Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Baca's Mailbag, Dec 23

What do you think Division 1 teams can and need to do in order to better themselves to make the jump to Pro? Besides the experience, what do Pro teams have that a successful D1/ Semipro team doesn't have and how can we best prepare ourselves for what's to come.

Players capable of competing on the Pro level. Of course part of that capability is born of experience--but not all of it.
Then there's the interesting qualifier; "successful" D1/Semipro teams. But what constitutes successful in this context? The big unknown for any team making the jump is whether the team belongs or doesn't. Let's look for a moment at the last two PSP am teams to make the jump; Vicious & CEP. Vicious via D1 and a Semi-pro season and CEP from D1. Vicious finished 10 of 12 teams in their first season and 8 out of 10 in their second with one Sunday appearance. Fortunately that Sunday came at Cup and provides a lift going into next season. CEP finished 10 of 10. Would it surprise you to know that Vicious has only won 2 PSP events since 2007? And that CEP won only one of 8 D1 events and one of those D1 seasons also saw the PSP offer a Semipro division. I mention the history of the latest two additions to the PSP Pro division because almost everyone would have said they were successful programs prior to making the move. (I am not, btw, saying neither Vicious or CEP can compete at the pro level but I also don't doubt for a second it's proved much more difficult than either team expected.) The (apparently) soon to be Pro Upton 187 has been more successful winning their final three D2 events and the final two D1 events this past season. That's 5 wins in the last 8 events. Now that is a successful team. Will it translate into pro success? Depends on what "success" means, doesn't it? Just being able to call yourself a pro player or have PBN turn you green is not success. Joining the club isn't success--it is the ultimate challenge in competitive paintball--embrace it.
Realistically--for pretty much everybody--early on success is survival. Success is staying engaged, staying positive, fighting the good fight. Recognizing there is a steep learning curve. One positive way to do this is to have clearly articulated goals. Focus on those goals and focus on learning the necessary lessons the competition will try to teach.
As a practical matter there are perhaps a few proactive things to be done. Play pro teams. (Easier said than done, I know.) (Keeping in mind that practice isn't competition. You only succeed in practice if you learn something and improve.) Organize your pit. Do it the same way every time with everyone having a known role to perform as required. (The less the team has to think about things other than playing the better.) The same applies to any and all team-related roles. It promotes order and frees the players up to focus on playing. At the beginning of each season the team should set goals, by practice, by event and for the season. Adjust upward as needed. Make every practice count. Practice needs to focus on making each and every player better, every time. (The critical question is how, I know.) One way is to tape practice and matches for later evaluation. Ideally, here's where a captain or coach can make a significant difference, particularly one who has been there and done that. It's mighty hard to know what you're missing when you don't know you're missing it. It is also difficult for most teams to internally evaluate one another and the team's deficiencies--much less have a good idea how to fix identified problems. And most players, however motivated, need someone to help draw the best out of them. And of course Race 2-7 is a more tactical and strategic variant than they will be used to as well.
At the end of the day there remain no guarantees. No sure fire answers. No roadmap to certain success. The best you can do is do your best.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Baca's Mailbag, Dec 21

Today's question was pulled from the mailbag post of Dec 12. I foolishly agreed to respond (in that post's comments) and so now I'm stuck. Unlike the norm, today's answer is not the answer. I'm not sure there is such an answer but it is a valuable topic for conversation and one that competitive paintball will have to answer eventually.

 So, do you see any way for the industry to help make tourney play more attractive to field owners, who can then sponsor and give refuge to more teams (who then buy more high end guns and cases of paint)?

Actually, I do. And I'ma throw in an extra answer besides--consider it an early Christmas present from VFTD. First thing the industry needs to do is stop sponsoring paintball teams. And by "sponsoring" I mean offering direct to teams discounted merchandise. (Did I have you going there for a sec?) Selling direct breaks down the relationships between teams/players and the local field. If the local field/pro shop is the conduit between local/regional/national am teams and discounted product it is a small price to pay to encourage fields interested in supporting competition paintball to do so and builds bonds at the local level between teams/players and their local fields/pro shops. As it stands the manufacturers who go the direct "sponsorship" route are cannibalizing their own grassroots markets.
While a good start that's not enough. In this time of economic contraction and internet sales (and even some big box store sales) the local field/pro shop--particularly if it has nearby competitors--has to offer something more, or at least different. Given that I think the bar has been raised too high for simple entry into the competitive paintball world I have some suggestions; offer and schedule times for basic paintball training; combine that with restricted but informal afternoon (or morning) (or both) streetball style "competitions" periodically and encourage or directly promote the development of paintball clubs based around the local field. The idea is to begin by teaching anyone interested the fundamentals of the game and then give them a place and a way to begin to experience their growing skills in an environment of their equals. You want more and future tourney players? Especially now they don't appear ex nihilo. The club can be an element the local field organizes or it can be an arrangement between those interested in building a paintball club and their local competition-oriented field. The club exists to develop tourney players and provide a ladder of teams on which to compete.And if the local field is the source of discounted gear, etc. you now have a reciprocal basis for the relationship. And in the longer term the most successful clubs will attract more and better players and more attention from would be industry supporters and everybody would potentially benefit.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Baca's Mailbag, December 19

