Thursday, November 11, 2010

Not Plane Nor Bird Or Even Brawl

It's just a game called Paintball. Ot is it? Following on the excellent batch of comments the last two days I want to sum up and continue this particular dialogue. (Though this post will only cover some selected comments so go read them all if you haven't already.) The Monday Poll (on Monday) began with the premise that not releasing each event layout would reduce practice costs, sometimes very dramatically, making tournament participation more viable for more teams and players. (If you haven't voted yet, go vote, you lazy slacker.) It has also been suggested that a move to (severely) limited paint usage would also achieve a cost savings across the board. When it comes to layout releases it's also been suggested there be a season long single layout that must, at some point, push teams to focus on getting better as opposed to simply learning the field. It's been suggested that some number of field layouts be released--greater than the number of events--at the beginning of the season with event layouts chosen at random from among the released layouts. (To my mind this would have precisely the opposite effect in pushing teams to learn all the possible competition layouts as early as possible just in case.) I have similar doubts about a seasonal field release being as effective as no release largely because I have doubts about some percentage of team owners/captains/leaders. (I look forward to your irate emails and Facebook comments.) With respect to the limited paint idea--I'm for it--in a limited way. I think it would be an excellent way to introduce new players to competition paintball as well as the youngest players. I think one could potentially develop a limited paint league, at least on a local level but at some point it would also stymie player development. Alternatively it might be possible to tier the amount of paint allowed by division, for example. Ultimately however the game as presently played requires the potential for high volumes of paint. (The reasons for this have been covered a number of times. A search of things like ROF, movement vs. ROF should get some results.)

There has also been a spirited defense of the status quo suggesting that there's a symbiotic relationship between MLP, the local tourney practice fields & other industry members and that breaking (or altering) the relationships may create something like a domino effect. My reply, in essence, is that it looks like everyone is circling the drain together and everybody is reliant on somebody else, who may or may not, have their best interests in mind when crunch time comes around. Besides, it creates other complications. For example, MLP agrees with the field manufacturer to modify the bunker set annually in order to help support the bunker maker and passes that cost on to the local fields. Layout release may help the local practice field but forcing them into annual upgrades doesn't.

Lastly, it was suggested competitive paintball might be organized by a standard league/Junior league division along with some number of tiered divisions of competition as is current practice. The idea being the standard league participant is protected with the goal of shifting the demographic because, in the example given, everyone 18 and younger played in the Juniors. The Juniors could be organized and operated with lower costs in mind while the Standard divisions would be populated with a larger number of self-sufficient players able to afford the competition. It makes for an interesting idea but it also highlights perhaps the core struggle going on; Is competitive paintball sport or customer service entertainment? It's struggling right now trying to be both. And why is it that the industry (and everyone else) have left the problem of resolving these growing pains issue in the hands of MLP alone? Or phrased another way: Why is MLP responsible for "fixing" everything that ails competitive paintball?

Tomorrow, crunching those WC numbers I gave you the other day--and a Mailbag over the weekend. (If you have a question or comment get them in now.)


bronc said...

We tried a limited paint series, the PanAm (before it became the XPSL). It worked on a limited basis, but the players complained about the limited paint and wanted an unlimited paint format, more like the NPPL that those teams graduated to.

I find it interesting that people can't look back at history and see what we've already tried, along with what worked, and what didn't work. Some people are still suggesting chasing our tails, and what boggles my mind is that people are still listening to it...

Fields need players to make money. Therefore they need to adopt a format that will bring in more players. Recball has always done that, hence why it's the biggest money maker. Tournament players used to make up a nice size chunk of the regular players you would see at local fields, but now they don't. What we were doing when these players showed up is droves? What are we doing now that's making them stay at home, quit, or dress up in camo and head back into the woods?

More players will equate to more teams for MLP by default. I don't see money as the limiting factor, except maybe at the pro level. Most divisional teams still play old school style; showing up and playing whatever layout their local field has up. If a MLP event did costs 1/2 as much as they did now, we wouldn't see twice the amount of teams. There needs to be interest. What we're missing now is that interest. 7-man doesn't capture it, and X-ball doesn't capture it.

What will? I don't know, but that's the question we need to ask.

raehl said...

For MLP, the biggest change was the total elimination of sponsorship for anyone but the very top teams.

It shouldn't be surprising that when you have to suddenly pay for things that used to get paid for for you, you are not as likely to continue doing it.

sdawg said...

