Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Bar Too High

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.


sdawg said...

Scenario or Big Games.

Well, that was an easy question.

Baca Loco said...

Some peeps want to play honest paintball without having to pretend they are Green Berets.

Reiner Schafer said...

Since the end of WW2, Germany has been about as anti-war/military as a nation can get. For paintball to get a foothold, it had no choice but to go the "sport" route and make as little reference as possible to anything even remotely resembling warfare. It really doesn't surprise me that competitive paintball is as strong as it is.

The UK, just like America, didn't have that monkey on their back (although for a long time Americans thought they needed to shake something off their back anyway - not really sure what that was about). The Yanks could play pretend GI Joe and the Brits could play the British counterpart. Since a lot of people seem to like doing that and apparently find it more fun than competitive paintball, that's where the UK found it stronghold.

Anonymous said...

I'm 49 and my son is 14 and we transitioned from scenario to Xball without a problem. I'm also in great shape and am better fit then half our younger players.That said I'm probably the exception.Most dads that show up to watch their sons play wouldn't last a minute playing Xball.I also think the level of play is increasing within D4 and as you said were out their grinding every weekend.The bar is high for this kind of sport because it is competitive and you do gotta be pretty fit or you retire to play pump.We played a team of marines who lost every game they played at the tournament.But they had a great time anyway and will be back.I'm in it because this is something I can do with my son and maybe I'm a bit of an adrenaline junkie.Others will do it because their challenged and they like it even if they just got served by a bunch of teenagers and one old man.....

houdini said...

Over here is Asia'land most of the fields only hire out mechanical markers so players interested in learning about competition paintball get to learn at a pace that is not so fast-paced.

All the local leagues run novice divisions (Race to 1) using league supplied mechanical markers, giving an opportunity for players to step on to the field with absolutely no training or experience.

These divisions are the most popular due to the low cost of competing and the ease at which teams can form from a group of recball buddies and compete without needing coaches, managers, pit crews and high-end markers.

These divisions provide a continual supply of new teams and players to the higher divisions. (maybe this is why pump divisions are seeing a comeback in the US?)

I don't know what it's like in the US or UK but I'd guess that most players wanting to get into competition paintball are thrown in the deep end and have no choice but to compete using an emarker.

Sure for some with recball experience this wouldn't be a problem but for those that have had no previous paintball experience and for those that take longer to learn how to play, it's got to mean a higher rate of new player dropouts after they get lit up one too many times?

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

houdini, I've always said that the lowest division in competitive paintball should be one with equal, lower technology. It sounds like you guys in Asia are doing basically that. Let the beginners learn the ropes in a less intense, more equal environment. If they like it, they will move up the ranks quick enough. If there are lots of people liking the low tech stuff and don't want to move up, let them stay. Make sure the prize packages are basically non-existent so there is no incentive to sandbag, collect their fees, let them play for fun and bragging rights and let the pool grow. The best will soon enough get recruited up to higher (more technology) ranks. Allowing basically ridiculous ROF at the lowest levels is a huge mistake, in my (looking in from the outside) opinion.

Anonymous said...

Love that WW2 is coming up so much these days. Best war ever!

Anonymous said...

As a non-UK, euro speedball player anon.. all the rumors and stories we hear seem to indicate that UK was fucked up by brits themselves. Apparently PB scene in UK is filled with various nerds, all being 100% right on their individual agendas - bunkering behind their meaningless sponsors, old griefs and bitterness. Everyone there forgot that point of paintball is to play the game, not to hold grudges or to think who sells the paint or organizes reffing or what is the format of the day.

When it comes to attracting more people to play sport of paintball, I think one of crux to understand is that practicing technique is boring. You don't need to master slides, pops, gunfighting, tactics or run drills to have fun on a speedball field. Hell, I know cases where newbies have not even played a single practice point or a match in their first month trying out in a speedball club - but have spent four weekends in learning how to slide and gunfight. Thats beyond retarded. Drills are something you do after you can't progress anymore without doing them, eq. you get hooked to the sport first, then you learn technique. No one learned a sport by starting technique first, you get in by doing the fun stuff, competing.

To prevent technique or learned skills to rule in speedball at low levels, like in icehockey or in many other rought contact sports, you progress in brackets. First you are not allowed to tackle or make a slam shot. After couple years and bit of age, you first get to tackle, then after a while to slam. Same with paintball, you should start with really low 2.0-5.0bps rof's, and each level of play and as your experience grows, you proceed to higher rates of fire. Higher the ROF, more technique and raw skill you need to be competitive.

