Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Competitive Paintball as Recreation?

Another detour before returning to the subject of promotions. (Like you didn't know this was gonna happen. I am nothing if consistently inconsistent.)

Between the recent post, 'No Easy Answers' and the comments engendered here's what I'm thinking. The PSP is swell as is their Big Plan for universalizing player classification and creating a horizontal network of related (by format & rules) regional events that uniformly provide a vertical path (or ladder) of competition that culminates in an exclusive pro division. Terrific.
But it may still be too much. Regardless of division this is serious competitive paintball, top to bottom. (Despite dumbing the format down from xball matches to Race 2-whatever.) It's a fast paced, athletically demanding game aimed at a narrow, youthful demographic. Which again, is awesome when you're talkin' hardcore paintball as sport. But it also excludes a lot of paintball players. It may be it really does cater to the One Percenters.
At the other end of the spectrum is the newb and occasional rec player (plus some percentage of your average walk-on/scenario/Big Game types) who don't have any readily recognizable paintball skills. (Oh please, it's true and everybody knows it.) Could be they don't know any better but whatever--they enjoy playing the game the way they play it. It seems to me that leaves a lot of middle ground and includes a majority of paintball players--even pump players--who understand the rudiments of the game and either want to learn more or find more challenges within paintball without going to the tournament extreme. After all, wasn't that part of the point with the introduction of speedball?

Which is one reason why I'm all in favor of the (attempted) resurgence of woods-based tourney ball along with the crossover type events like the UWL or the SPPL. But even with those additions (alternatives?) there's still a big gap between that sorta paintball and what happens in the PSP (or the NPPL for that matter.) A few months ago I tossed out the idea of a mechanical marker tournament event in order to bring the competitive game closer to the typical paintballer. (And there's no reason it couldn't work and be a lot of fun except perhaps that nobody wants to do it that way anymore--although if they gave it a try I think it would change a lot of minds. Be that as it may--) The CFOA is experimenting with 3-man and pump only events are making a comeback. What all of these have in common is a tournament organization and a presumption of rudimentary paintball skills.

But what about the players who don't want to make the move into organized tourney play but want something more from their paintball experience than the same game they got the first time they played? There is a broad diversity of ways to play competitive paintball and I don't see why it should be the exclusive property of tournament competition. For example, not everybody who enjoys playing basketball plays with the same level of skill, natural ability or desire to be the best. But you don't have to be working for a college scholarship to want to play a more demanding version of the game than the one you play in your neighbor's driveway. And it seems to me that there is a largely untapped opportunity to provide competitive style paintball in a more relaxed, less organized way as an option of play at the local level. Every second Saturday might feature an informal 3-man "event" on the speedball field. (Or alternate months using a woodsball field.) No entry, no prizes, regular field refs, restrict as desired and let the players play. Just for fun. Sure, maybe it's a little extra work but not much beyond taking the time and making the effort to promote it to everyone who comes through the doors. (Yes, I know, there are fields that do stuff like this, just not enough.)

And of course there is one thing missing. I'll be covering that in the next post, Paintballl 101.


anonachris said...

Yes I think it can work, but you're talking to the wrong people here.

Remember back to your first tournament if you got started back in the day. If you were like me, at least, you were not "plugged in" to the tournament world. You might have picked up APG or whatever and been away for the All Americans or Aftershock, but for the most part what happened in the tournament world didn't concern you.

So when you heard about that 3 man event at the local field, you got your buddies together to go play and got stomped on, but still had fun anyway. Those kind of guys are the ones I think who would be down for it. A certain percentage of the current "tournament lifers" would be happy to play a for-fun league, sure, but most lifers dream of glory even if they never will get it.

The hard thing with the fun league is making contact with the guys whose very place in the market is pretty much unreachable -- they don't go online and live in the virtual paintball world, they aren't plugged into the scene. They just show up at the field every now and then and play a lot of outlaw ball.

The best way to generate some grass roots efforts among this crowd I think is to follow the paint. A regional/state tournament league should try to get it's events promoted with flyers inside of paint boxes, whether those boxes end up inside of fields, proshops, online stores, or walmart.

Kevin said...

Baca -

I think this might be my favorite post on VFTD. You essentially nailed my situation and thoughts on tourney paintball. I'm in my early thirties, and stopped playing "competitive" paintball a decade ago. I routinely play ~2 times per month as my work and travel schedule allow. I've toyed with the idea of trying to play for a team, but I know that "life" will get in the way and I won't be able to make the mandatory practices. Where does this leave me? Playing rec ball... (about half X-ball lite, half pump play). Of course, I would love to have another option available in between full commitment to a team and playing with my pump gun and a church group.

Back in the '90s, I seem to remember there being a huge number of local fields that would hold tournaments 3-4 times a year. The attendance would be 10-20 teams, with many being composed of walk-on players that like playing together. Sure it was competitive, but no one screamed at the refs or their teammates if they lost a game.

