Thursday, August 30, 2012

New Header, New Photographer

Thanks to the vixen with a Nikon (it's probably a Canon but Nikon sounds better, doesn't it?) Meagan Foster for allowing VFTD to chop crop and desaturate one of her awesome shots from World Cup 2011--a TBD breakout no less--that despite my best efforts still looks fantastic. I've been looking for an action shot that could serve as a VFTD header for a long time and this one fits the bill and then some. Thanks, Meagan.

Btw, I hear the grumbling. Don't think I don't. I know what you people are like and you've been waiting all week for a DC Open follow-up and/or the next Basic Tactics post but not for nothing. And you've pretty much decided I've been slacking. Well it's true but only because I've been sick as a dog--which is nearly a meaningless expression, isn't it? Anyway it's true. Today I'm feeling slightly more human so I'm beginning to make up for lost time. I'd like to thank Joey and the rest of the team who have been passing this nasty little bug around ever since MAO. Y'all suck.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mr. Curious Does His Best Wayne Brady

"Does Mr. Curious have to choke a b*tch?" [See title link for explanation] There was a high power not-quite-top-secret meeting this morning headlined by GI Sportz (Procaps) el commandante Richmond Italia. The rumors swirling around his appearance at the DC Open have focused on the notion he is interested in investing (or somehow participating) in the NPPL. Mr. C says there's more to the meeting(s) [and mystery] than that. Whatever the spin--if in fact any public announcement is made--rumor has the real issues are between Italia and Pev. Being unusually coy Mr. C isn't offering any more details, just yet but did say the the next Pevapaloosa may to be renamed Italiapaloosa.
In other rumorology of perhaps more immediate interest to tourney ballers is the word that the NPPL brain trust is considering another format change--to--have you guessed?--5-man Race 2. Now according to Mr. Curious it is no more than talk at this stage but it is kinda curious, yes? What about extending Race 2 down the divisions as a 7-man format instead like in Pro and D1? Otherwise it's two leagues playing the same game and one of those leagues originated the format--and it ain't the new guys. Guess we'll find out eventually.

Friday, August 24, 2012

DC Open Day 1

Seems the the NPPL is updating scores on their Facebook page during the day so if you want to keep current that's the place to look. A quick look confirms they did a timely job and kicked in a few photos too. Unfortunately it doesn't really give anyone not present a sense of what's really happening. And in the pro bracket there have been some pretty crazy results. Given that 8 teams will get thru to the first Sunday morning round nobody is out--yet--but plainly some teams are in better shape than others. Undefeated on Friday were Damage, X-Factor, Legend and Xsv. Infamous stands at 2-1. Critical got a big win over Impact and Dynasty dropped both matches today in close scores. Xplicit continued to look solid with this year's revamped roster but lost a close match to Infamous and gave up an overtime loss to Xsv. But no matter how today went any team that finished 2-2 is likely to get through. The snake wire has been a war and despite the relatively easy access to the fifties across the field most of the matches have gone to time because the fifties don't offer guaranteed kills and moving across the fifty is difficult when the back bunkers are filled and crossed up. Even if the outcome isn't in doubt--and a few points were turned around down bodies and playing defense--it took time to dig those strong defenders out.
VFTD will do a complete review of the event next week.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hanging with Mr. C

I'ma keep this short and sweet since it's getting late and we are starting early. Mutiny is a no show here at the NPPL's DC Open. As a consequence the pro brackets have 7 & 6 teams respectively. It changed the schedules slightly and altered the odds of making Sunday between the two brackets but it isn't a big deal. The venue looks good. The fields look great and the organization of the small vendor village is a model of efficiency. Unlike other recent NPPL events the pro schedule for Friday and Saturday runs in the morning. First matches are at 8 am.
Mr. Curious is cautiously creeping about in the shadows and whispered me some early teasers to get the weekend off to a good start. Dynasty is fielding a unusual roster here. Yosh is acting in a coaching capacity at least in part because he's got a hand immobilized in a protective wrap rumored to have been injured in a fight with Ollie after the MAO. While unclear rumor also has it there was another participant involved in the altercation and Ollie isn't in Virginia. And in a follow-up to the Social Paintball report that Mike Hinman has resigned as coach of Dynasty  Mr. C says Mike's next stop will be with the Ironmen and that SK will continue as an assistant coach as his other duties at Dye demand more of his time.
Mr. C is also sniffing around the rumor that Richmond Italia may be interested in investing in the NPPL. Richmond is supposed to be on site tomorrow. Just what if anything an investment in the NPPL may amount to is unclear at this time.
More from Mr. C as he relays it to VFTD. And a report from the DC Open Day 1 tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Basic Tactics: Breakouts

