Thursday, May 31, 2012

Art Chaos: MS Bitburg 2012

Red circles indicate a primary position taken more than 60% of the time OTB. In the case of Home & the D-side Can it ranged between 80-100% of the time. And the orange circled TCK on the D-side developed over the weekend into a near constant primary OTB. Otherwise orange colored props were alternative primaries used at least 25% of the time. The two that are also green indicate the principle secondary props. The light blue SD was an unusual primary OTB as was the snake corner CK; they were used primarily to break their previous patterns and get wide guns up asap.
From the color coding it's easy to see that the basic Art Chaos (AC) strategy OTB is to minimize early risk and get guns up quickly for lane control. What is less obvious is that AC consistently played the D-wire as the strong side of the field--by that I mean they tended to commit their 3rd gun to that side even when the intent was to go up the middle. They also preferred the majority of the time to fill the upfield middle props via secondary rotations once they could make a decision about where to commit their guns after either getting an elimination or gaining clear control over a portion of the field with their guns.
Here's the basic breakout: red T, 2 guns at Home, the D-side insert Can plus either upfield TCK or Can or the D-side TCK. The most common choices were the D-side TCK and the upfield Can. In purple you can see the primary lanes shot OTB (with some minor variations). The plan is simple enough; keep 5 bodies alive OTB and play early contain. The red T played wide can control rotations to the corner or snake and if played on the inside can counter secondary moves up the middle. Both sides of Home shoot constant lanes either keeping the opponent inside or forcing them to move thru the lanes risking elimination. With two shooters at Home there are players in reserve who can move either direction to fill for eliminated teammates or take up secondary positions that begin to lock the field down. For that purpose the preferred route was the upfield D-side Can. The snake shaded TCK was used less often and frequently earlier, as an aggressive secondary move, to increase the pressure on the opponents in their primaries for eliminations and as a change of pace. The principle attack was a direct line to the D-side of the M followed immediately--or as nearly as possible--with a sweep up thru the doritos. (Occasionally vice versa) Snake side play looked to bump wide to the wire and if a snake option presented itself--due to previous eliminations mostly--a closing sweep along the snake wire could be incorporated in the close out.
There were some tactical options that largely amounted to adjusting the timing of certain actions in order to alter shooting lanes either OTB or in expectation of countering an expected move, etc. In any event the basic game plan is as described. If any AC matches become available to watch, particularly prelim matches, you will plainly see the core pattern and follow-up execution outlined here.
If you have any follow-up questions don't hesitate to ask in comments.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bitburg 2012: Sunday

After we finished playing it was back to the hotel for quick showers and to pack. The plan was to head back to Frankfurt in order to get in some sight-seeing and be closer to the airport for our morning flight to DC.
[Since I've written all these MS Bitburg posts without the paintball filling I'ma give y'all a special event layout post of Bitburg and a breakdown of how Art Chaos played--and plays.]
On the way out of town we took a brief detour to grab lunch at the local Burger King which had excellent fries. The burgers in Euroland always taste a bit odd though and the German mayonnaise was virtually inedible for some reason while the French equivalent was both spicier and quite tasty. (For the Eurokids: If you like mayo on your fries get a decent brand of ranch dressing and try that instead. You can thank me later.) In exchange for the ranch dressing America could really use the multi-passenger vans that are ubiquitous in Euroland. Bigger than an American minivan, taller and narrower than a full sized van our rental Renault diesel was roomy, reasonably comfortably and gobbled up enormous amounts of gear. And it was more fun to drive than a big American van.
The drive back was frustrating. I was trying to capture some of the countryside on video as we drove and it was almost impossible. The Germans have very efficiently grown screens and windbreaks of trees and foliage along the sides of the highway which no doubt preserves the countryside from the unsightly roads and noise but also makes it nearly impossible to get uninterrupted views. (I haven't reviewed any of that video yet so perhaps I got a few good bits.)
Returning to the Frankfurt airport we stayed the night at the Hilton Garden Inn located in The Squaire. The Squaire is an ongoing project that intermingles hotels, restaurants, shopping and business centers just off the highway next to the airport. It is one enormous glass and aluminum structure that looks like crashed alien spacecraft meets Bauhaus or perhaps a futuristic cruise ship run aground and stripped bare by the dystopic remnants of civilization. Inside there is direct access to the airport concourses and an underground train station. The Garden Inn was ironically named as the only hint of greenery or the outdoors came in a repeating leaf motif illuminated in pale blue fiber optics on the wall behind the front desk. In every other respect it is a superb hotel. Well, there is the one thing. A thing common to every Euroland hotel and restaurant I've ever frequented and that is the very (I mean very) leisurely pace the meal is provided. Even without the necessary courses to validate the meal's length it seems to be an habitual European practice to extend meals as long as possible. Here's a hint: Americans are gauche, especially a crowd of (mostly) young men. All they want is their food now.
For fans of the UFC when we were clearing customs in DC we saw Rampage Jackson doing the same having arrived from Madrid. He looked tired. So tired even his trademark scowl was drooping a little. I never would have expected the Hello Kitty luggage set. (kidding) Dulles was kind enough to give us something to do while we waited for our Tampa flight--we got to play musical gates as our departure gate was changed 3 times during our 3 hour layover.

For those of you who took the hint about video from Thursday I have some games downloaded and will be reviewing them in detail over the next few days. I'm not sure what the quality is but if I have anything good you can count on it being posted.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bitburg 2012: Friday & Saturday

The law in Germany requires markers not to exceed 215 fps. For years tournaments were played on U.S. military bases to avoid complying with the law. With the DPL currently consisting of over 300 teams and fields open all across Germany I am reliably informed they are not all competing or even playing at the legal limit. I mention all of that as it is the most commonplace explanation for how the MS found this place and why we were there. Supposedly as a former U. S. air base it still conferred diplomatic immunity (or whatever) on all the otherwise “illegal” markers in action over the weekend. If that strikes you as odd and kinda silly on its face join the club--but hey, it's as good an explanation as any.
Vas ist ein air conditioning? Only available in your car as it turns out. This isn't anything new or out of the ordinary for Euroland (it's only warm a couple months of the year, right?) but it continues to amaze me--as does the cuisine--or lack thereof. Shouldn't small town Germany feature German food? Okay, there's a sampling but it seems like much of the (limited) menus instead tend to feature generic, dare I say universal (sorta) fare. Although, to be fair nobody in America is gonna put 'rumpsteak' on their menu. I know some Euro-types (and others) object to imperialistic American cultural hegemony--as well they might--but if y'all ain't gonna fight the good fight where it matters--on the menu--where will it all end? Mediocre pseudo-American food the world over. Want fries with that?
In checking the Sunday match-ups I've been scouting Group A teams. We also played a couple of matches today. We brought our pit crew and organizationally we're set. Is it normal for refs to high five each other when dishing out 2-4-1's? Sorry, that's verboten paintball talk.
After dinner I spent a pleasant evening in the Biergarten. The local Pilsner is a bit on the bitter side for my taste but the wheat beers are quite good. Not cold enough but good. As is the lemon infused Polish vodka a friend brought with him from--Poland. By midnight the room is reasonably comfortable with the windows open. It's simple but modern and reasonably sized--unlike the beds which were small singles.
Have I mentioned that the Eifel Stern operates on coupons? It's apparently a commonplace practice. Want to purchase a meal in the restaurant? A drink in the Biergarten? Buy a coupon at the front desk. With cash.
The weather remains ideal. Pristine blue skies and crisp breezes are the order of the day. Quite nice really and it's a good thing given that we're only playing 3 prelim matches of Race 2-5 over two days. There's time to do other things. Like a team autograph signing at the GI Sportz booth. The team signed free T-shirts and pods. Much of the time there was a small crowd around not in the waiting line because they didn't know how much the "free" stuff would cost. Once informed it was a freebie they were all over it.
We went into Bitburg today. It's a holiday weekend so most of the stores and restaurants are closed. Over here holidays are prime shopping opportunities. Not so much over there as it turns out. We ended up in a district of patterned brick and stone we thought was pedestrian only. Turns out a few adventurous cars including a couple of taxis decided otherwise but mostly the streets were empty. We found a tiny hotel with a first floor restaurant that was open. It promised more traditional German fare with real leaded glass windows and blooming Geraniums in window boxes. The kids had mostly been eating the ubiquitous ‘rumpsteak’ and spaghetti Bolognese. The bratwurst and smoked sausage I’d had the past two days from the event concessions were disappointingly conventional massed produced meats--I hope. While the kids continued to eat cheeseburgers and rumpsteaks with herb butter sauce I had a terrific pork schnitzel with a dark mushroom and onion sauce with a side of potato pancakes.
What, you want paintball talk? Tell the Millennium kids.
There are a couple of incidents I can relate. Rumor has it a Lisbon Benfica player punched a ref on the CPL field or in the pit area. The story has it the player grabbed the ref on the field and then later in the ref's area of the pits punctuated his objections with the aforementioned punches. Rumor also has it the league is backtracking to keep the lid on this by claiming the ref would have been more severely hurt if he'd been punched and in fact it was maybe more like a slap or something. Late Saturday a small group that included at least a couple of CPL field refs and a Millennium photographer accosted some of my players in front of the hotel. There are a number of benches in front and some of the guys were sitting around when this group approached them. They appeared to be drunk. The photog was identified by his league authorized jersey and the kids recognized a couple of the others as refs. They began by insulting my players and one ref in particular tried to incite a response by throwing elbows, punches and kicks--that didn't connect--at my players. they continued to insult and curse at them until my guys got up and left. (If the league wants a description of the refs in question I'll be happy to supply it--but I won't be holding my breath in the meantime.) Tell me again how fair and even-handed the officiating is again.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Bitburg 2012: Thursday

