Saturday, October 30, 2010

Discretion has another name

And it's not Oscar Meyer.

I watched some opening night hoops the other day as the NBA season got underway. My interest didn't last very long. Just long enough to see that what passes for basketball in the NBA remains, sadly, an ugly, boring game to watch. That and the league in its definitely finite wisdom has seen fit to crack down on player expressions of frustration with the officiating by making any word or gesture that could be construed as an expression of frustration an offense punishable with a technical foul call. In the few minutes I watched there were 5 technical foul calls.
This was noteworthy on a couple of counts. As the latest move in the ongoing effort to spruce up the league's image and as exactly the wrong thing to do in the longer run because all it effectively does is add another dimension of discretion. Not too many years ago the NBA managed to (mostly) sweep under the rug a gambling scandal that saw one referee sent to prison along with the unproven allegations that others were also involved. This struck at the core of the league's legitimacy because if the officiating isn't fair and impartial the game stops being sport and morphs into spectacle or entertainment only. In response the league has largely tried to pretend there never was a problem and never will be. Which is probably the point of the new rule. Whatever residual lack of trust the public may have (or not have) in the officials is reinforced (or undermined) by public displays from the players. The practical result will be lots of silly technical foul calls for a few weeks which will slowly peter out until the calls are only made occasionally. This will happen because all those calls are annoying, break the flow of the game and continue to draw attention to the fact players sometimes think the refs missed a call (or three or ten.) The goal isn't to make the call, it's to reduce the incidence of player expressions. Eventually the technical fouls will be called purely at the ref's discretion (despite how the rule may read.)

I know what your thinking; when did VFTD drop paintball and switch to basketball? Have no fear, that ain't ever going to happen. It's just that the situation reminded me of a paintball counterpart and I thought it might help me make my point if I did it with an indirect example. Even though it's the 'Off Season' there's never a good time to talk about officiating or the referees it seems. (This is where your intrepid blogger--that would be me--throws caution to the wind and carries on regardless.)

Despite the league's intentions and efforts in recent seasons to standardize top to bottom there remain a few idiosyncrasies in the pro division when it comes to rules. The one I have in mind is the no talking, no gesturing rule. (Has a light gone on yet?) There have been rules against communicating after you're eliminated forever. That's not what I'm talking about--an neither is the rule in question. The rule addresses what was once a grey area. Sure, you can't communicate anything about the ongoing game after you're eliminated (and there's even an exception to that) but that never really considered things like questioning the call, expressions of frustrations or cursing under your breath as you walk off the field, etc. The league decided there was too much player expression going on after elimination so they made it an infraction punishable as a minor. Since the real purpose was to minimize the incidence of player outbursts enforcement was near universal initially and has since trickled down to referee's discretion.

Discretion sounds neutral. Even reasoned. Thoughtful perhaps. But it has synonyms, at least in a sports context. What do you call referee's discretion when the penalty is called one time in three infractions? Or twice as often against one team as another? Let's say you are a member of team A. If only members of your team are penalized for violating the no talking, no gesturing rule despite obvious infractions from the other team is that purely the referee's discretion? Or that some players don't get called for the same violations that others do? Are you likely to describe those calls as something other than discretion? Favoritism? Bias?

Part of the problem is the point of the rule was intended to control player behavior--not call every infraction despite how the rule reads--but when the officials don't call every infraction they are using discretion which may or may not be honestly intended but cannot be other than bias or favoritism in action. See how that works? (Or doesn't?)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Formula One & Major League Paintball

This is gonna make perfect sense. No, really. It will. What do major league paintball and Formula One racing have in common? (The answer is not untold millions of dollars or enormous contracts for the leading figures. And it's not a chance to travel the world to compete though I will grant you a fortunate few can make the claim. Still, there remains a big difference from living the high life in Monte Carlo and driving a Monte Carlo.)

In football every game ball is as identical as the official manufacturer can manage to make them. In baseball every ball is, again, identical and produced by one manufacturer. Basketball, yeah, you guessed it. Identical. In most legit sports a conspicuous effort is made to assure that the equipment used doesn't confer any advantage to the competitors--particularly where a diversity of suppliers is allowed. Like golf or auto racing. But even where the technical rulebook looks like the Chicago white pages and a platoon of inspectors will practically tear apart the winning car to assure rules compliance the equipment varies. Perhaps most noticeably in Formula One where the latest engine management wizardry or chassis magic gives one team or another an obvious advantage that may last a season or more. Don't take my word for it though. Try this stat out. Of the 51 Constructor's championships awarded (since 1958) the same team also shared the Driver's title 40 times. Superior cars make good drivers better. Much better. This, of course, doesn't mean that great drivers can't succeed, only that it's an uphill battle when the competitive environment isn't equal.

At this point you're beginning to think you know what's coming next. You don't. (Unless you remember when I promoted this idea some many moons ago.) Sure, I could focus on the negatives--and have--just not this time.

The thing that makes the upper echelon of racing different is that the competition functions at a number of levels. It isn't exclusively about the drivers. Largely by necessity, as much of the money and motivation comes from the competition between various manufacturers (brands, chassis, motors, tires, etc.) vying for the right to claim they are the best, too. (Although it is somewhat ironic that F1 finally decided to go with a single tire manufacturer just a few years ago.) Given that competitive paintball finds itself in a similar circumstance--one unlikely to change anytime soon--it's time to make the best of it and improve the game at the same time. (When first suggested I want to say it was the then Pure Promotions version of the NPPL that briefly attempted to make it work but soon lost interest. My original column for PGi is in the Dead Tree Archive, somewhere, but I'm not sure which one it is. Yes, I looked but I couldn't find it. On the other hand I did enjoy revisiting some damn fine columns. Man, I used to be good.)

What the major leagues need to do is follow Formula One's lead. Expand the competition. Incorporate necessity and make it pay dividends. Increase the value of sponsorship. Take control. Encourage sponsorship diversity. Differentiate between competitors and vendors. Formalize the manufacturers pre-existing competition(s) by awarding event points and crowning season-ending series titles for manufacturers with the imprimatur of the greatest paintball league(s) in the world. For example, the PSP's 2011 Goggle of the Year. Categories could include guns, goggles, hoppers, packs & paint. Distinguish between Pro & Am.

Fleshing this out a little more the manufacturers competition is separate from vending. Pro teams may not use equipment of non-competing manufacturers. Manufacturers have always used the top tier of the sport to promote their products indirectly--which they can still do by supporting the top teams--but now have the option to also do so directly. Each event the latest numbers will be revealed to see where the manufacturers stand. The advantage to the league is they control the competition the same way they do the tournaments played under their aegis. The manufacturers competition is a value added for the manufacturers. The scoring system can protect & promote sponsorship relations between teams and manufacturers. Now is the ideal time to institute a manufacturers competition because of the influx of new paint producers looking to separate themselves from their comeptition and grab market share. A likely added bonus related to paint is greater consistency in the quality provided event to event. This should have happened a long time ago. It should happen now. Should either major league be interested in greater practical detail you know where to find me.

