Monday, February 28, 2011

The (late) Monday Poll

This week y'all get another chance to abuse your voting privileges--consider yourself an honorary Chicagoan (definitely the last time I use this joke)--with the opportunity to make multiple choices. VFTD requests you choose your top four finishers in the PSP pro division for the Galveston Open. I say "request" because, frankly, my expectations are so diminished I'm quite certain an equal number of chimps is more likely to get it right than you lot. (Excepting you, of course. I'm referring to the other idiots who can't seem to get it right.) (Not that it matters--but it's the principle of the thing, ya know?)
This week I'm curious to see how close an unscientific collection of fanboys, the terminally agg, 2K9ers and all the rest of y'all will get to the actual event results spouting the conventional wisdom, bandwagoneering opinions and general ignorance.

Pick the top four pro teams at the Galveston Open. Followed, d'oh, by a list of the competing teams.

UPDATE: It's Tuesday morning and it's clear I forgot to add brown-nosers to the list of voters. (Secretly I appreciate your votes but if you're expecting any gratitude you're outta luck.) The Legion finished last year on a strong roll. Impact has picked up half of the Philly Americans. Dynasty has experienced hungry youth plus the return of Ollie! T-Harm is hanging with Infamous and with the bigger bunkers and longer field that can only help their lumberjack squad, right? (Don't play dumb, you know who I mean.) And X-Factor has gotten the band back together. It wasn't that long ago that those guys were always in the thick of things. Not that I'm trying to sway any votes ...

Monday Poll in Review
Last week VFTD pretended to care what y'all thought about the return of Ollie to the Dynabrats. Okay, it was sorta a decent, if fleeting, diversion. The question was: (and I'm paraphrasing myself here) Does the return of Ollie return Dynasty to the top of the pro heap? 2% responded with an unqualified yes. Another 22% also said yes but thought the other new additions along with Hinman as coach are the more important changes to the team. And 24% said yes with Ollie as an important but not dominating piece of the missing puzzle. Then there was the 30% who figure Dynasty would be improved but not dominant. Followed by 12% who also felt Dynasty would be improved but not dominant but credited the changes other than Ollie's return. 7% think there will too many strong personalities to make it work. So pretty much half of ya think Dynasty will rule the roost once more and half of you don't. Well, that was informative, wasn't it?

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Lazy Slacker Re-post of the Week

It's not that I don't have items to post. I do. But the fact is I'm busy. Yes, I do in fact have a life. I know that may come as a surprise. Regardless, it's true so I'ma dump a re-post on you today and hope to get to more new content before too long. Besides, given the latest TV talk once again on the horizon today's re-post may be more timely than ever before. (If you want to check out the original comments the link to the Feb 2010 post is in the post title.)

First appeared the moment–yes, the very moment–someone saw competitive paintball as sport and sport leading to money. That moment may not have arrived for everyone at precisely the same time but close enough for horse shoes and hand grenades. The initial efforts to position themselves to take advantage were the NXL and The 18. The NXL began as 10 franchise teams that owned equal shares of their league. The 18 was NPPL 1.0's response; the league restricted access to the pro division and structured the upper divisions to function kinda like UK soccer leagues with promotion and relegation. In both cases it was leagues and teams preparing for the next step in competitive paintball’s development; quasi-mainstream sports acceptance and outside granola. While we know how that’s worked out so far the great divide is something that isn’t often discussed though it still exists, and if we’re lucky, will one day be a real problem.
The NXL was modeled on mainline American sports; the 18 on European club sports. If the NXL had succeeded there would have been a single entity with multiple partners and a well worn path for growth and development, cooperation and profit sharing already built in. If the 18 had succeeded things likely wouldn’t have been as smooth and this is where the great divide comes in. NPPL 1.0 held all the cards, controlled promotion and relegation and but only offered a promise of trickle down success–if the league scores the TV prize "we" all win. Well, yes and no. The league certainly would have been a winner but no matter how you slice it the structure pitted the pro teams against the league in the effort to gain sponsors. And still does. It is the state that exists today and has existed since the league(s) went from sanctioning body to event promoter(s). And that conflict is the great divide. Ignored when times were flush, ignored when TV was right around the next corner and ignored until it was too late when the sponsor dollars stopped raining like pennies from heaven.
Today’s landscape is a little different, in some ways the roles are reversed. A different league has an ownership group made up of teams while the other has no answer for what comes with success–but it isn’t yet a meaningful great divide. NPPL 3.0 could be poised on the brink of success but it will only come from outside sponsors–but never did when there was more hoopla, more teams and more money committed to making it happen. Realistically all the teams’ own is the dream and the debts they are collecting operating a league on an outmoded model that features a dying format. But such is the potential power of the great divide. Some portion of the team owners want control, some want a sense of self-determination but all of them want a piece of the pie should a pie fall off the baker’s truck as it drives by. Regardless of the league all the pro teams have paid a price, some more than others, some for longer than others, and they don’t want to see their effort and contribution come to nothing. And should success in outside sponsors or TV or a billionaire philanthropist ever show up they feel like they’ve earned a share and that without them ultimate success is impossible. (If sporting success comes to any major league it will almost certainly benefit all eventually–but that’s another post.)
One can debate the relative merits but it’s almost irrelevant. The great divide isn’t going anywhere and should success come it could easily tear elite competitive paintball apart. (Not that we’re in danger of that particular fate at the moment.) Or, you know, it might be worth a minute or two to consider what sort of response would be reasonable and practical in the eventuality. Of course just because it’s not operating today the old NXL franchises still exist and who knows ... Or if worst came to worst others have managed with a players union. I’m just saying. It’s not a problem today but what if--

Btw, if you're a glutton for punishment or interested in some related paintball history there's a few pieces in the Dead Tree Archive that might interest you. Take a look at 'The Pro Dilemma' or 'New Pro Paradigm.' Or for specific on the leagues as they were, try 'The 18' and 'Living the Dream.'

