Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Future of Pro Paintball

Looking rather bleak isn't it? The future of pro paintball, that is. Among the noble but dwindling ranks of hardcore competitors there is a lot of confusion and uncertainty--and if not fear at least concern. What's happening? Why now? What, if anything, can be done about it?
The rather bleak answer is nothing much because the impermanence on display is a feature not a failure. Granted it is also a largely unintended consequence too but once the basic pieces were in place all of this was pretty much inevitable. The PSP's origins were nearly the opposite of what it became--a for profit paintball event promoter. The beginning of the NPPL was as a representative body acting on behalf of aligned tournament teams to improve the quality of events by acting cooperatively. The NPPL was to vet promoters and see to it that events the NPPL teams agreed to attend were held to certain standards. Within a couple of years that morphed into a smaller sub-group from within the NPPL promoting sanctioned events which in turn evolved into the PSP. And an operating assumption of the league is that players and teams have a shelf life--and they act accordingly. The league is, after all, a business. It provides the best tournaments it can and they do their best to get as many teams as possible to play. Who those teams are is ultimately not important because teams come and go. It's just the way things are. What does concern the league is numbers. That is the environment the pro teams compete in.
The other principle contributors (would be virtually irrelevant if the good times had continued to roll) to the coming complete collapse of pro paintball as we've known it in America was the electro-pneumatic marker, the rise of the Russian Legion and the shift from a growing industry to a declining industry. The Legion pushed the existing pro teams to professionalize (and consequently spend more money to be competitive) at nearly the same time sponsorship dollars began to shrink. The end result seen in recent years were a top tier of pro teams that were either the factory teams of a declining industry or teams with independent outside resources. Ironically applying more pressure was the move amongst a few of the independents to buy what they hoped were elite players in order to compete for wins right away.
All today's top tier teams will be gone in 3 years if things stay the way they are. The future pros will be simply some percentage of the best divisional players and either by rule or necessity the standards and demands placed on pro teams will decline. New names will rise up but in the near term future the quality of play will also decline--although making that quantitative judgment may prove difficult or be disputed based on whatever game is then being played. And somewhere around 5 years into the future the cachet of pro paintball will be sufficiently threadbare that it jeopardizes the existence of the PSP. (If it takes that long.)
Could a brighter future exist? Sure, I'm simply extrapolating the near term future. Who knows where competitive paintball might be in twenty or fifty years? (And most of us don't care all that much.) I also think it's possible for a different path to lead to a different outcome. My comments reflect the way things are today.

Monday, January 26, 2015

So Long

Tampa Bay Damage is no more. At least it's no longer a competitive paintball team. Everything else Damage was lives on. The successes and failures. The good and bad times shared. The friends, the family, the camaraderie. Everyone who was a part of making Damage the team it was remains. Along with the memories of all the moments that were team Damage. Like it or not the nature of things is transitory. For every beginning there is an ending. It was a great ride while it lasted.  

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Can the XPL succeed?

