(Almost) Everything Tournament Paintball Needs to KnowPaintball’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?