As a raw draft, I would go with something like this:

newbies and rentals 2bps
beginner local tournaments 5bps
advanced local tournaments 10.5bps
national lower divisions 10.5bps
national middle divisions 12.5bps
professional and semipro 15.0bps

tadaa, multitude of paintballs core problems are such, fixed. National Leagues enforce the rules, local tournaments support and thus, people playing in local and national tournaments start to practice with people in the same experience bracket.

ps. never forget when talking about euroball, that millenium series is still, a cancer. Dave where are you? Eclipse isnt saving us!

Anonymous said...

ps. euro anon here, for the ameritards, that wasn't a jab at eclipse if you didn't know they tried. UK had a huge federation event with awesome prices and lots of support, and teams didnt show up. Hilarious stuff. That can happen only in UK. I can tell you that everyone else in europe was drooling over those prices, they were unheard off.

Maybe if DYE ran a real league here, maybe..

Anonymous said...

It comes down to practice and commitment. I like paintball, but I lack the time and desire to practice with the frequency that would be needed to be halfway competitive at even the lower levels. Teams really need to be out there every other weekend, if not every weekend to be competitive. I stick to the woods and occassionally pop on to the rec speedball field. The level of competition/practice requirements just mean paintball is more like other sports. In high school sports, we practiced every weekday. Pro sports teams practice just about every day.

Reiner Schafer said...

So for competitive paintball to take off, all that is needed is a large number of physically fit people who don't mind a little pain dished up with the regular discomforts of competitive sports, who have lots of time and are willing to forsake almost everything else in life, and who are independently wealthy (or don't mind living in perpetual poverty). Shouldn't be too much of a problem.
Who sets the height of the bar? As long as one team is willing to push the limits, commit more time and more funds, the bar gets raised. It only takes one. The rest either need to pony up, or lag behind. If they lag behind long enough, they will end up discouraged and eventually drop out. The bar never drops. It only goes up. Unless of course there are limiters of some sort in place. Limits to how high the bar can be raised.
What kind of limiters could be put in place? You could limit the physical attributes of players, but I have a feeling that's not going to go over too well :-). You aren't going to be able to control the time commitment of teams/players; there's no way you could limit how much a team practices. Limiters that might be plausible so more people that aren't in need of being independently wealthy or don't want to live in perpetual poverty might include limiting technology, limiting ROF, or limiting paintball volume.
Virtually all sports that use some kind of technology in their activity, have limiters of some kind in place. The reason they do this is so that the attention ends up being on the competition instead of the technology. Some sports also limit technology (or force the use of some aspects of technology) for safety reasons.
Now most forms of competitive paintball have ROF limits, but let's face it, those ROF limits, being as high as they are, do very little for helping keep players out of perpetual poverty.

I don't see the bar getting lowered anytime soon. It will only continue to creep up, excluding more and more players until one day, there just aren't going to be enough players to sustain any decent competitive paintball . Maybe we are already there.

Anonymous said...

@Reiner: The key word is 'competitive'. There is always talk of making paintball a recognized, legitimate sport in the same vein as baseball, basketball, or football. For a professional competitive sport, the bar should be high with physically fit people who foresake everything else in life for the sport. Even in the sports most people don't care about (like Olympic sports you only care about once every 4 years and oly if your country has someone decent at it), the atheletes spend all their time not at their day job training.

Reiner Schafer said...

@ Anonymous. I agree as long as you are aware of the key word in your post, "professional". Expecting this of everyone else seems a bit much though and definitely thins out the crowd.

Anonymous said...

@Reiner, yes I was leaning more towards the 'professional' aspect. However, all sports seem to tend to be arms races. Youth sports have been getting more and more intense. Kids are now focusing on a single sport year round, they are going to more clinics and camps, and they are even getting more one on one personal training. Playing in competitive year round travel leagues is becoming the norm (if you want to be good), when it used to be in-town leagues that lasted a couple of months. This is the case even for kids as young as 8! My sister is spending $300 a month on my 7 year old niece to do dance classes, and that's not even a sport. Luckily for my sister, my 8 year old nephew sucks at hockey, otherwise, they'd be spending even more than that to pay for ice time. It really is an arms race, and if you don't keep up, you get left behind.

