Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Death of the Snapshot

Okay, maybe the snapshot isn't quite dead yet (it's called hyperbole) as it still has a few uses in the competitive environment but it doesn't hold the exalted place it once did. The brutality and efficacy of gunfighting has made the snapshot largely obsolete. As has the evolution of the sport. When a critical component of the modern competitive game is edge control the snapshot fails to deliver. Focused almost exclusively on eliminating an opponent with the least possible risk of being eliminated in return the snapshot, and more importantly, its practitioners ignore other crucial elements of the game. The game in microcosm that the snapshot represents is a dual of survival. Ideally a battle of man against man. (Or boys or girls, etc.) Sometimes a mismatched battle but always a battle to elimination. (And for those unwilling to engage on those terms the tendency is to simply turn away from that confrontation in order to look and shoot somewhere else.) All of which might be more relevant if the game wasn't being played on tiny fields where the ability to move quickly and work the angles came at a premium. (Yes, angles have always mattered as have wires but when the field was 300 feet long and there were ten players to a side the risk/reward equation didn't balance on a knife's edge either.)
Today the gunfighter wishes to control his edge in order to do more than attempt to eliminate a particular opponent. The larger purpose is to control the field and contain your opponent while your teammates move into superior killing positions. (Which also dictates how one should play a particular position.)
Even so learning the snapshot isn't a waste of time. There are elements of the snapshot that will improve your gunfighting. Practice to deliver an accurate first shot. Present the least profile possible. And in those situations where you're outnumbered and about to get run down a skilled snapshot (and a calm mind) may help you take an opponent or two down first. (And if I'm being completely honest there are a few close quarter situations where an effective snapshot is relevant.) but the larger point remains that the snapshot is no longer the centerpiece of a player's individual skill set.

Next time, Gunfighting: Positions of Advantage/Disadvantage

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Monday Poll

The State of the Game survey isn't working out too well. I knew it wouldn't but even so I had hopes this time--or more correctly, that time--things would turn out differently and you slackers might get involved and discover you kinda enjoyed it. Wishful thinking, I know. Anyway I still have questions and you still have answers even if you're not inclined to take a minute or two to comment. Which leaves us with the return of The Monday Poll--which on occasion gets a decent response.
This Monday Poll is, drum roll please, for the first time anywhere, a three-parter--go big or go home--that is focused on competitive play. VFTD wants to know what division you compete at; whether you compete locally, regionally or nationally and how much you spend every season to make your paintball dreams a reality.
The top of the poll will list divisions of play. Pick only the highest level you compete at regularly. (For our Euro friends choose the division you would compete under in the PSP.) One answer only for part one.
Part two will list local, regional, national and international. Again, pick only one and choose the highest level applicable in the last year.
Part three will list ranges for money spent on paintball. Pick the one that comes closest to your annual spending. Consider everything you pay for to play when calculating your approximate expenditure.
There you have it. Three sections, three answers, one for each section. Surely clicking your mouse a couple three times isn't a huge inconvenience and not outside your aptitude--since you're already using a computer, tablet or phone.
Surprise me, blow this Monday Poll up. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

State of the Game Survey

Kinda. Sorta. There are no standardized questions to answer and VFTD isn't trying to collect data that can later be analyzed in any formal or systematic way. But I am curious--and a little concerned, truth be known, about the state of the game at the so-called grassroots level of competitive play. With the demise of the latest iteration of the NPPL and the "hiatus" (dirt nap) that the APL is taking PBN informs us of something called the UPL is offering 'big cash' and the coming soon to a paintball field near you XPL is offering 'real' xball (with as of yet no indication how many prelim matches a team will play.) But these are (future) events with national pretensions and not really what I'm interested in at the moment.
The thing is none of the national draw type events exist in anything like their current (or hoped for) state without the local and regional events to provide venues where teams can form and flourish. At least that's the conventional wisdom. But competitive paintball has reached a point where the top teams can compete only (mostly) at the national level because there aren't enough of them to fill divisions at the local or regional level of competition--and that seems in recent years to have included D2 as well leaving the locals at D3 and below. (Have we continued to add lower and lower divisions to encourage participation--and is it working?)

Which leaves me with a bunch of questions. (This is where you volunteer to help me out with answers or at least your opinion.)
Would there be more D2 teams coming up if there were more local places for them to compete and grow?
Is there a noticeable trend in competitive paintball in your area? Is the local scene (including any regionals) growing in your area? Is it stagnant? Or in decline? Where is the divisional cut off? At D2 and below or D3 and below? Does your local competition scene encourage or discourage higher ranked players from playing locally?