PS--manufacturer's awards wasn't my idea. I credited the source I got it from in the magazine column--which is why I was looking for it--but don't remember anymore. Anyway, it was a clever Brit and if any of y'all recall (or find the column) he deserves the credit.
UPDATE: It was Steve Bull. The column was "Brave New Paintball World" from 2004 reprinted on the blog in 2008--and found by Kine (who posted in comments.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The (tuesday) Monday Poll in Review

Mea culpa. I confess. I had an ulterior motive in posting last week's (tuesday) Monday Poll. Oh sure, I was (and am) legitimately curious about what y'all think about best means to begin building up paintball's grassroots again, but ...
But I was also interested in how quickly and/or easily an idea turns into the conventional wisdom and how much staying power it has.
In response to the question: What is the best way to sell paintball to the public? The answers were rather predictable and, of course, Reiner was correct in the comments when he suggested the alternative 'All of the Above' as it isn't really an either or situation. I also confess I'm undecided about what the number one answer really means. A full 50% voted 'Take a friend to play.' Is that because it's been a popular (and oft-repeated) rallying cry or is it because it's something any individual baller can do? It's probably popular because it's something anyone can do--unlike, say, get paintball on TV or produce a webcast. But I am very curious as to what the real numbers would look like. Call me cynical but I'd be amazed if 50% of those giving that answer had actually made the effort to follow thru. I also found it fascinating that magazines, internet & videos didn't score as high, collectively, as did social media. As no fan of social media I find that something akin to a sign of the apocalypse and I wonder if there is any real way to collect usable data that would either confirm or deny social media's utility. It's certainly all the rage. Webcasts garnered 9% which is probably unrealistically high although I do think webcast has the potential to get the competition crowd fired up. 15% still believe in the power of TV--and rightly so, I think, although what is really needed is a "Making the Team" kind of reality show not unlike "The Ultimate Fighter" show(s) on Spike which have done a remarkable job expanding the base of interest in MMA. Finally, in an ironic twist only 1% voted video game(s) whereas once upon a time the whole industry and media were overwhelmed with excitement over the potential for the first Greg Hastings offering to be the paintball equivalent of a free crack sample, just a taste, to get new players hooked. Just as the newest version of the game is being released nobody believes it has that power anymore.

Nows the time to offer future poll suggestions as we are headed for the off season and I is tired. Regardless The Monday Poll (s) will return when there's an interesting topic for the majority of you lazy slackers to ignore.

Monday, October 25, 2010

World Cup Sunday

Given the clarity about how the tie-breaking system works I thought I'd go thru the Sunday seeding as well. ('Cus it's kinda unusual.) With six teams moving on to Sunday the top 2 seeds get a bye directly to the semi-finals. This time it was Legion (1) and 'Shock (2); one from each bracket. The rest of the seeds are determined across brackets with the 3 seed facing the 6 seed and 4 versus 5. So far so good. The league puts the 4/5 game under the one seed and the 3/6 game under the two seed. The real question becomes why are the quarterfinal elimination games attached to a one or two seed prior to the games being played? 'Cus they are--which sorta defeats the purpose of seeding the match-ups if the end result doesn't (necessarily) favor the top seed(s). The result is the quarterfinal elimination winner faces the higher seed in their Sunday bracket even if the match-up isn't the one that favors the top seed. This, btw, is nothing new. It's just another league curiosity that demonstrates when it comes to being a sport there remains room for improvement.

As it turned out the Sunday brackets reflected the prelim brackets as there was no cross bracket match-ups until the final. The first game up was Dynasty versus Damage, a rematch of a prelim game that saw Dynasty win 7-1 on Saturday. On Sunday in a series of drawn out long points Dynasty led 4-2 with less than 3 minutes remaining. Both teams conscious of the stakes played some atypical paintball perhaps too concerned about making a crucial error than in taking control of the match. (I hesitate to offer any explanation of how the two games were different given that some of VFTD's readers apparently don't understand the difference between facts and details and excuses but since I'm bold and fearless I'll give it a go anyway.) In the Saturday match there was only one point where both teams were 5-on-5 due to a trifecta of majors called on Damage beginning with the first point. Sunday's match included penalties as well including a late penalty against Dynasty that carried over into the overtime point. In the end Damage was able to close the gap and with the advantage of a 5-on-4 overtime breakout completed the comeback to take the quarterfinal elimination match and earn a second shot at the Russians.
In the second quarterfinal elimination game X-Factor took on Infamous and made a game of it. And despite the failure to make the semis it had to encourage Alex and the X-Factor guys who have been on the cusp of Sundays all season. Both semis ended in identical scores with Shock and the Russians duplicating their prelim results and moving on to the finals.
The pro field also saw a number of other matches played on it during the day including some xball divisional finals and the CXBL Old Skool xball format final. Over the course of the weekend there was a decent crowd both prelim days to watch the pro games and Sunday saw full stands catching all the finals action. On a side topic it seems some of our Eurotrash paintball kin are making a fairly big deal over their (somehow collective?) WC successes and while I don't begrudge anybody a reason to party I am unconvinced there's much there there. If you know what I mean. The issue is the competition. Big ups to DOW Warberg, a D2 Millennium team competing in, wait for it, D2. Now I haven't investigated the rosters involved to try and see who and how many players (or teams) of a Euro persuasion were playing down so let's just focus on TonTons. (And for those teams playing where they belonged--or ballpark--thumbs up to y'all as well.) Is there a U.S. pro team that would make a big deal over winning a D1 title? Seriously? Is it just me or isn't that an acknowledgment of inferiority prima fascia or at least a collective feeling of inferiority? And it's not like the mercs on Millennium rosters are pros from Fiji or South America.
The perhaps least well known title up for grabs on Sunday was the PSP Pro series championship that saw Impact, Damage & the Russians (in that order) vying for a first time distinction. Early NXL seasons played for WC seeding and the Cup was the be all and end all of pro success. When the NXL became PSP Pro that tradition was carried over and despite moves to event titles, etc. the season champ remained the Cup winner. This year the league began treating the pro division as the other divisions in that they kept a point total from event to event that thru the Cup results would also crown a series champion. When Impact got knocked out of Sunday play that left the series title up to the race between the Red Legion & Damage. Given the point spreads going into Cup and the number of teams competing Damage needed to finish third if the Russians won to take the series. Damage beat Infamous in the 3 versus 4 match-up. And it was perhaps the least exciting championship anyone has ever won. As time goes by I hope the players will take some pride in the accomplishment of winning both pro series championships in the same season but right now they don't care. The object of the competition is to win and despite what the trophy says the Russians are the best xball team in the world. (Well earned.) So we'll take the 7-man title and hope to defend it and we'll hopefully continue to grind with the goal of winning xball next year.

Pro Prelims: Day 2

"There's always a surprise or two it seems but nothing jumps out just yet." So suggested my favorite blogger. That was Friday. On Saturday things began jumping. In the morning X-Factor, which dropped both their matches on Friday. won both, including a hard fought one point win over Impact which eventually earned X-Factor an opportunity to play Sunday. And in the last match of the morning session Infamous edged Impact 6-5 which ended up knocking Impact out of a Sunday spot and the race for the series title. The first bracket saw Aftershock, Infamous & X-Factor move on.

