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?


Neal said...

I see many teams stuck in D3. Here in Socal at least, the competition is fierce, and while many of the individual talents of those D3 players could be coached up to D2/D1, as a team they're treading water. It speaks to the coaching deficit you touched on a few posts ago. We all know teamwork beats talent, so perhaps it is true that these teams have every resource except for the intellectual one.

Secondly, any paintball player worth a marker should theoretically love to "play up." Everyone loves a crack at the pros in practice, and the most frequented fields are usually those that feature teams that present a chance for divisional teams to learn against superior competition. A tournament, however, does not afford such a lofty approach. Nobody wants to pay 2000$ plus as a team to get licked and embarrassed. When such an investment in time and money is on the line, the owners and coaches instinct is to make sure the players experience some level of success or they're risking an abandonment of titanic proportions. We've all seen flash in the pan teams go from attractive to toxic spills in one season, and it's usually is caused by an inflated sense of divisional competence.

Well coached and funded teams like Aftermath (R.I.P.) and the Pirates climbed the divisional ranks at light speed with backyard players no different from many you see on any decent D3 team. There obviously is a shared belief in those programs that the impossible just might be possible.

Nick Brockdorff said...

I think it's difficult to reach a general consensus on this issue, as it all depends on the specific team mentality.

I have an immensely talented player amongst the kids I'm coaching.... but, every time we are putting teams into an event, he is always first to raise his hand, to want to play on the lowest division team.

It annoys me to no end, because I both don't understand it, and I know he'll never move past being a talent.

But, some players are like that - they prefer being a big fish in a small pond.

Personally, I think it's a bitch move, but people are who they are at heart, and you can't change that (believe me, I have tried).

So, whatever ranking rules are in place, need to take into account both types of teams:

- Those that have ambition to be the best
- Those that want to play at the lowest possible level, to win

Missy Q said...

Let me get this straight Nick.

Part of your 'coaching' selection process-regimen is to ask the players which team & division they want to play in at the next event, by raising their hands, and you get frustrated because some of the better players choose (by raising their hands) to play in the lower divisions?

Reiner Schafer said...

Quick question from someone looking in from the outside...the way I understand it is players are forced up a division after they have have accumulated a certain number of points due to their team's performance. Is there a time factor involved here? For instance are players on a team forced to move up in division the same if it took them 5 years to accumulate those points rather than 1 year? Is there, and if not, should there be a time factor included in the equation so that teams taking longer to accumulate the points (and obviously aren't as good) have those points diluted and aren't moved up as fast (or ever)? (There would also have to be a number of events played during that time in the equation)

Anonymous said...

@Reiner: Good point. Even an average team can have a good run and finish high/win a tourney on a given day. After 5 years of playing, an average team would (just by showing up enough) rack up a few decent finishes.

TJ said...

Like stated before, nobody wants to spend a ton of money (~1k) and get their shit stomped at an event. They want a chance at winning.

Teams that bump up and out of D4/D3 are usually backed by someone or something. They're willing to take a shot at winning because they risk very little.

The cost of these national events is burdening the players. It's ruining the game because everyone thinks they need to play a national event to be something. It's an endless cycle that burns out good players. It's so completely obvious and it really makes my blood boil that manufacturers and leagues continue to take advantage of the players the way they do.

This needs to stop ASAP and the game needs a complete overhaul.

Anonymous said...

@TJ: To expand on your point, even if PSP/NPPL/whoever charges $0 for entry to the event, teams are still going to take on significant expenses to play in a national event, unless a national event happens to come close to their hometown. Flights, car rentals, hotels, time off from work to travel, etc -- those costs add up before you even buy paint.

I'm not sure what the answer is. Maybe it is a stronger regional events where teams can play stronger competition with lower costs?

What do you think would be a good overhaul that gives national calibre competition at lower prices? Or what sort of changes are you envisioning?

Baca Loco said...

Yes but ... The current system also depreciates points earned over time but not as progressively as it probably should. IMHO

TJ said...

I'm not entirely sure what the answer is, but what we have now is just not right. A lot of things need to change drastically, but I doubt many people will welcome the changes.

The current format is too expensive, uses too much paint, scares new players away, pushes good players out, is watered, etc. The list goes on. It is literally killing off players.