For 2012 we will be playing D2 Xball nationally and I feel like all of our gun fighting skills individually are there, but just as a team I'm worried about the overall game plan execution. What are the best ways to lay out a game plan? How to make sure everyone sticks to their objective for that point? AND at what point do you have to change the game plan when it's not working? When you're down 0-3?

A good off season question. One I could (sadly) spend hours and pages answering but for now let's cover the rudiments and follow-up in comments or with another question--or ten. The two core points are simple; the game plan begins with (but extends beyond) the breakout and the players must know their role despite the constantly shifting game play. You have the weekend prior to the event to decide what your breakouts will be and the different ways you will sequence the runs during the breakout. (See below.) And to run those breakouts and run options until your squad is comfortable with the basic breakouts. That's the easy part.
When we talk about roles we're talking both fundamentals of playing the game--What is the wire lead's primary responsibility?--and if you're the third live player between two wire players what's your job in closing out a point? What do you do and why do you do it? And we're talking positional responsibility. What is the job of the snake side insert? When and how does the Home shooter decide to make a move? Too often what happens is teams run their breakout and just let the rest of the point happen. It is important in practice to play various mid- and end-game scenarios as teaching opportunities and in the process use those opportunities to also define what the role is of a each player in various positions on the field. Finally, despite  what seems to be the conventional (uninformed) wisdom it's very important that players communicate on field in order to cooperate and coordinate their actions.
You don't change the plan. You come prepared with a number of breakouts and alternative ways of reaching your desired primaries. You practice them in advance. Your alternatives are designed to keep your opponent guessing--and shooting the wrong lanes at the wrong times--and as pre-arranged responses to certain predicted situations. If we can't get into the snake OTB this alternative will accomplish our requirement with only minimal delay. For example, when you struggle to get your player into the snake OTB add a Home edger who delays his primary run; or trail a corner runner who is gunning back into the Home zone; or send the corner runner first and trail the snake runner who is gunning the Home zone; or delay the snake runner until other guns are in position to counter the lane shooter(s) and slingshot the snake runner once your countering lanes are up, etc. The basic goal doesn't change or even the number of players committed to the effort--just the way you accomplish the task OTB or soon thereafter. But if you haven't practiced these options you cannot expect to execute them in a match.
The basic in-match adjustments are principally changing shooting lanes OTB and responding as needed to inside/out play. Lane adjustments can be anything from edging, to doubling lanes with delaying secondary shooters, changing the zones runners are shooting back into, etc. The reason you change shooting lanes is as a direct counter to effective laning by your opponent, to increase the effectiveness of your laning or to facilitate making your primaries. Knowing when to make adjustments depends on recognizing your opponent's tactics and communicating with your players. Inside/out play refers to the tactical option of either aggressively getting wide and on the wire OTB or keeping extra shooters inside to add lanes OTB and take primaries on the delay or else play short primaries looking to make limited, progressive bumps to the wire(s). The issue is effectiveness. For example, if your opponent is playing inside OTB and consistently eliminating one or more of your players an immediate adjustment may be required. Conversely if you're playing short and your opponent is getting wide and taking the play away from you, again an inside/out adjustment may be necessary. The standard inside/out adjustment is to match your opponent. Alternatively simple lane changes may suffice. Knowing your team and experience will tell you what you need to know. Expect a learning curve and incorporate adjustments into your practice.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Baca's Mailbag, Dec 16

December 8, 2011 - Proposed standard ASTM WK34588, Practice for Operation of Low Impact Paintball Game Fields, enables those in paintball industry to create low-impact games for potential players who might like to try paintball but are initially intimidated by its intensity. According to Paintball Training Institute president Bob McGuire, standard outlines game organization, management, and safety protocols that slow down the game and limit shooting proximity to increase enjoyment for inexperienced players.

Would the 50 cal paintball be part of this in the future?