This is the meat & potatoes of the game plan (or the waffles & fried chicken if you're from the ATL) (or rice cakes & nutella if you're some sort of health nut). If you separate the breakout from a specific field layout you quickly discover that most of the standard breakouts apply across all field designs with minimal adjustment particularly when the layout is the traditional sort. (By "traditional" I mean wire dominant with only one or two "feed" bunkers between Home and each wire.) [For the time-being I am also discounting surprise breakouts like attacks to the X-side(s) OTB or extra long runs utilizing unique running paths intended to succeed because they aren't the norm.]
Let's back up and review for a minute. It's easy to confuse the game plan with the breakout. It isn't but it is a big part of the plan. Our first principle is underlined by our strategy--and the core strategy is to control the wide boundaries in order to dominate the interior of the field of play. Our choice of breakout options is dictated by preferred style of offense (Inside/Out or Outside/In) and in any given match how effective our opponent is in countering us. Once our primaries have been achieved our priorities are directed by our goals (Strong Side / Weak Side), our individual roles and the shifting positions of the opponent.
Back to the breakout. There are three other characteristics that give dimension and versatility (unpredictability) to your breakouts and those are; sequencing, lane choices & spacing. Something else worth serious attention is the ability of your players to effectively (accurately) run & gun--or as I prefer, gun & run. I cannot stress how important this is. Any team that can gun & run with confidence has a automatic advantage over a team that can't and they can bring a lot more diversity to their game.
Looking at Diagram BT 4A we have three generic breakouts that reflect some of our working principles. A is a balanced breakout with the strong side being the snake side as that is the side the Home is dedicated to. B illustrates another common snake side as the strong side breakout and C illustrates a D-wire strong side breakout. Note in both B & C the weak side breakouts take minimal risks, play short and keep a gun at Home. In essence the breakout is both offensive (Outside/In)--on the strong side--and defensive (Inside/Out) on the weak side.
Returning now to our breakout modifiers let's talk about laning first. It isn't as simple as which side of the field the Home will shoot OTB. The team has 4 other players with guns and we want all of them, if possible, shooting OTB. At this point there are two considerations; assisting your teammates in making their primaries and/or getting a quick elimination or denying a particular spot to your opponent OTB. (More soon.)
Then there's spacing which needs to be considered in two ways. First is the space between players. You don't want, for example, to D-side runners to accidentally end up in the same lane at approximately the same time even if they are running to different spots. It makes it possible for one lane to kill both players. The second consideration is the spacing between props and how we can artificially expand those distances by the lanes we choose to run. (Detailed explanation below.)
Finally there is the sequence in which players move to their primaries OTB. Sequencing easily resolves any spacing issues that arise and more importantly sequencing can turn that predictable breakout into something brand new and different.
Looking at Diagram BT 4B we see the same breakouts illustrated in 4A--with some modifications to help illustrate Lanes, Spacing & Sequencing. In illustration A the wide runners take the corners as before and Home continues to make the snake side the strong side of the field. Now however both insert primaries are being taken after a brief delay that allows two more guns to lane OTB. Alternately those same players could as easily come off the board edging the opponent's Home zone OTB as they slowly fill their primaries. Or one could shoot wide, doubling the lane snake side, while the other, moving to a D-wire insert edged Home. the result is the same primaries. The adjustments allow us to move lanes around to more effective positions, to make in match adjustments to counter our opponent and break up the pattern(s) our opponent may have scouted in advance. In illustration B if there is some concern about making the snake corner changing the sequence allows us to set up a countering lane at the insert T OTB that shoots back at the Home shooter. While that is being set-up our corner runner can delay in any number of places dependent on how the bunkers on the field block lines of sight. In this case I've delayed the corner runner back on the end line behind the insert T so he can counter a wide runner turning a gun back inside. (If you are beginning to think the timing of these sequences can be tough to master you are correct. This is where practice, communication and experience really begin to tell.)
Take a moment and go back to the first diagram's illo A and look at the running lanes shown in pink on the snake side. Imagine instead of stopping at the insert T that runner kept going to the snake. Visualize that snake runners lane's proximity to the corner runner's lane just past the insert T. Why there? Because that is a primary lane for the opponent's Home shooter. And this is another way that spacing can assist on the breakout. Even if two players aren't running those two lanes in the same breakout if your normal running lanes are too close together where they intersect your opponent's lanes you are making it easy for them to shoot you. Now look at diagram 2 illo A and look at the corner runner's path. He is using more of the field to widen the gap between the different running paths and the intersecting lane(s). The object is to force the laner to pick a target path so that he can't shoot one lane and expect to kill either a snake runner or a corner runner, for example.
Staying with diagram 2 (4B) look at illo C. Here we see the same breakout but when we add shooting lanes we see an extra lane dedicated to an early strong side elimination and some rapid secondary moves. On the strong side the move into MT puts our support into position to control the D-wire (and the extra laners OTB have hopefully killed or kept the opponent from getting wide) and freed the Push to move as opportunity allows while on the weak side the Home laner has secondaried into a position to deny/control the snake. That's just a tiny sample of what can happen after the breakout.

Keep in mind some of the more sophisticated breakout modifications require practice and lots of it. Add complexity in small doses as the team masters the last complication added. Overwhelming a developing team is a surefire way to lose them all--quickly. As confusion sets in whatever unity and confidence was there can evaporate just as fast. Build at a pace the team can handle.

