Thursday, July 31, 2008

Americans quit Super 7

Not all the Americans, just the Philly (or is it Pittsburgh?) Americans. The only interesting things about this are a) what's the NPPL gonna do, b) by quitting is their Pro spot revoked (Did they try to sell it or give it away?) and c) why was it Tim M. fronted the press release?
Didn't expect c), did you? Well, sadly that's the sort of peculiar detail I fixate on. Seriously, does anyone think Jason and the boyz sat down and decided they weren't able to perform at their best with so many committments and that 7-man just had to be sacrificed? Me either. But why Tim? Would an official press release from SP have been viewed differently?
While it is undeniable that relegation would be an embarrassment it doesn't explain the decision. Hey, they elected to keep committments with the AXBL and SPPL instead of the NPPL. There's an obvious answer here and a not so obvious speculation.
'Kay, so what does NPPL do now? Gotta fill that spot or else the Pro Div is left with a short bracket and byes.
Oh, oh, I know! I know! Reward Spyder's loyalty and bring BC up to finish the season. Is there still a BC? Are they still sponsored by Spyder/Kingman/whatever? The team wasn't at Buffalo.
It'll be interesting to see what comes next at any rate.

Where in the world are the D1 players?

Thought it might be interesting to do an informal check of D1 ranked players currently in D2--after all, that's what happens to former D2 players who get bumped up, right? If they end up teamless they just get picked up to play D2 and obviously it's the best of those players the D2 peeps want, right?
Of the teams currently registered (21) for the NEO 10 of them have D1 ranked players on their rosters. Less than half. And 5 of those only have one D1 ranked player instead of the allowed 2. I also took a look at those players' experience as far as APPA is concerned. 9 of the 15 players have been rostered in 3 or fewer D1 or higher events. (Please note I said rostered. Being rostered doesn't necessarily equate to playing any paintball. For example there is a D1 ranked player currently on a D2 roster who appeared on at least 7 D1 rosters and played fewer cumulative points over those seven events than the average player plays in a single event. Is that really a D1 player?)
Of those 9 players 3 have never been APPA rostered on a D1 or higher team. One was rostered once. Three players were rostered twice and for one of those guys it was once in 06 and once in 07. (Is that really a D1 level player? Really?) And finally the last two appeared on 3 rosters. One of those guys is 37 years old.
60% of the D1 players playing D2 have either zero or damn little actual D1 level experience. And as NEO is the fourth event of the season--always the weakest in terms of participation--that means at the D2 level there is a higher percentage of dedicated teams playing the NEO than at any other event of the year. Kinda makes a mockery of the notion that D1 players are finding a home in D2 and explodes as myth any notion that the best teamless D1 players have anywhere to go except to some other hobby, game or sport.
While not conclusive this data sure looks like it goes at least part of the to validating my analysis of the current structure.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

