Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Measuring Stick

I spent some time this past weekend with the Rangers, a paintball team from Guatemala. They came up to the States for some trigger time against my guys on Saturday and ended up competing in the largest of our statewide tournament series on Sunday. (A good bunch of guys, btw.) I suspect they are representative of many new teams in the developing paintball world; energetic, eager and perhaps not so overtly competitive as American ballers tend to be. (Or at least they make an effort to be friendly too and certainly minus the obnoxious punk posturing.)

The point of their excursion north was to learn and improve. And they looked to do so in the traditional paintball way; by scrimmaging better players and competing against better teams. Makes perfectly good sense, doesn't it? Pretty much the way you and I did it, too. (And/or the way you're still doing it.)

This was particularly useful for the Rangers because those basic training methods don't really exist in Central America. In part because competitive paintball is so young there, there is only other up-and-coming to butt heads against. They simply don't have available the crucial components of experienced players and established teams. As a consequence I think their weekend up here was (hopefully) very instructive and a bit of an eye-opener as their experience acted as a measuring stick. A way of judging just where they are and an indicator of how much better they need to get in order to measure up to a world standard. (Of course that still leaves them, and teams like them, with the task of finding ways to make-up for the opportunities that still don't exist.)

All that was a rather oblique approach to a (sorta) related topic; competitiveness and the maintenance of a competitive standard. Which brings me back in a very roundabout way to how the PSP is using its classification system. (Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!) Yeah, sorry about this (unless you're too new to be aware of all the other classification-related posts I've written) but at least this is a different argument.

Brief recap: my objection to the UCP, and its application in the PSP, is that it runs players up the ranks unnecessarily and frequently the result is to push many of those players out of competitive paintball. [And the move to add a semi-pro division acknowledges the issue if not the cause.] Most of my arguments have been tied to the effect on players. The system also blurs and/or breaks down the barriers between divisions to the detriment of the overall competition and the idea of excellence.

Here's how. Divisions exist in recognition of different levels of skill and ability that are sufficiently distinct to warrant those separate divisions of competition. And, realistically, to encourage teams of diverse ability to compete. For purposes of competition the divisions represent incremental steps rising to the top level of competition, currently call Pro. Conceptually we're on solid, easily understood ground. The questions I have is how do you maintain a clear distinction between the divisions created and how does that divisional process actually lead to excellence in the game? The answer to both those questions starts with a standard. Teams like the Rangers struggle to find their place in part because there is no consistent standard in their environment, no well defined target to aim for, at least in a practical sense that they can measure themselves against periodically.

I'll finish this in a day or two.

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