Remember, our breakout primaries aren't the end of the game plan. We have our core strategy, our strong side attack, our individual roles and jobs continuing to provide direction--but it isn't enough to see the flag hung.
Next time, preparing for the rest of the point.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Statistically Speaking

Lame post title alert! Oh. It's, um, too late isn't it? You've already seen it. D'oh! Look, it's late and the truth is I just don't care enough tonight to come up with a better title. I am, of course, about to comment on the latest batch of stats from the PSP and available for your entertainment, enlightenment and amusement over at PBAccess. And I am (surprise, surprise) gonna point out what seems like a weakness or three in the way the cumulative rating is calculated. (Please note I am offering up this mild criticism despite the fact 5 of the top 10 rated players are on Damage's roster--or maybe because 5 of the top 10 are on Damage's roster. Anyway the current standings do play a part in my thinking.)
Let's review first how the final player rating is achieved. Win Rating is 15% of the total. G Rating (confirmed kills) is 30%. Winfluence is 15%. Survival Rating is 22.5%. Points Played is 7.5%. And the Penalty Rating is a negative modifier that somehow counts 10% to the total Player Rating.
Before I go any further it's disclaimer time. Yes, the stats are a great idea. In general they are good for competitive paintball and given that the whole ball of wax is brand new and still being developed I'm not hating--just suggesting a couple of changes might be order at some point. 'Kay?
I have no problem with Win Rating--except that by this point in the season there needs to be a minimum number of points played to count towards a Top Gun or Best Player award. In baseball hitters don't qualify for the batting title unless they have 400 or more at bats. Similar concept. If a player has a great Win Rating but is only in 35% of his team's points there's a disconnect there.
G Rating by the league's admission is the most difficult stat to get right which is why it's confirmed kills. They aren't pretending to claim each and every elimination is being accounted for and yet it's worth almost a third of the final rating. That seems like kind of a lot of room for error. I'm personally also not thrilled with the message it sends to young players regardless of position that the greats must be the killers. Out of context it's an excuse to be selfish and not a team player.
Winfluence is, I think, almost deceptive because it is based on a player's winning percentages in comparison to his team's winning percentage. That means a few outlier or better players on mediocre teams will potentially have higher winfluence numbers than the players on the best teams because those teams tend to be consistent--among other things. And at 15% I think it is valued too highly.
Survival Rating isn't bad but it also isn't one size fits all. Wire leads are at high risk from the outset and tend not to survive points even when their team is successful and if the back player gets caught early it's a relatively much bigger deal. Which isn't to say there's anything fundamentally wrong with Survival because I don't think there is. It just needs to be tweaked a bit to make it a more telling stat by role. (This was something Matty mentioned in his original explanation of the stats and how they were determined.)
Points Played is really a modifier that adjusts scores based on percentage of a team's total points a player plays but at 7.5% it's negligible. For example Player A plays 40% of his team's points his points played rating is 3. Player B plays 60% of the same team's points and his points played rating is 4.5. Does 1.5 points sufficiently distinguish between those two players? Maybe but given the other number in play I think it undervalues the more valuable players.
The penalty one is fine, I guess. Of course the impact of penalties is at least partially accounted for already in points won. And if the stat guys count as a point played any point the player begins in the box then the impact of that player's penalties on winning or losing the points he plays is part of his Win Rating. Of course penalties are bad so taking a modest ratings hit isn't the worse thing either.

Here we are--closing in on year one of stats for competitive paintball. I think it's working out okay so far. You've just read what I'd consider changing--anything you'd like to add to the list?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Not in the Paintball News

I'm bored. Check that. Actually I'm lazy. I have a list of stuff needs doing and I'm desperately (in a very laconic sorta way) doing my best to avoid tackling that list. Which reminds me, the NPPL's DC Open is coming up this weekend including their All*Star bash. (Question: How is voting for a NPPL All*Star like voting for politicians? Answer: The security of the secret ballot is suspect and you always end up with somebody you didn't want. Or is that just me?) By the numbers this year's DC may set an attendance record despite weak numbers in D2 and the general failure of the NPPL's Race 2 variant. On the other hand D1 has been (relatively) packed this year and I suspect it may have something to do with the perception there are no dominant teams and (besides the Pros) only D1 plays 7-man Race 2. The season standings are a jumble and this weekend's event will help sort out the teams in the hunt for the series title that will be won (or lost) in Vegas in October.
Didja notice the NPPL did some "interviews" recently they posted on their website? It's so cute that they're trying to be just like PBAccess. If only they had a webcast.
Surprise surprise there are reports out that Impact will be playing PSP World Cup. (At least Bart is convinced they'll be there.) If true you can expect XSV to get their chance too and if that were to happen odds are the PSP would accept a third team to balance the divisions given that almost any change in the number of teams is likely to push the event to four days anyway.
Have I mentioned the MS lately? No? Good. The Millennium Series is the Mike Tyson of major league tournament paintball. Let that sink in slowly. You'll get it in a minute or three.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Baca's Mailbag: More on Roles

An excellent question came over the transom earlier today and rather than answering it individually I thought it sounded like the sort of question a lot of players and teams might ask about--so here it is. Btw, before I get started if you haven't checked out Matty's Real Deal podcast over at PBAccess you're missing out. On topic Mike Hinman of Dynasty has some comments about roles in part of his chat with Matty around the 20 minute mark of part 1 you might find interesting.

Question: On a "traditional" layout, do you play your "better" players in the lead or the support position?

