Sunday, August 31, 2008

Brave New Paintball World, part deux

(Almost) Everything Tournament Paintball Needs to Know

Paintball’s universal reply to any criticism is to respond, oh yeah, then why don’t you share your answer? Or, better yet, if it’s so bad why don’t you step up and make a difference? Neither of which is necessarily unreasonable except what is really meant is shut up and go away. Seeing as I have offered more than my fair share of unrequested criticism–and I ain’t going away–it’s that time again where I pass out a few answers to help balance the scales of–er, criticism to answers, I suppose. Not that anyone seems to like my answers very much. My personal favorite answer to all the league wrangling and woes was to suggest the Pro teams cut all the deadweight loose (both the leagues and pay-to-play teams) and take the risks and reap the rewards themselves but realistically so many of the Pro teams are tied up in sponsorship knots it wasn’t going to happen even if the Pros had the collective cojones to, you know, step up and make a difference. And I’m taking partial credit for the positive changes the NXL made in the off-season last year as they very closely resemble suggestions I made in PGi in an earlier answers column called, ‘How to Fix the NXL.’ Not that I’m tooting my own horn but I feel compelled to point out some of my answers aren’t totally off the wall. (You see, I know what I’m about to suggest further along and you don’t and I’m hoping I’ve stored up a little credibility.) Anyway, here goes. But first–
Let’s narrow the scope a bit, shall we, as Paintball is in need of lots of answers and I haven’t got space for all of them. There’s gun cheats, out of control technology trickling down to the local level, bonus-balling, sideline coaching, officiating standards, broke ass leagues about to implode, disappearing dollars as the mainstays of the industry are crippled either by economic forces beyond their control or past poor decisions in a changing economic climate (take your pick), a leadership and direction chasm at the national and international level that may or may not be holding back the sport’s development, etc. Etc. Where to begin?
Before I start with the answers I need to ask a couple of questions. Do any of the list of current concerns stem from larger concerns like tributary streams from a river? Or are there concerns that must take priority because failure to find those solutions has larger ramifications–like the whole bigtime tournament edifice could come tumbling down. Well, yes, there are. It seems to me that if the leagues really are trapped in a financial death spiral like a pair of parachute-less WW1 fighter pilots (you know, losing significant amounts of money to operate) then solving that problem takes priority over the others. Lucky for everyone then my answer to this particular problem has some fairly far-reaching effects and implications. Okay, that’s probably a gross understatement so here goes–
Jettison everything except Pro paintball at the national level. Radical sure, but hear me out. I’ve got a plan. The exception is World Cup which continues to be promoted by the group/promoter/sanctioning body, whatever that operates the Pro Circuit. More about the Pro Circuit in a minute. All other divisions of competition play in regional affiliate series. Affiliate series use a unified rule book and format(s). World Cup becomes invitation only as the regional series become the point of access to a real, season ending, honest-to-goodness world championship event. And there’s no reason not to include international series teams as well as long as they function by the same rules and format as the affiliates. How the different regional representatives are chosen is open to how many competing teams you want as the important feature is the exclusivity of the competition. The fact the competing teams earned their way in is what matters and what makes the result a world championship event. (If you think you’ve seen crowds of fans wait until the family, friends and supporters of the regional reps show up at a real World Cup.) And no, it ain’t free. Everybody should have saved quite a lot of money over the season not having to travel everywhere to compete.
Back to the Pro Circuit. Depending on format events are down to one or two fields tops. (We’re ignoring TV for the moment.) The Pro Circuit becomes precisely that, a circuit, with event stops at different regional series events. The appearances can be subsidized in a variety of ways. (Back to this too cus the money matters.) Each stop becomes a major event for that regional series and the Pro Circuit concept elevates and separates the Pro teams from the rest of tournament paintball and creates a new level of value and makes Pro appearances unique and special events. Otherwise each Pro Circuit event operates exactly like any other and, more or less, like they always have. Just without the extra weight of sustaining a national circuit for all the other divisions at the same time.
Here’s how it works. When the Pro Circuit comes in so does Big Paintball. When the Pros make their annual event stops industry and national vendors can bring in their road show too and you have a ready market that doesn’t see the same stuff a few times a year while paying thousands of dollars for the privilege. Instead you have a fresh market anxious to see the latest gear and guns and nearly as excited about the outsized vendors village as the Pro competition. And imagine the benefits to the regional series. The support and appearance of national industry helps strengthen the regional bases while the Pro Circuit validates the format and brings a special excitement. Grassroots-wise the goal of a unified tourney scene comes closer to reality as it’s supported and built brick by brick on a scale that promoters, teams and industry can sustain.
The result is the current league(s) aren’t trying to run huge events anymore. The Pros make annual stops in the various sanctioned regional series and the whole thing culminates with World Cup which becomes the one and only all-inclusive international tournament and justifies the world title status of the winners. In the process the regional series take on a completely new validity and importance which should, if properly developed, see an influx of teams as the place(s) to compete and to take aim at the goal of competing for legit world championships at World Cup. Paintball Industry saves money or more correctly can re-apportion their money in more productive ways while still gaining the marketing and promotional benefits of tournament paintball and teams will save money while investing in the development of the game on a localized level that builds a solider foundation for the game’s future. The downside is really only that those non-pro teams that can afford to travel around the country won’t have to. It will also mean that World Cup alone would be the measuring stick of true divisional greatness. Well, there’s also the fact those currently in control of Paintball would remain in control but do it by actively controlling less than they do now in a more sustainable environment.
What about TV? Yeah, what about it? If the SPL (or another assortment of capitol letters) actually takes hold then it’s all gravy. The important aspect of the TV dealio is to keep it separate; cost, expenses, accounting, everything. What the integrated PSP/NXL experiment should have taught us this season is you don’t toss a drowning swimmer a sack of concrete and you don’t "fix" the economic woes of one enterprise by making it somebody else’s problem.
In conclusion, you may have noticed I left a few specifics out–like which format and which league, though I do use World Cup, and I don’t mention any particular regional series. I don’t mention the reunification blues or any of the other current stumbling blocks either. That’s because they don’t matter. What matters is the concept and the mental and physical restructuring necessary to even take a first step toward implementation. Besides, the plan gives everybody; promoters, vendors, industry and teams a fresh paradigm that should work for everyone–unless the fact it also requires certain forces to give some stuff up too in exchange for the positive benefits makes it a non-starter.
Admittedly it isn’t that simple. The nuts-and-bolts of actually organizing such a venture and making it work would take a huge effort but I think the upside is pretty huge as well. But since talk is cheap I’m also prepared to make a personal sacrifice for the good of the game. (Yes, I confess, that was just a wee bit sarcastic but I’m totally serious.) If Big Paintball needs some help making this happen I’m willing to do my part–assuming the price is right. Like Latrell Sprewell said in turning down 8 million a year with the Timberwolves, I got a family to take care of, kids to feed.
So, whose prepared to step up and make a difference?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Brave New Paintball World

