But let's back up for a second and define being competitive. Is it simply showing up and taking your lumps? I don't think so (and it's a subject I'll be returning to shortly.) Is it earning the respect of your fellow competitors? Or proving you belong? And if so, then how does one go about doing that? Is a team competitive that always finishes in the bottom half? In tournament paintball the measure of a team's merit has always been about playing on Sunday, moving beyond the prelims and playing for a chance to win. So check out the teams in the Pro division and see who is making Sunday more often than not. They definitely belong. Apply the same principle to D1. For some of the teams its their first year at D1. A couple of them jumped from D3. But there's more to it. Divisional play is also where you (better) learn how to win. If you look at the current D1 ranks only one team has any consistent history of winning. (Notice how good a job I'm doing not naming names. Frankly I don't need the grief. And I haven't used the expression "sucks" once. Yet.) The other factor at play is that the old APPA classification system as applied to the PSP intentionally dumbed down the upper divisions of play with the greatest impact on D2 & D1. (I wrote about this extensively back in 2008 & 2009. The Logan's Run series of posts wouldn't be a bad place to start if your interested.) The fact is the general level of play in both D2 & D1 have yet to recover and as a consequence aren't as difficult as they once were--at least at the top of the bracket(s). The divide between the pro ranks, by and large, and D1 is greater today than it's been in years. And then there's this other thing: nobody on a D1 team who isn't already ranked pro or semi-pro (does that still exist?) has a clue whether or not they are capable of playing at that level--and no, your friends, family and teammates opinions don't count 'cus they don't know any better than you.
Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to what I called back in 2006 The Era of the Pro Loser. (Link is to Dead Tree Archive.) When Pro teams began to play only Pro teams it significantly changed the dynamic on a lot of "Pro" teams and altered forever the perceptions of the Pro teams in the eyes of divisional players and fans. It also introduced a concept, that as yet bears no real significance, but will the day after money turns competitive paintball into a sport. (Should such a day ever come.) And that concept is parity.
Once upon a time Pro teams proved themselves by routinely devouring the lesser ranks in preliminary play so that what happened head-to-head seldom affected the general perception of a given Pro team. After all, they crushed everybody but the other Pros. Sure, fans would make distinctions between Pro teams but not like they do today. And, as a consequence, the Pro teams of yesteryear didn't view themselves entirely through the lens of Pro-to-Pro only competition either. Middle of the pack Pros were perfectly respectable because they were acknowledged to be better than Joe Average (and Joe Am.) They proved it every tournament with rare exceptions.
Today's Pro environment is a considerably harsher place. Not only are many Pro players perceived differently they inevitably begin to perceive themselves differently too. And the reason for both these changes is losing. In a closed division when somebody wins, somebody else loses. (Brilliant, I know!) But it is particularly telling amongst the pro ranks because there is no where else to go and in the same way winning breeds success so too losing breeds failure. It is psychologically bruising and will tear a team apart faster than anything other than their bankroll disappearing. It's different for every player but there is a finite window in which to succeed before the player becomes damaged goods. It's why some older (not to say over the hill) players stick around. It's why teams bring in fresh blood. It's why teams with well regarded players never get over the hump. Losing takes it's toll. It's why every D1 team contemplating making the big move needs to think long and hard before making that commitment. Any team that makes the move before they learn how to win is stacking the odds in favor of failure. Any team that makes the move without internal and external leadership, confidence & determination is almost doomed to fail. Bravado is not confidence and there is no replacement for winning. Every player and team that steps up to the Pro challenge always says they are prepared to learn the necessary lessons the hard way but I would bet good money that most of them are utterly clueless. If I were counseling D1 teams on how to handle their bidness--and I am--I would strongly encourage every team learn the lessons that can be learned in D1 first and position yourselves to succeed as best you are able because once you make the move the clock starts ticking on your dreams. And the odds are you will fail.