If you haven't heard about the XPL check out their website or Facebook page. (I'll wait.) Okay, it is a would be national league looking to build a following primarily by offering a more xball-like (or lite?) format while flashing cash prizes--at least for the winners. The XPL is using APPA for registration and appears to be on board with APA's classification system as well. Entries are a fraction of PSP fees and the venues will all be pre-existing local fields in various spots around the country. For example first up will be a hometown Phoenix event in February followed by a March event in Florida (at the new Tracks & Trails near Ft. Meyers.) The Phoenix event isn't offering an Open division but the Florida event is and 'Open' is included in the (very) thin rulebook. Otherwise it's bread & butter will be D3- D5. The Phoenix event had 39 teams registered when I checked and Florida had 38. Nearly half the Phoenix registrants have already paid.
No, the numbers aren't huge and I doubt they frighten the PSP--yet--but if those kinds of numbers actually show up for the inaugural series of events everyone will begin to pay attention. In part because the teams the XPL is targeting for customers/competitors is the same teams the PSP relies on to a significant degree and if the XPL pulls entry level divisional teams away from the PSP the loss will hurt. Looking at the teams presently registered for Phoenix they appear to be heavily local (no real surprise) and not sporting names I recognize. (Though I confess I'm not any sort of authority on D3/D4 PSP teams.) Even so the Florida list of teams has a number of teams I recognize as PSP regulars or semi-regulars. Both events however are largely populated (so far) with local or regional teams.
All of which is almost meaningless right now. How the XPL does will depend on how well they deliver on their promises. How satisfied the competitors are with the events and whether or not the new league can make a few bucks in the process. For now the most important thing is to not screw it up. That means having viable schedules and staying on time. It means having experienced refs. It means providing oversight and customer service. It means being prepared for unexpected eventualities or at least learning from past (hopefully) small mistakes. It means using these early events to project the right image and build a brand.
Right now interested teams are giving the XPL the benefit of the doubt because it sounds like something they want to do. The first event or two will either support a positive impression or begin to tear it down.
There are things that need to be improved on sooner rather than later. The website is the face of the league. It's okay but some of the efforts are amateurish with misspelled words and poor grammar. If the events are great nobody will care but if the league appears unprofessional now it may put off teams that might otherwise try an event sooner instead of later. Do we play the first one event near us or wait and see how it goes first? And the rulebook is a page, not a book. Nothing about penalties or equipment or even post-preliminary play. Issues will come up at events that require rules in black & white. I could nitpick a few other odds and ends but I trust the point is made.
Can the XPL succeed? Absolutely, warts and all. All it has to do is deliver on promises made (and implicit) and deliver a positive competitive experience for its teams. Come close to that target in the first season  and the XPL may end up turning teams away in the second--and it won't matter if the website is in Portuguese or not.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What Will PSP Pro Look Like In 2015? (part 2)