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Another PSP Pro Experiment

VFTD has it on good authority the PSP has decided--at relatively the last minute (certainly after most teams have made their reservations and bought their plane tickets) to alter pro division play. Again. And if the measure of communication with my team is indicative of the rest of the division nobody from the league bothered to discuss it with the teams first. (If that isn't correct then I'd like to know why we were left out.)
The league will be officially returning to two minutes between points and reducing the number of timeouts by one, to one per match. (You may recall the league experimented with 90 seconds between points last season. It ended up being done manually (and inconsistently) so that sometimes the 90 seconds was really 95 or 96 or 85 or whatever. Returning to two minutes and one timeout; no problem.
The other change is that the pro division will play Saturday and Sunday only. Two brackets of 5 teams will see each team play 4 prelim matches. 3 on Saturday and 1 on Sunday morning. 2 teams will move from each bracket directly into the semi-final round. And a 3-4 match will not be played. (For 2011 prizes are limited to first & second place only.) (Of course a distinction must be made for awarding ranking points--unless they decide to award the same ranking points--which only means it will still be necessary at the next event to make a differentiation for seeding purposes. And if they are seeded in different slots how will it be determined? Keeping in mind seeding has a potential impact in deciding tie-breakers.) This change also means no quarter-final round as only four teams go thru instead of 6.
In a bracket of 5 teams playing four matches there are a limited number of outcomes mathematically. If a team goes 4-0 in their bracket there are only three other relevant outcomes possible. Another team will go 3-1 and the top two will be clearly defined. If no team goes 3-1 with a 4-0 team the only other possible results will be either 2 or 3 teams tied and 2-2. What that means is that any time a team goes 4-0 the odds are the second team will be chosen by tie-breaker from as many as 3 different teams. In a bracket where the best record is 3-1 there are also three possible outcomes. Another team may also post a 3-1 record with the result being two teams with superior records to the rest of the bracket. Alternatively, if the best record is 3-1 it is possible for 3 teams to finish 3-1 which means that one team finishing 3-1 would be left out regardless of what the other bracket did. Or, the next 3 best records will be 2-2. As with a best record of 4-0 a best record of 3-1 results with odds favoring a tie-breaker to determine the second team out of the bracket. If the best record in a bracket is 2-2 all five teams will have identical records.
Assuming WC is organized according to this plan over the year 8 brackets will play a prelim round and either 5 or 6 of those 8 times one or more semi-finalist will be determined by tie-breaker. And when it comes to assigning seed points to non-semifinalists the majority of places will be determined by tie-breaker.
Now I don't know about you but that doesn't look like a competition to me when so many of the places will not be determined on the field but instead will come straight out of Tony's list of tie-breakers instead. (And how 'bout having those published in the rule book prior to Galveston?)
Were similar issues at play in the past? Yes, but not to the same extent and taking 6 teams thru and having a quarter-final assured, as much as it possible, that the best teams earned their result. Remember, Impact won Phoenix last year as the lowest seed starting Sunday morning. If this change sticks we could see 2 teams in the semi-finals whose records were matched in the prelims by as many as four other teams--and frankly, that sucks--and begins to skirt the borderline undercutting the legitimacy of the pro division.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mr. Curious

Mr. C has been sitting on a brilliant item all week and it has left him a twitching, stuttering wreck. And if you've missed tonight's PBLive webcast you missed the big news. (But you can still catch it later. The PBLive crew will post it up for your future entertainment and enlightenment.) Meanwhile, Mr. C can no longer allow the cat to stay in the bag.

It seems our pals at Dye have very recently registered a new domain name thru GoDaddy called DYESNOW. As interesting--or even more interesting-- is this:

How 'bout that, kids. Can you say, diversify?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

NPPL 2011 Rulebook Reviewed

The good news is the basic rules are pretty standard and for purposes of playing games in a competition format should prove sufficient most of the time--assuming the league continues to treat markers and potential marker violations as they have in the past.
The less than good news is no real progress has been made with respect to gun rules (and their enforcement) nor any substantive thought given to player classification.

Beginning with player classification the relevant section of the rules is 4.07 - 4.10. Basically a player retains the rank they played under last season unless their team won the NPPL divisional series in which case that roster is bumped up one division except for D1. [And pump, which is Open class play, though the rules are a little fuzzy on specifics.]
A "pro" player is defined as a player who has held a pro or semi-pro rank in either the NPPL or other national or international (series/league) within the last 10 years--though for practical purposes it really only goes back to 2003. [Because that is the year the NPPL 1.0 database was launched and the first season PSP info is available from APPA (not including the NXL.)]
The practical problems begin to arise because numerous contingencies aren't covered [except in the catch-all petition to get reclassified for $50 (4.08)] For example, since divisional teams are allowed to amend their rosters at will over the season what happens to players who may have made only one roster appearance to a series winning team? In the short term it is unlikely to matter much except that classifying players according to their own claims or current team roster isn't particularly rigorous and will probably not inhibit determined sandbagging. It also does I think a terrible disservice to past pro and semi-pro ranked players. Nor do the current rules provide a sufficient foundation for a comprehensive classification system.

Of more immediate impact are the gun rules (7.0 - 7.12) which are, far as I can tell, no real improvement over the old gun rules except there is an extra stage (or two) that allow for verbal warnings before the hammer (potentially) drops--but the process still remains largely arbitrary. And of course they've added the 15 bps cap. Unfortunately the cap is not accompanied by any explanation for how the league intends to enforce a 15 bps limit. There are plenty of penalty options but, as was the case before, their application is frequently subjective. In part because there is also no description(s) or procedure(s) for determining the legality or illegality of a given marker except use of a chronograph (checking velocity) or official's examination.
The problems begin in (7.01, 7.02) which contradict one another with regards ROF for a start though one assumes the cap supercedes other statements. Also in the same sections is the same old semi-auto, one trigger pull and release equals one shot definition that does not accurately describe the working of any electropneumatic marker yet is supposed to be the operating standard by which all competing markers are judged. (Wishing doesn't make it so.) 7.03 is an effort neutralize some of the simple and obvious ways marker performance can be altered. 7.04 - 7.05 relate to surrender and inspection of a suspect marker but these are purely procedural and penalties may still be handed out on the subjective determination of the inspecting referee. 7.06 restates velocity and ROF limitations and notes the relevant penalty sections. (Still nothing about how a ROF violation is to be determined.) Velocity is checked via chronograph as is the norm.
The next relevant section is Eliminations & Penalties. (22) And Suspensions, Disqualifications & Fines. (23) These 2 sections define the consequences assigned to various hot gun situations and gun "bounce" situations and the dreaded "illegal marker." There are no specific mentions ROF or other shot adding infractions or means of detection which leaves the league in essentially the enforcement position it has been in all along. With a ROF cap the league just added another rule it can't fairly enforce.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Monday Poll