One reason I'm curious is because while everyone talks a good game about growing the sport it all seems pretty haphazard. Which doesn't mean progress isn't being made but it's difficult to know--hence our informal survey. The PSP's affiliate program was/is an effort, in part, to unify competitive paintball and standardize play but again, it's tough to quantify progress. But if y'all pass along what you know maybe we'll end up with a better idea of how our sport is really doing.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Whose Penalty Is It Anyway?

I might as well admit right upfront that I'm hoping to take advantage of you--no, not just you--all y'all out there that comprise the readership of VFTD. To be honest it's a meager hope 'cus the lot of you are slackers but it's still worth a shot, and who knows, y'all might surprise me.
Here's the deal. I'm more than part way convinced one of the problems officiating competitive paintball is the options for what are considered appropriate penalties is severely limited. Pull a body or pull two bodies and on rare occasions suspend somebody for some predetermined period of time, mostly a few game minutes. Which might have been okay twenty years ago when there were more players on the field--the field was four acres of random woods--and the rulebook was a couple of hastily scribbled on pieces of ruled notebook paper. But is borderline ridiculous when a team gets a penalty because the kid grabbing empty pods steps on the field too soon.
Part of the issue is there need to be some regulatory rules--like keeping the pod kid off the field while a point is still live--but shouldn't there be a better way to handle that, penalty-wise? And there are plenty of other similar situations that pop up over the course of an event.
Here's where you come in. I need some ideas for alternatives to calling silly penalties but still maintain the necessary control over the play of the game. Got any bright, or not-so-bright ideas? Let's hear 'em.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Other World Cup

I am of course referring to the World Cup so recently concluded one nil to the rapturous accolades of all (or at least quite a few) and sundry. One nil and not even in sudden death or sudden victory--just the usual anti-climatic extra period. I won't argue with fans of the sport because it's a waste of time. Let's just agree to disagree. You like soccer and it puts me to sleep. (And yes, it will remain soccer on VFTD whatever you choose to call the wretched game.) In fact the finals put me to sleep. Literally. Most of the first half and exactly what did I miss? It's not that I can't or don't appreciate athletic skill or competition, even that displayed playing soccer--it's just that so much of it is pointless--and I mean that in every possible way. So much energy and effort expended for so damn little of consequence that flops routinely outnumber scoring chances. Soccer is the only sport I know where bad acting is a critical component of the offense.
But what is of interest to me in this culminating moment for the other World Cup is what it can tell us about competitive paintball. Not directly perhaps but in the things competitive paintball isn't. Playing some form of soccer doesn't require any particular environment though a nicely sodded pitch is preferred. Millions of children around the world practice the skills and play the game in empty lots and in the street. And in a pinch it doesn't even require a *real* soccer ball. It is the sport of the international masses and in many countries has little or no competition from other sports. Certainly no other sport is as accessible as soccer is. It is virtually free to play and can be practiced almost anywhere any time.
Competitive paintball on the other hand requires a specialized environment and uses loads of essential equipment including guns. It discriminates by age--although not ridiculously--and carries the ongoing expense of requiring both places to play and replacement of paintballs discharged and worn gear. The more serious the player the more expensive the sport is to play. And in recent years the competitive game has moved away from formats that a wider range of players could compete in toward an ever more demanding game while at the same time targeting as the prime player demographic those among the least able to afford to keep playing the sport. The simple fact is competitive paintball is a sport built on a leisure activity / hobby that is accessible only to relatively affluent populations with both the time and the money to undertake it. Everything about competitive paintball screams niche sport and we haven't even begun discussing how it's presented to the public.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Baca's Mailbag: Reffing & Playing the Game

Mark said...
Minimizing the impact of that "third" team on the field would be a good start. I gotta say it is still pretty intolerable at times to watch a game where no one makes moves, and the only "excitement potential" is whether a penalty will be thrown. This can "appear" to open up the action as the opposing team wants to capitalize as well as save the penalty time for the next point, but it's at best artificially induced, and at worst arbitrary and on a whole makes the game look like the amateur-production it wishes to aspire beyond. 

Someone inevitably brings up the real pro sports in discussions such as these, and I'm the first to cringe when they do, but where they swallow their whistles and let the players play (dirty or not) in big moments, at least paintball has the advantage where the officials can (or used to) actively enter the fray and signal/pull eliminated players. 

And just how does a major on the Dallas layout equal a major on the MAO layout? If a paintball referee uses the same criteria for a major penalty how can a league abide by an average 3 point swing at one event and a 1 point swing at another? How does it look for a team to come up from the challengers bracket, then blow through their prelims in champions, then be suddenly plagued with penalties in the final game? No fanboy here, just how does it look (big picture-wise) as an aspiring serious sport?