"Is competitive paintball sport or customer service entertainment?"

Those two things are not mutually exclusive, Baca. Think about every other amateur sport. Why does anyone who is not paid to compete (or on a college team on scholarship, for example) spend money and time in their chosen sport?

Paintball is a sport (specifically and uniquely, a *team* combat sport), and its problems are shared by every other sport: expense, inconsistent refereeing, declining participation. Instead of just looking at the internal qualities of the sport for solutions (i.e., "if only we reduced ROF everything would be fixed"), why not look to other, established sports to see what's worked?

Here's the problem we have down here in Texas: the only consistent tournament series is the 3-man Houston Rookie League. It's enormously successful and a good model for other local tournaments. I know that at least one pro player cut his teeth on that tournament series. And, compared to other equipment-intensive sports, it can be affordable. If every major city with more than one field also had a 3-man tournament series like HRL, I bet you'd see the decline magically start to reverse.

Maybe the question for those trying to "save paintball" should be, how do we get the local tournaments back to what they once were?

Reiner Schafer said...

"Paintball is a sport (specifically and uniquely, a *team* combat sport), and its problems are shared by every other sport: expense, inconsistent refereeing, declining participation. Instead of just looking at the internal qualities of the sport for solutions (i.e., "if only we reduced ROF everything would be fixed"), why not look to other, established sports to see what's worked?"

Competitive paintball does share the mentioned attributes with other sports. But how many other sports are there that demand high amounts of disposables in order to be competitive? And the higher the amounts will directly relate to how competitive you will be. Now add the fact that there is no money to be made from a viewing audience and probably never will be.

The most popular sports are the simplest sports. Sports where little equipment is needed. Paintball is at the other end of the spectrum. Closer to motor sports. But there aren't very many people competing in motor sports. Why? Same reason. It's too expensive. Too much costly equipment needed with constant maintenance of equipment and consumption of fuel and tires and such. If it were cheap, everyone would be driving race cars. Paintball is the same way. It's fun, but too expensive for the majority that would do it, if they could afford to do it.

But we are running around in circles aren't we? We all know that there would be far, far more competitive paintball players/teams if it was less expensive. So unless you can reduce the amount of consumables, or the cost of consumables, or have someone else pay for the consumables for everyone, growth is limited. There will always be a market equilibrium, where demand meets supply. Unless you can find a way to supply playing competitive paintball for less, demand will not rise substantially.

abc said...

Ok, cards on the table. Here's an idea I've been cradling for awhile.

Singles and doubles competition a la tennis and volleyball.

Attach this to the current PSP setup and see how it runs for a season. You have my personal money back guarantee it would start to draw more attention, crowds, and buzz than the other competition. It would be easier to follow. Cheaper to play and practice. Make heros out of individual players. And reduce the dramatic barrier to entry (and maintenance) that comes with running a team. Really, how we can manage year after year to field teams with 7 guys having to coordinate airfare, hotels, entry fees, practices, etc. all on their own dime and in their own interest is a small miracle.

Structure the competition similar to a volleyball/tennis match. So you play several back to back sets. The sets keep going if there is a tie. If one side is up by one point, you give the other team a chance to match that point. If they match it the sets keep going until one side wins by 2.

You heard it here first, this is the future.

abc said...

Smaller venues (so it can be in high profile ones). Less reffing staff, better reffing because you just have 1 ref on each side of the field.

Take a look at this. I was at one of these events and it opened my eyes. Massive crowds, in a venue which was setup for a weekend just like a paintball event. All cheering on a competition they didn't really know the rules to, or players they didn't know. And don't give me that 1 ball, easy to follow crap. Doubles or singles in paintball would be easy to follow. Boring? It's boring when someone hits a volleyball into the net and they start over. When the hit a tennis ball out of bounds. But you just rest and start over. Trading points would be quick.

Check it out. And most importantly, the sponsors can actually afford this, not that boondoggle that involves flying 7 guys all over the world to practice/play in addition to funding huge fields, armies of refs, etc.

sdawg said...

There are plenty of sports that are can be expensive to compete in, especially when you are talking about 1) kids taking a sport seriously and 2) competing nationally.

Take a mainstream sport like tennis... kids are taking lessons several times a week (at least $30 a lesson), paying monthly club dues (can be $100+ per month) buying new shoes, rackets, tennis balls.

Or how about golf? How much would clubs, golfballs, lessons, club membership and greens-fees cost?

