Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Deconstructing Skill

What constitutes a skill as it applies to competitive paintball? Yesterday's post illustrated that "skills" can change and be misunderstood so how do we first make a determination about what is a real skill and what isn't? Hitting a ball with a stick is not a useful skill in paintball but it is a recognized skill. In baseball. But I would go further and suggest that if the game of baseball didn't exist then hitting a ball with a stick would be considered a pointless waste of time, at best the province of idle children idling. If true, then a skill cannot be separated from the activity to which it applies. And we can define paintball skills generally as those actions and abilities that allow a player to most effectively play the game as defined by the rules.

Once upon a time football (the American version) did not have the forward pass as an offensive option. Football was a collegiate and intramural sport for 50 years before the forward pass was made legal and another 45 years passed before the basic rules we recognize today were established. And there was also a time when basketball didn't have a jump shot. The jump shot first appeared in the mid-30s but wasn't popularized by the NBA until the early 50s. Unlike football where the pass was acknowledged but illegal the jump shot was never banned, it simply wasn't invented until later in basketball's development. Imagine the transitional years with players arguing the merits of the set shot versus the jump shot. Today the very idea is ludicrous. Both the pass and the jump shot took time to become what they are in today's versions of their respective sports because the majority of players and coaches didn't comprehend their potential to change the game. Students of military history observe the same thing in the old adage that today's generals tend to fight yesterday's wars. And competitive paintball is no different.

Here's where I suggest, by way of a paintball example, another heresy--the diminished relevance of the snap-shot. Yes, it's a recognized skill of the game. And remains one today. It is one of many skills related to handling and using a paintball gun. As all of you certainly know the object is to discharge an accurate shot in as a brief a window of time as possible while maintaining the smallest target profile possible. It's a sexy skill in that it is widely understood to be more difficult to master than many other paintball skills. (Thousands of repetitive and frequently erroneous articles have been written about it.) In the modern Race 2 format especially the snap-shot has become a subset of gunfighting and more often than not you see the snap-shot utilized in competition when there are better alternatives (because the player is afraid or is struggling with the transition to gunfighting or is poorly trained) or because a given player is getting low on paint. The weaknesses of the snap-shot are that it resets to a neutral posture every time and is incapable of maintaining edge & lane control. Any player caught up in a snap-shooting contest with an opponent reduces his (her) potential for success by giving up any advantage that might have been gained taking a prior shot(s)--unless of course your opponent was eliminated. Against players of equal skill the snap-shot is a roll of the dice whereas effective gunfighting improves the odds of success.

Next time, Measuring Skill.

In the News

Saw this item over at the Big Bullet. It's an interesting twist on the tourney norm, if it even qualifies as a tourney format. Whatever it is it's an intriguing hybrid and I'll be looking forward to see how it works out as it could unite all kinds of ballers behind a fun, flexible competitive format.

More news on the HydroTec paintball front too thanks to the Catshack. (Litter is not optional.) In an interview that recounts elements of the conversation instead of verbatim quotes it sounds like the new paintball may be underweight compared to current 68 cal paintballs. Depending on the variance it's unlikely to be a big deal except in the competitive arena where an underweight paintball could be at a performance disadvantage. And in discussing pricing it sounded like it may end up closer to current paint prices than a lot of the rumors have suggested even though no actual pricing was given. Something to keep an eye on anyway.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Skills Evolve

A long, boring title for a possibly long & boring post. You've been warned. Proceed at your peril. Nope. It was but I've changed it. That's because I'm cutting this post into at least four separate posts; Skills Evolve, Deconstructing Skill, Measuring Skill & Skill is Not Enough. I got a decent way into this post and realized all you slackers with attention deficit disorder were gonna short out and slip into a coma or go on a thrill killing spree and I don't want that on my conscience so the rest of y'all are stuck with multiple postings.

Let's begin with crawling. (Gotta crawl before you can walk, right?) Old Skool crawling was a fundamental skill for maneuvering unseen on a very large (by today's standards) wooded field. In the modern competition game crawling (actual crawling) has largely been reduced to snake play. In playing the modern snake a snake player's position may or may not be known--other than the player is in the snake. In this comparison the physical act of crawling remains the same--as does the purpose--acquisition of an advantageous position from which to eliminate the opposition. The change is in the environment. Of course it's not a small or minor change. Where the Old Skool crawler could use the skill nearly anywhere on the field the modern snake player is limited to the snake. And where the Old Skool crawler required stealth to succeed the snake player needs to be fast & fearless. Chances are the Old Skool crawler and the modern snake player would neither enjoy or be very good at swapping roles.

Now let's consider the trigger pull. Some of you lament the loss of this skill. (I am so tempted to put quotation marks around skill when we talk trigger pull but I won't in deference to your girlish sensibilities.) Some of you still think it's a skill ('cus it's the only one you got.) But seriously. No. Really. I'll stop. Back in the day, in the era of mechanical triggers, you had had all sorts of different means of actuation and a cottage industry in trigger mods all trying to make the pulls soft and short enough so that newbies didn't break their fingers trying to play paintball. For one thing almost nobody touted their skill at pulling a trigger. Their interest was more practical. And for another thing--I hate to break it to you skills guys--if there is no baseline any claim to a skill is, you know, silly. And once the guns were electropneumatics actuated by a software interface players who couldn't get 5 or 6 balls a second out of a blade frame cocker are suddenly pulling 15 or 16. It's amazing how good so many of you got all of a sudden. Now, while you're still hyperventilating answer this question: What was the benefit of the trigger pulling skill? What's the first thing that comes to mind? No, not waffles--or was that just me? Putting more paint in the air. Increasing your ROF. Because more paint equals more control.

At this stage of competitive paintball's development skills are evolving. (And going extinct.)

Tomorrow, yes, tomorrow! look for Deconstructing Skill.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Monday Poll

Let's assume that as hardcore ballers you want as many competitive options as possible in an ideal world. But since this isn't an ideal world you will need to make the hard choice. Not about which league you will compete in--but about which league will survive. This week's Monday Poll is simple: Competitive Paintball would be better off -- ?

I've always favored the two league scenario but it is becoming increasingly clear that the old model for running a national event series no longer works and what may be needed now is a consolidation of the remaining industry sponsorship to get behind one league or the other in order to get beyond the present hard times and unite the effort to move competitive paintball forward.

