Thursday, December 9, 2010

The New Major League Reality

For years the voices of discontent in competitive paintball have wanted to tear down the status quo--because, as we all know, anybody can do it better until they have to, you know, do it. Me included. (But unlike the rest of y'all I'm always right. It's a burden really.) Much of that discontent is (was) predicated on a myth. The myth of by the players, for the players. A hundred years ago (give or take) the pro kids and some of the ams threw over Lively Productions and decided they could run their own events better. Sound familiar? And they like to think they were serious about "by the players, for the players" but it didn't take long before most teams paid to play and a small group of teams/industry types were running the show. Until the falling out at one of the cow pasture on Poinciana Boulevard World Cups over strippers and alcohol. (Sorta. It wasn't as awesome as it sounds though.) Next thing anybody knows there's a second league and we're playing 7-man, 10-man & xball and the two leagues are chasing TV millions. Which ever way you turned industry was inextricably linked to the major leagues.

Anybody remember vending under the bigtop at Paintball World? Most everybody on site as a vendor had table space under one giant tent. Even as the bigger industry players began to set-up individually by they're sponsored field(s) the majority of smaller industry figures continued to share the big tent. As recently as the first couple of years at Disney's WWOS there were big tents with canvas dividers for the smaller vendors. As the scale of the competitions expanded in the explosive growth years so did the vendor displays--from the big guys custom big rigs to the smaller players expanded efforts to differentiate themselves and build their own brand identity. In the same way the top teams were flush with sponsorship dollars so to the major leagues with industry support and participation. And then, all of a sudden, the fat years were done. And as the cost of competition had risen for the pro teams the vendors, large and small, had justified spending more and more money to make money--until, all of a sudden, the fat years were over and the vendors were in a similar predicament to the pro teams--as were (are) the major leagues.

Various incarnations of the NPPL have come and gone. The PSP survived with some extra cash infusions. The one constant the shrinking share of support the league(s) can count on from the paintball industry. What once may have been around 50% of their income has been reduced to a fraction of that today. That is the new major league reality. And with this reality comes opportunity and danger. The opportunity is to get out from under industry influence for one. No money, no influence. To break the old patterns but in order to do that the league(s) must find ways to sustain themselves without the industry's money. The NPPL has discovered that bigger doesn't necessarily mean better or more profitable. The PSP has begun to see the scale of their operation as a very mixed blessing. Success in the new reality offers independence, too. The dangers are there's little to no room for error. It's a high wire act without a net.

For those who want lower entries and bigger prizes and are positive the leagues are flush and greedy--you are so far disconnected from reality I doubt there's anything I can say to convince you otherwise except you're doomed to disappointment. Those things aren't going to happen. For those who just can't wait for the current major leagues to crumble take a moment to consider what replaces them. What replaces them? Seriously. I'm curious. Do you have any concrete ideas or are you just mentally masturbating over how great it will be to get rid of those guys? What the leagues needed all along was independence and wise leadership. Circumstance has delivered their independence. The big question now is are they up to the challenge?


Cade said...

"Circumstance has delivered their independence."... Care to expand on that comment?

Baca Loco said...

Sure. One of the main complaints has always been the greedy league(s) didn't care about Joe Baller because they were in the industry's pocket.
There remain an inordinate number of numbnuts out there making the same complaints but the truth is the industry has no leverage anymore and the leagues are essentially free to do as they think best.

Reiner Schafer said...

So the future of competitive paintball lies where? We know PB Industry is not going to carry competitive paintball on their shoulders, at least not at present time and probably not anytime in the near future. We know "for the players and by the players" will never work for any length of time. Current league organizers are trying their best (at least I hope they are), but with dropping participant numbers, their best doesn’t seem to be working out very well. That’s not intended to be an insult, it’s just looking at the facts. But at least they are still trying. I’m just not sure “tweaking” is going to make enough of a difference to turn things around. But what do I know? I don’t run any leagues. Maybe not releasing layouts early, playing with the bunkers and field sizes, and keeping at least some of the coaches quiet on the sidelines will turn things around for at least one league. OK, yeah. Who are we kidding? The camel’s back is near broken and tweaking a few rule changes has at best removed a few pieces of straw. But if you’re not ready to throw in the towel yet, I guess tweaking is really all you have.
Italia’s X-Ball was probably the biggest single change to hit competitive paintball short of coming out of the woods and playing on balloon filled small fields. It spurred a lot of interest and a lot of hope for many involved in competitive paintball at the time. But it had one thing in common with just about all changes in competitive paintball prior to and ever since. It (X-Ball), and its cousins, turned out to be unsustainable. Sure it lasted a while during the times that even PB Industry was excited about the prospect of paintball becoming a real sport and gaining TV exposure and worldwide recognition, and therefore infused it with life supporting cash.
I don’t want to sound like a Doomsdayer (even if I probably do). I really, really want competitive paintball to flourish, even though I’m not directly involved. I think paintball as an industry needs competitive paintball. But we need a format that is sustainable, without any outside help. It needs to be a format that players can afford to play, for as long as they want to play. Not something they have to give up everything else in life for and go begging to others on top of that, just to take part.
We need another change of the magnitude that X-Ball was, only this time with something sustainable, maybe brought to us by someone other than a paintball salesman.
Competitive paintball can be fun in many formats. Sure, 10 bps is more adrenalizing (yeah I just made that word up) than 5 bps and 20 bps more so than 10 bps. And I’m sure shooting 40,000 paintballs in a match is more adrenalizing than shooting 10,000. But if playing the most adrenalizing versions is not sustainable and eventually these formats fail because of it, what’s the point? What are we trying to prove? That some how, some way, against all odds we are going to make it work? Just because we wish it to? Good luck with that. It’s time for a reality check.

Reiner Schafer said...
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Reiner Schafer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.