Friday, September 4, 2009

The Lane Wright Interview; part 1

Following is the Lane Wright interview. It doesn’t cover all the questions submitted nor even all the questions I wanted to ask him. With respect to the questions I avoided those that were purely speculative or hypothetical, for the most part. Or fluffy. Definitely no fluff. Or any fishing or baseball questions. In general I focused on Lane’s role with the PSP and secondarily, tourney paintball. This interview was handled as a series of questions submitted by email with a follow-up via phone for clarifications and to harass Lane a little bit on those questions he preferred not to answer. I've broken up the interview into sections to accomodate the ADD crowd. All the questions and answers are included without additional comment.

Hey Lane
Thanks for taking the time to respond to a few questions from VFTD and its readers. This is a first for VFTD and I’d love to make it a regular–perhaps annual event. However, enough of the small talk as this is supposed to be a no-nonsense, tough-as-nails interview though I’m not gonna try and slip in any gotcha type questions. There is no avoiding some topics however.

1. Let’s begin with the recent news about Smart Parts. Will this have an effect on the PSP?

I am sure it will have an effect. They are one of our larger sponsors. Losing a sponsor will always have an effect on a business that needs sponsor money to sustain itself. At the moment though, I am more concerned with my personal friends dealing with a terrible situation. And secondly, dealing with the reality of the economy as it applies to our industry. PSP will move on. I’m concerned for Adam and his employees and the rest of the industry.

2. What about SP’s presence as a premier sponsor and vendor?

I believe those days are gone for the near future. They have to do what is right for their business and the people who still depend on them to provide for their families. That is and should be their first priority.

3. Moving on let’s go to rules and specifically the ROF. The PSP dropped the ROF in 2008 and again for the 2009 season. You publicly indicated that industry manufacturers (PSP sponsors) were a big part of the drive for this drop. The hope was that a "trickle down" effect to local fields would help make the game more attractive to potential players. With a season and a half gone by, have you had any feedback from these industry leaders to confirm that this is indeed happening? Is the plan working as it was hoped it would?

I have indeed had positive feedback from people. This was never intended to be a quick fix. It didn’t get broken in a year and it won’t get fixed in a year. If I didn’t think it was a positive move, we would undo the changes.

4. Here we are at the end of the season and there’s a relatively recent thread on the Nation speculating about more changes to ROF. Is more change to the ROF rules coming? And if no plans currently exist is the option open for future change?

There had been no discussion what so ever about ROF changes. That was a typical Internet rumor that went wild. Once it gets going, I have to respond. But like so many things that turn into “big issues” this one started from absolutely nothing.

5. While the subject is rules let’s talk about the classification rules for a minute. How do you view the function of the classification rules? What do you want them to accomplish?

Classification rules are meant to provide the wide array of teams interested in competing at our tournaments a relatively protected competitive grouping. I want the rules to accomplish the goal the rules are meant to accomplish.

6. As you know I’ve criticized, not so much the concept of classification, but it’s current application. If one function of the classification rules is to move players up to fill the upper divisional ranks; is it working? Shouldn’t we be seeing those divisions begin to fill out and add team numbers? And if we’re not–and we aren’t--why not?

The goal is not to move players into higher classifications. That ends up being a function of the system, but it isn’t the intended purpose. The classification rules have been in a constant state of flux. Some people see that as being a bad thing. I understand their position. I see it as PSP trying to adapt the rules to the current situations - as they arise or as we see them coming. I think that if we simply set out rules and never adjusted them, people would say we were arrogant and didn’t listen to the players. No matter what the rules are, no matter where the line is drawn, someone will always be the worst team in D1, or the worst player in D2. That doesn’t mean they aren’t classified correctly. The Lions are the worst team in the NFL. But they are indeed a professional team.
In my opinion, one of the main reasons we are not seeing the top classification fill is based on finance and philosophy.
The teams are not getting the financing needed to survive as they have in the past. The teams and players are not willing to adjust how they operate and instead go away, either as a whole or player by player.
And philosophical thing is that players/teams no longer have the burning desire to move to the highest level. They have begun to look at this as some type of business for them, I guess. It’s ridiculous. When D2 teams are talking about ROI on a purely monetary level it is crazy. This sport is nowhere near that level. So many teams today seem to be perfectly happy with mediocrity. They are perfectly OK with being a good D2 team. I can’t let them get their personal kicks out of outclassing a division because it plugs up the lower end. With no place for new teams to come in and compete, we are doomed. All of us.
There are many reasons for the assumed failing of pro teams. I don’t think classifications rules are anywhere near the top of the list.
Until our sport is mature enough to have contracts, drafts, and a governing body that recognizes that the league as a whole is bigger than the entities that comprise it, we will deal with rising and falling pro ranks. And no, money doesn’t come before those things. That’s idealistic and wishful thinking by anyone who says it does.