Here's your chance to sound off--and vote for the future you think best. Do it now. Before it's too late.

Monday Poll in Review
Wow, I could almost feel the waves of apathy from here. Last week's poll got a little more than half the usual number of votes. Either most of you didn't care or are already half convinced the NPPL is headed the way of the Dodo. (Did you realize there were living Dodos into the late 17th century on Mauritius in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar? What, the Disney cartoon? Yeah, that's right.) And those of you who did vote--thanks, I appreciate it--also seem to have your doubts either about the league or the teams, or both. The vote doesn't indicate the voters took the whole pro teams gotta choose a league talk all that seriously as the top voter getters played both leagues in '09 and were also top vote getters in the recent PSP poll. However, the NPPL poll results were very soft suggesting a lot of uncertainty. Placing the cut at 50% only 4 teams received enough votes to equal or break that percentage. Dynasty was on top at 60% with Impact, Damage & Vendetta all at 50%. Among the traditional 7-man teams the other high vote getters were XSV (46%), Infamous (49%), Blast (46%), Dogs (46%), & Avalanche (42%). The rest of the current league had numbers mostly in the 20s ranging as low as X-Factor's 11%. However you want to shake those numbers out they don't express a lot of confidence in the NPPL or the current roster of pro teams.

Back to the Future

Picking up on elements of the post, Weekend of Paintball, and also related to the post, Crazy is probably a little harsh, John, this post will look at the ramifications of restricted paint on upper level competitive paintball as well as evaluating the skills of the game. While I am not opposed to the use of restricted paint in tournament paintball it's critically important to recognize what the impact will be. At the developmental level--players are learning the game and have little or no experience--restricted paint will likely advance those players development by encouraging a focus on the correct skills by providing a less intense, less demanding playing environment. But what happens if you put highly skilled players in that same environment?

I've used this story before and if I have to use it again, then dammit, I will. Years ago, during the tourney transition out of the woods, at team practice we decided to use pump guns--to save paint!--playing on a speedball field. After a game or two of eventual close proximity trainwreck paintball one group decided pump guns couldn't control the field and decided to play accordingly from the go. As one side was taking their primaries, setting up and assuming we were playing the game they expected the other side kept running, ran through the field and shot everyone up close and personal. Given the dimensions of the field, the number of bunkers and the lack of firepower it only took the one game to demonstrate that pump practice was over. Once everyone understood the implication of a lack of firepower there was no point in trying to make the pumps work. The corollary lesson is that players conform to their expectations and those expectations (along with fear) frequently have a greater impact on a game's outcome than any other factor.

Let's talk more about the game environment for a minute because the issue in the pump game example wasn't limited paint. It was an inability to get enough paint in the air when needed; it was about the ROF. It was the (low) ROF given a compact field with quite a few bunkers. That combination didn't allow the pump guns to exert any real control over the actions on the field. After volume of paint the next critical calculation becomes ROF. If field dimensions and bunker sets remain the same but competitive paintball introduces restricted paint the new primary calculation becomes conservation of paint (because you can't afford to run out.) And we already know that in the current competitive environment without paint in the air you cannot control movement. If you can't control, restrain, inhibit movement the result is players quickly gaining upfield positions with superior angles in close proximity to one another. And if the combination of sideline coaches and 12.5 bps can't stop players from bunkering each other in the current competitive environment the result in a limited conservation of paint game will be trainwreck paintball--or, if a team thinks it's to their advantage they will play a defensive make-the-other-guys-run-into-our-guns style.

None of that is set in stone, of course, but in order to "fix" any "imbalances" caused by the move to limited paint more changes are required. Three options immediately come to mind; enlarge the field so the space between bunkers expands, reduce the number of bunkers or enlarge the field and reduce the number of bunkers. Two aspects of distance now come into play; between bunkers and between shooter and target. If the space between bunkers is expanded a moving player is exposed to opposition paint for a longer period of time while the distance between shooter and target roughly defines how long it will take a paintball to reach the target. The object is to restore some sort of balance of the game's elements, ie; make is as difficult to move in the limited paint game as it was in the unrestricted game but at some point proximity and ROF will (again) overwhelm the field modifications. (And where is the dividing line between difficult and a roll of the dice?) Will it occur in such a way that the result still replicates, more or less, the current game play? I wonder. If we go with option one at what point does the field become too big to play a cohesive 5-man game? To sustain any of the Race 2 variants given the time constraints built into the format? Reducing the number of bunkers might leave us with the same sized field and increased space between bunkers but will also dumb down the game play by reducing the movement options available to the player. Or a combo of a slightly larger field and a few less bunkers might work best even if it is less complex than current field designs.
One thing restricted paint can't undo is the lessons learned about how to play the game and as long as ROF remains the same (or something similar) restricted paint won't turn back the clock or restructure the hierarchy of skills used to play the game.

Since I'm running long I'ma bump the discussion of how skill fits into all this for a follow-up post.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Reading the Keys

This year's World Cup field provides a couple of interesting challenges for both the offensive- & defensive-minded teams. With the SD as the Home bunker teams will find it more difficult to keep two laners at Home otb despite good lanes to both sides of the field. That will in turn tend to push teams more rapidly into their primaries. Preferably primaries that are reasonably secure and offer lanes that can contain (or slow down) the opponents upfield moves. One of those primaries will be the near T (circled in orange) on the snake side and lots of teams will be tempted to use that Temple to try and control D-wire movement.
This poses a necessary trade-off. The trade off is unbalanced play to one side or the other. (I know what you're thinking. With 5 players there's almost always some imbalance. Except this is different.) It comes from the crossfield position and tends to push teams to favor a strong D-wire play. For example, given the limited options snakeside and the risk involved in running two players wide otb snakeside the tendency will be to keep a snakeside home shooter and run two players D-side as a typical breakout. For snakeside play this deprives the home shooter of a low risk move--except for the prospect of doubling it up and still leaves snakeside as the play's weakside. (An acceptable change of pace but also a key your opponent can "read.")