PSP D1: The Finale

Aight, off to classification and what the heck it has to do with "fixing" D1. (If you are lost after the recap see posts below.)
To recap: the problem with D1 is bigger than D1, D1's weakness is a warning of other structural defects. Given a locked Pro division (NXL) then D1 is and should be the epitome of competition for most teams and players or at least reaching D1 is a prerequisite to having any shot at getting a pro spot. So why is the division always virtually empty and how in the hell is it there are more pro ranked players playing in the PSP than D1 players?
Problem 1: too many pro ranked, unranked pro and semi-pro players participating in D1 and making the jump from D2 to D1 an unnaturally big step up. Even if this is merely perception it doesn't matter, it is inhibiting team movement.
Problem 2: D3 is a catch-all bracket that is also considered the entry level to Xball and current rules push players (and teams) through up regardless of results in order to have spots for the next wave of new teams coming in.
Problem 3: That leaves D2 being unbalanced with "real" D2 teams and a bunch of non-competitive teams where the answer to solving D1's deficiencies is to push even more players (teams) up.
Problem 4: somewhere in this system the league is losing teams and my view is these teams are opting out based on lack of a competitive category to play in and/or being pushed into a situation they aren't ready for or are unwilling to compete in.
Fix 1: add a real entry level Xball division, D4.
Fix 2: make entries identical from D3- D1. Same service, same price, no direct financial impediment to moving up.
Fix: 3: perhaps jigger with the prize structure a bit.
Fix 4: make player classification more fluid and take team into account in the process.
There's lots said in the current system about moving players up but very little about moving down. The system is currently loaded toward pushing players up the divisional ranks but the only provisions for moving down allow players who were ranked pro before 2005 to now be considered D1 although a reading of leaves it somewhat unclear because there is some sort of provision to be ranked as low as D2 but goes back to reviewing rosters in pro/am 5-man and 10-man without giving any dates but in any case once a pro you stay pro for 4 years. In essence once you gain a D1 or higher ranking that's what you are, period. Which MIGHT be okay if the league wasn't hellbent on generating D1 players artifically.
One of the problems is that there is no accounting for results. For example, if you play D3 3 or more events you --as a player--will be ranked D2 to begin the following season. Doesn't matter if your team finished 3rd or 30th or if you played on a different roster each event. This makes no sense whatsoever. The only place results are accounted for is in D2 and the goal is to push more teams up to D1. (I say teams but teams are really irrelevant to this system because it is players who are being re-ranked according to team results--but in every other situation team results don't matter. Huh?) After Chicago there are potentially 8 or 9 D2 teams that depending on the final two events could be compelled to move up to D1. Is the fifth best team in D2 really in a position to compete against a current D1 team carrying pros and semi-pros? If the classifications mean anything then the answer is no and the solution isn't to force teams up and then make them tear their current rosters apart trying to remain competitive in a new division they don't belong in. That is a recipe for chasing teams out of the league altogether.
What is required is a system that allows predictable movement up & DOWN by rule for all players and the only justification for compulsory reclassification of players is competitive balance. Once classification has been sorted out and a D4 entry level added with entry fees becoming a neutral factor then teams and players will naturally find a place to fit and the best and most committed teams will move up the ranks naturally (and have ranks to move up.)
Sorted. (Yeah, I know, no details of restructuring classification but what's important here is the rationale for making changes--and of course, I do have the changes, just no reason to post them up after another ridiculously long post.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

I'm sure it doesn't matter to anyone

but me. Even so, I'd like to clarify an impression some may have gotten from the multi-talented Mr. Showers PSP Chicago event report in the latest PGi. In talking about TB Damage it seemed to me that some readers might conclude the pro team was built with pro players, which is only partly correct. The 5 established pros on the roster all played at one time with Strange and 3 of them moved to the pro Raiders. That left six players from TBD who moved up to pro and won an event in their third pro event ever. And I'm not setting the record straight (no harm, no foul, Brandon) but I did want to make sure the kids got their due as well because they damn well earned it.

The MS Folly

Is not a ship's name, a pamphlet by Erasmus of Rotterdam or a patriotic painting by JMW Turner. It is the current locked division system used by the MS (Millennium Series) that is fleecing the passive paintballers of Euroland. That sounds kinda bad, doesn't it? Hints at a personal bias perhaps? Well, from the perspective of the MS it's a brilliant solution to a variety of promoter concerns. Hey, if locking the Pro division makes entree more desireable it should do the same across the board, shouldn't it? And locked divisions offer predictable event-to-event income as well as guanrantee a base level of participation to potential vendors. Win, win! And even better the MS sells licenses to teams who have to purchase one in order to be considered part of a locked division and buy the privilege to pay entries to all of the season's events. Cha-ching!
As it stands the MS now has 3 locked divisions; the CPL (pro), SPL (semi-pro) & D1. D2 and what, M5 (?) remain unlocked. (M5 is like 5-man Xball in the PSP, more or less, while the basic game, called M7, is like Xball Lite, at least at the CPL level.)
But really, who cares?
Granted, but it's possibly interesting on two counts. 1. What if some U.S. league decided this was the way forward given present struggles? 2. The MS has just empowered ALL it's locked division teams and nobody seems to have realized it.
It seems to me, the not quite all-knowing, not even close to all-powerful Baca, that a few other factors apply. One, the MS's only competition is the Centurio which hasn't yet made any deep inroads into European tourney ball. Two, the scale of locked divisions presumes there are potentially or actually more teams that wish to compete than slots available. Three, locked divisions ultimately limit the scale of the event presented regardless of how many teams might be inclined to participate--which is a hedge against bad times but a barrier to good times. [How will the MS reward teams loyal to the league if Euro paintball suddenly explodes?]
Now for the good part. Each locked division team buys their license. This license entitles them contractually to a spot in their chosen division and obligates them to play every event during the season. It doesn't give them a piece of the league but it does give them a piece of a division, at least for a period of time. (Of course it won't matter but more's the pity because it could.)

