Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Crazy is probably a little harsh, John.

But you could be doing decreasing concentric circles around the deep end of the pond that is Paintball. Of course I'm not a doctor and I didn't spend last night at a Holiday Inn Express so it's just an opinion and not a diagnosis. As for the rest of you lot--If you missed it I'm referring to John Amodea's editorial in the August issue of X3. (The link is the title.) He closed his editorial by asking his readers if he was crazy and I thought why bother with the traditional letter to the editor when I could as easily respond here at VFTD.
The premise is that major leagues (and much of the rest) of competitive paintball is in decline from its peak years in the middle of the last decade. So far so good. I think we can all agree that actual numbers of participants is down and the numbers are significant. Beyond stating the obvious and giving a nod to the bad economy--this is where things go off the track--the following paragraphs attempt to make the case for why using some dubious assertions and some outlandishly inaccurate variations of the conventional wisdom. For example, fields are shrinking, as are the bunkers and guns are going faster than ever. The last time a tourney field shrank it was by five feet and as a result of Dye buying the wrong sized carpets for the PSP's LA event in 2006. As for bunkers tall cakes and regular cakes are bigger and more playable than the blocks they replace and I don't recall carrots and wingnuts being particularly large or comfy props back in the day either. And none of those claims post date the high water marks for tourney ball anyway. So if they are contributing factors now why weren't they during tourney ball's peak?
Beyond the suspect claims the principle point seems to be that most players can't play at the highest levels. Another revelation. Of course they can't--and they never have. If he really means the majority can't compete at the national level in any division that's just plain silly. They can and they do. Offered in conclusion is the easy peasey solution of lengthening the field and making sure there's a big Home bunker for the old, fat (slow) guy. Why, do that and we're halfway home to the good old days.
Okay, maybe I am being (overly) harsh and it isn't (quite) that bad but it does seem to me that the whole editorial amounts to little more than nostalgia and a retrograde conception of what the game ought to be. It does, however, lead to an interesting dichotomy worth exploring and does lay a (creaky) foundation for asking some important questions because--despite any real editorial clarity it is observably true that the competitive demographic has skewed younger. And at least with Race 2 the game is more physically demanding. But it's also true that there are hundreds, if not thousands of registered competitors no longer competing at the national level for reasons other than the physical demands of the format.
From a practical perspective the real issue is how to sustain major league competitive paintball when the old model of tournament operation is on the verge of failing. Answering that question is far more important than worrying about who is playing and who isn't. Neither league made money during their peak years.
In addition, the fact is there's plenty of alternative tournament and competition paintball options available for much less than national level play costs and none of them show any signs of replacing the current standards. The potential exists more so today to play virtually any kind of paintball you want than ever before.
Beyond the practical the answers to the following will set the path for the future: Is the game's competitive future to be found in its past or is the answer to keep moving forward? Is the movement towards being a sport unsustainable? Is the transition into a sport necessarily going to remake the game as it's played competitively and narrow, at least for a time, the number of devoted players?


Anonymous said...

Industry, players, bloggers and field owners are all guessing why PB player numbers are in decline. Any other industry would have studied, interviewed the masses and figured out what is the core problem.

I know dozens of people who quit supair, because it was pussywhipped. From 18+ bps, extreme adrenaline sport where pain was name of the game, into a low ROF game. Edge was gone. It lost its appeal to the extreme sport crowd.

What is the truth anyway? Why did it decline? Has anyone done basic groundwork about the matter?

Missy Q said...

As far as I am aware, most of the problems in paintball can be laid at the door of Smart Parts.
I know, it's a crazy whacked-out statement, but about $10 million in industry profit migrated into the pockets of various lawyers due to the antics of those guys, and I really do believe that had said money been invested into better products, and used to drive companies forward, we would have a different landscape today.
Fxxk those guys.

Oh, and if there is anything left over, that can't be blamed on Smart Parts, I am pretty sure Jerry Braun was responsible for it.

And to think all these guys will likely end up in the Paintball 'Hall of Fame'... I may open a Paintball 'Hall of Infamy', and give people rotten eggs & over-ripe fruit on the way in (included with a modest entry fee), so that they have something to throw at the axis of evil. I do need suggestions though. So far I only have Keith Idema, Jeremy Salm, JerryB, B&A,and the fat guys from Trade my Gun....

Too much?

Mark790.06 said...

As I've stated in the past:
The youth movement hurt some as kids grow up, go to college, or smoke too much weed.
The adults who organize things get burned out dealing with burn outs.
Without adult organization kids cannot go from: home to practice, home to airport, airport to field, field to hotel, field to paint truck etc. etc.
The game, as it is, and even was, gives no indication on how to do things right, which was really part of the fun. But unfortunately that also means there's no (easy) indication on how to recognize what you're doing wrong. Other than blaming refs and/or Lane/Tim/PSP/rule books etc. There is a right way to make the throw to first base, but what is the right way to play a D wire?
Lastly, but newly, paintball for the most part runs on.........plastic, as in credit cards and with the lovely new consumer protections recently enacted everyone will now pay higher percentages than they ever had before, so 2011 will make 2010 look like 2005. :-)



Joe R said...

I think I'm crazy, but I like to take the overly simplistic view:

My perception is that even traditional sports don't have a place for people to seriously compete once they hit the post-collegiate age group, except for the professional league(s). So, when participants hit 25, life hits, and most stop playing national events and go to regional tournaments, or even just recreational pickup speedball games.

People now don't have as much free money as they did five years ago. So those D4 5-Man teams that flocked to Florida for World Cup by the hundreds don't have the money to do that casually anymore, and they stay home.