What are keys--and how do you read them? In this scenario the key is knowing which way a specific position is playing and understanding what immediate options and opportunities exist because of that single fact. Remember the trade-off? Here's where it comes into play. The (orange) temple played on the cross should immediately signal snakeside weakness to their opponent and barring a loss otb should result in an aggressive effort to push the snake and even shift a player to make the snakeside the attack side. (One common counter to this is to play the inside D-side Can on the cross as well but that puts two of your 5 players in a defensive posture otb. Which is fine if you eliminate a body or two. Not so fine if you don't.)

The larger point is that knowledge of the field and the right kind of preparation will allow players to "read" the action at various points in the game play and react in a coordinated effort without delay or communication and press the fast, aggressive game style.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Weekend of Paintball

Last Saturday I was out with the team at our regular practice field, CFP, preparing for Cup. We already know how we want to play the World Cup layout when we're in control of a point so my focus on Saturday was addressing the ways an opponent can attempt to take us out of our game and take control for themselves. As it turned out our practice opponent's strategy was exactly what we needed. And what I expect a number of our potential opponents at Cup to employ to one degree or another.

A few former teammates (and old friends) were also out at the field on Saturday playing paintball and during a couple of breaks in our practice session I walked over to the players area for the rec ball fields. Both times the guys were on the field in the middle of what seemed like endless games. Both times I had to return to our field before they finished their game(s) and/or got eliminated. A number of the guys I used to play with who are still active have gone to playing predominantly pump paintball, rec & tourney. It's certainly more economical and it seems like pump may also be the current home of the inveterate tinker & customizer. Back when I started playing creating a unique marker was all the rage as there were lots of aftermarket parts makers while the truly enterprising no-lifers made their own parts. To look over the selection of markers the local pump crowd was playing with was almost like going back to the future without the Delorean or Doc Brown. (Thankfully no crazed Libyans wielding RPGs showed up either although they could make an appearance at Wayne Dollack's Grand Finale. You never know.) There was also a limited paint tournament event last Saturday that was of some interest. In watching some of the competition I was reminded of a bit of Faction propaganda and one statement in particular, "A slight adjustment to the rules would remove the advantage of shooting more paint and totally change the economics of tournament paintball." This particular version of the limited paint mantra is in the HydroTec thread over on the Nation. More on that shortly.

After we finished practice I hung around for a while to shoot the breeze. My friends and I walked over to check out the tournament. Turned out it was a 2-on-2 event on an approximately xball-sized field (with a few additional bunkers). The paint limit was 10 paintballs. Yeah, 10. It was a pump event. And, no, it wasn't restricted to stock class guns. More interesting was how the majority of games (points?) played out. With never more than four players on the field at a time and enough bunkers to hide half a scenario team and, dare I say, damn little paint flying around the set-up practically promised wide open, crazy action. Which never materialized. In fact 90% of the games used the same half dozen bunkers with the players one balling at each other until somebody was eliminated--at which point the remaining two player team would attempt to pinch out the single player. It was perhaps the most hilariously tedious tourney ball I've ever witnessed. I mention it because I find it instructive on a few levels and because it really was amazingly bizarro paintball. As a real world game played using Faction's limitation to the extreme it demonstrated that the controlling variable in any paintball game is the human one.

Now it's time to take a closer look at Faction's statement. He is asserting a couple of things; that some measure of restricting paint use in tournament play will 'totally change the economics of tournament paintball' and be 'a slight adjustment.' He is also claiming that any disparity in the amount of paint shot between two competing teams amounts to some sort of unfair advantage and competition by wallet. For starters all tournament paintball is already limited paint; limited to the amount of paint each player carries to begin a game or point. What Faction is really advocating is restricted paint--and if it is actually going to have a real economic impact it will need to be a severe restriction. Really, a severe restriction? Let's say a D1 team shoots as much paint per point as my pro team does, around a case and a half. Is a full hopper and three pods per player a severe restriction? Not so much 'cus three pods and a hopper is the case and half they average shooting per point. Now if that's all they had would they likely end up shooting less? Probably, but would it be enough less to really matter? How much less do they have to shoot before it makes a big enough economic difference? Or let's put it another way. The same D1 team averages 7 points played per match (MAO was between 6.75 and 7.5 points per match in the prelims) and makes the cut so they play a total of 6 matches to place somewhere in the top 4. At a case and a half a point that's approx. 65 cases per event. With the three pod restriction let's say their usage drops to one case per point, or around 42. Compare that to the D1 coach who said in response to my recent suggestion the leagues stop revealing the event layouts that his team would likely shoot half as much practice paint or less. They currently shoot 200 cases in practice between events so by his calculation they would save 100 cases. Is it the tournaments teams can't afford because of the volume of paint or is it the preparation for tournaments?

Nor will the result be 'a slight adjustment.' What Faction fails to understand is that paint is neutral; it is offensive & defensive. It is the means by which the struggle for control is contested in any and every game of paintball played. And as the competitive game has evolved it is the high volume environment that defines and displays the skill level of the individual players.

Now don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying limited (restricted) paint is bad. I think it's a perfectly acceptable option for tournament play particularly where the majority of the players are young and learning the game. But I'm also saying that as the universal answer it leaves a lot to be desired because it would not be a slight adjustment, it would be the first in a chain reaction of then necessary changes to make the resulting format/game playable by the most skilled players. Without sufficient paint to contest control of the field a restricted paint game between highly skilled teams will result in either a bunkerfest bloodbath or revert to a predominantly defensive match in an effort to keep enough room between the players to avoid the bloodbath. In either case it would dumb down the skill level required to compete. More on this next time when I talk about skills.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Monday Poll

Here we go again. Same poll, different league. This week it's which teams will be playing in the pro division of the NPPL in 2011. And look, if you feel strongly a team I left out ought to be on the list make your case. For all I know ex-members of all the past Aftermath teams will get together and become AfterAftermath and start a new team to take paintball by storm. Could happen.
Just like last week you can vote for as many teams as you like but there's no point in voting for them all. That's the same as voting for nobody. What will the NPPL look like in 2011? You tell me. Vote.

