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.


Anonymous said...

It's very likely players were "pushed" out by a combination of the changing skill set required to even "hold your own" on the field, let alone be successful, and the balance of high costs to play.

That is to say, once the skill set has become so narrow, the high price of playing competitive paintball gets evaluated differently.

If you're getting blown off the field time and time again because you're just not that good a gun fighter, you'll wonder why you're paying for this.

In many ways, competitive paintball has been reduced to being a good gun fighter.

I'm not saying that's all you need, not by a long shot, but if you lack that, you get destroyed.

Before it was possible to be sneaky, good field awareness, superior strategy, etc. etc. etc. and have these skills could offset your less than stellar gun fighting skills.

Now the game has been distilled down rather perfectly to the ability to gun fight. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it determines the winner alone, but it does "disqualify" people who can't do it, where before those mediocre gun fighters could hold their own if they had the occasional sneaky move, superior strategy etc.

Thousands of players who consistently get smashed off the field by more talented gun fighting teams/players discovered there wasn't much place for their skill set anymore.

This ties in to some of your previous posts about the rules the tournaments craft have a dramatic effect on the kind of play and players that get "rewarded" as the game changes and evolves in the process.

Nick Brockdorff said...

I agree completely with the first poster!

The solution is easy to say "make the fields bigger and more versatile again - and lower ROF"

But, it is hard to achieve, because local leagues are between a rock and a hard place.

A good deal of their current participants, are teams with ambition - who WANT to be in the big PSP show, when they get good enough.

Change the format and fields, and all those teams go elsewhere, because they need local level to play the same fields and format, to gain experience and reach their ultimate goal.

So, local leagues are, in the current climate, forced to either tag along and do whatever the top league does - or depart from it completely, and focus on a very different audience.... either choice is a bad one for the sport as a whole.

So, in my view, for paintball to be more inclusive - and promote a wider skill set - the game needs to change at the top first.

And that is no mean feat - especially as we keep seeing smaller fields, smaller and more "technical" bunkers, and a general attitude that low ROF is "boring" and "bad".

Anonymous said...

A game with guns will reward the better gun fighters and anything to reverse that fact will not be a game this blog would exist for.

Which is it? I thought it was all the "lets go back to the olden days" types who usually list gun skills as one of the casualties of the modern game, though I disagree to some extent on that.

Can we all just let this all move off the page I got a sinking feeling that somewhere in Morocco the latest pattern for the ultimate "big,old,slow" player bunker is at this minute being cut out of nylon and will soon be flown to Paris where the hottest heroin-chic runway model is set to show it's versatility as a thong.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say the skill level has become so narrow (if anything it has gotten larger). I think the differences between solid players and beginners has become greater.

Paintball has gotten a lot more complex in terms of the level of strategy and the skills you need to play. You can say gun fighting is important, but the better players would rather hold a lane than gun battle with someone. Knowing how to do that wins games. The growth of paintball strategy in some respects has hurt the game in that good players have good player IQ, which beginners simply don't have. This player IQ makes entering the game so much harder than before.

Furthermore, with the movement towards 5 man and faster formats the degree of difficulty in my opinion increases because things happen a lot faster causing beginners to get overwhelmed quickly and get frustrated.

Mike said...

If you want to gun battle join a pump team.If given a choice between a player with good laining skills or a player who can "gun battle" I'll take the lainer every time. LoL

I'm happy with how APPA runs things. My D4 team can play as many tournys this year as they can and not get pushed to D3 until next year when we will be ready for that Division.That's an improvement over the way it used to be. A 19 year old friend of our crew rolls with us but cant play because he's rostered D1.If he's not picked up this year he'll roll with us next year when he's D2 if no opportunity's open up for him in the mean time.He'd prefer to play but his options are limited because of his ranking and the limited pool of D1/D2/Pro teams out their.I have no idea how to fix that or whether it should be fixed. All these ideas about limiting the ROF,limiting paint and age limits will just kill the sport even more.Kids that would do paintball play airsoft instead because its so much cheaper.Money is what it takes to keep your crew on edge and theirs not much of that about these days so some teams can't sustain themselves or get the practice in needed to improve their game.The way APPA is set up weak teams are only going to get a few points anyway so I don't see the point of dropping regionals from APPA as a way to "help the sport.This year was our first PSP event in Phoenix. We went with high expectations and played D4 race to 2.The race to 4 was 1600.00 more so we passed. The Venue was great and the multiple fields and vendors impressive. What sucked was the reffing on our particular field. It appeared the reffs had little comprehension of the game.We got penalty's for spray and for sliding onto paintballs when we slid into our bunkers.They had no idea what spinning was so when we would go down D side and bunker players who would spin on shoot us in the back that was a "one for one".I just wanted to blow my brains out. My theory is the PSP had more fields and games going on then competent reffs to over see them so we were stuck with the most inexperienced. The level of play in our division at the WCPPL is much more intense then what we experienced at Phoenix. So if the regionals are suppose to be feeder for the PSP I'd say it isn't working for PSP in the lower divisions.

Anonymous said...

Sheesh, laning is a subset of gun fighting, that some would think it's totally different shows how narrow the skills have become.

The point is, that in the days when you played a wooded field, played a hyperball field, then played a sup air ball field, you have different skill sets that came into play.

Some of the best players in the world aren't nearly so impressive when you take them out of their supair element. I'm not saying they suck, but unless they have a player or two to gun battle with in front of them, they just don't know what to do.