This week is kind of a no-brainer--and thank goodness for that as much of my brain is otherwise engaged. The Prodigal Player returns home. It's a story for the ages. Ollie is back with Dynasty. And there was much rejoicing--even though at least 50% of all current competition ballers have only seen videos of Ollie with Dynasty. The obvious question is: Does this move return Dynasty to the top as the undisputed kings of competitive paintball?
But that's too easy. It's either yes or no. Which isn't much fun--at least not from my perspective. So I'ma change it around a bit and see if we can't make it a wee bit more controversial. (Are they too old to be called Dynabrats anymore? Enquiring minds want to know.)

Does Ollie rejoining Dynasty return the team to the top as undisputed kings of competitive paintball?
Yes, but Hinman and the new roster additions will be more important to their success.
Yes but as a missing piece of the puzzle, not all by himself.
No, the team will be improved but not dominant.
No, and Hinman and the new roster additions will be more important to the team's improvement.
No, too many strong personalities to make it work.

[For all you hardcore easily offended types, lighten up. Stuff like this is only fun because everyone knows Dynasty (or thinks they do) and nobody can dispute their place as the greatest paintball team ever regardless of what the future brings. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't send in your angry emails and threats of violent retribution. I especially enjoy the ones done in crayon.]

Monday Poll in Review
Last week VFTD wanted to know what you (the collective readers of VFTD not too damn lazy to vote in a simple poll) thought of the latest venture to match competitive paintball with TV. If you've been living under a rock in a Geico commercial I'm referring to the deal in process between the NPPL and ESPN to broadcast (sorta) HB & Vegas and possibly include, in one fashion or another, the NPPL pros in the summer X-Games. Those of you in the know weren't overly impressed, you cynical bastards. 37% will not consider the effort a success unless (and until) it starts to bring in outside sponsor dollars to competitive paintball. The second largest voting block (22%) will consider real progress made if competitive paintball is included in the X-Games. (How could you not?) Tied at 11% each were two opposed groups. One of the 11% groups is convinced paintball will fail on TV no matter what, just like it always has in the past. The other 11% will consider real progress being made if ESPN pitches money into the production. The remaining votes (6%) went to appearing on a real network channel [because the rumored current deal will be live streamed on ESPN3 on the internet); (5%) when the competing teams are playing xball (Does Race 2-2 count?) and (3%) when I can watch it on a network channel no matter who paid for it. That would be the voice of those who weren't around in the past, I'm thinking. Anyway, despite a less than enthusiastic internet community response to the latest TV news the great majority have a positive attitude--they are just waiting to get excited until they see something substantial occur, whatever they think that is.

Burning Question

Looks like Vendetta is making the move to shoot the Axe this season too. Empire have made some strong moves promoting their newest marker. They've created some real buzz but how will it eventually translate? Is it enough that a large number of national pro & divisional competitors are using the Axe or do they need to win, too?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Baca's Mailbag

Today's mailbag question comes from a player/coach who has a lot on his plate--around 40 total players competing in a number of different divisions. They routinely practice 3 times a week though not everyone manages every practice. It also sounds like they focus a lot of their efforts around mastering gun skills. (Which isn't a bad thing.) The questions asked amounted to curiosity regarding how a pro team practices and a query for ideas on ways to mix things up and keep them fresh. I can't tell you how pro teams practice but I can tell you how my team practices. And I will include in this post as many links as I can find to past posts discussing specific practice-related routines.
Over the past three seasons our practices have changed from one year to the next. Partly because of ongoing player development and partly because of changes in the format--particularly this year. (This is also an issue with a large club-like group with skills and experience spanning beginners to upper division play.) What the majority needed then isn't what they need now. At first we needed to integrate our incoming experienced players with the core roster of inexperienced players while continuing to develop the inexperienced players. Our drills & practices focused on the critical skills, team building, learning to play together and at the same time individual time to focus on the differing weaknesses within the team. With a smaller group that isn't hard to do in practice--but it's impossible if there isn't an overarching vision or goal for the team. Players can be taught the fundamentals and they can be taught various roles that are part of the game but they can't be taught to be part of a team if that team doesn't have real direction, and it can't, unless there is a singular goal or vision. That goal or vision isn't only about what the team wants to achieve it is also, more importantly, about how the team will achieve it. (More in a minute. Or three.)
This year we are focusing on preparing for the format change--and continuing to inch closer to our vision. Our drill keys are laning off the break, running & gunning & edge control. (And again.) We are preparing for the new length PSP field & how the new layouts are likely to play--not by adjusting our style--but by doing the things we do well, better, faster and with even greater precision than in the past. At the same time it isn't all dull drills. Our practices tend to be progressive in that we go from the basic or simple and add degrees of complexity, building on the fundamental(s) we began the day with. By the end of a practice we have (hopefully) worked our fundamentals from drill to scrimmage in ways that reinforce the skill while placing it within the context of the play of the game.