Answer: If I'm reading between the lines correctly the real question is who is expendable and who has to be on the field. Are you better off risking your best players in the lead (where they are more likely to be shot out) or do you sorta hold them in reserve hoping that your leads set up your supports for the close out more often than not. The answer to this concern is, it depends. In the lower divisional ranks my tendency would be to play my best players in the killer role(s) and trust they are just gonna be that much better. Conditions might temper that call if my supports aren't up to the job. Now I'm forced to think about what's gonna work better. Depending on how the team operates you may or may not have some flexibility. If the team is an everybody plays arrangement maybe the best choice is to put the best players together for one clearly stronger than the rest line. Or when necessary play your leads (and best players) either back-to-back or on both lines if you're running multiple lines.
Once you've moved up the divisional ranks some all the teams tend to be more closely matched across the board and maybe the "answer" now relates to your team's style of play. If you are an aggressive team that wants to use movement and speed keep your best players in the lead roles. If you're comfortable playing some defense and counterpunching maybe they need to be in the support roles. Or here's a thought: Maybe they can fill differing roles within the same match depending on how that match is playing out. One point they take the leads. Another maybe they play together on the attack wire as lead and support. And so on. There are some outside the box options.
Whatever different options you might want to consider get enough reps in practice so that when the points are for real all your players step on the field with confidence in the game plan. Always, always, always remember; If it doesn't happen in practice it won't happen in the tourney.
As should be clear by now there is no simple, one size fits all answer. In the long term the best answer is to develop versatile players capable of stepping into different roles.

While there are adjustments and "tricks" that can help pull out those critical points during an event the real work happens in practice. There are ways to help players expand their horizons and for teams and coaches to perhaps discover hidden talents in their players. One of the simplest is to force players to play the different roles during practice. Odds are they will complain--at least at first--because players get comfortable doing what they do and the most important first step in building a more versatile roster is to force them out of their comfort zones. Remember even motivated players struggle to push themselves to their limits and less gung ho types never come close. If you never demand more you will never get more.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Basic Tactics: Roles

Today I'ma try to pin down the basic roles. While we could use the traditional terms; front, insert & back I prefer lead, support & push. (If you missed the last post there is some background on the push role you may want to review.) Keep in mind that assigning identities like "front" or "lead" is no more than convenient shorthand. Yes, they describe what the player is doing but the various "jobs" a lead has also changes as the point unfolds and positions change.
Leads initiate and press the attack forward. That can be on the wires or up the middle. (The key reason attacking the X OTB is often hit or miss is because it is hard to impossible to support that position right away. When X-side players miss their first elimination opportunity their utility is drastically reduced because now they can be avoided or directly counterattacked.) Supports do just that, they support their lead. And between the two players; lead & support, you have the basic tactical unit in xball or Race 2. Each pair plays a side--remember strong side / weak side? And we denote the difference based on which way the game plan calls for the push to play. Why push and not plain old back? Simply because we want to focus on the transition to all out offense. It is very easy for a back player to get too comfortable just throwing paint from a big back bunker. (How many times have you seen a team trying to close out a point with numbers but the player in the back won't move to help get it done?) The push may play a neutral or even defensive role much of every point so it's especially important for that player to keep sight of his/her full role--which is to transition from the back (support) role into the extra gun added to the offensive push or pressure looking to close out the point.
Looking at panel A on the diagram we have a dorito wire pair identified by a blue and green dot(s). In their primaries is it possible to know which is the lead and which is the support? We know the lead initiates the attack and the support supports the leads effort--so why don't we know for sure which is which from their primary positions? Because there is no lead and no attack or movement upfield yet. (That doesn't mean there isn't any action or gunfighting or an effort to use superior position to gain advantage--it simply means that positionally, on the field, either player could take the lead. In panel A when the green player moves he takes the lead and the blue player moves into a supporting position. Why is green the lead? Because he is in position to continue moving upfield on the D-wire. And what is his primary responsibility? Look inside for easy eliminations. The lead wants to minimize the need to gunfight. We have moved to a wire to gain an advantage and that advantage is realized looking first to shoot inside and cross field. If green is the lead blue is the support, so why the MT over the SD or a rotation out to the corner--after all its a wireside wide position. Because the support's first responsibility is to protect his lead and contain the opposition's ability to counter the leads moves--and on this sample field the required lines of sight are only present with the MT. (The blue cone emanating from the MT shows the zone the support is focused on. Note that from either the corner of the SD the wire bunkers interfere--and further the SD forces the support to play low while the MT offers various elevation options.) As long as the support is in place doing his job the lead is free to focus on his.
In panel B our support (blue) begins in the corner and when the lead bumps to the wire rotates upfield into the MT. They could have as easily swapped roles and moved as did the D-wire pair in panel A. However in panel B we see a common primary positioning because taking the corner allows the support to help the lead move to the wire. In this position the wide support is better positioned to force opponents off their edges allowing the lead to move to the wire. And once accomplished a quick move back inside to the MT is easily done. (Though it needn't happen immediately particularly if no opponent has reached the wire yet.) In this option we see how the layout begins to dictate some of the decisions we make about how to play.
In panel C we have an example of how players working a wire can switch roles in the middle of a point. It is critically important to maintain near constant communication to be an effective support. It is equally important for each player to recognize when their roles have reversed. Every time you see a couple of players run down on the dorito wire or in the snake you know somebody made a serious mistake. And most often it happens when both players end up acting out the lead role and nobody is in support. Now sometimes in supporting an attack the push becomes the primary support and added complications enter the equation. In any event a miscalculation or simple error (or lack of basic paintball knowledge) is frequently the difference between heading for the sideline or hanging the flag.
If this is more than a little confusing so far not to worry. This was just an introduction to the idea of roles and how they work. As we continue through the series roles will take a prominent place as we expand our understanding of basic tactics.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

2012 Norwegian Championship

Photo provided by Tor Anders Gunnerød (Thanks, Tor!)