If you start flying around to sectional or national competitions in these sports, you are in the hundreds of dollars per an event and thousands of dollars per year.

Compare amateur competitive paintball. Let's say you have a 3-man team formed to compete in a local series. The team has mandatory practices twice a month (the players practice on their own the other two weekends), which is pretty typical, I think, to what an amateur could commit to. Let's say you've got the basic equipment for tournament play already. You're spending maybe $50-$60 (entry and a case of paint) per weekend to play. Each local 3-man tournament is about $500-600 split three or four ways 4-5 times per year.

Roughly, Each member of the team ends up spending $2000-2500 per year.

On the other hand, when a team's only option is playing D3 or D4 at a national series, now you're talking over ten thousand dollars per player on a 5 or 7 man team. What's so mysterious about the drop in national participation?

Mark790.06 said...

I think we can all agree that competitive paintball (as well as even the hard core scenario players) is a lifestyle. It is an immersion into a activity with butt loads of facets: cool gear, travel, competition, team building, winning and losing, and on and on....

Simply making it cheaper in this economy does not guarantee growth. People don't begin new lifestyle activities during recessions as bad as this one, or not as many as would be required to show any tangible growth.

After nearly a decade of insane sponsorship packages heaped on teams from D2 on and up, I would also hazard to guess that things are as cheap as industry can bear right now, and all ideas thus far have been to limit what the player/team would need to spend to be competitive. In a nut shell we're talking playing the game less, but the game is fun, is it not? Reducing the fun is not a prescription for success.

Scrimmaging (i.e. playing the game) against other teams on a field layout you will not be competing on is perhaps the least efficient form of practice. Regardless how many, supposed, fundamentals maybe garnered from it.

Drills suck. They are not fun. Is not a team running drills, who wouldn't know a fundamental if it shot them in the face, just wasting those precious paintballs while thinking they are doing that "Grind" they've heard so much about? Not to mention it is quite impossible to "feast" during drills ;-)

Separating demographics for marketing purposes is an idea, but who is drooling over marketing to 18 and under's right now? My nephew is 16, just won his first WC in D5 and desperate to get a job to pay for his continued paintball expenses, but since they raised the minimum wage, nobody is hiring under 18. This demo is not what it used to be.

As for all the old/fat players with all the money: The game is too fast for them. Not because of ROF, smaller props, or smaller fields, but because the game should have always been this fast. It more difficult for old brains to react to this speed.
Not wanting to call out an individual, but the irony is just too thick to avoid: I have an old issue of the 2002 WC edition of Pb2X and in it John A. describes how "Go" is the shortest sentence in the English language but novice teams had a hard time translating it to their "end game" Well the teams of today, for the most part, learned it well. Too well for some to react to it seems.

Missy Q said...

Mark says - "Separating demographics for marketing purposes is an idea, but who is drooling over marketing to 18 and under's right now? My nephew is 16, just won his first WC in D5 and desperate to get a job to pay for his continued paintball expenses, but since they raised the minimum wage, nobody is hiring under 18. This demo is not what it used to be."

Who is marketing to u18's?
Video Game Companies
Soda/soft drink companies
Driving Schools
The Armed Forces
Other Xtreme Sports (like, all of them)
Other regular sports (all of them too)
Electronics firms
the list could go on and on, and I'm surprised the question was even asked.

People not wanting to hire U18s has little to do with the minimum wage, but everything to do with the demographic. Unfortunately, the current U18 demo is dumb and getting dumber. You used to be able to hire a bright young kid, who would go on to become a full time employee. Thats even how I started in paintball, however, now, Kids can barely communicate, either verbally or with the written word. I wouldn't hire one either, and it has nothing to do with what I would have to pay.

Baca Loco said...

More good stuff.

I'm not convinced rec has done that except perhaps here and there. In fact it is a "fact" of conventional wisdom at this point that a precipitious drop in new rec players trickled up to dry up the flow of new tourney players.

"What were we doing when these players showed up in droves?" Not a bad question but it presupposes that something the industry or the locals were doing was directly responsible. I'm not even sure that's true but if it is isn't the only answer, cheap firepower & dropping paint prices.

While not necessarily mutually exclusive they are antagonistic because paintball as sport is still formative and survives only in a tourney format (broadly) that must respond--at some point--to competitors as customers first--or as a business needing to generate a profit. (As both the major leagues failed to do even at the peak of participation.) For obvious example among many others, the ROF was lowered for lower divisions on the basis it would trickle down to the local fields making shooting at a lower ROF cool (acceptable) to the non-tourney crowd shooting high end guns, and maybe save some paint.