Is the title of the first column I wrote on the subject of the future of major league and/or pro paintball. It appeared under that title in issue 189 (December '04) of PGi. Below is the full copy of that column as I still can't archive it. It is plainly out of date in some respects but will begin to lay the foundation for what comes next. After that I'll post another column on the same subject that offers a fuller vision. It appeared in issue 212 (November '06) of PGi. With a distinct lack of imagination it was titled in the mag as, Brave New World. I called it, (Almost) Everything Tournament Paintball Needs To Know. This one is more of a blueprint and is the one my post will build on.
I'm posting the two columns for a few reasons: to demonstrate I've actually been thinking about this for a while (which is really quite sad) and to further delay having to marshall a cogent argument in the post I've been promising for a while now. In addition the two columns will give enough information and detail that I won't have to re-do all that background and argumentation in the update post. There's a further reason as well that will become clear all too soon.

Brave New Paintball World

Years ago on PBS, yeah, I know, PBS (the government subsidized commie-pinko arts and croissants crowd television network), but even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then. Anyway, they had a show called, 'Connections,' that was about the history of ideas and inventions that contributed to Western Civilization. In particular it showed how the discoveries of different people at different times and places were all necessary pieces to the puzzles of the singular inventions that changed our civilization, like Gutenberg's moveable type that was the forerunner of modern printing and typesetting. If that's too confusing just think of cool stuff like the Ronco Salad Shooter or Popeil's Pocket Fisherman. And, despite the way it sounds, it was truly fascinating. It also demonstrated that even though we tend to look at the past and imagine a sort of inexorability to events things didn't, and don't, really happen that way.
In paintball the concept of civilization is a stretch but connections occur. Steve Bull, known as Bully, a series promoter and respected figure in UK paintball, is taking a page from motor racing and applying it to paintball. Many racing series not only compete for the season long driver's championships but also award titles for makes, manufacturers and tire producers; all the major components to successful racing. For the '05 season Bully's series will award a paint suppliers title to recognize the contribution of the paint companies and perhaps encourage more sponsorships for the leading teams in the series. Bully's idea is both fun--creating another level of competition--and potentially practical, improving the value of the series to both the teams and paint suppliers. If nothing else it also promotes a similarity to traditional sports.
Last month's column took a look at the future public face of Paintball and made some connections to already established sports. But there is a more fundamental point than asking, How should Paintball be portrayed or promoted? That question is, What is tournament paintball? That may seem like a stupid or an obvious question but it's one that is also mostly taken for granted. Before the advent of the NXL the evolution of tournament paintball was a direct outgrowth of its origins. Regardless of the number of players per side or the size or location of the playing field the basic game remained the same. As did the ways tournaments were organized and presented. At its' inception the NXL offered something unseen in Paintball before; a new format, Xball, and a different organizing structure, a closed league made up of franchise teams. The NXL is taking aim at mainstream recognition using a structure based on the prototypical American sports model. The prospect of a stable organization capable of delivering a broadly comparable sporting product is the result. Making it more attractive, applicable models of how it could all work already exist, including the development of real professional paintball athletes.
The reinvigorated NPPL has moved forward in a different direction by refining the preexisting tournament concept while at the same time also working towards the target goal of mainstream accessibility; i.e. TV. This has led to something of a race to reach TV first, to become the public face of competitive paintball. The NXL was designed to fill that role. The NPPL, having positioned itself as the leading proponent of traditional tourney ball, is embarking on establishment of the NPPL name as the competitive paintball brand in order to distinguish itself from all other similar leagues or series with the goal of making the NPPL synonymous with legitimate paintball sport. While both ideas have generated a lot of excitement both versions of competitive paintball, to varying degrees, view the players as disposable commodities.
Shocking, I know. And here you were imagining yourself to be an athlete, a player, or at worst, a customer. Actually, only the top players are commodities and the rest of you are, at best, tiny trickles in the revenue stream. Don't be offended. You can still be players, athletes and customers, too. Just don't lose your grip on reality is all I'm saying. (This seems like a good place for a disclaimer as I think I can hear lots o' peeps sharpening their machetes right about now. Though it should go without saying all views expressed herein are my own and further, y'all should be grateful PGI is willing to risk your outrage to offer a diversity of opinions on their illustrious pages. And if you've got something to say visit and take your best shot.)
So what's the point, you ask, between snorts and a losing battle to control your tendency to curse uncontrollably. Or is that just me? Just pointing out that at this point in Paintball's evolution (lots of points here) the lack of player power doesn't seem to be of any consequence to most players but if and when there is real money, the prospect of professional athlete type money, it will certainly have been in the players' interest to be prepared instead of simply going along for the ride. It's easy to assume that like the NFL, if the money is there the players will get their fair share, but any revue of football's history shows that it was a decades long struggle by the players to receive recompense in relationship to their value to the sport.