Okay, let's review--and expand. No sideline coaching could create the occasional moment of high suspense for the audience but it won't be predicated on new displays of player skill but on ignorance.
Imagine two opposing snake players nearly side by side separated by a Wing and neither aware of the other. Definitely suspenseful for the spectators but not a showcase for talent. Conversely two snake players in mirror positions both aware of the other produces another sort of suspense for the educated viewer. Each player is calculating his next move. Is he close enough to run down his opponent? Wire or highway? How well defended is he? Which way is he looking? Sit tight, defend myself, make a move or keep working the inside and crossfield for kills while relying on my support? From my point of view being successful in the second scenario is considerably more difficult but to each their own.
But without sideline coaching players can make (more) successful bunker runs and live (more often.) Given the tendency of even the pros to overrun their targets while often displaying poor technique and the fact the runners are most often shot by someone other than the player they are running down I think it unlikely. The exception being situations where the players involved are isolated on a portion of the field from teammates and opponents alike. For example a three on three where each team has two players on the snake wire and one each in the doritos. In that scenario a game changing opportunity exists on the d-wire. How often does a similar scenario arise in which sideline coaching would make a difference? Not too often.
While it will probably prove to be correct that we will see more diverse breakouts early in events because of the unreleased layouts some other factors will influence results as well. The reason teams might try unique plans is because they are calculating their opponent won't be prepared for it. But the calculation then proceeds to the next question: Does successful execution provide sufficient reward to take the risk? Did we blow up their play, get a couple of quick kills and generally cause havoc? It's all good. Did we lose a body and end up in inferior field position? Not so good. And since no one will have played the layout (much if at all) the answer will likely rest on a couple of other factors. Is the team/coach predisposed to take chances and is the team normally inclined to be more defensive or aggressive? Note that neither factor has anything to do with the actual layout. The point is that in a scenario where a number of the elements are unknowns teams and players will revert to their normal tendencies and probably shade toward the defensive given the uncertainties involved. This would definitely happen at the divisional level but a larger percentage of pro players, even those on nominally defensive teams, are liable to overestimate what they can do in uncertain situations and so may be more inclined to try. And there are a handful of players capable of intuiting these environments more successfully than most but even they are hampered in this situation by the field itself. Whether or not the teams "know" the layout they understand how the game is played in the current environment of a 150x120 field with around 50 props arranged with 2 wires and a center A--and they will prepare accordingly. Will this prove to be a playing environment that encourages aggressive play? Only if the players are aggressively-minded to begin with and should that aggression fail to win points for now it remains an open question how long the aggro efforts last. Finally it's far easier to play defense as a unit than it is to organize and play offense as a team in a playing environment filled with unknowns so even if best case this effort frees up some players to "display their talents" in won't be as a result of superior team play but rather unique individual efforts. (Which may or may not matter to anybody.)
The crux of Xball has always been the balancing act between ROF and movement. And one of the defining characteristics of the 'pro' player was to evaluate, understand and act effectively under the most adverse of circumstances; high volumes of concentrated paint. The pros didn't sit in their bunkers all day when 15 bps (or more) were flying around the field. Nor did they necessarily run all over the place when the ROF was reduced to 10.2--though that is what should have happened if the ROF was previously overwhelming and depressed movement. The move to "true" semi-auto is simply another step in the same process. Of course it is also true that at some ROF restriction it all breaks down and players would then be able to run around almost at will. But would they? Only if it proved to be a winning tactic. [In Dallas I expect to see Ironmen, Shock and X-Factor attempt to push the envelope the hardest--and give the PSP what it wants--but their success will depend on the other pros preparation and the layout.]
Apart from the impact of "true" semi-auto on laning (fewer eliminations?) will be its impact on other aspects of game play; gunfighting, running & gunning, gap control, lead support and more. If players are at a distinct ROF disadvantage running & gunning will they do it anyway? The point is there are dozens of these individual repeated situational scenarios that varying proficiencies of shooting "true" semi will impact. And while it isn't unreasonable to suggest the players get better early on at least game play will be heavily weighted for a "skill" whose impact is only being guessed at presently. If for example snake players are heavily out-gunned routinely with the new firing mode it alters the risk/reward and if support players are less effective in keeping their leads protected it alters the risk/reward for pushing that lead forward. How much that sort of situational change will impact general game play is unknown but as the unknowns stack up the cumulative effect isn't likely to persuade players to be more aggressive and unpredictable.
If the league really wanted to open play up they would stop penalizing aggression with the confetti of red flags that routinely discourages taking any chances at all. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

What Will PSP Pro Look Like In 2015?

