Monday, April 30, 2012

The Classification Curse

Regulars may recall that in posts past VFTD has had issues with player classification as defined and cataloged by the only real (functional & utilitarian) data base service of this sort in the paintball universe; APPA. Which isn't to say that APPA is bad. It isn't. Numerous changes made in recent years have improved it greatly. And in the grand scheme of things competitive in paintball it serves a useful purpose. (If you're a glutton for punishment follow this link.) But an important problem remains and it is to (once again) highlight that problem I'm writing this post. (That, and I was reminded of it yesterday when I spent a free--from TBD commitments--Sunday hanging out with some old paintball buddies and some new tourney players. For some additional background look here.)
In the Spring of 2010 a number of my former teammates decided to play a local event for fun--and to see if the game reignited old passions. Pretty much across the board it did--reignite old passions--and within weeks they had bought new gear, planned a practice schedule and decided to play as many of the rest of the season's events as possible.
Next week they'll be competing in the third event of their second CFPS season. Two former teams have been reconstructed and a brand new team of mostly young players has been formed as a result of ex-players rediscovering the tourney game they loved a decade or more ago.
The problem is APPA. (Sorta.) Some of the first posts on VFTD le blog in 2008 dealt with my concern that the classification rules in force then had the unintended consequence of pushing D1 ranked players out of tourney paintball. (If you're curious--and you know what curiosity did to the cat--start looking in the July 2008 archives.) And here we are again except the situation is happening on the local level. As it turns out my former teammates, the old guys, have had some success and it appears that by the end of the season they will be bumped up in classification by APPA and out of local competition. Theoretically the CFPS could offer D3X Race 2-4 but have had difficulty fielding a division in the past and if next year is like this one the old guys will be out of tourney paintball again. Okay, but they could play PSP. Or maybe a different regional series, right? Well, yes, at least by classification rule they could but they are all older with families and jobs and real responsibilities and never intended or wanted to travel around the country to events or rise through the ranks. They are regular guys who enjoy playing competitive paintball for fun--not to rejoin the grind--and once again the unintended consequence of well-intentioned and useful rules is gonna push players out of the game. And this time it will be exactly the kind of players the game needs at the grassroots level to provide leadership, resources and knowledge to help grow the next generation of tournament players.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

PSP Phoenix D2, part 2

VFTD: Thanks once again are due Mike McGowan of Prime for putting in the time and effort to rep the division.

In general, teams were using the snake corner much more than in Galveston. Teams broke the dorito-side tower far less than before with teams opting to step off the box in space behind the center can to shoot him off the break. Far more teams loved that center aztec to lock down the dorito-side. Hardly anyone utilized the center A from what I saw. Teams also used the cross-shot from the insert baby-cake. Most teams, doubled the back center and filled out from there. If teams were up bodies and controlled the snake, the game was in their favor. The dorito-side just didn't have the explosiveness it had in Texas. I also did hear tales of odd officiating calls echoing through the ranks. Par for the course. But some of them implied disturbing accounts of referee favoritism. Like wiping off friendly-fire hits or making bold decisions in typical simultaneous exchange situations. I know I heard stories about the two separate fields, thus different crews. So maybe I was relayed a biased message. Hope such rumors are unfounded. These refs stuck it out the entire day, the entire weekend in these elements. Props to them.
The quarterfinals were nearly identical to Galveston with three blowouts and a one point game. PR1ME,, and Collision were crushed 5-1, while Boom edged out TNN 5-4. AC402 did see improvement this event. They had 5-0'd Elevation in the prelims. Elevation returned in kind in their rematch. Revo, Fury, Elevation, and Boom the advancing parties. The semi-finals games appear to have been the most interesting/competitive of the event score-wise. I heard the Boom vs. Revo match was tight. Boom putting the pressure on Revo unlike anyone the whole weekend. But Revo came out the victor 4-3. Scottsdale Elevation thrived on home field turf throughout the event but were beaten 5-4 by Fury. Finally trading places with Boom this go around for 3rd place after beating them 5-2.
There must have been either a mechanical or editing issue with the webcast for the D2 Finals game as the video starts midmatch with Revo already winning 3-2. By what I could gather, Fury kept pushing for their center cross play and Revo denied them by chopping one of them out off break. Namely the center aztec player. While the commentators attributed Revo's win to their "technical" play. They also seemed to disparage their approach as inferior to more aggression on the field. If it were say, Tampa Bay Damage, they probably would have been lauded for their grinding down of opponents. You don't watch college football and talk about how their strategy wouldn't translate into the Pros. Or how the Kentucky basketball team is good but none of them shoot like Kobe.
As former Pros themselves the commentaters contrast the divisional level to what they know and aim to demonstrate to the viewer where their game falls short of the professional. Which to their credit, is the most filmed and viewed. But there are serial moments of unwarranted criticism. For example, I do agree that without aggression you can't win paintball. But being aggressive is a decision. When Revo is up 4-2 with a minute left, saying, in reference to their entire performance "Unless you're, like, Alex Fraige, [counterpunch paintball] is definitely not the way to go." That just sounded absurd to me. It encapsulated the unnecessary level of harsh treatment these teams receive. I'm not saying, "Go easy. We're sensitive and gonna cry on the airplane." Far from it. But Revo had just won every single match of the tournament. The webcasters' experience has entitled them to render judgement. But perhaps also talk about the consistency the Revo program and their organizer, Carlos Beltran, have brought about as well. Give credit where credit is due. Maybe they need a divisional correspondent for these games with some inside info. Someone that's aware of the dynamic to chime in every now and again for these specific games. Greg Pauley or Shane Pestana or Steve Nicola. Anyone with current experience at D2, but also in the Pro ranks.
These divisional teams are learning from the Legions and the Damages of the world. More technical play has become systemic. Signs of further advancement are becoming apparent. Houston Heat has seemed to coalesce, with the bonding agent of cash-money, the technical and the creative with their roster make-up. There's several ways to skin a paintball team, but these divisional teams are learning. Their approaches may be on the Darwinian path to defeating future Pro teams. Just look at what 187 is already doing. Granted, they swept the D2 division in the three tournaments they played in 2010, so they may just be on another level. I'm not saying they shouldn't seek advice, or they don't deserve a sound thrashing now and again to know they need great improvement to get to the professional level. Like what Lasoya often says, "Sometimes you can learn something from these divisional teams. Their approach might be different."
Divisional teams more so than any other could be at the bar, with their kids, at the frat house, Xbox console, or just home in the AC (reading Tolstoy or Marcus Aurelius no doubt). We could be putting our money in a mutual fund like the savvy investors we are or paying off student loans. But we're not. We're in 102.9 degree heat. Dropping $400 on a luxurious Caravan. Spinning four points in a row. Playing out games with dislocated shoulders. Watching our teammates play freshly on crutches jeopardizing our workman's comp. Old salty Pros taking licks just to keep bringing the next generation to bear. Playing on even when our teammates, our best friends, have achieved their dreams by making Pro rosters. You know why?
Because. We. Love. This. Job.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

PSP Phoenix D2, part 1

VFTD: Thanks once again are due Mike McGowan of Prime for putting in the time and effort to rep the division.

"You will hydrate." It felt like a scene from Jarhead. "You will adjust to this desert, and you'll hydrate some more." Everyone got an associate's degree in hydration. Saying it's hot in Phoenix is like saying there's gravity on Earth. But everyone was looking out for each other. At least humidity was left out of the equation. But, like the rest of the US, there has been unseasonably if not record-setting, warm weather across the seaboards. Arizona has not been immune. On the same April 19-22 dates in 2011 and 2010 the highest temps were 90 and 88 degrees respectively. This past weekend. 102.9 degrees. When your body temp reaches that high, you go to the hospital. I heard of at least two cases of heat stroke, one a spectator and one a TX Storm player. If on the calendar next season Phoenix should be the first event of the year for a variety of reasons, weather and cost certainly among them. But perhaps we should see it a month earlier to guarantee less hellish temperatures.
It's rare to see a major city embrace paintball the way the Glendale area has. A real-life sporting complex. Actual paved parking lots. Discounts to local stores issued. Not to mention use of soccer fields. The surface play similar to astroturf. The ground hardened from the beating sun, had a "slick" feel without being slippery on the feet, but tough and survivable. There's that level of refinement at places that have hosted legs in the series several times before. If they're willing to welcome the abuse paintball players bring to their grounds year in and year out, that's a special place to play. [VFTD: They're willing for a substantial 5 figure payday. If you want to see Lane turn red ask him about the fire code inspections prior to the event.]