7. Any chance the league will reconsider the utility of using the classification rules for redistribution purposes in the off season? And, yes, that was a loaded question and if you disagree with the premise, on what basis do you disagree?

I don’t even understand the question. I certainly can’t answer it.

8. Moving on, a related subject is the UCP (Universal Classification Program). I think there’s probably more than a little confusion over just what the UCP is, and what’s it’s supposed to do. Care to take a crack at a brief explanation?

The UCP is the first crack at trying to set up a system of classification for all tournament play. It is a huge complicated task. It is needed. It isn’t going to be easy. We took the first step this year. We created a system. As the year went on, it became apparent that our first draft wasn’t perfect. No one is forced to use the UCP system. People who run their own events can do whatever they want with their classification rules. Some people acted like we forced them to do something and that is very bothersome to me. We took a stab at something that we saw was needed. We made an educated and experienced attempt at doing it right. We will make adjustments during the off season and try to make it better. And we will keep following that procedure.

9. In places where categories of play overlap the local, regional and national tournament scenes is there a concern that the result will be competition for teams between UCP members and hierarchies instead of cooperative integration?

Yes. It doesn’t have to be that way if people will look at the big picture and be cooperative. Too many people in our sport think about tomorrow and next week and apparently have no intention of being around in 5 years. I don’t always succeed. But I always try to thing about long term ramifications. I’d rather bite the bullet today, knowing that 5 years from now I will prosper. Paintball seems to be full of people who don’t like to think that way. If certain people stick together, certain people who run key leagues around the country and think long term, we can make this transition and be a much better sporting industry in the future. It will work. Not for everyone, but for those who are willing to look at the long term big picture. It has to happen and we have to do what it takes to make it happen - even if that means giving a little ground today.

10. Do you think the UCP needs to provide exclusive relationships with the local and regional groups based on territories or is it viewed as flexible enough to bring in everyone under its banner?

I don’t know the answer to that. It is a great question. I am concerned with it. Obviously, the simple answer is yes. Establish regions, find the guy capable of doing the best job in a region, and go at it with him as the man in that area. I hope there is another way to do it. We’ll see.


anonachris said...

For some reason I can't copy and paste one of Lane's answers to respond. It's the part about teams and players "going away" if they can't adjust.

I think that's the point of the criticism. Are we driving away teams and players with this move up-or-out rule?

On one side we have people saying we need to protect the lower division from sandbaggers.

Everyone agrees.

What we don't necessarily agree on is that simplying being rostered and playing a few points or even playing alls season in one division makes you qualified to move up.

There have been more than a few players who played for a year and got picked up by a pro team. And there are more than 10,000 players who have played for 5 years and still stink.

So clearly playing for a year does not necessarily make you more skilled.

I think if the goal is to make sure better teams/[players are not unfairly taking advantage and beating up on younger teams the issue needs to be rethought.

Another consequence to consider, since as Lane says, he is very concerned about long term trends. What happens with the up-or-out philosophy if over the next 2-3 years we do not get more teams moving into the PSP?

You maybe giving up a stable and reliable customer base in order to "make room" for a new crop of players that we all fear isn't coming.

I don't see it as a huge problem this year. I think over the next 2-3 years the up-or-out is going to have big rammifications.

I think the goals are similar. Make sure players in the lower divisions can actually compete without getting destroyed by sandbaggers.

Is there a better way to achieve this goal?

ps - would it be adviseable for an airline to tell its 3yr-long frequent flyers that if they wish to keep flying with them they can only fly first class?

Baca Loco said...

I think there is more coming up in the additional parts of the interview that may speak to this. So keep reading. :-)

raehl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
raehl said...

Your use of the airline analogy indicates you don't understand the situation. The airline can give everyone who pays for a ticket a seat. A league can give 1st place to one team, no matter how many there are.

So no, there is no way to achieve that goal. It is impossible. They were going to quit anyway no matter what. Or at least, if the rules were different so one particular player didn't quit, it would just put another player in the position where they'll quit. It is a zero-sum game from the league's perspective.

Basically, there are two kinds of players: Players who play because they enjoy playing, and players who play because they enjoy winning. Almost all players who play only because they enjoy winning are either going to become Pro or quit. There is nothing the league can do about it, because it's not possible for the league to have more than one team win, so short of having one-team divisions, most teams are going to lose. And if most teams are losing, most players who are playing because they enjoy winning are quitting.

The league's real customers are those who will pay entry fees because they enjoy competing. Those kinds of players are happy as long as they have a chance at winning at least a few points/games, and don't get slaughtered so bad when they lose that it's not even fun.