I wanted to respond to Mark's comments and questions more comprehensively than "comments" allows so here we are. Partly because his remarks appear be directed at the PSP--though he doesn't say so directly--and is something I can discuss with some authority and partly because his remarks also reflect, or so it seems to me, a frustration common in tournament paintball wherever it is played and likely to be of general interest to this audience. I will respond to the first two paragraphs broadly in responding paragraphs and then answer the specific questions by order of appearance in Mark's remarks. Hope that's clear.

First I want to agree whole-heartedly with the spirit of Mark's first paragraph. I have seen my fair share of cringe-worthy calls and at times they had nothing to do with the accuracy of those calls according to the rules. But here is where I would diverge from Mark's position. Suggesting that calls made are "artificially induced" and/or "arbitrary" may simply be rhetorical devices but they're also unfair and unproductive. Artificially induced suggests 'made up' or nonexistent implying refs are making calls that don't exist and arbitrary implies randomness. I will agree there is, and must be, some degree of randomness but only because the refs aren't going to see everything and not because they're picking and choosing what to call or not call. If Mark's larger point is that he would like to see more consistency and less game-changing calls made I think everyone would agree including the refs. But it's important to understand for our part we have to assume good faith at a minimum or what's the point of making any effort to improve? And beyond that it isn't simply the refs, it's also the rules and how we understand and apply them. And in paintball it's also the fact that we don't have a lot of options in what the impact of a called penalty is so we're sometimes left with what seems like overkill and other times leniency. But on the plus side these are all issues that are being addressed. Nobody likes hearing that it's going to take time but at least in the PSP a comprehensive effort to improve is underway.

Given the first paragraph this one seems a little schizophrenic but whatever. It describes, whether intentionally or not, the tension that is a constant part of officiating. How non-subjective do we really want our refs to be? And do we write our rules accordingly? Or do we write them in black and white but give the refs some leeway in their interpretation? One school of thought says black and white across the board. Rules are cut and dry and enforcement ought to be as simple as implementing the rules 'cus we don't want our referees doing anything except enforcing the rules. Another school of thought might be called educated subjectivity which relies on straightforward rules but gives the refs some leeway in calling a game based on standardized training and an official interpretation of the rules in-house. On one side of that coin you get the calls by the book in each and every instance regardless and in the other you (hopefully) get a regulated game that takes more account of the game play than simple rules enforcement. The problem is you can't have both when one or the other suits.

Because the penalty remains the same.

The potential impact of a penalty may vary but that is a function of the teams playing and the layout they are playing on. One unintended consequence of "fast" field design is that it can produce an impact variance from penalties called.

While that particular situation hasn't occurred this season the implication is, if it had happened, or when something similar happened, "they was robbed!" Of course this assumes the only variable is the refs and also assumes either incompetence or some sorta conspiracy. None of which is true although granted refs sometimes make mistakes and sometimes see calls differently than you or I might see them.
As to the Big Picture implication nobody--especially the league--wants important matches to either swing on penalties or appear to have been decided by other than the play of the game on the field. But as I've tried to demonstrate it's a more complicated problem than do something about the referees. And if the reference is to the Heat-Impact match in Chicago that was both a little bad luck and self-inflicted. One of the Heat's majors was for tossing a hit pod (which should have been a gross major) and another was for a shoe hit--and given the brittleness of the paint in Chicago--could have easily happened with the player none the wiser.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Rule of 9

Here's today's disclaimer. None of the content of today's post has--to my knowledge--been suggested or discussed or given any consideration whatsoever by the PSP--which means the contents of this post are not a trial balloon of any sort and that I am solely responsible for this content. (Being conspiracy-minded myself I am almost suspicious of my own disclaimer but have the advantage of knowing it's true. You are welcome to judge for yourself.)
When the PSP first began moving away from full on Xball in the direction of Race To the pro game was reduced to game clock or nine points, whichever happened first. The second season it was further reduced to the current standard of seven points. I mention this for two reasons. One, there's been some wistful talk of bringing back halves so that open-ended scoring opportunities will encourage more aggressive play and make the game more fun to watch. Two, that ain't never gonna happen. The reality is the only thing that will speed up points and generate more excitement is fields that compel teams into action--and--paint consumption [paint cost] is already the anvil on which tons of teams, including pro teams are being hammered into oblivion. Playing a game that of necessity requires an uncertain volume of more paint is a non-starter and with twenty pro teams locking up two fields there literally is no time for more so any significant change would mean well, significant change probably in the number of prelim matches played. Hey, the Eurokids already play only three. Is that the future you really want?
But what if the pro game were changed to RaceTo-9 again without altering the clock time? Would that be a viable compromise? Would it open up the games and encourage more aggressive play on the basis that each point is no longer quite so important? I don't know. But if the layouts push the play and the move to 9 reduces the pressure to win every point it might be a compromise everyone could live with. Or not.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Greatest ...