An excellent question. I'm glad I asked. In order to offer some ideas it must be assumed the stated changes will be in affect and no radically different additional changes will be added. The league seems to believe (hope?) that the changes will free up the unique creative potential of each team and with less sustained streams of paint in the air facilitate more action packed aggressive paintball--and cost the paint sponsors less. (Seriously. The paint guys will tell you they lose money pretty much every event.) By the way, this is gonna be a long post so I'ma break it up into sections given your limited attention span. No need to thank me.
That outcome is predicated on the notion that no sideline coaching, no early layout release and the so-called "true" semi-auto firing mode will change the nature of the game in ways that will encourage that result. The no sideline coaching is intended to reduce the amount of game flow information snake players have (and can respond to) in real time with the expectation it will result in more aggressive snake play or at least more random snake play. No early layout release forces teams (and players) to evaluate the field and devise plans for competing based solely on their understanding of the game and their inclination as a team. The expectation (assuming some actual serious consideration applies) here is that team styles will emerge creating more dynamic spectator interest and that in general those efforts will be more aggressively-oriented (than the trend of recent seasons.) And the new firing mode is intended to make it easier to move, harder to defend (or deny movement) and tip the risk/reward balance toward faster more aggressive playing styles.
Could things work out that way? It is possible but I think it's unlikely. (The only element that will work as planned is the less paint shot and that will happen for different reasons than assumed though ROF is a contributing factor.)
Interestingly both the PSP and the Millennium are attempting to achieve similar outcomes but are choosing radically different methods. Both want faster more aggressive play. The MS is attempting to alter play balance with their latest bunker kit. They have eliminated the MTs (Mayan Temple, tower, rocket, etc.) and added an extra snake beam and 6 cones. The cones will prove to be difficult to nearly impossible to live in particularly in comparison to the MTs. Per the example the league provided it seems reasonable to expect layout designs that use the cones in important positions that will force them to be played to one degree or another. And high risk props in positions that normally ought to be played will result in some quicker eliminations and/or some new strategies introduced into the game play. At least that seems to be the hope. And that too could work as desired but runs the risk of also alienating some percentage of the players as well. [There is some tipping point between making the bunkers so "technical" game play goes from challenging to just plain frustrating. Will the cones be that point? We'll see.]
The least significant change is the no sideline coaching. It should encourage better on field communication and for some players who may have gotten a little lazy it will push them to prepare better. Otherwise, the principle impact will be a loss of real time game flow information and less information means more uncertainty and uncertainty never has encouraged more aggressive play. Still that's the least of the changes in practical terms. (The only caveat is the rare occasions when players "get lost" and their opponent has no idea where they are.)
No early layout release will have more impact on practice than on the play of the actual matches. Even so I do expect more diversity in breakouts especially on Fridays. Team tendencies will effect play calls and different teams will evaluate the possibilities differently and that will result in more variance initially. However teams will have to learn quickly what is working and what isn't and (hopefully) adjust accordingly. By Saturday and certainly Sunday the teams will have scouted the other teams and everyone will have seen what everyone else is doing and much of the newness or wrinkles in play will have evened out by that point. By Sunday the matches will be about execution more than tactical choices, as usual, and teams will play the matches consistent with their philosophy, in other words after a fashion they believe gives them the best chance of success. [More on this later because it's important.] Should things play out as I've suggested it means that the Friday game results become the most uncertain in outcome in clashes of unexpected and unprepared for breakouts and game plans. Consequently smart teams will focus on getting successful results and (again) depending on philosophy this will tend to make teams more, not less, risk averse early on. And of course the nature of Race To hasn't changed. A team may start out balls to the wall but if it doesn't work odds are they won't keep at it. Conversely a team that is more deliberate by nature only becomes even more defensive. Nobody wants the point spread to get out of hand ironically because PSP claims justifying the move to Race To initially--a 3 point spread is the kiss of death--is now the conventional wisdom.
The introduction of "true" semi-auto could make the biggest difference. If everyone adapts without too much trouble and most players can shoot around 10 when stationary and upwards of 8 on the move then the impact on game play will be insignificant. If however there is a wide variance among the players in how well they adapt or if the moving ROF is closer to 5-6 the outcome is less predictable but could go either direction--to retaining the status quo or giving the PSP what it seems to want, more action, but that isn't exclusively a function of paint in the air or knowledge of the layout.

Next time VFTD will take a look at how the changes might produce some unintended (and unwanted) consequences.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Latest On Not So Semi-Auto