Is the fact you have a successful local 3-man series affecting the decline in tourney ballers in your area? If not, what makes you think it will if implemented successfully elsewhere?

Nice catch. See, we can't even get hindsight right in this silly game. ;-)

Reiner Schafer said...

bronc: "What were we doing when these players showed up in droves?"

Baca: "Not a bad question but it presupposes that something the industry or the locals were doing was directly responsible. I'm not even sure that's true but if it is isn't the only answer, cheap firepower & dropping paint prices."

Not sure what you mean by this Baca. Are you saying the "cheap firepower & dropping paint prices" attracted people in droves, or recent cheap "firepower & dropping paint prices" is a change that may have something to do with keeping them away?

Obviously those two things have been the biggest factors in how the game has changed. The problem is no one fully understands how that change has affected participation. The most prevalent belief is that the cheaper prices for both paint and firepower would do nothing but increase demand and therefore increase participation. Then there are those that believe that the cheaper prices have changed the game itself to the point that less people want to take part, at least at the recreational level, and as you stated, it's widely accepted that if the recreational players dry up, then so do the tournament players.

raehl said...

One thought I'd like to forward:

We have all seen the argument that rec players drying up leads to tournament players drying up because there are less players to become tournament players.

Rec players drying up also means tournament players dry up because there is less margin available for fields and manufacturers/distributors to devote to supporting tournament teams. And less support of tournament teams means greater expenses for tournament teams, and if you make anything more expense, less people will want to do it.

With the caveat that fields and manufacturers/distributors may have realized that supporting tournament teams didn't yield a return on investment anyway and would have stopped it no matter what.

Pat said...

Drawing off my experience as one of those who came early in the "droves" time, started in the woods 2002 came over to tournament six months in, I noticed an overwhelming consensus within the amatuer ranks at least to be image aware. Many were focussed on beating the mil sim stereotype and getting recognition as a legitimate sport. It seemed to me that while everyone was playing for pride and glory, they were also extremely welcoming.

Has that changed? I think it has been a bit pendular. As more money and fame became possible, the image awareness swung over to something more like "watch our sport cause we are the next great thing."
Then as things contracted the consensus fractured greatly. Some stayed in the entitlement attitude, some denied, some got stingy, and some got back to the welcoming basics.
Today I still see the fracture to a lesser extent. It is welcome though because from this chaos there is opportunity for intelligent and motivated people and groups to bring pioneering ideas to possibly turn the whole industry on it's head.
This continued discussion is proof there are those out there trying to find something. Do I think what I mentioned was the lynch pin? No. Possible contributing factor. Oh Yes.

Baca Loco said...

The three things that changed most dramtically during the massive growth years was the introduction of electros, the move out of the woods and paint prices falling for the retail customer.
I am only suggesting it requires some mental gymnastics to both credit and blame the same things for the highs and lows.

certainly a contributing factor. And who knows how many fields were started to support a team in the first place.

raehl said...

Indeed. And to make it worse, most of those fields started to support tournament teams (and I knew a few) were horrible experiences for any new players that happened across them.

bruce said...

Baca, you have a tendency to speak in riddles. You know the answers, and patiently wait for others to pick up the thread. If they respond, you have your gristle for the next step. If they don't, too many miss the point. You know the history - examining what really went down in the past 10 years is central to bringing the vigor back to the field.

Can you possibly touch on the psychology of the new and novice players at that critical period in this sport's growth (2002-2005)?

From my experience there was a great deal more "mixed" recreational play during that time period. Beginning and even somewhat experienced tournament players would often mix in with rental/new players.

Baca Loco said...

Didn't see this for a couple of days. Sorry about the riddles. I don't try to be cryptic but I also want--sometimes--to leave room for other people to have their say--so it may come across that way at times.

Tough question. Off the top of my head I can think of three things. Somewhere in there a lot of new tourney players had little or no formal sports background. They were positioned to take advantage of the experience and knowledge the Old Skool generation had accumulated and put it into their games quickly and they were given a format where they naturally excelled over their mentors.

As for mixed play I think that is more a function of field and region. Some fields are set-up in such a way it's easier for players to mix and different areas of the country seem to have differing customs and practices which make mixing more or less likely to occur.