Monday, October 31, 2011

From the Canuckistan Wilderness

Mr. Curious had a busy weekend at Cup too. Hiding in shadows, eavesdropping on boring conversations, scurrying about like a little mouse, monitoring hidden listening devices and the like. (VFTD neither condones or supports any of Mr. C's possibly extra-legal activities.) At any rate here's an item that was making the rounds at Cup and has persisted over the last couple of weeks. It is presently being denied by anyone who may be in the know and Mr. C could not confirm it as a fact. However, it is very widespread behind the scenes and not losing any momentum. So, I guess we'll see one way or the other.
The rumor concerns a large Great White North paint company. Puzzle it out. Books, both fiction and non-fiction are often divided into (fill in the blank.) The number that follows ten and precedes twelve is (fill in the blank.) And there you have it. Remember, it is currently just a persistent rumor.

The Monday Poll in Review

No new The Monday Poll for you! Not a punishment, I just couldn't come up with anything that interested me--and none of you slackers had any bright ideas either. (Or if you did you failed to share them with everybody. And when I say "everybody" I mean me.) Maybe next week.

Last week's The Monday Poll asked you when (or if) the rumored big league merger was going to be publicly announced. Everybody was correct (in not voting) for the option 'sometime this coming week' as that week has come and gone. Beyond that there was little unanimity. One lonely voter chose before NPPL Vegas which was either a bold move on a long shot or a sign that the voter is well out of the loop and not in the least bit concerned. Otherwise 35% picked either never gonna happen or will simply result in endless talks which means better than 1 in 3 have decided all this merger talk is kinda like the boy who cried wolf. They just don't believe anymore. Slightly fewer voters (32%) think the announcement will come post Vegas. (Current rumors continue to have the talks on track with the prospect of the actual doing of the deal at Vegas--but who knows? It's been close before.) With respect to the other options 'After Vegas' really applied to all the remaining choices; Before Thanksgiving (4%), Before Christmas (11%) & After Jan 1 (14%), so what I take away from the responses is a series of windows of time. After Vegas means closer to the event than not--within the time frame of the event itself. Before Thanksgiving is the window after the event and before, well, yeah, Thanksgiving. And the others are sorta self-explanatory in that context. While I am certainly cynical enough to go for the After Jan 1st option I think that timing would be closing in on problematic--particularly if the merger occurs and the season becomes say, 5 events. Likely participants are going to want to know what the format will be and the approximate dates of the events as soon as possible and the league should want to limit the uncertainty and upheaval no matter what happens as much as possible. All of which implies, if it doesn't actually necessitate--an earlier announcement date.

Anyway, it hasn't happened yet. (Over at Baddog's Facebook page the kids are running a Merger Pool giveaway for anyone who wants to guess the correct announcement date. Be the first to guess the correct date and win--something.)

