Wednesday, September 17, 2014

T-E-A-M

In the world of competitive paintball we talk a lot about team. But for most it means little more than a pre-game chant and cramming 5 or 6 guys into a single hotel room. Don't get me wrong, both of those things can help build the camaraderie amongst the players you want but it can also be superficial. The latest Virtue video featuring the Russian Legion talks about team and team building. PBN has the video here. In the Legion's case it's a largely new team with young players and a blended team as it includes a number of French players from the TonTons. It is a mix of experience, culture and language and they are making it work--and it's happening because they have discovered how to be more than the sum of their individual parts; they have become a team.
In a competitive environment team is more than friendships. It's more than getting along or having fun as a group. It's more than eating meals together and hanging out together on the road. All those are team-building activities but they only lay a foundation for building a team.
A team only truly exists in the crucible of combat on its chosen field of competition. Team has one goal, one purpose with every member acting in accord to achieve that goal and fulfill that purpose.
Which sounds pretty damned inspirational but what does it mean? How do we get beyond the pre-match chant? When do we know we're really a team?
One answer is when you play like a team but that too isn't very helpful. So, whenever the mood strikes (or you lazy slackers remind me) I'll do a few posts that may serve as guideposts for the journey. Next time we'll take a look at team chemistry. In the meantime check out the RL video.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dueling World Cups

It's not really a duel. At least not if your metric is participation. PSP World Cup should have around 320 teams based on current registration and past results. MS World Cup will have around 125 teams which will be a ballpark figure for a 2014 Millennium event. On the other hand they will have the Under 19 national teams competing. (Typically those national teams are made up of players already there playing for their regular teams but who knows, the Under 19s may get some unique players. It's part of the MS's finding additional revenue streams and validating the Series international and national cred. Each MS event hosts a different nation-based event; the men's championship, the geezer championship and the women's championship.)
This year the Millennium scheduled their event later in September than usual while the PSP scheduled their event a little earlier than usual in October. One outcome is that two teams, Impact & Heat, from the PSP's Champions division will be competing at Chantilly leaving them only one practice weekend prior to PSP's World Cup. (If they spend that time in Florida they will have the weekdays leading up to Cup to prepare as well.) Along with two Champions teams a number of pro players will be in Euroland instead of practicing with their U.S. teams. Those teams include Dynasty (4 players), X-Factor (3 players), Ironmen (at least 3 players) and Infamous (3 players). There are probably others but with those mentioned the number of players missing will have some impact on their teams preparation as well as their own ability to bring their best game to World Cup. In addition Damage's coach will be at Chantilly as he's currently on the Polar Bears roster as a player--and whether he plays or not he'll be in France.
It's an interesting question--What impact will missing players or other commitments have on their respective teams preparation for PSP World Cup? It won't be irrelevant but it's otherwise hard to say what the consequences might be. For example not only will nearly half of Dynasty's roster be in France but with the travel schedule will be on the road the better part of a month going into Cup. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Lazy Slacker Re-post of the Week: Growing Competitive Paintball

This was first posted in a Baca's Mailbag in December 2011. There were some interesting comments you can find here. It's seems like a worthwhile topic to revive and I have an ulterior motive besides. Two actually. One is I've been hard-pressed of late for topics that get me excited enough to post so this is my way of saying now's your chance to guide the conversation--at least for awhile. So send any topics, questions, etc. you have via Baca's email (link on the sidebar) and I'll post and respond to the best of them. I'll address my other motive in VFTD's next post.

 So, do you see any way for the industry to help make tourney play more attractive to field owners, who can then sponsor and give refuge to more teams (who then buy more high end guns and cases of paint)? 