In the afternoon session the Ironmen won both their matches, Dynasty and Vicious split (which included a fairly surprising Vicious win over Dynasty) and Damage dropped both their matches resulting in all four teams having 2-2 records. Given that the tie-breakers may seem a little convoluted I'ma try an explain how things worked in this situation to see Dynasty and Damage move on. First the teams were sorted by point differential to assign them positions. Then Dynasty and Ironmen were compared to see if head-to-head was relevant. It wasn't so Dynasty, with the highest point differential moved on. Then Ironmen and Damage were compared and Damage owned the head-to-head and head-to-head, if applicable always supersedes all other tie-breakers. As it turned out Damage held the head-to-head tie-breaker versus Vicious as well meaning the second bracket saw Red Legion, Dynasty & Damage thru to Sunday.

In vendor news it seemed like there were quite a few vendors on site readily accessible without forcing participants into long, winding hikes dragging gear. Dye was up with both Dye and Proto tents loaded with new stuff including tactical gear. And there probably should have been a warning sign to keep open flames away from Dye's VIP tent as the waves of alcohol were visible in the air each time the door opened and shut. Across from Dye was the GI Sportz (Milsim?) set-up which appeared to be half tent, half collapsing WWII Quonset hut. (Cool but odd.) I also spotted Empire and lots of food vendors in a center court sorta area. I'm also sure PE was there as I talked with Jacko briefly on Sunday. Truth is I cringe a little when it comes to vendor and industry chatter because I wouldn't have seen what I did except we had to do a bunch of photos after the awards ceremony. So I didn't leave anyone out on purpose, I just didn't see anything else that registered with me.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pro Prelims: Day 1

Picking up from yesterday's items of interest the pro field did get the blackout sheeting up between the pro field and the CXPL field and I have a (slightly) better idea what all the cameras are all about. Seems some guys paid the PSP event video fee and set-up their cameras with the idea of collecting all the footage of the whole pro event for editing as an experimental production. If they like what they get apparently the notion is to then see about working a deal with the league for the future. This time around however there is little or no sound; it will all be visual.

You want scores go to ProPaintball or direct to APPA. Mostly the expected teams are doing what was expected. There's always a surprise or two it seems but nothing jumps out just yet. As rumored Mike Hinman is working with Dynasty. In our bracket we and the Russians are currently 2-0. We meet in the final prelim match tomorrow at 4 pm. And by the math nobody is out of the running yet regardless of record.

Instead of talking about the pro numbers some more I want to talk about a D1 team, Mayhem. Prior to the event there was a fair amount of whining about the classifications of some of the rostered Mayhem players because of their past team affiliation(s)--along with nebulous complaints or charges (of something nefarious) aimed at the league or the APPA or both. As it turned out Mayhem finished 1-3. I'm not suggesting whatever was "wrong" with the player classifications didn't matter because they didn't win. I'm suggesting a couple other things instead. One, maybe the classifications really reflected appropriate classifications for the players rostered despite past history and Two, we--as a paintball community--wring our hands over all the players the sport is losing yet the second some whiner thinks he may have to compete in order to win he wants to disqualify anyone and everyone who might stand in the way.
A related truth is that pro players do not stay pro players in terms of their skills set unless they continue to play pro or near pro paintball. And while the years don't erode experience or knowledge they take a brutal toll on the actual capacity to compete at a very high level. Another truth is the very guys who comprised much of the Mayhem roster are exactly the guys the game needs to want to stay involved and help develop and transition the next generation of tourney players.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Pro Field

The event layout is much more convenient for the divisional players this year as it's a more open and accessible layout without all the winding ways between, around and thru the vendors like last year. With lots of new stuff and easy access the vendors should see lots of positive foot traffic, checking things out of their own volition this time around. The pro field remains in the back past the vendors so you still have to walk through the vendors area to reach the pro field. (We just park all the way in the back and the PSP gives us a wink and a nod.) The field was still being prepared around 4 pm this afternoon. All the bunkers were in place but the dead boxes, scoreboards, etc. were still in process of being set-up and activated.
There were also a couple of items of interest. Ever notice the first 7 or 8 feet of netting from the ground up is also blacked out? (It's not so's you can't see the action unless you're in the grandstands.) It's because seeing through the netting, particularly if there's another field, is assumed to be a serious distraction. And I guess we're going to find out as the league hasn't blacked out the common wall the pro field shares with the CXPL field. Also, there are remote cameras up on many of the support poles about 6 feet off the ground all around the inside of the pro field. Nobody I spoke with knew what that was all about--or claimed they didn't anyway. (I just tried to call Lane but for some reason his phone went to voice mail and a familiar voice said, "Get the hell off my phone. I have all the aggravation I need already" or something similar. When I find out what that's all about I'll let you know.

It's On!

World Cup is underway. Teams are competing this very minute and will continue (virtually around the clock) until late afternoon on Sunday. The last hurrah for the major league tournament season World Cup is also the world's largest event. We begin play tomorrow afternoon but everyone will be headed over during the day today sometime. To get registered on site. Walk the pro field. Check gear & guns one last time before our competition begins. Meet for a team review to go over (one more time) our basic gameplan and focus in on the job at hand.

I will have my laptop and should have internet access but will have little opportunity to post before the evening at best so don't hold your breath or visit VFTD every ten minutes hoping for the day's post. Sometime after 9 pm EST at the earliest--and if you're lucky.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Media Mire

VFTD has been here and done this before. Even so, it remains a worthwhile subject. But first, the disclaimers. It is not my intention to tar any particular brand, company, media outlet or website. Most everyone involved in the enterprise of paintball is working the highwire without a safety net these days and it's not my intent to make things more difficult. That said, I'm inclined to think that some of those involved aren't doing themselves any favors nor are they doing the players a service.

What would you think if you discovered a magazine that only published photos that represented their advertisers without advertising the fact? Or an informational website that ran news items and industry press releases the same way, often without making any distinctions between the two? Or a site that purported to be general interest for the average paintballer but actually focused on the interests and businesses of partners or advertisers?

I'm not talking morality or ethics here either so remove those concepts from your consideration. I am talking integrity (a wee bit anyway) because the issue is trust. And for those of you who aren't sure why it matters let me explain. In hypothetical #1 a magazine presents itself as a resource of unbiased information about a variety of things paintball, from tournaments & scenarios to the latest new products available. Nobody has a problem with advertising or advertisements but what if all the event photos only feature advertisers guns, gear & sponsored teams? Or if all the product reviews are tied to advertisers? Is that a problem? After all, there's no magazine if there are no advertisers and as a niche market paintball doesn't get a lot of outside advertising. I'm saying it's a problem because it compromises the core of what a magazine is supposed to be, independent. If it isn't independent before long it's just a lot of advertisements stuck together pretending to be what it's not. In the second hypothetical mixing news items with press releases without distinguishing from the two allows the press release to trade on the public perception of the source--but not for long. Ideally, a news item is a set of facts presented in such a way they serve to inform the readers about an event, etc. and accepted on the assumption the facts offered represent the truth. For our gullible friends--that is not what a press release is. A press release is a public notification produced by an interested party. Gunmaker Joe has just finished his latest magic gat and wants everybody to know how awesome it is so they will want to buy one immediately, if not sooner. A press release is Gunmaker Joe extolling the virtues of his new gun in a manner similar to a legit news item. The problem is that at first the potential confusion favors the press release but eventually peeps start to notice and begin to regard the source site as unreliable or intentionally compromised. In the third hypothetical you have something a little different, misrepresentation. Ever run across on online store that draws you in with some enormous tag cloud or claims to be a general interest paintball site when in fact it's just a store? There's lots of misdirection variants but they all trade on confusing you about their purpose and intentions.