Friday, October 28, 2011

2011 World Cup practice, part 2

Yesterday was the set-up. Today we begin to dig into the details. But before I get into specifics I want to suggest some Big Picture ways of thinking about the practice process whether we're talking drills, intra-team scrims or full blown match sims against real competition. It is not about winning. Points, matches, the day or internet bragging claims. Nobody gets the trophy for practice. It's about becoming better players and a better, more fully prepared team. It's about taking every opportunity to improve; to learn. In this instance it's about learning the specific field inside and out, individually and corporately, and matching our talents to the demands of the field. In this process you are testing various options; everything from breakout runs--do we run & gun or just run?--breakout action combinations (paths, sequences, delays, spacing)--lanes OTB--and counters to your opponents actions--and adjustments to his counters of your efforts. There are too many important things to accomplish to worry about "winning." (There is one important caveat to the "winning" practice isn't important conversation. And that is dependent on the personalities on a given team. If a team has very limited competitive experience or tends to lack confidence as a group or perhaps wilts a little under pressure a team's leadership needs to be aware of those tendencies and act accordingly. It may be necessary in those sorts of circumstances to tread more carefully but even then the time has to come where the team either steps up to the challenge or they don't.)
Also, a quick note regarding individual players. Versatility & competence. The more options you as a player can perform at a high level the more utility you have to your team. Do you not worry too much in practice about your laning ability 'cus that's not what you do? Are you exclusively a snake player? Or a doritos player? If your skill set is limited what happens when a player comes along who does your job better than you do? Here's a football analogy for you: Think running backs in the NFL. Do you know what the number one deficiency is that keeps skilled runners off the field? It's the ability to block and pick up blitzes. But what's that got to do with running the ball like Barry Sanders? Nothing but it's still part of a running backs job description in the NFL. Running backs who want to be in the game for more plays learn to block. If you want to be more valuable to your team and get as many reps on the field as possible the more things you do well the better.
One of the things we do in practice is move players around. In practice there are no snake players or dorito players or Home shooters, wire leads or inserts. Are some guys better at some aspects of the game? Sure, but everybody is capable of playing pretty much everywhere and fulfilling all the roles required and the better they are at more parts of the game the more they are relied on and the more different situations they can be counted on to play effectively. On the Cup field we made a number of positional changes from our norm. Ramzi was returning from an injury and in practice was struggling a little bit to find his rhythm playing the snake. Instead of having no options I moved him to insert and moved Holliday over from the D-wire to snake lead. I could do that because Ramzi is a very good lane shooter and support player when called on and Holliday was (and is) a great snake player before we moved him to the D-side. And we didn't leave a deficiency on the D-wire because Jake has improved so much this year I was totally comfortable with him as a D-wire lead along with Chad. On Friday we were without Bryan Smith so Timmy & Jason did some double duty playing both sides of the field. No problem. On Saturday and Sunday with Bryan in the line-up Timmy played exclusively on the D-side even though he almost always plays the snake side (because he too is an excellent snake player.) This time we needed him on the D-side and it wasn't an issue. Plug & play. But it wasn't (isn't) enough for one or two guys to be versatile. Numerous members of the team needed to be able to fill changing or different roles effectively in order for me to be able to make those changes.
Back to the Cup field--and the forward MT most everyone was playing on the cross to try and control snake entry and movement. Given my pre-practice evaluation we began Saturday's scrimmage both playing the MT and looking for ways to deny the MT to Dynasty. I didn't like taking it off the top (as I thought it mitigated the effectiveness of our OTB lanes) so we mostly moved into it on a delayed basis. Either immediately after laning from Home OTB or later in the point depending on Dynasty's ability to get into the snake. Over the course of the two days of practice it remained an option but we used it less and less. Instead we chose to counter from the dorito wire or from within the snake itself. It was possible for D-side players to stay alive even with a snake player in the midfield snake segment so we didn't worry about it to the point of consistently committing a player to try and stop the snake.
Coming to that conclusion involved the full two days however. Early we tried pinching the MT runner OTB with a D-side Home shooter and edger--which was frequently effective but allowed a free run wide. Later, after Dynasty started using the snake corner to harass the MT we slowed our Temple insert runner in the zone between the TCK and the Temple (snake-side) where he could lane the player moving into the MT who was, initially, still focused on shooting the head of the snake. Later they countered by shooting a primary lane inside the Temple to hopefully get a runner and counter our ability to kill that guy early. At which point we ran the corner and up or straight into the snake because on the break the MT was no longer defending the snake, he was defending himself. And when we had little success early denying Dynasty the snake we started playing the dead zone behind the Can (snake-side) and doubling up our lanes OTB. Dynasty tried to counter with edgers and running & gunning wide. The edgers weren't very effective so we settled on shooting the lane inside the Temple to catch either a snake or corner runner. And we tended to stay at Home early if the opponent hadn't got into the snake because both the snake corner and insert Temple could harass the MT player's edge but couldn't shoot at a tucked in Home player. (OTB Home was susceptible on the D-side so when teams would pack Home in hopes of getting up extra lanes and then breaking to short primaries we edged them from the D-side mostly or ran & gunned both corners.)
The point is we're (so far) only talking about one key prop and the process through practice of determining the best ways to play it and counter it and if either team had been more focused on "winning" practice we would have learned less, experimented less and ultimately been less prepared for the real tournament.