That's why I've enjoyed playing the the local (Tampa, FL) pump events. Everyone is playing to win, but more importantly, everyone is there to have a good time. There have been a few low-key events (1v1, 2v2) that I've played in, but would love to see more of these local events pop up on the radar.

Mark790.06 said...

"If you were like me, at least, you were not "plugged in" to the tournament world."

I think he's referring to the lazy slackers who run paintball fields to promote it to their recreational players, and to hold the event on the same day each month, come hell or high water, and hope word of mouth does the rest. Just how it was in the olden days.

Baca Loco said...

It appears I've done a poor job of explaining myself. My target zone for this post is playing a competitive style of paintball purely for fun whether it be organized like a tournament or not. It's the opportunity to play a more comeptitive style, demanding brand of ball without bringing along all the things that put a lot of players off "serious" tourney play.

I think you'll see in the follow-up I'm trying to suggest something evener broader and more accommodating but I appreciate the comments. Thanks for posting.

Ballpark but maybe even less organized. Just a recurring option that is regularly scheduled so it's easier for the occasional player to keep track of and maybe allows a local field, over time, to start drawing regular groups of players with differing interests.

Missy Q said...

Is this out of interest, or is your continued research in this area have anything to do with the 'you know what', that 'you know who' is organising.
Can't help but ask....

sdawg said...

Baca, you finally wrote the post for me. How do I get my local rec field to start doing this?

Reiner Schafer said...

Isn't this what's happening at all the "open speedball practices" that happen at fields all over the place (at least in these parts)? Basically "pick-up" competitive paintball?

It seems in the past that these types of players (those who were not serious about competitive paintball) were looked down upon. Are you suggesting the slackers should now be embraced?

houdini said...

"It's the opportunity to play a more competitive style, demanding brand of ball without bringing along all the things that put a lot of players off "serious" tourney play."

So what puts these players off?

#1 Being organised and half committed? In other words being lazy and non committed is their preferred option

#2 Not having their friends along for the ride. Let's face it PB is a team sport and most will drop out once their friends lose interest...

#3 The new PB generation. No 30yr old player wants to be trashed talked and smashed by some smart arse 14 year old.

#4 Having to actually play as a part of a team? Some people just hate following orders and simply want to shoot paint!!!

Getting people to play tournament style paintball on a social level shouldn't be a problem if paintball parks market these sorts of days properly...

J-Bird said...

Reiner, im my experience, "open practice" are NOT a place for recreational speedball players. Most practices can still be pretty intense and there is still a large gap in skill sets. Plus, (at least the practices i've been to) there is somewhat of business feeling to them and they dominated by the TEAMS that are at the field. If a player is teamless they are either subjected to trying to find a pickup game against one of these teams, or not playing but a few times and being totally rejected. Team practice is NOT a place for a recreational player, unless they are "with" a team, or feel very comfortable with themselves as a player.

I'm currently looking for something like this for me and my girlfriend. She loves the sport, but is getting bored of being on the sidelines and wants to play: but doesnt want the intensity of a practice and hates the woods. But, normal recball would also just bore her as she's used to the faster paced game. So i'm looking into the CFOA 3 man events. We're going to have to pay D5 because i'm ranked D4 and cant play, but i'm afraid even D5 is going to be a little fast for her (she'd fit in great with their d6 div imo).

i think this is a great idea baca, companies could even set up a 3 man "league" of sorts and have different divisions/floors play each other. 3 man is cheap, it's a great introduction into HOW to play the game, and i think anybody can understand it.

Mark790.06 said...


Even less organized? Then we shouldn't even be talking about it here. Far too many organized people come here. ;-)

anonachris said...

hmmm.... now I've never seen the following done... is this what you're thinking?

Recball/walk-on group. The ref divides them up into teams of 5. And they turn around games of the Race 2 variant with the rest looking on (or playing Race 2 on an adjoining field).

After a couple games, teams are re-organized and they do it again.

Most fields do a rotation of games with its walk on players anyway... back to back games in the woods, then over to the trenches, then over to the hyperball, then over to the palettes field, etc. I think adding in a "Race 2" format into the mix where you tell the newbs/regulars

Ref says to the group, "Now we're going go over to these 2 special fields to play like the pros" and that would actually be exciting for a lot of players.

"Gee mister, you mean we're going to play the -same- (gasp) game that the pro players play? Wow!"

A simple brief outline of the rules and they're off. The PSP should come up with a little program and see if it can get fields to implement it. It's a great way of exposing the tournament concept to new comers as a part of their regular field participation.

Do any field owners do this in a structured way instead of just meandering a group of 30 guys over to the airball field and let them at it for a couple games?

Reiner Schafer said...