The short answer is: could be. But it isn't yet and the proposed standard isn't about 50 cal, it's much bigger than that.
Too cryptic? Re-read the statement. It means what it says and that means 50 cal might be part of that process. The concept is about expanding the boundaries of what it means to play paintball—and at the core of that is something called the “welt factor” and pre-existing ASTM standards with respect to age. Those standards are the reason that 10 years old is the current age minimum that insurers won't underwrite below. But what if paintball could be played by 8 year olds in a more compact environment without the existing “welt factor” (and pain) as part of the equation? Does a broader definition of what paintball is make it more inclusive, potentially more popular? Does a new and expanded demographic create more future, long term paintball players? Does paintball finally get the girls to join in if the “welt factor” is substantially reduced?
See what I mean about bigger than 50 cal alone. The fact is however that a small(er) ball could easily be part of the equation—and low impact paintball isn't a new idea. The initial industry interest seems to pre-date the PMI merger and may have influenced their purchase of RP Scherer but was cut short by the economic necessities that drove the merger with National Paintball Sports. And it's unclear (at least right now though Mr. C is on the case) how much if any of PMI's interest carried over but it appears there is still some measure of industry interest. I might even be inclined to suggest it's quite a lot of interest but I only have that feeling based on what sources wouldn't talk about. I mean if it was a non-issue everybody would say so, right? (Okay, the good liars will say anything, and do, but even though we's talking paintball, not everyone is a good liar.)
I know what your thinking. GI Sportz, d'oh! Hold on. Yes, GI tried to make a big 50 cal push a couple years ago (how time flies) but their focus (apparently) was less about low impact and more about competing with and replacing 68. Seems to me there's some overlap there but rumor has it the low impact community—yes, there seems to be one—wasn't universally on board with that effort. It seems there are some major paintball interests that see low impact paintball as a viable gateway to general paintball play. And, no, I don't know what the ins & outs of that are/were? be but it's intriguing, isn't it? It also seems 50 cal isn't universally viewed as the ideal small ball size from the low impact side of the equation but that the economic advantages held sway. (And now all the major manufacturers have the dies to convert to 50 cal if it comes up again.)
Does HydroTec's paintball fit into the low impact equation? The answer appears to be not at this time. It seemed to me that a paintball that was mostly water with a shell thickness that could be very precisely controlled might be ideal for this kind of application but it seems HydroTec hasn't made any overtures to the ASTM. Yet. (Although my ASTM contact is reticent to discuss any matter other than what they are working on—like the obvious tie-ins to various industries that might have an interest in the outcome of their efforts.) But that got me thinking—and call me crazy (I'm used to it)--but look at some of the, I hate to call them trends, that VFTD and others have reported and/or commented on in the past. Industry conferences aimed at paintball field owners including Airsoft & laser tag. Tippmann introducing a laser tag variant using their paintball-based equipment. And toy giant Hasbro with their expanding universe of Nerf stuff that both mimics paintball but is also safe enough to play virtually anywhere. How much more low impact can you get?

And the ultimate question—for today anyway—is low impact paintball a counter to all these other shooting and tag games? Or are they all best seen as potential gateways to future paintball play?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Baca's Mailbag, December 15

Have you been able to find out anymore information about what actually happened at the merger talks? Who ended up sinking the deal? From a few posts around the internet it appears it was the NPPL that ended things.

To answer the first part of the question, yes, I've found out more about what happened. Without assigning blame here's roughly what happened at the end. As everyone (who cares) now knows the meeting in Vegas ended badly. There was an effort made after that via a series of conference calls to get back on track the day before the NPPL announced their 2012 event schedule. [The joint the-merger-is-off statement came out November 30th and the NPPL announced their complete 2012 schedule the next day, December 1st. The PSP announced their first two events on December 5th.] Proposals and counter-proposals were made and rejected and neither party apparently could agree to any middle ground between the proposals offered. To the best of my current knowledge format wasn't the make or break issue--it would have been dealt with after a basic deal was agreed to. It seems the core issues were ownership stake(s)--who ended up with what--and something VFTD remarked on back in September, uncertainty about the legal structure of the NPPL and the status of its team/owners in some instances. (Both parties agreed months ago, during the process, to release records to a third party for review and it took the NPPL months to comply.) How much bearing the later issue had on an inability to agree to the former I've no idea--nor can I break down the numbers or dollars being discussed. (If I can get the-rest-of-the-story and be reasonably certain of its accuracy I'll tell that tale when I can.)

I don't think either league left the bargaining table unhappy with the outcome and from here on out we will see what sort of line the industry takes, along with the players. (And I do mean players, not the etools who have never played either one but insist on repeatedly declaring their opinions.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mailbag Extra: Deep Water Edition

Where's the Hydrotec paintballs and the 50 cal issue at now?