More next time.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

2011 World Cup Practice, part 1

We actually went three weekends in a row leading up to Cup but this series of posts is going to focus on the weekend with Dynasty when we had the event layout to scrimmage on. In the two preceding weekends I designed specific layouts for us to play intended to help us focus on certain elements of the game. I made the wires difficult to play, with unusual and smaller props, and set-up a number of edges that required routine gunfighting for control and making moves. The fields also, under ideal circumstances, allowed big moves--and one of the two layouts had a snake broken up with MR bunkers and gaps--so I got lucky guessing that one. The object was to force the team into repetitive actions during the play of the points that reinforced (and sharpened) both the individual and unit skills necessary for success. I tend to prefer duplicating game conditions as much as possible over most sorts of drills. (Certain drills however remain necessary and when doing those we also try to make the action, however limited, consistent with the way we play the game during a match.)
The final weekend's prep began for me when the field layout was released on Wednesday. (If you didn't play Cup it would probably be helpful to print out a copy of the layout to see the props, angles, etc. being discussed. I'll post one up in the next post as well.) I reviewed it cursorily on Wednesday and Thursday to get familiar with it without drawing any conclusions. On Friday I began breaking it down in earnest. My routine, which is just my routine and possesses no magic formula or secret, starts with lines of sight (and used to include taking measurements. The measurements were a guide to distances from likely guns in relation to gaps players move through. I don't do that anymore because I've been doing this so long I don't need to.) With the lines of sight a picture begins to develop of your lane options OTB and which bunkers offer which shots and vice versa--who can shoot you and from where. At this stage it's all a rough projection that needs to be confirmed on any given actual field since conditions are always somewhat different for a variety of reasons. With experience a sense of how the layout will play begins to form. (Also, with experience--or Warpig's 3D field simulator--it's possible to also consider how the different elevations in play will effect situations on the field. By elevation, I mostly mean player position; standing, kneeling, crawling. Tight in a prop or able to play more loosely. Elevation affects gun angles and vision. What you can see and what you can shoot at.)
My initial evaluation was that the field encouraged defensive play from the midfield MT and the snake insert TCK on the cross particularly given the fact Home was a Pin. Those uses were all the more likely because of the limited ability to attempt to control movements from other positions on the field. On the snake side the TCK, insert Temple and corner SD were all poor options for controlling rotations into the snake. Only the forward Can provided the open angles and field of vision and it was a high risk primary. Even Home was less than ideal given it's bunker size and the number of positions that could bring paint to bear. On the D-wire the midfield MT had very poor visibility to the D-side and the length of the wire was sufficiently aligned that controlling movement up the wire from the wire was basically impossible. That left the insert MR and the two upfield Cans, one on each side of the field. The Cans were high risk and the MR put the player trying to control wire movement at a disadvantage vis-a-vis pretty much everyone on that side of the field. The issue for both the MT & the TCK on the cross was distance from the zones covered and inability to see players making aggressive inside-out runs until it was too late necessitating a constant stream of paint to hope to be successful in consistently denying rotations up the D-wire or into the snake.
The other "problem" I had with that was playing defense OTB tends to make your team reactive instead of proactive. You are waiting for some condition to be met or the other team to do something before taking the initiative and/or playing offense. Frankly I think that's a bad idea all the way around.

Tomorrow. (Next time.) How early points played reflected expectations (or defied them) and how each team adjusted to changing attacks.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Last Word On Merger Madness

Okay, probably not really the last word but hopefully the last for a while. Mostly I wanted to reiterate a couple of past comments on this subject. First, a prediction: If the merger results in a format change it will take about three weeks for new state and regional leagues to pop into existence offering Race 2 variants and perhaps six months after that for some of those leagues, plus some of the ones already operating, to plan on a cooperative national championship event to be held wherever. Nature abhors a vacuum and if the mergents, in their collective wisdom, move away form the most popular format functioning today somebody else will make sure it's available. (Yes, mergents is a made up word. It means those participating in a merger.) And since the local and regional level can offer the format for considerably less cheddar than the national league those lower level leagues will instantly cannibalize some significant percentage of the divisional teams.
One reason that will prove to be true--should those conditions emerge--is because everyone who claims they don't care about the format is either a liar or a poseur, or both. Now there surely are a few players and/or teams prepared to go with whatever format but that doesn't mean they don't have a preference--it just means they are unwilling to admit it.
Then of course there's the fact none of this would even reach the discussion stage if the Industry could police itself. Virtually all the impetus to make this happen comes from a collective that can't seem to make a decision either individually or collectively as to where their actual interests lie. They say they want one league to support but that's a red herring, a blue mackerel even. Nobody has ever put a marker to any of their heads and forced them to support anything. And a merger of the NPPL & PSP does not, I repeat, does not, guarantee that there will only and ever be only one national league. At some point the Industry has to decide who and what they will support (or won't support) and it isn't the leagues, either one of them, that put the Industry in that position--it is their fellow industry members and their own intransigence. In essence the Industry is pressing for the merger in the hope one league will protect them from themselves. (Until another league, or leagues, come along and then it's right back where we started.)
Those of you who have been around long enough will know that I'm not a big supporter of the Race 2 format. That, in fact, each time Xball was watered down I railed (even "raehled") against those changes and would love to see something more like Xball return. Nor, despite some of the naysayers, do I dislike or disdain 7-man. (I've coached teams to series championships in both Semi-Pro & Pro in the NPPL.) Personally, I'm content to see two national leagues. I understand and sympathize with the aspirations of the pro team owners in the NPPL. The fact that I comment on the weaknesses and/or failures of one or the other league only means I'd like to see them get better and deliver a superior service to all the competitors. However, at this stage, if there is to be only one national North American league it makes zero sense to insist on some 7-man variant as the format. Look at the rest of the world. If Xball Lite has been good for anything its real claim to fame is that it has largely united the competitive paintball world. It would be foolish to move away from it now or make it even more difficult to compete. 7-man xball? Really? How big will that field need to be? Look at the chaos and ruckus adding twenty feet to the PSP field length caused last year. Are we in for a repeat performance of that? My point is simple. For better or worse the world plays Race 2. And so does most of North America and that is what the vast majority of fields that cater to competitive players is set-up to offer. It makes no sense to kowtow to the wishes and egos of a handful of team owners in order to effect a merger that will not, cannot, do what the Industry that is pushing for it wants.

