Thursday, September 3, 2009

Smart Parts & competitive paintball

I realize that Smart Parts is probably the most polarizing name in paintball and I have no intention of trying to sway anyone's opinion one way or the other. I am not going to offer any partisan position, pro or con. I am not going to speculate on a final outcome to this news or deliver some sort of editorial trying to sum up what Smart Parts has meant to paintball. For starters I don't know that the company is done. Any number of options still exist so any eulogizing is premature. And according to a PR released today over at ProPaintball the company is open for business and moving forward and the actions taken, while difficult, were necessary in this tough economy. Nor do I wish to appear callous with respect to the real hardships this action has and will bring some people. But I think it's fair to discuss how this news may affect pro paintball specifically and competitive paintball in general.

But first, I want to say one thing about the Gardner brothers that may offer a different (or fuller) perspective to some. I know Adam and Bill. I wouldn't call us friends, more like paintball acquaintances. I was, for some years, associated with teams sponsored by Smart Parts and in all my dealings with the brothers they were professional, straight-forward and honorable. And beyond that I always thought that when it was within their power they were also generous, maybe not magnanimously so, but generous nonetheless. Make of it what you will. I would be remiss, particularly now, if I didn't take a moment to publicly express my gratitude.

With respect to the PSP I don't think this news or its ramifications will have a direct impact on the operation of the league. (But I did ask Lane about it in the upcoming interview anyway for his take.) While there shouldn't be any immediate effect on the PSP this does drive home the reality that the league must be able to stand of its own accord and the days when Smart Parts or Dye would dump money into the league to stop the bleeding are past. Call the magic number for WC 275 and you might begin to see that none of this is inevitable. The league should be fine for now but what the league will need in the future is not some year-to-year subsistence existence but enough profit to protect it.
Here's a job for Chris Raehl: do a calculation of where scale sees decreasing profits. I'm sure the league has a handle on how big an event needs to be see some profit but I'm guessing nobody has looked too closely at the other end of that spectrum and I'm also pretty sure there is a point where an event is too big.

Regarding the impact on pro paintball start with a list of sponsored teams and put Philly and Dynasty at the top of that list. Nor does it end there but think for a moment how large an impact those two teams alone have had on the history of pro paintball. We are closing in on another off season and the expectation prior to this news was another round of sponsorship reductions. While there is no telling how severe the sponsorship cutbacks might be at Smart Parts it doesn't seem unreasonable to assume there will be changes and not for the better--at least with respect to the needs of the pro teams. Any move that might force Dynasty to seek alternative sponsorship will result almost certainly in pushing some other pro teams aside and likely, out the door. And any serious cuts to the Americans program will necessarily reduce their effectiveness on the field. On a smaller scale variations of the same will reverberate around the competitive paintball landscape in the off season.

And I'm also wondering if this might precipitate some sort of domino effect among potential sponsors with respect to the leagues. I'm not sure I see it but this industry isn't noted for its wisdom or prudential habits. Even if the PSP retains the team numbers could a conceivable shift in pro strength to the other league begin to shore up the NPPL 3.0 and attract renewed industry interest? Hey, what isn't possible in this crazy game? Follow the paint. (Will .50 cal arrive too late?)


Anonymous said...

I'm not chris, but there is no point to which you speak (diminishing returns) under the currenty business model.

In simple terms, the marginal cost of an additional team showing up is a fraction of the entry fee. Most of that goes to paying down the fixed costs of running a league and an event.

Thats not saying the league will ever make less money per team by adding another team; but their overall rake will continue to increase (within ANYTHING reasonable, Teams<600).

.50 Caliber coming too late? That might just be the nail in the coffin. Two things kill(ED) paintball, the high learning curve to be aggressive during high ROF's (in other words, its too easy for poor teams to sit behind bunkers AND STILL REMAIN SOMEWHAT COMPETITIVE; it still might not win every point, but it'll make them feel like thier doing something right, even when thier not). The second is the cost. .50 Caliber will exaserbate the first while simultaneusly not helping the second; people are shooting themselves broke and out of the sport no matter how cheap paint is.

anonachris said...

"its too easy for poor teams to sit behind bunkers AND STILL REMAIN SOMEWHAT COMPETITIVE"

What are you talking about? There are teams left and right that are poor and other teams are wiping the floor with them. Have you even attended and watched a dozen games at a PSP event? I generally observe that the teams who suck and are sitting behind their bunkers get pinched out of their bunkers or get their faces shot off.

Now if you're talking about smart teams being able to lock down the field by covering various lanes, etc. and it looks like they are a poor team to the untrained eye you might be on to something. But the crappy teams that try to lock down the field get ripped a part by the better ones.

The death of Smart Parts came down to a lot of things. But it seems pretty clear a lot of it had to do with overleverage, poor high end gun sales, and decreasing margins/prices on their low end gun sales. They tried to chase volume on lower margins. Unfortunately this strategy seemed to ignore that competition can just as easily follow them to the bottom of the market. It would seem obvious, in retrospect, the Ion was too low priced. Of course there are a dozen other reasons and factors that can be attributed here.

I agree that as far as I've heard the Gardeners were always kind and generous to their teams. And even respectful to those who weren't their teams. They obviously love paintball.

Baca Loco said...