(It's Sunday night and I'm sitting in my hotel room in Frankfort. Each day's report was written on the day it occurred except Sunday--which I haven't finished yet.)

It seems the MS didn’t care for my St. Tropez reports. So much so in fact they had one of the team’s sponsors deliver the message along with the hope it wouldn’t be repeated in Bitburg. A reasonable person might consider such an effort an act of censorship. While I may or may not be all that reasonable all my faculties remain relatively intact and I don’t think it rises to that level. It’s only censorship if it works. At present it’s more of a naked power play--and an attempted act of censorship. It’s also one I take seriously given that the message was delivered through a sponsor. (It wasn't Dye.) So much so in fact I will not be reporting on any of the paintball played. Good, bad or indifferent. It makes me wonder too. If mere words on a solitary blog frighten them so much aren’t they terrified of video? Perhaps we’ll see.
By the way, I didn’t post anything during the event because the price of internet access was exorbitant.
We left Tampa Wednesday afternoon and arrived in Frankfort at 9 am Thursday morning. A front moving up the east coast kept us in our Frankfort-bound plane an extra hour before we were able to take off. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant flight after getting off the ground either. Amazingly enough we discovered meals worse than those offered at the Oasis Village in the south of France. This time served up by the airline. (It's initials are United.) Much of the flight crew were German and I couldn’t help thinking that even when the crew attempted to be solicitous they were really annoyed at having to serve these boring pedestrian people. (Or maybe I was just projecting.) We were also reminded more than once that the first two words of English every German learns is “not possible.”
Having been in the Frankfort airport before--though just to pass Customs and switch concourses in order to reach a connecting flight--my first impression had been of order and symmetry--even a sort of functional aesthetic. Those impressions were replaced this trip by a modernist parody of Pan’s Labyrinth. After clearing customs and collecting our luggage we hiked what might have been miles of twisting corridors and up and down levels to the (lonely, isolated, subterranean) rental car desk. It was easy to conceive that all the underground parking with its constant twists and turns had been dug by urban miners out of the concrete foundations of the airport.
The German countryside was exceptionally lovely with nary a Panzer in sight--all replaced by (supposedly) Gaia-friendly enormous wind turbines that look like--because that’s what they are--gigantic propellers. Even so the country really was beautiful with verdant rolling hills, fir clad chasms and gorges amid swaths of meadows, cultivated fields, Mosel vineyards and speckled by traditional towns and villages huddled around ancient church spires. (I think with a smattering of German one could enjoy a very pleasant and leisurely vacation traveling the by roads of rural Germany visiting the small towns and historic monuments.
The venue is in an industrially zoned area that was once a United States Air Force base. (And an active base remains nearby.) Many if not most of the buildings have been revamped to other purposes--like the Eifel Stern hotel. There's a light industrial and agricultural machinery seller and a decorative brick wholesaler, a taxi service and a low rent strip club in the neighborhood.There is a sign that claims the area is also a sportsschule. The evidence is a few soccer fields, an oval track, some support structures, dorms and a nearby bowling alley. I was told the first year of the Bitburg tournament it was held on the grass verges of the airstrip. Now it appears to be within the grass center of a dirt oval track. It is, on first impression, better than the St. Tropez venue but it also is in the literal middle of nowhere and being a step (or two) up from the Oasis Village site is an achievement nearly impossible to avoid unless one enjoys caravaning in war zones. To be fair it's also a far better venue than the last NPPL event held at SC Village and on a par perhaps with the San Bernadino PSP of some years past.
Once on site we registered, borrowed some guns and thanks to Instinct & Outbreak got in a good hour’s practice. Afterwards we collected our legally stamped event guns and headed for the hotel. Not having eaten since “breakfast” on board the plane everyone was starving. The dining room didn’t open until 6:30 pm. I almost forgot. “Not possible.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Monday Poll in Review

If you are moderately observant you may have noticed there is no The Monday Poll this week. Not even a special Tuesday edition of The Monday Poll.. Mostly because I don't feel like doing one--and I don't feel like it because I'm going to be in Germany for the next week or so and didn't have an inspired poll topic anyway.
Last week's poll was an interesting one however. In the wake of the UWL banning of a player for (unrepentant?) cheating I was curious to see what you lot made of it so I asked what the most important lesson learned from the incident was--and supplied a few choices with the usual caveat that you could include your own in comments. (Which seldom if ever happens. Either my choices are perfect or you people are simply lazy slackers and even I won't go so far as to suggest my poll "answers" options are perfect--all the time.) In any case my ulterior motive was to get a reading on you the voters.
Option 1: Never argue with the Ultimate (a somewhat tongue-in-cheek choice) received 1% of the vote.
Option 2: All leagues should drop the hammer on cheaters collected 6% of the vote.
Option 3: Assigned penalties, especially high profile ones, need to be consistent with the rules grabbed 17% of the votes.
Option 4: All leagues should have clear cut rules in place for dealing with on field infractions garnered 15% of the votes.
Option 5: In this day and age anything you say or do can end up on the internet was the choice of 8% of the voters.
Option 6: Zero tolerance for cheaters at every level of paintball took a whopping 33% of the vote.
Option 7: Paintball players second favorite past time is taking the moral high ground received 8% of the votes.
Option 8: It wasn't a big deal and got blown out of proportion was the choice of 7% of the voters.

A vote for options 1,5,7 or 8 (25% total) suggests a voter not taking the situation too seriously for whatever reason.
A vote for either option 3 or 4 (32%) chose to look at a specific incident in terms of its Big Picture general application.
Votes for options 2 or 6 (40%) applauded the banning and think more of that sort of rules enforcement would be good for paintball in general.