Merge. Don't merge. Whatever. Try not to screw it up for everybody else.

World Cup field posts & practice coming next. (I didn't forget.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tampa Bay Damage Win World Cup!

Not what I usually do in this space but this is an extra special occasion. The sort of rare occasion that wouldn't have been possible without the contribution of a lot of different people who deserve to be recognized. First the team owner, CJ Botsolas, whose love of paintball and commitment to the team made everything else possible. Joey Blute, GM & sideline coach who also handles all the mundane, day-to-day boring crap nobody else wants to do. He wasn't able to be with us because his wife was giving birth to their first child, a daughter. The players; nobody wins without the horses to get the job done. Not at this level. Most of them may not be well known even in the competitive paintball world but they have proved they deserve to be. They are Ramzi El-Yousef, Chad Busiere, Bryan Smith, Daniel Holiday, Timmy Propst, Jason Edwards, Jacob Edwards, Mike Carthy, Keith Brown, Dave Bains, CJ, Alex "deuce" Delannoy & Mike Smarac. And never last, Alex Spence, whose struggle and inspiration has been in the forefront of our hearts and thoughts for the last year. The pit crew; Pops & Dill--the best in the business. It has been a great and abiding pleasure & privilege to share this with all of them. Friends, family, team.

The Monday Poll: The Merger Pool

Okay, this week (Yes, I'ma talk about Cup, just not right this minute) The Monday Poll wants your predictions for when, or if, a merger announcement between the PSP & the NPPL will be made. I'll give you a range of general options--and as per usual (most of) you will be lazy slackers and not bother to vote. What, more merger stuff? Yes, more merger stuff mostly because the powers that be spent most of WC weekend sequestered deep in important (and time consuming) merger talks. [I'm trying, even as I type, to get my hands on their bar tab. Just kidding.] So I'm thinking if they spent all that time working on possibility of moving forward we could be close to some sort of announcement. And what better way to commemorate the historic move than to conduct another lame, inconsequential The Monday Poll! So look over the options carefully and then vote, vote, vote. Okay, just vote. It would be cheating to vote, vote, vote. There are federal election laws against that sort of thing--at least there used to be.

Oh, and if you'd like to indulge in a little cross promotional consumerism over at Baddog's Facebook page they are doing a Merger Pool Giveaway. First person to correctly pick the date the merger is announced (or pronounced dead) wins a free Tampa Bay Damage NexGen goggle strap.

Monday Poll in Review
If you are expecting me to chide y'all for picking poorly I'm not going to do that. Being the third most popular vote is fine with me. That, and I consider the source. (Think about that for a second. Yeah, that's right.) And of course these sorts of things really do tend to be popularity contests and I have no illusions about which pro teams are the most popular and rightly so as both Dynasty & the Russians have been top teams for many years.
If you're confused last week's poll was to pick the winner of the PSP World Cup in the pro division.
I figure the vote count was a bit low 'cus lots of regulars were either at Cup or didn't feel qualified to make a choice--though that obviously didn't stop the Brits from a spot of patriotic wishful thinking. (Nexus did a fine job and for first timers to the PSP pro division acquitted themselves quite well regardless of the match results.) Of the the 12 teams competing 9 teams got votes. Of those left out the Ironmen receiving no votes was the most egregious considering that they've consistently been competing for a top spot all season. 72% of the vote went to the top three teams receiving votes; Dynasty, Russia & Damage and those were the top three finishers as well--in that order, 3, 2 and 1. The next two highest vote recipients were Impact and Nexus, followed by Shock and Infamous.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Monday Poll

It's World Cup week so what else can VFTD possibly do for The Monday Poll other than offer y'all an opportunity to pick the Pro winner. I'm even gonna let you vote thru Saturday night so some of you slackers can cheat and make sure your choice at least reaches Sunday. And don't forget Cade's Pick'em action at PBN in the PSP forum. I heard he was giving prizes out this year. (No links. You know where to look and I'm busy.) (Oh, and about the prizes--I was lying but it would be fun if everyone asked him if he was giving out prizes, wouldn't it?) Okay, that's it. You know what to do. Vote.