This event saw 16 Division 2 teams. There were 18 in Texas. Teams from Galveston that decided not to join: Blackout, Breakout, Overhead, Siege, Da Bears (basically Moon City Lazercats D1 at Phx) plus Texas teams, Team Zone and OBK. Several teams made Phoenix their first event: Team No Name (TNN) [New Jersey], Carolina Collision, Denver Fury, Royalty [CA], and [San Jose, CA]. Have to expect that the east coast teams that attended are in essence declaring the rest of the season. Collision is essentially longtime CFOA team Dark Carnival reprised. They had Rob Staudinger playing alongside them as D1 Mayhem was unable to come. They would make the cut through a wildcard for an 8th place finish. TNN brought a couple D1 former Hurricanes along on the squad. Only 5 of the 9 players were from the squad that won D3X New Jersey last season. The remaining teams may just be journeymen that wanted to drop in to the only West coast PSP. Shane Pestana's WCPPL team, Royalty; 4th Place D3X at Cup last year. They're also responsible for the Ironmen's most recent acquisition, Tokahe Hamil ("A-Rod" Rodriguez could be considered but he only played with Royalty at Cup.) placed 5th at NPPL HB, which explains their D4 APPA rankings as players. In spite of NPPL's conversion to a "Xball/Race" format, they did not find the same success in a 5-Man format in Phx.
Fury will probably decide to stick around. They didn't play HB, so they may be committed to PSPs. The webcast commentators knew of their owner, Scottie Flint. The man seems to be known throughout the paintball ranks, and the Fury name has popped up several different times throughout the years. [VFTD: Scottie & Fury date back to the mid- late 90s at least.] One of their players was on the Vicious pro squad. Most of their players, six out of eight to be exact, played D1 at Cup in 2011, but you wouldn't know it by their classification. For most it counted as their drop score. They utilized the two center bunkers to cross it up plus some seriously impressive gun-fighting skills. Apparently, they had been flying out to visit Dynasty and had a long-term scrimmage fest with Texas Storm prior to the event.
While the desert was a distinct contrast from the muddy, soggy coast of Galveston Island. The Arizona oven didn't change much of what rose to the top. There were a few exceptions. Coalition surprised yet again. This time in an unfortunate way for them. They didn't make the cut this go around. A first place, while excellent for confidence, is useless for self-assessment, not to mention motivation. Especially on the same layout. I only saw a few of their Friday games. While they may have tried to change their game plans up, it didn't really look like it. Plus, it's difficult to revamp your entire style. I saw them dying going for that center aztec to cross it up. In what was perhaps the toughest bracket, with no gimmes like in the others, Coalition fell short of their goals. PB Vipers were rocking the brand new Vapor from the brand new company Machine.  I watched PBV almost come back down 0-4 to Fury but didn't quite make it, losing 5-4. Penalties plagued them. Last Call took up the caboose yet again. Three of their players were out due to injury. They certainly have heart.

Friday, April 27, 2012

One Crazy Game

Okay, I lied. About that last post being the last MS related post for a while. The thing is I had intended to incorporate this post into the last one--but changed my mind. (Even the title of the other post was chosen because of the content in this one. Oops.) So it wasn't exactly a lie, more an unintended consequence of thinking the assorted ideas through. You should be used to it. Happens all the time in paintball. (No, not the thinking things through part, the lying part.)
If you've been reading the St. Tropez posts you may recall a comment or two that was mildly disparaging of the Euro style of play. I want to expand on that theme. (Making friends and influencing peeps.) (It isn't all of the teams but it is an easily recognizable pattern common to many of the teams.)
While none of the major leagues have a functioning game philosophy they all have some general ideas about the direction the game has gone in recent years and what future developments they may want to institute. For example, the PSP has a not-quite-guiding principle that as much as possible all the divisions should play the same game and it is a concept taken into consideration when changes are discussed. (Except when it isn't.) The NPPL's guiding precept is solvency--despite the for the player rhetoric--hence the wholesale changes looking for a formula that will at least break even. (Hey, desperation isn't necessarily a bad thing--unless it involves giving Pev an open mike.) The MS is a bit different in that there are more voices at the table that expect to be heard, more bickering and more agendas being pursued. For purposes of this post though only one agenda is relevant. It is the one that envisions the ideal game of paintball being a fast & furious explosion of action resolved quickly and repeated as rapidly as possible. A notion that the Euro players seem to have bought into as well. (Here is where I confess I too am largely persuaded that speed is the ultimate killer. But that's not exactly what the Eurokids put into practice. Too often it looked like aggression for aggression's sake regardless of the situation or the player's awareness, or lack thereof.)
In support of that idea the MS stayed with the prior field dimensions when the PSP changed. They have also followed a tacit plan to design layouts that promote that style of play--or at least discourage anything remotely defensively-oriented. On the other hand they lowered the cap on the ROF. And introduced the 'technical' snake. Both of which are mitigating factors given the way the league seems to want the game to be played.
And what do changes of these sorts accomplish? If left in place long enough they change the way teams will practice. They reorder the priority assigned to the various skills employed to play, etc. In myriad subtle ways they change how the game is approached, conceived and played with most everyone involved seldom, if ever, giving it a second thought.
Then there is the cornerstone of the league's officiating policy; don't ask, don't tell. No, that's not it. It's no unobvious hits, no need to make a subjective call. Which should, in a rational universe, have a chilling effect on play and yet doesn't seem to. Let me explain. What situations are most likely to result in refs calling 1-4-1's? (No, not players cheating. Well yes, but that isn't a situation, that's a choice. Not the same thing.) The situation is players on the move, shooting their guns, intent on being proactive. Getting shot in that situation is practically the MS definition of a 1-4-1. Given a moment to consider then one might reasonably presume that greater risk attaches to such action compared to the likely reward. Doesn't it follow then that taking that risk should only occur when the player has a reasonable expectation they are in control of the situation? And yet point after point the Eurokids run around with no more apparent rationale than excited molecules with the refs running about throwing flags and pulling bodies. Is the outcome of points like that truly determinative of superior play or skills--or is it a crapshoot based on what the refs saw or didn't see? Or acted on or chose not to act on?
So what makes teams play that way? Are they committed to attempting a style of play they don't know how to execute? Is the reffing less rigorous and consistent than claimed making the risk versus reward balance more closely in the players' minds? Both? Something else?
Does the Millennium ever think about what sort of game they want to be promoting when they make decisions about how they will run their events?

Millennium Style

This is the last one (Millennium post) I swear--until the next event at the end of May and chances are I won't ramble endlessly about whatever happens at Bitburg. For one I've covered all the generic stuff and there's no need to repeat any of that. Odds are I'll post a simple event report and any signs of progress--should any such signs manifest. And that's it. Not so bad really.
Worse luck for you I want to tie today's post into the game philosophy notions recently put forward here. A demonstration of how a shared & active game philosophy can/could make a real world difference--and the potential problems that can arise when there is no real game philosophy underpinning. Let's begin with the logistics of running an MS event; 4 teams playing at the same time to be precise. It's a more efficient use of time and space, provides some cost savings to the MS and allows more teams teams to play on fewer fields. Was the move made to improve the game or improve the MS's bottom line? I have no inherent objection to the MS (or any other league) making smart business decisions--but I do have a problem when there are conflicts of interest because, like it or not, the major leagues control the direction and the destiny of the game we play. At least for now. Did the MS decide Race 2-5 was the ideal variant or were they more concerned about the logistics, scheduling & cost (to everyone) when that decision was made? Same goes for a 3 match prelim. Is that the competitive ideal or even a decent compromise given other considerations? What drove those decisions? Was it the good of the game or what was good for the league? [And, no, what's good for the league is NOT necessarily good for the game. The game existed before the league and will exist after it.]
Virtually every serious concern anyone involved has had about the state of the game and its future direction has revolved around the lack of direction and purpose that a game philosophy would provide. And that goes for the other major leagues as well.
As competitive paintball continues to evolve whose priorities will drive future change? And will competitive paintball in the future be a better game, one we even recognize or something completely different?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