This is two separate questions and I expect to have more info related to small ball soon so today's extra is about HydroTec. (Another mailbag question came over the transom recently that got me digging into something else that might provide some answers soon.)
If you've been following HydroTec you know (from tweets & their website) that they continue to stall while claiming to be working away diligently on things like paint seams and color combos, etc. Which is probably true but there is also speculation that there are other, primary causes at work. Around the time of the public disclosure of the HydroTec water-based paintball project there were rumors that one or more of the major paint suppliers would likely file suit against HydroTec if for no other reason than to impede their delivery to market. In the case of KEE the rumors swirled around the past employment of Mr. Ronnie Bayless who worked, in the past, on a number of paintball-related projects for R.P.Scherer and others. The rumored wedge was something on the order of proprietary knowledge and systems belonging to KEE via RP (included in the purchase/merger of PMI & National) given that Mr. Bayless was (then) employed by HydroTec.
The latest rumorology claims KEE never filed suit against HydroTec but did present them with a cease & desist order. Further the latest rumors claim Mr. Bayless no longer works for HydroTec but just when that relationship was severed (if in fact it has been--the website gives no indication it has) remains unclear. And finally rumors hint at a growing dissatisfaction with HydroTec's progress, or lack thereof, from a principle investor that VFTD reported last year was rumored to be Kraft Foods or a subsidiary company. VFTD has not confirmed that rumor but it continues in play in the deep background.
HydroTec is nearly a year behind their originally announced roll out date of January 2011 with no end in sight.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Baca's Mailbag, Dec 12

The question(s) that follow are very common. I have heard them repeated for as long as I've been involved in this game and there was a time when I asked most of them. I don't have definitive answers. The best I can do is some observations based on too many years experience. I invite the rest of you slackers to include your take on these questions in the comments.

(A) Ok, What type of back round do most of the pro players or regular tourney player have ??? (B) How do you afford it? is a question I am asked many times over the couse of a season? (C) I see a lot of the newer players having a tough time, when they look at the commitment needed to play on a regular basis. Our team is made up of a mix of people, ages and incomes and we are in a rual area.. (D) We have to buget and save to do what we do. We have no team sponsors and by no means do I think we have money to throw around.. We didnt go to a couple of major event due to the cost of traveling (air fare) How how do most players afford to play ...? (E) Do sponsors make up some of the difference, has it really become a rich man's sport? (F) What your feeling on the paintball landscape and the cost of playing competitive ball?

I'm going to respond to the questions in the order they come up and in order to keep things as clear as possible I've divided the query into sections.
(A)--from an economic perspective there is no type. I joke occasionally about the lack of diverse sports interest and background among tourney players but I doubt it's much different from the generalized norm. I just find it a bit curious since most competitive people are competitive about almost everything, and as kids, tend to try more things--or did a hundred years ago when I was a kid.
(B)--the usual way most players do. By prioritizing their spending in such a way that they can keep playing paintball. Figure out what you can afford and then spend more--is the way it frequently ends up. I'm not even sure it's all that much different, cost-wise, than it used to be. (But I do think there are a couple of contributing factors that are different today than in the past.) Back in the day we shot less paint but it cost a lot more. The last IAO I played Hellfire was $105 bucks a case of 2000 (including tax.) High end guns weren't much cheaper and national events were a larger time commitment, more days off school or work. A serious tourney jones has never been cheap. The biggest difference today is practice costs.
(C)--Nothing new here either although I do think it's tougher to get started in tourney paintball than it once was. My first team had players with money but no time and players with time but no money. Some were super gung ho, others a lot less so. Our biggest issue was getting enough time & money & commitment together for actual events. We were a decent practice team and a lousy competition team.
(D)--Again, not uncommon. So does most everybody else involved in the tourney side of the game. What often happens is one or two guys end up taking on extra financial burdens (to be paid back later) which almost inevitably turn into (more) problems later. Two things are required of a serious team; strong leadership and a plan. And once the plan is agreed to everyone needs to hold up their end--or they get replaced. More problems arise here in that lots of times the team is a mix of friends and ages and resources and that has always been and remains a recipe for frustration more often than not. Nobody wants to be the bad guy, everybody understands the difficulties but if the team is actually going to function there has to be a bottom line commitment from everyone actively involved. The big difference is today the level of commitment is higher lower down the divisional ladder than it once was, or so it seems to me. 
(E)--Sponsors make up some of the difference for very few teams any more. And the lion's share of what remains of real sponsorship, not discount product deals, is product. For example, Team A gets X number of guns from sponsor Q. The guns are for the team with the understanding the extra guns are sold to help fund the team. There are a relative handful of teams that do better than that.
(F)--In many respects very little has changed. Serious competition isn't cheap, it requires some level of commitment. A commitment in time & money. It is what it is. Beyond that I have one serious concern and I think there are a couple of factors in play today that are significantly different from times past.
My fear is decisions about the game's future direction will be based too much on the current rough economic times. Somewhere there's a boundary between keeping the sport alive and killing it in an effort to get more peeps to play.
Having said all that I also think there are things that make it more difficult to compete than in times past: fewer fields dedicated to supporting local team(s); a broadly younger demographic; what practice has become. The first one seems pretty straighforward. Toss into the mix the larger number of younger players and you've got kids without direction and fewer leaders. Fewer leaders and fewer homes that welcome competitive players and teams makes it more difficult to build teams. And somewhere during the last decade the romance of the grind has token hold of all divisions of competition. Which isn't a bad thing but it has upped the ante to competing in virtually every division of play. Kick in scrimming on the event layout and the game--for too many--becomes about reps, practice points played and nearly endless cases of paint shot--and we're talking about so-called introductory levels of play. The entry bar has been raised too high and it's going to be nigh on impossible to lower it. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Baca's Mailbag, Dec 9

I can see the bottom of the mail bag from here, slackers. Just saying. Personally, I'm looking forward to my blogging vacation.