Monday Poll in Review
Well, that was special wasn't it? As it turns out last week's poll is largely moot given that the PPV broadcast of NPPL Vegas is more of an On Demand kinda thing (apparently) that will be available around January/February (apparently.) Although I did learn something new. If you want the latest news on the NPPL don't go the NPPL website. Don't go the NPPL Facebook page. Go to Pev's Facebook page. Who knew?
About the numbers. If the event had been PPV this is what y'all said you'd be willing to pay. 9% weren't interested at all. We don't know if that's a NPPL thing or just a paintball thing. 33% were willing to watch but have been spoiled by past freebies (and are probably broke ass students) and will only watch if its free. Of course since the premise was PPV they's out of luck. 8% claimed to be willing to pop for $5 bucks a day. 21% would go $10 for the weekend. 12% were willing to kick in $25 for the weekend. Every other option was 5% or less and I'm not sure what the margin of scientific error is on this sort of poll (but it's probably off the chart.) Even so I'm inclined to think those who said they'd pay $50 for the weekend are probably board members of the NPPL. Anyway, nothing really new. Around 40% wouldn't pay. Of the remaining 60% nearly half were in the around $5 a day range. What that means for an edited post production On Demand NPPL Vegas offering I don't know.
What would you pay for a one or two time viewing? Would you pay more for a downloadable version?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

World Cup Layout 2011: Coming Attractions

With the Cup field I think we can safely say the PSP's "rules" experiment to entice bigger, older, slower players back into competitive paintball is over. A Pin as the Home prop? And a Tall Cake and a Mini Race are the two closest props to Home. If the league is hoping for faster points on this layout the Masters division may oblige. Beyond that completely gratuitous criticism this is an interesting and tactically complex field that I expect to see most teams defend and attack poorly. And by poorly I mean I expect most divisional teams to simply be unaware of the potential of this layout and to play it mostly as a straightforward xball field. (I watched some play this weekend that was not exactly inspirational.) In a lot of respects this is unfortunate particularly for teams that don't discover some characteristic or other of the layout until another team utilises it during a match that counts. It's hard to fix problems on the fly you hadn't encountered before.
In the past I've broken down aspects of various layouts for the educational value and as examples of different ways of thinking about playing different layouts. What I'm going to do with the Cup layout is go thru our practice process from this past weekend's scrimmaging with Dynasty. I am going to do it in enough detail that it will probably cover at least 3 or 4 posts. This will be a substantial expansion over the relatively simple field breakdowns that I hope will offer some new ideas and insights into the process of using practice & scrimmaging more productively.
I'll begin the series next Monday. (Not tomorrow. The following Monday--after Cup.) In the meantime if any of y'all have any specific questions drop me a line and I'll answer them before Cup--if I can. And if I can't post them and I'll try to respond by email.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Crass Commercial Exploitation of VFTD Commences

As you can see on the sidebar below this week's The Monday Poll. The VFTD & Deadbox Puppet Army T-shirts are finally available for $20 bucks a pop. (A bargain at any price.) The Baddog logo links to their online store so you can order direct--and save me the hassle of trying to figure out how to manage collecting from you lot--and of course having to pack your orders up and mail them. (That would almost be work.) While you're there check out Baddog's limited edition World Cup Ts as they is pretty sweet. Just don't forget why you're there. To order VFTD & DPA T-shirts first.
Given that we's rapidly approaching World Cup any orders that come in now won't be shipped until after Cup. (Sorry about that.) All early orders will be removed from the limited supply so if you're gonna be at Cup you can take your chances to try and grab one (or two) at the Baddog booth if you'd prefer. (Saves the shipping + handling.)
Also, if you'd rather not go thru the store send me your orders via my email link and I'll make it happen. Even if it requires some work. Numbers are limited. Available only in Large, XL and 2XL.

UPDATE: It has come to may attention that the shipping options are limited to the more expensive options currently. Please be patient and it will be fixed shortly. Thanks! (If it's not one thing it's another, right?)

ANOTHER UPDATE: I am told regular First Class options are now available.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

On a Scale of 1 to 10; Ridiculous

(I was going to go with ludicrous instead of ridiculous but didn't want to have to put up with all the New Skoolers thinking I'd spelled ludicrous incorrectly.)
I almost bailed on posting this item--the latest from Mr. Curious--because he couldn't confirm it from multiple sources and because it seems so outlandish on its face I find it hard to credit. However, in looking around trying to get some (any) related info I discovered something kinda curious. There isn't any info at all, official or otherwise, to be had beyond some very dated material--which seemed odd to me. Anyway, either Mr. C got one wrong--and I'll never hear the end of it--or he didn't. Btw, for what it's worth, there's a lot of dis- and mis- information floating around related to all things NPPL, PSP & the Merger. Take it all, including this post, with a grain of salt. Unless you have, like, high blood pressure or other heart-related medical concerns.