MAO Plus

This post should probably have been titled MAO Minus 'cus there's gonna be less MAO than y'all probably expected but I'm focusing on the positive. Cultivating my chi. Shuiing my feng. You know, all that mind body spirit nature in harmony crap. It's working like a champ. I'm so mellow you'd think I had a doctor's script for an unlimited supply of Kona Gold, but no. And, no more cycling tequila and Xanax for me. Listen to Baca kids, just say no to prescription anti-psychotics and mood elevators. Tequila on the other hand is a perfectly natural distillate of the blue agave plant.
As regulars to VFTD know I have a special soft spot on my head for paintball photographers and have had a few kind words for the guardians of our visual history. Not the way you remember those posts? Go with it anyway. It seems that in the brave new world of fewer photogs there's still at least one too many. Or so the photographers might have you believe. It seems one in particular has decided he has no need to follow either photographers field etiquette or common courtesy as he strides the sidelines stepping in front of his fellow travellers or simply brushing them aside with the sweep of his mighty lens. Taking no heed of their picayune efforts because he is the undisputed king of paintballphotography.
This was the first MAO not at the Paintball Central facility in Rock Hill SC. They should'a called it something else. I know, it's a dumb complaint but it wasn't the MAO. Of course it couldn't be the NJO either. It wasn't a bad venue either. In fact it was pretty good. The playing fields were good particularly considering the weather early on. The layout was okay. The parking ... meh. The free shuttle back and forth--priceless--(it was free.) It was isolated but not unreasonably so. Our hotel was less than forty minutes from the Philly airport with the venue about twenty minutes from the hotel. With decent accessibility to much of the east coast as well as several major airports not too far away it's a pretty good paintball field option. However, there's the question of timing. As the late summer event doesn't almost any Atlantic seaboard or northeastern venue risk seasonally unpredictable weather? (Rain last year in Jersey too.) Just saying. Bottom line it was a venue worth a second look and the league and competing teams received a lot of support from the OXCC staff & ownership.
Back when VFTD was a monthly magazine column I once wrote about paintball's untold stories. The personal stories. The team stories. The first timer stories. The unique stories and the shared experiences all the members of the tourney paintball family share in common, the highs, the lows, the moments of magic, the waiting--the list is almost endless. At a time when event reports were only scores and winners I wanted to remind people there was so much more than that to the world of tournament paintball. And there still is--unfortunately it isn't all positive. Traditionally most of the blame for the evils of tournament paintball have been laid on the doorstep of the pro ranks--and at times rightfully so--but some of the ugliness that occurs in the lower divisions not only among teams and players but supporters and worse, the parents of players, can make the worst outbursts from little league moms and peewee football dads seem tame and rational by comparison. It's not, btw, something new or unusual. I was simply reminded by a few stories I heard over the weekend. It's regular as the season schedule and maybe it's time to do something about it. There are unsportsmanlike and decorum rules in the rule book.
Congrats to Houston Heat for winning the pro event and Sacramento Damage for taking the D1 title. As well as the other winners (D2 Scottsdale Elevation, D3 DC Devestation, D4 Imperial) and all the teams that competed. This weekend they were the best and earned their titles, each and every one. Once again we had a layout that when push came to shove played slow with lots of games across all the divisions going to time. It wasn't terrible nor was it particularly exciting.
It seems the kids at Social PB are trying their hand at the rumorology game. It's not for the uninitiated as their first effort reads like a (weak) faux guerrilla ad campaign for the paintball industry. Trust me on this--if you're not making somebody angry you're not doing it right. I'm sure they'll get up to speed in time. As for the XSV rumor Mr. Curious will give you the real inside scoop. Yes, XSV is looking to play Cup in pro and they're using their sponsors to try and make it happen but it ain't that simple. Right now the league has 12 teams and a tourney formula that works given the time frame and the single pro field. Adding one team (that results in an odd number) complicates the process substantially so it isn't a done deal. And if you're curious about the real inside skinny start by asking yourself how many NPPL only pro teams (besides XSV) have inquired about a PSP pro spot. (Did you notice that Indy Mutiny played D1 at MAO?)
Lastly and certainly least it appears FaceFull is kaput again having missed at least three recent publication dates since its last revival. APG has even missed a publication date. On a similar note is the same fate overtaking Shooting Hot (online) paintball mag? Their last issue was May. (For those not in the know SH is the 'Deliverance' of paintball mags. "You've got purty lips, boy.") In a related note it seems Valken and LCP are hosting a scenario game the same weekend as World Cup and promoting it as an alternative event. Good to know somebody else in paintball has a sense of humor.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mystery Not Quite Solved

I've no idea what you were expecting from that title but we's talking paintballs. Yes, again. Just for a minute or two. To dispel my penchant for seeing a conspiracy under every, er, paintball. As you may (should) recall I'm momentarily concerned about paintball being perverted by the seemingly benign introduction of small ball to kids--who don't know any better. And then there was--still is--the mystery of the shrinking 68 cal paintball which is both smaller in diameter and weight in recent months compared to the standard long time players have become used to. So is it a conspiracy to secretly manipulate the market?
Well, not intentionally. Yes, the manufacturers have made some changes. Changes in the raw materials they use in making paintballs. And yes, those changes were made due to rising costs. And it seems the side effect of those changes is an irregularly smaller paintball that weighs a gram or two less. So maybe the average paintball isn't exactly what it used to be--because it isn't what it used to be--but nobody planned to create a tiny lighter 68 caliber paintball. (Apparently) At least that's the story I was told. Truth or disinformation? You decide.

