Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The UK Experiment

One of the claims for the 50 cal paintball is that the availability of lower priced paint will help reinvigorate paintball. Another claim, unrelated to the small ball, is that the problem with paintball is too much paint in the air propelled by guns with ridiculous rates of fire. Can both of those things be true? And if they aren't both correct, then what? Does small ball actually make things worse? Or is all that ROF hand-wringing nonsense?

There is little doubt that cheaper to the consumer paint would be great for the existing competitive paintball crowd. But then the question arises–again–of why has there been a recent drop off in new tournament-oriented players entering the game? If this is a real phenomenon has it occurred because paint cost too much or for some other reason? Clearly there is a line of thinking that associates high ROF and volume of paint with a decline in participation but is it the cost or the resulting sort of game you get with high ROF that's the problem? Or, is something else at the root of this problem?

Over in the UK there is a fairly strict dividing line separating the kind(s) of paintball available by site. The largest face of paintball is recreational rental play with most of the players being first timers and the once or twice a year sort. Many of the fields that cater to that customer do not want even regular rec players. At one time it was widely accepted (among the tourney types) that such practices were severely inhibiting the development of the tourney scene by having a huge disconnect between entry level paintball and tournament style paintball. If the majority of the occasional players don't even know tourney ball existed they weren't likely to seek it out, much less play. In the U.S. there appears, at least on a regional basis, to be a lot more interaction between the levels and types of players as lots of fields offer both woods and airball and welcome the regular repeat customer. And yet, if the claims of decline are correct (and they seem to be) we're both experiencing similar results. (Of related interest is the fact that many of the UK sites targeting new and very occasional players have consistently done very good business so there was little or no reason for them to change. Draw your own conclusion. Everybody's doing it.)

Maybe it is both high ROF and cost with each "cause" affecting a different part of the market. And both discouraging some percentage of potential tourney players from getting more involved. I don't know but it doesn't seem unreasonable. Of course, if true, does the small ball help more than it hurts? (Pun intended.) Right now there are a lot more questions than there are answers and that isn't going to change anytime soon. (It's hard to come up with definitive answers when everyone is mostly guessing at both the problems and the causes. The tourney concerns are partly raw numbers and partly anecdotal and the declining playership claim is based almost exclusively on product sales figures which do not necessarily equate to player numbers.) It would seem that we're going to get small ball regardless. (Unless all the claims being made for it turn out to be bogus.) Small ball probably isn't the answer but it could be an answer.


Reiner Schafer said...

Good post. Again, more questions than answers, but I am a firm believer that it is a lot easier to find a solution to a problem if you at least understand the problem. Too many people are quick to jump to conclusions as to why trends happen. Sometimes a symptom is not the disease.

Our field is in British Columbia, Canada. Maybe the the "British" in our name is a bit ironic, as what you described paintball in the UK like, is a lot like it has been here for most of the past. Most fields here also speperate the rec players from the tourney types and for the most part, those of us who operate rec fields try to deter regulars (at least those that want to shoot high volumes) from coming to our fields. We too have not seen declines like many places in North America.

Does this hurt the participation of tourney players? There are two trains of thought there. There's the one you talked about in the article that basically says we are not exposing players to tournament type paintball and therefore less go that route, but on the other hand, there is the way I look at it, that being that intermingling the two types of paintball at the same facility, hurts the recreational portion, which in turn means less peopel involved in paintball overall. Less players overall, probaly means less players playing tournament ball. Again, no definitive answers. Just speculation.

So going back to the UK experiment, how is the health of the tourney scene there compared to that of the USA? Are there less tourney players per capita, but more paintball players over all per capita? Is the ratio of tourney players vs. rec players higher or lower? If it's lower, does it matter, as long as the overall health of the tourney scene is decent? Or is the tourney scene not particularly healthy and those running rec paintball are aware of this and don't want to be infected with the same disease? Lots of questions.

Baca Loco said...

Hey Reiner
I'll have some more definitive ideas in the next post on this topic.

From the tourney side it's been a source of great frustration for a number of years as the numbers are small. Years ago there was a much more active tourney scene in the UK that fell off. There are (and have been efforts) to try and turn things around without much success. The current effort may have more luck as it has the active participation of the top promoters and the industry working together.

raehl said...

Here's a thought ...

... what if you didn't win a tournament by buying more paint than the other guy?

For nearly 30 years, tournament paintball has been a contest about who can shoot more paint. Only in the past two - and only in part of tournament paintball - have we started to dial that back. But even now, most tournament teams can shoot way more paint than they can afford to pay for.

So here is my suggestion. If we want competitive paintball to be successful, we need to do something so that your ability to win is not determined by whether you can afford to buy as much paint as your opponent is shooting. Because if you can't win without buying $1,000 in paint, nobody who can't afford $1,000 in paint will play.

Now, there are going to be all sorts of people who currently play tournaments who will raise a hellstorm about how cutting paint use will ruin the game for whatever BS reason. And it might ruin the game for them, because they won't be able to simple out-buy many of their opponents. But we should realize that for every current participant who wants a high rate of fire, there are 10 non-participants who might participate were they able to afford enough paint to have a chance at winning.

I think this is actually one of the reasons UK paintball has it so bad. The paint is priced for rec consumption, at which price only a small number of teams can afford to shoot enough paint to win. 10 years ago, a UK team only had to buy enough paint to feed mechanical semi-auto guns. Now to be a successful UK team, you have to be able to afford enough paint to shoot 15 bps.

So what if we changed the rules of tournament paintball so that you simply were not allowed to shoot a lot of paint? Would the game change? Sure. But is the best player at 100 balls a game a "worse" player than the best player at 500 balls a game? I don't think so, any more than the fastest 100-meter-dash runner is a "worse" athlete than the 5,000 meter runner. They're just different.

