if a WCT team was knocked out, they still had the rest of the event experience and community fun to look forward to. Shout out to local parkour guru Andrew Foster for sharing local training spots and cliff jumping sports with the visiting athletes. We all had a blast! Hit him up for private lessons if you’re in the Akron area.
The After Party
After the finals, all teams headed over to a local pub for a night of fun. Oh man this was a good time. Many team captains opened tabs for the other athletes (thanks for the lemonade, Amos!). A massive dance circle broke out on the back patio. Some heated games of pool and corn-hole went down. All filled in with hours of great conversations and connections. The after party may have been the highlight of the whole week!
For something to be in the “bad” criteria, it needed to have been planed for, but not realized. For example, there were a number of technical issues behind the scenes this year. The buzzer needed to declare the start and end of a chase frequently disconnected and was non responsive, prompting Mark Toorock to run tests and re-tests in the middle of many matches. This was particularly frustrating for team Tempest who experienced 3 or so false starts back to back prompting their athletes to become rather flustered. The break in their focus caused athletes like Tavon M. to back away from the chase plate needing to be changed out by his fellow team members. This also had the unfortunate effect of giving the opposing team a slight advantage. Typically after you complete a chase you rotate into the evading position and prepare to score a point for your team. once in this position athletes are often breathing heavy and experiencing slight exhaustion since they just ran like crazy trying to tag the opposing team. These technical issues consistently gave the opposing team’s athletes a longer than usual rest window which may have been fairly frustrating to the Tempest athletes. We’re sure this was frustrating to the WCT crew as well. Hopefully we can do better here next time.
Chase during the 2021 World Chase Tag event.
Once in the semi-finals, the WCT crew asked for long 5-ish minute breaks randomly during the matches. We’re assuming these were for editing or technical breaks for the ESPN team, or perhaps they were planning for commercial breaks? The disruption of these breaks gave the evading team a slight advantage each time this happened, similar to the technical issues above. Playing the matches straight through and editing them for TV later would have been the “Fair” way to play these out.
Spirit airlines cancelled hundreds of flights the Monday and Tuesday athletes were arriving into town. This caused some teams to get in at 3am the day they were suppose to compete. The only female athlete that would have competed, Ashley Johnson, was unable to ultimately attend this event due to these flight cancellations. Spirit, you really threw a wrench into the planning of many of the competing teams, it was extremely stressful for everyone involved. Not sure why you did that, Spirit, but get your sh*t together.
This section of the article might get a little emotional, especially for the parties directly called out. Remember, our intention in pointing these things out here is not to discredit all the hard work done by the organizers. Rather, we wish to bring attention to the ways in which WCT can be improved for future seasons and have a better shot at becoming a viable sport ready from the national stage. That said, there were a lot of mixed feelings about a number of topics this time around.
“Fair” may have been a poor choice of words.
Because Spirit air’s mass flight cancellations many teams had their practice times rearranged. Each team was allowed one hour of private training while on the quad. Dani Fitchett did an epic job of helping all the athletes who needed rescheduling find their proper 1-hour time on the quad. In some instances, some team members were present while other team members were stuck at some airport somewhere in the US the question of “can those of us who are here get some time on the quad while we wait for the rest of our team to show?” was raised to event organizers. Their reply was essentially a “no” because granting any 1 team more time on the quad would be unfair to the other teams. In a vacuum, this is a totally reasonable rule and would make the integrity of the competition very solid. However, this decision wasn’t made in a vacuum. The organizers of WCT granted access to the quad to Apex for a whole two months leading up to this competition. With this in mind, the use of the word “fair” left some athletes feeling confused about the rules and acceptations made at the event.
Team Apex paid to have the Quad shipped to Colorado so that WCT didn’t have to ship the whole thing back to Europe or keep it in an expensive storage unit somewhere in the states. In exchange Apex was allowed to build the quad and have team practices for two months leading up th the event. Apex did allow those who had the time and money to travel to also train on the Quad.
Now, I can see why WCT made this choice. It saved them a ton on money on storage & shipping fees. I get why Apex wanted the quad, that thing would be awesome to have for a so long and they were trying to win. In a sport like this time spend on the quad training lends a massive advantage. If WCT Quads were as readily available as basketball courts then this wouldn’t be an issue. However there is only one in existence (as far as we’re aware). Because of this, we found that giving the quad to any one team undermined WCT’s attempt at creating a fair competitive environment.
WCT allowing Apex to own the quad for a period of time presents a number of challenges.
Pay to play? Time on the quad is the single biggest advantage I can personally think of when it comes to why any one team would win, all else being equal. The fact that WCT was open to being paid to loan out the quad made season 2 of WCT essentially a pay to win season. Other teams didn’t realize they had the option to rent the quad in the first place. The two competing Apex teams (Apex-ETH and Apex-Doge) were clearly far more comfortable on the arena with a vastly higher knowledge of the nuances of WCT strategy and field knowledge than any other teams. What if two teams wanted to rent it? Would it have come to yee who pays more gets the quad? I think allowing a team to pay for the quad was an ethical mistake on the part of the WCT organizers. It muddied the integrity of this seasons competition and left many athletes questioning if their $3,000+ total travel costs were worth it.