"My team is looking to make the jump from Race 2-2 to D3 Race 2-4. We have been successful in the past despite being somewhat isolated with little to no access to other better teams for practice and training. My concerns are twofold; How is xball lite different, if it is, and is there anything other than what we're doing we can do to continue to get better considering our situation?" (Official VFTD paraphrase offered for clarity and succinctness.)

First, the tone of the question(s) expressed some hesitation about making the move to D3 xball lite. The move, compulsory or otherwise, needs to be reframed as a positive challenge, a good thing for the team. (Because it is.) On the other hand it's also a good thing to be as prepared as possible.
The steepest learning curve immediately is the turnaround on points. Your players need to be physically prepared and as a team you need to be properly organized to deal with the changes the quick turnarounds cause. Depending on how many players are on the team you will need to take into account; line up changes, in match tactical adjustments, basic logistical necessities. Your basic logistical necessities are potted paint, aired up working markers, assigned roles, unmarked players--all the usual basics. When you walk off the field and know you don't play again for between 10 minutes and an hour or whatever all those things are easily dealt with. When you're playing again in two minutes you have to have a plan--and everybody needs to know how they fit in the plan. Even if you will staff assistance it is worth talking through the process as a group and practicing getting ready within the turnaround time limit.
Depending on the size of your roster you may also need to prepare for shifting line-ups, different groups of five going out to play each point. Anything less than two complete lines means some number of players will be playing back-to-backs and will require priority coming off the field for things like air, getting cleaned up (paint free), etc. Even if shifting line-ups isn't new make sure you know how it's going to work within the limited time frame of the xball (Race 2) turnaround. It's between points, 2 players are going back-to-back and the pit is full of people trying to get ready and get on the field. The last thing you need is to know in advance how your team will determine what your next point is going to be. Do your players decide? Does a coach call prearranged plays? However the team functions you will need to make sure your routine for that too fits within your turnaround time. It may seem rather daunting at first but if you walk through it, get everybody on the same page and practice getting everything done within the time limit you'll be well ahead of the game. Keep in mind your first practical event experience may still be kinda chaotic because the one thing you can't prepare for is the real deal--but your advance prep will make the transition much easier.
(Based on the elements of practice you mentioned) the team should add laning OTB and Running & Gunning drills to your current regimen. (There are half a dozen or more posts in the archives covering those topics in how-to formats. Search stuff like laning, OTB, practice, playing the game, running & gunning and so on.) Otherwise the drills and mismatches (snap-shooting, 1on1's, 2on1's, 3on2's, etc.) and so on continue to be a solid base. With little or no local challenges to help keep the team sharp your group attitude and focus becomes critical to future success--which is one reason the move up to a new national level challenge is positive motivation. The other thing you need to focus on when it comes to your regular (routine) practice is execution. Practice can't degenerate into simply going through the motions, it needs to be about perfecting, always getting better.
Finally I would suggest, if it's at all possible, to arrange a special weekend practice trip--not unlike going to an event--to test your progress and scrimmage with better players and teams. Or, alternatively planning well in advance to schedule competing at a regional event where better than home grown competition will exist. Regardless, treat your first event or two in the new format as learning experiences and set your goals accordingly.
Good luck. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mailbag Extra: NPPL Drops Format Bomb!

With the recent announcement by the NPPL that they are converting to Race2 for professional matches, and adding what they term as Millennium 5-man divisions, do you see this as:1) an attempt to offer a similar format as PSP, in the hope of a "smooth" transition in a future merger?
2) an attempt to offer enough formats to satisfy all tournament players, with the goal of stealing PSP market share?
In my mind, it has to be one or the other, or am I missing something?

Re: question #1: That's very sweet and naive.  And it will be the correct answer the same day Vegans vote unanimously that their favorite fast food is JackInTheBox.

Re: question #2: In some senses I almost find this one hard to credit as well because I am initially unconvinced that much thought went into this decision. Even so I think it has to be viewed, in part, as a direct challenge to the PSP whether that was intended or not. (Nor would it surprise me to see the PSP respond in kind or at least use their left over scheduling flexibility to best effect.)