Why not a third alternative, a new paradigm? Competitive paintball has, for the most part, operated on an organizational model that encourages centralized power and the status quo. Like that? See if you can wrap your heads around this one. It has constricted the growth of the game and will continue to do so as long as near monopolies of power exist. (For those of you who believe teams should be run democratically or owned by the players why do you put up with power politics from everyone else involved? Oh, I know, you're hooked on that sponsorship toot and you can't play without it. I'm sympathetic, really I am.) Make some new connections and start with an old idea.
Remember the original NPPL? It began with the teams. It could again. What if a select group of the Pro teams decided to organize their own league? A closed or restricted league of, say, 24 teams. All of a sudden the players and teams that were glorified commodities are co-owners. Unlike the early days a support system already exists. Don't need large venues or all the added expenses associated with running events with 100 plus teams. Two fields will fit in lots of arenas that support basketball or hockey. Two fields isn't even strictly necessary unless you’re running Xball. Oh, yeah, if it's your league you can play whatever kind of paintball you want. Run a 7-man season, run an Xball season, it's okay, it's your call. Don't need a boatload of officials either. And who controls video rights now, biatch? Sell those seats to spectators. Have the teams take turns working autograph sessions and passing out free posters and see if you can't turn paintball into a real sport. Simplified schedules, only the top teams and personalities, tons more venue options, hardcore action, spin-off league money-makers and where's corporate paintball and the possibility of TV gonna go if it isn't with the best?
Of course it isn't all strawberries and cream. There's real work and risk involved. I guess the question is do you want to control your own fate or are you just happy playing ball? The teams or their representatives would have to agree on and implement an organizing structure. It would have to cover everything from finances to on field operations to rules enforcement. However, on the plus side everything the league chose to do would be decided by the teams and players. You want a voice that matters, you got a voice that matters. An interesting by-product would be a new measure of accountability. Where's the incentive to cheat on the league when you are the league?
Imagine a new Pro league with teams fighting it out for a seasonal championship. Or even two seasonal championships! Event winners and league champs. Toss in manufacturers titles, too. A points race for paint producers and gun manufacturers.
I know what you're thinking --Wow, what a great idea! What do you mean that's not it? You're wondering why bother when there's already two leagues out there working hard. How 'bout if the Pros don't show up nobody has an event anyway? Or try this: Perhaps some people other than the people planning on buying that country home or little red sports car with the profits should be deciding what's in the best interest of the sport. Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to making an honest dollar, but it's real easy to think that what's good for your wallet is what's good. Period. When the same folks have the power to enforce their vision of your game everyone else is pretty much just along for the ride. Call me crazy but when even the notorious do-gooders at the United Nations fatten their Swiss bank accounts on the continued suffering of the unfortunates they are supposed to be looking out for, being, if not quite cynical, at least cautious can't do any harm. Can it?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Speaking of rumors...

Looks like it may soon be another dark day for Paintball. Following the trend of losses in the mainstays of the paintball infrastructure we could be losing another one. If it's true it will be a singular loss and one that I will be particularly sorry to see.
I know that doesn't tell you anything but if it's happening it won't be long. After the fact I'll have a few comments on the fallout.
Edit: Aight, it's true. Still, I'm gonna wait until it's public knowledge to comment.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Rumor Game

Wow, somehow I missed out completely on the whole Ollie retires fake post. Apparently somebody phished (whatever that means) Ollie's PBN account and hilarity ensued. If Ollie's account isn't safe what about yours and mine? That would be positively frightening if I gave a damn--and knew what phishing was.
But it has inspired a new game. (The previous game was The NXL Game but 'Lanche ruined that by quitting early...) The new game is drop a name, start a rumor. The rules are simple. In a single sentence you have to drop a name and associate that name with some outlandish rumor. And of course your submissions need to be paintball related.
Here's an example: William Shatner, appearing at the midwestern scenario extravaganza, "Star Trek: We've Completely Run Out of Ideas" insisted that Tom Kaye (making a comeback with a brand new Automag Pump) wear Spock ears and asked everybody he met, "Did you know Sulu was gay?"

NPPL & NXL bleg

Can anybody tell me how to negotiate the NPPL website to find teams listing for Houston? I've stumbled across the listings for past events but can't seem to find one for Houston. Alas, I am that inept and if you have an answer for me feel free to gloat.
Also, seems I'm missing something at the 'new' for 08 NXL website as the last time I checked in team stats and results were only up for Phoenix but given my general computer illiteracy I'm wondering if I'm doing something wrong there too.
Edit: seems like NXL site has thrown up some of the stats but I spotted a couple of errors just glancing at them. I don't want to call the effort into question ... but if it looks like a duck and waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck odds are it's a duck--or one of those crazy Japanese robot ducks.