Saturday, July 26, 2008


The title is something of a misnomer as the solution to "fixing" D1 extends beyond D1 into the other am brackets, current classification system and the PSP's pricing & prizes system. In brief it goes like this: modify pricing so that it is a neutral factor in a team's decision-making process; modify prizes to reward accomplishment and encourage superior competition; allow for more fluid player movement through the classification system up and down; add a new Xball bracket, D4.
Now for the how and why. As the league currently functions D3 is the entry bracket, a catch-all for brand new to Xball teams and teams that have been playing 5-man Xball and every permutation in-between. For example, as of this writing the NEO has registered 13 first timers for D3 or more than 25%. In Chicago it was 25 of 58 or over 40% that were first timers in D3 Xball for that event. At the same time classification rules state that a player appearing on 2 or more D3 rosters will be classified D2. If that means cumulative rosters then every player in D3, regardless of aptitude or success who plays more than 2 events has to move up (or in rarer cases remain as part of the limited allowance for higher ranked players.) This is NOT a player or team friendly construction. It forces players (and teams) up regardless of ability and should routinely result in swelling the ranks of D2--so where are all the former D3's? So right now you and your team decide to play as many PSP D3 events as you can in the coming season. The result is you manage 4 events, are never close to playing Sunday and for your effort and trouble all your players will be ranked D2 in the future. Does this make any sense? Not to me, it doesn't.
Which leads us to D4 Xball. D4 becomes a true entry level to Xball division and D3 becomes functionally a leaner, more competitive division. As to how D4 works try this: all APPA classification rules apply for players with any history so new to PSP teams that nonetheless don't qualify for D4 must begin at D3. Movement through the division is not based on a random value of time served but on merit or team/player choice. Any team that wins a D4 event is immediately reclassed D3 for any subsequent events. As a result D3 becomes a division to strive to attain for some, a more competitive bracket all around and teams that aren't ready for D3 have a place to develop and a league that encourages their participation instead of enforcing obstacles to their development. This also means there is no good reason for the wholesale shoveling of D3 players into D2 and the consequent prodding of D2 players into D1. A D4 division removes the need for aggressive compulsory player movement that is, IMHO, completely out of tune with player skill levels, committment and the development of teams.
Let's move on to pricing. D1 - D3 entries should be priced the same. What teams are paying for is the opportunity to compete on a national level. The league provides the same services to all. The "new" D4 is offered at a reduced rate to encourage participation and because the prizes in D4 are tokens only.
Prizes must be awarded in all competitive brackets but should also reflect degree of difficulty and/or level of accomplishment. This one is difficult to assess. Currently the league pays out around 43K an event, regardless of participation, to divisional Xball. And I'm sure the league prefers prizes to be a fixed expense and I imagine many of the teams do too but I can't help wondering what impact it would have if the league instituted a prize floor (minimum guaranteed) and then allowed for a rising percentage of entries per division to go toward matching or exceeding the floor. For example, around 10% (if I remember my calculations correctly) of D3 entries end up in the prize pool given the average number of competing teams while at D1 it's above 60%. If the higher divisions offered the potential of a higher percentage return on entries I wonder if it wouldn't help motivate voluntary upward movement. Just a thought.
Okay, I've gone long again so I'll save classification for next time as it's the toughest nut to crack.

Friday, July 25, 2008

D1 is on the couch and Dr. Freud says...