Geez Louise. Busy day. 2015 PSP schedule released. Check. Website updated. Check. (Love the nearly illegible new font choice!) Got those covered in the day's first post. And now word that the pros have been given a "semi-auto" mode--as of last weekend--to try out. (See this PBN thread for a heaping help of the usual fare.) The first thing to keep in mind when trying to decipher this change is that it has zip zero nada to do with whatever rationale the league offered up for public consumption. Some drivel about player skills and so on iirc. The objective here (along with the no coaching change and no early layout release) is a desperate attempt to give the webcast more universal appeal by altering the risk/reward characteristics of the pro game, ie; they want to speed up play and generate more action. And since they've discovered manipulating layout design doesn't deliver any guarantees this is the next step. Well, that and a pressing desire to give away less paint. If you keep the Big Picture in mind it all makes a certain kind of sense.
Regarding this latest "semi-auto" effort apparently uncapped is out. At least for now. (And probably for good as I suggested when the original announcement was made back in December.) It's now capped at 12.5 bps--what divisional used to shoot--and the new PSP standard software requirement eliminates shot stacking. It not only eliminates shot stacking (or queuing) it also eliminates any shots for trigger pulls that may occur in less than 80 millisecond increments. (A trigger pull every 80 ms would result in a ROF of 12.5 bps.) Without shot stacking the gun will (theoretically) only fire a shot as the result of a recognized trigger pull. I say recognized because in this current configuration it won't recognize any trigger pulls that occur within the 80 ms window. The result is you could pull the trigger 14 times and discharge fewer actual shots. (There's a decent graph explaining this characteristic at the front of the PBN thread.) So while the league is still advertising semi-auto as one pull one shot this particular version isn't anymore semi-auto--by that simple definition--than the ramping guns were.
What the cap and the 80 ms gap do is allow for easy enforcement as the league's hand-held chronographs can enforce that standard. So no need for expensive high speed camera equipment that was never going to work anyway. Is there some wiggle room in this "semi-auto" formulation? Yes, there is but even with the requirement all pro boards be factory standard issue if they can be flashed externally potential problems remain. And the higher the cap the greater the enticement to find ways to shoot faster. In fact with the given rules its possible to cheat the intent and remain legal--which may be why the league has implied it has a variety of enforcement methods available. Time will tell.
In the meantime enjoy the spectacle and when the details make your head hurt remember the Big Picture.  

MLP News

Major league paintball, doh! MLP. Are you new here? Try to get with the program. I guess I should have posted yesterday's speculation sooner. The PSP might have released the 2015 schedule sooner. Naw, probably not. Busy busy busy negotiating park space in Smyrna TN (outside Nashville) for event #2 no doubt. The Sharp Spring Natural Area is part of the city of Smyrna parks system and appears to be predominantly wide swatches of open grass fields--which works for paintball quite nicely. According to historic weather patterns the norm is low to mid 70s in early May but we'll see. Nobody expects snow in Texas in March either but crazier things have happened. The last time--a long time ago--I was in Nashville for a paintball tournament it was cold and dreary. Fingers crossed.
The long time order of events has been altered as well with Chicago moving to event #4 in August. If Chicago can retain its recent attendance it will go a long way toward negating the traditional event #4 attendance dip--which seems to happen no matter where that event is hosted. MAO (at OXCC) takes over as the mid-season event. While a fine venue it is ultimately limited in how many teams can be accommodated so I wouldn't expect it to rival the old Chicago numbers but anything around 180 teams ought to be considered a great success.
Perusing the updated league website the only other note of interest was in Prizes. (Although I was amused that to see "How to be a vendor" was currently listed under the Media tab.) I don't honestly know if these prizes are new in significant ways but it seems like there have been some changes made so here goes. Champions gets 10K for first and 4K for second per event with another 10K for the series title. Challengers finalists get half off an entry. There's money to two places in D1 and D2 at each event. The rest of the divisional event prizes are entry fee related and all the divisional series prizes will be half off a full season's entries for the next division up.
I expect there will be more PSP news before the Dallas event so stay tuned.
Over in Euroland the Millennium announced their annual upgrade kit from Sup'Air and the 2015 bunker kit adds one snake section and replaces the Mayan Temple (MT) (rocket) with 6 cones. The cones are about 4 feet in diameter at their base and approximately 6.5 feet tall. No word yet as to whether or not they can be laid down or not. It seems since the league was struggling to design fast paced action layouts they've rid themselves of a bunker type everyone can play for another "technical" prop that will encourage players to ignore the Cones altogether unless compelled to play them. On the example field provided with the news release it's apparent that much of the opposite wire can put enormous pressure on the corner Cone. It will prove difficult for even compact players and, depending on placement, mighty damned technical for everybody else.
It seems a curious choice given the efforts the MS made in other off season changes to be more inviting and accessible. It's one thing to challenge the players and another thing completely to make the game unplayable for some. It wouldn't surprise me if some of the national leagues retain and use some of their available MT's once the season is underway instead of slavishly following the Millennium's lead. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

East of the Mississippi

I thought it might be amusing to play a little what if while we all await the PSP schedule for 2015. What if rumors are accurate suggesting a Nashville event will replace a west coast event? That would put the whole season schedule east of the Mississippi. Is a league that ignores have the country a national series? What makes a national series, well, national? Is it venues? Is it the draw? Is it the presence of pro teams? Or upper division teams in general that would otherwise have no place to compete?
What if there were no pro teams participating? Or the slate of pro teams was similar to those taking the field the last season of the NPPL?