Field Design for Dummies

Don't be offended by the post title if, in fact, you aren't a dummy. It's just a take-off--unless you are a dummy. (In which case you got bigger fish to fry than a post title. Good luck with that.)
And, yes, I'm avoiding dealing with the post(s) I've promised on "fixing" major league tourney paintball. And, no, it's not because I don't have the ideas, I'm just debating how in depth to go. So soon. Maybe. Besides, it ain't like it's gonna happen.
Xball fields in particular developed over time a stagnant design consistency that featured a dorito wire, a snake side (and more importantly) a standardized pattern of insert bunkers feeding the wires along with corners to defend the wires. And, of course, the jumbo X in the middle. Didn't particularly matter which bunkers were in which spots, all the layouts played pretty much the same way. Part of this was the carry over from The Ratko Years and part of this was a lack of philosophical examination. And by philosophical examination I mean thinking about both the limitations of current design and the potential results of making changes. For example, how 'bout the bunkers themselves? Even the shapes in play have an impact.
Most of the recent changes are predicated primarily on three ideas: designs should allow a variety of tactics to be effective because that frees teams up to play to their strengths. (The traditional design tended to make everyone play the same way.) The key to achieving this is twofold; spacing of insert bunkers to create multiple paths and use of the blocking pillars in new ways.
No corners, or inset corners, place a higher value on aggressive upfield movement and forces new thinking about how to counter those moves.
Make elements of the new design purposefully more difficult to play with a focus on trade-off elements. For example, the can on the d-wire or the block in the snake corner at NEO.
The results are as follows: teams can play a style that suits them though the field encourages a faster, more aggressive game. It should also reward more integrated play--and by integrated play I mean the extremes of the Xball and traditional 7-man skill sets. And lastly it will, I am confident, fast track the development of lower division players.
It's more complicated than that and I didn't cover stuff like elevation (difference between laying, kneeling, standing) or a more calculated control of effective shots from various positions and so on. (Btw, if anyone is interesting in this stuff feel free to post something in comments and I'll be happy to chat about it at length. Yeah, I'm secretly a nerd.)
Lastly, we haven't yet seen the end of this process and some of the elements haven't, in my estimation, been fully integrated but end of the day it's a big step forward. Keep an eye on the other major league designs too.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Players Union Redux

Why not a players union as a viable alternative check & balance instead of some industry generated option to move paintball forward?
It's a good question so let's take a closer look.
To date the only union efforts of any consequence have failed. One recent venture over in Euroland died primarily of overwhelming apathy (and a sense of powerlessness engendered by the general unwillingness of the players to use or contemplate using the few levers of power available to them.) When playing the game is a distraction from real life, a competitive hobby, it's hard to build a coalition sufficiently committed to make it work.
Over here paulders of then Strange in Am B used a short-lived coalition of the league's bread & butter teams to in essence make a power play. He used the support of teams and players to give himself a platform and the whole thing worked because he was a strong, vocal leader. There was also a limited agenda. No leader, no union. Announce victory, no reason to keep at it.
These two offer a couple of valuable insights: one) the very folks the leagues are most likely to be responsive to are the least likely to organize and mean it and, two) the prospect of organizing to achieve a limited goal is doable but tells us little about how a new political player (a union) would be received or how effectively it would be able to do business.
Let me say here that I have many times in the past advocated on behalf of a players union but I'm more or less convinced that at this point it's pointless. The activist owners * (who aren't PBIndustry) have already been co-opted (and I don't mean that in a pejorative way) and only the Pro teams are in a position to lead any union effort and we've already seen--behind the scenes--that the same schisms that exist in Paintball exist in microcosm among the Pro teams as mostly representatives of larger players in Paintball. Add to that the fact the Haves aren't yet convinced their future is tied (to a greater or lesser degree) to the fate of the Have Nots and there simply isn't the impetus to generate a union.

* I'm talking about guys like Bart, Jeff, Ron and even Sergey. Give them voices inside the establishment and they become far less likely to try to work outside that establishment. In Sergey's case he's hooked by the money invested as an NXL franchisee.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Divided We Fail

No, no, no. This is not about reunification. How often do I have to say it? On that front I remain an obstructionist.
It does NOT follow that reunification does anything but institutionalize the same old problems. For example, when exactly before the league split was cooperation, unity and foresight part of the program? Working for the greater good? And after the split which league stepped up to lead Paintball? Was it the guys beggaring themselves making the play for the TV cheese? Yeah, that’s what I thought. And in the meantime PBIndustry has been fast-tracking cooperative standards and practices and pressing forward where common ground exists. Oh, wait. That’s just what everybody says they want when they aren’t whimpering about the coming calamity while sitting on their hands.
This post is about the failure to cooperate where common ground exists. Or even acknowledge any common ground. Everybody wrings their hands over the present state of affairs but everybody also wants what they want and so far short-sighted ambition has prevailed over anything and everything that might be called vision.
To date swinging for the fences and aiming for walk off victory hasn’t produced any unequivocal advances much less success. So how ‘bout a longer look at a different strategy? One where PBIndustry finds whatever common ground exists and begins at that point. Sure, continue to compete but also lay a foundation that all of Paintball can build on. And yeah, I know, it’s been tried before (sorta) and part of the general chatter forever but that remains a far cry from actually doing something.
Here’s a freebie, just so it can’t be said all I do is criticize (it’s just mostly what I do)–if PBIndustry would like to get away from the status quo (and reduce the influence of the major leagues) form a competition committee for standards and practices, stand behind it, and make the leagues deal with a unified front (or thereabouts) on issues where unity is possible. Of course I realize the likelihood of certain key PBIndustry holdouts but that's okay. Taking the first steps offers an "answer" and also, incidentally, applies pressure to the holdouts. And, yes, I know about the lawsuits and animosity and all the rest of the crap that makes the course I'm suggesting about as likely as snow cones in hell but one of these days one of y'all are gonna decide enough is enough--hopefully before there's nothing left to fight over.
And just in case you're not getting it here's how it plays out, simplified. A PBIndustry supported Comp Committee doesn't need the leagues for leadership, they need the leagues for enforcement. Like checks and balances. Industry individuals can't be relied on, a lesson already learned, but if they make the rules (not game rules but standards & practices) and use the leagues to assure uniformity there is a chance to lay a useful foundation of consistency, integrity and some measure of unity. The formulation is sure to be much more complex and there has to be something in it for everyone but those are solvable problems, not road blocks.