These issues and others have always been a part of the paintball media equation. It's not new. What is new is the diversity of media in play these days and the fact that much of it is in amateur hands. That's not necessarily a bad thing but it's a terrific example of how the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I bring stuff like this up now and again because I share a tiny corner of current paintball media and because I'm convinced that a positive and vibrant paintball media is a necessary ingredient to a better paintball future.

Here's a timely example. The Dail-E download hosted by Matty Marshall and brought to you by E(Eclipse)TV. Available for download from any of the family of Eclipse network sites. It will include daily giveaways and they describe it as a kind of re-cap of the day's action and results though at around 3 minutes it can't cover everything. The real question is; will it really cover anything? Don't get me wrong. I like the idea. PE in general has been at the forefront of using new media and the daily download could fill a legit void for a lot of interested ballers around the world. But at the same time don't you have to assume their primary motivation for any of these sorts of projects is to promote their brand and their products? And do you see how projects presented this way overlap with the role of independent media only adding to the general confusion? It's probably smart business. It's just unfortunate there's nobody, including the PSP, doing anything similar.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The (tuesday) Monday Poll

So popular I had to bring it back. Okay, actually I was out yesterday working with some UK teams over for Cup trying to learn the field on fastforward during a short week. I had a good time, they were receptive, did a lot of the right things in terms of their preparation and taking it all in and I'm looking forward to some solid results on their part. But that also meant three days in a row out at the field all day(ish) so by the time I got home, showered and had a meal I wasn't highly motivated to crank out either The Monday Poll or Pre-Cup Grind--though I tried to get Pre-Cup Grind done last night. About halfway thru it I fizzled out. (That's what she said. Yeah, well, age will do that to you, too.)

This week's question is: What is the best way to sell paintball to the public? And by that what I really mean is grow awareness & build interest. How does paintball begin to re-grow the grassroots?

You only get one shot at it this week so make your vote count. Everyone is eligible and you won't end up with a purple fingertip. It's your civic duty as a baller. Vote!

Monday Poll in Review
Didn't really work out. Mostly because I failed to think it through properly and gave y'all some misleading options. As a follow-up to The Monday Poll of a couple of weeks ago what I really wanted from last week's poll was an indication of what sort of paintball you play now if you have temporarily or permanently given up on major league paintball competition. Which, having given it a bit more thought, is an almost impossible poll for VFTD to do--and I botched it anyway by giving a couple of major league tourney options to last week's question: When I play Paintball It's Most Often ...
Well, d'oh!, if I'm trying to find out what sort of paintball y'all play after you quit playing MLP it's just a wee bit stupid to give you MLP answers to choose from in the poll options. The other problem is the usual self-selection problem as this sort of poll can't give us any idea of how many or what percentage of former players called it quits 'cus they's unlikely to be hanging around a blog devoted to tournament paintball.
So I'll try this again sometime and see if I can get it right.

Pre-Cup Grind

Cup starts Thursday. Teams are getting practice sessions in up to the last minute. This past weekend was our last practice(s) prior to the event but we've been working on the layout since September. The Russians arrived last week and spent last Thursday and Friday grinding--as evidenced by the small mountain of crushed, empty paint boxes--beside our field when we arrived Saturday morning. Also in town early were--and still are--Infamous and Impact. Our home field, Central Florida Paintball, in north Lakeland is about twenty minutes from Fantasy of Flight, the World Cup venue. We just found out what the draw is going to be. Infamous and Impact are in the same prelim bracket while the Legion and us are in the other one. On its face how could you beat a weekend's grind of the top 4 teams in the PSP going into Cup? (Mass amnesia works for me but that's not an option.) It sounds great but there some downsides. What I'm looking for is the intensity and competition only available from other pro teams. We want to build confidence within the team and, more importantly, execute against some of the best teams in the world. What I'm looking to avoid is divulging any tendencies or patterns. With the Russians it's a little game we play on a regular basis. (The Legion's staff is so extensive and competent that they capable of turning every scrap of info you give them to their advantage.) For us at this stage it's about the mental game and I learn more about my guys watching their execution these last couple of days than I am concerned about results or tactical maneuvering anyway. All the tactical cleverness doesn't mean anything anyway without effective execution. There's a lot to be said for the we-don't-care-what-you-know-about-us attitude that is focused on executing the game plan so flawlessly and with supreme determination that in essence you are daring your opponent to stop you. At the same time there's no point needlessly helping that opponent in advance.
While we expect the Russians to come to Florida to practice for Cup we also knew going in that they often have some quirky--from our perspective--practice habits. Oftentimes they won't want to go more than 20-25 points a day. As a consequence Joey (our manager) also spoke to Infamous & Impact figuring if either of them wanted to (and were able) to come early we could accommodate the numbers and be sure we got the reps we wanted. When everybody showed up ... well, the downside was suddenly apparent. As was the fact that all of the teams were dinged up a little. Matt Blonski is likely down for the Legion. Marcello and Zack saw limited action for Infamous. For us CJ will end up missing the whole season and Ramzi will miss Cup. Alex is going to play but may need surgery in the off season. On the plus side Keith [Brown--of 'The new black kid on Damage' thread at PBN] showed no signs of being intimidated by some of pro paintball's heavy hitters. (Whether that's youth or foolishness it's what I was looking for.)
Saturday morning began with word we might not see the Russians as they'd used up their paint on Thursday and Friday and a fresh delivery was unlikely before mid-afternoon. Whatever the reason they didn't show up 'til later in the day. The coaches watched the scrimmage and the players did a light warm-up and ran around a bit. The rest of us pounded out points from mid-morning to mid-afternoon in cycles of six. We began facing Infamous for 6 points then switched ends of the field as Impact came on for 6 more points with us. After that cycle Impact stayed on the field, we left and Infamous came back on. Once begun it gave each team 12 points on and 6 points off. And round and round we went. As the day carried on the time between points started to drag a little as the Florida weather took its toll. (Despite the fact it was the nicest Fall-like weekend of the year with a high in the mid-80s.)
Sunday morning the Legion were on site bright & early looking to get started with us first thing. The morning temp in the upper 60s. Unfortunately the paint that had been perfect the day before was exceedingly fragile in the cooler morning air. We tried a couple of points of blowing up paint in our guns but called a halt after that in order to "cook" the paint for a few minutes in the sun. By the time the paint had warmed up Impact & Infamous were on site and getting ready to play. The Russians chose not to play Infamous or Impact instead waiting a turn in the scrimmage rotation to play us. With that completed they were done--some of the guys had talked about getting tickets to go see the Buccaneers play the Saints in Tampa--so we carried on as we had on Saturday though we called it quits earlier on Sunday.
My understanding is that all 3 teams (excluding us) were going to work some extra days during the week as well, today and tomorrow as I recall. I sometimes keep scores in practice but seldom if ever tell the kids the results. Mostly because no good can come of it. Nobody wins at practice. And if you think you did it's a set-up for future failure when the points and matches really matter. And if you think you "lost" but don't know the exact numbers all you're left with is a feeling that you need to work harder--which isn't a bad thing. I know the "scores" from the weekend but I didn't tell my guys and I'm not telling you either. It would be misleading. Starting Friday, for the Pros, is the 2010 World Cup. Whatever happened this last week of preparation everyone will be ready.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

