Thursday, December 18, 2014

Millennium Series Changes for 2015

In the past I have both applauded and been critical of various aspects of the Millennium Series effort. They do a number of things very well and, in my estimation, a couple of things, er, not so well. However for the 2015 season I can find no real faults because those items I might object to in a perfect world are included for reasons that are self-evident and which do harm elsewhere. The following comments are in the same order as the league's statement.
3-man play will be an added option on its own unique field that will also be used to give visitors/spectators an opportunity to try paintball if they'd like.
Each venue will have a camping option to help make the event more affordable.
The league hopes to use their webcast in more creative ways to expand paintball's outreach as well as improving their effort to reach outside of paintball within the local venue area. (Sounds swell though exactly what it will mean isn't clear. It is however consistent with other efforts.)
A new rule will require new high visibility shell colors only for event paint.
Addition of a new open D3 that will play a RaceTo-2 format and their reduced entry fee will include 10 cases of paint.
Players of the 3-man won't need player IDs.
Locked division rosters will be slightly reduced but the active roster will be raised.
Rosters for open division teams will remain unlocked all season long.
Player IDs will now be available at reduced cost for single events. (No more buying season ID in order to play only a single event.)
And on the prizes front the CPL will award prizes at each event now instead of a single end of season series prize.
The changes made this season are focused on making the league a more attractive and accessible competitive paintball event. It's a series of sensible moderate steps aimed at bringing in new players and new teams and perhaps some old teams and players too. The only place I can see some of the regulars objecting is the new reduced rosters for locked division teams as this will in effect shove the last couple of bench players off their current teams. It may also raise the cost of competition for individual players as well and if the goal was the see if those players cut loose would reform into new teams I think it highly unlikely. More likely they will join existing teams that probably don't play Millennium events.

The statement also addressed the recent PSP changes. The Mills 'no coaching' policy remains as formulated and seems to work. For one thing bleachers in Euroland all seem to be elevated and at the MS events I've attended were also separated from the playing field by a greater distance than is normal at PSP events. The Mills will continue a 4 week pre-release of their event layout(s) and will continue to use a 10 bps cap in the current mode of operation as the league has serious concerns about enforcing semi-auto and continues to believe all teams and players should be playing the same basic game. (Something the PSP used to tout as well until ... they didn't.)

On the whole a cautious thumb's up to the Millennium this time around though only time will tell on how well the roster changes are received.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Making Of The Modern Pro Game, part 5

Finally we've reached the series conclusion. One last (longer) bit and you can say you read the whole thing--or skimmed it or skipped it more like. Either way for the younger generation if you have any follow-up questions I've got answers--that might even be true. (If you've just arrived this is the fifth installment of a series that you can find down the queue on the main page of the blog with part one furthest down.)

Dollars and Sense
Pro Paintball’s ticking timebomb is the success we’ve been chasing all along. Or more accurately, the changes that success will bring–and is already bringing. Used to be that success on the field was enough. In the emerging Pro environment success off the field will prove to be as or even more important. The competition to score the serious sponsorship deals is fast becoming a more ruthless game than any the fans will ever see played out on the field. The dream has always been about making big money but somewhere in the imaginary calculations it seems no one took seriously the idea that as the stakes grew greater so too the price tag to participate. And the price tag for failure.
That’s the overview but when we get down to specifics it’s important to realize there are two kinds of Pro teams; the owned and the independent. Ownership of Pro teams resides principally in the hands of industry-tied individuals or companies. The few remaining independents operate in different ways but are independent in that no specific paintball entity controls them outright. This distinction identifies which teams are at the greatest risk. Industry owned teams have more resources at their disposal and revenue sources separate from the team. In essence those teams have a safety net if ownership is willing to spend more money. The independents don’t have that luxury and must operate with what is available to them.
Regardless, all the Pro teams must re-orient their approach to meet the growing demands of professionalism in a time when the traditional resources don’t meet a team’s needs. When greater and greater dollar amounts are at risk industry and sponsors require greater assurance of success and stability. The new professionalism on the field must become the policy and practice off the field.
Should any mistake this as a veiled cry of poverty, it isn’t. It is a warning and an acknowledgment of the shifting state of Pro Paintball. It is the teams’ responsibility to maintain themselves but at a minimum it needs to be recognized and understood that it will almost certainly prove impossible for some and there comes a time when the flagging vitality of the Pro teams will inevitably effect the leagues as well.
The bottom line is simple. The cost of being a competitive Pro team is skyrocketing without a comparative system or structure in place to support it. The race to successfully lift tourney paintball to Sport status and attract outside of industry interest (and money and support) and gain a foothold on TV hold out the promise of future prosperity but the question becomes how many of the Pro teams will survive to benefit?

