The 2023 PBR Camping World Team Series Championship was a showdown of the best in rigor and athleticism as the best bull riders in the world participated in the PBR’s second-ever officially sanctioned team-based, scored series event. The action went down from Oct. 20-22 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, and audiences were on edge the whole time as they bore witnesses to upsets and underdog success stories that ultimately led the Texas Rattlers to their first championship title.
The PBR Camping World Team Series Championship is a progressive elimination tournament that marks the culmination of the annual PBR Team Series tour. In 2023, the eight participating teams were the Arizona Ridge Riders, Austin Gamblers, Carolina Cowboys, Kansas City Outlaws, Missouri Thunder, Nashville Stampede, Oklahoma Freedom, and Texas Rattlers. However, the PBR recently announced that the Oklahoma Freedom is set to rebrand as the Florida Freedom, with the team’s inaugural homestead event taking place at the Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, Florida, in August 2024.
The series features the best bull riders in the world, with teams comprised of seven “protected roster” riders and up to five “reserve roster” team members. Throughout the Team Series regular season, teams participate in five-on-five, head-to-head events. In each game, the team with the highest aggregate score from its five riders is deemed the winner. The team with the most game wins across one of the regular-season events claims the honor of being named the overall event winner. In the event of a tie, the teams engage in extra outs to decide the winner.
However, the finale event operates slightly differently. The event features the same 5-on-5 format as the events leading up to the tournament, with two teams eliminated each day. The first two rounds of competition on the first two nights of the event include a three-way Last Chance Game for teams that lost their game earlier in the night. The teams with the highest aggregate score on five outs in the Last Chance event then move on to the next round of competition, with the other two being eliminated from the series.
The top two teams in the series earned byes leading into the finale, which means they did not have to compete in the initial round of qualifying events as the others duked it out and clawed their way into the following round. The Gamblers led the pack as they entered championship weekend, with the Kansas City Outlaws tailing them in second place.
The Gamblers gave it their all through the regular season. By the end of the regular season events, the Gamblers’ Jose Vitor Leme had secured his second consecutive PBR Teams season MVP title and a $100,000 prize, edging out the Outlaws’ Cassio Dias. Leme went an impressive 23-for-32 (71%) throughout the season, continuing an impressive run throughout 2023 that saw him earn the reserve world champion title in the PBR Unleash the Beast tour. En route to the finals, the number one-seeded Gamblers earned the record for the most regular-season wins with 19.
However, the championship events matter most in this series, and until the last bull is ridden, it can still be anyone’s game. Last year’s events saw a stunning underdog race to the top from the Nashville Stampede, who bested the front-running Gamblers to claim the 2022 PBR Team Series Championship title. This year, all eyes remained on the Gamblers to see if they could claim the top spot they’d earned throughout the season or if they would once again be knocked from their place at the top of the rankings due to exceptional runs from opposing teams.
For this year’s event, the Texas Rattlers, led by Head Coach Cody Lambert, ultimately reigned supreme. The team earned the title of PBR Teams Series 2023 Champions, emerging from a third-place finish during the 2022 season. The Rattlers secured a third-place finish in 2022, and they headed to the 2023 PBR Teams Championship at rank number three. Throughout the season, the team scored event wins at two events, going 2-1 in Ridgedale, Missouri and winning during extra outs, and also winning the team’s homestead event during the PBR Rattler Days at Dickies Arena to mark its second consecutive homestead season win.
On the opening night of the championship, the Rattlers faced the Thunder, taking the lead due to a game-high score from Joao Ricardo Vieira that led them to victory with a final point score of 174-84.5. Although the Thunder, which had entered the playoffs in the bottom seed, didn’t take this win, the team managed to eliminate four teams throughout the playoffs for a solid redemption arc and the chance to compete for a top spot on Championship Sunday, though they couldn’t quite pull off the win.
During the Rattlers’ next round, they took on the Freedom and secured an early lead with another successful ride from Vieira, followed by a second score of 86.25 from Eli Vastbinder. This led to a one-ride score advantage for a final point score of 170.75-87, securing the team’s place in the semifinals.
For the semifinal events, qualified rides from Brady Fielder and Vieira meant the Rattlers easily bested the Arizona Ridge Riders. This would bring the Rattlers into their championship matchup, where they faced their top-seeded and fellow Texas-based rivals, the Gamblers.
In round one of the five-on-five matchup against the competing Texas team, Vieira immediately secured the team an 88.75-point lead on Outlaw, which Brady Fielder grew to a total of 87.25 points atop Ah Hell. It would remain close, however, and a third ride from Cody Jesus on Tijuana Two-Step for 88.75 would make for a dramatic final round. Entering the fifth and final round already a ride ahead of the Gamblers, the crowd erupted when closer Daniel Keeping rode Red River for a whopping 90.5 points, the best of the game. Since no score from the Gambler’s would be enough to put them in the lead, the team’s efforts were futile as the Rattlers had already netted the win with a score that ultimately clocked in at 355.25 – 265.25.
Notably, the Gamblers’ Dalton Kasel was out for the event, so it’s impossible to know how the team would have managed had one of their star protected riders been able to participate in the action.
But the Rattlers weren’t the only team to engage in some impressive feats. While the Ridge Riders, who earned the reserve title in 2022, wouldn’t have a seat at the final table, they established a monumental win over the Thunder to score a 344.75-0 with four rides to the Thunder’s zero. The Ridge Riders’ Eduardo Aparecido proved he’s a force to be reckoned with after his 3-for-4 overall weekend led him to a grand total of 7-for-8 all-time in PBR Teams playoff competition after the two years of finals competitions.
All in all, the team series events are gaining traction among rodeo fans. According to Neilsen, the Team Series boasted more than one million viewers per CBS broadcast, while event attendance was up 24 percent over the initial season.
Team Series events will pause once again as the Unleash the Beast gets back in action. However, PBR fans can look forward to more blood, sweat, and tears in the PBR Team Series when it returns in July 2024, with next year’s finale event set to occur in October.