I know those probably aren't the most satisfactory answers but there's still a lot of necessary information missing before this move can be fairly judged. Things like what will the prelims look like? How will Sunday play proceed? Will the fields all still comply with current NPPL design characteristics, etc.? Will there be time limit? How will it work? Without this sort of info it's impossible to adequately project how this might work out.
However, given what we do know there are some, if not conclusions to be drawn, pitfalls that might arise. How much paint will the Pro teams shoot under this formula? (Contrary to popular belief many of them have marginal sponsorships.) Will they severely limit the prelims in order to split the difference? (Something like the Millennium currently do where teams only play 3 matches in the prelims. In which the scoring becomes matches won--which will frequently end in ties and come down to the plus/minus ratio of points scored to determine who moves on. A variant of the system that was both confusing and unsatisfactory in HB last year.) Will the return of Semi-Pro be a mixed division with D1 or an attempt to revive a separate division? Will the new formats cost more in entries? Will the offer of 5-man Xball Lite prove to be direct competition with traditional 7-man among the am teams? There are dozens of similar questions but you get the idea, I'm sure.

And then there the issues that prior experience suggest might arise. How will the format changes be reflected in the rule book? (If the NPPL can't produce an adequate rule book for 7-man can they be expected to deliver one that covers multiple formats?) Format changes don't change a registration and ID system that only function as a revenue stream for the league and they don't instantly improve the officiating. In fact they put more stress on both those factors. And then there's scheduling and field prep requirements? How many more fields will it take? The league was running 12 hour days in Vegas trying to get in all the scheduled games for much less time intensive formats. With 3 fields in Vegas the quality of the carpets was noticeably diminished--the fields looked like green quilts. How many more fields will the league need? How many more refs will it take? Does the league have any idea if they can effectively run Race 2 on 7-man style fields?
The bottom line is format changes don't fix the endemic problems. All the NPPL has done so far with this announcement is confirm that they too believe their prior format was lacking--at least when it comes to the Pros and the 5-man teams.

Baca's Mailbag, Dec 6

How likely do you think it is that some sponsors (Kee) will go through with their rumored threats to pull out of the NPPL?
The easy button answer is not very. And that's because any hard line change would be a break with history and past practices and I'm disinclined to believe it until I see it. And yet I keep hearing nattering about a mostly united front blah blah blah. So it's hard to know--but fortunately it's easy to speculate and there are a few possible scenarios to consider--if in fact most of the major industry players follow through one way or another. On one hand the big industry sponsors could simply discontinue their support and not show up. On the other they could conceivably take a more active hand in where their sponsored teams play, or don't play. In the second scenario the issue isn't what Joe Divisional Team does but what the Pro teams do and more to the point the high profile anchor pro teams like Dynasty or Infamous. Established teams with established reputations validate the entire division with their presence and if they're not there it changes the general perception of their worthiness (for lack of a better word) to self-identify as pro. (Which is why the Millennium kids have a chip on their collective shoulders and need first tier Russians and/or U.S. team(s) competing in the CPL. It both defines and assures their status.) The follow-up question is does devaluing the Pro division erode interest and divisional player participation--if the end goal is to see the league call it quits.
The other option of simply no longer sponsoring the league does a couple of things; it saves the industry some money (some of which ended up in the league's pockets) and it complicates things for the sponsored teams of those companies without going so far as to forbid them to play. Of course it also complicates things for the companies if they aren't present to support their products for their flagship teams, etc.
A simpler solution would be stick a fork in Pev and watch all the hot air escape. And accept the inescapable conclusion that Chuck is an empty wetsuit and a surf board, paintball's answer to the Peter Principle, and just ignore him. At which point the NPPL becomes Bart & the Volunteers and if they want to play 7-man God bless them everyone.
EDIT: Haha! It turns out they don't want to play 7-man after all.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Baca's Mailbag, Dec 4

A couple of quick notes. Yes, GI has in fact bought Procaps--and the deal is officially done. VFTD was supposed to receive an early copy of the official Press Release (which may still happen)--I foolishly agreed to delay posting in exchange for the presser--but it didn't matter as they proceeded almost immediately to leak the information, AGAIN. This time after having signed all the appropriate documents or at least while in the process of signing them. Let that be a lesson kids. It's one I'ma take to heart. Trust me. (As soon as I realized the cat was out of the bag--this time for good--I did post it on VFTD's Facebook page and will be commented on events of the day there during December.)
Mailbag questions aren't being answered in the order received. It's whatever happens to catch my fancy really. For example today's question provides an opportunity to compare the two major leagues and demonstrate, for the uninitiated, that I'm an equal opportunity hater.

I, along with others I'm sure, was wondering which format you think is better and why. I've been following for a while and can pretty much figure its not going to be the NPPL, but I guess I was wanting to know is what sets the PSP apart as being the premier league (if that is your position).