The 25% voter is/was clearly the sanest and most well adjusted voter for refusing to get too caught up in any of this nonsense. The 32% chose reason over emotion in choosing an option with universal applicability minus the hang 'em mentality. The 40% voter is probably your run-of-the-mill knee jerk hypocrite but may also be too invested in a simple game to have a rational point of view. And if you think I'm overdoing it with the hammer droppers consider this: nearly everyone is going to define what a "cheater" is slightly differently and I have yet to run across a player who hasn't run afoul of the rules, even unintentionally at least once or twice. Only walked halfway back to the reinsertion point before starting to play again? Is that cheating? Ref pulled both players, the guy making a bunker run and the player in the prop. Did they both really shoot each other at the same time or did somebody play on? Is everyone who plays on with a pack hit a cheater? A hopper hit? Ever used an "illegal" paintball? Or gun? Ever done anything in the heat of the moment that would get you designated as a "cheater"? At best enforcing a witch hunt mentality will ultimately see an ever dwindling group of the purest of the pure playing a game that isn't much fun for anyone anymore. Which isn't to say that rules shouldn't be enforced but that rules need to be written--and enforced--from a proper perspective; a perspective aimed at promoting a fun fair game for everyone and anyone as opposed to this silly rule breakers must be punished to preserve the integrity of the game nonsense. Games don't have integrity, (some) people do.

Monday, May 21, 2012

NPPL Chicago: Sunday

By now either you've heard--or you haven't. Infamous won, we finished fourth. Good for them, less good for us but given the way the rest of the results unfolded (according to my back of the napkin calculations) we should be first in series points heading into the second half of the season. And that's not a bad thing at all.
Our first match Sunday versus Arsenal couldn't have played out any better and I think everyone was feeling like maybe we'd turned a corner. We repeated the process we'd begun Saturday night on site to get ready for our semi-final against Infamous. While both teams played a similar game on the layout Infamous was considerably more patient and the points dragged out. We played well but made a couple of small mistakes, an ill-advised move, a foolish penalty that ultimately cost us a shot at the title.
In one respect it was a frustrating weekend because--with the exception of the Arsenal match--we never seemed to be putting our game together with any consistency. On the other hand we did a very solid job as a team talking through the game plans and visualizing as a group how we wanted to play. It's not like that has been a weakness in the past but when teams and/or players struggle it almost always impacts everything the team does. This time we handled the struggle as a team with what I thought was a lot of maturity and a unified effort focused on our shared goals. Something positive to build on.

I mentioned this on VFTD Facebook too. Mentioned what? Oh, yeah. The vast yawning sound coming from the competitive paintball community in response to the just past NPPL Chicago event. Or is it just my imagination? The shared forum at PBN with Living Legends is 90% Living Legends. The regular league forum is mostly dead and that includes the lead up to the event, during the event and in the immediate aftermath of the event. I realize the league isn't helping their cause--and no, NPPL guys, being the messenger doesn't make VFTD responsible. So what is the cause? Team participation numbers remain consistent if not spectacular. And sure there isn't the same kinda media coverage as there once was. And the best the NPPL could manage was Facebook photos and scores updates but still--it wasn't that long ago that players and paintballers were sufficiently interested they made an effort to keep up to speed. If there is no webcast does the event really exist?

I still have stats stuff to cover too. Both the rof-fi chips at NPPL and the comparo between the two leagues. Not gonna happen until after the Millennium's Bitburg Open.

One final comment on the reffing. I still think the pluses outweigh the minuses of the improved energy and activity level but--it was also a glaring reminder that consistency must be the highest goal. Compared to past events the refs were definitely flag happy and in the instances when it occurred the lack of flags (for similar offenses) produced a more obvious imbalance. Which was one of my issues with the Mills refs. If the refs are going to be extremely strict any failure to apply the same stringent standard results in a less consistent and more unfair result.

If there are any event related questions feel free to post them up in comments and I'll try to answer. Warning: I know zero about the bikini contest, the player's party or men in kilts or what they were or weren't wearing underneath.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

NPPL Chicago: Saturday

Okay, I'm 0 for 2 on Dynasty rumors. Lang ain't here but Mouse is (d'oh!) playing with Arsenal--just like he was in HB.
If all that matters is playing on Sunday it doesn't matter that we backed in via the back door. 'Cus that's exactly what we did. We split matches again today beating Mutiny and losing in the last seconds to Impact in a very tight taut match 1-2. That match was seconds away from going into overtime when one of our players carelessly spoke after he was eliminating--and receiving a 1-4-1--taking teammates with him when we could least afford the lost bodies. While still a loss it also meant we played one of the best performing teams in the prelims to a virtual standstill. And that means we aren't too far off. We need to get better and we will have that opportunity Sunday morning as the matches become win or go home. After dinner we held a short team meeting to review our first match on Sunday, our opponent and how we want to play along with the adjustments and counters we will make should certain situations arise. However you get to Sunday everyone begins fresh and everyone has the same chance to win. What could be better? Actually winning of course.

In related news the reffing continued to be the source of disagreement and general debate, both on and off the field. The long hours, heat and relentless sun definitely took a toll on the refs over the course of the day. By late in the day too the sun was blindingly low in the late afternoon sky. None of which is an excuse but it definitely a factor. The questions really boil down to whether or not the "new" "improved" officiating really is--an improvement. Yes, mistakes are still being made on occasion. (As they are at every tournament.) But are the mistakes a result of the effort or process? I don't think so. It seems to me the effort has been high and the general calls fairly consistent. I remain inclined to consider the quality of officiating an improvement but if today demonstrated anything it's that even the best of refs, with the best of intentions, cannot perform to their peak effectiveness when they are tired and worn out (and worn down.) Same as anyone in a similar situation.
More tomorrow (or Monday.)

Friday, May 18, 2012

NPPL Chicago:Friday

Wow, some wacky scores, eh? A lot of hard fought close matches today. Partly due to the layout and partly due to more aggressive officiating. I heard a few objections during the day but most of the teams didn't seem to be too worked up with the fairly rigorous and active approach taken here in Chicago. I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't a topic for further discussion after the fact although that will almost certainly only happen behind closed doors. I'm good with the calls and the effort and believe it's an improvement for the league as a whole. Others may disagree. The only downside I'm seeing is that in their zeal to stay on top of the action and players the refs tend to bird dog the players and one of the elements of play on this layout is the ability to get "lost."
Changing the subject--the Dynasty rumor (from yesterday) was only partially correct. Alex is here but Ollie isn't. Nor is Mouse. That's it in 'Rats news except the kids in blue are 1 of the 4 teams that went 2-0 today.
XSV & Damage dropped matches today as did Infmous, Legend and X-Factor. Xplicit got a split on the day and Uprising is 2-0 after two tough well fought victories. Avalanche is a surprise 0-2 today but all that Friday accomplished was to give some teams an easier path to Sunday. Nothing is settled yet and nothing will be settled for sure until the last match is played tomorrow. It may be a cliche but it's true nonetheless.
In losing our first match to Xplicit (1-2) we took it as a Cliff's Notes guide to what we were doing wrong. We sat down together afterwards and tore down what we were doing, decided what we needed to be doing and made the appropriate changes in personnel and focus. And if/when it sees us through to Sunday it will have proven to be that rare worthwhile loss. But it all depends on Saturday for us, just like it does for all the rest of the competing teams.
The weather was great today; hot but not too hot (though my sunburned face might disagree) as a periodically stiff breeze provided a cooling reprieve.
More tomorrow but it's gonna be a long day. Our second match is at 6pm so no telling when I'll get around to catching up here.

