Saturday, November 27, 2010

Top Down or Bottom Up? Fixing Tourney Paintball

This post is the follow-up to Interpreting History. Yes, it's finally here. And, yes, I know, you've forgotten what the subject was so go back and skim the old post first. Take your time. I'll wait. (Truth is I wrote 90% of this a week ago but news of the day items kept taking precedent.) Accepting the conclusions in that post it's time to do more. It's time to offer up a few answers. Or at least suggestions for how tournament paintball moves forward from here. This isn't a blueprint or an itemized list that can be checked off. It's not even the outline of a cohesive plan. Nor is it comprehensive. What it is is a few beginning points where changes could begin to turn things around.

Want to make real progress?
1--Go back to the past and don't release field layouts in advance--at least at the major league level. I know, I've been harping on this for a while now but that's because it will save money without changing the game, again. It's a crucial component for sustaining and growing the upper divisions and it could be the key to restoring the mental game as an important part of the best players' skill set. But if that's too big a leap for a single jump then move to two layouts per event. Release a layout early for the lower divisions but have a separate, unreleased layout, for the upper divisions. Hardly ideal, I can hear the whining already, but it's a workable compromise that would benefit those who need it the most without disrupting the routine of the majority of teams.

2--Standardize the bunker set. Right now xball is played on a 17,500 sq. ft. field and 7-man on an 18,000 sq. ft. field. The status quo is to xball's advantage at the moment but if the larger issue is what's best for competitive paintball then a standardized bunker set is a must. It would mean teams can play the format of their choice everywhere and would facilitate the transition of players and teams between formats and tourney tracks. (More on that coming.) And its universality would lay the foundation for international standards & format. It would even benefit the manufacturer(s) who would no longer have to make unique, limited sets for different series as any bunker set could be sent anywhere in the world.

3--The local tourney scene needs to be more (and less) than a single track leading to national level play. I am convinced that the paintball-related damage done to 5-man is primarily the result of trickle down MLP. As the bar to being competitive was raised first at the pro level in xball we have since seen some of the same demands & practices work their way down the divisions into 5-man. Where links to the big league were the strongest is also where the greatest declines have come. While there is nothing wrong with the national level track, particularly if the longer term goal is a restructuring of what MLP is (something closer to my Pro Circuit concept) there needs to be some intermediate opportunities at the local and regional level where players and teams can compete in a less demanding, less intense but still competitive environment. The majority of tourney ballers should be playing local and regional events. And our first goal needs to be re-establishing grassroots tourney play and let that larger pool of players self-select for the MLP track.

4--even so, less is more. The risk of two tracks is too many events. MLP track events must be strictly limited--as must all other local & regional events whether they are part of a series or not. Too many events dilutes the value and desirability of any single event. (Easy to say, harder to do particularly when numerous promoters are competing against each other. [Though right now that's probably less a problem than in the past.]) I would also consider protecting the grassroots player by keeping them out of any classification database and keeping anyone already nationally classified out of the local events. This mostly assumes the regional already supports a MLP track.

5--MLP needs to stop cannibalizing the lower divisions. In 2006 D4 was added to the 5-man competition and D5 was added in 2009. The addition of D5 corresponded to a drop in prices and the move to Race 2-2 and the numbers competing continued to drop. What looked like a measure of 5-man consistency has been weaker than participation numbers might suggest and even those have been in decline over the last 5 years. Finally in 2010 5-man numbers dropped below Race 2-X numbers for the first time. A closer look shows a downward trend that was partially masked by the changes made that added new divisions and reduced entry. I'm not saying the move to draw D4 & D5 teams caused the decline in local teams that has occurred but I think it has contributed and will continue to undermine re-building the grassroots--particularly in the absence of tourney alternatives to the MLP track.

6--PBIndustry needs to get out of the discount sponsorship business. Part of re-building the grassroots will require local stores & fields to be involved and contribute to developing and supporting new teams. When the industry offers direct discount sales to players/teams it removes any incentive for the local retailer to get involved and in turn undermines the local retailer and network of relationships that they depend upon.

These suggestions won't fix every ill that ails competitive paintball but they would be a good start. After that the local and regional event promoters will still have to struggle with what works best for them and their customers but it's a start.


sdawg said...