Single Elimination Bracket
This year’s event was a single elimination bracket. If your team lost a single game, you were done. Teams paid a ton of money to make it out to Akron to play. Giving them at least 2-3 games minimum would have made the 50% of teams who were eliminated round 1 and 75% of teams by round 2 feel much more welcome and as if their time and effort were worth the experience. Honestly, this compounds on the whole Apex had the quad thing. We’re sure it felt bad for the teams who had to play them, given the missive advantage WCT provided them. Having a losers bracket would have softened the blow of losing, for sure. This point made, we understand that the time the organizers had to set up the quad, film this event live, and break down the quad that same night of the finals was extremely tight. They didn’t have the option this time around to provide much more playing time. Hopefully this can be accommodated for in the future.
Let me take a moment to say, I’m completely respect the ability of the two competing Apex teams. They won out of sheer skill. They won the previous season as well, though not by such a huge margin. I don’t personally put any blame or ill will on them for having the quad. Their team leaders saw an opportunity to make their team a leading US team with their eyes on the global title. My issue here is mainly with how WCT said “yes” to their offer of having the quad, not so much that Apex jumped on an opportunity. Moving on…
Apex Eth celebrates their second WCT victory.
No athlete compensation
There was a lack of meaningful compensation for the parkour talent. As far as tangibles goes, athletes were given a popsicle and a super-cool jersey for competing. The most meaningful reward athletes experienced here was the experience of playing tag on the quad, and seeing so many friends for the first time after the 2020 shutdowns and travel restrictions. That aspect of this event, coming together as a movement community, was legitimately worth while. Looking at this from the perspective of creating entertaining television you could regard the teams of athletes of stuntmen with highly refined skills. Skill many of them have worked on for years. Typically talent would be given a talent contract that came with some level of health coverage if an athlete got hurt and needed x-rays and a level of financial compensation for their time and hard work. Especially considering that this aired on ESPN, we’d like to see some meaningful athlete support for future seasons, especially if we’re filling the pockets of ESPN executives. This is a reoccurring theme for parkour athletes.
Parkour is a relatively young sport and not many paid opportunities exist for parkour athletes. Its increasingly important for parkour athletes to negotiate for compensation for their time and talent. If athletes keep working for free, it will become a detrimental “norm” for our industry. One thing that could have helped this that might not have been too much of a burden on the over all event budget of this event could have been more product or whole sale discount codes given to the athletes. Clothing companies such as Ollo or APK could have contributed some merch or store codes to help give a sense of compensation. Everyone likes a good swag bag.
No athlete accommodations
This season on WCT athletes did not receive any housing, travel, per diem, food, or any form of accommodation. The previous season did offer support to athletes. This had many teams wondering why there was such a huge gap in the lack of acknowledgement for athletes this time around. a full week of hotel, rental car, round trip flights, and food adds up to thousands of dollars. had athletes been compensated or accommodated in some way then the whole Apex having the quad thing would have been much less of a sting to the losing teams. Having a double elimination bracket also would have helped this issue feel not so much of a burden. The feeling of “was this worth it?” was top of mind on many private conversations around the corridors of Goodyear Hall.
This caused athletes to book their own rooms for as cheap as possible in a city they likely were unfamiliar with. Apex and Tempest both happened to book a hotel that was reportedly so disgusting and dangerous that the Apex team canceled their reservations and rebooked. The Tempest team reported things like drawn weapons by other hotel patrons and non-existent hotel cleaning staff. Yikes! Glad you made it through that one alive, Jeff & crew! Not sure who wins worst company here, Spirit airlines or this hotel.
One note about the over all budget of this event. WCT 2021 almost didn’t happen because of budget constraints. The over all 2021 budget compared to the previous year’s budget was considerably smaller. This can be largely out of the hands of the WCT organizers and have a lot to do with contracts, luck, and timing. As such, we are grateful the WCT crew & sponsors were able to pull this event off with the tight time and budget constraints. The consensus of the athletes at this event was that we would have rather had this event exactly as it was, constraints and all, than to not have it because it wasn’t up to ideal standards. WCT organizers, good job getting this event wrapped up successfully. Despite the flaws, you guys were operating under some challenging conditions. We recognize that.
No women competing
Last season has exactly one woman competing, she was on team APK Grey and performed well! This year there was zero female participation thanks to Spirit Airlines, Ashley Johnson wasn’t able to make this event and join her team. The movement community would love to see more of a mixed representation. Perhaps require to enroll two female athletes on each team and they must be sent in for tags during the matches? Honestly an all-women team or entire all-women season would be incredible. There are absolutely enough female athletes in the parkour communities around the states to make this happen. We recommend talking to some prominent female parkour leaders in the sport and seeking their advice.
Overall, we’re grateful to the WCT organizers, APK, Energice, ESPN, and the Devaux brothers. You have the collective “Thank you!” from us at Freedom in Motion and the US Parkour community at large. We hope that these points in this article are seen as constructive and helpful to the WCT crew.
That’s it for now. We’re open to questions, comments, and opinion submissions. If WCT or any competing teams would like to add any comments, photos, or corrections to this article please let us know! We’re creating this article to improve the viability of World Chase Tag. Our hope is that this candid article will land for the WCT team and inspire them to take these things into consideration in the future! We’re genuinely excited for the next season of world chase tag! #DontGetCaught
Conversations with the following athletes and WCT organizers were taken into consideration before writing this article: Brian Prince(Athlete APK Grey), Mark Toorock (WCT/ APK), Tavon McVey (Athlete Tempest), Adam Kozy( WCT Head Reff), Dani Fitchett (WCT Athlete coordinator), Jacob Blake (Athlete Freedom in Motion), Maayan Olshan Thank you all for your time and insights!
Written by Jimmy Davidson (Athlete, Freedom in Motion).