So I know I suggested there would be a poll allowing all you slackers to vote for the greatest competitive player ever--but I've changed my mind. First, while I was pleased to see more than a few OGs nominated I was equally amused by the inclusion of a few well known names that shouldn't have been nominated. But c'est la vie. Second, there weren't nearly enough players nominated from nearly enough participants and it got me thinking about how the poll would probably turn out. VFTD would whittle the list down to the appropriate nominations and then add a whole slew of additional names from across the eras of woodsball, concept field and Airball (xball) for consideration--and then post the poll for y'all to vote on--if you felt like it. At the end of the voting period the votes would be tallied--and not nearly enough of you would have bothered to vote in the first place--and even so I'd probably have to vacate the popular winner for the correct answer. So I've decided to skip all the work, the waiting, the lack of participation and get right to the pointy end and simply announce VFTD's Greatest Player of All Time.* ("All Time" referring to the finite period of time from the game's genesis up to the present with the stipulation that All Time may be re-defined at some future point in time to be all inclusive of the time up to that point in time.) [Normally that would have been included in the small print but since I'm trying to save myself a little time--and effort ... well, you know.]
Before making the announcement however I would like to offer a disclaimer or two plus some of the good and the bad about this player. He's a great ambassador for the game despite the fact there have been a few well-known (shall we say) less than stellar incidents across his colorful career. I had the privilege of briefly coaching this player. He's a tremendous team player--if the team plays to the player's strengths. The majority of competitive players playing today have not seen this player at his best. He is one of only a handful of players who have competed at the top of the sport across virtually every era--and is the one unique player whose game improved as competitive paintball moved out of the woods and forward to xball (and its modern variants.) As the only player whose game transcends the history of the sport I give you VFTD's "Greatest Player of All Time": Chris Lasoya.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Grass or Turf?

I know, this was settled some time ago and grass won hands down. But that was then and now is, well, now. And I think there's a case to be made for turf. As apparently do a growing number of fields that are laying down turf fields. Before making the case for turf however let's acknowledge the potential supremacy of grass as an ideal playing surface. Years ago at the San Bernardino event the grass was magnificent. I would have carpeted my home with it and happily slept on it. It was that good but it also set a standard that is seldom approached. (The Riverside event in August may come close as the new venue looks pretty great.) Unfortunately a well used grass surface doesn't stay pristine for long and while that isn't necessarily a tournament make or break concern the post-event condition of a temporary venue does matter if a league wants to use that space again. And let's also acknowledge that even the best of turf surfaces is likely to be less forgiving in some ways than grass. So why turf?
Because a properly prepared turf field provides a uniform and ready playing surface year round. No cycling the field around the property trying to keep the grass growing and the worn and rutted patches from becoming permanent. No mud or puddles of water on wet and rainy days--or even those dry days after a week of rain. A turf field is ready to go, no worse for wear. And the simple fact is there are so many grades of turf available (including used football fields) that creating a very playable and consistent surface isn't hard and can be done economically too considering the near permanence of a turf field compared to a grass field.
Yes but major league paintball has been there and done that--and it didn't work out too well. Again, that was then and this is now and there is so much more to the world of turf than slapping some indoor outdoor carpeting down on asphalt that past experiments are irrelevant. What isn't irrelevant is the cost consideration, It's all well and good for a local field to weigh the benefits versus the cost and decide on trying turf and another thing altogether for a league like the PSP to consider turf. I don't have any idea if it's even feasible but every event this season would have benefited from a controlled surface. (And a related reality is that the event dates are relatively fixed. There simply aren't a lot of alternative to the current schedule. The only real flexibility is in the location order of the events. And even if those choices were optimized around the likely weather there are no guarantees.) The likelihood is that the cost would be prohibitive but if turf is being ignored only because grass "won" in the past maybe it's time to reconsider. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Enough With The Begging Already