NPPL Chicago: Thursday

The best thing about very early, early morning flights is ... nope, can't think of one good thing much less more than one or a best thing. But we arrived at O'Hare (yuck!) with very nearly all of Thursday still available. Which was a good thing as we had a practice scheduled, needed to register, check in to the hotel, walk the event field and conduct a post dinner team meeting to review plans and personnel for Friday and make sure everybody is on the same page. (I conducted the team meeting by myself--best meeting ever. That's a lie. I actually spent the time getting Brandon up to speed as he arrived late in the afternoon and missed the practice session. How's that gonna go? Ask me on Sunday.) Oh and there was some unscheduled nap time in there as well.
Turns out CPX put up a practice field so teams could get some last minute practice. (Thanks guys!) Turns out too they wanted $250 or the purchase of 10 cases of paint for the privilege of practicing on it. (Somebody has been taking Millennium lessons I see.) Next time they might want to keep in mind that at least the Mills kids are allowing teams to play on the actual event field. Our practice field was unnetted and bore only a passing resemblance to the event layout. (Same props, same general locations but a precise gridding is kinda important. Maybe next time, eh?) Regardless we got in some good competitive games with Infamous and overall it was a positive practice that included walking the event layout. If you're wondering how it could be considered a good practice when the layout was off there are other factors to consider. Fitting players to positions. Getting them used to the basics of the layout--or similar. Going through the game play routines like communication, etc. Having real competition shooting paint from the other end. Opportunities to try out breakout options in advance. Any practice time is better than none.
The venue is more or less the same as last year. More grass and less gravel. It's on the nearest patch of the big grass field just past the overflow parking lot on your right as you enter the CPX Sports complex. More where it was two years ago and less where it was last year. Word is there was indeed a modest uptick in the total number of teams competing but the event will still fit on two fields. (I'll try to get a solid count after the event.) The vendors line the woods edge boundary of the overflow gravel lot to form a giant L shape with the two fields and paddock area. If teams and guests alike are allowed to park in the gravel lot it will create a compact and ideally accessible small tournament environment. The only early sign of the coming Living Legends onslaught was the presence of Dye and Empire with big rigs and their full boat traveling circus and tent store(s). They are located in the closest corner (to the NPPL event) of the main parking lot nearly equidistant between the two events. By this time tomorrow the paved parking lot will be packed to overflowing.
For the curious here's a little advance info on the fallout from the HB finals; J-Rab will receive a 2 match suspension to be served on Friday. The team will not be required to play with 6 while Justin is out. Odds are you won't hear this anywhere else as I strongly suspect the league would rather not comment at all. Make of it what you will--I'll have more on the general subject next week.
What with a lot of uncertainty surrounding our roster coming into this event--work, school, stuff--we ended up with extra bodies when we were initially concerned we might be short. (Speaking of B. Short we were pleased to be able to pick him up for this event from fellow Dye-sponsored team, the Ironmen.) Now we have to decide what group is best suited to make a run at the Chicago Open title. The games begin tomorrow and part of our process will be winning matches as we evaluate various roster options.
Rumor has it that neither Fraige or Lang will be playing this event with Dynasty.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Midweek Musing

I'm outta here tomorrow early headed to Chicago and the NPPL Chicago Open (and Living Legends 5--or is it 6?) at CPX Sports Park. We should get some practice time in Thursday afternoon. The schedule is out. Links are available at the NPPL website (of all places.) As far as I can tell it doesn't look like there will be a webcast. I've heard nothing about one for Chitown and can't find any indication there will be one. (Although after the weird business with the UWL Facebook page the other day I'ma little paranoid.) I should have daily reports up on the event over the weekend.
It also looks like the 5-man Race 2 experiment in the NPPL is just about kaput. Last I checked 8 teams in D4 were signed up to play. Be interesting to see what comes next given that the DC event has consistently been the weakest on the schedule. Would expanding the Race 2 for lower divsion 7-man teams pump up the volume?

In visiting a few paintball sites around the web this morning I discovered that PaintballPhotography.Com now has (more or less) equal billing on the banner with Facefull--at Facefull's site. Has there been a coup nobody told me about? Is Gary B. secretly (or not so secretly) determined to monopolize paintball photography? If he is maybe a different logo, that starburst thing just doesn't do anything for me.

Over last weekend the DPL was competing on the MS Bitburg layout and all the action was available to watch live here. It also remains available to watch in time blocks if you're curious. (Same link.) I've watched about 90 minutes worth over the last few days because I wanted to see if anyone would do anything unexpected--the MS event is less than two weeks away--and to see how similarly, if at all, German league play was compared to Millennium play. Unsurprisingly it looked much the same and in the 10 or 12 matches I watched across multiple divisions the routines became highly predictable--though that wasn't altogether a lack of imagination, more a matter of responding to the dictates of the layout. Regardless it's an interesting watch for students of the game. (Thanks to Nick B. for the head's up and original link.)

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Monday Poll

And now for a very controversial VFTD The Monday Poll--or not. Either way I'ma carry over the themes from the last post; Rules, Order & the UWL Banning. I want to see what y'all think was the most valuable lesson to take away from this incident. I guess I'm mostly curious because of all the chowderheads in the PBN thread; mostly ignorant of the facts, talking past each other, pushing a personal agenda or just plain dumber than two rocks coming together. I'm counting on you lot to do much better. No pressure.
As is the norm you can vote only once so pick the single answer that best reflects your views--and if you find yourself agreeing with more than one, well, that's what comments are for. Is there a Big Picture application here or is it just a one off incident in a marginal league that got noticed during a slow paintball news week? Or maybe both? As always, you decide--and next week I tell you, as a collective (like the Borg) what you meant. (That way I always get the last word. Totally unfair but it's my blog.)

Special Wednesday Edition of The Monday Poll in Review
Last week's poll was intended purely to satisfy my curiosity and I appreciate your votes. It went about the way I expected with nearly half of the voters; 46% preferring VFTD stay paintball all the time while 26% of you were decent enough to accept the occasional O/T post as long as I don't go overboard with it. Beyond that I confess to having some prejudices as to how I expected y'all to vote when it came to specific alternate subjects and you people surprised me there. Politics & Econ received 7% of the vote and the second largest percentage for an alt topic. This didn't seem unreasonable since it's probably the topic area I have drifted into most often in the past. I have also been avoiding it lately because any real news is so relentlessly bad I'd rather not and because there are those in this audience who are ideologically incapable of hearing and I don't see much point in preaching to the choir--particularly if it's going to alienate some others. At its core VFTD should be for everyone who is into competitive paintball. (Here's where you surprised me.) 10% voted for art as their preferred alternate topic subject. While I personally appreciate the votes it does make me wonder about the gender make-up of VFTD's audience. Toss in the fact 'sports' & 'cars' were kicked to the curb like so much garbage and I might have to rethink the numbers on how many girls are serious about their paintball. Just kidding. (No, I'm not.) Everybody knows paintball players aren't really athletes or into manly stuff like sports preferring to count their calories and gossip over their weekly pedies. (Okay, maybe I went a little too far but you'll still have to admit you know a guy or two just like that.)
Bottom line--I probably won't do anything differently and even with the strong minority support for art you won't see this Monday Poll any time soon: Thomas Kincaid, modern genius or better off dead?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Rules, Order & the UWL Banning

Once upon a time the rules of competitive paintball were as likely to serve the interests of the promoters as they were to provide a firm impartial framework to the game. Nowadays it is a far less common occurrence but vestiges of past poor practices remain. Like the way the open-ended (possibly temporary?) banning of a player from the UWL was handled--or not handled.