MS St. Tropez: The TBD Experience, part 2

The team was treated to dinner Saturday night at an Italian restaurant (thanks, Rab) facing the harbor in Frejus. It was quite good but maintained the standard European practice of not having (or using) ice to chill their drinks. It is frankly barbaric. (When I was last in Paris I found a tiny hole in the wall daily sundries store near our hotel that sold ice cubes by the dozen in shrink wrapped plastic for about twice what an 8 lb. bag costs at the local 7-11. As I recall it also sold live pigeons for sacrificial divinations. Or maybe not.) Oh, by the way, have I mentioned that Europe is expensive? Dinner was on GI Sportz. The two cabs that took us back to the Oasis Village ran up a 100 Euro charge (total) in less than 8 miles.
Sunday night we abandoned the venue and stayed at the Mercure Thalassas Hotel in Frejus. It is a modern establishment with the typical amenities and more room than is often the case with European hotels. The only downside was beds designed for adult males born in the 12th century (when the average height was give or take 5 and a half feet tall.) Consequently my feet hung over the edges. It was an improvement over the bungalows. The kids probably didn't notice as they spent most of the night bar hopping drinking and eating rich desserts with Moose and Q among others. (You know who you are.) It also turned out that the evening meal begins at 7 pm and most restaurants don't open until then. I'm not a regular on the blue plate circuit but sometimes you want to eat before 7. Or you want breakfast for dinner. Or steak and waffles at 3 am. I'm just saying. Turned out however that dinner Sunday night was worth the wait--the proprietress took pity on us--or else was afraid we'd storm her doors--and let us in around 6:30 pm. The tiny 6 table restaurant specialized in beef and offered the exotic option of individually cooking your meal at your table on superheated rocks. I know how it sounds but it was amazing--probably the best meal I've ever had in Euroland.

It’s late in the day Thursday before we learn our prelim schedule. (We knew our bracket from the big hat drawing but not our match schedule. No, the hat wasn't all that big. The drawing was the event.) Two matches on Friday. One Saturday. The sequence was ideal. A first match against the lowest ranked team from the season past then Dynasty. A chance to fine tune a bit followed by a match against a team we know well. Friday's results will tell us what we need to know about Saturday and what we need to do. Friday the weather is lovely crisp and cool until the sun comes up, then warm but not hot. A mild breeze replaces the previous day's stiff gusts. The air is dry, the sky a depth less blue with wisps of while skirting the horizon. A perfect day for paintball.
We don't have our usual pit crew and there's the new routine to adjust to of the simultaneous matches and there are a few hiccups along the way. We call for a time out too late. And a hot gun that can't be replaced in time means starting a point with 4 players. But it's mostly small things; the routine isn't yet routine and means our attentions are divided. We struggle through the first match but still manage to win. Lots of penalties on us. (Three or four I think.) No problem, we earned them. Next up came Dynasty. Better now than later. No surprises. Well other than our ineffective laning OTB. We're putting the paint where Dynasty was running but not getting kills. Fewer penalties and a lot fewer kills equals an unequivocal loss. We take it in stride. We're learning. All will be resolved on Saturday. Sunday comes a day early. The math is simple. Win and stay in. We do--and with the fewest penalties so far in the event. But it's only one match and Race 2-5 at that. Compared to what we're used to it's almost as if we hadn't played at all.
Throughout the prelims we haven't played well--at least not to our standard--and discuss some further adjustments. We had hoped the similarities to Galveston would translate but it doesn't really--the St. Tropez field feels and plays differently enough that we have to reconsider what we're doing. The players are unselfish, willing to do whatever is needed to be successful. This time it backfires as I make the wrong change. At first I resist but allow myself to get talked into an adjustment I'm not comfortable with. (Not the first mistake I've ever made and it won't be the last. Unfortunately.)
On Sunday we are unable to do enough to win our way into the semis. It's a learning experience and should serve as a reminder that every match and every victory has to be earned regardless of the league or opponent.
The reffing.
Conceptually we’re fine with the Millennium style but the M style doesn’t, in and of itself, assure consistency or uniformity anymore than any other rules enforcement effort. And in practice it took us time to make the adjustment--still, not a problem. Our issues weren't playing by the Millennium's rules, it was the failure of the Millennium crew to impose those rules uniformly across the board on everybody else. I have intentionally left out the names of the teams we played--other than Dynasty (who flat beat us) because I don't want them unfairly tarred by any of my comments regarding the officiating. As far as I'm concerned the other teams lined up and played paintball and have zero responsibility for what the refs did or didn't do.
Now at this point you have the option of choosing what you wish to believe. You could be charitable and assume my disappointment has colored my opinion or you could attribute my views to sour grapes and poor sportsmanship. Or you can Solomon-like split the difference and assume some errors were made. Or you may not care at all. All of which are fine by me. It is the risk I take when I blog stuff like this. However, there's a little more to it than that. Five of my players had Replay cameras on their guns. The video is amazingly good, crisp clear and unambiguous. The video doesn't (usually) indicate when we were eliminated but it does show every instance of when we shot an opponent. And what did or did not happen as a consequence. It will not be released to the public. (I can hear the pics or shens crowd squawking already. Forgetaboutit.) It is not (and never was) the team's (or my) intention to try and embarrass the league or its officials. But if a rep of the league would like to see some video we can probably make it available.

If I haven't sufficiently antagonized the Eurokids yet just wait. My next post will be about the disconnect between the way Euro players play and the Millennium's efforts to manipulate the game play.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

MS St. Tropez: The TBD Experience, part 1

Our tournament ended when the ultimate [?] overruled a lesser official’s call (not a hit, player clean, point good) and decided the residual paint between harness sleeves rubbed into the Velcro on Chad’s pack was indeed a hit and called for a 1-4-1. From the time we cleared the field--with 3 alive--until Chad pressed the buzzer a phantom 1-4-1 called on J-Rab–it was mixed colors and looked like he’d bumped up against one of the bunkers--saw Jason pulled and we were left with one live body. And when the ultimate made his call we lost that point and the swing point awarded to our opponents ended the match in their favor. The stain of paint on Chad’s pack was pink. Both teams were shooting the same paint. It was orange.

Our European adventure began, for the majority, with a 2 pm flight out of Tampa to Dulles, outside Washington DC. With everyone together we boarded a flight for Frankfurt Germany around 7 pm. We arrived seven and a half hours later and quickly passed customs then hiked to a different concourse to await the 8:30 am flight to Nice, France. [Say what you will about the Germans but the stereotype of regimented order and sticklers for detail oozes from the architecture in Frankfort’s airport to say nothing of the airport personnel. It may be the only English many of them know is, “Not possible. Against the rules.” It was something we heard with some frequency anyway.] At 10:30 am a prearranged shuttle service picked us up and within the hour we had arrived at the venue approx. 17 hours after we left home.