The combination of these two, I think, accounts for the loss of most of our current players. Whether or not we're not replacing those players we're losing is also up for debate, and that's where (I'm sure) Chris will chime in with the attrition of new players due to certain factors.

One point that you didn't hit, Baca, that I found to be untrue in John's editorial, was that pro players are getting younger, faster, and smaller. While the faster part is true, and the smaller part may be true (can't confirm nor deny), the age part is certainly not. Data suggests, actually, that the average age of the pro/semi pro/D1 player over the last 7 years is a hair under 24, dropping from about 25. John also makes a comment about 19 year olds and 80% of pro rosters being filled with young players. In fact, the age that 80% of pro rosters is under is not 19, but 27. And, since it will be asked, I have data to back the numbers up.


Missy Q said...

I have been saying this for years. Make National Competition an 18 & over sport.

This way you create the teams at the regional level, and keep business there. There are any number of ways to prepare the kids for the 'big jump' to national competition, and this would be healthy for the local event series.
Then you also have kids training with a goal. The goal is to reach the national level. Once there, you have an older demographic, which should be more lucrative, and as these players are only hitting the field at 18, one would hope that they would have a little staying power, seeing as they worked to get there. Pro teams would have Jr Squads that would train at a local level and compete in those events, and then they woudl 'graduate'.
I see a direct corrolation between the average age and the average spend. We can't ban the kids altogether, but we can make their journy a longer one, and hopefully keep them interested. Right now everything is far too acheivable.

papa chad said...

I'm not saying they do or don't deserve it, but 15 year olds don't get respect, and they took over the game as the adults who had played since forever slowed dipped out. I want to say this was because the game became more physically demanding, less about good times (partying with some buddies then playing ball in the morning), more about winning, and it just wasn't the same game these adults had played while growing up. I don't think this transition into competitiveness was a bad thing, but it was a different thing, a different "game."
Though, finally, these kids who flooded PBNation in 2005 are starting to grow up (I'm one of them), and hopefully will bring that decisiveness, maturity, organization, and hopefully money back into the sport.
and Anonymous, I love what you said about paintball losing the "edge." 15bps was indeed something that instilled pride in the players, who could think of themselves as warriors on a hardcore, painful battlefield, where they bled to play the game they love, not people playing tag. that said, I still definitely like the game today, but it isn't really extreme, as it was.

raehl said...

5 years ago a LOT of team entry fees were paid with manufacturer or field or store credit cards. Now almost none of them are.

Reiner Schafer said...

There are two possible reasons participation in an activity can drop. Either the participants (or potential participants) aren't finding as much value in the activity or the activity has become too expensive (or a combination of the two). The two are actually related to a degree.

For an activity to lose value to its participants, something needs to change. Has tournament paintball changed in the last 10 years? A couple of people mentioned lowering of ROF changing the game to a less extreme experience, but I think if we analyze the time lines, we'll see that participation started to drop before ROF's were dropped. The ROF's were dropped to try to stem the drop. So I don't think that's it.

For an activity to become too expensive, again the activity needs to change to something that costs more money or the income of the participants needs to drop. We know we are in a recession so the average income, especially of the younger players, has more than likely dropped. I don't think any one is going to argue that the recession hasn't had an adverse affect of tournament paintball participation. But again, participation started to drop before the recession hit. So what changed to make the game more expensive for participants?

Pulling back sponsorships could have made the game less affordable (more expensive) for participants, but once again, participation started to drop before most of the sponsorships were pulled (at least at the higher levels). From my communications with other field owners, the support for tourney players at local fields has been on the decline for a quite a while already, probably before drops in participation at tourneys became apparent.

It makes sense that if support and sponsorships at the root level gets cut back, that the overall participation is going to drop. It would take a while (years) for that to be noticed on the national scene.

Reiner Schafer said...

On a personal level, we had quite a few of our refs and regulars at our field (recreational field) branch out and try tournament ball in the last couple of years. Almost all have quit tournament ball again, usually in less than a season. The main reason is almost always, “It’s too expensive”.

At a recent local event, the winning team, made up of local teens and young adults typical of most local speedball teams, shot 44 cases at about $90 each. That’s one event of five in the series. Add weekly practices to that, it all adds up to a lot of bake sales and car washes. Oh right, paintball players don’t do bake sales and car washes. That wouldn’t work anyway as they would need to raise funds every weekend and that would leave no time for practices, besides the fact that they’d never raise enough money that way.

So who can afford to take part? Of the people from our field that branched out into tournament ball the last couple of years, I can think of four that have stuck with it. One is an adult well into his thirties, that I know has a decent paying job and three are older teens who all work part time AND come from families that seem to better off, financially than the average family. It seems getting into tournament ball (and sticking with it) is reserved for the well to do these days. I think those involved in tournament ball should be happy they have more participants than many other expensive sports. I don’t think there are nearly as many participants playing Polo or driving race cars.

Anonymous said...

We're all crazy to believe our national image is worth saving... or rather, lack thereof. The PSP and NPPL are nothing more than the culmination of idiocracy through business. I'm done with it- how about you?

Time to burn the blood- paintball needs new leaders and there is no denying that fact.

The big question is who's ready to join up?

Anonymous said...

You're talking about a sport that costs, on average, $40 - $60 per day to play and your target (competitive players) are guys that want to practice 20-40 times per year. That's not including equipment or any event entries/paint/travel. It's just not sustainable without subsidy, a good job, or parents with the later providing the former.

5 years ago there was lots of industry sponsorship. Now that that's gone, so are all the players that were relying on it. What's the mystery?

It's going to cost me 2-3 times as much to go play WC than it did in '06. Practice is more expensive than ever. I think we're just on the back side of the supply/demand curve.