I kinda hate to do this 'cus I really like Tom Cole. He is legitimately one of the good guys in paintball. It's unfortunate that an incident at a recent UWL has become such big news--making it useful as an example. So keep in mind the takeaway isn't the UWL incident specifically, it's an opportunity to discuss ways to continue to improve the competitive game. (Even when they play in the woods.)

There's an enormous PBN Paintball News thread about the banning. If you haven't seen I'll save you the trouble. It is predominantly 12 pages and 250 comments mostly by peeps who know pretty much nothing about the actual situation. So pretty much the PBN norm. If you aren't familiar with the situation it seems that a player in the recently completed UWL event (in Utah?) wiped a hit and proceeded (at some level) to argue (the call?) (his intentions?) about something. Eventually Tom posted in the thread. The first was a minimally informative post confirming the open-ended player ban. The second included an additional detail or two.
Now here is where I have a problem. The UWL never made a formal league acknowledged statement. Still haven't. (Okay, maybe Tom thinks he did that in commenting in a PBN thread but that thread got started because there was only rumors floating around.) If the league intended to make a point about how the league intends to operate and its expectations for its players--which is at least implied in one of Tom's posts--it needs (and needed) to be stated unambiguously in a league press release.

EDIT: The above isn't completely accurate. Tom did post one of his PBN posted comments on the UWL Facebook page on May 4. When I looked for it prior to my original posting I didn't see it and subsequently had to change my Facebook settings before it "appeared." My apologies to Tom and the UWL for getting that wrong.

More fundamental is how the existing league rules were followed--or not. By UWL rule wiping is a 3-4-1. Which was apparently assessed. Initially in comments it was suggested an ensuing argument is what precipitated the banning but in Tom's second PBN post he writes "Cheating will get you banned in the UWL. If a players is caught intentionally breaking the rules he is not welcome back. Wiping, using a tool on the field to turn gun up, and other such offense will get a player and or team tossed."  All well and good except that's not in the rules. The only rule that allows some unspecified open-ended 'further penalty' is Unsportsmanlike Conduct. However nothing that we know happened fits any of listed unsportsmanlike conduct criteria.
I am not, btw, arguing the call or the banning or any part of that. I am saying that if this is league policy they [or any league for that matter] need to get out in front of situations like this and own their policy. And further that the rules are explicitly followed in the process. In part because that's the way it ought to handled and partly because competitive paintball has a shady history of doing the opposite and conducting unpleasant business in the shadows and frequently left unexplained.

I will have more on this topic next week.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

MLP Update: The Movie

Back by popular demand--it's another cynical VFTD game! Okay, that's a lie. It's not back by popular demand, it's back 'cus I remembered it's been a long time since the last time there was another cynical VFTD game. (That's trademarked, btw.) No, it isn't. That's another lie. Many of you have probably never seen a cynical VFTD game before but not to worry. They're all different.
This time the game is to match up any or all of the major paintball leagues with a movie title that you think best describes their current status.
To give you some ideas here's some movies that occurred to me. Yes, just the movies--if you want you can see if you'd match them to the same leagues I would. (I'll post those up later in an UPDATE of this update.) Dead Man Walking. Kingpin. The Great Race. The Circus. Plan 9 from Outer Space. Zoolander. The Poseidon Adventure. Highlander. Goodfellas. High Anxiety. Multiplicity. A Fistful of Dollars. Papillon.
Or you make your own movie matches and post them up in comments. If this works out like past cynical VFTD games--well, you know.

Friday, May 11, 2012

NPPL HB Stats Posted

Thanks to Chris from Virtue for passing the word (and the link) along. According to Chris the project continues to be a work in progress with Chicago stats promised nightly. Even so check out the HB data to see what they've managed so far and what's coming up next. Sometime soon VFTD will do a comparo of the PSP & NPPL systems. (But don't hold your breath 'cus you know how I feel about work.)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

2012 MLP Update

It's been a slow week; what can I say?
The series formerly known as The Grand Tour is on hiatus (maybe) or taking a (dirt) nap. Anyway, they do not appear to be promoting events this season. (The new Champions Series out of Italy appears to have a modest Pro division, of sorts, but since they have their own dedicated website--the recently revised and still butt ugly I'ma give them this season to settle in and see if it lasts.)
In PSP news the big news is the formation of Paintball Access and the new expanded webcast and stats roll out. Viewer numbers remain a fairly closely kept total--and last I heard they are still trying to calculate all the viewers from the variety of viewing sources--but rumors abound that the totals are well above last year's World Cup. It all seems quite positive but until we start seeing ads from outside of paintball clogging up the time between points I will continue to keep my fingers crossed. (Has anyone ever been glad to see advertising? That's some cruel irony, that is.)
The PSP is also leading in the stats race--by default so far--the default of the NPPL not posting anything yet from their HB event. As an observer I want dueling stats! As a coach I think it's a damned distraction. Probably good for the game and annoying as hell. (No, I'm not schizophrenic--I just play one on the internet.)
The one thing nobody is talking about so far is PSP event turnout and how things will shake out this year with 5 events. Galveston had very strong season opening numbers (150) and Phoenix fell off considerably with 114 teams. The question is: Why? Did the swampfest put off some teams? Is a fifth event gonna cut numbers at other events? Were they scheduled too close together? Is the Left coast draw weak given their other tourney options and the recent (then) HB event? It's hard to know but a review of the first two events over the last six years shows Galveston had the highest team attendance for a first event and Phoenix had the lowest--despite the popularity of the venue. Current Chicago registration is at 147 teams with approx. 6 weeks to go. Those numbers are ballpark with recent attendance figures but would still trend down unless they improve 10-15 teams between now and the event.
Who knows what's going on in the NPPL. Even with the relocation at HB (north of the pier) and the inclusion of the extra format option (Race 2) team turnout was well down over 2011. Since the NPPL doesn't actually release those figures--for all I know they may not even know for sure--the only way to get a reasonably accurate count is from post event rankings and/or making a team count from the event schedule. Numbers for HB this year look to be right around 100-ish, give or take. The good news for the NPPL is that Chicago may be up over last year. No telling just yet as registered teams aren't paid teams but even with virtually no impact made by the 5-man Race 2 option and the collapse of the previously modestly successful pump division Chi-town turnout may be up. Maybe it's the return, by popular demand no doubt, of the Ms NPPL bikini contest. (It's getting harder to keep track of all the data because the website pages from past seasons aren't all available anymore--or have been renamed.)
NPPL-USPL's Facebook page says event registration closes tonight. It ain't on the website. ID cards from HB will be mailed or available at Chicago. Stats too. The delays are blamed on a broken printer, software issues, a security breach (whatever that means) & the dog ate their printouts. (I made up that last one up but come on. Really? Security breach? Quick, call Homeland Security.) Whatever, we'll know soon as the event begins in a week.
Over in Millennium Land I'm informed our happy little blog was a bullet point on the agenda of an MS board meeting. That's very exciting news though upon reflection they might not have been altogether pleased. (Can't please some people. If they had wanted nothing but adoring coverage they should do what everybody in the industry does, pay for it. Kidding. No I'm not.)
Meanwhile Bitburg is a sellout at 156 teams (with the possibility of 4 additional D2 teams.) I'm privately told all the time that lots o' Euro teams are dissatisfied with the MS and I used to believe it but it's wearing thin. Look, if teams keep showing up in big numbers I'ma start believing the numbers. And good for them. The MS does do a lot of things well.
This is gonna be another "typical" Millennium layout pushing wide open fast play. I'm gonna try to get enough video in Bitburg to illustrate my point about the outta control chasing greased pigs style of paintball played by a lot of the Euro teams. Should be interesting & fun. Will I have to set up a secret courier service to get the video off site and out of Germany?
Oh, and the MS has finally discovered Facebook. Whoopee. Wanna buy a Mills field cheap?