Actually, I do. And I'ma throw in an extra answer besides--consider it an early Christmas present from VFTD. First thing the industry needs to do is stop sponsoring paintball teams. And by "sponsoring" I mean offering direct to teams discounted merchandise. (Did I have you going there for a sec?) Selling direct breaks down the relationships between teams/players and the local field. If the local field/pro shop is the conduit between local/regional/national am teams and discounted product it is a small price to pay to encourage fields interested in supporting competition paintball to do so and builds bonds at the local level between teams/players and their local fields/pro shops. As it stands the manufacturers who go the direct "sponsorship" route are cannibalizing their own grassroots markets. 
While a good start that's not enough. In this time of economic contraction and internet sales (and even some big box store sales) the local field/pro shop--particularly if it has nearby competitors--has to offer something more, or at least different. Given that I think the bar has been raised too high for simple entry into the competitive paintball world I have some suggestions; offer and schedule times for basic paintball training; combine that with restricted but informal afternoon (or morning) (or both) streetball style "competitions" periodically and encourage or directly promote the development of paintball clubs based around the local field. The idea is to begin by teaching anyone interested the fundamentals of the game and then give them a place and a way to begin to experience their growing skills in an environment of their equals. You want more and future tourney players? Especially now they don't appear ex nihilo. The club can be an element the local field organizes or it can be an arrangement between those interested in building a paintball club and their local competition-oriented field. The club exists to develop tourney players and provide a ladder of teams on which to compete.And if the local field is the source of discounted gear, etc. you now have a reciprocal basis for the relationship. And in the longer term the most successful clubs will attract more and better players and more attention from would be industry supporters and everybody would potentially benefit.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

MS Chantilly-Paris Layout

Unless the center is being pushed aggressively this layout will play like two separate fields with the majority of the action being vertical confrontations up and down the wires. There are a few crossfield shots but the likelihood is one wire or the other will be blown when teams reach the fifties and beyond. Strong center play will mitigate that to one degree or another if it creates early mismatches. Despite initial appearances it should be easier to dominate the snake wire. The layout is capable of both 20 second points and 2 or 3 minute points. The more evenly matched teams are skill-wise the more tactical superiority will determine outcomes. Passive, defense-oriented teams will struggle mightily unless their technical skills are superior to their opponents.
Let's take a quick look at some of the reasons why. Most teams will meet with limited success laning OTB so both wires are makeable. A few useable lanes exist but expose the shooter to counter-lanes. The quicker teams shouldn't have too much difficulty making a wire the majority of the time.
Even when teams make a wire OTB the dominate feature of this layout is the gatekeeper aspect of the four insert Temples. Each one serves as the primary access point to a wire and the primary means of denying access to the wire. (The pink arrows indicate the direct confrontation created at these gaps feeding the wires.) Much of the early action and focus will revolve around these Temples and much of that action will be direct gunfighting. The only other primary option to control the wires comes from the (orange) CKs. Their placement (and size) limit both their effectiveness and defensibility--they will be hard to live in once opponents are on the wire(s). The result is contain or control from the interior of the field is at a heavy disadvantage further pressing the Temples into direct confrontations or else give up access to the wires.
Once on the wires most of the available shots are on the same wire (or that half of the layout) until the fifty--or beyond--is reached making the standard of play battle to reach a wire, battle that wire to get upfield, eliminate your wire to get positional opportunities to finish off your remaining opponents.
Breaking up the wire-centric focus are the upfield options in the center of the layout. While the M is playable I've focused on the props marked in green to represent center play objectives. The goal is to disrupt your opponent's breakout and rapidly attack one or more of their primary positions or early transitions in order to gain a quick body count advantage. Thereafter the center of the field can be used to deny counter-movements and pin the remaining opponents in place. The MT is better suited to the task as it is more defensible and has better lines-of-sight than the Can.
Players on the wires have limited ability to contain or control other wire props. For example Snake 1 cannot stop his mirror from bumping to Snake 2 so for players on the wires the game becomes a race to the 50 and against opponents on their same wire. (The d-corners can contest wire movement, unlike the snake corners.)
Finally the snake wire is more easily dominated because it is more difficult to contain and/or control movement on that wire. Center (green) positions have some options as do the (orange) cakes but all are limited. And the corner TCKs are not in position to deny movement up the wire but are able to aggressively attack the insert (gatekeeper) Temple making gap contain very difficult. While the snake appears more open and exposed it should be easier to push bodies up that wire.
This is the kind of layout that could easily engender upsets.