Tomorrow I'll have a few comments about the MAO. Everything you didn't want to know. And hopefully sometime in the next couple of weeks Mr. Curious will have some fresh revelations. He's sniffed a whiff of scandal on the breeze and he's busy tracking it down now.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Basic Tactics: The Game Plan

Sorry, kids. No second Tactics post this week. This is the second one. Blogger ate the first one--a very rare occurrence because the auto-save only saved the first para--and it disappeared into the cyberaether. I know, it's the modern equivalent of the dog ate my homework--but it did!

The value of the game plan is in providing the team with direction (not each individual player) and complementary roles that begin to promote team instead of individual play. The added benefit is that when effectively executed it inspires the team as a unit with confidence. And since the game plan has plainly defined roles and objectives it is much easier to evaluate both individual and team execution in action. So that when something goes wrong--and it inevitably will, even on successful or scoring plays--the problem(s) can be pinpointed and discussion focused on how to fix it. (Btw, never rely on your player to tell the complete unadulterated truth because they don't know it. It is usually necessary to have an extra pair of eyes watching or better yet to capture mistakes on video for later review. If I had a dollar for every time a player insisted on his grandma's life he did or didn't do something I or another coach just watched happen I probably would have blown them all at the strip club, but that's beside the point.)
Too often the game plan, if there is one, is just choosing the primaries for a given breakout in advance. (Which is really only a very modest improvement over picking your primaries standing at the start.) A proper game plan needs to be more comprehensive than that while also mindful of the "fog of war" effect mentioned in the last post of the series. A simple way of looking at the game plan is that it unfolds in phases; phase 1 is the breakout, the object of which is to get all your players into positions to execute the plan. Phase 2 is the battle for field position and follow on eliminations and phase 3 is the transition into the close out of the point. Now here is where you might want to object or at least ask: If the fog of war is gonna screw with our game plan once the play has begun what's the point?
(That's an excellent question, btw.)
The point is that your game plan helps your team and players maintain their focus. They have roles to fill, jobs to do and things may change around them their goals don't need to. The game plan is a bright spotlight burning away the fog of war as it keeps your squad on track, united behind a single purpose.
So what exactly is a game plan?
The Game Plan identifies the breakout primaries; it can also identify the running lanes and sequences in which those primaries are taken; it gives shooting lanes OTB for every player with a gun up; it chooses the push or attack side and typically commits the Home shooter to the push side. While it is true that most of the action covered in the game plan occurs OTB it also provides for the push or attack. It commits players to that attack so that in combination with the players understanding of how to play paintball and practice on a specific layout they have everything they need to know to stay on track.
Here's a sample game plan: player A takes the snake OTB, player B trails the snake runner slowly enough to put accurate paint back on the opponent's Home shooter. Player C, your Home shooter, shoots a lane denying the opposition a run at the snake while players D & E take up short postions intended to control D-wire movements upfield. Since A is making a risky run B is assigned the role of countering the primary gun laning at the snake runner while C keeps the opponent out of the snake. the push will come up the snake wire with the Home shooter focused on containing the opponent on the snake side of the field until he moves out of the Home to add his gun to the final push. And D & E aren't playing purely a defensive role they are focused on keeping the opponent from challenging the push with matching corss field positions.
Before I get into the two basic breakout concepts I want to take a minute to explain a couple of other terms that will come up during the series; Strongside & Weakside. With an uneven number of players the side or wire that sees the committment of the "extra" or odd players becomes the Strong side. The wire left with two players is the Weak side. It is worth making that distinction OTB as the Strong side is invariably the push side as well. (By push I mean point or path of the primary attack. For example a heavy push up the snake wire.) Tuck those away for future use.
Looking at our diagram the primaries are identified with orange dots. It isn't difficult to project what the wire side pairs of players are likely to do but what about our Home shooter? In what we identifed last time as a neutral or balanced breakout there is to often the tendency to expect too much of the Home shooter as if he can deny secondary movements across the whole field by switching back and forth. The end result is most often a failure to stop anybody anywhere on the field for very long. As a general rule the Home shooter should be committed to the push. Given a specific and limited role the Home shooter now has an opportunity to be successful and is positioned to help the push go forward. Or fill for an eliminate teammate.
Let's look beyond that to the wider role of the Home shooter. Too often young inexperienced teams assign that role to the guy who can't play anywhere else and that is a big mistake. Not only must your Home shooter be an excellent laner OTB, he is the anchor to cross field communication, he fills eliminated spots, adds his gun to the push and is more likely than the rest of his teammates to be alive during the closeout. That means he muct also be an effective gunfighter and well schooled in the principles of the closeout as well as understanding the other on field roles and be able to play them as needed. If that isn't your Home shooter you need to reevaluate what you're doing with that position.
Returning to the diagram we can also describe the breakout primaries another way; as Outside/in. In attempting to take both corners OTB on facet of our effort is to get guns wider than our opponent in order to gain the advantage of superior angles, shooting back inside. All breakouts can be thought of as either Outside/in or Inside/out or a combination of the two. Where Outside/in looks to turn guns back inside Inside/out looks to gain extra guns up OTB with the goal of getting OTB eliminations followed by taking up closer, less risky primaries. Both have advantages and disadvantages. The more difficult one for most teams to contest is Inside/out because they often don't know how to begin and because the required skill set is more demanding. The counter to a team heavily relying on Inside/out breakouts is accurate running & gunning, edging, and counterattacks up the center of the field. The weakness of Inside/out is no eliminations and you have given up wire side positions you are now forced to match.
If you have any questions drop them in the mailbag or post them up in comments.

