On every possible occasion, luck has bounced in the complete opposite direction of The Stars in 2021. First, the reigning Player of the Year, Jeff Sneider, lost a #1 Contender Match to open the season. Then, the unbeatable Star Wars Champion, Alex Damon, lost two straight title matches to Andrew Dimalanta. Shortly after, Marc Andreyko retired from regular competition, and The Odd Couple lost the Teams titles to Shazam. Even promising starts by players like Jeannine the Machine and Jacoby Bancroft were halted by rising stars in the league. Season 8 has been nothing but a dumpster fire for Roxy Striar’s squad.
At this point in the year, The Stars currently occupy last place with the worst record in the league at 5-10. Only Jeff Sneider is on a path to the title, but it is no walk in the park. The former Teams Champion will need to defeat a combination of Chance Ellison, Adam Collins, and JTE to even get in the ring against the champion. Now at the midway point in the season, The Stars are at a crucial tipping point, and Roxy Striar has a difficult choice regarding the faction’s future. Do they tank or do they try?
Nobody really likes it, but tanking is as much a part of professional sports as the Draft and Free Agency. For those unfamiliar, it describes the process by which a team intentionally goes out of their way to lose as many games as possible (without actively throwing them) to secure the #1 Overall Pick in the Draft while also gaining significant experience for young players on the roster. In addition, when tanking a team usually tries to offload aging stars in favor of young rising talent and future considerations in the Draft. Tanking is essentially throwing in the towel early to focus on doing even better in the following season.
By this measure, to fully commit to the tank, manager Roxy Striar is going to have to make some difficult moves. First and foremost, she would have to do some Finstock-level dossier building to draft smart in 2022. Gunning for last place means absolutely nothing if you go on to doom yourself to repeat it by drafting poorly. Knowing both the incoming rookie class and all active veterans inside and out is essential to creating a contending squad in the upcoming season.
Furthermore, Striar would likely have to trade away some of her biggest names. When it comes down to it, there is no way that any contending faction is going to give up their first-round pick without a piece that they desperately need right now. For The Dungeon and Korruption, that might mean a Star Wars star like Alex Damon, while a faction like The Den might be happiest with a Singles star on a path to the title like Jeff Sneider. Not only does losing these players earn The Stars picks for next season, but it also helps them lose more matches to stay in line with the #1 Pick.
Yet, therein lies the real issue with tanking: it is hard to sign star players after a losing season. Trading breeds a feeling of resentment in the player being dealt to another faction. Why would someone like Jeff Sneider ever return to The Stars if they got rid of him at the first sign of trouble? As for other elite players, nobody wants to be playing for a sinking ship. Certainly, Roxy Striar might be a good enough manager to weather the storm, like John Kaiser was last year. Yet, the current points system has such a large focus on title wins that it appears Faction Championships are going to be won and lost in Free Agency. Is it worth taking the gamble now on the hope that someone like Dan Murrell or Ben Bateman would be willing to leave their factions in the offseason?
Perhaps it is better to just try and make the best out of the remainder of the season. After all, The Stars are certainly capable of going on a run to end the year. Alex Damon is going to have to face a murderer’s row in the Star Wars Tournament to fight back to his title, but it would be hard to say that he is not the favorite to do so, despite two stumbles early in the season. As for Singles, there is definitely a realistic scenario where Jeff Sneider makes his way to and wins a title on his current path, however difficult it may be. Not to mention the fact that Odd Couple II looked very strong in their lone title match and could present a killer combination that can hang with any of the elite teams in the tournament.
The problem is that in order for The Stars to hang around this season, they are going to have to win all four tournaments because of how far they sit behind the current favorites. The biggest obstacle standing in the way of that outcome is the fact that Roxy Striar simply does not have an elite Innergeekdom player on her roster. Alex Damon and Brandon Hanna might be the closest, but they are not quite on the level of Chandru Dhandapani, Mara Knopic, and Mike Kalinowski. Therefore, Striar would have to deal with factions that have deep Innergeekdom rosters, but that only leaves Korruption and The Dungeon who will likely ask for Damon in return. A trade such as Robert Parker or Mara Knopic and a future pick for Alex Damon would likely be The Dungeon’s ideal, but there is no way Striar agrees to it. The Stars could maybe talk another faction down from Damon to Zack Burkett, but it would probably never come to pass. As it stands right now, managers in the Schmoedown are too loyal to their players to make a deal of this level.
The absolute worst-case scenario for The Stars would be a repeat of last season’s performance. Playing well enough to be hanging around at the end of the year, but not good enough to contend does nothing for the faction. It does not put them in a better position for Free Agency signings (as fans of The Den would be sure to point out), and it does not give them a fantastic position in the Draft. It is a lose-lose scenario.
With this in mind, The Stars have got to decide who they want to be this season. Do they want to be the faction who wins this year, the faction who wins next year, or the faction who does neither of those things? Their fate is in their own hands.
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