If it weren’t for the different languages being spoken it’s hard at first to grasp that you’re somewhere foreign. The trappings of modern airports around the world are broadly the same. The people look much alike--although there is a breed of European male that is unmistakable on sight, like a neutered puppy. Landing in Nice early in the morning makes it clear we’re in another place and much of the adventure comes in discovering just what sort of place it might really be. Unfortunately the team finalized our commitment to the MS relatively late and with HB scheduled for the following weekend there was no time for much beyond paintball. As a consequence most of our experience of France was en passant. In passing–and in some of the ordinary routines of daily living--as experienced on site at the ironically named Oasis Village resort. (While neither an oasis or a village it would be an excellent location for filming a low budget zombie movie.) The seemingly random hours of operation for most of the services--a self-serve laundry even--or a restaurant that offered only two meal choices or pizza. Even the front office's and curio shop's daily hours were a mystery.
On site English is more prevalent than I expected. While a dozen or more languages drift around the vendors and stake out temporary ground around teams staging to play many, if not most, seem to speak some English. This isn’t true off site. (And why should it be? After all the French are the Americans of Europe. We, and they, expect other people to accommodate us.) Not even close, particularly in France--where a person may or may not know some English--but you’ll likely never know. Even those involved in the tourist industry aren’t routinely bi-lingual. Or admit to it anyway.
The team has reservations and confirmed in advance that our credit card--AMEX--would be good. But this is France and that was then and this is now. They can't accept the card. As it turned out they couldn't accept any of the cards our paint sponsor's rep produced either. Eventually an African distributor for our paint sponsor produced a credit card that was deemed acceptable and we checked in. By this time we were due at the venue to share some practice time on the CPL field with Amsterdam Heat.
After moving our luggage to our appointed bungalows we walk to the venue. The wind is gusting and the nets haven't been raised yet. We meet the guys from Heat and begin to get ready. The word is that the netting will be raised soon. We all assume that despite the delay the practice schedule will be maintained. (After all the MS requires teams to sign up in advance, choose an allotted time slot and pay for the field time. Heat had the first hour block.) Turns out we are mistaken. It is our first taste of what is to come. Before we know it Marseilles Icon is on the CPL field. A fellow named Thierry (I think)--though it sounds kinda like Cherry to the Anglo ear--is in charge. (At least we couldn't find anybody else willing to take any responsibility.) He has a clipboard with the printed schedule on it. It is utterly irrelevant. He assigns field time as he chooses and gives preference to French teams--and the league's reigning powerhouse, Art Chaos. Every argument, up to and including pointing out to him the printed list on his clipboard, makes no difference. For each point we make he has a different excuse or simply a shrug. He scratches out the printed list and writes in his personal choices in blue ballpoint ink. While Icon practices we are finally informed Thierry has found a place for us--on a different field four hours from now. Without Thierry’s help we arrange amongst ourselves for us, Art Chaos, Icon and Heat to share the CPL field. (Many thanks to Art Chaos and Icon.) It’s not what we, or the other teams, had planned--or what was paid for--but it was better than waiting until 6 pm for the chance to play on the wrong field. Welcome to the Millennium ugly Americans.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Lite Housekeeping

To date VFTD has allowed all comments without screening or registration, etc. and as a consequence as the site has become more popular--within the paintball community--the level of spam has also increased. It isn't a significant problem so I have no intention of changing the comments policy but since the site does get comments from far and wide--and from a fair number of English as a second language commenters--I wanted to take a moment and suggest that if your comment failed to appear in the intended comments section to drop me a quick note so I can look for it and restore it, if appropriate. I seldom look at what the spam filter catches but I don't want to lose any legit comments. Thanks.
Additionally, personal attacks aimed at fellow commenters is unacceptable. You are welcome to challenge me or your fellow commenters ideas and opinions but if I decide it's crosses the line it will simply be removed and your IP may be blocked.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

PSP Phoenix

We're out. You're only as good as your last game. (Which means we suck.) (No, that is not a comment about our opponents. All any team can do is play the guys in front of them and do their best. They won when they needed to.) Good luck to everyone left. Don't ask what happened. I understand the curiosity but at core its a internal team issue so it's off limits. To say I'm slightly irate is an understatement. This is gonna take a few days to process so I'll start posting again (after today's post) only after I can do so without wanting to break things. It may be a few days.
What I've seen of the webcast has looked great. I can't speak to the content as I haven't heard much and frankly I won't be watching tomorrow (Sunday). (If we're not playing I honestly don't care what happens. I don't know if that makes me a poor sport and a bad person but that is just the way it is.) To the PSP and Paintball Access's credit there certainly is a lot of effort and expense being put into the webcast. For those who don't know the object is to build the numbers of viewers. This project will succeed or fail on the numbers. Sufficient numbers will attract advertising dollars. Advertising dollars have the potential to transform the competitive game.
And on that score I've gotta take a couple of peeps to account. Everybody or anybody other than ProPaintball--who was authorized to offer a feed link--offering the webcast feed is/was way outta line. They aren't doing you or paintball a favor. In fact they are doing paintball a disservice and in at least one case actively stealing the webcast feed after intentionally defeating security measures designed to stop them doing what they did. The other effect of taking the feed--besides trying to enhance their own website hits on the basis of somebody else's time, money & effort is they were the ones also largely responsible for the difficulties some had in accessing the webcast because they were connecting prior to the feed being uploaded to the servers which offered much greater capacity and bandwidth. If that wasn't enough there was apparently also an effort being made to draw viewers from the Paintball Access direct link based on the problems caused by the people "stealing" the feed.
Strikes me as kinda odd. Paintball Access inadvertently uses a photo given to them and all hell breaks loose--unauthorized sites "steal" the webcast and there's nary a peep from anybody. I'm just glad everybody loves paintball so damned much.
You might also keep in mind there wouldn't be any version of fantasy paintball if it weren't for the effort being made to accumulate the stats the game is based on. Well, guess what if the stats don't pay off. If the webcast doesn't pay off all of that will stop. If you seriously want to support competitive paintball you might want to take a minute and figure out just what that really means--and what you can do that will really make a difference.

Special Friday Edition: Monday Poll in Review

I'm gonna  say it right upfront. I'm a little disappointed. In the voter turnout picking a D1 winner for PSP Phoenix, that is. Yeah, it was a short week but if you want more divisional content you gotta do your part--like vote. Otherwise what am to think? Your apathy and general laziness might just convince me I'm wasting valuable blog space showing any love to the div kids. Just saying.
Of course a poll like this might, not unreasonably, be considered as much a referendum on teams and players that read this blog, too. Four teams received no votes. A handful received less than 5% of the vote. The top  vote getter was Topgun U at 32%. Still a lot of faith in their ability to bounce back. Pirates came in second at 17%--and why not? they won a soggy Galveston and they're playing the same layout again in Phoenix. Static was a strong third at 11% after finishing top 4 in Galveston. And despite an unexpectedly poor showing in Texas the VCK kids were fourth at 7%. Rounding out the top half all tied at 5% were L.I.F.T., RNT, NJJ & Tx Storm.
After the first day of play L.I.F.T. & RNT split to finish 1-1 while the hard luck continued for VCK who dropped both their Friday matches by a single point each time. The rest of the top vote getters (plus Fuzion) all went 2-0 today so it looks like Saturday will separate the men from the boys--and maybe even the women from the girls.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Galveston Round-up

Aight, it's been a long day. Been a good day, too. But a long day. We arrived in Phoenix from Tampa (via Atlanta) around midnight Arizona time Wednesday night. Collected our bags and enjoyed a bit of drama trying to collect our rental. ("This reservation isn't in your name, sir. Give me your driver's license, a credit card and your left foot, please.") Since nobody had dinner we hit the drive thru at a Jack-in-the-Box on the way to our hotel. ("I'll have a number 9 medium with curly fries and a root beer." "Will that complete your order?" "Not even close--") We rolled in around 1:30 am with a team text message letting us know we needed to be in the lobby at 6 am ready to go. Our first match of the day--at 8 am vs. Heat--was part of the last half day's prelims to be made up from the Galveston rain out. We played well enough to pull out a tight win not because we were playing particularly well but because the guys don't let the situation or the score get into their heads and they've been down before and know what it takes to pull games back. Next up for us is Upton 187 who played some tightly contested matches in Galveston and thumped Viscious earlier that morning. This is their first event as pros. With the Infamous win over Legion we were confident we knew how the seeding would break down and focused on improving from our first match. With a good win over 187 we were ready for "Sunday" play.
Before the first quarter-final match started we'd already been on site for seven and a half hours. We stayed in the shade as best we could and constantly encouraged the guys to drink more fluids. There were questions early on exactly how the quarters and semis would be seeded. Divisional has a formula but some of us (myself included) lobbied for a simple formula where the higher seed from bracket A would play the lower seed from bracket B and vice versa--but that ain't what happened. The reason for the suggested formula is to assure fresh match-ups and avoid circumstances like those that occurred when Infamous and Heat played a second match of the day against each other in the quarters. And the Ironmen played Thunder--a team they had also already played in Galveston. Hopefully common sense will prevail by Chicago. (I don't hold out any hopes for this weekend--at least in that respect.)
Moving into the semis was Ironmen and Heat. We played the 'Men and Dynasty played Heat. (Despite the fact the divisional formula seeded the "Sunday" teams for match-ups it doesn't re-seed after the quarters. Instead assigns the winner of the 3/6 match-up to the 2 seed and the winner of the 4/5 match-up to the 1 seed regardless of quarter-final results.)
The finals was us & Heat--who did a great job reaching the finals in their first pro event and will likely be a power to be reckoned with in the foreseeable future. By the finals we were working like a well-oiled machine and pulled out a couple of wrinkles we hoped Heat might not be expecting and took a somewhat misleading 7-1 win--most of the points were hotly contested--for our third PSP pro victory in a row.
And that was just Thursday.