The obvious answer is Bacaball! (Excepting of course it's only suitable as an expensive spectator-friendly, sports-legitimizing version of competitive paintball that, er, nobody has actually played--yet.)
Between traditional 7-man and Race 2 the simple answer is Race 2 for all the same reasons you've already heard. The big one is of course that the outcome of a match is more likely to be determinative of which team was actually better on a given day. For me, sideline coaching or no coaching is a non-issue. Communication has always been a key element of playing the game and remains so whether or not someone outside the field of play is communicating or not. And for the record I do not believe sideline coaching has nearly the impact that is often attributed to it. (Although at the lower levels it can have more of an impact but that is directly related to the skill & confidence of the players.) But once you start talking about officiating and things like gun rules we're now in the territory that sets the leagues apart from one another.
In one sense the dividing issue for the players seems to be format preference. Which is fine. And if that were the only factor at play I would be (and am) fine with peeps playing what they like. On that count my issues with both leagues, heck, with all leagues, has always been they deliver the best product possible to their customers and since we're talking about tournament paintball "best" means a fair and impartial competitive environment in which to compete. That's my baseline. Everything else is an extra as far as I'm concerned--and secondary. Is it fun to have an unusual or exotic venue? In an unusual or unique location? Absolutely. Do any extras ever make up for a lousy competition? Nope. At least not from my perspective. Your mileage may vary--but I doubt it. In the past when various iterations of the NPPL clearly focused more on delivering an experience instead of a competition--apparently assuming the competition part would handle itself--they ended up in the unenviable positions of always having to try and top themselves and eventually couldn't, no matter how much money they spent. And it cost them on both sides of that equation. It cost them the experience seekers and the serious competitors.
On the other hand there's the path the PSP has followed. The league pays APPA for a registration system that actually works and has the potential to incorporate every tournament player at every level because it's a necessary feature of providing a fair competition. (Does the league still make a few bucks on ID cards? I hope so. I'd hate to think Chris gets all that money--but the point is one league has a real system, the other has another revenue stream.) The PSP pays a salary to the Head of Referees to travel around and train refs and oversee their on field efforts at events in an effort to maintain the highest quality they can manage. The PSP also pays extra for a dedicated crew of refs and their supervision on the Pro field. Is it less than perfect? Sure but the league is willing to spend real money to provide the best officiating they can. And anyone who has been around more than a day or two knows the history of the NPPL, in every version, is fraught with one reffing scandal after another--and not just on the outer fields among the lower divisions--but front and center on the grandstand field. The difference isn't bad luck. It's that one league makes a concerted effort to get it right and the other has different priorities. Same with gun rules. The PSP has clearly defined and enforceable gun rules--whether you like them or not--and as a result significant gun-related penalties are almost unheard of anymore. The NPPL, on the other hand, has a history of unenforceable rules, subjective reffing judgments, arbitrary penalties and widespread cheating. Today's NPPL 3.0 has at least capped their "semi-auto" so they have an enforceable limit (thanks to Virtue) while they continue to turn a blind eye to the ramping they supposedly don't allow. And then there are the rest of the rules. In the PSP there is a clearly defined hierarchy of authority in place to see to it the rules are followed. (Is everybody always happy? Nope, but that isn't the point of the rules.) In the NPPL the rules are inadequate at best and incomplete at worst and the Ultimate Ref's job seems to be making stuff up as he goes along. Does it matter? Most of the time probably not but it is symptomatic of the NPPL's routine practice of half-assing the actual competition while touting what a great job they do at growing and promoting paintball.
Bottom line is what sets the leagues apart in my mind is one is focused on the on-field competition and the other isn't--and never has been.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