Monday Poll in Review
It's definitely interesting to see what y'all think is likely to happen. I'm placing the will play PSP Pro next year cutoff at two-thirds of the vote. Partly because that looks about right to me and partly because nobody else receiving votes even reached 50% so there is a clear and wide line separating those above two-thirds from everyone else. If correct there will be 7 teams in the PSP Pro bracket next year (and the league will scramble to find an 8th.) Even the top vote recipients (Russian Legion & Vicious) only received 80% of the vote which suggests to me that either there's some lack of confidence in virtually any and every team or maybe even some lack of confidence in the league. (Or it could be all the pessimistic talk is so ingrained it's hard not to assume the worst.) Following close behind are Ironmen (77%) and Damage (75%) with Dynasty (71%), Infamous (69%) & Impact (67%) filling out the rest of the list.
Of the remaining 2010 PSP Pro teams the votes likely reflect a mixture of support and the swirling rumors that abound. Aftermath was receiving votes in the line with those teams that made the cutoff until around mid-week last week the news leaked that Aftermath had broken up again. Aftershock, X-Factor, Entourage and XSV all broke the 20% mark but topped out at Shock's 43%. None of the other teams listed reached 20%.
On closer examination it's probably fair to suggest the teams that made the cut are perceived to be the best supported & sponsored teams and that almost certainly effected the poll results, too. Are these teams the 2011 PSP Pro division? Looks a lot like what I would have guessed, that's for sure. Will they all make the cut? Who else will be there? Time will tell.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mr. Curious On The Prowl

It's a good thing Mr. C is around to set me straight. Paintball rumorology is full of more twists and turns than Old Skool Cold War Kremlinology and it may be I was led astray--or maybe not. I've been sitting for some time on a Pandora's Box of whispered innuendo, vaguely credible snippets of gossip and tenuous rumors and after I let one little rumor slip out I'm told almost immediately that it's wrong. Just goes to show you. Of course Mr. C had to qualify his objection by admitting that his information could also be mistaken. I'm referring to my prediction in this week's mailbag about the NPPL restructuring as a mostly Left Coast series. While not a rumor in and of itself it was predicated on the rumors about the NPPL's demise after Vegas and before a new season begins (despite there being 2011 dates already given on the website.) The latest Mr. C has heard is rumors of a shake-up in the NPPL and word that a new mystery moneyman is coming to the rescue--again. Frankly I don't give it a lot of credence simply because we've heard it before. On a more solid footing it seems the NPPL High Command are going to run some variant of the S7 format in the Pro division at Vegas. No details on exactly how it's going to work.

Mr. C says this next item may very well be disinformation but rumor has it that buried within the boxes of old Brass Eagle rubbish are some patents that may relate to the HydroTec manufacturing process. (It's said that Tom Kaye was producing a similar paintball for very limited use in the late 90's which may have sparked the Brass Eagle interest but which was supposedly not price competitive to manufacture at that time.) If true it could give KEE the means to contest or negotiate with HydroTec should their new paintball prove to a success.

And for you hopeful Eurokids who have heard it whispered that the PSP is coming to save you from the MS--Mr. Curious says not so fast. He's heard that too but insists that the prospect grows less likely every day.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Baca's Mailbag

It seems like things are just puttering along and everyone is waiting for the next bit of entertaining or impossible gossip to come along--I mean it's not like anybody plays paintball anymore. And Greg Hastings is about to find out if anybody even plays game console paintball anymore and if our collective ennui has spread to our Playstations and Xboxes what hope remains for the future of paintball? Dressing up and playing soldiers? Oh, wait a sec--this wasn't another depressing rant, this was supposed to be a Baca's Mailbag (and I need questions, dammit!) How 'bout them Cowboys? Is everybody ready to agree that if you don't have a solid offensive line it almost doesn't matter how many high profile "weapons" and impact players you have? [That was a football segue for all the paintball dweebs--and you know who you are.]

The major league season is entering the home stretch with the NPPL, PSP and MS all having one event remaining in the 2010 season. And until the last couple of days everything was quiet, perhaps too quiet. As The Monday Poll hints there's been chatter amongst the pro teams about what happens next year but the state of pro paintball the last two or three years has also frequently meant one last shake-up as the season comes to a close and that time may be upon us. Coming off their best result of the year it appears there's uncertainty in the Aftermath camp as Mouse turns to the dark side and a roster spot with Dynasty. As mentioned yesterday it also appears Entourage will not be playing Vegas and there's whispers on the street they mightn't be the only one. And I, for one, am interested in the new paintball unleashed at Extravaganza. But that's not what the mailbag is about--this time. And in the meantime I'll put Mr. Curious to work and see what he can find out in the dark alleys and abandoned tenements of tourney paintball.

Today's first question is entirely too apropos: With several teams hanging on by a thread this season, what do you see as a sustainable number of Pro teams for next year?

I like the implication of "sustainable" as if pro teams were a green resource that required government to raise our taxes (some more) while strip-mining our rights. (Was that too political?) But in another sense that's really the problem, isn't it? The system was built on a sponsorship model that wasn't sustained. At this stage sustainability needs to reference two things; What's it cost and who can afford that cost? Is, or can, anything be done to reduce the costs involved? Lots of questions and not a lot of answers and instead of a thoughtful, safe answer I'm going to offer a prediction.
The PSP pro division will be 8 teams (tho the league will want to expand it to 10 which could mean some non-competitive filler.) Nonetheless, it will continue to be recognized as the preeminent pro division in competitive paintball. The NPPL will restructure or cease doing bidness. (No insider info, kids, just my best guess.) If it restructures it will be a predominantly west coast league featuring the remains of the NPPL pro division. Crossover between the leagues would amount to 1 or 2 teams at most. How's that for a prediction?

Going back to the [not so] recent Pro Paintball article that declared you as "the best coach in the game"... What exactly does it take to be the best? Also, can you name the more noteworthy other coaches of today and talk more about the role of a professional coach?