Let me recommend a couple of things to teams large and small. A lot of teams struggle, not because they aren't competent or committed players, but because they don't really know what kind of team they are or want to be. They haven't evaluated their strengths and weaknesses and acted as a unified group. If you are working with a large or multi-team group the first thing that needs to be done is to understand what each team currently is and then make decisions about what sort of team the members want it to be or what sort of team best suits the players' skills & temperament. Everything else will flow from those decisions.
Let me also suggest the large group scenario may decide it's necessary to reduce the total number of practices in order to more effectively focus on the unique needs of the different teams and developmental level of such a large group of players.

Here's a number of different past posts on drills & practice routines. Laning OTB. Laning OTB 2. Gunning & Running. More Gunning & Running. Gunfighting. Not as many as I thought there'd be. Don't know how many I may have missed but there should be a few useful ideas in the batch.
Didn't care for that answer? Did it leave more questions than it responded to? You know where to find me.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Paintball Stuff

I'm dodging a mailbag question I agreed to answer. Nothing outrageous or scandalous--I'd never agree to answer any of those--but it's gonna be a bit of work so why do today what I can put off until the weekend? Today you get a stream-of-consciousness response to various items of paintball news from the last few days. And if you find it all rather dull, join the club.

A marriage made in heaven--or was that hell?--redux. I apologise in advance for finding the news that Valken will be distributing Bob Long guns--again--rather amusing. Given that they've been there done that before and it worked so well they ended up in court suing each other what could possibly go wrong?

Then there's the latest scheme from Empire tying the Axe marker to potentially valuable paint savings in order to make a big splash in 2011 at the major league tourney level throughout the divisions. I don't know whose brainchild that was but it's looking like a winner and a number of the related emails I've seen have Johnny Posterivo's signature on them. Is it wrong of me to feel a little nostalgia for the old days, ugly and unproductive as they often were, when PBIndustry was a bunch of big fish in a small pond and every day was a food fight in the cafeteria? Johnny versus Gino in the squared circle. Family feud. Valken versus Kee. Let's get it on!

Speaking of the Axe dealio there's a bigger picture here, it seems to me. Given the price point and the general lack of flash if Empire can make the Axe both a general sales success and create a "cool" factor around its performance in 2011--putting the Axe in the dialogue--of must have markers it would be a real marketing coup. And could conceivably seriously erode the high priced end of the market. Peak popularity is fickle and if the time is right for the next "it" gun and it turns out to be the Axe ... all bets are off.

Then there's the new pro format announced recently by the NPPL. It's Race 2-2, more or less. And I don't think I like it much. Sure, one argument is that the better team(s) should win through more consistently and that the occasional flukey loss or poor referee's decision won't determine the final result--and I concede the point. And it's a good one. What kinda rubs me the wrong way is the sense that teams won't get to play against as many different teams in the new format as the old--and that's particularly true if you don't make it out of the first bracket--but in crunching a few numbers the teams that make the semi-finals will end up playing anywhere from 7 - 9 different teams during the event. The old way the max is 11 different teams with everybody playing at least 7 different teams. With the new formula 8 teams will only play 3 other teams. Perhaps it's viewed as potentially better TV. More pressingly I'd like to know how the initial seeding will be done and the reseed into the second round. And the scoring. And maybe even the new rules ...

I'm also still wondering about Facefull's future--and I'm still not seeing it. This isn't a covert rumor or anything of the sort. I just haven't seen a new mag in months, the website is collecting cobwebs and the lights were turned off a while ago at Facefull Online as the most recent mags available are over a year old. And I can't remember the last time I was able to pick one up at an event. (Yes, I'm a cheap bastard and part of the problem. It's that cursed pro sense of entitlement.) Somehow it seems inevitable--which is a shame. Perhaps the current plan is to keep the magazine alive by not actually printing any new editions.

In closing I'd like to welcome Robbo (of all things paintball fame) to the cyberpages of X3. Pete brings a unique perspective and I'm looking forward to his monthly contribution (in the Queen's English) and to see what our semi-literate hordes of punks and thugs make of his special brand of English abuse. Perhaps a small wager on the first appearance of "rocking horse poo" in his column is in order? (March) Almost like the good old days.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

MLP Weekly Update

I think I skipped last week. Mostly because there wasn't anything of consequence (or even interest) to review but the payment deadlines have come into play and event registration closing dates are in the offing.

PSP: While not all sunshine and lollipops things are looking up (and considerably brighter) than the apocalyptic worst case scenario the league had considered a possible outcome given year-to-year shrinking turnouts plus a change of venue. Current numbers already exceed that gloomy forecast and given the registrations to date it looks like Galveston will easily surpass last year's Phoenix. Nearly 100 teams paid and 137 registered as of this morning. It's also worth noting the Race 2-2 (5-man) numbers are up given Race 2-2 participation has been on a downward spiral that fell off a cliff last year (to brutally mix metaphors). It wouldn't surprise me if the Texas venue was contributing to the improved 5-man turnout. Additionally the sponsorship commitments of GI Milsim/Sports has pressed the industry to respond and begin to reverse (or at least hold steady) on the other source of lost revenue; PBIndustry sponsorship. Fingers crossed we avoid another Texas blizzard Galveston looks to be a very positive lead event for the 2011 season.
On the field it will be interesting to see what happens given the off season changes. It will also be interesting to see how much credit the changes receive for a successful Galveston. Points will be longer and more paint will be shot. There may be ways to mitigate the tendency to longer points but that will be, in some measure, dependent on the final field layout. Keep an eye on the scores of the lower divisions Race 2-X results to see how often teams run out of clock before reaching the race 2 limit.
Btw, recent rumors hinting at the demise of the league prior to Galveston and/or before Chicago have no merit at all.

