Thursday, September 24, 2009

Brave New Paintball World: The Revival

One of these years my timing is going to be right. At least that's my rationalisation and I'm sticking with it. Besides, any excuse to palm off old material on y'all saves me a bit of effort and what else could a lazy slacker ask for? Think of it as the same thing cable television series do when they run out of fresh ideas or production budget problems arise. Produce flashback episodes made up of clips of old shows tied together with some really lame premise. Hang on, that doesn't sound very promising, does it?

My lame premise is that big time competitive paintball is broke (and broken) but that acknowledging that fact is coming slowly for many. (Btw, this is a revival because I posted some of this same material last year and the dead tree archive contributions to this post date back to 2004 but don't let that put you off. Give it a read and I think you'll be surprised by how relevant it still sounds.)
That irrational exuberance and living beyond our means masked the defects for a while but the new reality has revealed the truth. And if this new reality gets any realer things can and will go from bad to worse very (very) quickly.
If you are up to speed on the VFTD 'Pro Circuit' concept feel free to keep reading. If you've no idea what I'm talking about or would like a brief refresher go here. And if you'd like to get a fuller picture check out Brave New Paintball World and '(Almost) Everything Tournament Paintball Needs to Know.

Before getting in any deeper I'd like to thank regular reader, Frank, for the nudge that got this post, well, posted. Now is probably the best time of the year for this sort of post as we approach the off season and the people making decisions about the futures of their leagues are gearing up to do just that--make decisions about the direction and future of their league.

If you've been following the activity of the two national leagues you're probably aware that the PSP appears to be moving in a direction consistent with some of the Pro Circuit ideas. And so they are, what with the developing UCP and a growing interest in working with local and regional tournament promoters. It could be an incremental move in that direction or it could be a move to secure the format and build a grassroots feeder system to help keep the national series healthy. Or, I suppose, it could be both. As a practical matter I'm not sure it matters largely because I expect circumstances to intervene. The economy isn't going to significantly improve, not for any period of time and those suggesting it will are really crossing their fingers and hoping growth might squeak ahead of debt deleveraging and show a positive number--but that isn't going to happen. And if we can't expect a future that looks more like the past than the present competitive paintball would be wise to plan accordingly. (Btw, I'm not saying the Pro Circuit is the only way forward--even if I'm secretly thinking it--what I am saying is that for the foreseeable future the old model probably can't be sustained despite the outstanding job Lane & Co. have done with the PSP to date. Just, of course, an opinion but if you were to take it as a prediction I'd stand by it.)

Which brings us to the other guys, call them the USPL or NPPL 3.0. What have they got to lose? Honestly? They didn't make any money. How much they stand to lose is mostly conjecture but it isn't (I'm reasonably certain) on the scale of past losses. Can they do the same again next year? Sure. But on what basis would such a decision be made? Will there be more or less 7-man teams next year? Can the NPPL really compete for 5-man teams with the PSP? The one thing the NPPL 3.0 has going for it is the pro teams call the shots, they have their fate in their own hands.
They are sufficiently lean and unburdened to be able to swiftly change direction. If the pro owners pooled their annual "entry fees" (which they are intending to do again for next season) and focused on running a Pro Circuit style event series how big a risk would it really be? If they tied their events to existing regional events venues like Pev's (per the DC Challenge) what are the real costs of the Pros playing independently versus the NPPL trying to generate national scale multi-divisional events? Now I'm not convinced NPPL 3.0 can succeed as a 7-man league but they are positioned to make a radical change if they're willing to take the risk.

Pie in the sky. Pipe dream. Impractical. Unrealistic. Oh, not the pro circuit. The status quo. See you right here, same time, same bat channel next year and we can do this all over again. Again.


Anonymous said...

In the past raehl argued that D1 would turn into the bastard child, site-ing the failure of "advanced Xball" in CFOA due lack of competition against "gridlock". They could include semi pro at the Pro events and they could still get everything done in two days on two fields. Division 1 could be split based on past performance (top 5 or so move up the rest drop down)

There are certainly enough D2 teams to split up across the regional level. Teams would still be required to move up. Eventually the "Gridlock" type teams that are just smashing in the top section of the regionals moves up to the national semi pro/ pro circuit.

With the push PSP is making with the regional series I'm just afraid they will try to have divisional play both regionally and national. Right now there are tons of divisional teams that could be playing full season and paying for paint for the same price they are paying for only one or two nationals with free paint at events. If they really want the regional leagues to succeed they need to eliminate the option of saving your money skipping two or three regionals and playing national later.

I hope Lane see this

Baca Loco said...

What I'm about to suggest is a status quo heresy but I'm pretty well convinced that the future is affiliated regional series regardless of what anybody wants or does in the meantime. It's no longer a question of if but when.

cuda4u said...