Mr. Curious says the NPPL's PPV of Vegas isn't intended to be broadcast or available until early in 2012. That's it. See what I mean? Is the Super Bowl broadcast a month after it was played? Does the UFC put on their PPV events a week or two after the actual arena events take place? Of course not. Does that make any sense? Not to me it doesn't which is why I thought maybe Mr. C had been dipping a little too heavily into the pharmaceuticals again. But at the same time I can't find any info at all about the webcast or PPV or whatever regarding Vegas. Not even on their Facebook page! And it just seems odd there is no promotion for it at all. Then again, being a largely volunteer operation it may be nobody has gotten around to it yet. Anyway, there you have it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Does Airsoft Have Referees?

Does Airsoft have referees? Or does everybody just run around yelling "I shot you" "No, you didn't" "Did so" "Did not" all the time? In between calling in imaginary air strikes and calibrating their night vision goggles, of course.

Seriously, who do those people think they are? The NPPL? Come to think of it maybe that sheds some light on how Tom Cole botched the big calls at DC so thoroughly. I mean he's not in the paintball biz anymore, after all. To be fair though you woulda thought--or at least I woulda thought--he'd still remember how paintball works. (Maybe he was channeling Bill Cookston. Sorry kids, that gag was for the OGs.) What do you think the chances are we see a UWL event with Airsoft gear? It's a no-brainer, right? Unless of course Airsofters don't really compete. Mostly they just fantasize--and play with their radios. (And no that isn't a euphemism for something else. Unless you want it to be.)

I was thinking of calling this post When does a paintball field stop being a paintball field but there were two obvious answers--so I didn't. The two answers? When they go out of business or they turn into an Airsoft field, doh! Speaking of which I was reading about the upcoming field owners conference coinciding with WC to be held next week in Kissimmee. (Funny how that worked out. Come to central Florida for Cup and spend a day at the conference. Serendipity. Gotta love it.) Anyway, I was looking at the list of sponsors for the conference and it made for some interesting reading. Airsoft giant PALCO, PolarStar (another Airsoft company), Tippmann Paintball Laser Tag, Steradian Technologies (makers of outdoor laser tag equipment) plus a couple of actual paintball companies. (If you're looking for links you're outta luck. I ain't giving you any.)
I know what you're thinking; it's hard times and if paintball fields need to diversify in order to stay in business that's a good thing, not a bad thing. And if I were a field owner I would probably agree with you but as a paintball player I'm not so sure. The website for the conference promoters is Nary a paintball in sight. And once what were paintball fields start down that road where does it end? Look, if a field can't survive as a paintball field I understand--change or die. But shouldn't the answer be learn how to be a better paintball field instead of morphing into something else? And please don't tell me laser tag and Airsoft are gateways to playing paintball. They aren't. (Airsoft is for weekend commando wannabes and laser tag is for children, girls and Betas. Yes, I said it. Deal with it.) Is there some movement across those boundaries? Sure, but it isn't one way and there isn't an obvious natural progression from one to the other.
It's kinda funny really. If this is how the industry and its friends try to save Paintball I have a hard time imagining that its enemies could do much worse.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Return of The Monday Poll

Hey, hey, hey. Finally, something different. (Between you and me I was beginning to bore myself. No wise cracks. Not that the player performance thing is boring but everybody needs a change of pace now and again. Which reminds me--I could use a few mailbag questions. I'm almost desperate enough to answer some. Not that I'm whining, you understand.) So here's the deal.
I finally broke down and started reviewing the major paintball websites for something, anything of interest worth talking about. Bzzzzt! Nada. Cup is coming up--so where's X-Factor?--and tomorrow is the last day to get your entry in. Last time I checked there were already 240 teams plus ready to go. And the NPPL kids were around 90 teams for Vegas--last I checked--with time to spare. All good but not particularly exciting. So imagine my surprise to remember hearing about Vegas being a PPV event. (I wonder who is fronting the cheese to attract those mice. And is the league gonna deliver more than two snake wire cameras? I mean they have to, right? Hopefully they'll do a better job of getting that word out than they have the option of signing up to play D4 7-man at Vegas. Oh yes you can. Apparently y'all are better off visiting NPPL's Facebook page than the website.)
Here's the thing about PPV. That first P stands for pay. And this time around they don't mean out of their pockets, they are expecting you to pay. If you're at least as old as a couple pairs of my shoes you'll remember this has been tried before. I'm curious what you think the likely result will be. Will it work? Is a NPPL webcast good enough to pay for? But all that is for comments.
The poll is gonna ask you how much would you be willing to shell out to see the NPPL Vegas PPV? I'ma give you lots of choices--but not so many it confuses you--and you pick the max amount you'd be willing to pay. Sound like fun? Okay, fun may be pushing it but it's better than a sharp stick in the eye. (It is so.)
What are you waiting for? Vote already, dammit.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Standards vs. Intagibles