I realize we've become a culture that has developed a free lunch expectation but enough is enough. Granted, the first time it was amusing and clever. On that basis alone it gets a pass. But just that once. And if there's a gimmick, well okay, we can let that version slide too. At least a few times. And by gimmick I mean a Kickstarter kinda deal where there's some quid pro quo--where the contributor gets something for their contribution--other than warm fuzzy feelings. Or even like the inevitable and obnoxious PBS fund drives where you can buy grotesquely over-price Bruce Springsteen CDs and pat yourself on the back for helping public television at the same time. But seriously this business of paintball teams soliciting cash on social media has got to stop. Sure it's easy. And cheap. And if it works, even a little bit, then all to the good, right? Well, maybe not.
Are you familiar with the expression 'familiarity breeds contempt'? Paintball teams soliciting handouts are well along that road. How many street corners in your town have down on their luck folks flashing cardboard signs looking for handouts? Some are legit and some maybe not so legit but how can you tell? And when it occurred once in a while you were far more likely to give something than when everywhere you turn there's somebody with a hand out. Getting the picture yet? When everybody is doing it (in this case, begging for money) it quickly becomes counterproductive.
While I'm at it I might as well confess I'm suspicious of teams pushing charity tie-ins too. Unless every nickel raised goes to the charity it strikes me as just another tactic regardless of the worthiness of the charity being "supported." You want to support a charity, that's great. You want a pat on the head while diverting some percentage of donated funds to your paintball team, that's not so great. (I am not, btw, calling anybody out. I'm just saying.)
Last time I checked playing tournament paintball was not on the short list of life essentials. (I know, you can't live without paintball. Give up breathing for a week and let me know how that works out for you.) If you want to compete there's more to it than getting your grind on. For no matter how often some player touts his dedication by extolling the trials of the grind the real struggle is more often doing whatever it takes to get back on that field every weekend. It used to be called work. And has absolutely nothing to do with begging somebody else to support your hobby.  

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Mid-season Grades: Champions

For Infamous and X-Factor their season grade (and self-respect) hinge on regaining Champions spots for Cup. Aftershock is not quite in that position although failing to get out of the Challengers bracket would be a grim disappointment given the promise they began the season with. Shock needs to be in the mix for Cup and Infamous and X-Factor need to be in the hunt for the Cup. Everything will be riding on their results in Cali. (Hey PBA! Y'all might want to schedule a couple of those matches.)
Slightly off topic let's discuss promotion & relegation for a minute since it has such a significant impact on the pro game. I'm fine with the possibility of event by event promotion and relegation but if the goal is to have the 10 best teams in the Champions bracket then the top Challengers should have to play--and beat--the bottom ranked Champions. As it stands a full 40% of Champions play against each other to see who goes down each event which doesn't prove anything. This year only Dynasty, Impact and Ironmen haven't faced a relegation game but with two events remaining there's still plenty of opportunity to stumble. I use stumble advisedly because for one or two of the relegation match teams each event their inclusion is often a matter of the narrowest margins and point differentials.
Impact receives a strong passing grade with their win in Chicago and finals appearance at MAO (and two more victories in Euroland). For a team thought to be rebuilding that's an impressive string of results and ought to serve as a reminder that a team, at its best, is more than the sum of its parts. And Impact has become a team in the best sense of the term. At this stage the only thing that could adversely effect their season would be relegation and while it seems unlikely if Art Chaos plays to their potential it makes everything that much more uncertain.
Dynasty also receives a passing grade on the strength of their early season results but some questions remain. Last year the team was gang-busters through Chicago and then faltered at Riverside and at Cup. Still a remarkable season overall it certainly didn't end as it had begun and I can't help wondering if the recent Chicago result wasn't the beginning of a repeating pattern. (Keep in mind their "struggle" last season was two consecutive 5th place finishes but even so it must have been a disappointment and not up to the standard they began the season with.)
Ironmen also receive a passing grade based on their results at Chicago and the fact they've dodged the relegation matches despite beginning the season with the merger of the Ironmen and Royalty into one team. That and their consistent improvement event to event suggests a team on the rise. The question remains how far can they go this season but if they continue to improve it will be a successful season even if wins continue to elude them.
Damage gets an incomplete for continuing to hang around the upper echelon but routinely coming up short. The team is too talented not to regularly vie for wins--and did get a win at Riverside last year along with a pair of seconds--but has yet to match that level of success. If it's possible to say a perennial top five team isn't reaching its potential Damage is that team.
Heat also gets an incomplete though they've rebounded nicely from being relegated at Dallas by making the finals in Chicago (and like Impact having a strong season in Europe competing in the MS.) As expected--at least by VFTD--it's taken a little while for the new players to fit in but there isn't any reason not to expect the Heat to continue improving. If they do and AC remains in the Champions World Cup could be both highly unpredictable and hugely entertaining come October.
Vicious also gets a passing grade predicated on making a Champions final for the first time and avoiding relegation even though they've been in relegation matches at MAO and Chicago. In the past they lost those matches so while the team continues to struggle to some degree they are also now winning important matches. If the upward arc continues they will establish themselves as a bona fide Champions team.
Upton 187 also receives a borderline passing grade for avoiding the relegation churn at MAO and Chicago after climbing out of Challengers to start the season in Dallas. Like Vicious the team has avoided relegation even though life in the Champions bracket is a struggle and that is improvement. The brackets for the next event will give 187 an opportunity to shine as their bracket will be considerably easier than the other bracket (of impending doom.)
[Edit added: Um, no, it won't. Somehow I switched Vicious and 187. Upton is smack dab in the middle of the half bracket of impending doom. Best of luck, boys.]
So many stories. So many possibilities. Three Champs in Challengers with room for only two--at most--to return to the Champs bracket. And the almost impossibly brutal prelim bracket half in Cali will see some favorites fall and potentially risk relegation at the worst possible time. Save your pennies. This will be an event you won't want to miss. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mid-season Grades: Challengers