Who’s Who?
Behind the scenes there are teams in turmoil. Some are easily guessed, others might seem the picture of health. While it’s human nature to be curious it would be unfair to the teams and players to openly speculate as to their fates, but here’s a few clues to look for in the coming months and even the coming years. Routine or excessive player turnover. Teams with declining or unexpectedly poor results on a consistent basis. Signs of strife among the players. Those are a few of the most visible clues to potential problems and can be indicative of poor management or a lack of leadership or both. Teams without established sponsorship relationships of some duration. Teams tied almost exclusively to one sponsor. The independents. Teams in these categories are at immediate risk should the status quo change.
Look for a dramatic off season, it’s coming.

The New Era
The New Era is gonna require some fresh thinking and, perhaps, some revised expectations. It will require business savvy and management skills. At some point in time the leagues may be forced to take affirmative action to help maintain the viability of the pro teams and in the meantime the teams that are serious about being around for the long haul had better start exploring alternatives to the status quo or at least find supplemental ways to improve their financial health. The days of treating Paintball like a hobby are over, at least at the Pro level. Like it or not it’s become a business and in the future the teams that succeed will be businesses first and sports teams second.

Not exactly the way you pictured Paintball success would turn out, is it? Of course, we aren’t there yet. There’s still a long way to go and the only thing that is certain is there will be a growing list of the victims of success between here and there. Between now and then. Tick, Tick. Tick.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Making Of The Modern Pro Game, part 4

Today's installment is a short one and if you're like Paintball Industry executive types this one should have your full attention. It's ...

TV
All Paintball companies, big and small, want to reach the widest possible audience of consumers as cheaply and effectively as possible. Nowadays they do it with sponsored teams, participation at the big events and media ad purchases but incrementally they are turning their attentions to TV. This isn’t an either/or proposition but budgets are finite and choices will have to be made. Once TV enters the equation on a routine basis it’s another slice (a big one) out of the marketing pie. Consider these options: small growing company can either sponsor low ranked Pro ream or high ranked Am team or they can help sponsor a league on TV and capture a small but glamorous slice of that league’s appeal. Part of any team’s marketing power depends on their results but the league is front and center all the time. Whose pocket do you think those future dollars are gonna line?
The same applies to the dreamed of outside of industry sponsors only more so. All they want is for potential customers to associate their product with the pleasure of Paintball and being the official snack cake of the NXL is likely to serve their interests better than choosing to support a particular team.
Let’s shift gears for a moment and ask a more basic question. How does TV help the Pro teams right now? It seems to me that while TV offers vastly greater exposure it also ups the ante on advertising and marketing budgets significantly. Short term this may draw away dollars from the teams as Corporate Paintball shifts priorities. Long term TV hopefully expands the market as it reaches the largest possible existing paintball audience and enhances the marketability of the Pro teams. There is no doubt TV would ultimately benefit the participating Pro teams but does TV also usher in the era of irrelevancy if you're not on TV? And even if you are on TV the role you play is significant. Everyone knows who the Harlem Globetrotters are but who remembers the name of the team they play? (For trivia buffs that would be the Washington Generals.) Does TV further widen the existing gulf between the haves and the have-nots? Or create an unbreachable chasm?

Part 5 looks at the economics of the Pro Game and projects the likely future.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Making Of The Modern Pro Game, part 3

VFTD now returns you to our previously scheduled series. Keep in mind this is part 3. Parts 1 & 2 are down the queue on the main page and the whole tends to make more sense if you start at the beginning. No pressure just a suggestion. Also, the original piece was written in late 2005 early 2006 and this re-posting is intended to serve as a history lesson of sorts--not commentary on the game today. Two more parts to go.

Corporate Paintball
Rumors abound that business is down and that some of Paintball’s biggest corporate players are feeling the financial squeeze. It’s gone so far as public acknowledgment of merger talks between a pair of industry giants. All of Corporate Paintball could be in line for some seismic shake-ups and if we see any of the giants falter that could (and almost surely will) have a domino effect on sponsorships across the board. What the business types might call consolidation may end up looking an awful lot like contraction to the Pro teams. Even if the contraction doesn’t happen Corporate Paintball is dominated by a handful of companies and the nature of the business is changing for them, too. Fewer, if larger, companies would predictably narrow their sponsorship focus, perhaps trimming their list of sponsored teams but surely making the bottom line decision to dispense the majority of their sponsorship dollars to a shrinking list of elite teams, the sure things. (It’s already happening in portions of the industry.) Contraction would guarantee it.
This really isn’t anything new. Most of the available money already goes to the biggest, most valuable (promotionally) teams. This dichotomy hits even the Pros and, coupled with the growing demands of professionalism, is already putting a severe strain on more than a few second tier Pro teams. A shift towards a tighter focus on sponsorship returns will only draw the dividing lines more sharply between the haves and the have-nots. But that’s not the whole story.
Teams aren’t only competing amongst themselves for sponsor dollars, they are competing against one of the leagues, the NPPL. (The structure of the NXL precludes this concern but otherwise the NXL has its own laundry list of issues. See the View from the Deadbox column in PGI issues 195 & 196 for the NXL story.) Right now it doesn’t seem like it because everyone is used to the industry paying vendor fees to promoters but the NPPL model is intended to function differently, particularly at the Pro level. In a fully realized NPPL Pro future the league is the star player and the principle revenue recipient with the teams as expendable dependents. This is so because in the NPPL model it is the league that validates the status of the teams while at the same time offering the industry prestige and profile as high visibility supporters, or “partners.” Unless there are plans in place with promises made for the teams to share in the potential Pro prosperity in ways other than simple conditional participation then whether they recognize it or not the Pro teams are already competing with the NPPL for future support and the attention and popularity that helps make a team a valuable commodity.