World Cup Winner?

I won't say it's better than a Monday Poll but Cade's PBPick'em gives you an opportunity to display your powers of prognostication--guessing who will win--and the bragging rights that go with it. Don't be a lazy slacker 'cus you've only got until Oct. 21st the get your picks in. So what's keeping you? It's easy. It's free. (Cade does all the work.) What more could you ask for? Don't answer that. Go make your picks.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Sky is Falling

The sky is falling. Woe be unto us. Everything is doom & gloom. Paintball is dying. It isn't what it once was. Paintball had its chance and blew it.

So said Chicken Little. (Okay, just the part about the sky falling but I'm working on a metaphor here.) So say more than a few paintball types these days as well. And yes, a case could be made to claim that VFTD has been as negative as anybody else. But there is a difference. One I'll get to later.

If you've been playing less than 5 years--shut up. If you're not even 20 years old yet--shut up. If you are some angst-ridden emo dork who can't see thru his bangs and is tired of cutting himself--shut up. If all you do is reflexively regurgitate what ten other people tell you to think--shut up.

Did I say I was fed-up with the whiners, naysayers & crybabies?

Yeah, things are different and (seemingly) not for the better if all your doing is counting numbers. They are also different from how they were twenty-five years ago yet I'd be willing to bet most of you would prefer today's game over the antique game. Hell, many of you don't have a clue what the game was like twenty-five years ago. So we're on the farside of competitive paintball's heyday--paintball's first heyday. But I'm reasonably certain there is no cosmic law of the universe that says paintball gets one chance and one chance only to go mainstream. And even if that were true, so what? Most everyone playing the game plays the game because they enjoy it. They aren't looking for the big score, the mega-million dollar mainstream or dreaming of being on Sportscenter. National level tournament play has declined but the biggest World Cups happened before the xball era. The move from 10-man to xball reduced participation but I don't recall anyway proclaiming then that the end was near. And the xball team turnout this year is the third largest ever. Fewer teams played WC in 1999 than will play Cup next week. Was national level tourney play supposed to grow and grow and grow? Forever getting bigger and bigger? The tourney format never could sustain unlimited growth. Things are different. Some high profile teams are gone. As are chunks of the PBIndustry. If you look at the history of the game the aberration was the huge growth in the early part of the last decade.

The sky isn't falling. The world of competitive paintball is changing. Has changed. Some of the changes were intentional and others weren't. What comes next is opportunity. Yes, it remains difficult in many portions of the industry and there are no guarantees things will improve for everyone or that everyone still in the game in whatever capacity will still be in it day after tomorrow. That's life. For those who wanted a change in the Old Guard there's a better chance of that happening tomorrow than there ever was yesterday. For those who want greater diversity within the game that was never going to happen when the status quo was such an all-encompassing success. Today's turmoil is the breeding ground for tomorrow's solutions. It isn't the end of the (paintball) world. It's still just the beginning.

VFTD has, over the years, attempted to look at paintball and the competitive game in particular without the hardcore fan's rose-tinted glasses. Without buying into the industry hype. Without blindly following the crowd or getting hung up on the status quo. So, yes, I've been critical of lots of things. Mostly 'cus they were wrong or being done poorly. (In my estimation anyway.) The point has never been to be needlessly contrarian or negative. It's always been about the game and making it better and in a game where the movers & shakers want to act in secret there's nothing wrong with an open, honest discussion.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Some More NPPL Wrap-up 2010

About the kids, the real kids, before I continue with the Vegas event. Jake is 15. Keith is 17. The pro game can be a tough road for a kid. It's demanding and there are no excuses. Ever. Neither one of them has a spot because they are the greatest thing since sliced bread--but they do have skills and very few bad habits. They also have a wheelbarrow full of intangibles. And as a team we have a basic philosophy that values time spent together as a team which means no long distance players. (But what about J-Rab? I've known Justin for a while, as have some of our guys and since practice wasn't an issue for 7-man and I knew there wouldn't be any chemistry or ego issues it was a no-brainer really.) Back to the kids.
With Jacob we knew what we were getting before we made the decision to pick him up. Keith has been more of a positive surprise given that we picked him up out of necessity. Both of them are teachable. They are paintball smart. They are resilient. They are willing to fill a role. And they are grateful for the opportunity instead of assuming somehow it's what they deserve. (That comes later.) And they play without fear (for the most part). I didn't green light Jake's pick-up until I watched him practice the Russians for the first time. A couple of quick examples and then I'll move on. In Vegas Keith was our lead snake player. He's been practicing with us for Cup for about a month now but this was his first pro tournament experience and all the teams were focusing on killing that first snake player on Sunday. Saturday he'd had a lot of success making the snake (but not always staying alive). After every mistake he patiently listened to ways to play better. Sunday was a lot tougher. Part way through the day I took him aside to see how he was handling things and told him that even when he got shot he was still contributing to the team's success by setting the tone for how we wanted to compete. And by the end, in our third game in the finals against Blast he made the snake otb and pushed hard into their end of the snake with Bryan right behind him as the guys powered their way to a third consecutive NPPL victory.
In DC I had to sit Jake a large chunk of Sunday. He got off to a tough start and just couldn't seem to pull it together. He struggled with the decision but understood and took it like a man. Sunday in Vegas looked like it might turn out the same way but it didn't because Jake had taken the DC experience to heart. With more experience under his belt this time around he knew how to stay mentally tough and focused, not on the last game but on the next game.