PSP Phoenix begins tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Game Philosophy in Action

While I'm in Phoenix noodle on this post for a bit. I'ma try to post up some daily drivel on the PSP proceedings in Phoenix but no promises. Next week there will be a Phoenix wrap-up and part 2 of Game Philosophy & Officiating. (I know, you can hardly wait.) (Plus the long-awaited TBD experience in France.)

If you had a blank piece of paper and an opportunity to re-write the tourney paintball rule book what sort of game would you craft the rules to deliver? It's not, btw, a trick question. It is however a much more difficult question to answer than you might at first imagine. So this is your chance to give it a try. Don't worry about specific rules. Instead focus on the play of the game; what you'd like the game to be like and then consider what the rules would have to incorporate to make your perfect paintball game a reality.

Go on. Give it try. Where's the harm? You might even enjoy it. You might even have the next big idea. Could happen.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Game Philosophy & Officiating, part 1

Put simply game philosophy is a unified cohesive conception of what the game is and how it is to be played.

Officiating is the practical adjudication of the game philosophy. The referees, applying the rules (which define the game's elements & actions) oversee the play of the game to assure it reflects the game philosophy as accurately as possible.

Um, maybe so, but what's the point of all this jibber-jabber? I mean we've got a game already, right?
Right, sorta. Yes, we have a game already but if you take a moment to think about how we got the game we have maybe you'll see a value in trying to think about the game divorced from the baggage of our history. (Okay, maybe that's not completely possible but there is a virtue in not having the past overly influence or color one's thinking.) So far competitive paintball is largely composed of remnants of the earliest paintball played, a few fresh ideas and the momentum produced by technology & industry profit. Not exactly Frankenstein's Monster but there is a parallel. We have failed to take control of our sport by creating a foundation for its future development based on a shared philosophy of the game. As a consequence the game has had a kind of life of its own with changes being made piecemeal as a response to changing circumstances.
Not sure? Why do we shoot ramped and/or capped guns? Because rules were changed when the industry produced such guns and the hoppers capable of feeding them--and because they were popular. Why do we play the Race 2 variant of xball? (The most teams ever at WC featured 10-man play.) Why are the bulk of penalties based on removing players from the game? Why are field layouts mirrored halves or symmetrical?
At this stage competitive paintball probably won't end up as a game played from a clean slate conception so how does game philosophy make a useful difference today? New ideas breed new possibilities, new possibilities hold the promise of improving the game. Or making it worse. Or bringing about any number of unintended consequences. A shared game philosophy would mitigate the risk involved in making changes because every change would be considered against the standard provided by a game philosophy.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Monday Poll

Another long (travel) weekend. I know, cry me a river--but it really does get to be a bit of a drag after a while. Or every once in a while so cut me some slack. Or don't. It's all good. Much like last week's dual Monday Poll and to prove I'm in good spirits today I'm not even gonna point out the percentage of slackers who managed to vote for one poll but not the other. Nor am I gonna mention the fact the great majority of VFTD's lazy readers don't ever vote at all. (The usual excuse, if I were to mention it, is a lack of sufficient knowledge to have a valid opinion. Nice try, slackers but that's balderdash--if I were to mention it.)
This week's Monday Poll will run until 6 am on Friday as VFTD offers up a PSP Phoenix D1 pick the winner poll. As part of the continuing effort to acknowledge divisional kids and because with the instant replay button the PSP chose to use on the field layout things could be pretty interesting. Are the Pirates confident of a repeat or will the pressure to perform affect them? Is T1 looking to take back the unofficial best in the div mantle they were crowned with before the season began? Will the hungry up-and-comers with another month of (dry) practice play like they've got nothing to lose? There's just no telling and that's what makes it fun.
So throw off your lethargy slackers if only for a moment as that is all it will take to cast your vote. (Google lethargy on your phone later. Vote first.)

(Dual) Monday Poll in Review
The first poll last week simply wanted to know who you thought was gonna win PSP Phoenix pro. And the results were mostly predictable. With perhaps the exception of how fast all the diehard "fans" leaped off the Russian Legion bandwagon. Gotta be a few twisted ankles and a concussion or two from that. And where were the Vicious fans? Not a lot of love in the house for the Midwest. Which is, I gotta say, kinda surprising. That and X-Factor not receiving any votes. Which is frankly a travesty. They are a long time established pro team that made positive off season moves to improve and are a team that has won pro events before--and not one vote! That's just wrong. And a variation of the same goes for Ironmen and Infamous. Where'd all the 'Shock fans go? Did y'all fly south with the Heat? Did you forget that Infamous pulled some of your favorites to go with a solid core? How do you leave out the Ironmen? They consistently punched above their weight last year thanks to the veteran core and SK's leadership. They aren't a surprise anymore, they are an upper tier team until they aren't and since they made the cut for Galveston they look like they're picking up where they left off. The young guns and the new kids pulled some fan votes but the bulk of the votes went to Dynasty (20%), Heat (26%) & Damage (38%). No pressure. I get the top vote getters but I still think some of the other teams merited more votes than they got. All I'm saying.

Now the second poll last week was much more interesting--if I do say so myself--and I kinda just did. It offered 5 statements about PSP Phoenix and wanted to know which statement you thought would most likely prove correct. 23% thought one pro team would win both Galveston & Phoenix. Not unrealistic, right? Win Galveston on Thursday, playing the same layout for Phoenix. Odds gotta favor the Galveston winner, don't they? 10% figured a divisional winner from Galveston would repeat in Phoenix. Again, not unreasonable. Which is what made choosing between the statements fun. (It was so fun and if you'd voted you know just how much, dammit!) Nobody (Zip, Nada, Bupkiss) thought Phoenix would be delayed by bad weather. I just had to throw that one in though, didn't I? 20% decided it was more likely that every division would have a different winner in Phoenix. So no repeats from Galveston. I haven't looked but it would be interesting to see how often that has actually happened. Can I get a stat guy, stat? (I know, too many medical shows.) 13% think there will be a first time Pro winner. Did y'all think about how many of the pro teams have won an event before? Then again I suppose 13% is that many. And finally leading the pack by a healthy margin at 37% the top choice was that a divisional winner from Galveston won't make Sunday.
I'ma keep track of all the statements and follow up after the event. (I knew you'd be excited.)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Constant Referee

I have made some comments recently that may not have been fully understood on the subject of officiating so I'm taking this moment to (hopefully) offer some clarification. (The voting pace on The Monday Poll(s) has dwindled considerably so don't think that saved you from another St. Tropez post, it didn't.)
Before getting into paintball officiating however I want to offer a neutral analogy that may help separate fact from friction. In baseball the umpire calls balls & strikes. While no penalties attach to the process it is integral to the play of the game and defined in the rules. Despite that the interpretation of the rules has changed over the years and the so-called "strike zone" is not what it once was. But whatever the purist may think of an evolving interpretation of the rules the game remains fair--at least within the context of called balls & strikes--as long as the umpire calls them the same for both teams. Imagine a game where one team plays with the current strike zone that includes the rubber and sometimes even proximity to the rubber if the other team is forced to play to the old smaller strike zone. There can be no fair or balanced or impartial game for the competitors unless the rules, whatever they are, are understood, interpreted and enforced the same way for everyone. When I refer to the consistency of the officiating this is what I'm talking about.