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Peter Principle (Sorta)

A few of the OGs will recognize the post title. Back in the last millennium--no not the European tournament series--The Peter Principle was a popular fad in the business community. It posited that good employees were promoted to their level of incompetence. Every promotion was earned on merit until that good employee was no longer capable of doing a good job because eventually nearly everyone reaches the limit of their abilities. But it's impossible to tell when that limit will be reached because their past is filled with success.
This post, btw, is the year's first overtly devoted to the deficiencies of the (nearly) universal classification system employed by APPA and supported by the PSP. (Or vice versa. Whatever.)
The prior post published entitled, 'One Undeniable Truth About Paintball' was an introduction for today's post (and in case you failed to pick up on it was about so-called sandbagging. Now go back and read it again. Puts a different spin on things, doesn't it?)
Not so long ago there was a robust national scene--until there wasn't--while competitive paintball at the local level was frequently a free-for-all. Within this time frame the national level format was changed dramatically, a competing league evolved, the industry hit a brick wall and the turn out for traditional 5-man began eroding at the national level.
Within that environment the original classification system was introduced. It was considerably cruder than the present version. As most of you well know it not only classifies players but also engages in the redistribution of talent by formulaic determination of where a given player can or cannot play. It does so based on team rosters and team results. It does not--because it can not--evaluate and rate the player's performance. That means if a team rosters 12 players and 6 or 7 of them play most of the points all 12 are treated identically by the system.
By the numbers somewhere around 15% of a divisions competitors will be moved up a rank by season's end. Given however that multiple scores are required the teams that compete more frequently are effectively ranked up at a rate greater than 15%. The result tends to diminish the standard of competition in that division from year to year and elevate some teams and players who prove unprepared or unable to compete at the next level--and the end result of that is a significant attrition rate among teams and players.
(The gist of the counterargument is that teams and players quit everyday regardless of division of play and the life cycle of a competitive player is around 4 years so it's important to keep the up-and-comers motivated and with places to go.)
However even assuming all of that is correct shouldn't there be a focus on and an effort made toward retaining as many players and teams as possible while upholding a standard of competition that makes the divisions meaningful tiers of accomplishment?
For a league, an industry and current players everywhere concerned the sport is in decline isn't it rather foolish to be actively driving away players who want to play the game in the name of a formulaic fairness?

Next time, All Paintball Is Local.

Friday, January 9, 2015

One Undeniable Truth About Paintball

There's always somebody better than you. Even if your name is Ollie Lang. (It applies to more than just paintball too.) Maybe not better all the time but given the object of any competition is to win--and nobody always wins--on any given day there's somebody better than you. Even if you consider yourself a winner.
Now there are a lot of applications that can be drawn from that simple truth but I have a particular one in mind. Once upon a time in paintball's distant past--a dozen years ago or so--competitive paintball was easy to sort out. There was Pro, Amateur, Novice and eventually Rookie was added to the mix. At the national level the differentiations were mostly self-selected. There was always a team or two here and there that didn't belong but mostly because they weren't good enough, not because they were too good. And, surprisingly, it all worked out, by and large. The majority of national level competitors were there for the experience and to discover where they (currently) fit on the grandest stage in paintball. There were (a few) winners and there were (more) losers and everybody knew how that was gonna work before they got there.
The local level was sometimes, okay, oftentimes a different story. While national events were a big deal the locals tended to attract attendance with prizes. Although sometimes it wasn't even about the prizes. Sometimes it was just a matter of reputation and sometimes it was an issue of skill. With only four categories of player (or team status) it was possible to have some fairly wide swings of ability even within divisions--at least that was the claim. And when some sweet prizes were on the line, well, you can see where this was leading. Promoters would exclude some teams cus they were "too good" (meaning nobody else would show up) and the divisions were eventually divided further. Further divisions reduced the size and content of individual prize packages--and over time more than a few promoters, events and series disappeared.
Paintball now has a top down movement to systematize at least 8 player ranks and to what end? Fairness? (But what's fair?) To encourage participation? To make everybody a winner? Is it working?
I don't think so and in the next couple of posts [or at least soon] I'll get around to the whys and why nots.
In the meantime allow one undeniable truth of paintball to sink in: There is always somebody better than you.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Reminder