Ratings
From 1 - 10 on some varying factors. 
Plays Fast. (promotes quick points) Fun to Play. (players enjoy it) Easy to Ref. (clear and open lines-of-sight) Balanced. (allows teams to play their way) Spectator Friendly. (solid action and exciting play for the knowledgeable fan)

Plays Fast: 7 (Win the gunfights, win the war. Still kind of a crapshoot.)
Fun to Play: 6 (If you've always wanted to be a front here's your chance)
Easy to Ref: 5 (Center of the field action could be tough to control)
Balanced: 3 (Defense? We don't need no stinkin' defense)
Spectator Friendly: 6 (Boring timid teams make for boring timid paintball)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Pr1me Country

Pr1me is a program out of Birmingham AL much like the old Gridlock program in the Carolinas. They boast a number teams playing at both the PSP and regional level, the MiLP. And they have proved highly successful in recent seasons. They also have a prime facility with private fields that are a joy to behold better to play. I'm here this weekend putting a number of the squads through their paces in preparation for the MiLP final and to assist in the whole team's continued growth and development. Had a solid first day and am looking forward to tomorrow. This sort of vertical team structure is one of the best ways to provide young players with the direction they need and the opportunities to flourish. And this season the MiLP has proved to be both well regarded by the competing teams and highly competitive. A shout out to the Pr1me guys and a reminder there are positive stories in the world of competitive paintball.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ripped from the Forums of PBN

Pretty dramatic, uh? As long as it got you this far the post title has served its purpose. And in fact today's post is commentary on items found over at PBN. But before I get to that there's this little anti-PBN rant I've been saving. About the ads now appearing in every second "post" of a thread in the forums. Really? I know, research says they get seen--actually noticed--by a higher percentage of users than other ad placements but there comes a point where y'all cross over from being a forum for paintball players and become a forum for paintball (and other) advertisements. S'all I'm saying. Oh and I bet users can't turn them off either.
There's a moderately interesting poll asking if the shell color of tourney paint should be regulated--by the promoters presumably. The notion being that brightly colored shells are easier to see by spectators--webcast viewers?--and that helps them understand the action and get a better sense of the speed and energy of the game onfield. I'm not convinced that from the normal spectator viewing angles it would make that much difference but even so it's a no-brainer to giving it a try--isn't it? In fact it's such an obvious no-brainer I can only conclude that for some reason (product differentiation?) that the manufacturers have objected in the past. And if they didn't I can't imagine how such a simple idea was overlooked.
Then there's (another) thread about player reclassification--this time in the PSP forum--wondering if there's a way to get a friend reclassified so he and his buddies can all play Cup together. In this particular case the player in question was supposedly never ranked higher than D1 and hasn't played since 2006 but is still D2 and the team is signed up to play D4 RaceTo-2 or something. I wasn't paying much attention to the details but it got me thinking. (And not for the first time on this subject.) Everyone (with an interest in competitive paintball) is always decrying the seemingly diminishing numbers of players while constantly encouraging all and sundry to do their share to get more peeps playing. Which is all well and good but what about all the people who used to play but have since been discarded by the game because of classification? What about them? Former players. They don't need to be sold. They need to be given an opportunity to play again. Instead, in some misguided effort to be "fair" we've doubled the number of competitive divisions and booted out untold numbers of players who loved the tourney side of the game.
What is tourney ball to the majority of players? It's a competitive outlet where they get do enjoy sports mostly with their friends. Especially at the lower levels. Instead of building on that we've driven the demographic down and helped push the most stable sustainable base of players out. And then we wonder where all the players have gone.
Yet, if the powers that be attempted to change the status quo tomorrow the hue and cry from the present rank and file would refill Lake Mead with their tears. Because it would be unfair. Because there just might be a few more players competing better than them. 