When the MS tries to remove subjective determinations from the officiating by, for example, largely eliminating the concept of the unobvious hit the intent is to produce greater uniformity (or consistency) in the calls by the refs as a group. Which is a) a proper goal and b) indicative of the league's attempt to continue improving the officiating. What it doesn't tell us is whether or not it's a good rule. (The guiding principle here must be what sort of game do we want to play.)
In the recent St. Tropez event post where I was critical of elements of the officiating that criticism was principally directed at the inconsistencies on display but not entirely. A lack of perfect consistency is a part of the game (of any refereed game or sport) as we will never have perfect refs. But striving toward that goal remains worthwhile and the burden falls to what I commonly call institutional control to oversee and regulate. (To be fair to the MS this is on their radar. In my conversation with Laurent he described a merit-based system in talking about the training and placement of refs. In follow up discussion with some other long time MS watchers it seems clear a purely merit-based approach may be a goal but isn't yet a reality. Nor was it clear beyond generalities just what mechanisms were in place to assure such outcomes. Even so it is a path to continued progress.)
Institutional control when it comes to officiating covers a number of things. Real institutional control means that a plan and goal(s) exist aimed at achieving a well defined standard. It means that personnel and a system are in place to implement the plan and oversee the process and make changes as necessary. But as with the playing of the game failure or success comes down to execution. The MS appears to have the pieces in place. That leaves only the question of whether or not the league has the will to make it happen. All things considered they haven't done badly. (And I would say the same about the PSP. The NPPL took steps in the off season to provide some institutional control but the jury remains out as to whether or not it will be implemented or effective.) I will detail the inconsistencies--at least as we experienced them--in the next St. Tropez post.

The other area I criticised is really an issue of game philosophy. (I know, I'm losing the few of you who are still with me. It's okay but somebody has to talk about this stuff.) All games & sports are defined by the limitations imposed by rules. They give it shape and describe how it works. They are tools. They are not the game or sport they define. That said my Big Picture criticism of the MS is nothing to do with the refs--it is to do with the rules and the impact some of the rules have on the play of the game. I will cover this aspect in greater detail in a separate post.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The (Dual) Monday Poll

Another VFTD first! The Dual Monday Poll! Now you might think given the relative failure of the inaugural Mega Monday poll that VFTD might think twice before doing something similar again. And you'd be wrong. Because the response given by you people--yes, I went there--was (and is) completely irrelevant since VFTD's primary purpose is to amuse me. And I am amused.
This time the poll is actually two polls. (What do you mean that doesn't sound particularly special? Who asked you?) The first poll let's you pick a winner for the PSP Phoenix pro. The second poll gives you a series of statements--one of which you can agree with as most likely to occur during the PSP Phoenix event. Two polls, one Monday. Lucky you. Now don't be a party pooper, get out there and vote--then do it again. One vote for each poll. If there are enough votes I just might delay my new St. Tropez posts. Your call. (Not really.)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The MS: the Big Picture

On Saturday at the St. Tropez event I bumped (figuratively) into M. Laurent Hamet in the VIP as I prepared to scout an Art Chaos match. M. Hamet is a leading board member of the Millennium Series. A very influential figure in French and European paintball. The founder of Facefull magazine and the boss at Adrenaline (Sup’Air) Games. Among other things. He is also the primary force behind the EPBF and a principle mover behind efforts to form and build national & international paintball federations. And he wanted to talk. I was happy to listen.
It seems he wanted to pre-empt any negative opinions I might have about the MS. (I have posted some less than flattering comments in the past.) He also wanted to be able to explain the Millennium’s perspective vis-a-vis European paintball and the state of competitive paintball. All well and good and I was grateful to have him volunteer any and all thoughts he had on those subjects. Most surprising–beyond his interest in promoting his, and the MS’s, views to VFTD (and make no mistake it was potential future blog content on his mind) was the change that came over him when the subject moved beyond the Millennium to the EPBF (European Paintball Federation).
He talked about the Millennium style of reffing. I asked about the logistics of setting up the fields. He explained the system behind the development and rating of Millennium (and future MS) referees. It’s not unlike what the PSP began doing a few years ago but the MS has a real advantage in that they have established national federations to help train officials and provide trainees from a wider yet more integrated pool of prospects. How they separate team members (in the divisional reffing ranks) and take nationality into account inasmuch as they want diversity represented on any given field. (A tacit admission that there have been issues and/or accusations of bias or favoritism in the past.) [Ulrich Stahr league rep in charge of officiating or something & the CPL Ultimate said similar things while poo-pooing the validity of any such claims in the past. Whatever the truth of the matter it is clear that unspoken league policy is to minimize the potential for and appearance of suspect reffing in every way possible.]
We talked about the logistics of running pan European events. How the MS made due with a fraction of the PSP’s annual budget. (I am inclined to think at that stage he was pleading a measure of poverty rather like a Vatican Archbishop but I could be wrong in that I haven’t tried to crunch even a hypothetical set of numbers.) In sum he is a very pleasant chap (when he chooses to be) and made an excellent flack for the league. (I do not, btw, mean that in a pejorative way either.) Part of his purpose was to spin the MS as positively as possible without going overboard and he did it well. I came away from our conversation more fully informed and perhaps more sympathetic to the league generally. Although that was really the result of the other portion of our conversation.
When M. Hamet talks about the EPBF and the future of competitive paintball operating (and internationally recognized) under a tiered umbrella of national, regional and international sports federations it is clear that this is where his passion currently resides. The EPBF is both model and flagship for the sports federations initiative Hamet is spearheading. Below the EPBF would be affiliated national federations within Europe. Sharing equal billing would be a possible Americas PB Federation and/or an Asian PB Federation serving as umbrella organizations to the collective of regional national federations. The whole to eventually elect reps to a single, unifying international body. To the American mind it may seem somewhat odd if not pointless but is the way most of the rest of the world is organized--and the way many national governments operate & recognize various sports in an official capacity. Whatever one may think of the Millennium’s place in such a scheme or Hamet’s multiple loyalties there is no doubt about his sincerity when it comes to the project of building such a future for competitive paintball. There is a tension in his voice and subtle light in his eyes when he talks about the progress made and the potential benefits it will bring to the game and its players around the globe.
Sadly I am naturally wary of anyone or anything that seeks power and/or control over others. (Probably why I'm a closet anarchist.) Despite my prejudices however the simple truth is this is a model that can work.  And on its face there is nothing wrong with pursuing a well worn and widely accepted path to greater recognition and the prospect of broader acceptance for the game and its players. Some might find it less than ideal that the current power players are pushing for a particular future but if not them then who? Progress, real progress, is most often made by those with an investment or stake in the outcome. Realistically, putting in place over time representative institutions will remove (to one degree or another) the direct influence of industry & promoters. On the whole it promises to better serve the game than the present situation and Hamet is to be commended for his efforts.