The Pro Dilemma

I've been here and done this before but the first time or two around this issue teams weren't already dead or dying. I'm hoping the rotting corpses of dead pro teams past might have made an impression on some folks in the meantime.
The status quo is not sustainable. NPPL has 17 teams today instead of 18 and the NXL has 11 instead of 12 and started the year with 12 instead of the previous year's 16. One might argue that the higher numbers were always impractical but that doesn't alter the body count.
The NPPL pro division is in better shape simply because it's cheaper to compete, to maintain a team, to practice, etc. than the NXL. However, the format and promotion that showcases NPPL pro paintball is in trouble. So it seems likely some formulation of the NPPL pro division will still be playing while the Super 7 tournament ship sinks but viable teams with no place to go are still out of luck.
The NXL problem is trickier. It's grossly expensive to run a pro xball team (compared to any other form of tourney paintball) and the competing teams are NOT operating on a level playing field. Franchise teams have a voice and a stake in what comes next and how it is organized (although that is really more a function of PSP ownership vs. non-ownership. Just ask Sergey.) Non-franchise teams are customers like everybody else. The PSP is in the black while the NXL struggles.
One league has a tournament series in danger of going belly up and one tournament series has a pro division in danger of shrinking into irrelevance. Let me be clear here for those willing to see the NXL shrink to 6 or 8 teams. STOP BEING MORONS! (Did I type that?) At some point the NXL stops being a pro division and devolves into a gigantic circle jerk and everybody stops paying attention because the league is suddenly no longer relevant.
And now for a short history break: the original NPPL was a response by the then pro teams to control their own destiny and they set-up a tourney structure that in essence used other teams to pay for the events and those teams showed up in order to have an opportunity to play the big name teams. We continue to use the same basic structure today. One incentive today is the opportunity to see the pro teams play. However, somewhere in there most of the pro teams turned into customers again. (Btw, I'm not suggesting that supporting the pro teams on the backs of the lower divisions was the ideal tournament model. In fact, something of the opposite.)
In the early period of sponsorship contraction the 'answer' was to tell pro teams to suck it up and go find some new sponsors. Which is, as far as it goes, a perfectly acceptable answer. Except when it doesn't work. Now it may be that Paintball can only afford so many pro teams which is also fair enough...
But then the question that needs to be asked: At what cost?
What if anything do the pro teams contribute to Paintball? If it's something important then maybe it isn't just the teams' problem, maybe it's the leagues' and paintball's problem, too.
One problem the teams have is that most of them are beholden to sponsors who have their own priorities which may or may not coincide with the team.
Meanwhile there are whispers and hints that peeps are talking about reducing the numbers of events in both leagues. Hmm, a 3 event "series". Is that really an answer? Let's see, this isn't working out so well so let's just do less of it. If that's such a good idea why don't we skip it altogether. Problem solved.
Realistically the pro teams can't unite in any meaningful way so the notion floated in Buffalo is a non-starter. And all the Buffalo Initiative would have meant anyway was that the teams choose to be the customers of one league instead of two (and a few of them have already made that choice.)
If the pro teams matter to either of the leagues or to paintball generally there needs to be another answer. Reunification might work but it isn't guaranteed to solve any of the core problems and the process could easily outlast any number of bubble teams. With reunification today's version of NXL Xball kills a few teams but any mixed format that doesn't offer the PSP and Xball a flagship league isn't gonna fly either. Or does reunification tie itself to a faltering format (or at least a faltering promotion)? All reunification would really do is cull the herd of pro teams all the sooner.
Seems pretty bleak, doesn't it?

Yeah, I know I promised to post up some alternatives, some possible answers and I haven't done it yet and I still haven't figured out how to archive dead tree material here either. Not to worry, it's coming, but between you and me what's the point?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Super 7 minus 2: brilliant strategery or act of desperation?

Is it just me or does anyone else see this move as the closest thing to waving the white flag you can do without actually surrendering?
Does anybody know a Frenchman we can ask? (Relax, it was just a joke. Why some of my best friends are French.)
It's not news that the NPPL is struggling to fill the lower division ranks. Nor is it news that in a lot of ways the country is divided by format preferences. But does the NPPL really think their core problem is a declining number of 7-man teams? Or the cost of competing as a 7-man squad? What apparently remains news to the NPPL is that the way they are presenting their product is no longer attracting customers. Or that they run two leagues that are competing with each other for the same teams. That's right up there along with starting a land war in Asia as an historic bad idea.
Beyond that 5-man is not a gateway game to 7-man. 5-man in the PSP plays a derivative of Xball and in virtually every way leads naturally from 5-man Xball into Xball. This move leaves the NPPL competing with the PSP for 5-man teams without (so far) addressing the sources of their ongoing ennui in a lopsided contest in which the bulk of 5-man teams are more and more likely to be xball oriented. Sure, I realize the idea is to try and guide 5-man teams toward 7-man instead of just conceding that ground but the transition isn't nearly as clean as it is for PSP and the other significant problem I foresee is peeps in the lower division brackets being unhappy with the pricing disparity. After all, 7-man is only two more players and while there may be reasonable answers it's still gonna be harder to rebut than the distinction between 5-man and xball.
Or, you know, I could be completely wrong.
One bit of advice--don't try the stakeholder speech on the 5-man kids. Just because they're playing 5-man doesn't mean they're idiots.