NAX Finals Layout

Our friends to the North (eh!) will be playing for the CXBL's Richmond Cup and the season title on the layout to the right. They will be playing Old Skool Xball at 15 bps. In looking at this layout VFTD won't be offering an analysis beyond pointing out a few characteristics I expect will feature in how the layout plays and aspects of play that teams can expect to see repeated routinely.
The orange arrows indicate potential lanes OTB. The snake side lanes are often narrow and may or may not be duplicated on the event field(s). It won't matter much, particularly for taller laners. With the limited choices in primary bunkers the issue will simply be can the laners get their lanes in place quickly enough to do some early damage. The opportunities are there. If not teams should focus on denying the Temple insert and snake OTB and focus on containment on the snake side and let their center and/or dorito attack do the heavy lifting. It's going to be more difficult to get wide OTB on the dorito wire as there are solid open lanes to shoot. The only counterbalance is the gap between D2 and the corner Can (run it deep and up) but a good lane between D1 and the Pin is perfectly placed to get a corner runner or a runner attempting D2 OTB. Also on the d-wire it is possible for teams to break short to minimize initial risk and it wouldn't surprise me to see that tactic employed much of the time. (And when it is the opponent should press the center and trap the team trying to play safe.) This layout does however lend itself to breakouts of opportunity by which I mean guns up immediately shooting designated lanes followed by movement to primaries that aren't predetermined but chosen based on the effectiveness of the initial lanes.
Perhaps the best feature of this layout is that it invites attacks up the center particularly to the d-side of the X and the fifty MT. Alternately the centerline MT can be used to lockdown wireside rotations and stage a counter run-through if your opponent moves aggressively to the X early.
The bunkers marked with pink surrounds are the principle mid-game contain and control positions (plus the d-wire corner Can) but as can be seen are of limited effectiveness particularly on the d-wire. The centerline MT (containing the d-wire) is strong as long as the opponent is denied the snake. Otherwise it's the TCK which is so close to the centerline of the field that is is open to attacks from superior angles virtually everywhere on the d-wire, especially the corner Can. On the snake wire both the upfieldl Temple (Aztec) and the Can have line-of-sight on the back of the snake though the Can is slightly obstructed (gotta play it standing up) On balanced breakouts teams will settle in for longer points with the critical gunfights defending and attacking entry into the snake and the gap between D2 and D3.
The bunkers marked in green display the disparity in effective attacks between the d-wire positions and the snake. Even from snake fifty there aren't as many good shots and angles as D3 has from the dorito wire. The mid-line MT offers shots on both the d-wire positions and snake wire positions but otherwise it's better to press the d-wire than the snake in terms of rewarding shots--though to be fair some of the shots from D3 require a high wrap and those may be hard to achieve much of the time.

And now for something completely new. Rating the layouts from 1 - 10 on some varying factors. Plays Fast. (promotes quick points) Fun to Play. (players enjoy it) Easy to Ref. (clear and open lines-of-sight) Balanced. (allows teams to play their way) Spectator Friendly. (solid action and exciting play for the knowledgeable fan)
Plays Fast: 5 (Laning OTB will be decisive)
Fun to Play: 5 (Likely to be highly repetitive)
Easy to Ref: 8 (snake will cause some problems as will 50 MT)
Balanced: 3 (design encourages offense but limits creative attacks)
Spectator Friendly: 4 (too repetitive)

Got suggestions for other values that ought to be considered in rating a field layout? Let's hear 'em.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Improving the Tournament Experience

Sorry kids but here's another tedious post asking for your participation (ha!) but I continue to be hopeful--or else I don't really care. Whichever choice you prefer. In the last post--First Look at the Season Finales--which you failed to respond to despite my invitation--the comments are mostly about the notion that the PSP should improve the tournament-going experience by, you know, doing extra stuff. (If you want to know what was actually suggested check the comments out. I'm reasonably confident no harm will come of it.) So this time I am soliciting your opinions about what would improve the tournament going experience. (Yes, we both know it's a waste of time but I haven't gotten around to previewing either the Chantilly layout or the Richmond Cup layout yet. Which I promised to comment on.)
Despite the futility of this request I am including some basic ground rules in order to further alienate y'all. There's no point in saying you want lower entry fees or cheaper paint. Those go without comment--and we both know it ain't gonna happen. Other than cheaper what could event promoters do that would improve the tournament-going experience? Another way of looking at it might be to point out things you think are missing from the event experience you think ought to be included. And beyond stuff you might like would any of your suggested improvements be the sorts of ideas that might draw more teams?
Tell VFTD how to make your tournament experience better and who knows?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

First Look at the Season Finales

Not too exciting I know but it's that time of year. All the local and regional series are closing in on their own season ending events as well. In my backyard the CFPS has their event #5 coming up this weekend and the MiLP will be closing out their season the following weekend. In the CXBL the Richmond Cup is right around the corner. On the international stage the Millennium is returning to Chantilly, a lovely but somewhat isolated venue north of Paris. Their event is scheduled for the weekend of September 26-28. World Cup comes a bit early this year over the long weekend of October 9-12.
In Euroland the Millennium has seen attendance decline slowly from the season opener Med Cup in the south of France. While the locked divisions are stable the two open divisions peaked at Puget sur Argens with modest drops at Bitburg and Basildon. To date the Chantilly numbers are off by a substantial 20 teams. Still nearly a month away that leaves time for late arrivals but normally the majority have at least registered by now which makes the Chantilly deficit one that probably won't be overcome.
World Cup registration is at 243 teams (or was when I posted this.) With the first deadline still a couple weeks out registration will continue to build. (Whatever the number is around the first deadline is a decent indicator of likely event participation, give or take a few.) And with the later first deadline I expect a significant number of teams to get their entries in by that deadline if not sooner. PSP began the season very strong with higher than expected turnout at the first two events while Chicago was basically flat in the year-to-year and Riverside was down from last year. Last year, counting UWL participation, Cup was right around 400 teams.
Are teams running out of steam (and money) towards the end of the season? What's happening in the series you compete in? Are you seeing similar results at the local and regional level? Drop me a comment and let me know.