A couple questions: what's the incentive of a local shop or field to sponsor a local team? The cliche I've always heard is that a sponsored team does nothing but cost a field money because they want everything for free and shoot the eff out of walk-ons.

Second, could paintball have local and regional leagues, not just tournaments? Something closer to local recreational-but-competitive softball, tennis, or bowling leagues, rather than tournaments that emulate an MLP event? Has that approach been tried before?

Anonymous said...

Dysfunction enables repair. Let it burn.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused about the need to standardize. Paintball is already standardized on the XBall/RaceTo field dimensions and bunker sets. Nobody is playing 7-man anymore. There's no reason to accommodate something that virtually no one plays.

Anonymous said...

The biggest teams in the world still play and pay to play 7-man.

More to the point, there are so many "changes" needed in the players' minds that maybe Xball isn't enough anymore. Maybe it was never enough.

If we want to see concrete results, more people need to be open to the idea that other people's perspective of paintball is just as valid as the next guy. Not just people in charge, but everyone.

I can see the hint of a new era flick of the tongue in this article, but maybe it's true that we don't know much about paintball's potential at all. Let's face it- we staring down a God complex in dictating what is often considered a war game. That's a pretty ballsy attitude to have- maybe it's not that it's "concept or tournament" paintball, but rather that it's played on flat ground.

What if tourny ball was equal to woodsball in bunker number/proportional size? Or if we mixed everything together- would more people be interested then?

I think it really comes down to finding longevity for this subjective vs. objective view point on what defines paintball. Our average needs changing because it no longer represents an average; not to mention all the politics and posturing involved.

I guess you could say paintball is a lot like Democracy in a way- Red vs. Blue, in who wins out the most furthering capitalism.

But the question towards a purer paintball is always there- how does any one individual define our sport? Is it even possible? We've spent millions of soldiers lives to realize one truly remarkable relization and we always come up short.

Maybe paintball's biggest appeal is in the depth that question holds when the answer is so obvious. How does one question that which has all answers?


Reiner Schafer said...

I think focusing on #3 is competitive paintball's best (and really only) chance of success. Paintball does need to be played locally by the vast majority of players. It must be competitive, let everyone have fun, even if they are not super athletes, let the stars shine, and most all, be affordable for a much greater number of players.

Current local paintball scenes do not meet much of that criteria and the resistance by local organizers and current players ,makes it seem virtually impossible to accomplish. I think we'll still be having this conversation 5 years from now.

Anonymous said...

So other Anon, you say both that 7-man is still legit because some Pro teams still play it, but then say the people in charge shouldn't decide on the format?

Maybe the format shouldn't be chosen by "the people in charge" (not sure how else it would be chosen), but in 7-man vs. XBall, XBall won. It's dead everywhere except one place where some "people in charge" keep doing it.

Baca Loco said...

Granted, it's somewhat problematic because it's hard to say how many local operators remain interested in competitive paintball. I do think in some areas it's worth their while to be part of the tourney baller market.
My specific point though is that if the local team(s) are dependent on their local fields and stores for the discounted prices that help them compete it begins to rebuild reciprocal relationships, loyalty and support on the local level.

It could and it does. There's almost endless possibilities to fit the interests and needs of different areas. That's part of why I suggested the "second" track.

Anon #1--could still happen and while I'm not averse to some creative destruction I also don't have any reason to imagine anything necessarily better replacing it.

Anon #2--it's not just about 7-man. It's about local tourney play and making it easier and more economical for local fields to offer and maintain airball. It's also about any variation of airball at least similar in the sense everyone plays the same kinds of props no matter what and no matter where.

Anon #3--I think reading the smack box at ProPaintball is sufficient to demonstrate not everyone's ideas are either equal or worth paying any attention to.

Reiner--I don't know about a majority of ALL players. What I'm suggesting is that the largest pool of competitive players need to be local players, whatever percent that is of all players period. It would provide regualr opportunity for wider age group participation more economically. #6 is important to encouraging the local track, too.

Reiner Schafer said...

Baca, I understand what you mean by the largest pool of players should be playing locally. In my opinion, there shouldn't even be national ball at the lower divisions. National league paintball should be something players strive for and are recruited into if their skills are great enough. It shouldn't be for any team that can afford to play and is will to show up for.