The MLP Update movie version tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Special Wednesday Edition of The Monday Poll

You know, like Monday Night Football on Thursday--although they don't do that anymore now that the NFL network puts games on Thursdays sometimes. Anyway, you get the point. It's Wednesday but I'm starting a Monday Poll anyway and instead of calling it early or late, it's special. And not just because it's Wednesday. This week's topic is special too 'cus it ain't about paintball. At least not directly.
VFTD was, and remains, a blog focused on the world of competitive paintball. Despite that I have, on occasion, put up the odd post here and there on other topics and roamed a bit from pure paintball in some of the "paintball" posts. But I don't do it much--and I'm mildly interested in whether y'all think the blog is as good as it can get with me doing the posting or whether you'd be interested in seeing other subjects now and again--and if so, what. Nothing fancy. Nothing difficult. As long as you're here why not take a second and vote? Where's the harm? It's not like I pay any attention to you people anyway, right?

This week's question is: What other topics (if any) would you like to see at VFTD--

And all you gotta do is pick the one that most closely represents your opinion. Or you could post in comments blah blah blah even though we both know you won't. Here's your chance to influence the future of VFTD. (haha) Poll will run thru Monday at noon EST

VFTD Translater

It's not enough that VFTD is annoying and confusing in English--thanks to your future overlords at Google VFTD is now (sorta) available in the language of your choice. As long as that language is listed as one of the ones available via Google translate. Find the pull down menu on the sidebar under the Subscribe to VFTD feature. While I'm not sure I expect much from some machine translation I'm holding out hope that it might be good enough to broaden the reach of VFTD to like-minded non-English speaking paintballers around the globe. In an average month VFTD has readers from between 60-70 countries.(Remember, I remain hellbent on world domination. T-shirts still available. Click on Baddog photo link.) There is (hopefully) no longer any impediment to being a VFTD lazy slacker in the language of your, er, Google's choice.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Clinic for Coaches

Regulars have seen this before (sorta). A couple years ago I threw out the idea of organizing a coaches clinic around World Cup. I suggested the PSP might want to take credit for arranging it etc. I didn't really follow up because I didn't get anything approaching a clamor of public demand. Even so I still think it's a potentially worthwhile idea--but I still have no clue whether any of y'all are really interested. So here's your first opportunity. Is this something you would be interested in? (Or maybe friends of yours involved in the game? Hook a brother up. Not everyone reads VFTD you know.) If so what areas of coaching would be of the greatest interest?
I'ma put a coaches clinic link in the sidebar asap. There will be an email link--or you can respond in comments. Initially I'm curious to gauge interest levels and see what problem areas, if any, appear to be commonplace.
Periodically I will post general reminders and we'll see what happens. I am targeting PSP World Cup as the location and time frame as it will see the largest gathering of potential clinic goers--and everyone will be there anyway. I'm thinking right now that the best time would probably be one evening from approx. 7pm to 10 or 11pm. If you have a day preference feel free to include that in any comments.
The options are almost endless when it comes to the content of the actual clinic so I'm also thinking that the core of the clinic will be a Coaching 101 notebook that will provide fundamental info about everything from team organization to running a pit to focused drills in practice aimed at achieving specific results, etc. A little bit of everything (more or less) so that regardless of what's covered during the clinic hours everyone will also receive a (hopefully) handy reference guide that can continue to offer ideas, direction and information.
That's as far as I've thought it through. Depending on the venue I'm thinking a cost in the area of $35-$50. If there is sufficient interest as the time gets closer I'll be able to firm that up.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Why We Play

I had a conversation today with a friend of mine who used to be a pro player. He's still in the paintball business though his playing days are part of the past now. As usual it was a fairly wide ranging though pretty much exclusively paintball related chat--and it got me to thinking. (Which is almost always of sign of impending trouble.) Part of what we talked about were last week's posts about classification and we routinely go back and forth on the subject as he tends to be more solidly in favor of the system than I. I tried at one point to explain that compared to the early days of the UPC I was positively giddy about classifications these days but that I thought it was worthwhile now and again to look at the the other side if for no other reason than as a reminder there are unintended consequences sometimes that effect real people. Or that's the point I would'a tried to make if he hadn't suggested that what I was saying was akin to reminding him that once upon a time I called his wife fat and ugly but since she'd gone on a diet she was just ugly now.
Before the conversation deteriorated though an interesting notion was mentioned and passed over without much comment--until now, as I have a chance to think about it. (See what I mean about trouble?) See, he's convinced that divisional teams tend to (or would tend to without the UPC) avoid moving up if at all possible and that teams moving up are less interested in the (hopefully) superior competition and are instead put off by the prospect of having a tough time reaching the top. So in his view if the UPC wasn't pushing top teams up it would keep some lower division teams from continuing to compete at the national level. Which is, to my mind, almost the exact opposite of the frame of mind of a real serious competitor. However, I found the argument interesting and I'm curious what the rest of y'all think.
Have we come so far down the road to wimpdom that even so called competitive teams demand a handicapped system? Do teams not view the division leaders are targets? Or as the current benchmark of excellence within a given division? Do teams really try to avoid moving up because of the teams in the division above them? If divisional teams really are concerned about having to move into divisions they aren't ready to compete in the answer isn't to make that division easier, is it?

If all or some that is really true would be so bad if some group of average teams continued to play in a particular division indefinitely? Maybe they're better than the next division down but simply not good enough to move up. Is that a problem? Why?

I'm completely serious in asking. Rhetorical questions and all. It all seems almost alien to me. I have never walked away from an event thinking "boy, those guys were just too good, we'll never be able to compete."

What do you think?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Baca's Mailbag: WCPPL #2 part 2

Have you noticed that the layouts for PSP-style Race 2 events have trended toward encouraging wire side confrontations? Each point often becomes two battles down each wire for control and dominance and success on one wire or the other often leads to the game closeout. I mention it here for two reasons; as a reminder not to get so caught up in your wire war you forget about the few good crossfield opportunities there are, and as an example of how elements of the game (layout) influence how we play often without us noticing.
I'm going to begin today with the orange T. It is a useful primary or secondary (bump from Home.) It is, in fact almost a second Home. OTB it offers some versatility for your laners (and more cover and visibility than the Home CK) and it also functions as a transitional hub. A prop you can use to make secondary moves to any other part of the field. It's little to no use for snake contain and of limited use in controlling D wire rotations but when coupled with another prop and working in tandem it's not a bad choice given all the options the player in the orange T has as the point develops.
It's worth a note here that I left the D side lane blocking Can out of the breakdown altogether. That isn't because it isn't playable or a decent alternate temporary bump when making an inside out move; ie: orange T to D1 or D2, for example. The concern is that except the xbox the blocking Can is the most exposed prop to S1 and for many teams taking the snake OTB will be a consistent option and if they make it more often than not they will take the blocking Can out of play.
Moving on to the green props--as mentioned yesterday their strength is they can be played effectively both ways. (Although this is less true of the D side CK it's a safe prop OTB with good options for the next rotation up field as well as a couple of good lanes to play early in the point.) Most common combination is likely to be the snake side lane blocking MT paired with the D side T. Communication between the two shouldn't be an issue and between them they can take turns as necessary working their contain lanes to either side of the field--and both props are positioned to give ready access to the two wires (or center) as the points transition from mid-game to close or it's necessary to replace eliminated teammates.
The blue MT is almost a must play prop. It can contain movement wireside between the doritos and deny your opponent the ability to wrap. And if your opponent is in their blue MT you have to match them otherwise it creates a distinct advantage for them/disadvantage to you. Additionally the blue MT has excellent nearly all field vision and can put paint on a lot of different props. The blue MT can also be played on the inside--even if there's an S1--if it's played low and provides a good position from which to bump into the doritos.
Tactically what you're going to want to keep in mind is that if you can keep your opponent out of the snake feed TCK you isolate any snake player and pin their support in positions you can effectively attack from the cross. Which means that D2 should be a high priority prop you want to get into asap--and at the same time use the large exposed gaps between the green T and blue MT and D1 and between D1 and D2 to pin your opponent in D1. If they can't get out of D1 you blunt the whole D wire attack and pin their support/insert players in the back.
As always the first ten seconds OTB will often be critical to your success or failure. There are good lanes to be had. Find them, figure out to use them and you could make quick work of your opponent. Have fun. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Baca's Mailbag: WCPPL #2