I never do this but I'ma make an exception this time. (Okay maybe once or twice but the exception proves the rule.) There's a new video out about a paintball team--yeah, I know, you've seen it a hundred times--except you haven't. This one is special. I don't watch paintball action videos. They're boring. The mechanics of the game are pretty straightforward and different players will execute them with varying degrees of grace and skill but none of that tells you anything important about playing competitive paintball.
 'The Awakening' condenses both the essence of competition and the experience into a nicely crafted short (13 minute) video. You can watch it on YouTube or over at PBN where I first saw it. It features a D3 team out of New England called the Bay State Bandits but that really isn't important. It could be the story of any player, any team, any where, any time. And it tells a universal story shared by all competitive ballers--with one not insignificant distinction. These guys are winners but were once everything but. Another truth about winning is it really doesn't much matter what level--at least not in how that final success feels; the relief, the joy, the pride and accomplishment. But wherever you are in your competitive paintball journey 'The Awakening' is also a reminder that win or lose the game and the grind is something you share with like-minded ballers everywhere.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Functional Team Chemistry

It might be worth your while to check out ROI Of Pro Paintball post before getting into this one if you missed it. It is only peripherally about team chemistry but still serves as a good lead-in. As noted in the previous post most efforts at building team chemistry occur off the field of play and are, at best, a hit or miss proposition. Teammates may end up being the best of friends and yet it somehow doesn't translate onto the field. The reason for this is while positive relationships amongst players is normally considered a facilitator of team chemistry it isn't functional team chemistry or even a substitute for it.
Before going any further it might be helpful to try and define what team chemistry is in a functional sense. (As opposed to the usual--and nebulous--notion of a group of players really getting along and having a good time together. After all, what exactly does that get you if your objective is winning?)
Functional team chemistry is about transforming the play of five individuals into that of one team; of elevating personal play to corporate play.
It doesn't happen because everyone is friends. It doesn't happen after some non-specific number of practices or events. It doesn't happen just because you work hard. It doesn't happen if everyone really wants to win. It doesn't happen if everyone piles into a single hotel room on the road.(etc)
It begins to happen when everyone puts team first. It begins to happen when everyone takes on field communication seriously. It begins to happen when everyone shares a common understanding of how the game should be played. It begins to happen when the game plan provides a unified team goal for each play and it begins to happen when each player understands his or her role in executing the game plan.
Easier said than done these are basic building blocks to the kind of functional team chemistry that elevates contenders to champions.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Doing The Math

With yesterday's announcement by XSV that the team will take off 2015 the pro team count continues to dwindle--and I expect there to be a few more announcements. Once the dust finally settles I think the carry over from 2014 will be 12 pro teams. If that proves correct then doing the math Challengers would need to add 8 D1 teams to fill the bracket. Should 8 D1 teams be willing to move up such a move would decimate the standard of play in D1 and in Challengers. [The new standard of D1 excellence would be last year's 9th ranked team and 8 formerly D1 teams would now have a pro label slapped on them when at least half of them couldn't win in D1. Of course this routinely happens to one degree or another all the time due to the classification rules.]
One purpose in creating Challengers was to make an intermediate step between D1 and Champions because it was evident the gap (in the standard of play) was growing. The idea was to give teams a secondary pro bracket where teams would have an opportunity to develop and the best would eventually be able to compete in the Champions bracket. When promotion and relegation moves up (and down) two teams a year in accordance with the current rules there's no (significant) dilution of talent but wholesale team changes will trash the credibility of both divisions--and rightly so. (It was also a way to shoehorn more teams into Pro and still be able to maintain a viable schedule. A 12 team Pro bracket is pretty much the limit based on the current format before some matches would be forced onto other fields.)
But what alternative does the PSP have? (2 of the top 8 teams in D1 last year didn't even play all the events. Are 8 D1 teams gonna commit to competing in 5 Challengers events?)
On the other hand if my calculations are wrong there could be as many as 15 pro teams ready for 2015. (There won't be.) Of course that still requires pulling up 5 D1 teams--which isn't as bad as 8--but still not so good. Looks like more changes are coming to the pros than the ones the PSP have in mind.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New