Friday, April 6, 2012

MS St. Tropez-Cannes Open: The Venue & Event, part 2

The matches play to the schedule aided by the field design and the tendency of the Eurokids to play a style of paintball I'm guessing they think mimics aggressive American paintball. In general it's more like inexperienced D4 kids running down the field after a kill or two than a well schooled D1 or professional team. (More later.) That isn't of course universally true but suggests that while the European players have high standards of technical proficiency--and many do--that there generally remains a disconnect between individual player ability and cohesive team or line play. (I only saw SPL & CPL play, too.) Throw into the mix the style of reffing and the result makes for some entertaining (if you're not playing) quasi-paintball action much of the time.
The Eurokids have adopted reffing policies of near or zero tolerance and claim to be convinced that the result is both fairer and better for the game. While I am all for refs both knowing the rules and applying them to the game(s) being played strictness isn't synonymous with consistent. The hallmark of a truly professional reffing corps is consistency. And that level of consistency was not on display. (Yes, I know the Eurokids pride themselves on their officiating prowess but for as long as I've been in this game that pride has more often than not been taken in the absence of such claims than in its presence. And that ain't gonna win me any friends.)
Consequently the combination of 3 prelim matches, a lack of coordinated team play and zealous if inconsistent officiating frequently turns what ought to be competitions won or lost on the field into something less than that--and it's too bad given how many things the MS seems to otherwise be doing well.
One of the MS board members suggested to me there were high hopes of returning to the venue next year given the time & effort put into preparing the site. Of course he also suggested that when the site had originally been scouted the wily French had fooled them by showing them accommodations other than those many if not most of the attendees stayed in. Which seems only fair--if you choose to believe it--as the MS fooled us into believing we'd be playing on the Cote d'Azur--which, in a nominal sense we were but about as far from a Malaga type venue as Provence offers.
In fairness to the MS it didn't seem like most of the participants had any issues with the venue or accommodations--but then I don't speak any of the myriad "foreign" languages in evidence either. And I suspect those with the ability to do so made alternative arrangements well in advance already being well-schooled in what to likely expect. For us it was a first time experience with a sometime steep learning curve. Live and learn. Beyond that the differences weren't profound. The language was sometimes a struggle. As was the fact the whole society seems to operate at a much more relaxed pace, shall we say. And apparently there is no word in French for customer service, only a Gallic shrug (or sneer) and an attitude like they are doing you a favor by taking your money. And by our standards a lot of it--money, that is. Europe is--newsflash--expensive. (That of course isn't the Millennium's fault.)
On the scale of those who once rated venues by their parking lot proximity to sporting monuments or the latest "Growing the Game" metric the St. Tropez-Cannes venue was definitely lacking. By the standards of cash-strapped, winter-bound Europeans getting a head start on Spring, perhaps not. While the Cote d'Azur has the potential to offer MS participants an HB-like experience this venue was not it and never will be.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

MS St. Tropez-Cannes Open: The Venue & Event, part 1

Like the PSP the Millennium is still looking for its own version of Huntington Beach, an iconic season opening event. This year that search brought us to the south of France, to the world famous (and culturally iconic) French Riviera--an extended stretch of coastal communities, sandy beaches, azure sea--celebrities like Prince Ranier and Gina Lollobrigida--that was once the unrivaled playground of the rich and famous. Naming your event the St. Tropez-Cannes Open purposefully evokes that riviera of wealth and privilege. The Provence region of France is also home to tens of thousands of ordinary folks living in proximity to a tourist and resort mecca whose past glories are fading. And then there was the venue.
Between St. Tropez and Cannes is St. Raphael. A few kilometers inland up the DN7 near the town of Puget Sur Argens is the Oasis Village resort. It is part RV park and part trailer park, part permanent residences and part seasonal residences. It turns out that ‘bungalow’ in French means wheeled abode built at four-fifths human scale. What it failed to convey was that the walls are paper thin and the unit water heater was the size of a large coffee can or that the mattresses are approximately 4 inches thick when vigorously fluffed. (Feel free to make your own joke there.) Or that a level floor may be a goal but was not a necessity. On the plus side everything was clean and fresh towels materialized daily. The setting was rustic.
The venue was on a patch of scraped ground at one end of the Oasis Village property and accessible by road or winding paths through the Village. There were four fields; 2 sets of 2 fields side by side. Closest to Oasis Village were the CPL & SPL fields. Closer to the road were the divisional fields and in-between was the vendors set-up, a small food court and the paint trailers. The ground is a dusty brownish-red, as finely ground as an artist's natural pigment. The vegetation is numerous shades of green trending toward the dark and mysterious greens of the dense pine canopies that look like prickly mushroom caps. The landscape could as easily be somewhere in California or even New Mexico. Visible from the VIP are the distant exposed ochre and brick rock formations of the foothills of the Alpes-Maritimes. There's no hint of the not-too-distant sea in the strong breezes that sweep across the venue.
The apparatus of the field set-ups reflect lessons learned in places like Charleroi and Malaga where high winds and pelting thunderstorms (rising seas) tore fields apart and mangled steel supports. The current system is highly portable, compact and most importantly, allows for the netting to be lowered or raised within minutes. The resulting set-up is perhaps a compromise of sorts compared with the current PSP constructions which could almost be permanent installations. Even so it seems a worthwhile compromise as it delivers savings in transport, storage costs, time & labor along with the capacity to survive bouts of severe weather. (In light of the recent damage wrought in Galveston it's a system the PSP might do well emulating in the future.)
The pits too are a model of efficiency and utility. Placed similarly to those of the PSP the Millennium offers two PSP-sized pits at each end with each pair of pits separated by a chrono station. Each pair of pits is also serviced by an air station. Given that two matches are running alternately (but at the same time) the design and size contribute significantly to the league's ability to run simultaneous matches on time and without incident as a general rule. (Likewise tiny, poorly thought out pits at HB produced a very chaotic environment by comparison and compelled less efficient--although still functional clock management--at least on the grandstand field.)
Over the last couple of years the layouts designed for Millennium use have targeted fast paced aggressive play as their ideal--and since the Eurokids generally wish to emulate all things American--don't even bother denying it--it has served the MS well. It helps keep matches moving. It provides extra windows of time in the schedule and helps keep the Millennium wheels greased. The logistics of the multi-game also contribute to minimizing the size and expenses related to providing the tournament venue and at this point in time the league and its reps have the process down to a virtual science. While I appreciate the efficiency of it all I still don't care for broken up matches in terms of the lost energy and suspense of continuous match play.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Branding is one of those hot topic concept words with a lot of cache in the paintball universe right now that everybody tosses into the general conversation eventually but I'm not seeing many, if any, signs that anybody has much of a clue. Sure there's lots of logos emblazoned on damn near everything and some of the industry seems to be stumbling around in the right general vicinity but real brands; durable & firmly impressed on the paintball public seem to have been achieved almost by accident where they exist at all. But while the broader concept is an interesting one that's not what I'm interested in today.
My interest in branding revolves around paintball as sport and more specifically the pro teams that represent our sport. Efforts at branding have occurred but much like the rest of the paintball universe nobody is hitting the bullseye and many aren't even shooting at the correct target. The team closest to the mark is Vicious. They have a clear, simple, unchanging identity and the bolder and more instantly recognizable it is the better. Other teams have standard colors but they typically aren't unique or particularly distinct. Most have some sort of team logo or design but again these mostly come into play only upon closer scrutiny--and most teams have a base design that matches their sponsors' current product offering. Which is okay, particularly if the sponsors principle goal is to sell more jerseys or pants, but it isn't doing the job for the teams. And until more teams take their "brand" seriously they will continue doing themselves a disservice.
The trend in paintball jersey design has been to create unique, complex, even artful designs that satisfy the customer, the players, and seem to provide a unique identity to the wearer--but they really don't. At least not to the average outside observer or spectator. And when those designs are changed year after year, logos notwithstanding, the teams are not creating an identity or a brand. (But unless you're a pro team or aspire to be one it probably doesn't matter.)
If--and it remains a substantial if--competitive paintball is going to rise to the level of recognized sport one of the things that will facilitate the process is a readily identifiable product. There are, at present, two tracks being pursued aimed at legitimizing our sport. The Millennium Model is focused on the institutions and organizations of sports federations--if you build it they will recognize it--while the PSP is focused on producing a viable product to sell. In the PSP Model there is immediate value in rethinking the branding of pro teams and in the longer course it will also better serve the interests of competitive paintball to simply look more like a sport.
Think for a minute about mainstream sports and their uniforms. Bold, simple, consistent, unchanging unique color schemes that share normative characteristics across a league or sport. In our culture you almost don't need to know anything at all about football to know when you see a kid wearing a black & silver jersey that it is A) a football jersey and B) an Oakland Raiders jersey. That my friends is a brand.
This year the PSP has changed jersey marking requirements. It's mostly a matter of larger numbers and hopper numbers. The purpose is to aid in the collection of data for statistics. It's time to expand that vision and look at the Big Picture. It's time to think about the brand. And it's past time for teams, pro teams in particular, to recognize the value and potential in creating a more universal brand than a sponsor's latest jersey design insert logo here. And just so the industry isn't left out include them in the process of creating the league brand with the result that partnership creates a new tier of products only the sponsor companies are authorized to make and retail.
Time to stop talking about branding and do something about it.