The kids at Elusive PB requested a breakdown of the WCPPL layout for event #2 and despite that fact I'ma do it. (Hint: next time more flattery and less tawdry sexual innuendo. It was really kinda creepy.) Btw, this doesn't mean VFTD is back in the business of doing layout evaluations but it does mean you can ask and if something about the layout grabs my attention or the request comes wrapped in a C-note--well, you never know.
[Revised: my copy of the diagram wasn't clear that additional mini-races were in the snake. It doesn't make a huge difference but it does make some. If you read the first version posted take a look for changes.]

Let's begin by castigating Adrenaline Games (some more) for the silly 'technical' snake and the convolutions required in an attempt to make it playable. As with PSP Galveston (& Phoenix) the snake side plays down with mid and low props--even though there is n MT and Can on the snake side, sorta. (More on the Can coming.) The other MT is the d wire corner--which neutralizes to some degree the elevation value. The snake itself is only really playable at S1 (the mini-race) during the early to mid-game phase when teams are contesting for control and numbers (unless you keep the other team out of the snake; then S2 [yellow circles] can be played but remains high risk.) Otherwise the rest of the snake is easily contained and more easily run down so unless it's the end game phase where the last bodies are being swept off the field the majority of the snake is both relatively useless and very high risk without compensatory reward. None of that means it can't be played; only that it isn't a dominating feature and you have to pick your time.
The other dominant characteristic of this layout is that it's almost a throwback to divisional Xball layouts from the days when the NXL was using the tiny "tree" blocking props in that it has some VERY open lanes. (Expect to see more designs with this er, feature as ongoing efforts are made to make a playable snake with the current prop set.) For the ADD crowd playing this field Adderall is your best friend. Sit on those lanes and let no one pass. (This also applies OTB but you'll have to find the lanes as they aren't all available from Home.)
The center of the field (the X & xbox) can be attacked OTB with the "safe" run hedging toward the snake side or with a hesitation in the green MT and then up the middle. From the center it can be played to effect from both sides but is unlikely to earn any quick kills unless your opponent is unaware of the player's presence. It is ideal for containing snake side rotation but the center of the field is seldom a go to or high value prop if you expect to play out an extended point. The principle value of a center attack is the quick kill or the close backside lane in combination with heavy pressure on the other wire
The snake Can. Superficially you might think to use it to contain rotations on the D wire but the edge can be contested immediately by a player in the D corner MT which severely limits its cross-field utility. And it also puts a player focused on the D wire deep in snake side territory which is less than ideal. So while the snake Can is likely to be under backside pressure very early in most points it is also of very limited utility on the snake side as well. It is edge dominated by the TCK feed to the snake and worse, a long stride toward the wire from the TCK, and the Can is blocked from contesting the move into the snake. Nor can it effectively contest activity in the snake. It is most useful if a player can wrap the wireside. Under most circumstances it's just a transitional stop in bumping to the snake or TCK feed.
The props marked in red designate the snake playing options--although Home could have as easily been orange or green. (More on that in a minute.) As noted previously S1 is the play and even then there are no uncontested easy eliminations to be had. That being the case this field is likely to be dominated by D wire heavy attacks leaving two options for snake play; try to work the snake or play it for contain and counter. Contain uses one or more of the green props in conjunction with a red prop. The idea is simply take the snake player out of the game by denying them opportunities. In red this can be done from Home or the TCK. The virtue of using Home is that it maintains the flexible use of that player to transition anywhere on the field. Using the TCK sets up the counter and is the ideal (on this field) launching point for transitioning into an end game closeout. (If you match most any green prop with the TCK you can see via the red lanes the contain control available.) Further options use your own S1 to try and pull your opponents guns to play cross-field, or get a quick kill, or the unexpected bump to the Pin to get a good downward angle on a snake player moving past S1 or launch a highway attack to clear out the snake. (The red Pin is also going to be a safer move than it may at first appear in a lot of game situations on this layout.) And of course S1 kills the opponent's S2 all day every day. (S2 is only, when properly contained, playable at best from the team side of the mini-race which doesn't offer much in the way of improved shots or angles over S1.)
While I expect this snake to be played as the weakside more often than not there will be some teams that are so snake play dominant they will try and force this play anyway. With the limited number of transitional props and no snake corner the play here is an extra laner OTB and patience. Avoid gunfighting edges but keep paint in those enormous gaps.
The rest of the field tomorrow

Friday, May 4, 2012

Game Changers?

The long national nightmare is over--no, not that one--VFTD is done commenting on, for now, boring stuff like APPA & the UPC. So breathe a sigh of relief. And I won't say anything more about divisional teams either--until the next time I do.
Instead I want to comment on a piece posted by the kids at Social Paintball. The idea is that video, with cameras like the Replay, has the potential to revolutionize the game and that while talk of stats is currently all the rage the real value in stats is how those not playing the game interact with the game and its players. Regarding statistics as a useful tool we still have a long way to go. The conceptions are new as is the process. It will take time to discover not only what is possible but also what if anything is valuable in the context of improving the game. So on that score I think the jury is out. On the value of stats as a means of interacting with the game and providing handles for talking about the game I think stats are great and even essential. But as a coach I am also concerned about the potential for statistics to be a distraction. What I don't want--and will continue to take measures to counter--is any sign my players are playing for their stats. So far the stats are a curiosity and an opportunity to grab temporary bragging rights over confirmed kills between matches with nobody taking any of it too seriously. Playing for stats (as an individual) on the other hand is destructive of team goals and unity and cannot be allowed. There's no telling how much of a problem it might prove to be but the potential exists for stat chasing to be a team killer.
In the Social article a useful comparison is made between stat driven baseball and film study in football. It's not that football doesn't have stats or useful ones but that the nature of the game is more dynamic and critical elements of performance can't easily be quantified into a pattern of numerical relationships--and that the same is true of competitive paintball. I think this is correct. If so, then digging a little deeper might be informative. What football teams don't do is use television broadcast feeds for film study--and for the most part webcast video is equally incomplete. The TV broadcast and the webcast are both narrative reprisals of the game or match; they are telling the story of the game. That isn't the sort of visual recapitulation that is useful. What is useful is a full field view all the time. It is essential to evaluating any or all of the players to know all the spatial relationships all the time the game is playing out.
Okay but what about cameras like the Replay? Again, because of the limited data, they provide only a limited utility as a training tool. As a unique visual record of a point or a match they're great. At the available frame rate they capture a lot of info that might not, at first glance, appear to be present but is. Will they or any other video capture revolutionize the game? I doubt it. A proper visual record could be a useful training tool but it wouldn't be a game changer. The same kind of teaching already goes on--at least some places--and where it doesn't it isn't for lack of video. Stats and video are after all simply tools and the one aspect we haven't discussed is how those tools are put to use. Without coaches and team leaders who have a comprehensive understanding of the game as it's currently played the tools are almost worthless. A real game changer would be a wider, deeper pool of those capable of taking the game to the next level.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Standard of Excellence