NPPL: The league has their new NPPA site up and active for registering teams and buying I.D.s online, etc. According the NPPA HB has 86 teams registered including 14 pro teams with some new names added to last year's regulars. The new guys (so far) are Aftershock, Portland Uprising & Seattle Thunder, captained by former Naughty Dog, Corey Field. The 86 teams currently recorded is a jump of over 33% in the last week and given the event isn't until the first weekend of April it isn't at all unreasonable to expect final numbers similar to last year. The league has been very proactive this off season with the implementation of Stay, Play & Save plus a wide variety of discount packages and transportation discounts, the introduction of NPPA and the latest round of seeking the Holy Grail, TV. And every indication is that discussions with ESPN may provide competitive paintball another opportunity to find and audience and outside of industry support. That's still a ways off however and there are other practical issues at stake as well. The league has yet to release the field layout (though word is the delay is because the league and ESPN are working to make it accessible for filming.) Or the details of the new gun rules (and any other rule changes) and while NPPA is a website that can apparently collect data and payments it doesn't have any actual classification system yet. While it's hardly a deal breaker, or even a big deal at the moment, if the NPPL is gonna claim to offer a real classification system it needs to deliver at some point (and while I realize this is not the old ownership) most every incarnation of the NPPL simply wanted to generate a database on players.

MS: The first Millennium event falls in between the PSP and NPPL events and the big question is how many teams will show up--particularly in the locked divisions. The reshuffle continues with D1 picking up at least 6 new teams according to regular MS news announcements and the CPL, with the pick-up of Camp Carnage and Heat, remain one team short assuming both Dynapact and Syndicate remain in the CPL. (Word is that Dynasty intend to hold their spot but no confirmation of continuing relationship with Impact for the CPL spot.) I expect the league to resolve any open CPL spots which leaves a further diminished SPL from last year. Even so, if the locked divisions were to be something like 16 teams, 24 teams & 32 teams when the dust settles and play begins at the Longchamps Paris event the league will have done an excellent job not only of salvaging what could have been a horrible off season but of sustaining the core of the league. The only thing left is to keep an eye on the open divisions to see how their numbers compare to last year keeping in mind the league managed to draw at least 6 teams into D1 that might have otherwise played in an open division.

Grant Tour: Still no info on a 2011 season. Must say it doesn't look promising.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Monday Poll

At what point to you buy into the latest TV hype, if ever? While I understand Joe Baller's unwillingness to be fooled again I'm still kinda surprised the ESPN name isn't having more of an impact on paintballers' imaginations so this week's The Monday Poll wants to know what it's going to take to get you excited.

The latest attempt at mainstreaming competitive paintball on TV becomes important:
Never. Even if the sport gets another shot it will fail.
When ESPN is spending their money to put paintball on TV.
When competitive paintball appears on a real TV channel and not just a fancier webcast.
If competitive paintball is recognized by the X-Games.
When I see it with my own two eyes on a TV screen no matter who paid for it to happen.
When the teams are competing in the best format; xball.
When the first outside the industry sponsor signs up to support more competitive paintball on TV.

Or fill in the blank as you choose with an answer you add in the comments. Are you a cynic, a realist, a quiet dreamer, a hater or an abstainer? Have your say, it's only a mouse click away. Stand up (or remain seated) and be counted!

Monday Poll in Review
Last week's poll was looking for the PB community opinion of how much impact pro team marker endorsements have. Unsurprisingly, some voters failed to vote among the personal options but even so some 45% admitted that pro team endorsements, for whatever reasons, influenced their buying decision. And that's probably low. If everyone who participated in the poll have given an answer for this section it likely would have exceeded 50%, either somewhat influenced or definitely influenced in their marker purchase. And of the 35% who insisted it had no influence on them personally (some percent are certainly lying) because among the total vote only 9% thought pro gun use, or endorsements, there was no influence on anybody.
On the other hand 77% were certain pro use improved brand recognition (while some group, perhaps upwards of 23% didn't know what brand recognition means.) Meanwhile 66% believe pro endorsement influences the purchases of other paintball players. Taken at face value it would seem pro endorsement of a gun (or other paintball product?) does influence the purchase of that product. Given that voters chose "definitely influences" over "may influence" by around 2:1 further substantiates the belief among the voters that endorsements work.

Tryout Sunday

Some of you may have heard. We had a tryout for the team yesterday. We already have a full roster. The spot(s) available come with no guarantee of anything but hard work, no glory (and maybe, come to think of it, somebody to carry my umbrella at events.) It's not quite that bad but it's close. Whoever is finally chosen may never play a point at any event in 2011. What they will do is work hard, get better, create some internal competition (potentially earning an opportunity to play) and be ready to go if called upon. In some respects it will be more demanding that what we expect of the established players. (I want them hungry and unbreakable--and I want their desire to infuse the whole team.) But it will make them better players and prepare them to fill regular roles in the future.
We wanted players from Florida (or close enough to make every practice, without fail), we wanted upper division experience along with a few other preferences and vetted the original contact list to make the tryout invitation only. Of the 22 players vetted 18 showed up on Sunday morning.
(To all of you reading this who were there, thank you. Ballers each and every one. Not a dud in the bunch. We appreciate your time and effort.)
For the most part we had them run 40-yard sprints, in full gear with guns, and play 1-on-1's. Early on the wins versus losses were less important than they later became as we were evaluating their fundamental gun skills along with things like aggressiveness, game smarts and attitude. Each 1-on-1 began with the players sprinting across the back of the field from one corner to the other to help simulate game conditions and along with the repeated sprints produced a baseline for simple conditioning.
After a series of preliminary rounds we began matching up players to compete against each other with those players with losing records essentially placed in elimination brackets. It was time to start being successful. Around 3 hours into the process the numbers had been reduced to a final 6. Those 6 were briefly interviewed singly in part to reconfirm their ability to meet our demands if they succeeded in being chosen and to answer any additional questions we had. Then it was time to play some 2-on-2's with the players paired with a team player. Here we would see their natural inclinations come into play. How they responded to a greater challenge, their knowledge and understanding of a player's role in different positions on a wire and so on. 6 was reduced to 4. The final 4 played some 1-on-1's against Bryan Smith. While not particularly successful--nor were they expected to be--they all demonstrated they were thinking, (hopefully) learning and attempting to be proactive with each new opportunity.
At the end of the day we weren't prepared to make a final decision. The remaining 4 players were invited to next week's regular team practice where we will have one last opportunity to see how they measure up and fit in. At best they still only have a fifty-fifty shot to make it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The League That Cried Wolf, er, TV