As far as #6 goes, that should be a given and I had the feeling things were getting better. I think we've hada setback in that department the last couple of years with guys like Gino going back to old ways. Sure teams will eat it up if it's offered to them, but stabbing your distribution network in the back instead of doing what you can to help build it up...well basically is self destructive. Absolutely piss poor business ethics at work there. You may be trying to fix paintball from the top, but when others seem to be working at tearing it down at the bottom, it must be very frustrating.

J-Bird said...

i quit paintball after playing for close to 6 years because i was frustrated with the lack of respect new players are given at local fields by the "established." For the first 2 years of playing, I had to fight tooth and nail to get gun time at the practice days and even when i did, i didnt learn anything because the games were so quick i couldnt analyze anything. I tried to ask people what went wrong after and everybody pretty much told me the same thing: "Well, you looked left when he was coming right and it was just too fast." I even tried joining teams, but that didnt work out because I didnt have the "experience or skillz" (no kidding...)

Nobody told me how to play even the basics of the game because nobody gave me the time of day due to my lack of high-end equipment. Nobody gave me a chance or took me seriously. I have a bad problem with this because after 4 more years I only was able to play a handfull of events, did decently, but had a pretty awful time because I really had no clue what I was doing. After a full season last year I sold everything and only browse this blog because it's interesting.

Here's my point: I've traded paintball for flag football and am having a great time. I am not the most athletic on the field, dont have ANY prior football experience, but in my league the first three weeks of play are devoted to teaching players how to play the game, how to play the positions, how to use the skills they have to do well in the league. I have been given nothing but respect in this league, not because I'm good, but because I showed up to play. Period.

Paintball needs more structure at the team level. Want to do somthing that would interest me? Have a "coached" division and an "uncoached" division that lets the play for fun guys have at it with our ions and spyders and the competitive players do their thing.

bruce said...

J-Bird sums up a conversation I had with some friends this weekend.

So few experienced players are willing to take time to help out and train the basics to new players. I know there are some out there, but their actions are often buried by poor behavior and bullying from others.

raehl said...


Right on. That's one of the things we actually try to "fix" in the college and now high school leagues by having the "You can only play with people from your school" rule. It pretty much forces teams to find players from their school and treat them well even if they don't CURRENTLY have high end equipment or skills because, simply, there are no other options. I'm hoping the high school level also gets us more parental involvement.

We've set up the high school league so that you get at least 2-3 hours of practice on the game field right before the tournament games start as well as all day open play included in your entry fee, specifically to give new players and teams some feel comfortable before being tossed on the field to play for real.

Baca Loco said...

Like the rest, I am 100% with you, J-bird. It's too bad it came to that for you. I've also got a couple of questions. Where were you playing? (city or state is fine) Were there alternative field options or did you try a number of local fields and found similar attitudes everywhere? What was the team orientation like, if you remember? Were they local teams? Lower division?
I'm in no way doubting your experience, I'm just curious about the details?

Mark790.06 said...

What an awesome game paintball is if a guy will endure 6 years without having any fun at it!

J-Bird said...

I'll answer as best as possible without naming names.

I started playing in South Carolina in the middle of the Gridlock era. The Gridlock teams practiced once or twice a month and in between those times, most of the players would come to my local field and get in some practice as our field was cheaper and a lot of the guys who played on Gridlock lived in my area. So no, I didnt pursue other field options because the player base was pretty much going to be the same.

There was a definite hierarchy at the field: the gridlock guys got first pick because most of them grew up at my local field before gridlock and they were old friends with the owners etc.. After them, there was a level of assorted teams that were "regulars" who were not talented enough/didnt have the financial support to play for g-lock and played in a state series, not regional. Finally we rounded out with the new teams, and then players who were trying to learn.

The gridlock guys didnt give much time to the new players unless asked, in which case they were great; but the middle tier teams caused a lot of fuss at the field because they were constantly putting the new teams down, trying to impress the upper division teams. Also, during the season the G-lock guys werent around much because they had their own stuff to do, so in their absence the mid-tier teams took their spot in the cast system: problem was, all they did was bonus ball the new guys and send them packing because it was "their field." Ah, there was also a HUGE division between "xball players" and "5-man players" where the xball players were almost considered gods in the eyes of everybody.