Mostly just some miscellaneous musings on the old (news) of the day while we wait for the new (year) to deliver something fresh. In actual news Upton 187 finally got around to announcing the pick-up of Nick Slowiak, formerly of Heat. It's nice to see a nice guy get another opportunity to continue competing but--being a half empty kinda guy at times I can't help wondering about the fate of all the other "pro" players in limbo currently without a team. What does 2015 have in store for them? (Perhaps more Open divisions at the regional level?) This move certainly won't hurt either Nick's or 187's popularity but whether or not it improves the team remains to be seen.
There's also a lot we don't know about the fate of some of the other pro teams. Rumor has it CEP is teetering on the brink of disbanding and who knows what impact the plunging ruble will have on Russian Legion--but odds are it won't be good. And there's still one other team out there I expect to call it quits sometime before next season. Which leaves the fate of the PSP's Champions and Challengers uncertain as well. Is Challenger's worth sustaining if it's made up of mostly unchallenged recently bumped up D1 teams? (Assuming the league can convince enough D1 teams to make the jump.) The announced pro rule changes seem to assume the status quo--but who knows?
I also want to take a closer look at those rule changes plus the laundry list of changes announced by the Millennium. Let's start with our Euro friends. The interesting question is why? In the past the MS has often done an admirable job of shooting itself in the foot so routinely rumors of the PSP going to Europe were met with much hopeful rejoicing. So what changed? I don't know but it may have something to do with following recent trends in team turnout. Over the last three seasons the league has worked hard to keep the locked divisions mostly filled and in the process they have reached out to just about every corner of Europe and beyond. At the same time open divisions have slowly declined. They've also felt pressure from the growing popularity of national leagues. So across the board the league focused on small ways they could make competing more economical while also trying to create new ways for new players and teams to give the Millennium a try. If nothing else the changes made earn the league some goodwill and fresh credibility that will help keep the league in the forefront of tournament paintball in Europe.
Meanwhile on our side of the pond the experimentation continues--maybe. And who knows, they might not be done yet either. Dropping divisional ROF is good for the majority purely from a play of the game, learning the game perspective and should have come as little surprise to most. Conceptually the pro changes are fine too except that they were taken haphazardly ("we'll figure out how to make it work later") and contradict past league practices. When the NXL was subsumed into the PSP and RaceTo was introduced part of the rationale was that it was important the game be uniform top to bottom. That D4 would play the same basic game the pros played. That's now out the window and even if the league can make their high speed cameras work the chances of bringing that technology to divisional is likely nil. And no sideline coaching isn't trickling down any time soon. (The secret to regulation is butts on bleachers, not crowds lining nets or rope lines or bicycle racks.)
The PSP tracks the participating team numbers very closely.  Last year approx. 70% of all entries were paid by casual competitors, teams that only play the PSP once or twice, and as a consequence aren't committed to the series. One might think that would encourage consistency and deliberation when contemplating changes. If recent seasons are to be relied upon one would be mistaken. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Have a Merry Christmas Unless ...

I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year--so I will--but keeping in mind the perils & pitfalls of our ever more tolerant and diverse world I also offer this alternative:
Please accept with no obligation, implied or explicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2015, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere. Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.