The fate of UK competitive paintball is being discussed over at P8ntballer--and it's of some interest--given nothing much is happening. (Although I'm beginning to seriously wonder what's become of the NPPL's attempt to engage ESPN & the next ESPN3 broadcast. I've heard a rumor or two but nothing of consequence and, as it's said, the hour approaches.) It's no doubt of considerably more interest to some of the UK kids, as well it should be. But here's the part I'm intrigued by; the path competitive paintball has followed in different countries. The UK is dominated by rental sites that cater--to the near exclusion of everything else (walk-ons, team practices, etc.)--to rental players and groups only. As a result players who became more involved and bought their own gear etc. were limited in the available outlets of play and (so it seems to me anyway) largely turned to tournament play. Or perhaps more of a Tournament Lite. Some teams, but not a lot, took it more seriously than others and trained and improved and worked their way up but many more didn't. When xball came along (including Euroland's bastard child, Xball Lite) the paradigm began to shift. With competitive paintball being transformed into sport so too the participants needed to be turned into athletes and competitors. That shift has had its effect around the paintball world. In the UK it has left competitive paintball in a shambles because a significant portion of their tourney base were really displaced recreational players. There are some who hope to turn that around but have yet to forge a viable plan for doing so.
Meanwhile, in places like Germany (where the development of paintball was almost the reverse of the UK in that tourney & team play has spawned recreational and training facilities) paintball is growing or at least solidly entrenched. The largest national league, the DPL, has around 300 teams competing around the country. What did they do to make that happen?
A few years ago Scandinavian (and particularly Swedish) tourney ball was very strong. It may well be it still is--I just don't know. But again, there's the same question of how did they organize successfully? Did the Germans follow their lead or did each follow a unique path?
There are other examples as well--and I'm very interested in the answers--because I'm inclined to think a significant factor in the decline of competitive paintball in the U.S. (at least in terms of the number of teams participating) shares some commonalities with the UK situation.
[Mix in the fact that PBIndustry policy frequently treated point of contact stores and fields like Sherman's Army marching through Georgia and we're well on our way towards a recipe for disaster.]
A bar too high. (I've mentioned this concept before so if you remember it, good for you and if not, it's new all over again.) The drive to legitimize competitive paintball as sport forced a lot of changes, first on the Pro teams--as did the routines & training of the Russian Legion. The effort to compete with the Russians forced the Pro teams to become more professional in their approach with fitness, drills, training & player development, etc. The whole attitude of the competitive side of paintball was transformed by both the conception of competitive paintball as sport and by the consequent demands it placed on teams. It raised the bar on what was required to be competitive. More money. More time. Greater commitment.
And it trickled down.
In magazine articles about the pro players and teams. In the How-To articles. In the nature of the xball format itself. In the shifting demographic skewing always younger. In the fever swamp created by the mirage of TV.
While I am foursquare behind the conception of competitive paintball as legit sport and have nothing but respect & admiration for the players and teams, regardless of current level or achievement, who are willing to make the necessary sacrifices in order to strive to be the best--it has created a gulf between the average rec baller and tournament paintball. It has raised the bar to entry so high it is driving potential players away. The transition used to be easier, smoother, less demanding. Out at our home field most every weekend you will find D5 & D4 teams grinding away. (Which, after a fashion, is pretty awesome.) They're doing drills, breakouts and scrimmaging. They are working, not playing. And where does that leave the kid or father and son who have been playing recreationally for a while and are curious about the tournament experience?
Next time I'll talk about the two tracks.