I then moved to Georgia and began traveling to Atlanta to play. More fields, more options: things looked good. I knew I wanted to be coached; actually learn this game so I tried out for a pretty well known and respected program in Atl, made that and traveled with them to play CFOA where we did decently. That being said, one of our faults was that we actually didnt get coached, we more or less had a "manager" who drew up breakouts, but I digress. After learning that the team was going to move fields (to augusta georgia) I had to quit because it's a six hour drive to augusta from my house and paintball isint worth that much money, period. So I tried to find a team that had similar views on paintball as I had: play for fun, practice hard, get a few wins along the way with more laughs than anything. The problem I found was that I was now to be forever associated with the team I played with and the field we represented. At each different field I was treated like I was a rival gang member or was really bizzare. I even had one or two guys say: "'re one of THOSE guys." Really? Come on.

After that incident I was done with paintball, realizing its nothing but politics and unless you have enough money to buy your way into competition and enough free time to commit and almost unreasonable amount to paintball you're not going to win. Period. Not even at the D5 level.

J-Bird said...

Mark, you're right. I love the concept of the game, I love the feel of running a guy down, I love the feel of being RAN was some of the most fun I've ever had, but paintball became incredibly difficult at times because of the bull that surrounds the competitive scene. I had to fight to get where I was, but realized that I would never make it to where I wanted.

And honestly, some of my best memories of paintball come from reffing at my local field, explaining to new players the very basics of how the game is played.

Mark790.06 said...

The game is expensive, no doubt about it.

Many have sacrificed a lot to compete and some will say that that's where the "lifestyle" began. The lifestyle that drew so many to this crazy little game, once upon a time.

Some areas of the country are, and always have been, competitive paintball dead zones.

Even the Gridlock organization eventually got sick of Gridlock players.

Show me a competitive paintball player and (for the most part) I'll show one irrational, self-absorbed SOB!
Story time: We held a tournament not long after we opened. A field down the street from us sent one of their teams to compete in it. We had absolutely no idea who they were or where they were from until they told us how we screwed them in a few of their games because of who they were and where they were from. Many of these players eventually became regulars at our field (and friends), their old field went under, after a few years it came up how, at that event long ago, they thought we were bias to them. They were embarrassed having once thought that and even more so when I laughed about it, "OMG! That was you guys?!?!" I felt bad for them, because, up to that moment at least, I still had no idea who they were or where they were from.

raehl said...

I'm always curious about the people who say they can't find teams, but don't seem to consider starting one. It is the age of PbNation. I do see posts from people "holding tryouts", but they seem to be focused on finding the best-quality players.

Why not just put up a post, "Wanted: People to play competitive paintball for fun" ?? (I suspect I know the answer(s) to that question, but would prefer to hear it anyway.)

raehl said...

Here's an idea:

Refs are allowed to coach D5 games.

J-Bird said...

here's another: any team with a coach is automatically classed as D4 and every team D4+ must be coached by a coach who is registered with APPA.

Reiner Schafer said...

How far away are we from having a national (or even international) organization in place to train players and coaches in a manner that can be replicated region to region? Coaches that coach because they love to coach. Coaches that will not put up with whiny players. Coaches and an association that will bench players for being disrespectful to other players (i.e. over shooting or bonus balling). Are we anywhere near that point yet? Or are we still a red neck sport where players strut around like they are trying to rule the roost and very few do anything to put them in their place?

Without an organization with teeth that won't put up with crap, I fear competitive paintball will just keep floundering.

Maybe the APPA with its High School League will lead the way. I don't know.

Maybe the current established big leagues need to totally change the way they do business. Maybe only graduating teams/players should be playing the big leagues; make sure teams/players are paying their dues in an organization that will teach then spostmanship and honour, much like established national organizations in other sports. Or are we just way too far away from such dreams still?

sdawg said...

Solution: Paintball needs a National Governing Body that is not one of the MLP leagues and that focuses on amateur, organized participation.

Examples: NBA vs. USA Basketball (actually, the NBA is a sub-set of the latter).

ATP (association for tennis professionals) vs. US Tennis Association

Why is it that people try to not only reinvent the wheel, but also end up reinventing the square wheel?