By now you must have heard, right? The NPPL is flirting with TV (again) and the "official" rumors are being leaked to X3 [See Inside Scoop]--and are quickly picked up (and/or confirmed as viable rumors) by the ProPaintball kids. At X3 it's a couple of lines and an exclamation point or two. At ProPaintball it's a bit more than that but it's mostly heat and not light. But over at PBN, next to nothing. One of the iconic venues in tournament paintball matched with the self-proclaimed world wide leader in sports (ESPN)--to bring tournament paintball back to TV, perhaps even as part of a well-established extreme games format--and it's largely a fizzle. What's up with that?
The biggest thing is probably that we've been here done that before. (Deja vu all over again. And again.) Even the Nu Skool is jaded when it comes to paintball and TV. Not all that long ago everybody wanted to believe, rallied around every effort only to be disappointed each and every time. So nobody is buying it this time. Not ignoring the prospect exactly but instead waiting to see what actually happens.
And of course this league (with different owners) has been in the thick of trying to get paintball on TV. And we've heard this before. And nobody believes in the dream anymore. It's failed too many times in the past.
And then there's the rumors themselves. The truth is the current crop of owners (and the league) are viewed skeptically by fair sized chunk of the tourney world. The ones who've been paying attention for more than five minutes. At least they aren't releasing their rumors--as has happened in the past--on sites with a known vested interest. But the rumors are falling flat because of the past, because of the source, because there's not much there there and because of the way the rumors are being constructed. (If part of the idea, or the hope, was excitement generated by the rumors might spur registrations for HB it doesn't look like it's helping. Yet.)
Since I'm out of the loop I can't tell you anymore than I have--expect the events, HB & Vegas, on ESPN3--and that could be wrong though it's what I was told--and yes, there is an X-Games angle at play in this but just what will happen, if anything, we'll have to wait to see together.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pushing PBIndustry

Granted, I'm a natural born cynic--and I have lots of years of paintball experience on top of that. But instead of passing judgment I'ma just gonna point out a couple of factoids and let you decide what you think of this. It's not really a big deal one way or the other. Really. It's not. It was this or jumping into the debate over whether or not the PSP was gonna restrict D1 to 10 teams 'cus you know that's what the current team page shows. Does not. Does so.
What? Oh. Think of what? This is another look at industry and media, new or otherwise. It was the recent announcement from the PE Kidz that started me thinking. You know, the new ETV gimmick with their digital download store. PE has probably done more in the new media arena than the rest of PBIndustry--and good for them (although I wonder how much the vision belongs to guys like Dan Napoli.) The point isn't though that the PE Kidz are trying different things and looking for new ways to use their sponsored teams and the potential of new media. It's that they are looking to transform promotion into product. (Which I find interesting.) A sort of modern alchemy.
At one level everybody is doing it, or trying to do it. Dye does a solid job with their promotional videos. They have a coherent, consistent style that is so immediately recognizable they almost don't need logos and look very professional to boot. But they are mostly just video ads. Across the industry it's a mixed bag of product display, pro endorsements and action images. Not to be confused, of course, with video reviews, interviews, etc. from paintball websites building their own content libraries or home-made team & action videos from pretty much everybody and his third cousin.
With all that diversity of content and presentation it's easy for it all, the commercial to the amateur, to sort of blend together. Content shows up over and over in many of the same places like on various websites and YouTube. I'm vaguely curious if sources get lost in the process and if most viewers tend not to pay much attention to the sources. (Wow! Another really boring The Monday Poll!) I'm more curious what y'all think of PE trying to turn their variety of promotional videos into product. Is there enough non-promotional content that peeps will be willing to pay to download some of the videos? Does the promotional content matter if the quality is there? How much of a difference exists because of the perspective of the film maker? Is MWAG's 'Push' or 'Sunday Drivers' immune from a commercial taint because of the maker's intent compared to say, the latest 'Artifact' series? What do you think?

Pushing Paintballs

Is there a new paint war coming? Calm down. I'm not suggesting there is or isn't. I'm just curious. For awhile the big boys played consolidate and gobble up some of the old paint makers; X.O., JT, Archon and Zap and whoever else. [Severe called it quits.] All the while the conventional wisdom plead poverty on behalf of the surviving paint manufacturers--which in Procaps' situation seemed to have some merit but there are/were other issues (Pulse litigation, etc.) beyond simply making and selling paintballs. Regardless, the North American market was whittled down to a couple primary players and all the while we continued to hear paint manufacturing was in dire straits as nobody had two nickels to rub together 'cus the prices were too low. (Price to whom?--but that's another post.) Meanwhile paint is being made in China, India & Europe among other places. Does our market settle down leaving RPS and Draxxus to split the market? Au contraire, despite the apparent failure of numerous other paint manufacturers all of a sudden we have a horse race again. Valken is pushing paint in a big way but not manufacturing. GI Sportz is cranking out paint and is looking to make a big splash and scoop up market share at a record pace. And even HydroTec remains in the game though their recent delays--despite re-tooling explanations--leaves their impact uncertain. Are all these people nuts or are we looking at some sort of paint Renaissance? Or will there be a bloodbath or will everybody be able to get along and survive or even thrive?

One other thing. Look at how it's being done. In recent years paint sponsorships have been sinking faster than fabled Atlantis because we are told the value of high profile teams and players is no longer an effective method of marketing, if it ever was. GI apparently disagrees. They made a strong push to deliver the best paint at last year's World Cup and have built on that success by signing 4 top pro teams along with an aggressive program of league sponsorships. Valken hasn't jumped on the team sponsorship bandwagon but they are all over league sponsorships as well. Meanwhile DXS seems to have opted to back a single horse in the big time sponsorship sweepstakes by supporting Impact but that still reflects a move away from past practices. And the KEE peeps, while retaining a few pro teams with paint deals, have countered with both nationally announced sponsorship options for divisional teams as well as some other, related sponsorship options primarily aimed at divisional teams that were presented to retailers in their network end of last week-ish via email.