Speaking of Clues...

Since everyone knows refs are underpaid and underappreciated I'm gonna give them a clue as they can't afford to buy one themselves.
Look, I sincerely appreciate the fact there are peeps willing to be refs despite the modest pay, long hours and cumulative aggravation, but--
They still need to do it right. Simply being there isn't an excuse for laziness, ignorance or incompetence.
Was that harsh? Tough.
Before I give the clue away let me add most of my criticism is aimed at the refs who should be the best. And since I'm in a giving mood here's an opinion; the crew that worked the D2 matches on Sunday at NEO ought to replace the crew working D1--and it should happen yesterday. The D1 refs are too cozy with too many of the players and teams they officiate and they routinely commit the cardinal sin of watching the games instead of officiating them. And no, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to make that observation, just a modicum of intelligence and a smidgen of experience. Some of the same can be applied directly to some of the current NXL refs as well.
Foundation for the free clue: every layout to one degree or another has lanes where one can either predict close action or, once games commence, observe such action; running down the snake or as at NEO, hauling down the d-wire, are common ones. And yet, somehow, this reality never seems to make any impression whatsoever on the refs who blithely continue to miss call after call after call in those circumstances for the harsh "reasons" enumerated above.
When one player is running down another player what does the typical ref do? (Fooled you. That was a trick question because the typical ref is clueless so he doesn't know it's happening until it's too late.) What he does is turn his head toward the player being run down and waits until that player is shot and then signals him eliminated and then, he may or may not, bother to check the player who did the running down to see if he got shot too. At no time, except by serendipitous fortuity [try a dictionary] is a call made that distinguishes between who shot who first.
Free clue: in order to make correct, accurate and frequently critically important calls in those situations referees can cooperate and communicate! This is apparently a novel concept as the current crop of refs seem determined to observe only their zone as if wearing blinders. It seems one pair of eyes can only watch one player at a time so if you need to see what happens to two players in a short span of time the easy answer is get another pair of eyes on the job. You see, one ref watches one player while the other ref watches the second player and they use communication to determine who shot who first. It's crazy, I know. If I need to elaborate on exactly how this would work drop me a line and I'll explain it for you. Feel free to sign on as "Embarrassed Ref."

Magical Mystery Marks

What fun, boys and girls. Seems the kids at PBReserve got another email (or were on site) and dished a story about markings on bunkers on the NXL field at the late, great NEO. Even better, everybody and their cousin Klaus has a learned, thoughful opinion on what it means, how it happened, who did it, why it matters or doesn't matter and on and on. I skimmed the related PBN thread and enjoyed a good chuckle.
As an anarchist I approve of PBReserve and every bit of fact and/or fiction they post so kudos to them but in the interest of the truth I thought I'd take a moment to clear a few details up for y'all.
Yes, there were marks on a snake bunker or two on the NXL field. Yes, those marks could have given a snake player cite lines without exposing him. Those marks were there on Wednesday after the field was set-up "officially" and prior to play beginning. They looked like mud streaks and not paint. And they did align with common shots the snake should have been looking for. If they were there to help one team they weren't invisible to any of the other teams and it was a moot point anyway as they were just as mysteriously gone by Thursday despite the fact nobody admitted to doing anything about them. Did the rain wash them away? Maybe. Were the bunkers in question rotated? Magic 8 Ball gives a different answer every time it's asked. Was it purely coincidence? Could be. Was it a nefarious scheme? Naw.
But here's a clue or two. Enjoy your internet musings but don't take it too seriously. Partial info or half truths end up being little different from gossip, rumor and innuendo (which is as may be) but it's usually a far cry from knowing what really happened or knowing what's really going on.

Not Their Finest Hour

The PSP's Northeast Open is in the books and as usual there are a million stories to tell. Unfortunately I do not feel at liberty to tell the best of them. And by best I mean those that would scar the innocent and shock the naive.
On the other hand I also feel the occasional pang when criticizing one thing or another because there are peeps involved I either like or respect and sometimes both. Even so I accept that pain for the pleasure it brings, if you know what I mean.
Some will disagree but all things considered it wasn't horrible which is a victory of sorts given that the site had no business hosting a national event. C'mon on down folks and watch the greatest players on the planet from a tiered pile of rocks and mud on a non-regulation layout while we deny those same players the opportunity to participate in their matches except when on the field. Hurrah! And then there's the image it presents. It's a poor idea to have a league owner host an event when that owner also has a particular stake in the outcome. There's apparently already been some internet chatter about Philly and Dynasty practicing on the NXL event field and everybody with any stake in the matter has made every possible excuse as to why in this instance it didn't matter. But if it didn't matter why all the excuses? And if it really didn't matter how bad does it end up looking when those same teams end up in the finals? It's a no-win situation and could have, should have been avoided. There was another turf field right next to the NXL field. Why didn't they practice on that one? That wasn't so hard, was it?
There's a reason the league long ago decided to stop allowing teams to practice the actual competition fields and there was absolutely no reason and no excuse for it being allowed this time.
Along similar lines I'm hoping someone will be able to explain how it is that the rules are the rules except when they aren't. The rulebook goes to fairly precise detail about how a field should be set up including the pits et al. Well, of course pre-existing structure required some modifications to those rules and some for this event only judgments (modifications based on the modifications of the rules) that were, IMHO, assinine at best. But beyond that when you scrape away all the particulars what's left behind is that the league will alter rules for the sake of convenience. Now you may say in this case it wasn't a big deal and I would agree with you but if you've been involved in paintball for any length of time you also ought to recognize that coherent, comprehensive rules are the only things that make a sport a sport and the history of paintball makes deviation from the rules a very short and very slippery slope. Consider yourselves warned.
One good story I can tell you involves your hero and mine, Chris LaSoya, of Aftermath. The reason I'm telling you this story is because of the one I've already posted about Pony in last month's archive. It seems Chris had a tiny little fit during an Aftermath match not unlike the one he had at Buffalo NPPL in the Spyder field deadbox. The button for conceding a point didn't work and Chris got upset at the loss of time, etc. and slapped the button and housing around a little and got into a shouting match with Dan who objected to his equipment being treated so poorly. It was ugly, abusive, angry and most excellent entertainment. But the point is the league, in the person of the commish, dealt with it directly and it resulted in a brief suspension for Chris. I've yet to hear anything about the Buffalo incident except for the swoosh of brooms working overtime. That in a nutshell is why I personally tend to favor and have some faith in the PSP over the NPPL and also why things like the bent (but not especially important rules) continue to put the nighborhood cats in jeopardy.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Operation Dipstick