Back in the Dark Ages of tournament paintball teams largely self-selected what division they would play--at least when they made the jump to the national stage. Some made the wrong call and quietly dropped back, others dropped out. Still others developed and improved. The majority stayed where they were. Not quite good enough to contend for titles but not bad enough either to embarrass themselves. Of course back then there were basically only three choices; Pro, Am & Novice--and novice was a mid- to late- Nineties invention. The standard back was winning. Teams determined their ability to compete at the next level on their ability to win where they were. And when they moved up their target was the best teams in their new division.
I didn't take that trip down memory lane to suggest that the old way was a better way, only that it reflects a different mindset. Underlying the UPC is a conception of each division as sort of self-contained bell curve of results that's a bit fuzzy at the edges. The bulk of teams should be bunched up in the middle with fewer teams distinguishing themselves and a like number unable to keep up. The justification for this is that any representative spectrum of teams should, after some period of competition, display an approximate bell curve in their collective results. But that isn't what the divisions should represent and the average divisional team should not aspire to middle-of-the-pack status--particularly in the upper amateur divisions. By the time a team reaches D1 status it ought to be a proven winner in competition with other proven winners, not a bell curve sampling of teams.
Ultimately the league is responsible. It is their rules & competition. My concern is that the rules are unable, and in fact inimical to, maintaining a consistent (hopefully excellent) standard of play in which the divisional distinctions are actually meaningful. And I am convinced that the standard has deteriorated over time. (Also don't think for a minute that because I'm focused on divisional play that this doesn't apply to the pro division too because it certainly does.)
For the sake of keeping my example simple let's agree that D2 has 20 teams and that 20% of them will qualify for D1 status. So 4 teams of the 20 move along. That means the best remaining team from the last season was the fifth best. If at least 4 of the incoming teams for the new season aren't better than the best remaining team the overall quality of play in the division necessarily drops. And even then last year's best team was four places better than the best team leftover so the incoming teams only have to be better than last year's fifth place team to be winners. If you repeat that pattern for five years what is the likelihood that the winner of year 5 was as good as the winner of year 1? And how will you be able to tell?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Who is a D2 player?

D'oh! Anybody with a D2 ranking. Next question.
Not so fast. According to the UPC it's anybody who has accumulated more than 984 points but fewer than 1974 points. (Yes, I know, in season moves require different totals. Not important.)

[If you're wondering why I don't mention any of the other ID/ranking systems it's because they aren't worth mentioning as all they do is justify levying another tax on your ignorant player ass.]

A weakness of the system is that it's assigning value to individual players for what a team accomplishes--which is problematic--but at least in recent years changes made have tried to account for an inability to grade a specific player and offered more latitude to the process. Less than perfect perhaps but few things are. Perfect, that is.
What the formula can't do it is assumed teams will do at some point--make precise judgments about a specific player's skill set and either keep him (her) or cut them. Which is not an unreasonable position to take, at least when we're talking about competitive paintball at the higher end of the sport.
The issue I want to address today is not what happens to players and teams along the divisional ladder but what happens to the divisions and the competition within those divisions.
By UPC formula the (approx.) bottom 30% of teams don't score enough points to reach (or maintain) the division they're in. If that's true do they really belong? Meanwhile, the upper (approx.) 35% of teams score enough to move up to the next division and--again by rule and formula--they have to unless they break up their team. So what does it mean? [Edit added: According to Raehl the number is around 20-ish % currently. And in taking more time to crunch the numbers he's basically correct. It hasn't always been. I don't think the difference impacts the argument much but as usual you can decide for yourself.]
Here's the problem. There is no standard. A D2 player is whatever the numbers say he is but the comparison and competition is limited to the group "competing in D2 now." The "best" is a reflection of that specific group of competitors and nobody else. And if a division routinely bumps up the top 25-35% of competing teams the teams remaining in the division are necessarily not as good as the teams promoted. So the next influx of new teams entering a higher division are necessarily competing against an existing group that isn't as good as it was the prior season. The degree of difficulty in challenging for the top spots diminishes and the overall demands of the competition are reduced within that division--and the effect is more pronounced the higher or more elite the division because the competition is supposed to be that much more demanding. At D4 and D3 the pool of competing teams is less refined and there can be (and should be) greater variances in performance from top to bottom. As teams rise the gap should narrow but under the current system it doesn't because all divisions, teams and players are treated the same--by formula--except the pros ('cus they got nowhere else to go.)
From the beginning the system was designed to keep teams churning up the ladder with the middle of the pack being the division marker. At the lower levels it's probably discriminating enough to be acceptable. At the upper levels all it has done is drive teams out of national competition and dumb down the competition in the upper divisions.
The easy fix is be more discriminating in who moves up--a much lower percentage--and more flexible in allowing (or even compelling) teams to move back down. It is not enough to simply populate the various divisions. The failure to nurture and protect divisional distinctions and attempt to maintain a divisional standard of excellence (as opposed to mediocrity) lessens the competition and does all the competing teams a disservice.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

APPA & The Lost Generation

There is a lost generation of paintball players all around us going about their daily lives. They come in all shapes, sizes, ages and skill levels. The one thing they have in common is they used to play paintball and they don't anymore--but many, if not most will play again--all we have to do is reach out and invite them back. (Okay, that's probably a bit of hyperbole but even if just 25% came back think how many players that would be. APPA claims to have records on 80K plus. How many are still active? What if 25% of those former players came back?)

As much fun as it is to tweak raehl now and again the intent of the last two posts hasn't been to bemoan the evils of APPA or the UPC. Both are works in progress and both are useful tools. And we could go round endlessly debating which cause had what effect on the decline in the number of tourney players in recent years. But VFTD has been there and done that (on more than one occasion) and while it engenders lots of debate it doesn't do much else and what I'm really interested in is discussing ways to get former players back into the fold.
Before jumping in with both feet though there is something else to be said about APPA and local promoters. Even if we assume the lion's share of the problem of team and player attrition is more about Big Picture economics (or outta control ROF) (or raising the skill & commitment bar to entry too high) (or whatever other option you prefer) the fact remains APPA & the UPC is in the business of grading players with an unavoidably very blunt instrument; team results--and then determining what those results mean relative to all other players. If competitive paintball was in fact unequivocally a sport this probably wouldn't be an issue or at least as big a one as it is--but it's not. Especially at the local level where hopeful up-and-comers vie with a large contingent of mostly hobbyists (whether they would describe themselves as such or not.) And herein lies a problem. Local leagues are subject to the same ranking attrition that the national level teams and players are. At the national level where the game aspires to be sport it might be possible to make a case that it is an unavoidable consequence of the competitive process but at the local level it is a foolish and counterproductive waste. It is also a difficult problem to remedy because of APPA's utility to the local promoter as time saver and standard. How do you use the system without being part of the system? (At least insomuch as it dictates what happens to players/teams.)

Everybody wants to see paintball flourish--and the majority of VFTD readers also want to see competitive paintball regain lost ground too and continue to grow. There may be a few things we as individuals can do; like inviting old friends who used to play to give it a try again and encourage our local fields to find creative ways to reach out to the pool of potential players most likely to respond, former players. Like it or not this effort really falls on the local field owners (who are so inclined) and local promoters. It wasn't very many years ago Florida had multiple series to choose from and well over a 100 teams competing in primarily D3 and below. That's a lot of former tourney ballers. In the past VFTD has suggested ideas like Friday Night  street ball, start a paintball club, work with local businesses to promote youth paintball, promote and maintain a local available player list, offer discounts to old timers who bring in an old team jersey, etc. There have got to be ways to reach out to local ex-players and invite them to give the game a try again. Got any other ideas? Heard of an effort that seemed to work? Let's hear 'em.