This isn't the first draft of this post. Or the second. In fact this post isn't anything like what I thought I wanted to say. The easy part was starting. It's been a lot tougher finding my way through to any sort of conclusion but the mighty maw of the blogosphere doesn't long tolerate deliberation. (Much like my absurdly low threshold for boredom.) Truth is I've left out most of my conclusions, mostly so you can draw your own. I don't know if there's a meal here or only table scraps. You decide.
One long-standing, grey-bearded item of conventional wisdom in paintball states: Tourney ballers (and tournament paintball) are in the minority and it's not even close. No doubt you've heard that one. May even have repeated it yourself. Me too. If it's true (and it has to be, doesn't it?) then tournament paintball has been the tail that wags the dog. How did that come about? The industry has for a long time (in paintball years) marketed paintball via the tourney game and players. The media (when it existed) focused on tournament paintball. Tourney ball drove the tech developments and the notion of paintball as sport motivated many and inspired the push for mainstream acceptance and TV. I know how this looks but don't be too hasty about drawing any conclusions just yet. Is there a danger of the pendulum swinging too far the other way? What doesn't the conventional wisdom tell us that we need to know?
Here's some Old Skool conventional wisdom: Moving paintball out of the woods was a, and perhaps even the, critical step in the development of competitive paintball. (Ever notice how certain bits of conventional wisdom don't seem to fit with other bits of conventional wisdom and yet it doesn't seem to matter. I wonder why that is? /end Andy Rooney riff) Who can argue with that? But tell me how much impact moving out of the woods had, if any, on the player explosion of a few years ago. Are they related? If they are related is there any disconnect between the notion that the vast majority of players are rec/woods/scenario players? I'm just asking but with what little hard data there seems to be it looks like a case could be made that moving out of the woods also broadened paintball's appeal across the board. I realize that in some quarters that's sacrilege and I also think that some measure of paintballers preferences are regional but does the idea put a different face on the "typical" rec player? What else could have moved the majority of local fields to invest in some brand of airball or other? You know, given the conventional wisdom about the limited number of tourney ballers and all. I'm beginning to wonder about the utility of conventional wisdom in general.
How about another piece of classic conventional wisdom? The transition to xball happened because 10-man was dying out. Is that really what happened? Not according to the numbers. The last year that 10-man was the featured event ('02) was also the largest WC 10-man turn out ever and the Chicago event that year featured more 10-man teams than the WC of only two years earlier. In terms of numbers of teams xball has yet to match the 10-man numbers of WC '01. So what precipitated the sharp rise in 10-man participation? And what was the cause of the switch to xball? And if you really want to make yourself crazy figure out which years were the fat years for industry and try and relate those to event turnout. And if you can't does that make our first item of conventional wisdom seem all the more correct? Or are things becoming so complicated it's hard to know what to think?
Here's another bit of more current conventional wisdom: irresponsible punks and their high ROF guns are destroying paintball. Hard to argue with this one, right? I mean the signs are everywhere. PBIndustry is reputed to be in serious trouble. Sponsorships are definitely shrinking. The number of peeps playing paintball is on the decline, or so it's said. The NPPL is gone and if folks are to be believed some of the paint giants are struggling to survive. Nobody seems to know how tourney participation will shake out this coming season but plenty of peeps are worried. Local fields and stores are struggling too and some are closing. All true as far as it goes.
Except there's a problem. One problem with conventional wisdom is that it's not always true. Another problem is it can be an easy shortcut that appeals to Paintball's herd mentality. (You know, the one where everybody agrees instead of thinking.) In this case the problem is the disconnect between the legitimate trials facing Paintball and the purported cause. Irresponsible punks and their high ROF guns. How did the industry get into trouble? Are there more or less people playing paintball today than 10 years ago? If the answer is more, and it certainly appears to be, then were the paint companies even worse off 10 years ago? How did industry survive at all? On the local level is it numbers of players or gross sales that are the real issue? How does the current economy figure into the equations?
How many irresponsible punks with high ROF guns does it take to collapse an industry?
And if they all disappeared overnight would all of Paintball's problems go with them?