I like the idea of strengthening the regional scene with qualifiers and having a massive invite-only World Cup. I just want to see change, but not worthless shit like "more technical bunkers". Give me a break...

Anonymous said...

"Up or Out" is the promotion strategy in consulting firms. If you're not promoted within a couple years, you're fired.

Basically it's the same concept here. Move up or get out. Except some people want to pretend there is not "or out" part at play.

If you want to be completely pragmatic you have to ask yourself, is the amount of players you lose when you force some out (if they don't want to move up) less than the amount of players who you would lose if they had to compete against the same guys they competed against last year.

There's the rub... you just played those guys last year. Now it's "unfair" to play them again this year. Strange...

Anonymous said...

What would happen if you allowed players to self-select division, with the only difference being that players can't move down from pro unless they've been inactive for a period of time?

Would everyone try to play down a division?

Anonymous said...

Maybe the axiom applies to the classification system. You can have more teams or attempt to have a fair competition, pick one.

Fair competition seems a misnomer... the better team should win. But by default the better team is in the wrong division if they win too much.

In reality, the league shouldn't "force" someone to play up a division, you should have to qualify to play up a division. ie. you can't play D2 just because you want to, you have to go through the ranks and qualify to play D2. But if you're content to sit in D3, go for it. (and is there really a problem in the history of paintball of a D3 team camping out in that division year after year and not wanting to move up and prove themselves?)

Baca Loco said...

2:08 Anon
Exactly! When did fair competition turn into I have to have a chance to win?

Reiner Schafer said...

Well, I suppose you could have a "fair" competition without some teams having a "chance" to win. But would the teams without a chance to win stick around? Playing paintball is fun. Winning every once in a while, or at least being in the hunt for the win, makes it more fun. Consistently losing because you don't have a chance at winning in this "fair" competition makes it less fun.

Basically your choice is to lose players (teams) that don't want to move up after accumulating enough points, or losing players (teams) because you are not forcing the consistent winners up. Personally, I wouldn't side on the side of the sandbaggers (those that don't want to move up). I think most people would agree with that. I have a feeling that the criteria (point structure) just needs some fine tuning. In the end though, you are not going to be able to please everyone all the time. Someone will always be whining.

Anonymous said...

Is sandbagging a real problem or a theoretical one? It seems that in reality most teams want to move up of they are capable.

Anonymous said...

I don't side with sandbaggers either. For the record, I also don't side with rapists, murders, etc. etc.

Now that we've gotten out of the way that no one sides with people who have a negative name attached to them...

I do side with people who aren't good enough to play up a division, and don't want to play up a division, and are told by an external ratings system that, "you have to play up a division".

It's one thing if you're winning big money and a pro player trying to play down... but seriously? D3 players infiltrating D4? D2 players dying to get into D3 and take advantage of their sweet little division?

I think it's more likely we're fighting a war that doesn't need to be fought and creating a lot of casualties in the process.

The pertinant question is:

Is there really a problem in the history of paintball of a D3 team camping out in that division year after year and not wanting to move up and prove themselves?

Point to 10 teams who have this problem.... because I'm sure we can find more than 10 teams that have vaporized before and/or after they were forced to move up.

Missy Q said...

I agree with above. If I choose to assemble a group of like-minded individuals to spend thousdands of dollars on a paintball experience that's basically our 'hobby', then I want to choose which division I play in, or failing that, I'll play in the division that's for teams like mine. Only the top teams are playing this game for the 'sport', the paying majority are hobbyists and the meat and potatoes of the tournament side of the industry. trying to organise these people into a structured sport if just going to push them away. That's not why they are playing. Sometimes people get too immersed in the 'Pro-spectacle' to remember why 99.9% of people play paintball (for fun), and that includes 75% of the MLP league players, at least.
This 'grind' bullshit is really just 2-300 players trying to fulfill a prophecy made years ago.
Thye best business model is to make the people that play for fun happy. They pay the bills.

Anonymous said...

Whatever the change is that could make the CFOA rumble in over 100 teams once again is the correct one.

Choose wisely.

Anonymous said...

I've had a team that we sponsored over the years tell me that they wouldn't move up until they felt they could win the Division above them.

