Before offering some practical suggestions I think it's also important to make the conceptual distinction between competitive paintball and tournament paintball. Of course both terms represent a form of competition but competition is also an aspect of all paintball. Today, wherever you are, the default definition of tournament paintball is related to the xball brand of competitive paintball. And if that is what potential and beginning tourney players think tournament paintball is they (and we) are limiting their options and reducing the number who will try it out. What I mean is the PSP needs to undo everything it's done in the last couple of years with the affiliates and universal classification. (Bet that got your attention.) No, that's not what I mean but I do think one option is to offer tourney play at the local level that isn't the first few steps up the national and international competition ladder. Alternatively (or in combination with) local and regional competitive paintball needs to lower the bar to participation.For example our local practice field also hosts a PSP affiliate series with the bulk of participating teams being D3, 4 & 5. And what do those teams do to get ready for their next regional event? They spend their weekends scrimmaging each other full points and burn through paint at tournament rates. It hardly matters if the events themselves are reasonably priced if teams can't afford to practice. And they are preparing to compete this way because that's what we taught them to do. If that is the minimum requirement to compete in D4 is it any wonder we're losing teams?
Let's review: At present competitive paintball is too expensive for its target demographic and simultaneously (and unnecessarily) restricts the opportunities of a significant number of the most dedicated players.What to do? We broaden the definition of tournament paintball in order to legitimize a wider variety of tournament options. (Sure, this already happens as a practical matter but only in a piecemeal haphazard way.) Lower costs for competitive paintball. Lower the bar to tournament play with alternatives to competitive paintball. Slow down the "career" track and also offer options that don't involve a "career" track. Reconnect with the disenfranchised players.
(Sorry. No easy button involved. And if you're still uncertain I am not throwing the PSP or anybody else for that matter under the bus. The further sport paintball moves from generic paintball the more intermediary steps it needs along the way to provide a conduit of future players.)
Ok, back to what to do. How to lower costs? Shoot less paint. Which can be accomplished a few ways. I do not favor limited paint or drastically lower ROF--at least not at the national sport paintball level of competition. Do not release the field layout prior to the event. (It's deja vu all over again. Yes, I've suggested this before.) Without the layout there's little point in shooting truckloads of paint weekend after weekend. Teams will have to adapt. Find new ways to train and not be forced by the system to try and keep up with the next team by shooting extreme amounts of practice paint. Teams could literally save thousands of dollars. The rest of my suggestions relate primarily to the local & regional tourney scene. Lower the bar to tournament play. Something that is already happening in places. We need to see more generic 3-man and 5-man paintball events. And keep those players out of the UCP (Universal Classification Program) of APPA [or on an alternate local track] until they begin playing the bottom rung affiliate league events. We need some reseeding stand alone Open events. And for the time being we need to trim the number of total events down.
The specifics aren't important. Different areas will likely require different choices but the baseline goals need to be the same. Entry level tourney play that doesn't require the dedication, commitment and expense of competitive paintball as a gateway opportunity. Keep it simple with 3-man and/or 5-man. No pre-release of the layout. Strictly limit who can play. (I'd be sorely tempted to disallow anyone with an existing APPA i.d. but there's probably some room for consideration there.) Simplify divisions. Want to limit ROF? Give it a try. Or limited paint? Sure. The goal is a low pressure tourney environment a step or two above walk-on play for the most part. Ranking should be seasonal as long as divisions remain competitive and keep those players off the UCP. Let them track at their own pace as much as and as long as possible. Those that want greater challenges will make the necessary moves on their own.
The idea of open events is aimed at the D2 and D1 ranked players no longer playing because there are lots of them and very few options for them to keep actively involved short of trying to maintain a competitive commitment. Anyone can play an open event and skill level by team doesn't matter because by the final round of play all the teams are seeded against similar skill levels. Say the promoter decides on three divisions of play; A, B & C with prizes tiered as well with A having the best. Every team that signs up has a shot at all three packages. The teams are assigned divisions randomly and Round 1 is played. The reseed puts the most successful teams in bracket A, the mid-pack in B and C for the rest. Round 2 confirms the seedings but also allows some potential movement. Reseed and play Round 3 and there you have it. Round 3 winners receive the prizes for their brackets. It's a good way for lesser teams to get to compete against better ones and at the end of the day still vie for prizes and/or trophies and it doesn't penalize any player regardless of classification status.
There's also no reason not to run these kinds of events along with affiliate league play. What should be avoided is offering or trying to offer too many events over the course of the season. Too many choices dilutes the product and odds are, particularly in the current environment, the majority will end up picking & choosing. Far better to have a few rock solid events in place early so teams can see it's a do-able schedule and plan ahead.
A few words on the UCP. It's worlds better than it was. It's also appropriate for competitive paintball. I still wonder if it's flexible enough but I am not opposed to it or the concept behind it. I just think that in the here and now there is no good reason to push every tournament player onto a one size fits all fast track. Because it doesn't and there's no reason it should. What competitive paintball needs--among other things--isn't a larger pool of rec players but a larger pool of tournament players that have an opportunity to grow and develop at their own pace.
This is hardly a conclusive post but it's a start. There's so much more to all this that hopefully I've made a dent. Regardless, I have no doubt it's a topic that will be revisited again and again.