I wanted to do something clever with this post but it's late and I can't think of anything clever that also happens to be accurate. The truth is this is a snapshot of a moment within the season. Some teams have clearly been on the rise and others in decline but mostly it's been the usual up and down bumpy ride and it isn't close to over yet. For now the grades assigned will be pass, fail and incomplete. All the teams still have a chance to redeem their season--except for (at least) one Champion who has fallen afoul of relegation and won't climb out of Challengers for Cup.
The three are Infamous, winner at Dallas this year, X-Factor, 2013 World Cup champs and Aftershock, coming off a podium finish at MAO. Ironically Shock's best event was on the slowest field while the Chicago layout exposed a continuing weakness. By nature and inclination Shock is an aggressive team and they pushed the MAO layout when they were able to but it also forced them to be patient and let some of the points come to them. Along with the off season roster additions that brought more experience and perhaps cooler heads it was a combination that worked at MAO but not Chicago. On the faster layout the team seemed to be trying too hard a lot of the time to force the action and engaged in a number of unnecessary gunfights that this time around they lost more of than they won. I still give Shock a pass so far on the season because I think the roster is improved and the podium finish could be a sign of better things yet to come. In some respects Infamous was just plain unlucky to face a suddenly hot Art Chaos in a semi-final instead of the Challenger final but those are the games that must be won. (I'm not going to bring the field conditions into it because they sucked for everybody equally and I don't think Infamous was adversely affected anymore than anyone else.) The team continues to be inconsistent and seemingly has periods where they struggle to maintain their intensity but even so they rate a pass on the basis of their win in Dallas--but they have to get out of Challengers for Cup--or else face the reality of a failed season despite the win. Which brings us to X-Factor who kicked off the year with a very strong performance in Dallas followed by uneven play at MAO and in Chicago. Untimely penalties crippled their effort in their relegation match. Too often the team digs itself a hole that it has to climb out of and this time it caught up with them. Not unlike Shock the guys need to play their game and not try to force the action as the pressure builds. Despite the podium in Dallas X-Factor gets an incomplete because they entered the season with high expectations.
At the top of the Challengers bracket VCK gets a solid passing grade as they entered the division and immediately jumped to the upper half of the bracket and now they're getting a shot in Champions. As long as they continue to play fearlessly win or lose it will be a positive experience and perhaps a step toward a more permanent spot. Art Chaos gets an incomplete as they clearly have unfinished business in the Champions bracket but have yet to display the form or consistency to stay in the bracket and compete for titles. Red Storm's strong showing got them out of the Challenger's basement but relegation still remains a possibility. If the latest roster proves to be consistent the team may have found a formula for greater successes to come. However two last place finishes merits a mid-term fail despite Chicago's improvement. Revo gets a pass--not a passing grade--but a pass as the league will not relegate them regardless of where they finish considering they jumped into the division mid-season. If the Chicago result is any indication however the team should be competitive as they went 2-2 this first time out. A very respectable showing. As original Challengers Top Gun Union, XSV, CEP and Thunder are the gatekeepers against the up-and-comers and they are falling behind. Last year Top Gun made Champions and are now solidly mid-pack along with XSV while CEP and Thunder fall further back. Top Gun and XSV get incompletes but bordering on fail as both teams have Champions bracket pretensions. And given their records to date both CEP and Thunder get failing grades. They both need to make moves in the final two events to get back on track and moving forward. And finally there's Boom which will also receive an incomplete based mostly on the fact they played much better paintball in Chicago than their record indicates. Right now it's the big points they struggle to win and if they can learn how to do that they will become more than a tough out.