(ht: Dale of the Ford Report) Seems there's a bit of a brouhaha in the scenario world over wearing Nazi insignia on uniforms at a particular WWII European theater based game hosted by West Point. But this isn't new. Not unreasonably there has been support for West Point's refusal to allow such insignia. There has also been some research into the players at question. I'm not hugely interested in this particular situation except as it pertains to the wider world of paintball. It seems reasonable to conclude from this incident that most folks on the recreational side of the game will draw a line at Nazi paraphernalia. Whoop-de-freakin'-doo!
Frankly, I could make a case that the wearing of any military uniform pursuant to playing a paintball game is both disrespectful and moronic. And this is where the real problem arises. For those in the paintball community concerned about the image we project let me suggest that there is absolutely no way to candy coat or rationalize playing war and shooting people. In America paintball is sufficiently ubiquitous that most people have a passing familiarity with paintball and they DO NOT associate tourney ball with gun violence, paramilitary whackos, skinheads, terrorists, survivalists and every other army wannabe. Sorry, kids, but that image of paintball is the dark side of scenario play, particularly when it is "based" on real war.
And look, if WWII is cool how 'bout a Khe San scenario or a Tora Bora hunt for Bin Laden? Sa-weet! Would you object to that? Why? Or maybe something with Somalian warlords? A Blackhawk Down dealio. Where you gonna draw that line? Is WWII far enough in the past to be okay? Then why not a trench warfare scenario from WWI? Or maybe an Ardennes Forest scenario? Or maybe Gettysburg? Let's pretend at some All-American slaughter, why don't we? We can wear blue and butternut.
I'm not opposed to scenario paintball. I do object to mil-sim type scenario play because it is indefensible to the general public and I happen to believe it is disrespectful of *real* soldiers and *real* sacrifice.
Now please explain to me how your playing war is different from the nazi clowns except as a matter of degree.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Tale of Two Leagues

One of the fascinating (and when I say fascinating I mean ironic) things about this season is the decisions made by the two leagues leading into the current season. If you heard last January that one of the leagues would offer to discount the Pro Division entry for an event who would you have assumed it was? Or that one of the leagues was discussing ways of shoring up participation in the lower divisions?
Instead, they got it bass-ackwards.
Super 7 has shown year-to-year a growing weakness in the lower divisions which are, as everyone knows, the critical revenue divisions and yet everything was business as usual. Although one might say the NPPL tried more of the same it doesn't appear to be working. Nor did last year's really bad idea of discounted entries. And I can't see your typical D2 team being particularly thrilled with discounts for Pros. At any rate whatever NPPL has been thinking with regards their player (customer) base their implementation hasn't turned things around.
PSP enjoyed its best year ever in '07 and they decide the thing to do is tweak the format across the board and charge the lower divisions more in '08. (It's a testament to the popularity of Xball that the '08 numbers to date aren't far off last year's but WC will determine just how good or not '08 turns out to be.) Of course they also tweaked the format for the Pros as well--the division that was really hurting--ostensibly to make it less expensive to compete. Trust me, it ain't no cheaper. Some teams may be using a bit less tourney paint but that's it. The only other savings are in practicing less.
To date the result is one league has a fairly strong Pro Division (though both have problems but for different reasons) with weak lower divisional support and the other is pretty strong everywhere but in their premier Pro Division.
Between the two I think the NPPL has the larger problem because I think their problems are predicated on the core assumptions of their promotion but if PSP doesn't take some decisive action on behalf of the NXL they may end up in the position of seeing how strong Xball is without a flagship division.

Is Lanche the First Domino?

Well, that didn't take long. The NXL Game turns serious. (See July archive) Word on the street is that Lanche is done--with the NXL. If correct it comes as no surprise. But it does create a real problem for the league. It's one thing for the NXL to replace teams during the off season but it's another thing completely to have teams drop out during the season. It impacts the organization of the league, alters the structure of the competition and creates the perception of instability. And of course the real problem is how much reality exists in the perception.
My view is the league would have been better served by keeping Lanche around, getting what fees they could squeeze outta Ed and then parting ways after Cup. Rumors are just that, rumors, but the actual factual dropping out of a team during the season undermines the league's integrity.
What's next? Each Pro League has a dropout with rumors of the prospects of more coming. There are other financially challenged NXL teams. There is at least one team with no financial issues that is also unsatisfied with the status quo (and that may be putting it mildly).
How does this get resolved, or does it?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Enough Already!