They ended up being a very notable Pro Team that was competitive once they did step up, but were accused of Sandbagging for years before they finally made the move.

I think at a national "sport" level it's a good thing to force teams up that win all the time and force down teams that are losing.

I think it's also fair when there are prizes for each division to prevent sandbagging just to get the prizes.

I understand that's tough for people that are just out to play for fun, but maybe then there should be an open division without prizes for those guys. They don't need prizes if they are just playing for fun, right?

Actually this leads me onto the fact that I don't think there should be prizes for any Division except Pro (or the top division that you can select to enter)...

That probably wouldn't get more people playing tournaments though.

Do we want more people to play, or do we want more people to play fairly?

Anonymous said...

I understand the point about no prizes, but it's silly when you consider the math. If the league charges 25-35 more bucks a player they can give a decent prize to first place. It doesn't make sense to reduce entry fees by a couple hundred bucks and do away with any kind of financial award for winning.

There is no such thing as sandbagging as we define it in paintball. Sandbagging is when someone chooses not to play their best, typically to hustle you so they can win a bet, etc. What paintball players are describing with sandbagging is a player actually playing their best, but paintball whiners (oops, I mean players) complain because that player is much too good for them to compete against. They want to compete against losers like themselves, who they are marginally better than, of course, so they can win.

The concept is very strange. I want to play paintball, but I want to make sure no one else is really that much better than me and I want arbitrary rules to determine that degree of talent.

The obvious problem is that more often than not, in the name of "fairness" you are forcing a decent (possibly better) player out of a division where he is "good" and putting him into a division where he is "mediocre".

It's not fair for him to compete against players where he is superior, but it's fair to force him to compete against players where he is inferior?

Where does this ponzi scheme end?
And that's a problem, like an inverse pyramid scheme, it works for those at the bottom of their respective divisions, but the ones at the top get pushed up and up until they get pushed out (because they clearly can't compete in the higher divisions up and up through pro, and so on).

You'd think a computer programmer with an understand of recursion would get this...

Anonymous said...

Why not just advance "the team" based on wins or winning / placing precentages? Granted if a team wins to to many and doesnt want to move up then they could always dis-band the team and start over under a different team name, but they would still win out again if they are that good. The truth be told I think most of the teams are proud of thier team name and reputation and wouldnt want to just close up shop and start over just to win. Other teams would eventually figure out who these teams are and they would get a bad rep. Teams want to be "feared on the field" not "despised" is my thinking. Im all for player rankings, but maybe "teams as a whole" rankings are a key to figuring this out. If a player doesnt feel he is good enough to move up and contribute to the over-all success of the team he could stay put and join a team that hasnt won as much and be an asset. We all know that one superior player doesnt make or break a "team".

Nick Brockdorff said...

Promotion/relegation throughout the national divisions takes care of all this debate :)

Move up/down 2-3 teams in each division at the end of every season, and you're all set.

It also adds some exitement to every division, when promotion and relegation is no longer left upto the teams themselves to decide, in the offseason, but instead a predetermined thing based on how they place.

At local/regional level, there should be no forced promotion out of the top division and into nationals, as the financial side of things makes it impossible to force.

Baca Loco said...

I have suggested it. Or a version thereof for the divisions D2 and up.

11:10am Anon
My favorite new anon.

Anonymous said...

Anyone arguing that promotion/relegation is a viable option for paintball leagues is blatantly out of touch with reality.

The only time it ever came close to working was with NPPL in the mid-2000's when the TV dream was on the perceived edge of reality, and even then it didn't work very well, with teams bringing in ringers to save their spots, or simply selling their spots to other teams, which defeats the purpose of promotion/relegation for managing talent.

And that was then. Teams of all levels disband completely on a regular basis, and leagues with promotion/relegation have always found themselves searching desperately during each off season to find enough teams to fill up their upper divisions.

A promotion/relegation system requires that the spots being promotoed/relegated have some value, and they don't.

thegoodanon said...

Hey Baca,
I should give myself a witty screen name I guess, because all the "good" anon posts are me :)

Baca Loco said...