Longevity? While it makes for a terrific Facebook endorsement (and I appreciated the kind thoughts) it's even more subjective than trying to name the best player. Before anyone can talk about the best we's gonna need to define just what we mean by "coach." Since coach can be anybody from the Dad who drives everybody to the Saturday 3-man to the friend from another team sideline coaching "coach" covers a lot of territory. I think of coach in the traditional sports sense. More particularly I think of my role equating with that of a basketball coach. Half the job is teaching, making players better while turning them into a team. The other half is to provide the structure they play within and guide the play of the game in competition. In a lot of ways coaching in paintball, in any sense, is a fairly new idea (although there have always been players, owners, captains who have performed some or all of the coach's role) so there are a lot of variations of what coaching is out there.
Being a good coach requires knowledge of the game, an ability to communicate effectively, develop a relationship with your players, evaluate players strengths & weaknesses, instill confidence, prepare your team to compete effectively.
As for noteworthy current names discretion is the better part of valor but Bob Long is a legendary teacher for good reason and Shane Pestana of the Ironmen was an outstanding coach and game day leader.
Regarding the role of the professional competitive paintball coach I think it's still in flux in some respects. It's moving toward a consensus and toward a role as fully complex as established sports coaching but it isn't there yet. In part because the pro teams are struggling for resources, in part because some teams retain players/coaches/captains in the traditional roles and in part because there aren't a lot of people out there with the combination of knowledge, skills and free time to fill the job description.

What makes a tourney series successful nowadays? Is there even such a thing?

The second question first: Absolutely there is such a thing. I think the Vicious Series and WCPPL and others have proven to be successful this year and they've done it in different ways to some extent--which brings us to your first question. The baseline of success is that a series draws enough interest and participation to make it worthwhile to continue doing the series for everyone from the promoters to the players and sponsors. At the same time a local field operator may simply love tourney ball and may consider his efforts a success as long as he's proud of the product he provides and doesn't lose money doing it. If you're thinking a tourney series must show growth year to year or event to event that's plainly unrealistic in the current environment, particularly at the national level.

The universal why. You know -- life, the universe and everything. Just -- WHY?

Not about paintball of course but since it's an easy question -- why not? The universal answer is 42. (I thought everybody knew that. What do they teach in school these days?) The tricky part of this equation is knowing the question, which nobody knows. (It is not what is six times seven.) And the last time anyone made the effort to find out it didn't turn out all that well.

SnapShooting is one of the key skills for a player. But if you ask ten (pro or not) players to explain it, you will have ten versions of snapshooting. There is for sure only one good way to shapshot!!!
Who got the good one, and when the whole world of paintball will learn and train this basic skill the same way?

This is an interesting question on a couple of grounds. First, is there in fact one way that is demonstrably superior to all other options? I'm not convinced. I will grant that there are core fundamental techniques involved that if followed will offer the most consistent results for the most players--but does that mean I'm going to insist all my players do it my way? If they are 10 years old then yes, they do it my way because that becomes the foundation of their skill--not the end of it. If they're 18 or 20 odds are I will try to fine tune their technique instead. Second, you're going to have a hard time convincing one group or the other that they need to change what they're doing. If one technique proves to be universally superior everyone (mostly) will eventually adopt it.
But let's break it down a little further. What's the snap-shooting priority list? Presenting the least profile possible? Making an accurate shot? Taking the shot in the least amount of time? Replicating the technique in the widest variety of positions possible? And we haven't even considered the practical complexity of the bio-mechanical problems of real human bodies with the differing dimensions of gun set-ups and those effects on snap-shooting technique. Is there one technique that encompasses all those elements better than any other?
I tend to treat the issue like a swing coach in golf. If everyone could swing a club like Tiger Woods that's what I'd teach. Since they can't I focus on making them the best they can be.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

MLP Weekly Update

It's back! What do you mean you forgot all about it? See, that's half the problem right there; apathy. I let it slide for awhile because even I was beginning to be depressed and if you can't laugh in the face of chaos and ruin what's the point?

That and I have a particular postulate I want to put forward. (Another example of unintentional alliteration.) About World Cup participation. World Cup is different. (Huge insight, I know.) But it's different for different reasons than it used to be. (Okay, even I am a little confused at this stage but hang on, I see a little light at the end of the tunnel and I swear I don't drink Coors Light.) WC is a unique event and as a unique event, the premier event, in all of tournament paintball it is both a tournament and an experience for a lot of the teams and players who participate. That's why the numbers have always been disproportional in comparison to regular season events and continue to be. WC has typically drawn approx. 3 times as many 5-man teams than participated on average during the season. (Some years more, some less.) During 5 of the 6 years of the xball era (discounting the two year phase out of 10-man) seasonal xball participation has outnumbered 5-man participation and the WC gap for xball is well under 2:1. Those numbers suggest a couple of things. 1, xball teams tend to be more serious and committed as a higher percentage play the season relative to WC. 2, by a wide margin 5-man teams were more experience oriented and less focused on the competition and have tended to show up at Cup in much greater numbers than an analysis of xball would suggest.
I think those numbers suggest there may be something to my trickle down "cost to be competitive" theory from the 'What is Tournament Paintball? part 3' post. Particularly given the flukish drop off in seasonal 5-man play between the 05 & 06 seasons. 05 was the first year of exclusively xball and saw, on average, 96 5-man teams per event not including Cup. In 06 that number dropped to 58. And from 07 thru 09 the numbers slowly grew. In 2010 the numbers have fallen off the face of the earth but at this point it's pretty clear the general economy is having a powerful effect. I'm wondering if the 06 drop off is a reflection on when the xball format began to dominate tournament paintball and as a consequence began the process that has raised the "cost" of being competitive. In truth I have no idea but it's intriguing.
In 2010 the PSP averaged 80 Race 2-X teams per event and the last time that happened (2006) WC had 131 xball teams. Registration for Race 2-X currently stands at 131. Of course that same year, despite the big drop off in 5-man season averages WC also had 244 5-man teams participate. That's not going to happen this time around.

In the NPPL Entourage is off the pro division list (but is registered for WC) and Arsenal remains so the pros still have 13 teams. According to their website the NPPL has capped Vegas at 121 teams and by my count, discounting duplicate teams and half of the the listed teams that have no roster given, I counted 80 registered. That number could swing a few spots but should reflect a reasonably accurate number. I'm assuming the cap was intended to encourage some undecideds to make up their minds while also taking into account logistical reality. I don't know if that means 2 or 3 fields max however. Either way there's space but a third field would increase costs considerably.

