Picking up on the themes of The Monday Poll I want to dig a little deeper in response to Mark's Monday Poll comment. His concern relates to field operators who rely, to one degree or another, on tourney teams practicing. It's a legit question. Unfortunately I don't think there is a definitive answer. But there are some things we can take a look at that might be helpful.
Is the current relationship between (mostly) the PSP--there aren't enough NPPL fields out there to matter--and the local practice field(s) a positive one? Yes and no. Is dependency on an outside agent that has its own agenda a good place to be? More teams are more likely to schedule practices proximate to when events will be held but in some respects the PSP hold practice fields hostage to their schedule right now. There was a time when fields were only released 3 weeks prior to an event and the result was the majority of competing teams fit all their practice into that 3 week period. Because all they were doing was scrimmaging the layout. When given the opportunity to prepare for a specific layout anything else is pointless. Even with layouts released within a week or so of the prior event the schedule of events still impacts local practice habits. The longer the time between events the more practice sessions will tend to be distributed closer to the event. This is a result of two factors; a team wants to be most prepared just before the event and because of some limitation on how often a team can afford to practice.
Does maintaining the status quo do anything other than to assure that everybody eventually goes down together? Or pass off responsibility for what happens next to an agency that has its own survival to think about? On the other hand we already know what happens when teams don't have the next event's layout, they practice anyway. And how they practice is up to them.
In order to free up local practice fields one needs to disassociate practice from specific events as much as possible and reduce the cost of practice. And if practice can be conducted at a lower cost it should yield two positive outcomes; dedicated teams on a budget should be able to practice more often and players and prospective teams will be more likely to reform old teams and/or start new ones because the bar to competing has been lowered.
In the last two or three years lots of theories have been offered for the decline in competitive paintball participation. Everything from blazing gats killing newbies to the economy stupid. And each theory has its own proponents because most of them sound reasonable in one way or another and each of them connect with our assorted biases. And chances are many of them have some degree of validity but sorting out the percentages is a near impossibility. Instead I want to show y'all some numbers and let you make of them what you will--and I'll tell you tomorrow what I make of them.
All these numbers are World Cup numbers in the Xball Era. The most teams ever at WC was in 2002, the last year before xball became a regular option, with well over 400 teams. 2005 was the first year xball was the stand alone headliner at Cup with only 77 xball teams & 247 5-man teams. 2006 saw 131 xball teams & 235 5-man teams participate. 2007 was the peak for xball teams at 160 with a 10% drop in 5-man teams to 212. 2008 had 138 xball teams & 195 5-man teams. 2009 saw xball decline to its second lowest stand alone total of 125 along with still shrinking 5-man total of 183. 2010 had 134 xball teams while 5-man fell off the table dropping to 118. Make of them what you will.
To put all this into a different context here's an alternative option. Given that the PSP has not hesitated in the past to change the format in an attempt to preserve (and/or grow) participation what if they followed the Amodea Plan of slightly enlarging the field and adding a couple of larger bunkers in the back to make it easier for the older more financially stable player to compete along with all the broke ass bunker monkeys. (I'm putting this out there because John suggested it in an X3 editorial a few months ago and because I disagreed with it at the time.) Is another format change either less threatening or more likely to succeed than simply no longer releasing the event layout in advance? And if it is how does it impact cost of participation? Or maybe you'd like to see both?