"In my professional opinion you are suffering from multiple personality disorder." (Of course, this diagnosis was only marginally understandable given his thick Austrian accent. Still, it made sense to me but when he insisted on telling me about his mother I beat a hasty retreat with the excuse my mother expected me for lunch. He assured me he understood.)
See, part of the current resistance to playing D1 is that the division can't decide what it is. Sometimes it's D1, sometimes Open, sometimes there's been both other times just the one.
Back in the day the natural progression for serious teams was up the ranks year to year with the big leap being the one to Pro. Of course, there were fewer serious national teams at every level and no excess of unattached pro ranked players with no natural place to go. Whatever the ultimate cause the disconnect remains and the big step up now for the majority of players is seen to be D2 to D1 in part because of the perceived player skill disparity--what with all the ranked pros, unranked pros and semi-pros littering D1--and because Pro is a locked division.
So here we are with a top am division that can usually be counted on the fingers of two hands with thumbs to spare. And there is no way no matter how you parse it that there are more Pro level players in Xball than there are D1 level players. C'mon.
So where are they? (The D1 players, that is.) The answer is some of them are carrying pro and semi-pro rankings and others of them are stagnating in D2 and still others aren't competing anymore.
My concern is the league is choking out the natural development of the players competing and in essence are creating a unnecessarily limited competitive life span for committed players.
And so far the best answer the league has is to push teams through D3 into D2 and if you're committed to the season and do pretty well it's off to D1. Which may not seem like a bad idea but then where are those teams? How is it year after year D1 (or Open) struggles?
Since I've been rambling I'll tell y'all how to fix this next time.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rumors, Whispers & Statistics

In this the hour of our discontent ... there is talk once again about some sort of pro merger. The source would appear to be other than either of the leagues but that may be a bit of misdirection as it rather smells like a trial balloon to me. (Or perhaps it's just my cynical unwillingness to take anything--about paintball--at face value.)
At any rate the gist of the proposal is a blended format of 7-man, playing multiple head-to-head games to create a match, etc. which is not new as something very similar was being bandied about during one of the earlier league merger talks.
One difference here is that (apparently) the league(s) aren't part of the discussion, just the pro teams, or at least most of them. I presume the pitch relied on the twin supports of unity and poverty to entice the teams to consider it. We can make our own destinies mixed with the whole two leagues, reduced support is killing us off one by one is a reasonably seductive argument and may even garner a lot of agreement but--
It won't make any difference. Too many of the teams are more dependent now than they were in the past when they refused to act and too many of the teams don't have the power to make that decision for themselves anyway so it's a moot point. (Disclaimer: don't get me wrong, I have long advocated the pro teams band together as a means of improving their negotiating power so I'm not against the idea at all. I just don't see either the will nor much of an opportunity anymore. Still, there is a small window ... but it's not where the proponents of this latest plan want it to be.)
How was that for cryptic?
The really interesting part of all this isn't the modified format chit-chat or the dictat of the Pro teams but the ramifications if all this is in fact a trial balloon being floated by one of the leagues.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The PSP's Redheaded Stepchild

Otherwise known as D1. No, I'm not saying anything bad about the participating teams--just the lack of teams participating in this division. And I'm asking a question--why, how come, where is everybody? Once upon a time teams aspired to be the best they could be and prove themselves at the highest level possible. Nowadays it seems like the league has to force teams up the ladder of success. What gives?
Perhaps a more relevant question is: Does it matter that D1 struggles to get double digits?
I happen to think it does because I also think it retards movement in the lower divisions and so far the league has addressed these concerns by treating the symptoms and not the cause. IMHO
So what do you think? If lack of D1 participation is a problem what's the solution?
I have a few ideas of my own but you guessed that, right? However, out of the kindness of my heart (and limited time at the mo) I'm giving you first shot. Here's a hint or three, when I address this issue I'll be starting with the APPA classification system and the current PSP rules. And, no, I've got no issues with APPA at all. (Why, oh why the constant suspicion?) It's the best most transparent system there is.
Anyway, first person to solve the D1 Situation gets to be Lane Wright For A Day. What'd'ya mean that's worse than a no prize?