In the MS the league capped their Paris Disney finale at 130 and apparently have sold out. With more than half their teams pre-paid and obligated (the locked divisions) all they needed was 69 additional teams. There is no indication that number carries any significance. In fact it looks like there are 135 teams registered but some may be on a wait list. Discounting last year's Paris event as an Open and consequently not as well attended as expected going back to 08 when Paris was the last of a 5 event season it drew 163 teams so this year's cap was probably a prudent call, particularly if they can squeeze a few additional teams in.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Monday Poll

There's a little chatter out in the cyberpaintball universe about either losing more pro teams this coming off season or seeing pro teams forced to pick a league to play. The former is certainly possible but I know there are teams taking a hard look at picking one league. This week's poll let's you predict who will play in the PSP's pro division next year. (And next week we'll see who you think will be playing NPPL. And, hey, who knows, I might even be able to milk it for a third week.) Again, this week's poll offers a list of teams and you may pick as many of them as you think will be playing in the PSP pro division in 2011.
Who knows, if you pick them they may play. What have you got to lose? Like two minutes of your life? That's nothing to a paintball player. Get crackin'. Vote.

UPDATE: I intentionally left any and all D1 teams off the possible list not because 1 or 2 might not give it a go but because I'm being cruel and judgmental.

UPDATE II: I left the Euros off too although there is a chance some of them might be in the running. I left them off because most of the insulated, self-absorbed North American audience is basically clueless. Why if you only knew how desperately the Euroballer wants to be like you you'd take more interest in them.

Monday Poll in Review
Not only are y'all a gaggle of lazy slackers you also obviously suffer a sense of humor deficit. I don't say that unkindly but it's apparent in your responses to last week's poll question: Why do referees huddle? Most (dare I suggest far too many?) of you took this way too seriously. On the other hand the poll is kinda loaded against the referees either by making fun of them or suggesting certain perverse interests on their part. Only one answer is vaguely positive--confer to make the correct call--and 21% of you went that way. (Brown nosers.) Actually I had no idea so many refs read VFTD. Thanks guys! The rest of the choices are just cheap and not so cheap shots. I mean, come on, huddling after flags are thrown and calls are made? What's a semi-rational individual supposed to think. Seriously? Anyway, it's a thankless job and we should all be grateful there are guys who blah blah blah.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What happens in Vegas ...

... stays in Vegas--as long as it's your money--or so the city fathers desperately hope 'cus everyone else is getting outta Dodge. (The wages in Sin City ain't what they used to be.) But don't you believe them. You may leave your dignity and your last dime behind but the all-night walk-in clinic you found strongly recommends you take your antibiotics home with you and finish the prescribed course of treatment.

If the NPPL follows through with one plan that's being floated they may hope it stays in Vegas, too. While I am thankfully outta the loop our team did receive a query the other day from NPPL HQ requesting our opinion of modifying the pro format to something like what was used for the All-Star game(s) in DC. As it related to competition it was forwarded to me requesting comment. (One thing I'm good at.) I immediately objected. Alter the format for the final event of the season? When we have as a good a shot as anybody of winning the series? I don't think so. But seriously. Changing the format in season? Now I have no idea if my objection was passed along or what anyone else thinks of this format altering in season but there are also some Big Picture issues with making such a change and that's what this post is really about.

When talk of the All-Star modification first came up a month or two ago I thought it was a mistake then too. Not because it was a lousy idea for the All-Star game but because of where I assumed it would lead--to this. Before I explain my objection though I have a question: What is this format change supposed to fix?

The likely answer is that a best of 3 offers greater assurance that the better team won--and in any isolated calculation I would agree. But--if that's the argument you also end up admitting the other league has had it right all along and the change becomes us too, better late than never. And that would leave the NPPL deciding if it's going to carry the format change over across the other divisions and if not, why not? If it does then suddenly the NPPL is playing Race 2-2 with 7 players (and playing follow the leader.) If it doesn't why is the change right for the pros but not everybody else?

In the current format it is possible to lose games that you normally wouldn't or fall victim to occasional poor officiating but at the same time you play everyone that everyone else in your group plays. Everyone's opportunity is identical and more of the pro teams play against each other than happens in the other league. (We've gone whole seasons not playing a team or two in the PSP.)

How is the new format organized as a competition? (There were no details in the HQ query.) How many prelims do you play? How is moving on to your next match-up arranged? Would you end up playing more or less games? Is this, in part, a paint saving scheme? How many pods are we going to need? There are lots of unanswered questions, big & small.

My guess is the plan will be tabled for now and reconsidered in the off season. If you like the idea and think it might sway you to play NPPL by all means say so. If you don't like it say that too and if you're just curious you might as well kick back and relax. We'll find out soon enough.

If NPPL HQ is concerned about exploring ways to rebuild the format's popularity and get more peeps playing again they might have more luck using the other league's field instead of its format. Just a thought.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Paintball News

That's the forum over at TheNation and the specific item that caught my interest was a new billboard campaign from KEE. Check it out. What do you think? (Title is link.)

What is Tournament Paintball? part 3

It is evident now that competitive paintball is where the drive and desire to move tournament paintball into the realm of sport has taken us. It is what it is and it was inevitable. Competitive paintball will continue to develop. If the vehicle hadn't been xball it would have been something else. It is also evident that the current difficulties are the result of a number of factors some of which have nothing to do with playing the game. There will be no one stop easy fixes. Most of us have no way to affect the outcome regardless. But there may be some things that can be done in the present to help build a more sustainable and broader tournament base.
Before offering some practical suggestions I think it's also important to make the conceptual distinction between competitive paintball and tournament paintball. Of course both terms represent a form of competition but competition is also an aspect of all paintball. Today, wherever you are, the default definition of tournament paintball is related to the xball brand of competitive paintball. And if that is what potential and beginning tourney players think tournament paintball is they (and we) are limiting their options and reducing the number who will try it out. What I mean is the PSP needs to undo everything it's done in the last couple of years with the affiliates and universal classification. (Bet that got your attention.) No, that's not what I mean but I do think one option is to offer tourney play at the local level that isn't the first few steps up the national and international competition ladder. Alternatively (or in combination with) local and regional competitive paintball needs to lower the bar to participation.For example our local practice field also hosts a PSP affiliate series with the bulk of participating teams being D3, 4 & 5. And what do those teams do to get ready for their next regional event? They spend their weekends scrimmaging each other full points and burn through paint at tournament rates. It hardly matters if the events themselves are reasonably priced if teams can't afford to practice. And they are preparing to compete this way because that's what we taught them to do. If that is the minimum requirement to compete in D4 is it any wonder we're losing teams?