Next time (unless something else grabs my attention) VFTD will take a quick look at the CXBL's Richmond Cup layout and the Mills Chantilly layout.  

Monday, August 25, 2014

Say Hello To My Little Friend

My little 50 cal friend (both paintball and marker) that is. If you thought 50 cal was a flop a few years ago and nearly forgotten, think again. While you've been running around on airball fields ignoring the rest of the paintball community 50 cal has been making a big difference on the rental front. Oh I know, nobody cares what the newbies are doing. You know, if it keeps them playing it's fine but it's never gonna have an impact on competitive paintball. (Real ballers play 68.) If that's your take you best reconsider. Sure, 50 cal is largely confined to the rental market but like Splatmaster that is the gateway for the majority of new players entering the game. (Yes, in some places speedball and competition style fields are more accessible and some new players jump in the deep end quickly but that's more the exception than the rule.) 50 cal is proving to be very popular too with both customers and local field operators. Promoted as low impact, "less sting" it's bringing in new, younger and previously untapped portions of the market. And for the field operator it takes up less space and is easier to clean up after. And with the "normal" attrition among players 50 cal will, in a few short years, become the first paintball experience for the majority of players. That means for those who want to take the next step and buy their own gear and play regularly 50 cal won't have the negatives the 68 crowd associate with it today.
Stepping away from competitive paintball for a moment consider what 50 cal could do for the growing mag-fed crowd. With a smaller paintball greater realism in marker design is possible. Less obtrusive air systems are needed to power the markers and the assorted magazines will hold more paintballs than with 68 cal. Suddenly the trade-offs don't look so bad. (Who knows, the big money in markers may be in replicas in the not-too-distant-future.)
And if VFTD is correct about the extent of industry struggle in the current environment 50 cal just may be a big part of the solution. Shifting a growing percentage of their paint manufacturing to 50 cal from 68 would reduce costs at the manufacturing end and would ultimately limit the production of 68. Yes, the Chinese and anyone else could make all the 68 they like but it wouldn't be in anyone's interest to glut the market particularly if, over time, 50 cal begins to dominate the marketplace. (Take a moment to think about what happens to older unsupported products these days and there's no reason the same couldn't happen to 68 cal guns.) Which would eventually lead to either conversion kit sales for old 68 shooters or brand new shiny 50 cal gats. (That would be one way to recreate a marketplace demand for guns.)
And if you still think competitive paintball would be immune I have one word for you; sponsorship. To the extent it serves industry purposes they can influence the marketplace in the same ways they always have. And if that were to mean only 50 cal (paint and guns and assorted related gear) qualified for sponsorship what do you suppose the likely outcome would be?
Will the change if it comes happen over night? Of course not. It will likely take years but if you pay attention and see that 50 cal is continuing to grow and spread that may be your answer.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Guns Guns Guns