Okay, not what I was originally going to go with but Dan, in Player Performance 3 comments, framed the discussion nicely I thought. What I'm on about here isn't really intangibles versus stats or some quantifiable measurements of performance; it's considering the limitations of stats--even the most comprehensive collections possible. (If you're interested in this sort of thing check out the movie 'Moneyball' and for the rest of the story take a look at the book of the same name or other volumes on sabermetrics or the baseball godfather of stats, Bill James. No links. What do you think Google is for? Sabermetrics, btw, is the ultimate extension of statistical analysis in evaluating players, their performance & team utility and predicting their likely near term performance. In doing so, or trying to do so, a lot of new categories of stats and ways of thinking about player performance have been created. Some swear by them. Others swear at them.) Baseball loves sabermetrics, basketball and football, not nearly as much--although there is a place for sabermetrics in those sports as well.
Some of you lazy slackers will recall a post (or three) [and have heard some generalized talk or rumors] about the chips Virtue has been testing in mostly Pro team guns for going on a couple of seasons now. In the NPPL one thing the chips can do--and do do (hahaha he said do do) is track ROF by individual marker. They do a lot more than that as well. In this developmental process the Virtue kids have been both refining the technology and rethinking ways of looking at the raw data and it may not be too long before our desire for paintball stats is a lot closer to being a reality.
Statistics, any statistics, do not--let me repeat myself--do not--provide or define a standard. For example, there is no set of statistical charts that clearly identify major league talent. The best stats can do for you is offer comparisons. Now it may be that a player's accumulated stats compare favorably with other up-and-coming players who proved to have major league talent so that the stats would weigh in a player's favor and suggest there is a good possibility that player has what it takes--but that isn't the same thing as measurable standards and why there remains an art to the science of player evaluation.
If you want to understand the limit of stats I have one word for you; A-Rod, the 250 million dollar man with Hall of Fame numbers and an earned reputation for disappearing in October. [For those unfamiliar with baseball that is the post season and playoff period. The paintball equivalent of playing on Sunday.]
So we're not really measuring any player against a standard. We are only making comparisons. (Or evaluating a given situations.) Of course that doesn't mean the the four-eyed geek with two left feet who sits in the front of your trig classroom has the same chance to play defensive end in the NFL as the first stringer currently playing at the University of Alabama. There are non-standards indicators and, frequently, physical requirements that fall, at a minimum, within certain ranges even if there aren't cut-and-dried standards.
Some of these indicators do not lend themselves to being boiled down into numbers, ratios or other bite-sized quantifiers. Among these sorts of indicators are the intangibles.
Why do two players with similar stats perform differently in similar situations? Why is one a Super Bowl hero and another the goat? How does a player who was a perfect fit on one team become an outsider on another?
There's more to the limitations of stats than our poster boy (A-Rod, remember?) suggests. Intangibles come in two categories; internal & external. By internal I mean things like confidence, motivation, determination, work ethic, etc. By external I'm talking about team chemistry, the relation of a player to the rest of his/her teammates. Both can have a determinative effect on player performance.
Remember last post's story? I am convinced it is the intangibles that separate the winners from the losers. In every sport there have been almost innumerable good, even great, players but only a select company of champions. And in team sports it isn't the accumulation of the most talent that wins, it's the best team that most often takes home the trophy.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Player Performance, part 3

A small confession; I love the idea of a whole battery of stats for competitive paintball and its players. The keeping of statistics is a hallmark of professionalism. (Which is a whole 'nother post but bear with me.) It's a foundational way we ("we" meaning people in general and people involved in sports) try to categorize & quantify player & team performance. And stats provide a shorthand, easy to grasp way of making comparisons and supporting the inevitable arguments for or against different players amongst the fans of whatever that sport may be. It's a way to share our common interests in ways everyone understands and makes the game and its players more accessible. At the same time it should be apparent that stats alone are insufficient for those in the business of competing.
One of my favorite stat-busters is evaluating potential pro quarterbacks by the numbers--or even, in some cases, by their experience and past accomplishments. (Although I always tend to favor results over numbers because winners tend to win. [How's that for a real cliche?]) Anyway, scouts are looking for height, arm strength, a higher than average score on the Wunderlich test, etc. (They are also looking for a variety of qualities that are harder to quantify like poise, command in the huddle, ability to read progressions and so on.) But historically the scales have always leaned toward the numbers and if a guy looks like a quarterback he must be a quarterback. As a consequence the results have been inconsistent to say the least. For every John Elway there's a Ryan Leaf. And that is from a sport that spends millions of dollars in the effort. What chance then do paintball teams, captains and coaches have to get it "right" when they're making roster decisions?