It looks to me like the new (old) kids on the block are building their new brands the same way everybody else once did. Are they making a mistake? Is there another way to go? A better way to go? Or were the previous entrenched paint makers figuring they no longer needed to compete and let their sponsorships dwindle as a consequence?

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Monday Poll

Over the weekend I asked VFTD's Twitter followers for some Monday Poll ideas. Thanks, kids. There were a couple of decent ones and in only 140 characters that's not too bad. For any of you who have also sent other @VFTD comments in the past--I had no idea. Sorry. One reason I asked for help--besides having no ideas--was because I finally noticed how I could see any @VFTD comments. True story. D'oh!
Anyway, I still wasn't feeling it until I saw the ProPaintball news on Infamous swinging the Empire Axe in 2011. Empire has been busy lately pushing product, looking to hook up with divisional teams and they've also contacted their retail base with Empire sponsorship offers thru their dealer network. First they pull the trigger with XSV and now they grab up the Infamous crew. Which isn't hugely surprising given the pre-existing relationship. But that's not what I'm interested in. What I'm interested in is trying to gauge how much influence heavy promotion and big time sponsorship has in moving the buying public. For a mixed sample of opinions check out this PBN thread. I know how this is likely to go but let's try it anyway.
Below is the question and optional answers. This time around pick every "answer" you think applies. For example, you may click on "Has no affect on me" and if you think the same is true for everyone else you would also click "Makes no difference."

Marker use by high profile pro teams (or players)--
Has no affect on me.
May have some influence on which markers interest me.
Definitely affected my choice on at least one occasion.
Makes no difference.
May improve brand recognition.
Definitely improves brand recognition.
May influence which markers appeal to other players.
Definitely influences the purchases of some percentage of other players.

Monday Poll in Review
Last week's poll was an attempt to get a feel for how y'all think your local field(s) are doing. I was curious because it seems from anecdotal responses that some places seem to be doing better than others and that there isn't a consistent pattern at work regardless of the state of the industry or the broader economy. What the numbers suggested was that sluggish or down carried 60% of the vote while up or improving received 40%. Maybe not a surprise but perhaps a little misleading too. 35% of the sluggish or down vote attributed the weak local circumstance to winter which affects a significant chunk of the fields in question. One might say the poll really suggested a seasonal decline at a third of fields while another quarter were also down for whatever reason which leaves 40% trending positive. While still inconclusive the situation may be brighter than most would have thought.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Burning Question

Which high profile Pro team is rumored to not have a paint deal yet?

How Big Is Paintball?

Our industry equates the size of paintball with sales numbers. The let's get along crowd wants paintball to be a big all-inclusive happy family with a shared passion and others acknowledge the diverse possibilities under the banner paintball but tend to focus on the form of paintball that interests us. The numbers of participants for assorted tournaments or scenario games are bandied about and compared with past participation. Some of our local fields are doing great business while others are veritable ghost towns. We wonder about players in other parts of the world. What does it mean--in actual numbers--if we read that paintball in Indonesia is exploding? I don't have any particular answers. Just another way of answering the question: How big is paintball?

Earlier this week on Facebook Freddie Brockdorff got the (paint)ball rolling with an open group called, How Big Is Paintball?

In Freddie's own words--"Lets see how big paintball really is, please add all your friends playing paintball. So that we can get outside sponsors to enter the sport of paintball ...
Just wanted to clarify why I started this group! I work on a global market meeting with a lot of big brands so I wanted to bring them all in to spend marketing money in the paintball world. To help in that effort I want to be able to show how big the following and how loyal paintballers are to the sport by starting this group!"

Since you and I know Facebook is an evil plot to pacify the proletariat (while Google invidiously invades our privacy) using it for good is a revolutionary act. That means go sign up and join the group. Yeah, I know you're a slacker but odds are you're also on Facebook twelve times a day already or your phone has an app for that. And really, wouldn't it be kinda cool to see how big is paintball as a giant Facebook group? It won't answer the core question of course but who knows, it might make a difference some day--and if it doesn't, at least you'll know who your real friends are.

PS--don't bother telling me I could have signed you up myself (if you're a friend) and why aren't you? (Because you can't even be bothered to click the damn "Like" button on the sidebar.) Besides, I didn't even do either of the VFTD-related Facebook pages myself. And you know how I do things like add numbers to my phone? I call my daughter.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Major League Update: The Season Begins

Nothing fancy this year. Nothing provocative. No MLP on Suicide Watch or something similarly dramatic. At this point everyone who is interested understands, more or less, the lay of the land. If anything those of us who compete at the major league level may be more in need of the occasional reminder to work hard, play hard & have fun. Don't ignore reality but also don't get swept up in the swirling negativity that will rob you of your fun if you let it. (No, no one has hacked the blog. This is the real Baca Loco.) Don't think for a minute though that means I'm letting any of the MLP peeps off the hook. As usual you will get as much of the Big Picture as I can cram down your throats and it won't always be pretty, unlike the Paris Longchamps venue.

PSP--Whatever happens it won't be from a lack of effort. Due primarily to the virtual utter collapse of industry support the league was confronted with a real quandary. [The issue with industry isn't only that many smaller members no longer show up except perhaps to World Cup but also that the value of participating is being constantly reexamined. As a practical matter what that has meant in recent years is that even if Company A shows up they may only being paying a fraction of what they once paid to attend.] How then does the PSP continue to operate and offer the best competitive events possible when their annual budgets keep shrinking. The results weren't only geared to the short term but to a plan to ensure ongoing long term survival. As everyone should be aware by now changes included prizes, entry prices, letting staff go, reducing salaries, new series prizes, pre-pay annual discounts, new venues, more discount deals with hotels, airlines, etc. plus a fistful of rule changes intended to broaden the appeal of playing the PSP. And I'm sure I left something out. As of today there are 109 teams registered with 75 in the various Race 2 X categories. The jury is still out.