That leaves small paintball companies, outside the industry sponsors and discount sales often called sponsorships. Ignore the last one as it doesn’t apply to this situation. The small companies have the same decisions to make as the large ones but in cases where they are in direct competition with the large companies they usually get frozen out of the major sponsorship opportunity because of the disparity in budgets and are left picking up the next best available teams. There is no reason to expect this to change except to the detriment of the teams as changing opportunities vie with traditional sponsorship to attract the limited available dollars. Which brings us to the outside of industry sponsors. Paintball already has a few. Should more come on board their interest will be in associating their product with Paintball in hopes of finding favor (and sales) amongst ‘ballers. Further down that road the value to a company comes in finding favor with fans of paintball. In either case it’s a wide net they are casting and given examples from other sports-supporting companies like Coke, Budweiser and Gatorade it will be the leagues that receive the biggest benefit. That doesn’t mean that individual teams won’t benefit from outside of industry sponsors only that there is little reason to imagine most Pros will automatically benefit as a result of increased popularity to the Sport generally unless they are a part of a league’s revenue stream.

Next time the impact of chasing TV.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Latest Changes From The PSP

VFTD interrupts its current pro paintball history series to comment on the latest off season surprises from the PSP. So far most of the changes are aimed at the pro teams. If you're hoping for some insider gossip or even an explanation for why these changes--other than the official reasons offered--you are out of luck. In the generous spirit of the season I'm opting to not speculate. (Feel free to read between those lines all you like.)
The only change at the divisional level (so far) is the move to a 10.2 ROF cap. Given this was done last year to the pros divisional teams should have expected this to happen to them too as it wasn't hard to guess that was the plan. (Everybody wants to be like the pros so if they do it first everybody else will want to do it too! Or something like that.) Of course it isn't true. What everybody really wants is consistency. The status quo--except for a few desiccated OGs who harbor fantasies of playing pro until they're fifty. Right now there's a general hue and cry opposing the reduced divisional ROF but then there's always objections to every change when they're announced. Eventually it dies down and everybody falls in line.
The pro changes are no sideline coaching, no early layout release and *true* semi-auto play. As in uncapped. Regarding no coaching I don't see how that can be policed. Last season limited coaching was sorta kinda allowed mostly because they couldn't effectively police the restrictions. Now they claim it will be stopped altogether but I'll believe it when I see it given the current definition of sideline coaching. *Real* spectators can yell whatever they want--including team codes and player names--but anyone directly associated with a team can't. Is that really no coaching? Are they gonna start throwing out paying customers? And how long, if it can made to work, before divisional teams start demanding the same treatment? I'm not opposed to the idea but wishing it were so doesn't make it happen.
Next up is the no early layout release which I have been advocating for years. I believe this will be good for the teams and players and force them to train differently and tilt the desired player skill set back toward some of the intangible creative skills. Which of course begs the question if it's good enough for the pros why not everybody else? How do you develop the next generation if you make them play a different game?
(I have heard from one team so far that already assumes that the pro teams that can come in early on Thursdays will also see to it the layout is set-up at a local field nearby so they can get at least some practice time on the field. I guess we'll see.)
And then there is uncapped semi-auto. First, the league is relying on the gun makers to independently provide "legal" software supporting so-called true semi-auto. Okay, maybe but we've been here before and it didn't work. Then there's the issue of adjustability. Give me a gun with a microswitch and I can make it dance even up to the point where I'm not really pulling the trigger--just twitching it--and in that state I can shoot me some serious semi-auto. Is one extra paintball per 6 or 8 shots okay? Per 10 shots? Or maybe only 12 or more? Failure to put some cap on this ill-conceived attempt will only lead to a return to the wild west past. And if I can't tune my marker I am left with a gun that may very well provide inferior performance to another manufacturer's gun. (Some of you will remember when some of the manufacturers tried to police themselves and how clunky some of those markers were. In practice when you set up an electro-pneumatic marker to be unambiguously semi only the performance will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer unless they are all relying on the same hard- and soft- ware component parts.) Unless the league can categorically say all the markers regardless of manufacturer are equal it won't be some newly recovered player skill on display. And they can't say that. Okay they probably can but it will prove to be untrue.
Lastly let's discuss enforcement. A rule is only as effective as your ability to enforce that rule and there is presently within competitive paintball no tool that can enforce uncapped semi, one pull one shot. The old NPPL robot was a joke and the only other thing that was ever seriously debated was the use of high speed cameras. You know, to count trigger pulls. Of course that would require matching trigger pulls counted with paintballs exiting the barrel. Perhaps the league has come up with another alternative. (Using some sort of counter attached to your board or solenoid isn't sufficient because those methods can't confirm trigger pulls only trigger actuations. In any case it will be necessary to match paintballs shot to intentional trigger pulls in order to police uncapped semi and I seriously doubt it can be done in a live action time frame that will allow referees on the field during a match to call gun penalties.
If I thought you could keep fan participation and ban coaching I'd be all for it. Consider me skeptical. I'm foursquare behind not releasing layouts in advance--even if a team or two may get three or four hours on the layout in advance. And I'm okay with true semi-auto but I do not see how that's going to happen unless there is some new technology introduced that will allow enforcement. In fact I'd be willing to lay a modest wager no comprehensive plan exists or has been tested in game situations. As a consequence I predict that semi-auto will be capped before this coming season is over and things will be more or less the way they were only everyone can say they're playing semi-auto now.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Coach for Hire