Remember the Ironmen when Oliver first transitioned to them (again). We had Paxton, Ceranski, Todd Adams, and I believe Ryan Williams for a season or two. They were playing Xball, but that team really played the game differently than all the other teams. Because there was a different set of skills there. A lot of those skills are being faded out because they aren't as necessary as focusing on gun skills. The fields and formats dictate this.

I don't know what the solution is, because it's not easy for paintball to get back to it roots at this point. But the fact is, players who haven't progressed enough in their gun skills had a chance in the woods if they used their brain and didn't just go head to head with every player (or shoot across field from the same bunker).

Not pining for the good old days, but just acknowledging some things really seem to have been lost without many of the rising generation realizing it.

Mike said...

I wasn't around in the "good old days" so I don't have that point of reference. When I think of gun battling I see it differently more as an unnecessary risk when you can eliminate the opposing player other ways without risking getting shot out.

"The growth of paintball strategy in some respects has hurt the game in that good players have good player IQ, which beginners simply don't have. This player IQ makes entering the game so much harder than before."

Theirs truth in that. Game comprehension is something some people pick up right away and others just don't get it no matter how long they practice.

It also applies to teams.When to push and when to sit tight and how to adjust when a penalty pulls two players are things beginner teams generally struggle with.Its been said that the difference between D4 and D3 is how much paint is shot but I would add another layer of game comprehension in that the team as a whole has to be on the same sheet of acid.Teams that roll with the same players mesh and a synchronicity develops and its that which makes a team hard to beat. Every tourney has a throw together of "sandbaggers" but if their up against a team that rolled together for awhile them sandbagger fools will go down..

Nick Brockdorff said...

I definitely do not believe gun fighting has become a less important skill in recent years.

I believe it is the all dominating skill now, in that if you are better at it than the guy in front of you, you will be successful in the game..... an exception is the centre guy, who often get to be creative... but for fronts and backs on both tape lines, gun fighting is where it is at these days.

With almost all fields being set up so that dominating a tape line wins you the game, the game has become about just that primarily, and everything else is stuff you do occasionally, to not get stale and predictable.

Team play has also become way less tactic, and more strategic, where "smart play" these days is mostly about clock and penalty management, while it used to be about playing off what your teammates did, and creating situation in-game that won you matches.

Now, I actually like all this, on a personal level, I enjoy the game the way it is now.

However, if I am to take a step back, I can see that it takes way more dedication and practice to be even moderately good today, and that will alienate many from our sport at the lower levels.

Possibly, the game as a whole would benefit, if we found a method that still allowed the best players to win events, but also made paintball more accessible at lower levels, where funds and time are more precious commodities.

Anonymous said...

Holy crap, I actually agree with something Nick said. Record this day in history.

The sport has been distilled down to the lowest common denominator. Small fields, controlled lanes with controlled ROF, and a certain type of person/player that suits that particular set up.

I remember seeing a DerDer video a few weeks ago of Infamous playing in the PSP. Their corner player dumped 6 pods of paint into his marker while not moving in inch - just holding a lane.

Is that what tournament paintball has come to?

We hold the tape or a lane. Once you have control over the other player, you dump paint into your gun to hold that control.

Explain how that's "fun".

Yes I'm old, but that's still why I miss 10-man. Yes it was slow and we played sloppy, but that's also what made it so fun. Shooting someone off the break was more often luck, and the field sizes with bigger bunkers made it so people could move around more and actually PLAY the game and have a good time.

I think if we want that kind of participation by players again, we'll have to look at what worked and see what we can take from those times and what would make sense to put in place today. I also think that's why woods and recball is making such a big comeback.

Sorry, I'm still in shock that I agree with Nick. I think I'm seeing spots. Is there a doctor here?

Anonymous said...

Why aren't these rating systems taking into account the number of teams that show up to an event?

Your chances of increases your rating are much higher in the local events where there are fewer teams and lower overall skill levels.

Fundamental problem of cost to play/practice/improve makes this sport too different than anything else.

raehl said...

The ranking system does factor in number of teams attending an event, two ways.. events under 10 teams have a lower top score, and the fewer teams there are, the fewer top scores are given out. At an event with 8 teams, only one team gets a score of 90 or higher. With 30 teams, 4 teams do.

Anonymous said...

You are still going to be acquiring points - enough to push you out of local competition.

Fact is you cannot compete at D3 and above without practice (a significant, and intractable cost) not to mention the increasing costs for an event itself once you are out of the 5man stages of your "career" (increase in entry, paint usage, logging, travel, etc.).

For a sport that appeals to the blue collar feller the sport certainly has a good way of forcing you to choose between a paintball life, and a life.

People talk about sacrifice in this game - but often those family members of the person "sacrificing" end up as casualties.

APPA, while useful for D2 and above, suffers from unintended consequences at the local level.

Anonymous said...

You're doing a great job!

You see?

You don't have to be Anon to make a point- or, you know, have off the edge of the Moon, spitting hot fire.

Keep it up Baca.

Nick Brockdorff said...

"Anon who agreed with me"

I remember standing in the corner, without moving an inch, dumping 14 pods down the tape for the AAs - in 10 man.... game after game.

So, in that sense paintball have not changed for the worse (or better).

Corner play was always that, until the little people in front of you die, and you get to do fun stuff ;)

What I was getting at, was that the bunker sizes, field design and ROF has changed the game for the worse, where all players are locked into a very methodical and gunfight based way of playing the game.

I still don't think there is anything wrong with field sizes or the game format - or playing on airball bunkers..... All those things could easily continue to work.

But, we need a change in the philosophy of how bunkers are shaped/sized, we need more bunkers on the fields and we need a lower ROF, to make laning less effective.