World Cup Practice, part 4

This is it, slackers. A December freebie--and the final installment discussing our WC practice weekend on the event layout. (Yes, I could go on almost forever but I'm stopping with this installment. If you have additional questions feel free to ask or post them up in comments.) It's also now December--and that means Mailbag Month is here. (This is your final reminder that all posts in December, except breaking news of real import--and there's an official one coming!--will be answering questions or responding to mailbag or Facebook comments. And if those run out or don't exist in sufficient numbers to fill December then I'm on vacation! Just saying.)
Recap: So far we've covered a general assessment of the value of the most common primary bunkers; how we will attack & defend the snake and what it will take to play effectively on the D-wire. This time I want to round things out by talking a bit more about actually playing the snake, some alternative options, why the center of this layout wasn't utilised more actively and whatever other bits & pieces come to mind. A veritable post-Thanksgiving cornucopia of game play scraps and leftovers.
How a team play(ed) this (or any other snake) is oftentimes one of the features that separate the men from the boys. On the diagram you will note that the first four knuckles (or shooting stations) are numbered appropriately. As we've already discussed the mid-field MT is likely to be played as a secondary Home bunker and used primarily to deny and/or control the snake. Now, taking a closer look at what the various knuckles offer, why, if you have worked hard to get into the snake and there is a crossfield MT gun--do you stop at the first knuckle and try to play it? The goal of gaining the snake isn't in order to contest other players in superior positions shooting down on top of you while you crawl on your belly. I know, I know, you already know this but a quick review of your's (and most everybody else's) practical experience will demonstrate that you may know dat but you don't play dat.
Ideally the object of working into the snake is to get in position to kill peeps who have no place to hide. In addition the secondary object is to apply pressure to your opponent; pressure that either pins them in their spots or forces them to react. Remember proximity tension? It applies in spades in the snake.
In practice our field was set-up in such a way that the midfield MT did not have a clean gap to shoot between snake 1 and snake 2. On the Pro field at Cup there was a gap. Did it make a difference? Yes but only a minor one. A competent snake player was not delayed for any length of time by the MT and if you watch some of the Pro field matches the thing to look for is players making the strong move right to snake 4 as rapidly and directly as possible. Playing the snake is not a leisurely sight-seeing proposition moving from one knuckle to the next--it's about taking aggressive action that quickly eliminates your opponent(s) or forces your them into a defensive posture. Even if the snake player doesn't get any fast kills the action frequently frees up other players to make moves and take greater control of the field.
One other generalized comment with regards to proximity tension. (Okay, two.) One, if you watch how players respond to proximity tension you will learn a lot about how they play the game under stress. Two, it is always better to give than receive (and I'm not talking about gifts at Christmas.) I'm talking about bunkering your opponent when the opportunity presents itself--and/or proactively making your own opportunities. The benefits are practical and psychological, as one springs from the other. It is offense and not defense, it is active, not reactive. It imposes your will on your opponent. The core move is a momentum builder (or changer) and it simultaneously encourages teammates to act while discouraging opponents resulting as often as not in a net gain in field position with the added bonus of demoralizing the opponent.
At this point it's fair to say we were committed to attacking the wires. We had decided how we would go about doing that and what options and contingencies we could call upon when circumstances required. Our attack may appear simple but it wasn't. But what other options exist? It is always necessary to evaluate the whole field even if you don't plan on using all of it because you also must be prepared for what your opponent might do. (A great example of this is the most recent NCPA final featuring, if I recall correctly, Long Beach State & Tennessee. Losing the match trying to play Long Beach straight up Tennessee altered their attack. Instead of competing for the snake they played to hold the snake and attack using an interior D-side lane. [I kept waiting to see somebody try it all day.] The change in tactics took Long Beach by surprise and they never came up with a workable counter which allowed Tennessee to run off a few points in a row and take the championship. Whether Tennessee was saving that tactic or fell into it doesn't matter. What matters is that Long Beach wasn't prepared to respond to it. Watch the video some time. It's pretty remarkable. Which is why I remarked on it.)
After the fact it's clear that the center of the field wasn't much utilised except in closing points out but I want to take a quick look at why it wasn't. (Lots of teams, when they have nothing else or as a bold change, will send player(s) up the center OTB.) There were a couple of reasons not to attack using this layout's X OTB. On the diagram at either side of the X you will note on the D-side a critical blind zone in pink and on the snake side two lanes in purple. Each side of the X presents a player with variations on the same problem. On the D-side both the wire MT and corner TCK can't be seen. What is the X-side player to do? If there's an opponent wide in either the MT or TCK do you play them to deny the D1 or close the angle? Inside the MR and the midfield MT both have line-of-sight angles and the X-side can be run down from Home. A similar scenario exists on the snake side as the X-side player there needs to either attack insert Temple or corner SD (and TCK) or defend access to the snake--but can't do both--and is also susceptible to being bunkered or countered by the feed TCK. In neither case does going X-side OTB offer a high likelihood of quick kills and/or disruption of the opponent's breakout.
But that doesn't (didn't) mean the middle zone of the field didn't play. On the D-side using the midfield MT as a D-side play (instead of the crossfield) offers a strong change of pace option to either attack Home, a crossfield TCK laner or breakdown snake side players in their primaries early in a point by bumping the Can as part of a move to the wire from the inside out. It also a good running path if your opponent is already strong on the wire. Even better when playing snake side as the strong side--odd gun is committed snake side--is the rotation upfield into the Can (see dashed line). It can be an OTB option but is better as a contingency. By that I mean if you lane the wide runner OTB--then you take the Can to cut off follow-up rotations to the wire and eventually turn the gun inside in the transition from mid-game to close out.
Beyond that there's the routine stuff of walking and re-walking the positions. Testing bounce shots. Talking through options and sequences with your teammates. And on and on. The process is as comprehensive or as simple as you choose to make it.