5:32 Anon
While handled poorly (because they hadn't really thought the process through) promo and relegation in the NPPL isn't the be all or end of promo/relegation.
The potential utility of scaling promo/relegation in the upper brackets Pro (S-P?) D1 & D2 is that in creating the system you build in scarcity and I think if it's done prudently it would help maintain a standard of play in the upper brackets and also create a single option path to advancement.

Yes you should.

Nick Brockdorff said...

While a percentage of teams occasionally sell their spots to others, I would argue that a promotion/relegation system has worked in Europe for years.

The teams that quit the MS and sell their spots, would aguably have quit under any other system too.... they are not quitting due to the system, but due to failing in achieving their goals or losing their hunger - and that would happen under any system.

Yes, the system has flaws and should be improved, but for all intends and purposes, it adds quite a bit of exitement and chatter, to other parts of the game than the few top Pro contending for the podium, and that is healthy for the sport.

Imagine the PSP webcast, if the bottom of the Pro division were fighting to avoid relevation and the top of Div. 1 fighting for promotion into the Pro ranks!

However.... and this has to be clear... such a system comes at the cost of teams that do not have the finances to play all events.... and you only gain a few that suddenly see a place for them at nationals in the early phase.... So in the short term, you will have a slight decrease in the number of teams at nationals, only to have the number increase again after a few years.

thegoodanon said...

Nick, you only "gain" the ramblings of paintball glory hounds who get to say things like "imagine the PSP webcast..fighting to avoid relegation..."

In fact, there is not a time that a player steps on the field that he is not fighting to beat the other team. If it's the last point in a game where you're getting smashed and have no hope to win, you still fight. You don't want to go down like a chump. Granted sometimes players just walk away if they feel cheated or there were other issues...

But no one needs the motivation of relegation or promotion to "fight". At least not in America... I presume all the talk about the fighting spirit being bred out of the Europeans is just talk by xenophobes. But if the prospect and thrill of losing or winning is not enough of a motivator in a competitive sport, I don't think you get a whole more more "imagine-power" with the prospect of promotion and relegation.

At the most, what you get to hear is Matty Marshall talking about it endlessly on the webcast like it's something that's important to those guys on the field, when all they really want to do is just win.

What's the deal with this "imagine power" anyway. As if the whole world runs on unicorn farts and fairy kisses?

What you lose as a result of this "imagine power" is most of the teams that get moved up before their time and probably a lot of the teams that get moved down too.

Missy Q said...

Nick - Why not just ask the teams to raise their hands for the division they want to play in.

thegoodanon - Don't kid yourself, half of the 'good' anon posts are mine.

With the NPPL promotion/relegation system it did end up with the promoted teams selling their spots to the relegated teams, which was kinda stupid and not the intention. Paintball isn't professional or organised yet, and is still too corrupt for this system. Also we started to see sister teams promoted, which was dangerous. In the last year of PP's NPPL 2 x Dynasty teams and 2 x Impact teams qualified to play Pro. That would have made for some awkward schedules, if the league hadn't folded.

IP said...

This whole discussion cracks me up.

Baca- It is common practice at the D3/D4 level to "manage" rosters to keep in a lower division for the fallacious idea the "learning to win" will lead to wins in upper divisions. The other justification being that the teams comprised mostly of hobby level players that hired a few ringers to try their luck and go to a party.

In the UPC system this ultimately thins those players out once their points clock maxes and they are faced with "up or out" choice.

Reiner and TJ - If a group supported this suggested change from the traveling circus style tournaments to more region focused play that reduces travel investment, would you support it? Because there is a group that is making a VERY concerted effort to bring about this evolution.

Missy Q - Spot on about the leagues being too corrupt to make promotion/relegation work.

IMHO promotion and relegation was a marketing ploy that bit leagues in the butt. As Missy pointed out the doubling of "owned" slots made for either a slot market or high likelihood of collusion.

All in all, there are better models for managing both the top tiers and the divisional rankings. We are just missing a few key tools and most of the industry is too afraid or not yet positioned to handle the change so they poo poo it till they can make their buck.

Baca Loco said...

If therre are better models I'd to like to hear what you think they are.

As for D3/4 manipulating rosters--who cares? If they aren't winning events then their manipulations are entirely meaningless in the context of a "fair" competition.