Next time, grading the Champions.

Monday, June 23, 2014

PSP Chicago: Sunday & Monday

In Dallas I kinda sorta borrowed a golf cart. At MAO I had one assigned to me and in Chicago I had one assigned to me I didn't get to use. (I'm not sure if the league is sending a message or not. It's not like I've wrecked one yet or even run over any pedestrians--although there as that yappy little dog but that was a service to humanity.*) Fortunately Chicago was a nice compact layout so it didn't really matter--and besides there wasn't any place to park it anyway. And it was put to good use. At least those are my rationalizations.
Sunday proved to be the day the weather gurus expected Saturday to have been. Clear skies (mostly) and sunshine until mid-afternoon when a few clouds dotted the sky. Reports of a storm front on the Iowa-Illinois border produced a few anxious moments as the powers that be--whoever they are--decided whether or not to move some of the divisional finals in order to play the final pro games early. Determined to avoid a repeat of Saturday's final matches the schedule would have been accelerated if the need had arisen. Fortunately the divisional finalists got their webcast moment on the Champions field as all the Sunday matches went off without a hitch.
By now you've likely seen the scores and/or know the results--congrats t all the winners--but did you know that the D1 final went to the one-on-one shootout to determine the winner? Or that TJ All-Stars are from Mexico. Or that all those pristine clean jerseys became unidentifiable within a point or two? While the weather was fine the standing water and mud pits remained. On the plus side just consider how expensive a mud bath treatment is from an upscale spa while here in Chicago the PSP included them free of charge. (I know I feel pampered and my skin feels softer. Well, except for the sun-burned bits and, yes Mother, I did use sunscreen.) Hopper stickers remain a hot property apparently as about half the ones distributed to the divisional teams weren't returned--and, no, they couldn't possibly have used all the numbers up. Perhaps I should start taking a sticker deposit before handing them out at Riverside (or wherever it is near Riverside we'll be in August for the next PSP event.)
There were some excellent close matches on Sunday and a few blow outs. The blow outs were often as a result of penalties putting one team or the other in a hole they couldn't climb out of quickly enough. It's a hard fate to swallow in the best of situations but particularly difficult when either relegation or victory is on the line. I am not so far removed from my time on the sideline that I've forgotten the feeling.
Art Chaos on Sunday came out looking like the team I expected to see from the very beginning. The biggest difference was attitudinal. They weren't breaking out differently or shooting new lanes but were much more aggressive. They weren't passively waiting for good things to happen, they were making good things (for them) happen and when they play like that they are tough to beat.
Infamous remains in Challengers (much to their chagrin I'm sure) and are being joined by X-Factor and Aftershock. As the next event leads into World Cup and only two Challengers will move up to the Champions bracket at least one perennial Champions team won't be included. It should make for some exciting and brutal competition.
Despite the loss to Art Chaos on Sunday VCK continues to prove they are a team that belongs in the pro division and may yet prove to be a team to be reckoned with--although their first time in the Champions bracket will certainly be an unforgiving learning experience.
If you missed it the other day we had a unique situation--an inadvertent buzzer caused by a paintball. It happened during the RL versus Ironmen match. Ironmen were rolling up the Legion when suddenly a buzzer sounded. At first it was assumed the Legion had conceded the point but no, they hadn't. Neither had the refs or the tower. It had been the Ironmen's buzzer that sounded but why would they concede a point they were about to win? Turns out they didn't. In a truly bizarre fluke the wind had blown the net up against the pit scoreboard and a shot paintball hit the buzzer button flush and set it off. Under those circumstances the rules specify all live players go to their respective starting stations, the clock is set at ten seconds and the completion of the point is played from the horn. Turned out (after reviewing webcast video) that the Ironmen had five alive while the Legion only had one player. As you can imagine it didn't last long but for all practical purposes it was just the completion of an interrupted point.

As each field finished tear down began and by the end of Sunday much of the process was already complete. The pro field scoreboard still needed to be taken down on Monday and thousands of feet of cable needed to be cleaned but the majority was taken care of on Sunday. Of course that still left repacking the scoreboards and related equipment and then stacking all the gear on pallets that are then wrapped for shipment. But every part of the process is constantly being reviewed for improvement. For example, at MAO we had electrical failures do to all the rain. Chicago could have easily been a repeat but between MAO and Chicago new routines for set-up were instituted and there wasn't one similar problem in Chicago. On the ref front early on this event we were at the mercy of the weather as storm after storm cancelled, delayed and diverted flights. The last of the missing refs finally arrived Friday morning. It's both frustrating and nerve-wracking to have everything organized and ready only to see it fall apart at the last minute do to forces beyond any control. Despite the complications though everyone stepped up, worked hard and generally with good cheer--except me, of course, I'm old and grouchy.