Please don't inundate me with your questions or comments on the latest PSP changes as it seems I no longer work for the PSP. (I will as I find out more details post on the latest changes.) No need for condolences either. As they say (whoever they are) it is what it is. Apparently the league is downsizing in its very own austerity plan. Best of luck to them.
All that means is that a worn out tired old paintball coach with 10+ years of pro experience who finished his last gig with a second World Cup title is available again to coach. All inquiries will remain strictly confidential. Please use the email link on the sidebar to communicate (unless you already have my number then feel free to, you know, call.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Making of the Modern Pro Game, part 2

The Change it had to come

The Russian Legion got the ball rolling by demonstrating what was possible with modern training methods and a full time schedule committed to playing paintball. Even though they weren’t winning everything in sight their example raised the bar on what it took to be a pro team and began pushing all the top teams and players–-as well as more than a few who aspired to that level–-to begin emulating the Russian Legion’s commitment as best they were able. The result has changed the baseline for what it takes to even contemplate competing at the Pro level. It has also changed the price tag. (A lot more about this aspect coming up later ‘cause when you get right down to it, it’s all about the money. And not in a good way.)
Coming into focus as well is what sort of infrastructure is required to put a team in position to prepare and train like professionals. Right now nobody does it quite like the Legion but more and more teams are attempting to implement Legion-like concepts and besides the facilities, the time and the basic resources there are also greater manpower and managerial demands placed on the teams. It isn’t enough to want to be more professional. The support pieces must be in place, too. As a result the list of basic necessities continues to grow as teams strive to remain competitive.
At, or around, the same time as the Legion Effect was beginning to take hold tourney ball saw a split in leagues and formats. This practically doubled everything from the teams’ point of view. Any attempt to be universally competitive now requires practice, training, preparation and time for competitions times two different leagues and games. The result has been that a significant number of Pro teams haven’t even made the attempt and are, in essence, staking their future on one format or the other. (Yes, there is some overlap as the basic skills remain the same and some cross-pollination exists as Xball continues to influence how all competitive paintball is played. So even if every factor isn’t literally doubled the impact remains large.)

Today’s Pro teams are in a state of transition foursquare on the path to professionalism if not real professional status. The price tag on professionalism is not for the faint of heart. And that is the crux of the problem. The demands on the Pro teams have never been greater and the expectations have never been higher yet most teams lack the means of the real professional. Meanwhile the standard model for support–sponsorship–hasn’t changed and primarily paintball industry sponsorship alone isn’t enough anymore. In fact, there are new pressures coming to bear that will probably decrease sponsorship dollars across the board.    

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Making of the Modern Pro Game in 5 Parts

Time for another VFTD experiment. Since a significant portion of VFTD readers and today's competitive players are unfamiliar with much of paintball's history I thought a little lesson, or five, might be of interest. Over the next five days I'ma serialize a feature (long) article originally written for PGi magazine in (I think) 2005 maybe early 2006. It discusses how and why the pro teams of today came to be. As you can see even then I was partial to inflammatory titles. So if you're interested--enjoy--if not--as Jeff Probst says to the losing team on 'Survivor' each episode, "I got nothing for you." 

Pro Paintball’s Ticking Timebomb: part 1

Timebomb sounds pretty scary, right? Do I have your attention? Are you mumbling guesses as to what the ticking timebomb could be? If you’re thinking buried Iraqi WMDs you’re way off. If you’re concerned about unfettered illegal immigration join the club, but remember, we’s talking about Paintball, so lighten up. A good guess might be the trend toward consolidation in the paintball industry but that only points us in the general direction. And, no, I’m not telling just yet. After all, the idea is to get you to read more by teasing your curiosity. Trust me, it will be good for you. Like eating all your vegetables. So read the whole thing. It’s what your Mom would want.
Here’s a clue for the impatient: I warned all faithful PGI readers back in issue 181 in a View entitled, Livin’ the Dream, that the nature of sponsorships was changing–and not for the better in the likely opinion of many teams. That included the Pros. Little has changed except the precipice looms nearer and PGI’s growing readership means many of you missed the first alert so what better topic for an anarchist-at-heart and conspiracy buff to return to?