Let's review: At present competitive paintball is too expensive for its target demographic and simultaneously (and unnecessarily) restricts the opportunities of a significant number of the most dedicated players.

What to do? We broaden the definition of tournament paintball in order to legitimize a wider variety of tournament options. (Sure, this already happens as a practical matter but only in a piecemeal haphazard way.) Lower costs for competitive paintball. Lower the bar to tournament play with alternatives to competitive paintball. Slow down the "career" track and also offer options that don't involve a "career" track. Reconnect with the disenfranchised players.

(Sorry. No easy button involved. And if you're still uncertain I am not throwing the PSP or anybody else for that matter under the bus. The further sport paintball moves from generic paintball the more intermediary steps it needs along the way to provide a conduit of future players.)
Ok, back to what to do. How to lower costs? Shoot less paint. Which can be accomplished a few ways. I do not favor limited paint or drastically lower ROF--at least not at the national sport paintball level of competition. Do not release the field layout prior to the event. (It's deja vu all over again. Yes, I've suggested this before.) Without the layout there's little point in shooting truckloads of paint weekend after weekend. Teams will have to adapt. Find new ways to train and not be forced by the system to try and keep up with the next team by shooting extreme amounts of practice paint. Teams could literally save thousands of dollars. The rest of my suggestions relate primarily to the local & regional tourney scene. Lower the bar to tournament play. Something that is already happening in places. We need to see more generic 3-man and 5-man paintball events. And keep those players out of the UCP (Universal Classification Program) of APPA [or on an alternate local track] until they begin playing the bottom rung affiliate league events. We need some reseeding stand alone Open events. And for the time being we need to trim the number of total events down.
The specifics aren't important. Different areas will likely require different choices but the baseline goals need to be the same. Entry level tourney play that doesn't require the dedication, commitment and expense of competitive paintball as a gateway opportunity. Keep it simple with 3-man and/or 5-man. No pre-release of the layout. Strictly limit who can play. (I'd be sorely tempted to disallow anyone with an existing APPA i.d. but there's probably some room for consideration there.) Simplify divisions. Want to limit ROF? Give it a try. Or limited paint? Sure. The goal is a low pressure tourney environment a step or two above walk-on play for the most part. Ranking should be seasonal as long as divisions remain competitive and keep those players off the UCP. Let them track at their own pace as much as and as long as possible. Those that want greater challenges will make the necessary moves on their own.
The idea of open events is aimed at the D2 and D1 ranked players no longer playing because there are lots of them and very few options for them to keep actively involved short of trying to maintain a competitive commitment. Anyone can play an open event and skill level by team doesn't matter because by the final round of play all the teams are seeded against similar skill levels. Say the promoter decides on three divisions of play; A, B & C with prizes tiered as well with A having the best. Every team that signs up has a shot at all three packages. The teams are assigned divisions randomly and Round 1 is played. The reseed puts the most successful teams in bracket A, the mid-pack in B and C for the rest. Round 2 confirms the seedings but also allows some potential movement. Reseed and play Round 3 and there you have it. Round 3 winners receive the prizes for their brackets. It's a good way for lesser teams to get to compete against better ones and at the end of the day still vie for prizes and/or trophies and it doesn't penalize any player regardless of classification status.
There's also no reason not to run these kinds of events along with affiliate league play. What should be avoided is offering or trying to offer too many events over the course of the season. Too many choices dilutes the product and odds are, particularly in the current environment, the majority will end up picking & choosing. Far better to have a few rock solid events in place early so teams can see it's a do-able schedule and plan ahead.
A few words on the UCP. It's worlds better than it was. It's also appropriate for competitive paintball. I still wonder if it's flexible enough but I am not opposed to it or the concept behind it. I just think that in the here and now there is no good reason to push every tournament player onto a one size fits all fast track. Because it doesn't and there's no reason it should. What competitive paintball needs--among other things--isn't a larger pool of rec players but a larger pool of tournament players that have an opportunity to grow and develop at their own pace.

This is hardly a conclusive post but it's a start. There's so much more to all this that hopefully I've made a dent. Regardless, I have no doubt it's a topic that will be revisited again and again.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Monday Poll

If you've been keeping up you already know what's coming. If you haven't your penance is to go back a couple of posts and catch up with, A Pre-Monday Poll Query. This week's tongue-in-cheek question (mostly) (sorta) (kinda) is: Why Do Referees Huddle? You, yes you, were offered an opportunity to participate in the process and if you didn't you have no excuses and no one to blame but yourself. Am I bitter? Naw. As usual you were all (for the most part) a pack of worthless slackers--which, on the plus side, makes y'all consistent and predictable. But if you don't like your options let's just say I won't be particularly sympathetic.
Now go vote. Do it for your self-respect. Or as a protest against a demanding blog. Whatever it takes--click that mouse and count.

Monday Poll in Review
Last week's poll quizzed your thoughts on the potential for the new water-based paintball from HydroTec to be introduced at the upcoming Paintball Extravaganza. The only surprise was the 15% who claimed not to know what the HydroTec paintball is--given that just a couple posts below is one of a number of VFTD posts on the topic. What, some of you drop by just for the pictures? Otherwise, in this The Year of the Small Ball your reticence, if not outright cynicism, in accepting this new paintball is clear. 3% consider it hype. 10% figure at best it's just another paintball and 9% think if the paintball proves out its promise it will mean chaos for the paint industry. Now that's focusing on the dark cloud. But most of you are withholding judgment even if you're hopeful it might amount to something. (40%) And for those with their eyes on the prize 10% thought if the paintball turns out to be cheaper it would benefit retailers and field operators while 6% were looking to keep a few more bucks in their pockets.
Personally I think it will work and be cheaper for both players and field operators while causing chaos in the paint industry even though it's just another paintball.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Over at ProPaintball

Is the first part of a multi-part series entitled, Anatomy of a Pro Paintball Roster. It's terrific. Just the sort of thing I'd do if I wasn't a lazy slacker. Be smart and check it out.
Oh yeah, link is the post title.