Reiner Schafer said...

The dance class thing is a business that can only exist because parents are willing to spoil their precious little darlings.

Hockey registrations are down everywhere and have been dropping for quite a while due to the high cost. Yes, there has in the last generation been more emphasis on select teams and those teams needing to travel to play other select teams. But again, that's only possible because parents are willing to spend that on their little darlings and live through them vicariously. Many secretly hope their little darling will be the next Crosby and then be set for life.

Paintball doesn't have a Crosby income to dream of. There isn't any hope of making even a six figure income, never mind millions. Heck can you even make a 5 figure income if you are at the peak of the pack? Living in perpetual poverty in paintball and giving up everything else for years, gives you the opportunity to continue living in perpetual poverty, but you might have your name mentioned by other wannabe pros and maybe even see your mug in a magazine. Maybe they'll name a marker after you and pay you a few bucks for that (but then you better be at Crosby level).

No, competitive paintball is a game that's played because people have fun. People are willing to pay for that opportunity. There is nothing wrong with that. The number of players willing to pay to have the amount of fun that paintball provides in its present format is exactly where the rules of Supply and Demand determine it to be. The only way that number can be changed is to reduce the cost (can not be reasonably done unless you put some kind of limiters in place), or increasing the demand by changing the game somehow (probably only possible by dumbing it down or making it less intense, at least for some or all of the lower divisions), so more are willing to take part. Or of course, a combination of the two might be the answer.

Anonymous said...

@Reiner, a sport doesn't have to have the lure of Crosgy or A-Rod money to get people to be involved in it at a competitive, time-consuming level. In your second paragraph, you could substitute the word 'paintball' with any other non-big-name sport and it would still be true. Those aren't paintball specific issues, those are issues with any non-big-name sport.

Badminton is in the olympics. I bet if you talk to the top badminton players, they spend most of their free time training. Even if they don't have the expense of paintballs or ice time in their training, they still have the opportunity cost of training instead of doing something else. What sort of fame and riches does the world's top badminton player have to look forward to?

Here is an interesting link with the top earners in many sports (pro Women's bowling tops out at $40k):

Reiner Schafer said...

OK, and I bet most parents would not have too much problem with their kids wanting to be top level badminton players and would probably even support their efforts. Badminton is a relatively cheap sport. There is probably no need to live in perpetual poverty if you want to become a top level Badminton player. Yes, you will have to make sacrifices (mostly of time), but it's not going to cost you half your paycheck every week to practice. Paintball's not like that. My nephew that we are raising is apparently a fair rider (jumping). Unfortunately, he will most likely never be a high level competitive jumper, because we can't afford what it takes to get there just like we couldn't afford to have our sons play hockey. I'm not happy about that, but that's life. Most parents aren't going to support their kid's efforts to be a top level paintball player for the same reason. That doesn't mean the people can't strive to be top level players on their own through hard work and dedication (we know that to be true). The fact of the matter is though, without parental support or competitive paintball being played in a format of some sort that is more affordable (for at least the lower levels), the number of people willing and able to take part is very limited. That's just the reality of it.

As far as spending resources on an activity...time and money are not the same in this case. There is a huge difference between spending all your free or extra time on an activity and spending all your extra money on an activity.

Robbo said...

Apologies from the UK to our American cousins for the 'Ameritards' comment from whoever authored it .. he cloaked himself in annonymity and so we have zero recourse in this case I'm afraid.
I would very much hope you guys are well aware of our genuine feelings toward you and they are most certainly not disresecptful like this cretin seemed to be .. once again apologies from over here to over there ..

Robbo said...

And whilst referring to mr annonymous, he seemed to think that Dye might hold the answer to our problems .. maybe he really thinks it's the PSP that needs to come over which also happens to be in Dave YB's control. This is most definitely not the way to go .. we cannot allow our tournament circuit to be controlled by a single industry individual .. it just goes against the grain of a fair and legitimate promotion of events.

Our problems are not gonna be resolved so easily I'm afraid, would that they were but we need to change our player's attitude and therein lies the real enormity of the task that confronts us over here.
We've painted our Brit butts into the most difficult of corners and there is certainly more than one faction that are responsible ... I just hope we can get abck to where we were and that place may well have been second to your Yank asses but that's not a bad place to be ... I'll settle for that I think.

Baca Loco said...

Thanks for dropping by Pete, and no worries, I think we can manage to carry on. ;-)