The Professional Leagues
There are presently two Pro leagues of consequence; the NPPL’s Pro Division and the NXL. (Yes, I know the MS has its Champions League but I did say, of consequence.) Each league is aiming to be the vehicle that delivers tourney paintball to legitimate sports status. Part of the process has been to elevate and isolate the pro ranks from the rest of the paintball proletariat. It is a preparatory early step along the road to positioning tourney paintball as sport similar to but distinctly different from the pay-to-play crowd.
Still don’t get it? Time was when Pro ball was really no different from the rest of tourney competition. Oh sure, they were mostly the best teams and players but pro status wasn’t really anything more than the name given to the top division of play. A big part of the new pro leagues current strategy is to separate the pro teams from everyone else. To make them special. And it’s working.

Do you hear that timebomb tick, tick, ticking yet? Everyone has been so intent on chasing success; wider marketplace, more players, fan appeal, outside sponsor interest, TV, real sport status, etc. that the true cost hasn’t been of much interest. Sure, the prime movers have been keeping a close eye on their account ledgers but, surprise, surprise, it isn’t all about them. The rapid changes have had, and will continue to have, enormous impact on the pro teams. The result is Pro Paintball is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success. The changes made in search of “success” and more importantly the changes necessitated by that growing success are also changing the teams from the inside out. It used to be that success on the field was all that mattered. Not anymore.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Undrafted

I saw an episode of 'Undrafted' on the NFL network recently. (I started writing this post before the holiday but in light of the recent internet debate [#graysongate] this seems more appropriate than before.) If you like football or sports generally it's a great show. Turns out the NFL isn't satisfied scouting college players and annually drafting seven rounds of talent--around 224 players. No, the league also invites scouted but undrafted players to camps too and even operates a series of regional combines for players who went largely unscouted and undrafted but who are still looking for an opportunity to compete at the next level. (For you non-sports types a combine is basically a series of physical tests of strength, agility, speed, etc.) Those that get past the regionals are invited to a super-combine where scouts for all the NFL teams are in attendance. It's one last chance to attract the interest of an NFL team. One last chance to get invited to a training camp. One last shot at making an NFL roster.
A couple of things grabbed my attention. One, it tells an inspirational story that often gets overlooked and two, it's a story of real dedication, determination and sacrifice. In the preseason NFL rosters swell to over a hundred players. In a series of cuts that number is eventually whittled down to 53. Every year half the players who actually make it to an NFL camp don't make the team. And every last one of them is bigger faster stronger than the norm, more athletic and have been competing at their chosen sport for years before they even get a chance at a professional roster. And the undrafted guys are among the least likely to ever earn that roster spot and most of them have already failed at least once--yet there they are--trying again. And trying again means that in the preceding year they were training on their own in order to be ready for the next opportunity, if it should come. Most have families and jobs and everyday responsibilities so they have to make time to prepare. To train. If that means a little less sleep or running in the dark before going to work or skipping most of the usual social opportunities with friends then that's what it takes. Even though there are no promises. Not only no promise they'll succeed but no promise they'll even get the chance to prove themselves.
Competitive paintball players pride themselves on the grind but the vast majority are clueless. Are there trade-offs in choosing to be serious about paintball? Sure. So what. The same is true of damn near anything in life. Are there some sacrifices? Yep. Do some players really push themselves and earn the grind everyone wants to claim a share of? Yes. But it ain't most players. And it sure isn't all those squids with APPA cards constantly posting (or should that be posing?) on social media how hard their life is because they play paintball and how much they give in order to play paintball. It just isn't. They may even believe it but it just isn't so.
Let me see if I can explain. Back in my gym rat days the serious lifters--in the gym six or seven days a week--sometimes twice a day--would be entertained by the new guys inspired to get healthy or fit or big. You see, the new guys would be highly motivated, gung ho and ready to go and in their early weeks in the gym their trainers would put them through a moderately paced 45 minute standardized workout and the new guys would be all sweaty and beat down at the end--and here's the thing--convinced they'd just completed the mother of all workouts. After all it was hard work and they had pushed themselves, or been pushed in order to finish but the reality was it was just the beginning. It was preparation. It was getting their bodies ready for the real work to come. As one might expect some eventually quit, some stayed at that level and a small percentage continued to drive forward and push harder.
It's easy to mistake hard today for doing the best you can do. Don't limit yourself. There will always be somebody out there who wants what you want and they will be willing and able to outwork you--in fact they are doing it right now. Stop talking about how hard something is and start refusing to be denied. (And I'm not just talking paintball.) I'm also not, btw, suggesting that throwing yourself 110% into competitive paintball is an optimal life choice. What you choose is up to you but I am saying we too often limit ourselves.
Watch a couple of the early episodes of 'Undrafted.' See real dedication and sacrifice in action and see if it doesn't inspire you. #Thereisnooffseason

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Pros: OG vs. New Skool

The first mailbag question of the off season comes from Kevin who wants to know how the OG pros would stack up against today's best of the New Skool. (Kevin was inspired by the Grayson Goff PBN post commented on in VFTD's last post.) Give everybody the same equipment--new or old or maybe both--to compete with and see who comes out on top. Do the OG's win with autocockers and the New Skool with DMs?