Last Word on HB

Okay. It turns out I'm being taken to task by a few regulars who were generous enough to send emails instead of posting comments--and the bulk of those concern the announcing at HB. Which was (apparently) atrocious. To a man (or woman) the objections are consistently the same. Paintball ignorant, not informative of the actions on field, possibly drunk announcing, heavily shilling sponsors, generally annoying & at times rude and inappropriate sexual comments. (Could it be time to change Pev's nickname? A single letter will do the trick.)
I didn't remark on any of that because I wasn't exposed to most of it. I'm commenting now because I discovered a thread in the HB forum at PBN late last night saying much the same. If the comments have merit the NPPL needs to deal with the situation directly. Like it or not, that is the voice of the league (insert your own joke here) and I can't imagine that is the image the league wants to project to the public or the paintball community at large.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Huntington Beach Wrap-up

Look, nobody condones what happened. Nobody expected it and it shouldn’t have happened. Appropriate apologies have been offered. It was an unfortunate incident but it’s over. Unfortunate in that it shouldn’t have happened, unfortunate in that it provides cover for and overshadows other events and actions and unfortunate because it puts me in a position where I can’t really comment on everything that went on. Yes, that's cryptic and surely completely unsatisfying to the curious. Chalk it up to the politics of the game.
What, you say you have been living under a rock? You don’t know what I’m talkin’ about? At the end of the finals in HB there was some extra curricular activity of the overshooting variety--and it wasn’t pretty--or so I’m told by someone who was watching the webcast. By all apparent appearances initiated by Damage players. It has been dealt with and public apologies have been offered. And if any of that is news you really have been living under a rock. If you’d like to add your two cents in the comments feel free.

Since events constrain I will keep this recap simple. We played XSV in the finals and lost. We beat Dynasty in overtime in the semis to make the finals. And XSV beat Arsenal. In an overtime period teams play 3-on-3. (Ask me why.) I don’t know. The closest I got to an explanation was that there was a concern about teams entering overtime on a penalty and if teams were still playing overtime 1-on-1s there wouldn’t be anybody left to play. But seriously, it’s 7-man, why is anyone even talkin’ about playing 1-on-1s as a tiebreaker? (Why not a sudden death point?) So the upshot is it’s 3-on-3 first and if that doesn’t determine a winner it goes to--you guessed it--1-on-1s.
The way Sunday was going to play out in the pro division wasn’t decided until Saturday--and then it was written in Tony Mineo’s infamous pencil. (Much like the missing parts of the rule book.) (Pencil can be erased, doh!) It turned out to be a sensible way of doing it and at least some of the participating teams were asked what they thought before a final decision was made but this is stuff that should be in that brand spanking new rule book.
On Saturday we fought a tough match with Mutiny and earned a number one seed in our bracket with a convincing win over Impact.
On the plus side of the ledger the new format is an improvement over traditional 7-man. (Many if not most of the comments I will be making about aspects of the Millennium apply to the NPPL--in spades--so if you remember this post you’ll have a fuller picture of HB when I finally get the St. Tropez posts up.) The fifteen minute match time seemed to work as well for a Race 2-5. I’m still not sure about the field dimensions but some matches went to points instead of time so that’s a plus but not a firm one yet. The event logistics and Millennium style of play worked well in terms of its functionality--though I still think some level of suspense and excitement is lost with four teams sharing the field and paired teams playing every other point. Which isn't really an issue for most of the divisions and teams but if one objective is to "sell" the game to the public I don't see how breaking matches up helps--of course I'm not convinced the non-paintball playing public will ever care regardless.
The other signature topic--in its absence--was the universal use of the Virtue chip and the proclaimed data explosion that would result in all sorts of statistics. Besides the fact the chip can't discern ramping guns--and there were plenty even though they were (apparently) capped at 15--it was supposed to regulate ROF (which it can do paired with a cap) but I noticed no instance over the weekend where a player or team was warned or penalised. It may be I simply missed it if it happened or that with viable technology in use everyone abided by the cap. One virtue (pun intended) of employing verifiable technology is players and teams know they will be caught so they don't push those boundaries. And perhaps the NPPL will soon be publishing reams of statistical data for our entertainment but there wasn't a hint or a whisper about any data collection or availability during the event. I mention this in connection with a rumor that began in Galveston that suggests the accurate collection and collation of the chip data is far more unwieldy with mass numbers of chips in guns than it was in a controlled test environment. I don't know if that's true or not but it may be more work will be needed before we see the promised stats.
The big crowds of HB's past were absent. The weekend's weather was the biggest factor in the flat turnout as it was chilly, windy and overcast much of the time and the usual crowds on the beachfront promenade simply weren't there. The same held true of the surfing competition being held on the south side of the pier. But it's also true there wasn't much to see. A casual observer could look down on fields from the pier or get a decent view of field 2 from the promenade but that was it. And the vendor's village was a virtual ghost town much of the time. (I mention this solely for 'growing paintball' crowd who seem to imagine that after a decade on the beach the mere appearance of paintball has some osmotic power to turn disinterested passersby into paintball fanatics. It doesn't. Nor does having a sense of perspective mean that HB as a venue isn't awesome 'cus it is.) Attendance appears to have been off last year’s total by as much as 20% and turnout is unlikely to improve at CPX or Aldie which have both had modest participation in comparison to HB the past two or three years. If that pattern holds true the league is going to need to work fast to turn things around. Will the other league’s format save them? Nothing that happened at HB suggests it will but there were some positive features. There was a visible effort on display to improve on prior efforts and the bulk of those efforts revolved around the game itself--also a positive sign. Other past concerns remain at issue but Rome wasn't built in a day. If steady and consistent progress continues to be made perhaps that will be enough but now that the majority of the industry has turned its back on the NPPL and the NPPL is retaliating against retailers who might be vendors that can't and won't end well for the league. (Having Sapporo and Hooters throw a few beers and wings at VIPs isn't gonna finance the future of the league.) And intended or not it's clear that the Race 2 format as adopted by the Pros and extended to D1 has marginalized the trad 7-man competition and divisions as the divisional Race 2 teams have more in common with the elites now--and it won't be long before the remaining 7-man players notice.
On more than one occasion over the weekend NPPL powers joked or wondered (mock casually) if I could or might say something nice--for once--about their event. The truth is they'll get that from just about everybody else. Back in the Age of PB Magazines the print publications were largely cheerleaders, promoters and star-makers and most paintball websites remain just that. VFTD is more interested in the subjects and details nobody else will discuss and as often as not the result is a critique. Readers can judge for themselves whether those critiques have any merit or not. Nor is VFTD a "mainstream" paintball website; it is, at its best, an open dialogue on the world of competitive paintball.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Mysterious Shrinking Field Kit

As reported in the last post it seems Adrenaline Games (Sup'Air) have done a wee bit more than gone "technical" all over the snake props as Huntington Beach was played on brand new Adrenaline supplied "Who Shrunk My Paintball Field?" NPPL style prop sets. It was suggested, not unreasonably, that perhaps the new reduced props are merely a cost saving device. Could be. After all it wasn't too long ago manufacture of Sup'Air props was moved from Morocco to China to pinch some pennies and maybe this is just another cost saving measure as far as Adrenaline is concerned. It's been a tough row to hoe in the paintball biz lately and maybe they're only doing what they had to do.
Except there's that business with the snake props in the PSP recently. That was a unilateral decision made despite the fact they knew full well the PSP was trying to cater to a broader--not to say less skilled or athletic--player base. Of course the PSP owns some of that for not taking control and making sure that everything about their game was consistent with their vision of it. Still, if Adrenaline has now begun shrinking props--again unilaterally--it isn't just a business decision because it can and will effect play on the field--just like those new snake props. And while I commend Adrenaline and Laurent for their contribution to bringing competitive paintball out of the woods it isn't carte blanch to do as they please whenever they please everybody else be damned.
So, what's the deal, Sup'Air? Are new tinier bunkers part of the "stealth" Adrenaline vision of how the game should be played or just a cost saving measure? And in either case why was the action taken unilaterally? Was nobody supposed to notice?
And finally what are the leagues that currently do business with Adrenaline gonna do? Maybe shrunken bunkers aren't the end of the world but a free pass can only encourage more of the same sort of conduct.