Regulars here know VFTD doesn't talk about paintball gear because it only leads to pointless (and endless) arguments ("Is so." "Is not.") and I've no desire to expand this audience with "those people." And I don't do equipment reviews because they are tedious (been there, done that a hundred times over) and nobody wants to hear the truth, certainly not the industry producers. So any post that includes the hardware of paintball is just looking for trouble. Except I'm really not. It's just that I can't talk about the relationship between technology and the play of the game without, in this case, discussing guns, or markers if you prefer. And what the future might hold in a changing competitive environment.
Historically technology advancements have driven the game in significant ways. (Which is an interesting conversation all on its own. Who still remembers actual gravity-feed hoppers?) Another is how marketing created an artificial buying cycle which in turn contributed to the glut of used guns and helped destroy the secondary value of those guns. (But you can see where that conversation might cause some agitation.) So we're not going there. Instead this post will speculate in more detail on how trends in the play of the game might impact future guns. (Or loaders for that matter.)
In my last post, Restricted Paint FTW, I asked a few rhetorical questions about the impact of restricted paint on gun utility and where it might lead. The two most influential tournament series in the world have reduced ROF to 10 bps. (In the PSP it's only for the pro teams but remember the league tried to introduce 10 bps to divisional a few years ago.) At 10 bps performance is hovering on the blurry line that separates modern electro-pneumatic guns from the best of the Old Skool mechanical markers. More to the point it is also a range well within the performance envelope of even the low end electros to say nothing of mid-price markers. A number of pro teams shoot mid-price markers without handicap. The fact is almost anyone can afford a perfectly functional tournament capable gun today. (And we've haven't even mentioned the huge resale market of formerly top end guns available on the cheap.) If the ROF were to drop any further top mechanical guns would be competitive too. Toss in restricted paint usage and it's a whole new game for guns. A reduced ROF and rules mandated scarcity of available paint will reorder gun performance priorities. Ramping becomes largely counterproductive. Air efficiency is nearly irrelevant. (More so even than today.) Improved ergonomics and accuracy become leading trends and differentiators. As the priorities and defining characteristics of 'performance' are altered manufacturers are pushed to produce specialty guns that are actually specialty guns. (Or not.)
Now all of this begs another question--or two. If competitive paintball is merely a tiny corner of the paintball marketplace can it drive manufacturers' decision-making? The seemingly sensible answer would be no. But history suggests technology advancements and innovations have been driven by the competitive game. Or at least largely focused on the competitive game. And that the competitive market informs the rest of the paintball marketplace. Recreational players with their own equipment don't buy $1000 guns because they need them to play. Would that pattern continue or would the scenario & rec crowd continue to want their machine guns and paint sprayers?
Could a changing competitive game create a new divide separating competitive paintball from the other forms of paintball? Would that ultimately be a good thing?

More speculation next time as VFTD ponders another possibility.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On Bizzaro Earth: Restricted Paint FTW

What would a restricted paint game look like? How could it (or should it) be constructed? On Bizarro Earth restricted paint is the norm. (Not to be confused with Htrae, the cubic bizarro world of DC comics. Bizarro Earth exists at LaGrange point 2 opposite Earth in an identical orbit.) All things on Bizarro Earth are the opposite of the way they are here so it follows competitive paintball developed around restricted (low volume) paint usage. (And as fans of the original Star Trek know goodness here is evil there--and usually wears a sinister goatee.) But anyway ...
Unfortunately their game also is played with 12 players per side on one acre fields covered in pallets and tiny log cabins made out of giant Lincoln logs. Which leaves us on our own to evaluate the impact of restricted paint. Let's begin by imagining some hypothetical scenarios and considering the ramifications in those scenarios of restricted paint. (Hey, it could work.) First we need to decide what constitutes restricted paint. What are our self-imposed restrictions? Or limitations? Does full loaders plus 15 pods distributed amongst your 5 players anyway you want sound about right? That's a case and a half of paint. To keep our calculations simple let's say on average the team shoots a case per point. And averages 5 points per match at RaceTo-4. That's only 20 cases for the prelims--approximately. At $45 a case that's $900 bucks. Not exactly a bargain but seems pretty good so far, right? And it would probably trickle down to scrimmages too, right? Which, at a minimum, would be more points played for a given allotment of paint. Of course I've no idea how much paint the average RaceTo-4 team shoots now in the prelims. Let's reduce the paint usage a little more. Full loaders and 12 pods per point. Now we're down to 16 cases for the prelims.
But even the seemingly simple decision to restrict paint usage doesn't occur in a vacuum. There are consequences. Let's see if we can figure out what some of them might be. Assuming everything else remains the same our first choice is how much paint do we commit off the break. Our skill or the layout may influence that choice--as will our success or failure rate. But that's okay. Of course the more paint we commit early the less we have to shoot later on. How effectively will we be able to contest movement? On the current playing field many of the props are relatively close together--certainly compared to back in the day--and if shooters wait for movement to react they will fail more often than not. Which is okay as we want movement. Except--except if it becomes too easy. Part of the pleasure of both watching and playing is accomplishing the various tasks within the game when they are hard to do. If it becomes too easy it's no longer exciting and if everyone can do it there's no accomplishment.
Then there's the issue of what happens as players realize they're running out of paint. They conserve. Which mostly means they stop shooting their guns. Which needn't be but is usually accompanied by sitting in their bunkers. And with every discharge of a paintball the tendency to conserve grows stronger. Even when a team needs to score a lack of paintballs frequently stops players dead in their tracks. And that's not a good thing.
On the plus side accuracy gains (or regains) some primacy amongst the skills of the game. And if less paint increases movement it should create more instances of opponent proximity which in turn will generate more rundowns and run-thrus. Maybe. There's still the concern about how conservation of paint will impact play based on what we currently see in such situations. But even so, it could work out. Might restricted paint encourage players to want more control over their guns again? Could that lead to capped semi and no ramping? Or even a return in utility of the top mechanical markers of old?
The biggest question is how much restriction makes competitive paintball economically viable to a larger pool of potential players? And will anyone want to play the game severe restrictions will create?

