The PSP's (mostly cosmetic) format name change is proving to be prophetic. Not only do teams play various versions of a race to some number of points, competitive paintball's premier series and guiding light is in a different race to as well. It is a race to secure the future of competitive paintball as sport and it is also a race to see what can be preserved.
With the recent announcement of the Infamous/Aftermath merger reality is beginning to bite. Nobody is immune. At this point I think (hope) everybody understands that pro paintball is about more than simply collecting the best players and putting them on the field. There are lots of ex-pro players and the list of former teams continues to grow. VFTD, in one form or another, began talking about this topic in the summer of 2004, not because I foresaw the economic situation we're in today, but because the then status quo wasn't stable for a lot of reasons. The game grew, formats changed and the demands of competition required a more professional and complex organizational structure to support the top teams. The industry supported it. Today the industry no longer supports it. No longer can.
I had a conversation this past weekend about pro and semi-pro team expectations for 2010. Who would be competing? We came up with 7 likely pro teams and 3 intent on being pro teams. (I came up with 6 and 4 but we were talking about the same teams.) The merger has taken one of them off the table. We also talked thru the ranks of the NPPL pro teams with respect to their ability to compete in the upper levels of the format-formerly-known-as-xball. It was not a purely hypothetical conversation. At least I don't expect it to have been as I do expect some numbers of NPPL teams to make the transition. A couple have or intend to and others have players that have played both. Some others simply won't be around when event registration closes for the first event. Many of those who will be around will be, to one degree or another, making the "old school" effort to pay much of their own way. Without financial backing and/or comprehensive sponsorship there will be many prices to pay for teams determined to make a go of it. One of the prices is competitiveness. In the current pro game it is very difficult to compete on the field if you can't compete off the field. No matter what else happens in the near term there is almost surely going to be a general decline in the playing standard top to bottom. Not immediately perhaps but inevitably. In a closed league there end up being the haves and the have nots but despite internet chatter about who sucks etc. the pro division has been consistently competitive with very few exceptions. At least for a time the transition, even if successful, will see a decline in the standard of play.
Overall the current trend is decline but it is also the residue of the past, not necessarily a predictor of the future. In the Big Picture it's a race to see if both the league and the teams can re-make themselves before it's too late. The PSP has taken, and continues to take steps in what I think is generally the right direction. There is a plan and a goal. (And, no, I won't elaborate 'cus it isn't my place--like that ever stopped me before--so let's just say I'm broadly in agreement. And if you're familiar with my views on what major league paintball ought to look like it may give you some idea.) The teams however are behind the curve and have been for some time. For whatever reason too many established teams didn't seem to believe the worst could happen to them and now it is. Teams dependent on the industry will not survive. For the teams it's a race to reconstruct a foundation sufficiently independent of the industry to withstand the shifting sands of circumstance. Even the factory teams aren't secure. The future belongs to new ideas.
Next time: What will the successful team of the future look like?