After Saturday's relative ease Sunday was a wake-up call for everybody. All the teams knew how they wanted to play the field on Sunday and what they wanted to deny their opponent's which made for a few drawn out games with every contest, long or short, a furious pitched battle. Halfway thru nobody was dominating. We were in a position where if we won out our final three we assured a spot as we would also be delivering losses to some of our closest competition. Needless to say it didn't work out that way. We beat Impact for a little breathing room and then got swamped by Blast which left us closing out the day against Infamous and uncertain where we would stand when it was all said and done.
As the final decisive games were being played in the Quarters only Bart (from Impact) was trying to keep precise scores including the body count. (I'd given up for Vegas as it hadn't mattered all year. Oops.) As a result nobody was certain who was going through to the semis and who wasn't given there were five teams that went 4-3. Everyone in contention converged on the registration tent where the official scores were being tallied only to discover they were two games behind. Within minutes of our unruly mob showing up we had the official news. Impact, us, Avalanche & Blast were through and Arsenal was out. By 4 points. One body. With the total point spread from 1st to 5th being only 23 points. Impact played Blast and we played Avalanche in the semis with the series championship not settled until we moved to the finals and Impact didn't. The final was 3 hotly contested games under the lights as the day had run long--and the rest you know. The awards ceremonies tend to be kinda anti-climactic coming as they do, tacked on to the end of the event, usually after the majority are long gone so I'd like to thank everyone who stayed to cheer all the winners. Thanks!

One other thing. I hear from an unimpeachable source that Rich (of XSV & Rich Telford's Wide World of Paintball magazine) did an impeccable job assisting Nicky the T with the webcast. And at one point commented tongue-in-cheek that we were doing well because the layout for Vegas was one of my designs. I wish. The truth is the design committee wouldn't pick one of my designs unless it had Rich's or Travis's name on it.

VFTD regulars will likely know I'm not a big fan of parking lot paintball but Vegas is growing on me. (Although I still worry about all the distractions.) And winning doesn't hurt but it's more than that. Whatever else might be said of this second season for NPPL 3.0 the league has learned and improved from its inaugural event until today with every indication they are poised to continue moving forward with a third season. Held together by a lot of voluntary effort and buoyed by the developing relationship with G4 the NPPL continues to overcome assorted obstacles. Next year promises to bring another Vegas and HB along with a second *special* HB event. Can they pull it off? Honestly I'm not convinced but I am astonished at the determination and effort that has kept NPPL 3.0 going to date and all credit to those members of the league who have put in all the work and effort.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

World Cupdate

See what I did there? Looks like the final number will be 242 teams with 133 Race 2-X (xball) teams competing. That leaves 109 Race 2-2 (5-man) teams in the mix. On the plus side the xball numbers are up over last year and are the third highest total in the xball era. The real hit to numbers continues to be a national level commitment to 5-man which really isn't all that hard to explain.

In other PSP news the Big Bullet reported yesterday the league received a grant of an undisclosed sum (sorta) from the Florida Sports Foundation. If Polk County ponied up some incentive dollars--like they did last year--it will hopefully help offset the total team turnout difference. Every little (and big) bit helps.

Monday, October 11, 2010

NPPL Wrap-up 2010

Warning: This post may be subject to rambling on 'cus I is really really tired. I can seldom sleep in airplanes and yesterday was no exception. As soon as I got home the phone began to ring and here I is.
Between work and school the team left for Vegas at 8 pm EST last Friday evening. We arrived around 11 pm Nevada time with the team scheduled to meet Saturday morning at 9 am in the Marriott lobby. A walk across the street brought us to the venue and registration. Like Chicago and DC Saturday's prelim round again included the D1 teams. Along with Impact we were in the afternoon bracket. We had one less pro team and one more (I think) D1 team than the morning bracket so it was potentially easier to go through from our bracket but any loss to a D1 team was also potentially more damaging. The greater benefit to us was the opportunity to see some games played and have an opportunity to prepare a game plan as most of the guys hadn't seen the layout and no one had played it in advance. I had a basic formula in mind--a number of them actually--and as a team we went through the basics as we watched games from the bleachers. We opened with two D1 games which gave us some breathing room to familiarize ourselves with the actual field before any of our pro games demanded our best efforts. Saturday we went 9-0 but that isn't really reflective of the effort or the closeness of a few of the games. And regardless of the circumstances the prelims are just that--preliminary to the real tournament which only begins on Sunday. No matter what happens on Saturday it's meaningless the minute its over. Either you're playing Sunday or you're not but everyone who moves on begins at zero again. (Cliche much?)
The pro teams through to Sunday were us, Impact, Infamous, Arsenal, Explicit, Avalanche, Blast & Dogs. The four teams in a tight race (2 points between everybody) for the series were us, Impact, Infamous & Dynasty. Uncharacteristically (an understatement) Dynasty didn't make the cut leaving us, Impact & Infamous still in the running. The series is in the back of your mind but we didn't talk about it. In fact we made a point of focusing on the event because event success would bring series success.
Without the successes in Chicago and DC we wouldn't have been up to the challenge of Vegas. No practice has been our downfall before and while we only had a few games of practice prior to Chicago and DC it made a world of difference. What we did have was the confidence success brings. We didn't think we could win. We knew we could because we had done it before and the core team had played together all season. In HB we had Holliday. With work and family demands we replaced Holliday with Ramzi for Chicago. For DC Chad replaced Ramzi and for Vegas Keith Brown replaced Alex. We brought Alex as our eighth but as he's dealing with some injury issues and we have Cup in 10 days he was our insurance policy. The core was Timmy Propst, Jason & Jacob Edwards, Alex Spence, Bryan Smith & J-Rab with Chad Busiere playing both DC and Vegas. At the beginning of this season we took a long look at Jacob that began with him practicing with the team and playing HB. He was 14. He's 15 now. Keith is 17. He's on board because Ramzi is injured and will miss Cup but he's working hard and making a strong case for himself. I bring it up because I want to spend some time talking about young guys playing at the pro level--so more of that tomorrow.
Saturday night we ate at a terrific Italian restaurant, Piero's, next to the Marriott and the guys were given a strict curfew of 11 pm. (Which they mostly kept.)
Next, Sunday.

The Monday Poll

Last week's poll in a sense re-hashes stuff we thought we already knew but some of the numbers are a bit of a surprise. Keep in mind there is nothing--nada, zed, zero, bupkiss--scientific about the The Monday Polls as they are entirely self-selecting from a something less than random group. Even so.
This week I'd like to see if we can't fill out some background info on likely voters by pigeonholing your paintball predilections. (And, no, it's not as dirty as it sounds. That's on you, Chuckles.) This week's question is looking to identify your preferred type of paintball. And, yes, I understand you may still play different sorts of paintball but youse only gonna get one vote this time so pick either your favorite or the type you play most often. It shouldn't prove to be overly stressful so I'm counting on a big turnout. Vote on behalf of future knowledge. Consider it a contribution toward the future welfare of the children. That's right, do it for the kids.

"When I play paintball it's most often ..."

UPDATE: Oops. Small oversight, I left out pump as an optional answer. That means you pump guys are left having to go with a write in vote to comments if you want your voice heard--or we could assume y'all fall into the stays in safe zone group. It's pretty similar, right?

