Robots vs. Ninjas, Part 1 puts the differences between the two dominant formats into perspective–though with the bankruptcy of Pacific Paintball the differences, both real and apparent, are rather a moot point. Xball, of one sort or another, is the competitive paintball format for the foreseeable future. The issue now becomes if Xball promotes a certain kind of player–and, broadly defined, I think it does–is it the kind of player we want? And if it isn't what can be done about it? In one sense the robots vs. ninjas debate is resistance from the traditionalists to what they perceive as a diminished game or a less desirable game than the one they played. Without arguing the merits it is important in moving forward to define what the game should be and then what are the skills and abilities required to compete effectively. Or perhaps vice versa. Start with the play of the game as players and go from there in building the game around the desired skills and abilities.
Let's take a brief look at the Russian Legion as their example is instructive. The Legion burst onto the international pro scene on the basis of a new-to-paintball method of training players. It inspired imitation (to varying degrees) and has had a significant impact on competitive paintball. Their methodology also is (was) clearly better suited to the Xball format than to 7-man. The abbreviated reason for this is in Xball it is possible to prepare for, and exert some influence over, more aspects of the actual play of the game than in 7-man. (It is the element of relative unpredictability (more or less) in 7-man that is the missing element for many of the traditionalists because within the window of unpredictability there exists more time and more freedom to make individual play of the game decisions.) For the Legion then the status quo would seem to be ideal yet in recent seasons they have moved to a roster mix that is nearly evenly split between U.S.-based players and Russians.
So what do we want? What should separate the best from the rest? Is it purely gun skills? Physical tools? Something else? Something more? If we can't define the skill set(s), both physical and mental, that comprise the ideal player the players will still be subject to forces that shape their development. Those forces are our training routines and the rules of the game we play.
Paintball has been developing more sophisticated training methods but still relies heavily on scrimmaging. This isn't unreasonable but it is inefficient. Scrimmaging is a necessary element but it is very paint intensive and is only a valuable learning tool when conducted by knowledgeable players and/or coaches focused on learning and improving. It easily reduces to just playing paintball, which is more fun but not always very productive.
Right now in the U.S. there is a bias toward scrimmaging regardless of other factors. In part that is because that is how it's 'always' been done. And among the pros the growing scarcity of resources and time for practice forces hard decisions and tends to push teams toward the familiar. And finally the early release of competition layouts makes the scrimmage imperative. No team would willingly cede practical knowledge of and familiarity with the competition layout when they are convinced their competition will have that knowledge and familiarity. If the layout is available it must be played.
In the short term the only viable way to have a dramatic impact in shaping the ideal player is to not release the layouts in advance. (Here I'm really focusing on the pro–and new semi-pro–division where the impact would be the greatest.) This is so because we are in an era of mostly very limited resources and as a consequence less time to prepare. And until (if ever) paintball can boast real professionals the time, resources and commitment will always be an issue. The non-release would free up the teams to develop different training regimes that would focus on a player's adaptability and capacity to read the changing field and react on the fly. The physical skills would remain the same but this change would dramatically alter the mental game and it's application to the Xball format. The result would be a much more demanding and intense game given the speed Xball tends to promote. (You'd eventually have better players and a better game. IM not very HO, of course.) There would also be a variety of other, I think, positive results as well from this one change.
This post takes some shortcuts in the interest of brevity (can you believe it?) and may as a consequence be a fairly demanding read. If you have any questions or just want to be argumentative don't hesitate to post a comment.
Yes, I know what I posted on Saturday. Get off my back. It's still Saturday somewhere in the South Pacific, right? You know, the whole international dateline thing.