Despite the fact the question is unanswerable I will take a crack at it. After all every other sport does the same thing; who's better, Montana or Manning? Nicklaus or Woods? Jordan or James?
While direct personal comparisons are fun (and the source of endless disagreements) at its core is the meta-question about what makes a pro player and have paintball pros always been pro--by a single unifying set of criteria? 
The answer is, as you might have expected, yes and no. Yes because paintball pros are separated from the rest of the competitive player pool because they are deemed to be the best players and because the basic skills haven't changed dramatically. No because some important elements of the game have changed significantly due largely to technology and those changes have altered the importance of some elements of the basic skill set.
The technology matters. Today is volume over accuracy--even though accuracy still matters. CA has improved consistency and reliability.
Digging a little deeper we find enormous format changes as the game moved out of the woods, shrank the field dimensions and is currently played (under ideal conditions) on a flat open well manicured grass pitch. Much of the New Skool is about as well-equipped to play in the woods as an unsuspecting counselor at Camp Crystal Lake is to survive until dawn while the distances the game is played at today are brutally unforgiving of even the smallest errors. Game times have changed with the format changes. 25 minute games of 10-man on a non-symmetrical wooded playing field to routinely playing multiple points in half that time. 
Begin to put the pieces together and it's easy to see the disparity. High ROF fire guns on small relatively open fields with an accelerated pace of action is a substantially different game than the one played in the woods that demanded stealth accuracy and advanced planning and as a consequence the best players focused on the tools that would best advance their game. The upshot is that I believe it highly likely that each side would win their preferred format and game with the era appropriate gear. At least initially. But I'm also inclined to think the New Skool would eventually adapt to the game of the past and when they did they would win there too. The New Skool's superior technical skill base would ultimately prove to be the difference maker.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

You Will Never Play Professional Paintball

I've stolen this post title (nicely provocative, just the way I like them!) from an item posted at PBN by Grayson Goff of X-Factor (and BKi.) I encourage you to read Grayson's OP here. [Disclaimer: Grayson is both a friend and former player of mine as are all the X-Factor kids.] G's post is one reason I post here and not at PBN. While it has generated 10 pages of comments lots of them have little or nothing to do with the topic presented. While I encourage comments here I also know they will be a cut well above the PBN norm.
If you were the lazy slacker you usually are and didn't bother reading G's post the upshot is that the dividing line between pro level play and not pro level play is the mental toughness, determination and drive of the players and that the current generation shows a decided inclination to be *ahem* soft. And further Grayson's answer is to drive those showing any inclination to be the best with a combination of positive and negative reinforcement--though the article focuses on the negative.
While it's easy to get hung up on what form that negative reinforcement takes the real issue is how best to drive players to reach their potential. And make no mistake most players of any era or generation require some outside influence or motivation to maximize their ability whatever the game or sport may be. Is an unrelenting barrage of negativity the best option? Probably not but does it have a place in the process? For many perhaps even most there is a time and place for negative reinforcement. It's not all the time or in an absence of occasional positive reinforcement but nothing but pats on the head and "good job" will never get the most out of most players.
The other contentious point challenged the dedication and drive of the players of today. And not a minute too soon. If I hadn't made the same claims myself in the past I'd second Grayson's claim without hesitation. That doesn't mean there aren't some dedicated driven up-and-coming young players but again the issue raised was the next generation of pro players. And the reality is there have been individuals making the move (rarely) but the current generation has been passed by. The great majority of today's pro players whether they are Challengers or Champions are in their mid to late twenties and there is no wave of late teen phenoms pushing to take their places. The reason isn't a lack of technical skills. It is in part a developmental failure based on how most teams and players currently train but it is also a failure to bring to the table the requisite intangibles. (A case might be made that the pool of potential or future pro players has shrunken too making it more difficult to replace the current crop of aging players.)
There may be reasons. There are always obstacles to be overcome and hardships to be endured but there are no excuses.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Holidays & VFTD's International Audience