Monday Poll in Review
Okay, so last week's poll is kind of a downer but the object was to get some sense of why former national level tourney players no longer play. The negative element is sorta built into the question. But there is a way to spin this more positively than it might at first appear. Both "can't afford it now" and "changing priorities" represent players who would like to continue competing but can't for reasons unrelated to the game itself. You could even consider the first option, "too expensive" to be a neutral reply in that what was once an acceptable cost isn't any longer. That doesn't mean it might not be again and doesn't address local/regional play. For everybody who answered with options like "no fun" or "too much like work" they all fall more or less into the same category of recreational tourney players who the leagues would certainly like back but I think the decline of the NPPL in part suggests that sort of player wasn't really a bread & butter repeat type customer. Once the glamor wore off so did the appeal. "The game passed me by" crowd is self-explanatory and most of the remaining options like, "classification limbo", "ramping guns" & "formats" received a relatively minor percentage of the votes which suggests any inherent issues with the game resides in its narrower appeal. Which obviously isn't great but not exactly news either. Nor does it tell us much about the crossover from serious tourney baller to some other sort of paintball player. But then, that's what today's poll is for.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Championship Season

The next three weeks will determine the outcome of the competitive paintball 2010 season. NPPL Vegas has already started the first divisional games of the day. I'm traveling light so no computer this weekend, no posts until a Monday wrap-up of the event. I'm planning on bringing good news--at least good as I would define it--but whatever happens I'll deliver the inside view. It would be foolish to call a season with 2 wins out of four events a failure but anything less than the series will be a disappointment. That's just the reality of the situation.

Today is the last official day to register for WC. So far paid has jumped to 197. 11 more slots in Race 2-2 and 39 unpaid in Race 2-X. I'm seeing quite a few team names I expect to see playing. I think by next Tuesday we could see final numbers close to 240. I hope we do anyway.

Last week a new recruit joined the Deadbox Puppet Army. Thanks, ibra5. Welcome! What's the matter with the rest of you lazy slackers?

There's another Baca's Mailbag in the works. Got a question? Post it up in comments or drop me an email. (The link is on the sidebar. D'oh.) And if you have so little self-respect you'd like to follow an angry tweeter hit the link in the sidebar for VFTD Tweets and together we can take our communal self-loathing to a whole new high.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Measuring Skill Revisited: Movement vs. ROF

No worries. The last post, Skill is not enough, is still coming but in looking over the other "skill" posts the measuring skill post left out a fuller review of the movement vs. ROF debate that helped inspire these posts in the first place. (I was gonna address it in the next mailbag.) Instead I'ma revisit that discussion here and now and see if I can't explain the dynamic in such a way that y'all will go "D'oh!", slap yourself upside the head and quietly promise yourself you'll never disagree with me again. A tall order, I know.

First thing we must recognize is that movement versus ROF is not an isolated equation but it is the governing equation. All that means is that other factors play a role, too. Like the number of props on the field and the dimensions of that field. Imagine standing out in the open on an xball or 7-man field shooting at your opponents while they do the same back at you. With that many guns blazing away at such relatively close distances moving around may keep you alive for a bit but not for long. Not what you had in mind, is it? Expand the dimensions of that imaginary field a few acres and suddenly things have changed rather dramatically. Now you can wander about and if you're still or squat down or even lie down on occasion you may spot an opponent before they spot you but once the shooting begins--assuming you are within range--the ROF still quickly overwhelms the ability to move. So add some bunkers, perhaps something near 100, to your imaginary field. Spread them about. At a few acres though it's still an enormous field and the bunkers have quite a distance between them for the most part even though there are more than twice what you're used to. To our ability to move and shoot we've added cover. It's utility is admittedly limited because once a player gains cover on this big field there's not a lot of reasons to keep moving. Maybe it's time to shrink the imaginary field a bit. Is one acre still too big? How about the size of a football field? That field can be (mostly) covered from anywhere allowing for shooting paint like it's coming out of a mortar. On this field long range shooting really is like rain coming down. Back in the day we kept the paint coming and while we were aiming long range shooting was still mighty random. Of course the ROF was slower and less consistent, too.

Are we there yet? There was a time in the competitive game's development when the fields were around that size though 100 bunkers is too many. In fact, in 2001 at World Cup there were less than half that number of bunkers on any of the fields, including the hyperball fields. Bunker numbers were ballpark with current layouts only with more space between most of them than on the current field layout. Stay with your imaginary field just a little longer and imagine moving between bunkers in a game situation against guns ramping at 12.5 bps. Depending on the range of (and the number of) the shooter(s) it's manageable. Just. Some of the time. But as soon as the players are too close to each other the gaps between bunkers become almost insurmountable. And there aren't many, if any, blocking bunkers. Making a move on this field is a run out in the open. (Oh, yeah. These were 10-man fields. When you start trying to figure the ability of those guns to counter movement with their reduced ROF remember how many of them are on the field.)

Enough with the imaginary. The real debate, if such actually exists except in the minds of the stubbornly deluded, is if there are different combinations of the relevant factors; movement, ROF, #s of bunkers & field size that result in something like identical degrees of difficulty in playing the game. My position is that ROF is the controlling factor.

One last thing. A different approach. Why is movement considered a skill in paintball? [This is where you actually answer the question for yourself. Go on.] If you answered something like because there's really quite a lot involved like sliding, diving, running while gunning, crawling, timing and so on I have another question for you. Why does movement in the game entail all those variations? [Yes, answer this one, too.] Being a lazy slacker you might also have answered simply because it's difficult to do. And in answering why is it difficult we get to the crux of the issue. It's difficult because people are shooting at you. The more shooters and/or more paint flying about increases the risk of being hit and eliminated. Therefore the skill required to move is directly related to the degree of hazard posed by the opponents--and a significant part of the the risk is posed by the ROF. The less the risk the less the skill involved in making any move.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Major League Paintball Weekly Update