J-Bird, maybe "Open Practice" isn't the right word for it. But there seem to be days where speedball facilities have open speedball scrimages, with no drills or actual practice going on. I don't go to these, but I remember a local long time tournament player bringing up the subject a year or so ago that there are too many peoiple interested in playing "recreational speedball" only and not enough players wanting to commit to a proper team with proper practices and scheduled tournaments.

That's the way it seems to be around here and the complaint has been from the tournament crowd that it gives players that want their speedball fix, an opportunity to get it, without actually becoming part of an organized team and all the commitments that go with that.

Personally, I think without it, it would be worse yet. At least with the open speedball scrimages there is a pool for organized teams to draw from. Players can be approached and recruited.

Things are probably different around here though as well. What usually happens here is that a player will go from playing recreationa (woodsball) paintball to open speedball because they want to play in a more competitive environment where paintballs are a lot cheaper (less than half the price) than at recreational paintball fields. The lure of cheap paintballs (and cheap or non-existant field fees) is a big part of what attracts them to the speedball events. The really ironic part is that most of them go back to the recreatioanl fields after a while (or quit paintball completely) because it's "too expensive" to play speedball. Once an elemement of competition is involved (even if it's just scrimmaging), the desire to shoot high volumes of paintballs to get competitive edge takes over and players feel the need to shoot 1 or 2 cases of paintballs per day. Now the savings over shooting 500 to 1,000 balls at the recreational fields has evaporated. Couple that with the stronger personalities, hotter heads and general change in atmosphere that goes along with more competitive paintball played with high volumes of paintballs, the demographic that actually can and wants to take part, becomes quite small.

Now in other parts of the world where paintball prices are the same (cheap) at recreational fields as well, things may be quite different. Then the only thing that changes is the format of the games (length of games, types of fields, number of players on the field). What Baca seems to be proposing, and I'm sure he will correct me if I'm wrong :), is a change of format for these recreatioanl players. But is a change of format to a more competitive atmosphere and all the stuff that goes with it, what most are looking for when they are playing recreationa (leisure) paintball? I doubt it. But there is no harm is trying.

Mark790.06 said...


I rest my case. :-D

Reiner Schafer said...

Mark790.06, what you are proposing would help spur interest in competitive paintball, I'm sure if that is the intention of the fieldowner/manager. The feeling that I get is that there are more and more fieldowners out there wanting less and less to do with the tournament crowd (sorry but it's true). For a recreational field to do what you propose would mean that they are in part promoting tourmnament play (obvioulsy). That is fine for fields that offering both formats. But as more fields are moving away from tournament formats, the plan gets diluted. It will still help at those fields that want to "turn" recreational players into competitive players. For those recreational fields that do not offer both formats, it would just be promoting something they do not have any interest in offering and therefore potentially losing a customer. It's why our field got away from the idea of building an airball field completely. Why promote something that we are not interested in having around? Since there are more and more field owners looking to keep that "element" away, that may be the next obstacle for competitive speedball organizers to overcome (actually getting field owners to offer speedball).

Kevin said...

Baca -

Ahh, I see your position more clearly now. This (being able to play competitive paintball outside a "team" setting) is also something that would interest me as well. However, as J-Bird mentions, it depends on who is defining competitive. For my level of play, D4 is competitive. I have no delusions that I could play for a D1 team. Yes, I want to get better and become a more complete player, but paintball is my hobby. It's how I relax. The one thing that I don't want to feel when I play paintball is pressure. I enjoy competing and want to win, but I certainly don't lose any sleep if I have a bad day.

That said - here's my issue with pick-up, "competitive" paintball. There's a field that I go to that has a good mix of folks that show up to play X-ball on the weekend. I can generally divide them into three groups. 1) The team players and show up together and want to play together 2) 14 year old kids that are convinced that if they just had an Ego/Geo/DM/Droid/etc, then they would be awesome 3) people that show up in groups of 1-4 and want to play some paintball. Again, I completely agree with J-Bird that the skill level varies greatly within these groups. However, the problem arises when it's time to split up the teams. Group 1 - the team guys - want to play together. The kids in Group 2 want to play with group 1 because they're afraid of Group 1 and don't want to lose. So teams typically end up Groups 1 and 2 vs. 3. Now, I don't mind playing against someone better than myself and losing, but what gets frustrating is playing when everyone knows that the teams are clearly biased.

In order for this system to work, their needs to be someone at the field that can "run the show". Many field owners put this in the hands of a 15 year old kid, or a guy that plays on the local team. It's my opinion that both of these people can be readily manipulated by the players. Both want to make their friends happy. However, having a coach or someone of authority (without bias) in charge to make sure things run smoothly, teams are generally even, and even offer advice and suggestions would go a very long way to making pick-up, competitive paintball an enjoyable activity.

Ok - I'm done now.