Not Chris
The only elements that are fixed is the number of matches that can be held on one field per day and the league has a good handle on the per field cost of set-up. What do you think the extra day is for at Chitown and WC? It's either more fields or more time. At some break point more teams equals more fields, more time, more refs, more space from the venue, etc. Toss in the limiting factor of the number of available and willing refs and the calculation will yeild a tipping poin where more teams do not equal more profit.
While I'm at I wonder if 2 5-man teams can play within the same time frame as one xball team, or close? This would make up for their lower entry fees and offer the league more scheduling flexibility.

raehl said...

More teams always equals more profit. There would have to be a phenomenally large number of teams to push an event past 5 days (the extra day isn't there so much for field time as to accommodate more rounds of playoff play - and even that can be mitigated with more divisions, ala D4.) So I don't think there is any conceivable number of teams where it doesn't make sense to have as many as possible.

The limiting issue is, as you mentioned, sufficient quality officials. PSP is much better off there than they were a couple years ago.

But this is all a pretty hypothetical discussion, isn't it? Too many teams is a problem I'm sure PSP would love to have, but the problem staring us in the face is the imminent, massive decline of tournament paintball. PSP is doing fine now, but if anyone is looking at entry-level tournaments, the picture is incredibly bleak, and that's going to ripple up through the tournament ranks.

We need to make entry-level tournament paintball more fun and more affordable, and we need to do it immediately, or we're not going to have anything to argue about in a few years.

Anonymous said...

Baca, I meant that within the point does not exhist within reason; After 5 days it becomes more fields/refs, its really not that expensive to do that, relative to the 100k or so extra income we are now talking about. The reason I threw out 600 teams is we run out of land and we start thinking about higher security measures with that many teangers holding markers.

Anono-chris: I will be straight up about how many points I have seen; 100's. Most of them at the average D-3, and D-4 level, but plenty of pro points as well (Dynasty vs x-factor on the chicago layout was eye opening).

At lower levels, however, it is too easy to simultaneusly lock down your lanes while not letting others move; this is primarily where we need a change (and where I need to agree with Chris)

It is also financially IMPOSSIBLE for some of the teams to play in this manner, so they never learn how to lock down a serious lane. The skill still needs to be taught, but we cannot let it become a crutch for teams; i have seen plenty of teams where this is the case.

I disagree with Chris on the Hopperball argument because it completly eliminates all lanes. I still want them to exhist and be taught; i just want there to be more of a challenge then putting them down from t=0 to t=5 seconds and waiting for G-1 and 2.


Baca Loco said...

There is a ROF that will overwhelm the other elements of the game as we currently play it but 10.5 and 12.5 ain't it. The failure of lower division teams to cope with attempts to lane dominate is a function of the failure to understand the game and/or insufficient skill. Mostly I think it's poor training.

raehl said...

I don't think laning is a skill. At least not with an electornic marker that is shooting for you.

Aim and shoot the other guy. Or move, then aim and shoot the other guy. Laning is the ultimate form of laziness - shooting somewhere and hopping the other guy happens to run in front of where your paintballs are going.

Even if you do think laning is a skill, is it a skill worth all the money we spend shooting paintballs at nothing?

Baca Loco said...

While we're OT laning is a tactical tool of the game. And yes, it has a functional utility but it does not and cannot replace the other tactical tools of the game or a player's skill. Perhaps the confusion lies in the old semi-auto and 15 bps game where firepower was sufficiently dominating in the lower divisions that it led to a misguided reliance to the detriment of other aspects of the game.

Anonymous said...

Great point Baca; I have seen teams FAR more successful at 10.5 no longer "laneing", and now "aiming" (similar shooting though). Teams who don't just shoot a gap, but try and lead a guy are far more successful, vs at 15.4 they were more likely to screw this attempt up.

I truly do value that comment, but it doesnt really change where I stand. A return to semi- (or full semi as we like to call it) but limiting paint will again bring tournament paintball affordable to lower levels, and HELP THEM GET BETTER (assuming they have enough paint; something that needs to be figured out).

I quit tournament paintball before I even got started at age 14; not because of High ROFS but because of high volumes of paint. (I don't think I need to break down the difference, but ask for clarification if need be). Also, because I was paying 80$ a case, and could only thought it seemed reasonable to shoot 500 rounds in a day; people shot that at me against my hyperball bunker in about 10 seconds in those days. (two guns; I used to love trying to get to the hyperball 50 snake).

I appreciate very much your sentiment about the importance and skill of holding lanes; I even enjoy that type of paintball enough to play Chicago and probably cup. I just think there may be a better way to set up entry level... as opposed to the utter lack we have now.


Anonymous said...

Quote "Mostly I think it's poor training."

because who can afford to train the way a PSP team plays??? not most psp teams, thats for sure.

Baca Loco said...

No Anon,
It's not about training the way top PSP teams train, it's about knowing how and what to teach upcoming players. I meant I think it's a lack of knowlwdgeable teachers. :-)

Anonymous said...

hey don't blame me. I tell my guys I have no idea what the hell I'm talking about, and direct them to a couple of your tutorials for lessons in how to do things right.

And how do you know when I've replied? Is there some way to get that sent to you, or do you just check old threads? And Can I sign up for the "notice when reply has been made" function?


Baca Loco said...

I do have an email notification of comments function but it only seems to work for me about 50% of the time so I cruise the stack of visible posts a couple of times and if I notice a number change in comments I take a look.
You're on your own. Cruel and unfair, I know, but there you go.