With registrations open for all 3 major leagues and the first event, PSP Galveston, about a month away it seems like a good time to check the pulse of MLP activity. (In the past I have included the rather eccentric Grand Tour kids because they feature a Pro division but their website hasn't been updated since autumn and it's unclear if they are producing a 2012 season.) The PSP & NPPL have chosen to expand this season to a 5 event season again. The MS is standing pat at 4 events. What impact this might have on the overall seasons of each league is uncertain but it seems clear that both leagues are counting on a continuation of last year's unexpected if modest growth trend. The conspiracy minded might see the move to 5 events as a mutual passive declaration of war against the other--and it may work out that way--except there was talk of adding an event last year long before the merger talks failed. Of course then the red pill crowd would say each made the move to 5 preemptively certain that the other league was going to do so. Whatever the motivation it's a five event season with the top 4 scores counting toward divisional series titles--at least in the PSP. (I haven't seen anything from the NPPL on that yet.)
The PSP currently has 146 teams signed up (with at least a few more to come) and 105 paid. There are just over two weeks left to pay and the price increases after midnight tomorrow. Last year Galveston had 126 teams and at this rate it appears the PSP will have similar numbers this year. And that covers the recent brouhaha over Sup'Air's last second introduction of a new snake via an upgrade kit. Efforts to pre-sell the kit has created confusion and animosity in some quarters that threatens not only participation at events but a backlash at the local field level. While there has been no formal response from the PSP yet CEO Lane Wright did post a statement in a field owners forum attesting to the fact the PSP was blind-sided by this new bunker kit release. Nor has there been any official statement forthcoming from Sup'Air or Adrenline Games.
The MS opens their season two weeks after Galveston with the French Riviera Cup at a new location in the south of France. In recent past seasons the upper divisions (CPL, SPL & D1) have been locked and last year the MS introduced a team cap in the open divisions. (D2 & D3) While the cap effectively limited the overall size of a Millennium event it appears to have served its purpose well. It is clear the MS's goal isn't to maximize the size of their events and the cap does a couple of positive things for them. It fixes the logistical requirements well in advance and it creates a scarcity--the limited number of open slots--that pushes interested teams into action. It also serves, for the time-being, as a sort of protection for the upper divisions as the open divisions are the path upwards. (While not altogether true--spots can be purchased and divisions jumped--that is a function of availability. Should those spots fail to be available in the future the option won't exist. At least theoretically.) The defined path to success, scarcity of open slots, closed upper levels all function to establish and maintain the MS's preeminence in Euroland--which is particularly important with the growing strength of national leagues in Germany and France, for example.
Assuming numbers matching last year the Riviera Cup will have 126 teams participating. That isn't a foregone conclusion because there is no info available yet as to the status of any of the locked divisions. Last season the MS worked frantically behind the scenes to fill in upper division slots lost to attrition and they scoured all of Europe to do it. Since there hasn't been the same level of off season talk about teams dropping out VFTD is assuming that the locked divisions have remained relatively stable. This year VFTD will be able to deliver live post event reports on all the MS events.
Overlapping the end of March beginning of April is the NPPL's now customary opening event, Huntington Beach. In a positive move, except when you're parking, the league has moved the venue to the northside of the pier this year which is where is was originally. For whatever reason it is a much preferred location. The one drawback is that it will limit, to some degree, the logistics of the venue although one supposes the NPPL is expecting the MS style Race 2 formatting to allow them a more compact venue. And the league has posted that there are limits to available spots but haven't posted any numbers. A check of the team list indicates 64 teams signed up so far. the new Race 2 brackets are very light with the majority opting for the standard 7-man with a couple of teams registering in both. (Presumably in order to pick one or the other at some point.) The numbers look a little thin but there is more time to register and pay for this event than either of the other two.
At this stage it is also hard (or perhaps impossible) to judge the impact of off season changes other than to say the NPPL made more of them than any other league. Much ballyhooed was the move to 5 events--including one in Vancouver, Canada, the introduction of a Race 2 format option, changing Pro and D1 to a Race 2 variant exclusively, the hiring of Tony Mineo as Commish [and head of officiating], an increase in entry prices and finally the introduction of the mandatory Virtue chip to confirm the ROF cap and provide collateral statistical data.
If participation comes in under expectations (and even if it doesn't) HB will be the first and most important test of how well all the changes will be incorporated and what impact they will have further into the season.
The countdown has begun. Tick, tick tick ...