Monday, December 29, 2008

The Conventional Wisdom

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?


bronc said...

10-man never died off. The PSP killed it in favor of X-ball. It's not a secret. Richmond invested how many millions to start up X-ball? 10-man couldn't stand in the way right?

And look at the latest team counts from the PSP - more teams are signing up for 5-man then X-ball. That speaks volumes about what the majority of players like (or dislike - e.g. X-ball).

Let's look at it from a business perspective. Which format is going to bring in the most teams? More teams equals a healthy league right (financially)? Whatever that format is, it's obviously by its draw how players and teams feel about it. Like you pointed out, 10-man was at it's all time high of popularity when the PSP killed it (with help from the NPPL 7-man format). That's people not looking ahead; a real lack of foresight in order to be kings for the day and win the biggest dick contest that the PSP and NPPL used to have back in the day.

And sure, maybe it's the top 2% that actually pay up and play in national events, but I'd wager from my 22+ years playing that over 1/2 of the weekend players mix it up, playing airball and rec ball.

I think it's desperation (and possibly ignorance) causing companies to look to the woods - simply because that's where everyone else in the industry herd is going.

p8ntball222 said...

^ agreed......PSP definitely killed 10-man. poorly designed fields, put up in the dirt, 12 yr. old refs...they wanted it gone.

And how many cross-over players are there in Rec and vise versa in tourneies.

raehl said...


Tournament paintball was at its all-time highest popularity - 10-man just HAPPENED to be the format. And tournament paintball became EVEN MORE popular after 10-man was dead. Are they connected? Who knows - but to suggest that we'd be better off if we'd kept 10-man is just silly. There's no data to support it.

To Baca's post....

There are absolutely more non-tournament players than tournament players, by a very, very, very large margin. That margin goes down if you look at player-days though - tournament players play more days than non-tournament players.

But, one additional factor you missed: Tournament players are low-margin. You can charge a rec player $40-$70 while a tournament player will bitch and moan about paying $10.

Player numbers are only part of the picture. The real issue is that rec players DOMINATE revenue, which is what pays for them tournament players to run around.

Separately, while moving from the woods may have been good for competitive paintball, I think it's been just as bad for rec paintball as high rates of fire. Putting new players on speedball fields has been a mistake.

Baca Loco said...

I do not, nor have I ever, doubted there are many, many more rec players than tourney players. [If Paintball ever requires an article of faith there it is. :) ]

Who PUT new players on speedball fields? (I don't think I've written or said aloud "speedball" in at least 5 or 6 years. Yikes!) You make it sound like the Burmese Death March. As if poor innocent little newbs were taken out and made to suffer the indignities of speedball against their will. (Btw, I'm not denying potential hazards but I do think you're running the same risk that too often the conventional wisdom leads to--which is to confuse result with causation.)

Tom said...

Raehl said:
"That margin goes down if you look at player-days though - tournament players play more days than non-tournament players.

But, one additional factor you missed: Tournament players are low-margin. You can charge a rec player $40-$70 while a tournament player will bitch and moan about paying $10."

So if a tourney player plays 4 times as much as a non-tourney player things kinda even out.

raehl said...

Not quite - revenue is not the same as margin.


I don't think it's a death march. But I think a lot of the "fun" of paintball for new players just doesn't happen on a concept field.

bronc said...

I really disagree Chris. True any format could have been played at the time, 12 or 15 man and really old school, but like Baca stated 10-man was at it's all time high when the PSP replaced it with X-ball, which was pushed hard by the backers of the PSP.

And tournament paintball took off after that with the NPPL turning up the heat and putting on world class events, even if it was only for a little while. The format didn't mean anything. The PSP with X-ball could have put on the same type of "Event" with X-ball being show cased, and they would have drawn a big crowd to. Tournament paintball got big not because the format, but because the sport was booming along with the economy.

I don't know if 10-man should have lived, but I liked it. The numbers of people are running away from X-ball as fast as slots open in 5-man or other leagues is crazy.

The players will choose with their money what they really enjoy playing. That's the bottom line. Which format fits TV the best or what not doesn't matter. Which format players enjoy the most does.

Ricky Bosch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

Chris, ever try sharing this bit of wisdom with Dye? "Tournament players are low-margin."

Tournament players, like rec players are price conscious value seekers.

If a tournament or rec player finds a product with the perceived value higher than the selling price of a part they will buy it. Margins be damned.

It is only when a tournament player, or a rec player does not value the product to the same degree as the price does it not sell. Low or high margins don't really have much to do with it.

We all gripe about tourney players but that is part of this conventional wisdom nonsense Baca talks about (and I agree with).

Many rec players do not buy a 1500 gun because they don't see the value in it. Many rec players do not spend $100-200 on a fancy circuit board because they don't see the value in it.

Now I agree that generally tourney players give themselves a bad name by griping about prices, but generally humans gripe about prices.

Which goes back to my original point. If you can get your customer to value your product for a "price" that is greater than the actual selling price then they will buy it just about everytime - high or low margins be damned.

Chris said...

As an aside, I think this whole "rec v. tourney" argument is over blown.

Don't forget about the larg, wanna-be tournament player market.

There are a lot of players that look up to and emulate the tournament player market. Why? Because they look cool and because the media show them as the pinnacle of the sport.

I think the industry is selling itself short by focusing on the low-end woods ball market. Not that there isn't a place for woodsball and not that I don't love it -- I do.

But my point is, when a player picks up a magainze filled with guys shooting $140 guns, and sees that as the ideal role model/player, it's pretty hard to make him see the value of a $1200 gun.

I can only speak to my personal experience as a 12 yr old who lived off of APG, and all those fancy automags with expansion chambers and remotes, and cockers with uni-regs back in the day. I was not satisfied with my Piranha long barrel P68AT. And I had to upgrade. Of course if everyone was shooting a gun just like mine in the magazines I probably wouldn't have felt the need to upgrade.