So here I'm breaking one of my own rules and going off topic but either I get this off my chest or I start mutilating neighborhood cats. Again.
Could Brett Favre get over himself, retire (again) or, better yet, just shut up and go away. And maybe even more annoying is ESPN's self-aggrandizing delusions of sports journalism with their incessant breathless interruptions in their regular programming to provide up to the minute reportage on Favre's every trip to the can. Talk about everybody involved taking themselves way too seriously.
No player is bigger than the team and last year's Packers never get within a sniff of the Superbowl without the emergence of Ryan Grant. All Favre has managed to demonstrate is that after hemming and hawing every off season since 05 he decided to officially retire only to discover the Packers didn't camp out on his porch and beg him to come back and it stung. Now he wants to play for Minnesota to show them they shouldn't have treated him like that.
Hey, Brett! You retired! R-E-T-I-R-E-D. All this soap opera has achieved is to prove you're just another narcissistic athlete.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Extremely Paintball: Beyond Something or Other--the NPPL on FSN

That's pretty close, right? Truth is I couldn't remember exactly and I'm too lazy and impatient to wait for a couple of mouse clicks to get it right. Anyway, odds are you know what I'm talking about.
Anybody who has aspirations and hopes for the future of paintball as sport has to be glad paintball, of any sort, is on TV. And FSN isn't chopped liver. The larger focus this season on personalities is also, without doubt, a wedge to making paintball more accessible and potentially interesting to a wider audience. And, of course, the paintball being featured is the sort of paintball we prefer. It's all good, thank you NPPL and I wish there was more of it.
Unfortunately there is a difference between intention and execution. Paintball on TV has a brief (disappointing) history of the best of intentions and every effort to get it right and yet--
end of the day not so much.
For this particular excursion into alienating my peers and betters I'm gonna focus on 4 specific characteristics of the current TV show.
Let's begin with the featured personalities. Great concept. The problems begin with the time alotted to the featured player. It's too short, it's too scripted and too constrained. As engaging and entertaining as Markus is asking the guys twenty questions and editing down an up close and personal look at the players mostly doesn't work. It's strained and in some cases it's painfully obvious certain players weren't chosen because they were expected to be good on camera.
Each episode has approximately 22 minutes to communicate what it wants to communicate. This season's shows are trying to show tourney action, explain the game, introduce some of the personalities of paintball, promote the events, mention the sponsors, offer some of the flavor and pageantry of the NPPL and package it all as the Next Big Thing. It turns out to be both too much and too little in the effort to try and cram everything paintball into each show.
Alas, as is now the norm the games themselves are reduced to incomprehensible snippets and cuts of paintball action stitched together, Frankenstein style, with voice over narration. Even when you know what you're looking at it's not particularly engaging. Hey, I'm sorry but it just isn't. I wish it was. This isn't a new problem, it's the original problem of filming and televising paintball and no new ground is being broken here.
Lastly, there is the esoteric and difficult to quantify Coolness Factor. Or, uh, actually the lack thereof. The show tries to be all things Paintball and it wants the presentation to be attractive, appealing, hip and cool. And that's just it. In trying to be hip and cool it's almost impossible to be hip and cool. (I will gladly admit this one is purely subjective but c'mon.)
Or, you know, it could be that paintball just isn't cool.

There you have it. If your first reaction is that old stand-bye "Why don't you go do it yourself if'n you're so smart" then you don't have a solid grasp on what smart means. If I were inclined to throwing good money after bad you'd sooner find me burning through fast women and faster cars.
On second thought maybe I'm being too hard on the NPPL/FSN crew. Maybe I'm just disillusioned by past efforts that for whatever reasons failed to fulfill the dream. Maybe I'm not seeing it because I don't believe anymore. But then I think to myself you can't manufacture excitement and sport on pure unadulterated hype--well, except for that whole X Games business.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Bringing on the Future

As the proud possessor of a bus pass for the internet superhighway I have yet to figure out how to upload, store and make accessible the dead tree version of 'View from the Deadbox'. Not that you care but I mention it because a couple of the old columns are relevant to the 'Rumors, Whispers & Statistics' post which has apparently engendered some discussion and then there's the feature piece in the latest PGi inquiring of assorted paintball peeps what they expect or hope for the future. Coincidentally the current issue of Rich Telford's World of Paintball, er, FaceFull has an interview with The Staud on the future of paintball, too. Is it coincidence that all of a sudden paintball peeps are thinking about what becomes of, principally, Pro paintball? There's really no all of a sudden about it as we're a couple plus years into a leaner sponsorship environment and through a few rounds of now defunct high level reunification talks that have included the Format Question. Speculation and rumor are par for the course but at some point a critical mass of circumstances will demand change. (And, no, that doesn't necessarily mean reunification or some mutant format.)
Entering the second half of the season is the time when everyone begins to get serious about planning the next year. That makes now the time to open this kinda discussion.
If I can't figure out how to upload material in the next day or so I'll post a synopsis of the plan (and prediction) I wrote three years ago in a future post.
That and somebody probably ought to say something about the latest NPPL TV season on FSN. Okay, if you insist. It's a good thing I'm not looking for new friends.

Bad Timing, eh?

Let me say in all sincerity if you used the link from pbreserve to drop by or actually read a post or two when you got here you don't qualify as a member of the internet fanboy club in the post below. Just in case you were wondering... :)

Friday, August 1, 2008

Internet Fanboys

I know some peeps find them aggravating and/or exasperating and I used to have my moments as well but it occurred to me I ought to be grateful. Who else would so selflessly and repeatedly expose the well deep of stupid they possess to provide entertainment to others. Okay, they probably don't intend to entertain but still...