NPPL--Had their venues and dates set early. They are unchanged from 2010 and that's not a bad thing. Both the DC (at Pev's) and Chicago (at CPX) events are somewhat isolated but the venues themselves provide a quality playing environment. It would be hard for HB to be any more public and short of dancing showgirls, wrestling midgets and an open bar with a spectacular view the Vegas event is competing with a lot of other "entertainment" options. The real draw is playing in Vegas only a block (or two) off The Strip. Registration is now open but there isn't yet any general access (that I could find) to a teams list. Entry fees for 2011 are mostly up a little bit and the divisional options have been reduced by one as there is no longer a D3 5-man division. The NPPL has also offered annual pre-pay discounts, airline discounts and a plethora of hotel discounts under the banner of Stay, Play & Save. The bottom line of S,P & S is that teams wishing to participate must stay in one of the recommended hotels. (If I were you I would expect this one to spread to the rest of the MLP.) You see the dealio is all the discount accommodations kick back a little somp'in sompthin to the organizers and the more volume the better. And as long as the discounts are real everybody wins--but for obvious reasons they prefer not to talk about it. The one notable rule change remains capped semi-auto but still no word on enforcement. (Deja vu all over again) And there is also the question of what the pro division format will be this coming season. Will it stay the same or include some elements of S7 (best of 3) used on Sundays?
Last and not least, X3 announced the solid rumor that HB will be broadcast on ESPN a couple days ago. As this is the sorta thing I'm outta the loop on all I can tell you today is that it will be ESPN3 and that the details of the deal have been or are about to be finalized.

The Millennium Series--Opens the season in the first of two Paris venues, Paris Longchamps, which looks to be a terrific place to hold a major league paintball event. (The other is Paris Disney which is considerably less Paris than the Longchamps location.) Registration is open but last I checked none of the locked division teams were being displayed and I suspect negotiations are ongoing with teams throughout the locked divisions in an effort to shore up lost numbers beginning with the CPL. In fact the MS contacted my team to inquire about our interest in a CPL slot. The discussion broke down over roster exemptions given that the MS scheduled their German event on top of the NPPL's Chicago event and we simply don't have the personnel to make a proper showing at both simultaneously. Does that mean the CPL isn't as big a concern as one might have thought? I don't know. Currently on the top of the MS news is the announcement of 2 teams making the move to D1 (outside the regular promotion system) and I suspect we will see more of those announcements in the coming days.
For additional Mills info on the 2011 season check here (or down the Home page a ways of the MS site.)

As for The Grand Tour there is no 2011 event information posted yet but if you'd like a DVD covering the 2010 season you can order direct.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

If You Can Dodge a Wrench

You can dodge a (paint)ball. Okay, probably not. But if you can't dodge a wrench you got no chance with a paintball. Start slow, build confidence and hope to avoid brain damage in the meantime. (Although, odds are you have a player or three whose game might improve with a little brain damage. Not that I'm advocating anything intentional, you understand.) Damage began the 2011 season this past weekend by collecting some of our sweet sponsorship swag while we spent a couple of days getting acclimated to playing again. It's time to outline your goals, set a tone and begin to lay the foundation for the year. It's an exciting position to be in but it's also more than a little nerve-wracking. No matter how hard you try to maintain control things change as a matter of course and no matter what you did last year that's relegated to the past. From today on it's about moving forward, honoring the commitment to the team, working hard, having fun and striving to improve as players and as a team.
Last year during the season we picked up two young players (15 & 17) due to injuries to some regulars. They both made solid contributions and both are back this year. As are last season's injured players. Unfortunately during the off season Alex (Spence) was diagnosed with leukemia and has been hospitalized since early December. (Alex finally got to go home today.) Paintball slips down the list of priorities under such circumstances but Alex's illness is a stark, harsh reminder that everyday is a blessing and the opportunity to do the things we love can't ever be taken for granted. The whole Damage family looks forward to the day Alex can rejoin his teammates on the field.
Each year of competition is unique but remains tied to the past even as it becomes a bridge to the future. In the world of competition if you aren't moving forward you're losing ground, stagnating at best. Which is why it's important to not only establish standards, demand excellence but also set goals. Even a series of goals. The scope of the goal isn't all that important. The important part is that everyone shares the same goal and works together to attain that goal. Last season we both exceeded our goals and failed to reach them all. Our goals used to begin with Sundays. Playing Sunday is the first step towards excellence. Reaching the podium. Winning events. Now every match is a Sunday match. And every event is about winning. With each event there is only one goal, one satisfactory result; to win. The season goal is to defend both our PSP 2010 series title (and win WC doing it) and 2010 NPPL series title.
I recently heard from the kids at Social Paintball--the video guys--who expressed an interest in following the team over the course of the coming season. The plan is to produce 5 (or 6?) videos over the course of the season. The first will cover the lead up to the first event while the others center around specific events in both leagues. The team is very appreciative of Social's offer and interest and we're looking forward to see the result. Israel (Lagares) was out over the past weekend collecting footage from our first practice. Thanks, Israel & Social.
New rules in the PSP means, in part, finding new ways to prepare. Which is a good thing. Many of the things we have done in the past we will continue to do. Other, new routines will be added to the mix. The focus of practice will change to some degree. What came before is no longer good enough. We need to improve. As good as the players are, they need to get better. And as well as we've played as team there is plenty of room to improve. We spent our first weekend on a special field I designed to begin the process. Our pace was relaxed but the paintball, drills included, was unforgiving. It was good to see. We'll continue to ramp it up as we prepare for the coming season.
There are great players and some excellent teams competing at the pro level. It is no guarantee of success. Great players and excellent teams are the price of admission if you want to be taken seriously. Winning is born of determination, a refusal to lose, the will to fight and faith in your brothers. It can't be taught because it comes from within. What I think you can do is create an environment conducive to drawing out whatever resources a player has within and it begins with competition, with the struggle to earn an opportunity to play. We have a full roster. We may add more in order to find out who wants it most.