Ok, not so weekly lately but I kinda lost interest. No, I'm not a borderline burnout but after the first couple of events the arc of the season for the MLPs was set and nothing really happened to shake things up and unlike in years past the approach of World Cup hasn't really churned up the rumor and gossip mill(s) like it once did so I decided I didn't want to re-hash the same old over and over. The paint biz continues to be a critical calculation and the off season hints at the possibilities of change with Procaps sinking fortunes, the return of Richmond, the Valken Maneuver & the introduction of the HydroTec paintball. (What is the Valken Maneuver? I don't know. I made it up but it implies that Gino always has something up his sleeve. Which he does. For good or ill.) There's just not a lot of chatter and the Magic 8-ball keeps coming up "Try again later."
The Mil Series finished off its season last weekend outside Paris at Disney and everything appears to have gone off with nary a hitch though the "sold out" event was indicative of generally lowered expectations and a conservative move by the Board to control costs.
It will be interesting to see if the closed divisions and licenses continue into next season. A real threat from the PSP to invade Euroland would either compel the Mil to loosen up or further entrench in an effort to maintain control. Sadly it continues to seem highly unlikely--as least from my perspective--despite heavy rumors earlier in the year. One thing I'd like to see from the Mil is team rosters, particularly in the CPL & SPL.
World Cup is just around the corner with registration officially closing this Friday and firming up by early next week. New registrants continue to dribble in with the total up to 275 as of this morning. So far 167 teams are paid and xball teams continue to outnumber 5-man (or in current PSP speak Race to X has more teams than Race to 2 which continues the trend seen this season but which is counter to the history of the event.) By the look of it PSP has also limited 5-man participation and there are more teams registered than there are slots so if you're planning on playing Race 2-2 get in as early as you can. It's hard to tell whether the PSP's move this year to shorten events has made a difference in participation but it has put pressure on the league in terms of the number of fields required along with staff and I wonder how that trade-off has worked out.
NPPL Vegas is this coming weekend and the schedules came out today. It seems the league has mixed the Pro & D1 prelims again despite rumors of a move to the S7 format for the Pros--although that could still be implemented on Sunday but it strikes me as unlikely in that it destroys the suspense. A best of 3 but all played within a 15 minute non-running clock format would mean outcomes were decided right then given certain match-ups whereas the old way dragged it out and gave the other divisions some grandstand court time. Whatever. By my count yesterday it looks like Vegas & the NPPL will host 101 teams with 60 (including the Pros) competing in the 7-man format. The turnout is an improvement over last year and the NPPL has made a concerted effort to offer lots of extras in a revival of the old NPPL spirit. I'm still not a big fan of parking lot venues but the Vegas set-up is about as good as parking lot paintball gets.
On a more personal note our efforts to arrange practice prior to this event fell through on account of too many conflicting player priorities. You know, real life stuff like school, jobs & family. And for the fourth time this season our roster will be different--but only slightly so--yet I'm confident the team will be motivated and mentally prepared for the challenge. And the schedule cut us a huge break as we're in the afternoon session so we'll get to see some games and have two or three short breaks to get on the field briefly before (and after) we begin play. Our sole goal Saturday will be to survive and make Sunday. Every season only a handful of teams win events and/or have an opportunity to take home a series title. It's a great place to be. It's what competitive paintball is all about. It's what sports is all about. Rising to the occasion and overcoming all obstacles in order to succeed; to win.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Monday Poll

Where are they (you) now? This week's poll is for former national level tourney players. This is going to be less a poll than a very limited sort of questionnaire so the way you respond is going to be especially important to the end result. There will be an extensive list to choose from and most of them will be fairly general. What I'm looking for is a more complex impression of what happened to most of you than a simple question and a half dozen options can convey. Instead, the poll will begin with the statement: I no longer compete in national level events because ...
Then you will choose between 1 and 3 responses that best describe your situation. For example, you may choose; I play scenario, it was too expensive & I wasn't having fun. So please limit yourself to 3 options at most and we'll see what happens. And, as per usual, if there's choice not there you would respond to you can always post it up in comments--you lazy slacker you.

I have no idea if this is going to work but it has no chance of success without you.

OT--how 'bout the cool new header illustration? Sweet, right? Source photo was the typical Brandon Showers masterpiece.

Monday Poll in Review
Now that is a poll result! Last week was either the highest voter turnout to date or very close to it. Thanks. It's interesting that particular poll drew a heavier than normal response. And more than a little difficult to draw any conclusions from. In past polls that pitted the NPPL against the PSP in one way or another the final results tended to reflect each league's relative popularity as well--but not this time.
Last week's question: Would national level competition be better off --
without the PSP. (34%)
without the NPPL. (37%)
without both; let's start over. (15%)
with both. (12%)
The results by percentage are in parentheses.
Now either a conspiracy of NPPL sympathizers made a concerted effort to skew the result or there is some passive PSP hostility out there. (As a conspiracy sympathizer I don't discount the possibility but it seems more likely they're busy rigging the Hall of Fame votes--if, in fact, anyone is actually voting.) Look, there are a lot of ungrateful yout's out there. (I know, you don't know who you are but trust me, you do exist.) And there are also more than a few Old Skoolers still bitter over how the original NPPL dream turned out along with the crop of twenty-somethings who are "too good to play" as well as being too broke to play.
Aside from my speculations the numbers do seem to suggest that an awful lot of you were prepared and willing to throw somebody under the bus as 88% of all votes kicked somebody out of the national level tournament club. Is that largely because most people believe the status quo can't continue? That all the talk of shrinking sponsorships and exploding pro teams has convinced the general paintball public of the truth of those claims or has it become another item on the checklist of the conventional wisdom.
Without some feedback from poll participants on this one it's impossible to know what inspired each vote. So here's what I'd like you to do--if you had a specific reason for the vote you cast please take a minute and put it in this comments section. For the rest of you I've chosen a number for the over/under on the number of reasons that will posted in comments this next week. Feel free to guess at my over/under--and while you're at it you might as well add the reason for your vote in last week's poll, too.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Measuring Skill

I probably could have added identifying skills as it's own post but I've chosen to give that subject a cursory review instead in order to put measuring skills into context. (Besides, most of y'all should have a fairly good idea what the list of paintball skills is.) The basis distinction to make is between skills (learned) and innate attributes which are mostly physical, like running speed, reflexes and hand/eye coordination. It's not quite that simple. of course. Take movement for example. Movement is a skill because when we talk about it in the context of competitive paintball it is more than the physical act of moving yet at the same time the ability to move effectively can certainly be enhanced by a player's natural attributes. A rough list of skills looks something like this; movement, body awareness (applies to both staying alive & playing your cover) and the group of gun-related skills; accuracy, laning, gunfighting, running & gunning, etc. The list could as easily be broken down further.

A skill (or skills) is measured against a standard, either an absolute or shifting standard, and or by comparison with the same skill displayed by others. This can be a simple or a complex problem in the evaluation (or comparison) process and is seldom cut & dry no matter how scientific (or statistical) the process appears. For example, take a look at starting pitchers in MLB. The bottom line is wins and losses but baseball is a team game and the pitcher must rely in part on teammates while competing against the opposing pitcher. So in evaluating the skill of a particular pitcher other statistics are considered as well. Like ERA, strike outs, walks, velocity, number of effective pitches and command of those pitches. But even with all the numbers experts can disagree when comparing player to player. It's one thing to evaluate a player's skills and determine they fit into category X. It's another thing altogether to compare two category X players and conclusively determine which one is better. (This is largely because skill isn't all that goes into making great players--and that's the subject of the last post in this series, Skill Is Not Enough. That, and different judges may have differing priorities when evaluating individual players.)

In paintball it's generally not too difficult to assess the relative skills of the players. This sort of measurement is really a way of sorting any group of players into a hierarchy, from worst to first. And (without experience) may not tell you anything about how good any group's best player(s) really are. You can tell from a player's posture in a prop whether they are trained or not, sloppy or tight--but you won't know how effectively they can bring their skills to bear until they are in a competition environment and confronted by others of varying degrees of skill. And the ultimate measure of a player's skills is the ability to execute in the crucible of competition--and, once again, this is not an issue of skill alone.
Another way of measuring the skill of a player is against an objective standard. When laning it's putting a stream of paint on target quickly enough to create the opportunity to eliminate a player. Successfully and repeatedly. Drilling to develop this skill demonstrates in concrete terms--either you hit the runner or you didn't--a player's effectiveness or lack thereof. The same measurement by standard applies in virtually all training situations and is one method of determining improvement.

Next, Skills Is Not Enough.