I'm tend to agree with Franktank, affiliate leagues that feed in to PSP could and should force teams to play for a point standing to qualify them for a National Event. Most of these teams sit all year and wait to play Cup or something, come in sandbag a bit and win their division. With a regional or affiliate league you could make them earn their way into these events. You never hear of a NFL team come into the season and say "were playing in the Super Bowl",they earn it throughout the year by winning. I realize that this will never happen since PSP and NPPL need as many teams as they can get to make the events profitable. It does though, tend to get frustrating at times for the teams that do commit to the leagues and attended every event. Just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't the PSP or NPPL charge fees from the regional events for sanctioning them?

Making up some of the lost money from the divisional teams not being at the Pro events/

Anonymous said...

Baca Loco said...
What I'm about to suggest is a status quo heresy but I'm pretty well convinced that the future is affiliated regional series regardless of what anybody wants or does in the meantime. It's no longer a question of if but when

I don't think its even possible to argue this. How much bitching is there to try and make paintball cheaper. How about taking away that 200$ flight and 100$ in hotel bills and an extra 50$-100$ in food.

NOT to mention most reasonable adults can't possibly take tuesday-friday off of work, and most REASONABLY commited college students find the same time off difficult.

Take Texas for example; we have 20+ teams competing in the world cup, but our 1 local event (which is well run, but NON psp afilliated) can't make a switch to x-ball cuz, guess what, theres not enough interest. All of those 5-man entry fees, and plane tickets and hotel rooms could probably pay for a 4 weekend series here at home.

To me, the choic is ludicrously easy; 4 x-ball events or 1 5-man event.


Anonymous said...

WCPPL has big plans for Xball next season. I know Mike Hinman has met with the PSP and look forward to seeing Mike take Socal Xball to a level that can compete in the lower divisions in the Nationals.

theo said...

I have a question and this has to do with the gridlock/sandbagging thing mentioned above. Has the ranking system/APPA been unified yet? I would think that would have to be managed well before things can move forward.

A big reason why I think new players are turned off by tournaments is because they play against people at the local field and find out that the teams they get smashed against are playing in the same division as they are, so they just don't play at all.

Anonymous said...

The USPL and PSP both use APPA and quite a few other smaller leagues use it as well (NCPA , MPS, NEPL, Capt'n Carl's, CFOA, MSXL.... the list goes on and on.

If the unified system started to affect the lower divisions more like D4, D5 and the beginner level then teams would gravitate more to these APPA sponsored leagues becuase they know they will get a fair shot at competing there.

Non APPA events will be branded as events where you can't trust that your getting a fair shot.

To reply to the one comment about Gridlock. The problem wasn't that they were sandbagging, the problem was that they were significantly better then anyone else in the area in that division and no one else stood a chance so they decided not to play.

I agree that there are not that many d1 teams out there so to think that D1 will work successfully on the regional level might be the bridge that has several options.(this is assuming that the national pro circuits will still hold pro and semi pro classes)

1. split the d1 into teams that should be semi pro and teams that should be d2.

2. move d1 players up to semi pro all together

3. Assuming that the country gets divided into four regions lets just have two of the regions hold d1 class.

The bigger concern on a whole doesn't care about D1 teams sorry, but at world cup they only make up 18 of the 337 divisional teams that have signed up and only half of them have paid! They make up 5% of the teams we are talking about making a new home for. Plus the problem hasn't been how to we get more D1 teams its been how do we get more D4 D5 beginner teams to come into the fold so that later they can be d3 and d2 players.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Refer to Baca's post "the pyramid or the pear". It seems everyone wants a pyramid, but the recent PSP changes made the rankings look a bit more like a pear.

However, I don't know if Baca was taking into consideration how fluid Chris and Lane made the rankings seem; essentialy, they can redraw the lines when they see a problem like the pear. Thats poorly worded, but accurate. Lanes interview really hit home how he accepted the rules to be organic.


Baca Loco said...

Except Anonomike
Lane doesn't see a problem with the pear, the pear currently is the goal.

Anonymous said...

Pro through D-4. Seems pretty good to me.

I agree with what you said; as T---> infinity, under the current rules, a pear would be created. However I do not believe a pear is the goal, nor does it appear as if T will even go to 2 or 3 years before the rules are readjusted.

Baca Loco said...

Except Anon
Those aren't real numbers

raehl said...

I don't believe any particular shape is the goal. The goal is that if you enter a tournament, you will have a very good expectation of winning games/points in your division, and an almost certain expectation that you won't get slaughtered every game. At the upper divisions, that's to insure fair competition, and at the lower divisions, that's primarily to insure players have a good time and will play again.

The resulting shape does seem to be a pear though, which makes sense. D5 is for the brand-spanking-new players, one year and you're out, so that division can't be very large since no one stays in it longer than a year.

If things are working right, lots of people who play tournaments for fun may stay D4 forever. And we'd like pretty much everyone who plays D5 to play D4 the next year, and keep playing D4, so D4 is likely the widest point of the shape.

D3 is supposed to be serious local/regional competitors and entry-level national competitors. These are going to the the people who have been around a couple seasons and are going to be there to be better than everybody else.