The NXL Game

A fun little guessing game. The winner will receive a cherished no prize and e-gold star. (They are too real.)
Here's the game:
Guess which team(s) will leave the NXL after the 2008 season. And who will replace them in 2009. Extra credit tie breaker: give reasons for departure and explain how the new team got the inside track on the spot.
The tie breaker is important since the odds of more than one correct guess is pretty high given there's only 12 teams. All eligible guesses become the property of 'View' and must pre-date any announcement of changes within the NXL. Duh.
And no, Mr. Cleverpants, I don't know anything (much) that you don't know but it hardly seems a stretch, does it? Besides, it'll be fun. C'mon.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

More on Buffalo NPPL

Aight, this isn't gonna be pretty but then neither was the Buffalo event. Across the street from the shambling hulk that is the Bill's Ralph Wilson stadium the event looked, from a distance, like a set from some apocalyptic distopian straight-to-video horror flick. But enough about the good stuff.
Let me share a novel thought with y'all. If you're gonna design fields that encourage interior action and/or regular cross field eliminations it's not particularly helpful to place the majority of the refs on the sidelines like ranks of bored ushers. Doesn't matter how many of them there are. I'm just saying. If the league feels some embarrassment over past missteps how does it look when nearly everybody in attendance (okay, other than Buffalo 'cus you could count them on your fingers and toes) except the refs routinely see hits that go blithely unnoticed? And trust me, it happens way too often. It sometimes looks like the refs are trying not to see anything.
And the guns! Okay, I know this one has been done to death and I'm pretty well convinced the plan is to continue the Big Bluff policy of the past NPPL ownership mixed with the occasional arbitrary and utterly subjective egalitarian suspension. Look, we suspended a Pro player, nobody is above the law! Rules? Er, the rule is I know an illegal gun when I decide it is. It would simply be a bad joke if it wasn't contributing to the deterioration of the league. Everybody knows the rules are a joke and that enforcement isn't by rule but by fiat. And everybody knows that everybody else knows it. And that there are more "illegal" guns than legal ones.
I could go on for quite awhile on this subject but why?
Instead let me close this post by suggesting the league needs to re-think its priorities. The days of the NPPL being the party league are over. There is no more bigger, better, flashier, cooler left to bust out at the next NFL parking lot. Where once peeps bought into the hype and the hope it's just tired now, symbolic of a faltering vision. Nobody is buying into the fantasy any longer. It's time to start running a paintball league instead of a vehicle for paintball domination or the generation of a gigantic marketing list targeting a key demographic. It's not good enough to paper over the generic weaknesses with dozens of press releases and propaganda media mouthpieces. And the place to start running a serious paintball league is with real enforceable gun rules and a priority focus on officiating. Or maybe not.

Wild Pony Sighting

During the prelims at the recent Buffalo NPPL event Chris LaSoya let loose with a tirade from the deadbox on the Spyder field that resulted in the tent covering being ripped down while Chris expressed his unhappiness with a certain amount of high decibel invective aimed at pretty much everyone within earshot.
Now I'm not put out at all by Chris's tirade, it's cool with me. But not with the NPPL. (Unless you happen to be Chris, apparently.)
They made that abundantly clear at the Pro captain's meeting when they passed out a page entitled NPPL Rulebook Amendments (2008) that added a new suspendable offense and altered the penalty for a different infraction. The new 3-game suspension applies to any failure to place your marker in the cradle before proceeding to the deadbox. You see, in Jax a few peeps got suspensions for dropping markers onto the cradles --it was apparently ruled to be a form of throwing--so it is now a new suspendable offense. And you may have heard about a bit of sideline coaching that occurred in Jax, too, and according to the rules in force during the Jax event any team caught sideline coaching would receive an immediate 1-4-1 penalty. Thing is the offending team wasn't caught--except on video that ended up on You Tube--so the NPPL changed the penalty to a 6 game player suspension and applied the new penalty in Buffalo. For those scoring at home that would be a retroactive application of a rule that didn't exist when the offense occurred. But those videos sure did make the league look incompetent.
There are a couple of ways of looking at these changes. One, the league is learning as it goes along and acting when they see a needed amendment. Another way of looking at it is the league is not only unwilling to acknowledge its own past errors but is using its power to punish anyone who runs afoul of the league. You decide but here's one more bit of info.
Remember the Pony incident? Where does it fit in with the latest edition of the rules? Verbal Abuse maybe under 23.04? But what about the tenting? Or conceivably 21.07 under Embarrassing, Dangerous or Destructive Behavior? I can't find a specific tearing the tenting off the deadbox offense so maybe it will be added for next event. Or maybe not.
Yeah, turns out Chris is a recent high profile hire of Pacific Paintball which owns and operates the NPPL.