Baca Loco said...

Okay, there's a lot to respond to here. I'll see what I can do.

No. What little I know doesn't seem to apply to this idea.

Have you got friends who play who might be interested in the same thing? If so you might be able to show them it's worth considering.

J-Bird is correct in my experience. I see this as more like almost anybody with a league ID or a player ranking isn't welcome--or perhaps only with a "handicap"; restricted to using a field gun or a very limited amount of paint.

Depends on who is playing 'open speedball.' If it isn't accessible to regular recreational players it's not what I'm looking for here. Sure, some players will jump in regardless but that's always been true and still divides rec from tourney.

You're unnecessarily assuming all the things you don't like about tourney paintball automatically attach to the word "competitive" as if there are no competitive woodsball or rec players.

Nobody ever said it was gonna be easy.

The time and cost committment. Perhaps the intensity level. What difference does it make?
Let me go back to my basketball illustration again. Where I live there are large indoor parks & recreation facilities frequently used for playing basketball. Anybody can play anytime but most of the time the players self-select. Local high school and college players (and a few former organized team players) run the full court. On the side half courts there are games being played as well. Mixed gender teams sometimes. Others by age group. Some are friends. And on Tuesday nights they run a leagues based on skill and/or age groups. Everybody is playing basketball and they are playing it in a way that suits them.
I don't see why paintball can't be the same. We make assumptions about players and then try to cram them into their box all the while wringing ourt hands and wondering why we can't all get along.

Now you're in the ballpark

That's fairly common, I'd say, and reflects a thoughtless or just plain lazy field operator. I'd go further with larger fields and keep 'real' tourney players away from rec players altogether unless (or until) there are transitional players who want to test themselves that way.

J-Bird said...

i *think* what baca is talking about is a form of "streetball" that became popular on the west coast a few years back (never really caught on on the east cost i dont think). Pretty much it's a pick up day where you play recball with the local tourney baller scene. Right now it seems like a few pro teams use this time as a way to get to know the local ballers and give back to them by playing on a regular basis with them.

Vicious runs a pretty popular one every season (i think this is their second or third season doing it?) and here's how they run it: players sign up and register for the streetball event. Vicious players are selected to be "team captains" and from the pool of local players they create as many teams as they can and play a mini-tourney with the created teams.

To make teams fair they divide players into different teams based on the appa ranking, and using a lottery system so that no teams consists of 4 d1 players and the vicious player. Id imagine a team usually would consist of the vicious player (pro), 1 d1 or d2 player, 1-2 d3 players and the rest being filled out by d4/5 (the majority of players).

The obvious question i can see is "how do you make sure the upper level guys arent running down the field?" My response: "it would take quite a douche bag to want to ruin everybody's day."

For baca's version though, i can see this being "rebranded" for more new players and players who dont want the intensity of having to "play with pro's" (some might be timid at that thought) could do this by limiting the paint on field at one time and setting the bps cap at 10. On the flip side: it could work great if you let the pro players run the event for the new guys and just restrict the pro players to pump or mech guns. I think that would be seen as a good compromise for a player who is shy. -- vicious streetball info.

The reason i think this caught on on the west coast is because of the lack of "scenario fields." When compared to the SE and NE, there are only a hand full of scenario fields, so it's much more likely that a players first experience was on a speedball course, rather than in the woods. Because of this, i doubt you find as many players shying away from speedball, or atleast, are willing to play it every few weeks, just for the fun of it. Streetball came to be because there was a need for low-stress, for fun speedball game that allowed both intense team players, as well as casual players have fun together. -- atleast, that's my theory, and i *think* that's what baca is getting after.

houdini said...


Being a 30 year basketball veteran I was going to compare the basketball pick up game as you have done but thinking hard about it you can't - sure you can hang out at your local courts for a pick up game and pick and choose who you want to play with... and after a while certain nights or courts get a regular group playing... but the difference is that basketball is free while paintball is not... also there's a local basketball court every few miles while the local pb field could be an hour ++ away...

The key to successfully pulling off this sort of thing at local fields is creating a friendly field community, communicating to players about these days (If they're offline text them all - everyone should have a mobile phone?) and having people willing to step up to help spread the word and organise... and you can't rely on current speedball teams - you have to pull people from the target market of wanna-play-speedball-but-cannot-commit-to-being-serious group...

Reiner Schafer said...

Houdini, I totally agree. Paintball is much more inconvenient to play and the cost factor is huge.

Organized sports that involve a time commitment are almost all down. It's a cultural change. People, especially young people, are having a tough time tearing themselves away from their computers for any length of time. It could very well be that the reason competitive paintball participation has decreased is merely the same reason the participation in virtually every other organized activity has decreased. The world is changing. People aren't the same as they were in the 1960's, or even the 1980's. And it's changing at a faster pace all the time.