D2 is experienced talent. It's going to be smaller than D3, because at this point you're seriously fighting natural attrition. It's been 3-4 years since most D2 players started playing tournaments, and most people have big life changes (go to college, graduate college) that happen every 4 years and can jar people out of a sport no matter what it is, so it's going to be smaller than D3.

D1 and up is where you will find the serious talent. It does seem that once you get up to D1/SP/Pro, players move up about as fast as they move out, which makes things more linear in terms of 'the shape'. A lot of people hit D1 and realize they just do not have the extreme talent to go Pro or Semi-Pro and find a different activity. While someone playing for fun will have a good time playing in D3 or D4 forever, the kind of person who is driving themselves to get better and better is going to lose interest when they can't move up anymore, unless they're getting paid, which just isn't happening right now.

The shape isn't the goal, the shape is just the natural result of grouping teams of similar skill/talent together.

Baca Loco said...

You're missing the forest for the trees again.

raehl said...

Is an irrelevant cliche your way of saying you've got nothing?

Baca Loco said...

No, it's my of saying your predilection for focusing on details causes you to frequently fail to grok the Big Picture.

Otherwise you're entitled to your opinion and this latest version is actually progress over past attempts to deny the obvious. :)

Anonymous said...

Chris, I'm with Baca, you COMPLETELY missed the point of the conversation.

Baca's point (which I think everyone agree's on him with; hell its a fact of freaking Statistics - "bell curve" (people who suck don't play national events) ) is that the bulk of players will be at the bottom, and that skill will thin it as it goes to the top.

And Baca commented that the new classification system was like trying to fit a square peg in a round whole. Or a Pyramid shaped player dynamic into a pear based divisional selection... His point was that to try and do this would defeat the implied purpose of classifications. You then came in an told us what the purpose of classifications were (which he never even debated or brought up; its kinda obvious)

Baca 1, Chris -1, Anono-mike 99999999

Missy Q said...

the 'cliche' post was kinda funny though...

raehl said...

If Baca's point is that the bulk of players will be at the bottom, he's stating the obvious, so long as "bottom" includes D4 and D5. D5 will be smaller than D4, as there is just not going to be a lot of people who have almost no playing experience since you can't, by definition, stay there very long.

If ANYONE's point is that it's a fact of freaking statistics that most players are at the bottom ala a "bell curve", that person should promptly exit the conversation as they either didn't take statistics, failed statistics, or are not bright enough to apply statistics to a situation outside their homework problems, because if any of those were not true, they would realize that a bell curve is shaped like a *BELL*, with most of the sample size *IN THE MIDDLE*, not at the bottom.

I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that someone who believes a bell curve indicates most people should be at the bottom also agrees with Baca.

Anonymous said...

hm. you might take the time to notice that right after I said "bell curve" i added in the *people who suck don't play national events. that removes the first half of the curve, (or include them, ala D5).

I don't remember what I got in my stats class, pretty sure it was an A. But I model materials in the lab that invented the carbon coating that made LiPo batteries possible; I'm quite confident in my stats abilities.

raehl said...

So a bell curve is a fact of freaking statistics, except when it's not?


1) There are plenty of people who suck who play national-level events. I'm playing this saturday, for example.
2) The classification system is designed around all levels of competitive play, including national level events. But looking at the national level only (ignoring D5), then you do get more of the one-half-of-a-bell curve (more D3 players than D2 than D1, with D1/Semi-Pro/Pro being about even). So you seem to be accusing the system of not being exactly like it is?
3) Even if you have a bell curve of playing ability, a division doesn't necessarily (and almost certainly doesn't) linearly map to talent.

For example, if you were to measure height of people, the distribution over inches would be a pretty good bell curve. But, if you were to make divisions of people based on height, you might have one division be 5-8" to 5'9", then another be 5'10" to 6'0", then another 6'1" to 6'6". Now, if you graph out people per division, you don't have a bell curve any more because what you're measuring (height) doesn't linearly map to what you're graphing (division).

Similarly, in paintball, the talent difference between the top of D3 and the bottom of D3 may be much less than the talent difference between the best pro player and the worst pro player, turning the right-edge of the bell curve of talent into a block the same size as the Semi-Pro and D1 blocks when the numbers are mapped to division.

But, frankly, I'm not even sure what you're disagreeing with anymore. It seems you're trying to argue that the bottom divisions should be larger when looking at the national level, to which I can only say 'duh'.

Anonymous said...

Hm.. Well my rereading of the comments goes as follows:

I commented on how Lane won me over to his side on divisional rankings; The comment was directed to the poster above me. More clearly, it should read "as we heard in the interview, the rankings are pretty much going to become whatever is best for paintball; and that will be changed every now and then."

And I said huh, that makes sense. And it seemed (to me) that Baca's concerns over players getting forced out of paintball might have over influenced my opinion on rankings...

and then a bunch of argueing over stuff that noone really disgrees on happens.

Baca Loco said...

Hey Anon
While I otherwise agree with you what exactly constitues "whatever is best for paintball" and while we're at it who decides "whatever is best for paintball"?