No matter what we do, at some point every player but the Pros gets to where their talent isn't enough to beat other players with similar experience. If they are playing because they enjoy the competition, they will keep playing. If not, they'll quit. And there is nothing a classification system can do to change that.

But what the classification system can do is stop those players from playing down to the lowest division they can win and consequently ruining the experience for the rest of the players who just want to have a good time competing without being the fodder for somebody else who only wants to play if they can win.

anonachris said...

The airline analogy is certainly not perfect and I actually knew as I typed it someone would jump on it as an excuse to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

It should be clear to everyone that Raehl has a heavily vested interest in promoting the status quo because he was no doubt a part of creating and crafting it.

It should also be clear to everyone that the correlation between seasons played and pro status is no where near close to one. Which means moving someone up simply because they played in a previous division last year is not a good rule of thumb.

I will absolutely grant that shuld be one part of the criteria, but it should not be the defining characteristic. If you continue to thing so, it can only be because you heavily lobbied privately and now often publican for the current arrangement so you are too emotionally invested in it to see fair criticism AND act on it.

What the classification system actually does and what you argue it does are two entirely different things.

anonachris said...

excuse the spelling, I'd like to blame it on the low batteries in the BT keyboard... but it's probably just sloppiness.

raehl said...

Actually, I'm not a big fan of the status quo. I'm trying to change stuff for the better all the time. You'll note one of the things I'm trying very hard to do is get rid of prizes at the lower divisions - it's one of the main contributing factors to the classification system, where we're trying to get players to play at their level, but essentially PAYING them to stay in as low a division as they can for as long as they can. We'd eliminate a lot of the motivation players have to play down if we ixnayed the prize payments we hand out for staying down.

Now, since I do have a hand in tings being the way they are, that does mean that I'm going to tend to agree with the way things are - because if I didn't agree with it, I'd be trying to change it (and sometimes, I'm even successful at doing so.)

All that said, the ONLY place in the classification system right now where someone is moved up simply for playing a season is from D5 to D4. Everywhere else there is a performance criteria. So you're complaining about something that isn't even true with the system as-is.

anonachris said...

The classification is not very transparent ie. anything you can't look at as a player and immediately know where you stand is not transparent. I understand that it does not automatically move someone up, but it seems to move them up somewhat arbitrarily anyway (yes I see the ranking points thing, spread out over your entire playing career).

Either way the end result is the same I think. You don't seem to allow players to get comfortable and confident in a division before moving up.

Players should be qualified to move-up and from a player stand point it should actively happen. As in they "qualified" on their own accord and skill to move up. Not all of the sudden the PSP told them, "you have to move up."

I wouldn't be surprised if even this slight change would have a huge impact in the minds of the players. Being passively forced to move up, versus actively proving to yourself, the league and competitors that you are qualified to move up are viewed two completely different ways even though they might be two sides of the same coin.

anonachris said...

ps - here is something that is transparent, although it may not be the best alternative:

If you've placed in the top 4 three times in one season you move up. If you've won 2 events you move up.

Not saying these are better metrics, but everyone knows where they placed and therefore where they stand. And it is a clear indicator of what they are capable of doing. Not some strange average of their scores where they take the standard deviation to see how they compare with the next guy (ok that was embellished)

raehl said...

We can't let players stick around until they feel 'confident'. Because nobody will feel 'confident' unless they are winning, and we already demonstrated that most players can't win. Ergo, waiting for players to feel 'confident' just means everyone stays where they are (although I think you can help that by taking the prizes from the lower divisions and adding them to the upper divisions and ending the practice of charging higher entry fees to higher division teams)

As for transparent, I think what you mean is simpler. The problem is making things simpler trades off making things fair/effective. The point threshold targets moving up a certain percentage of players based on how well their teams did, and it treats all performances the 'same' - i.e. a 2nd, 4th and 6th counts the same as three fourths. I don't disagree that this is a bit more complicated, but I do think the extra complication is worth it.

Anonymous said...

if a player/team can't come close to winning a division should they move up to the next division?

raehl said...

Depends on the division. If it's D5, then yes they should move up. If they don't move up, you just keep making the problem in D5 worse - the team there now may not have a chance at winning, but you don't move them up, then next year the new team doesn't just not have a chance at winning, they're getting slaughtered by people who got to stay in D5 and have a year of experience. (Even though they are worse than some of the other teams who have been playing a year, they are definitely better than next year's teams that have no experience at all!)

The higher up you go, the more people you can let stay if they are not winning.

vijil said...

"you can help that by taking the prizes from the lower divisions and adding them to the upper divisions and ending the practice of charging higher entry fees to higher division teams"

This. Exactly what I was thinking. We're having to do that in New Zealand too even though we only have two divisions.

Combine that with performance based forced advancement criteria and I'd say it's more or less a solved problem.