What is Tournament Paintball? (part 2)

Picking up where yesterday's post left off--(it's no longer yesterday unless you are willing to subscribe to a very loose or generous definition of "yesterday" but better late than never)(Right?)--the last thing I want to do is assign blame. Sure there were decisions made that people disagreed with, either then or later. Yes, there were decisions made that had little or nothing to do with the players. And hindsight is closer to 20/20 with the advantage of seeing how things turned out. But even with hindsight only a few things seem clear to me and I'm a lot more interested today in where things go from here than I am in portioning out culpability like Paintball's judge & jury. It isn't going to change anything so what's the point?

What does yesterday's brief history tell us, if anything? In pure numbers the largest events ever occurred after the woods were completely abandoned. Field size did shrink over the last dozen years but the biggest turnouts happened after most of the field shrink had reached present levels or were close to it. There was a dropoff with the introduction of xball but the numbers rose year to year until 2007, when WC fielded over 360 teams. And while 2008 was lower the numbers still topped 320 teams. Throughout the huge event era the 5-man turnout floated just below or above 200 teams. Capped ramping to 15 bps was the rule during a 4 year period during the build-up of xball. Prior to that actual ROF were all over the place as they have been all along in the various NPPL incarnations but not consistently crazy fast until the Halo hit the market. Today PSP is 12.5 for everybody. After an introductory season and the massive positive hype about HB the NPPL took off in year 2 with the 7-man format. One league focused on the perks and the other on the paintball. High end sponsorship dollars peaked around '05-'06. Both leagues were pursuing TV and the Russian Legion introduced a previously unseen level of professionalism in their organization and training. A level of professionalism the other pro teams needed to compete with to stay relevant.

Today events take up less time than ever. Guns are still fast. Across the board officiating is about as good as it's ever been. Running events is almost clockwork these days and if you take paint tabs off the table going to an event is still expensive but adjusted for inflation not a lot more expensive than it ever was. So how to explain the decline?

Some want to place the start of the decline before the current and ongoing general economic malaise with the flattening of industry sales. The idea being the sales numbers were indicative of a drop off in new players entering the game and the trickle down eventually has impacted tourney ball. (The player spigot got turned off and it took awhile for the reduced flow to reach the tournament faucet.) I find that explanation less than persuasive in part because the industry downturn was at least partly self-inflicted in my estimation. (Most of the rest of the conventional wisdom fits in here as well. Stuff like ROF chased newbies away. Funny thing is I think there has been a trickle down that has affected tourney play.) The last two years WC has had 191 and 183 5-man teams signed up with both years at well over 300 teams total. The consequential decline was during the season at the NOT World Cup events and, of course, all this year. What I think is fair to say is that the level of growth we were used to stopped prior to the full effect of the recession hitting. But at this point the economy at large is depressing competitive paintball across the board--along with pretty much everything else.

Here's where I take the leap and offer a different--if not altogether new--analysis of the situation. Some of the pieces remain the same, just re-ordered a bit. (This is, btw, focused primarily on the PSP, and its sphere of influence, as the larger more active league. That and NPPL 1.0 & 2.0 mostly self-destructed.)
The first piece of the puzzle was the move to xball. Xball was intended to be a format compatible with and comparable to mainstream sports. It was designed for TV and it skewed tournament paintball's core demographic younger. (The younger demo has less resources and less ability to organize.) Until this last year the classification system pushed too many players up the ranks--and during part of that period it was done by design as a way to try and fill the upper ranks. Instead, it dumbed down the skill level and pushed players (not teams) into ranks that made it difficult for them to continue competing at the national level and almost impossible at the local and regional level. (None of the PSP affiliates operate a division above D2.) The last piece of the puzzle is what I'm calling the sports mindset--which is something that was cultivated in the xball era. At the pro level the arrival of the Russian Legion and the drive toward a truly professional league pushed all the top teams to develop more formal organizational structures along with expanded training & practice routines. (It also drove up the team costs that have since forced teams to drop out.) And that attitude--along with a practice regimen--trickled down the divisions. Which isn't, of itself, a bad thing but it has changed the definition of tournament paintball. It isn't your Daddy's tourney ball anymore. It's demanding, it's expensive and it has raised the entry bar to potential new players and teams. The end result has been an artificially short competitive paintball "career" for players starting at a younger age in a more expensive, cutthroat version of what used to be tournament paintball.
Tomorrow (eh, next time) what to do about it.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Pre-Monday Poll Query

First, my apologies for the slow week of posting. I'm working on a new project while maintaining several older ones that are usually behind my ever optimistic scheduling without the added pressure of another competing project. Anyway, this is a first.
I'm looking to you lot to supply answers for the upcoming Monday Poll. It's going to be a mostly just for fun poll so instead of you telling me afterwards what I should have done you get an opportunity to make this a better poll by offering up your insights in advance. Then if I don't use your answer you can tell me afterwards how much better the poll would have been if only I'd had the good sense to include your answer--which was obvious, brilliant, clever & amusing. The trifecta plus one!
The upcoming poll question will be: Why do referees huddle? It happens all the time. In PSP divisional and NPPL play it's usually ex post facto (after a penalty has been assessed) but on the pro field it also happens at times before a call is made but after a flag is thrown. I've often wished Derder or Social or somebody filming would jump in the ref's huddle like they do the players huddles but until we have conclusive video evidence of what's going on I want your answers. You've got the weekend to supply an answer or two--or even three--as the poll will go up Monday, with or without you.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

No Power in Heaven or on Earth

Can stand before the mighty Deadbox Puppet Army. I know, this isn't Friday and I normally do enlistments on Friday but it's been awhile--and I'm giddy as a schoolgirl--so here it is.
VFTD is pleased (excited, thrilled) to welcome the latest recruits, j.c. & Jonathan to the DPA. Thanks, guys!

And to encourage some of you other slackers to consider enlisting I'ma take a minute and remind t.c. & Jonathan of some of the perks in being a member of the DPA. The army will be mobilised, when the time is ripe, via message through the VFTD secret decoder ring. And there's the DPA secret handshake designed to reveal infiltrators and falangist scum. Along with the weekly email blast/newsletter that updates the truth in order to keep the revisionist lies of the power structure from weakening our resolve. Oh, and there's the T-shirt but its still in the design stage. And decoder rings are currently on back order. And I'm having a little trouble remembering the secret handshake and the database is a little thin since nobody actually registers--it's a security measure--but as soon as those kinks get worked out the DPA will function like a well-oiled machine. Join today and you too can be a cog in our machine.