But if one of the options allows 8x as many people to afford to be a player, we should pick that one.

Reiner Schafer said...

Crazy talk Chris. You make it sound like people don't play competitive paintball because it's too expensive. That can't possibly be the reason. Oh wait...I heard that said over and over and over again.

Baca Loco said...

No argument from me except to note that your volume of paint theory for the history of tourney ball is hilarious.

And UK tourney teams don't pay rec field prices for their paint.

When can we expect the NCPA to switch to all pump or Billy Ball events? I can hardly wait to see the explosion of new teams and players entering the college paintball ranks.

raehl said...

Unfortunately the NCPA is not currently substantial enough to drive availability of gun modes. We dropped to 10 bps as soon as the mode was available on guns, and the high school league is already playing hopperball. Might even cut that back to pod-ball.

Baca Loco said...

What kind of copout is that, faction? Drive availability of gun modes? Pump guns and Billy Ball already exist and are readily available. I don't see the problem with making the move now. Here's the perfect opportunity to put your beliefs about the game into action and serve your constituency at the same time.

raehl said...

Unfortunately Baca, I don't have the luxury of living in blog-land and have to deal with reality. I am not going to get my current players to all drop their current equipment and buy pump guns, as much as I would like them to. And I don't personally think Billy Ball is quite right for competition either.

Nor do I expect to be able to institute drastic change overnight. That's why we went with hopperball for the high school league - it gets us the vast majority of what we're after (significant reduction in paint consumption) without forcing an expensive equipment change. Good bang for the buck.

NCPA also has the additional challenge of having 40+ events a year, so any change we do make has to be IMMEDIATELY PRACTICABLE at EVERY location we have events. I can't mandate, for example, that every field we go to buys 20 pump guns per field to run pump-only tournaments.

But, it would be very easy for any particular field that is going to run entry level events to do so with a new mode. New players don't have any investment. And the field can invest in a set of equipment that they can use over and over and over again over the course of the year to support that new setup. And I would bet that a local/regional series that started with entry level players with a ruleset that drastically limited paint consumption would have very good long-term success.

papa chad said...

actual tournament play requires a lot of experience and skill. "spray and pray" is an old adage that should be outdated by now.

at what bps are all things equal? will players have fun when they're playing xball at 5 bps?

it sounds to me like we should actually test out some new bps or format instead of playing the guessing game year to year, with high caliber (highly ranked) players who know the game now.

Baca Loco said...

Whose living in blog-land? I was merely responding positively to the suggestion you made in the comments above. I just assumed you'd be willing to do what you recommend. But I get it, faction, you advocate large scale change--for everybody else.

Anonymous said...

your both idiots

Slow ROF is boring.
High paint volume is boring.
pump is ludicrous, mech is at least feasible.

Limited paint means you have to, you know, make a move out of your bunker every now and then.

That being said, paint consumption levels have been pretty low at 10.5 and fields that reward aggresive play. I think PSP might have found the anwser. If not, LPaint is the way to go.

On a side note, I don't know if ive ever shared this story with the crowd.

When I first started my college's team I didn't know alot about tournament paintball. I didn't know alot about NCPA. I just knew that the hockey team was on suspension and I wanted to have fun. At first, all of our tournaments were limited paint; no more then one pod per person per game. I go tthe idea to hold a tournament as a "team fundraiser" (which, after looking at the numbers I decided would be a waste of time). Stumbling through websites, I found a tournament promoter who was "serious about branching out events", and all sorts of informaiton about his limited formate league. The website was way out of date, but I gave the guy a call anyway. He told me about how the league no longer exhisted in that form, and the limited paint tournaments were a thing of the past. He offered to send me 100 rd pods, and advised me that any ref who found paint on the field between games (hiding for players to pick up from under a bunker), the ref gets to keep. That avoids refs being lazy and whoever put it there, is punished.

He also told me about how this league was player owned, (or at least run), and that paint companies came and offered 60-70% of the owned teams 80% off paint that they used at the tournaments. The league then voted to open the format up to limited paint at all levels. I joked "so you sold your souls for some free paint". He didnt laugh.

And that was the only time i have ever talked to shawn walker.

Anonymous said...

sorry, should read "all our practices were..."
not tournaments.

Reiner Schafer said...

Baca, Raehl never said anything about Pump or Billy Ball. You brought both those up in your posts. He just said limited paint might be something to consider to make the game more afforsdable for a greater part of the population. He didn't say anyting about taking it to extremes and reducing it to .5 bps. You are putting words in his mouth and then complaining that he's not swallowing.

It sounds like in the High School League he's doing exactly what he's advocating and the NCPA is 10 bps, which is lower ROF than most other leagues.

I give him credit for trying to make the game more affordable accepted by a wider audience and you mock him because he hasn't gone to extremes. Time to get the burr out of your side?

Baca Loco said...

And it would be helpful if you and Anon improved your reading comperhension, Reiner. I simply pointed out that the means to implement his assertions exist today whether it be pumps, Billy Ball or whatever. The issue isn't and wasn't how the reduced paint usage was to be accomplished, it was that faction was busy making pronouncements about how competitive paintball ought to be played and what the result would be -- when, at the same time, he is and remains in a position to do exactly what he recommends. All I'm asking is if it's sucha good idea why hasn't he done it?

And if you look at the numbers of teams participating in the high school program you will, I think, be underwhelmed. Which is neither here nor there really except that you seem to think it amounts to something without knowing (apparently) anything about it.

At least you don't run your business one way while running around the internet telling everybody else to do things another way.

Anonymous said...

the high school leagues has always had underwhelming support. it'll take time.