Consider this post a little bit of public housekeeping. Not necessarily all that exciting but occasionally required. If you are on Facebook you might have noticed a recent campaign to bump up VFTD "likes." (If not you'll just have to take my word for it.) It was conducted by a friend of the blog who works for FB as an experiment and in an effort to increase VFTD's reach among paintballers. It has yet to have a similar impact on this blog's analytics but it may have broadened the international audience here and there. (And there may be some lag before the campaign's impact asserts itself.) In recent years over a typical month long period VFTD is read in around 70 different countries with a few changes month to month at the end of the listing. In the last week China has jumped up to #10. That means paintballers in China had the tenth most page views this past week of any country around the world. (I think it's the first time China has passed Malaysia.) And that leaves me curious. I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who knows more about the effort to bring paintball to China and what if any progress is being made. Thanks!
There's also been a big jump recently in VFTD's audience in France. France has been in the lower half of Euro countries since the blog's start despite the popularity of tourney ball in France so I'm pleased to see such positive movement. (France is currently number 3 behind the U.S. and Canada. Normally it also trails the U.K., Russia, Germany and sometimes various of the Scandinavian countries in ranking the world audience.)
This time of year here in the United States things tend to slow down paintball-wise as winter takes hold and the holiday season begins in a couple of days. Here at VFTD I will keep up with the latest news (and the best gossip) but it may be things won't begin to heat up again until January. That very likely being the case in the past I have encouraged this audience to take advantage of the lack of activity to send in questions, comments, observations or whatever strikes your fancy to Baca's Mailbag using the email link (in blue) on the sidebar as this is the time of year when I have the most time to respond to readers' queries. I'm happy anytime of year to respond to email addressed to this blog but during the holidays I can handle more volume. So I would encourage you drop me a line anytime wherever you're from but for a while at least I'll give priority to email from China and France.
Happy (early) Thanksgiving to all. Whether you and yours officially celebrate Thanksgiving or not there's never a wrong time to take a moment and reflect on our blessings with gratitude. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

TMP in Review: Live or Later?

Last week's sorta The Monday Poll (the poll posted in the sidebar in conjunction with the post, 'Too Much Of A Good Thing') wanted to know what you thought about modifying how PBA delivers PSP pro action. Currently it's a live webcast (d'oh!) offered in a ppv format with individual matches made available some weeks after each event. It's an expensive proposition that --according to everything I've heard--doesn't pay for itself much less make a profit. The related post put forward a few other options for presenting the matches and monetizing the process like downloadable single matches or other possible menu-type choices that are pay for what you want and available whenever you want. The not quite The Monday Poll was looking to gauge your collective response. (But as usual y'all are a bunch of lazy slackers who mostly couldn't be bothered.)
The poll choices were simple: No preference, Live webcast, downloadable matches or free or forget about it. No preference received 3% of the votes. Live webcast garnered 58%. Downloads collected 22% while Free or it ain't for me weighed in at 17%. Given the paucity of actual votes--the raw data--it's probably not wise to draw too many conclusions beyond the (seemingly) growing apathy among tournament players--and maybe all paintball players. (If you are a regular reader of VFTD chances are you are a serious paintball addict which would suggest a predisposition to be more actively involved in the game--and consequently more likely to participate in stuff like The Monday Poll. And yet it doesn't happen.)
Otherwise the poll suggests what we already knew--most peeps don't like change--and while most like the idea of or the existence of the webcast they also assume somebody else will pick up the slack in making it happen. Meanwhile I can't decide if that 22% favoring cheap downloads is a positive number or a negative one. Or perhaps more importantly representative of a large enough segment to make a test effort worthwhile.
Realist that I am I'm inclined to think everyone not in the download category refers the status quo whether they buy the webcast or not--probably not--because eventually the PBA makes individual matches available for free. And if that's the case it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.  