Since the PSP MAO is this weekend watch the webcast with an eye on those Pro Home shooters and how they play the game. It should provide lots of positive instruction.
Next post is Roles followed by the Breakout, the Mid-game, the Closeout and Games Within the Games. Starting with the Breakout there will be more nuts & bolts tactical details and situational descriptions. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hanging in the Balance

The title is probably a little overwrought. Nor am I certain the subject merits the melodrama but it was the best I could come up with. (Even worse I just ended a sentence with a preposition. That's a grammar no-no but I say if ethics can be situational so can parts of speech. But I digress ...)
What has captured my attention, at least for today, is the condition of our balls. Paintballs, that is. One of the issues with the Small Ball Revolution is that they are, you know, really small. The downside of small being is generally inferior performance compared to the standard 68 cal paintball. Mostly 'cus it's lighter. It doesn't have the same range, there are concerns with flight & breaking characteristics. Old news. (But there's more.)
Do you remember when candy bars got smaller? It wasn't too many years ago. Some manufacturers repackaged their products and briefly offered them at slightly reduced prices. Others simply put smaller candy bars on the shelves for the same price as before. (Mars is about to do it again as part of a "healthy" candy bar initiative. Yeah, right.) The same began happening to all sorts of packaged products on grocery store shelves all across the country not long afterwards. In every case it was a cost savings effort. Paintball has seen the same thing happening for some time too.
A couple of weeks ago some sample cases of HydroTec waterballs were made available to the public and at least one enterprising baller made a video examining the HydroTec paintball primarily with respect to claims made by the manufacturer. Turns out the shells don't dimple and don't absorb water--a selection was left in a water bottle for a couple of days with no ill effects. He froze them, or tried. Cut them open. Shot them. Weighed them. Etc. Some of the paintballs showed a tendency to curve as they lost momentum at the edges of their range. And they were light. Compared to other 68 caliber paintballs. The maximum ASTM weight allowed is about 3.5 grams. Impact energy exceeds the "safe" limit at 300 fps if a paintball weighs more than 3.5 grams. But when it weighs less, depending on how much less, it also alters the flight characteristics and ultimate range. With the small ball that's relatively easy to see. Turns out among the HydroTec samples tested they varied in weight from around 2.6-2.9 grams. Well off the max standard and enough to make some difference. Remember the candy bars?
Have you noticed paint rolling out of your barrel lately? It seems the major paint manufacturers have been producing smaller--and lighter--paintballs for a while now. I'm not certain for how long but it's become ubiquitous in tourney grade paints. It seems that before the shrinking began the heaviest paintballs were usually around 3.3 grams. With some of the smaller ones currently being produced the numbers are falling to around the 3 gram mark and below. (I don't know if this is fairly universal or not.) So while some in the paintball geek community had questions about how much the HydroTec paintballs would weigh compared to "normal" paintballs and what if any differences that would make normal paintballs have been shrinking in both size and weight.
How far can the manufacturers take the rather less than amazing shrinking paintball before standards of performance aren't just diminished but completely compromised?
If nothing else it's just another reminder how reliant we all are on technology to play this game and how little we often know about what and where technology is going.

For those (six) of you waiting patiently for more Basic Tactics I'ma have a new one tomorrow and another for later in the week while I'm at the MAO. (fingers crossed) (MAO coverage will be an after-action report this time.)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Monday Poll in Review

The Monday Poll is taking August off. (It's European apparently. Who knew?) Last week's Monday Poll wanted to know what PSP's World Cup ought to add as a stand alone or one time event this year. The inspiration was the rumor that the league is considering offering a blast from the past 10-man option this coming October. Given that no decision has been made VFTD thought it was a perfect opportunity for y'all to express your views. (As usual your apathy was palpable but among those who chose to vote the results were kinda surprising. I was kinda surprised anyway.)
Dominating the vote was 10-man with 42%. It would seem that the if the PSP pulls the trigger 10-man has the best chance to succeed. Second was that traditional Old Skool tourney addition, the 1-on-1 contest with 22%. Coming in third was traditional 7-man--which nobody plays--Oh, wait, there's some divisional NPPL kids still playing--with 11% of the vote. (The power of nostalgia and perhaps a clue as to the average age and paintball background of the VFTD reader--at least those willing to vote.) Fourth was Race 2-2 with mechanical guns only at 10%. (See what I mean about the voters?) PSP has offered this before, or something quite like it, and it was a total dud. Of course I don't recall them promoting it very hard though either. Coming in at 6% was the SplatMaster Challenge featuring WC refs for a change of pace and some light entertainment. Hey, if you think it's so easy to run around and kill people how 'bout you step up and show me what you got? (There's a joke in there somewhere.) Switching Masters from Race 2-4 to Race 2-2 collected 5% of the vote and closing out the official vote the mostly just for fun Play with a Pro 3-man Streetball got all of 3%. Unofficially there were a couple of write-in votes for "real" Xball--which works for me but realistically has no chance of happening.
If this 10-man thing catches on, who knows, before you know it we might be back in the woods. I think to lay down. I also think the PSP ought to follow-up with KEE on the ref's game. They could find 15 minutes on Sunday to include that. Put it on the webcast and maybe Kee will pony up for some webcast advertising. Just saying.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Basic Tactics: Beginner Game