Or, who knows, one change could cascade into other changes and before you know we're hiding behind giant Lincoln logs playing 12-on-12. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Faster

Faster is the mantra of the league and more to the point, PBA. It seems the conventional wisdom has settled on the notion that faster points are the only thing our ADD culture will find entertaining. And I confess I fell for it too but I'm reconsidering my position. Sure faster is better when compared to watching soccer or grass grow but those are polar extremes and it needn't be an either or proposition. Nobody very badly wants to watch a 2-1 match no matter what's at stake but it doesn't follow that 30 second points are essential to make competitive paintball entertaining. For example, imagine a maximum point match of all 30 second points. the final score is a seemingly exciting 7-6 yet that match would be 6:30 minutes of game time with 24 minutes of down town assuming neither team called a time out. Is 30 seconds of action followed by 2 minutes of dead air (or talking heads or advertising filling that dead air) really the best competitive paintball can do?
What is essential is that the audience (any audience) is provided a story to follow and that they understand that story. That story is told in words and pictures and any failure to communicate the story disconnects the match from the audience. And every story has context, a back story, a history that puts every match in relation to every other match. Who are the players? How often have these teams played each other? What are their histories? Is there any bad blood between them? Where do they come from? How long have they been around?
If paintball can tell its stories it will find an audience but in order for those stories to be compelling the audience needs to also understand how the game is played. And the truth is even some percentage of tournament players are relatively ignorant when it comes to fully understanding the game they are playing. Which means that the average paintball player who might be interested also needs to be educated to say nothing of the extended potential audience of family and friends and others who get an introduction to competitive paintball.
Unlike the field of dreams simply building it doesn't mean they will come. And focusing on one dimension to the exclusion of all else isn't a recipe for success either. The fan base for competitive paintball will only grow when we stay focused on telling the stories of our sport while continuing to educate those who show any interest. Everything else is fiddling at the margins.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Changing of the Guard?

While PSP Riverside came and went without any *real* earthquakes the ground under the pro establishment appears to be fracturing. Only 6 Champions level teams haven't been relegated this season and that's 6 of 13 teams but 2 of them started the season in Challengers; 187 Crew & Russian Legion. Over the course of the season Heat, Art Chaos, Infamous, Aftershock, X-Factor and Dynasty have been relegated. Only Impact, Ironmen, Damage and Vicious haven't spent any time in the Challengers bracket. Granted, the system puts 40% of the bracket at risk every event but there has been more turnover this year compared to last year. As recently as two seasons ago a changing of the guard seemed improbable at best impossible at worst. And yet here we are.
The question remains: Is that what's really happening? I remain unconvinced. However there are clearly forces at work in the pro division. The upstarts are acting--and playing--like they belong in the elite company of the Champions while time-tested true Champions continue to falter. And by all appearances the gap between the pros and the top divisional teams is shrinking. (Whether that means the divisionals are improving or the pros declining is also open to debate.)
To my eye it is the later. From Dallas this year I've thought the pro ranks have struggled as a group to reach the levels of play that were routine a year, two years and three years ago. I chalked it up in large part to all the roster changes. And I'm sure it has had an impact. (No pun intended.) Even so by this point in the season teams should either be getting their act together or making it apparent it ain't gonna happen. It may seem unfair or even hubris to pass judgment on team(s) but results are results. Not winning versus winning is a pretty simple metric. What is less easy is deciphering why. We talk about the struggle first timers have in Champions but surprisingly the reverse is also true. Relegated Champions haven't done a good job of adjusting to Challengers. Too often they tend to play down--which is symptomatic of a lack of focus and tight mental game. The trend amongst pro teams is to practice less. Both long time and/or successful teams (and players) tend to lose their drive and hunger. Then there's the pro ROF. As regulars here know I have long correlated ROF versus the ability to move as a defining characteristic of the game. If correct a lower ROF dumbs down the game and makes it easier for a larger pool of players to be competitive. At the lower divisional level that's a very good thing. At the pro level not so much. Even field design may play a part. Data is being collected that will (hopefully) ultimately yield a better understanding of the influences on the game. Whatever is going on the winds of change are blowing through competitive paintball.
The other big question is: If in fact the guard is changing is it a good thing for pro paintball? Clearly the league hoped Challengers would help elevate the up-and-comers but if the perceived distance shrinks too much doesn't that also marginalize the pro game? Time will tell.