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Houston Heat By The Numbers

In VFTD's last post, 'Is The Microwave The X-Factor,' I used a recent Champions level pick-up to make a point or two about how teams should think about improving their rosters. Given that I have a penchant for mercilessly beating a dead horse you might reasonably be expecting this post to be more of the same. It won't be. Instead I want to explore some of the difficulties Heat will face this coming season because of the roster changes they made this off season. (I know, it seems counter-intuitive on its face but it really isn't.) Remember it took most of the season for Art Chaos to figure things out.
Let's begin by taking a look back at the original Heat roster. The original Heat roster featured three Russians; Federov, Kniazev and Solnyshkov, a few experienced role-playing pros plus some fresh talent from the divisional ranks that spawned the pro team. (For those of you who insist on calling every pro a superstar my identification of guys like Slowiak, George and Monville as role-players isn't a knock. The Russians played roles too but are both more versatile and brought more winning experience to the team.) The resulting team was built around the Russians with the role-players providing situational flexibility as the inexperienced talent developed in practice with limited spins in match situations. That Heat team was also deliberate, most comfortable with steady, error-free paintball which was arguably a carry over stylistically from Coach Trosen's All Americans background (as a player and coach.) It also proved to be a winning formula.
The "new" Heat retains the players brought in last season to replace the missing Russians; Montressor, Moorhead, Siewers and Taylor plus original Heat members Bouchez and a returning Ryan Smith (who played last season with VCK.) With the return of the original Russian players plus Berdnikov.
One of the key issues Heat struggled with last season was that the replacement stars (for the departed Russians) only superficially filled similar roles. The issues that will manifest as a result this season are lines, roles and spins.
The original Heat ran the 3 Russians plus George and Monville paired on the snake side as their primary line. Now that the team has 4 Russians they only have a single slot to fill for their primary line. (Unless one of the Russians doesn't play up to their standard they almost have to be played together given their experience together and the language issue.) With a single slot available what role is filled? While all the Russians have versatile games whoever fills the last slot will determine the roles of the other players to a significant degree. If it's Moorhead is he still predominantly playing snake wire? If so who plays that wire with him? If it's Siewers, who normally plays D-sire, it likely changes the pairings. Last season the majority of the snake wire spins went to Moorhead (75% of all points played), George (72% of all points played) and Monville (53% all points played). That won't happen in 2015.
Last season the Russian foursome played between 88% - 81% of all points played by Art Chaos. If those numbers are even close in 2015 with Heat it doesn't leave much opportunity for the rest of the roster except whoever fills the primary line slot with the Russians. Any lesser ratio of points played is contrary to past Heat practice and raises different concerns. Last season with the rotation opened up a bit players like Montressor, Bouchez and Taylor all played less than 40% of the available points while as a team Heat under-performed expectations. One reason was because the replacement players skill sets weren't consistent with the players they lost and as a group they had an over-abundance at some positions while being weak in others.
Finally there's the question of pace of play. Heat prefers deliberate and the PSP seems determined to try and push teams to play faster. The issue isn't whether or not Heat can adjust--because I think they can--but will they or will they try to sustain their pace of play? (Remember how Impact opened the PSP season? Same situation but to their credit Impact realized very quickly they needed to make some adjustments and went on to have an exemplary year.)
To sum up: despite having a terrific roster on paper the team is going to have a number of serious issues to contend with even if all the players take a selfless attitude and are collectively determined to serve the best interests of the team. But if discontent sets in at some point or success doesn't happen right away this roster could implode or quietly undermine every effort to re-build a winner. Ironically the one thing that may unite the team is money. If rumors are correct Heat players will make more as a group than the entire budgets of virtually all the other pro teams. And it's a little easier to set the ego aside if you're traveling the world and making a viable living playing--or not playing--paintball.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Is The Microwave the X-Factor?

Tuesday X-Factor announced the pick-up of Carl Markowski, formerly of Aftershock, for the 2015 season and as usual the internet onlookers offered up nearly universal praise, predictions of success and congratulations. Which is all well and good--and considerably better than sticks, stones and Romany curses--but it also provides an opportunity to take a closer look. Too often high profile player movement is uncritically assumed to be the greatest thing since sliced bread and frankly I think it too often, intentionally or unintentionally, influences how lower level teams look at improving their own rosters. (I am not, btw, suggesting that picking up Carl was or will be a mistake but it does provide a real life example to analyze. The same holds true of the major roster shake-up at Heat which VFTD will also analyze in a future post.)
Breaking down the X-Factor roster reveals a number of interesting, related factoids. Billy and Mykel are primarily snake leads. Meter plays both snake wire positions but is a better lead than support. The primary snake side support (insert) is Archie. And according to PBA stats he played 86% of the team's points (while earning top gun honors.) Dixon can play anywhere but mostly plays snake side or center. Besides Arch the principle snake side players ranged between 58% - 50% of the points played. Now toss Carl into that mix and realistically he simply takes spins from other players. Does he play the snake side better than the others? That is at present an unknown. One alternative is to begin moving some players around. Experiment and see if there are any performance advantages to be gained by being more flexible. However by 2014 stats Colt played 84% of the points while Scotty played 67% and they typically work together as the primary pairing on the D-wire. Grayson frequently filled in on the D-side or in the Home. So where and how does Carl fit? It's not enough to simply grab a really good player.
Even the best players aren't plug and play. And as a team sport each of the players have roles to fill and in a given point particular jobs to do and it is critically important when working to improve a roster that first one understands the team's current strengths and weaknesses in order to focus on needs. Ideally then roster additions are both good chemistry fits and address areas of weakness with personal strengths that will enhance overall team performance.
Let me put it another way. If your team needs a d-wire lead you don't solve that concern by bringing in the best local player (not on the team) if that player's strength is playing an insert or support role. Yes, he's a very good player but if he isn't what the team needs then you haven't addressed your real area of concern and gotten better as a team in ways that change the outcome of matches.
So what about the Markowski pick-up? If X-Factor is losing a dedicated snake side player or making a change Carl brings a lot of potential pluses and fits the team's aggressive style. On that score it can't be faulted. And Carl is versatile enough to play either wire so in that regard he's a net positive but the real question is does the Markowski pick-up address the team's most pressing need? Perhaps. Keeping in mind that any roster change impacts the whole team and potentially forces changes that might not otherwise have been made in terms of lines and spins.
Otherwise X-Factor remains a solid Champions team and should continue to be a serious competitor going forward.