Throughout this series I will focus on a couple of things: guiding principles and situational actions (choices) based on those principles. The standard beginner game breaks out into one variation or another of a 2-1-2; 2 players snake side, 1 player back center and 2 players on the dorito side. (This is also a standard opening for every other level of team as it represents the basic neutral or balanced breakout.) It isn't the opening that's the issue, it's what you do with it. In beginner game the tendency is to engage in gunfights right away across the field. Even if the wire leads are actively attempting to reach their respective wire as a beginner they are also frequently engaging in unnecessary gunfights. This is one reason you often see lower division teams take their primaries with maybe one or two secondary bumps and the game turns into separate gunfights until enough players have been eliminated to encourage one team or the other to start moving in an effort to close out the point. (This is also how beginner counterpunch paintball is played. In fact this is often how it is learned. Young teams don't have a complex understanding of how the game works but they understand risk well enough to see that given their current skill level the safe play is to risk as little as possible until you gain a few kills.)
When teams play like this it is an actively anti-team style because it devolves into a series of individual gunfights. (Of course that isn't the only thing that ever happens and such teams can appear to be doing other things well, may even be doing some other things well, but it will still hold the team's development back.) Keep in mind the strategic goals from last time; gain, anchor & control the wire(s).
The diagram shows The Team's breakout, players A-E, in the 2-1-2 neutral pattern. Is Player A or B the dorito wire lead or front? Which player, D or E is the lead snake player? What is C doing at Home? From this breakout you can't be sure but probably thought B & D were the fronts and A & E the mids (or anchors) having reached the corners. And if that is correct then it becomes A's & E's primary job to assist B & D to get on the wire(s) and upfield. (We will cover the how-to's in detail in a future post.) But that isn't necessarily the correct assignment of roles, is it? What if A sees an opening to move to D2? Shouldn't he take it? And if A does make that move what becomes of B?
What's up with player C? Often as not his job is to be the fireman. If he sees a "fire" breaking out on one wire or the other it's his job to hose it and slow that fire down. The problem with that is that it lets the fire get started in the first place. It reduces C's role to a reactive one and reaction is the cornerstone of a defensive mindset. Before you know it, and without intending to do it a key player is on the defensive and doing it badly not because he's a poor player but because he doesn't have a properly defined role.
So here we are: The Team is in a common breakout arrangement and know they want to work the wires but they don't know how to put all the pieces together. Beginner game is weak because it lacks a plan, priorities and well defined player roles. Traditionally competitive paintball evolved quasi-positional players; like Fronts, Mids (Inserts) & Backs and there was a time when it was helpful to describe how players played by position. That time is over.
Ideally (on our diagram) Player(s) A & B should both be capable of assuming the lead role or the support role and depending on how a given point plays out switching back and forth during the point. One key then for the modern player is versatility, the skillset to fill multiple roles, knowledge of the various roles and the capability to transition from one role to another as necessary.
The team key is teaching (learning) the player roles. While a positional element remains in defining  player roles the critical elements are knowing the differing duties (jobs) and how to prioritize those duties. If it all sounds way too complicated, it isn't. As the series moves along you'll discover the nuts & bolts of how it all works is really pretty straightforward and (almost) simple.

I also want to spend a bit of time talking about communication. And I don't mean sideline coaching (where it's allowed.) Have you ever heard the term 'fog of war'? Coined by Prussian military strategist von Clausewitz during the Napoleonic era it had both a literal and figurative meaning. In the early 19th century orderly arrangements of troops and artillery would array against each other and once a battle was engaged the battlefield would quickly be covered with smoke making it impossible to see what was happening. Once engaged in battle intelligence gathering broke down too, as did lines of communication and the hierarchy of control making it difficult if not impossible to efficiently redirect troops or guns and maneuver on the go to take advantage of the changing circumstances. Lack of consistent cross field communication in paintball produces the same result, to one degree or another. Lines of sight are blocked by bunkers, a player is face down in the snake crawling, another is tucked tight into a dorito with multiple guns shooting at him. They have lost sight of the field. And vision is information about the changing face of the contest. No vision, no information--unless it is provided in alternative ways; like verbal communication. Trying to play winning paintball without communication is like putting a blindfold on just before the horn sounds. It's nearly impossible to make timely, confident and effective decisions about what to do next when you don't know what's happening.
More about communication next time.

The next post will be The Game Plan.