* No dogs, yappy or otherwise were actually harmed in the creation of this post. So lighten up.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

PSP Chicago: Saturday

As often as the weather forecast changed leading up to this event Saturday remained the one "good" day, a promise of mostly blue skies and sunshine. And there was some blue sky and sunshine but there was also a lot of dense grey clouds, pummeling rain, thunder (not just the Seattle kind) and lightning that slowed the day's match schedule and saw the final games of the day played in a downpour. The aftermath left the fields virtual swamps as the surviving teams prepare to compete on Sunday.
The Sunday forecast is for intermittent afternoon thundershowers. I guess we'll see. Regardless the games will go on and the action will begin at 8 am with the Champions relegation avoidance matches. Despite winning both their matches today X-Factor will square off against Vicious in one relegation avoidance match and the other will see Shock fight it out against Upton 187. At the top of the Champions brackets Damage outlasted Dynasty to earn a semi-final berth as did Heat in their group. In the other bracket a strong Ironmen showing put them into the semi-finals along with Impact. A credible effort from the Russian Legion sees them remain in the Champions bracket for the Cali event.
In the Challengers half both Infamous and Art Chaos stumbled slightly which left an undefeated VCK atop the bracket as the one seed going into Sunday's semi-final match-ups. It also means that Infamous will play Art Chaos in one semi-final which will leave the loser in Challengers for the next event. VCK will take on Red Storm in the other semi despite the fact Storm dropped both their matches today. Infamous dropped a match to Top Gun and Art Chaos lost to VCK in the last match of the day. Newcomer Revo acquitted themselves well going 2-2 and even though Boom went 1-3 on the scoreboard it wasn't indicative of their solid play as they gave all their opponents a strong effort.
And despite being acknowledged as a "fast" layout teams are managing to find ways to slow the action down, sometimes to a crawl and it isn't because of the weather. Across the divisions there have been more games to time than I think anyone expected. (I'll break the layout down next week and explain how and why teams played the way they did.) In the meantime I'm trying to dry out nearly everything I brought with me to Chicago and hoping it will stay dry tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

Friday, June 20, 2014

PSP Chicago: Thursday & Friday

On the plus side no real rain the last two days. Unfortunately it poured both Wednesday and Thursday nights leaving the mud muddier and standing puddles here and there--although mostly not on the playing fields. All things considered the fields have held up pretty well though the Champions field has a low spot on one dorito wire that would be ideal for some mud wrestling. Hey if Living Legends can have a bikini contest why can't the PSP have some bikini mud wrestling? Include that as the midday entertainment between morning and afternoon sessions on the webcast and that $10 or $15 bucks begins to look like money well spent. Just saying. Otherwise the weather was overcast early with some late afternoon sunshine with relatively mild temps for Illinois in the summer. The forecast continues to look iffy but Saturday is supposed to be the best day of the weekend for paintball.
There were a few surprises but nothing too drastic. Pro play went mostly to expectations--at least in terms of how the field is playing. Points are fast when bodies drop OTB or a wire gets cleared. For the most part the center has been left alone--particularly off the break with some movement into the center late on close outs. Over in Challengers Infamous crushed and struggled more to keep their game on point than they did with their competition. Art Chaos also went 2-0 but let Thunder into their match with a surfeit of penalties. Revo got their first pro match win by swamping Thunder 7-0 after dropping their first match versus VCK. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day in Challengers was Red Storm winning both of their matches after being the season cellar dweller so far. Seems the faster pace suits their game.
On the Champions field it was a bit of a surprise to see how successful the teams were OTB shooting some inside lanes along with the more traditional wide lanes. While all the spots could be made, including the snake, players were as likely to be eliminated bumping the Cans as attacking the corners. (Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration but still a little unexpected. Could be a sign teams were wary of strong center moves too and prepared to counter them quickly.)
On the scoreboard Tampa and Dynasty won both their matches today but have yet to play each other. X-Factor lost a couple of tough tight matches while Heat split and 187 struggled with the pace. In the other half Vicious lost both their matches today while Shock, Impact and the Legion split with only the Ironmen going undefeated as they handed Impact a loss. As usual nothing is settled yet and won't be until the last match on Saturday is completed. Here's hoping tomorrow bright and sunny and filled with world class paintball. Until then.