And now for something completely different; it's story time. (For those of you familiar with our team codes, no, not that kind of story time.) I want to tell you a story about a former pro player I know and once had the pleasure & privilege to coach. Toward the end of his active career as a pro player I noticed a rather marked drop in performance. And it puzzled me for a while because I could see he was making the effort. He was putting in the time and once I got to know him a bit better I could see his frustration. It got to the point where I was cutting back on his rotations and trying to manage even those in an attempt to help him succeed because both he and the team needed that success to win. I struggled with how to come to grips with whatever was wrong because it wasn't desire, effort or dedication. What it turned out to be in his case was motivation but not in the normal sense. His game depended on his passion for the game and when after years and many successes the fire didn't burn as bright or hot as it once had it affected his ability to compete at the level he once had.
The moral of the story is that if we're gonna get a real handle on player performance we need to delve well beyond the realm of stats and boldly advance into the world of the intangible.
The rest of the story is I recently spent some time with that player--who is playing again (at least for now)--with a new maturity and at least a good dose of that old fire. The game matters again, just I think, in a different way than it once did. It was good to see and in hindsight it was easy to see the difference it made and is making again.

Next time; the intangibles of player performance. And after that--separating what's important from what is essential.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Player Performance, part 2

If you missed the comments from the first player performance post you missed some interesting thoughts including some suggested categories for real honest-to-goodness stats. More on those in a minute.
With regards the recent blogging difficulties I've resolved my particular problems but some of you may still find it annoyingly difficult to post comments. In the near term I will be experimenting with different commenting options. If one or another seems to improve the situation please let me know what your experience is. Thanks.

In the category of not-quite-actual-stats all of the suggestions were reasonable and generally made good sense in a paintball context. Evaluation of baseline skill set(s); apples to apples comparison by position--for example, snake player vs. snake player; relational comparisons, ie; a good snake players is a "better" player than an average back player; and player measurements against a list of standards or criteria. If player A meets most of the standards and player B meets only half then A can be considered the better player. (It's not time--yet--to begin tearing down these various ideas. We'll get to that later.)
In the category of actual stats most of the better ideas were ratios which could be expressed a couple of different ways. For example, eliminations OTB could be a fraction or a percentage but would always represent X number of points or breakouts the player participated in against how many times the player eliminated someone during the breakout. Similar ratios could be done for being shot OTB or alive at the end of a point or eliminations per point played, etc. As a practical matter all of those stat ideas are largely impractical in our current environment and even when the PSP was tracking results in the pro division they didn't have the resources to try an accumulate and collate that level of player data. Unfortunately for those of a statistical bent competitive paintball doesn't lend itself to being broken down by the numbers.
So we find ourselves with some good ideas and even some possible stats but gathering those stats is currently beyond our general capability and even the most rigorous standards we can apply in attempting to differentiate players remain stubbornly subjective.
On one level going by the numbers helps make (some) distinctions between players but this is largely the pastime of Monday morning quarterbacks and sports fans. It is also [on another level] the province of talent scouts, coaches, personnel directors and general managers evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of their teams and players and making determinations about possible future players.
But do the numbers alone give us the whole story? With all the stats available is there still debate over who is better; Kobe or LeBron? Peyton Manning or Tom Brady? The fact is the numbers can only tell us so much and even if the numbers told the whole story we are left trying to decide which numbers are the most important. Imagine there's two snake players and we have every conceivable statistic. One of them makes the snake 97% of the time and the other has a higher kill ratio when playing the snake. Which one is better? Well, you might ask, how often does the one with the better kill ratio make the snake? If it's close then he's the better player--by the numbers. But how close or far apart does he have to be before you start weighing the two stats slightly differently--and will that balance be the same for everyone considering the question? The answer of course is even that is subjective to a certain degree and you're unlikely to find anything like universal agreement.
Next time I'll weigh in on the how and why the numbers let us down whether we're talking actual stats or we're talking standards or criteria for evaluation.