Monday, August 11, 2014

PSP Riverside Review

The first thing you see exiting the elevator is a sign that reads: Places of refuge available in both stairwells. Only in Cali I think to myself. Only in Cali. Refuge, eh? Worn out tourist refuge? Snail darter habitat perhaps? What sort of refuge does California think exists in the fourth floor stairwell of a Hyatt hotel? From a tsunami maybe but that's not where I'd want to be when the San Andreas decided to fault once and for all. Viva la revolucion? Not so much. Tornado? No thanks. Terrorist attack? Hmm, no. Nor was there any refuge for the unprepared on the unforgiving fields of PSP Riverside.
Speaking of the fields whatever sort of soil and seed begat that grass in drought ridden California we need more of it. Looking yellow by Sunday that was the result of paint, not wear and tear as the surface held up remarkably well. The venue itself accommodated the six fields easily but if there had been a need for much more than that it might have been a very tight squeeze and the available space also largely separated the vendors who were there from the fields and players. Parking for most was along the street or in a dirt lot across the street and I heard something about a daily parking fee being charged. If true I imagine it wasn't well received. With the exception of the parking situation and the ability to avoid the vendors if so desired it was an ideal place to play paintball. Even the boneyard was paved and nary a hint of rain or puddle of mud anywhere in sight to mar the proceedings. The weather as well was superb with temps only reaching slightly uncomfortable levels a couple of days but even the heat was mitigated by a constant cooling breeze. Lastly, downtown Riverside and a nearly endless supply of hotel and restaurant choices was less than 10 minutes away. The only real downside to Riverside is the distance to LAX and even then (for the smart traveler) Ontario International airport is about twenty minutes away.
The setting was one of the best in recent years. The stories to be told some of the most dramatic in recent memory. The results more than measured up to the hype. Art Chaos finally fulfilled expectations by beating Impact in the Champions final after dispatching Russian Legion in the semifinal. For RL it was a return to past glory as the team has shown consistent improvement over the course of the season. In the other semi Impact stopped Damage once again leaving the prelim powerhouse short of the ultimate PSP prize. In one relegation match 187 sent VCK back to Challengers but I expect VCK to profit from the experience and to come back more determined than ever. In the other relegation match Dynasty lost to Heat which sent the most storied team in competitive paintball down to Challengers for World Cup. And from Challengers only X-Factor made it back up to Champions as both Aftershock and Infamous failed to regain a Champions spot. Instead newcomer Revo will make their first Champions appearance at World Cup. Most of the matches were fairly decisive although there was some controversy in both the Infamous and Dynasty losses. In any case neither team played particularly well and in fact I say that was mostly true across the board as even the successful teams fell well short of their potential. Chaos, for example, was more aggressive in Riverside but also somewhat disconnected which resulted in some excellent positive points--enough obviously to win--but also more than a few blow outs too. Even Impact, despite their continuing success looked less efficient and unified than have at times this season. Otherwise only Revo, RL and at times, X-Factor delivered a standard of play that measured up to their potential. I don't know what it is but it's been a season long trend so far.
Divisional play proved as hard fought as the pro matches with some new names appearing at the top of the standing which should only see the season ranking tighten further as the league enters the stretch run to World Cup.
There is more to say but as I'm sitting in the airport trying not to fall asleep that's gonna be all for now. I'll catch y'all later.