Friday, December 7, 2012

PSP Pro Team Dilemma Revisited

Look, this was bound to happen. Regulars know I have a penchant for flogging the proverbial dead horse anyway but this old nag still has a bit of life left--until the league decides how it will handle the pro bracket in 2013. So the time to talk is now. On the plus side (for some of y'all) nobody is compelling you to read this. Stay or go I'm going to re-make the case I've already made for how to handle the pro bracket in 2013--and beyond.
Factoid: 12 teams works within the confines of the current format and event time frame. Adding more teams will require some significant changes.
I don't think anyone is prepared to extend the tournament days across the whole season (or the webcast hours to four days for that matter) which doesn't leave too many options if adding more pro teams is the goal. Keep the current format, add teams and bump some prelim games off the pro field. Not really a very satisfactory answer and one sure to be objected to by pretty much everyone--except perhaps the new teams. Or, change the current format (which is already a watered down imitation of what Xball once was) to Race 2-5--which can be fitted into the current schedule even with a bump up to 15 pro teams. But does that really solve anything? It diminishes the pro game (and the spirit of Xball one more time) and for what? A one time deal to add two teams that quit on the league once already?
Of course the real complication here isn't the teams wanting in, it's their sponsors (and the broader industry desire to retain as much of their influence over the league as possible.) Here's the problem: There's another league (the NPPL) industry can leverage in their battle for influence and there's the PBA's desire (and need) to promote industry advertising on the webcasts. The question then is: Does the PSP play ball to keep industry happy and how much influence does the PBA have on PSP decisions? Hanging in the balance--this time around--is what happens to the pro bracket.
Today the PSP pro division is widely recognized as the pinnacle of competitive paintball worldwide. It didn't happen by accident and it isn't purely because of the preponderance of North American players. (The game and its players around the world are beginning to close the gap.) It is also the game PSP pros play. It is a unique format that retains more of the best features of the original Xball than any other variant of Race 2 or Xball Lite. To throw that away at a difficult moment would be a terrible setback for the competitive game.
What to do?
Begin by remembering how the PSP achieved this. It began by "Advancing the Sport of Paintball." Not just a slogan but a statement of intent. It began by believing the best product was found in the best possible competition. That while players were customers they were also, and foremost, competitors. It's a balancing act because the PSP isn't a sports federation, it's a business. A business that has succeeded because it's offered its customers legitimate sporting competitions.
What the PSP and the pro bracket need now isn't more teams, it's to consolidate and build on their current leadership. To make sure that only the best of the best earn their chance to compete in the undisputed very best pro division in the world. Now isn't the time to risk diluting the division when it's plain to see the NPPL relegated themselves to second tier status by routinely allowing weak unproven teams into their pro division. If anything it should be harder now--and in the future--to make sure every team that reaches PSP pro status is among the best of the best. And the proper way to set the gears in motion is by league structure and rule so that every team that competes in the PSP knows from day one what it will take to earn pro status and the right to compete at the true pinnacle of the sport.
Of course the truth is not every PSP pro team is competitive. Not as competitive as might be desired and one of the reasons is that divisional teams, even the best of them, aren't being fully prepared to take up the pro challenge. The gap between D1 and Pro, despite the chest-thumping from the cheap seats has grown in recent years. Now is the time to put a new (old?) system in place that maintains the PSP's current command of the pro heights and builds on that success to assure the PSP remains the standard of the competitive paintball world.
First thing I would do is reduce the Pro Division to 10 teams. How? You can't just pick two teams or take the two bottom teams from last year, it wouldn't be fair. Well, two random teams wouldn't be fair and it would be kinda unfair to suddenly change the "rules" like that after the season was over--so, how about this? Play the first event of the season in the normal way except going in everyone knows the bottom two teams are getting relegated to a semi-pro bracket for the rest of the season. Still unfair? Too much pressure? Okay, stay at 12 teams but still introduce a Semi-pro bracket above D1 and make access to Pro available only thru promotion/relegation. (Yes, this is the same plan as before. Which part of flogging the nearly deceased horse didn't you get?) And limit access to semi-pro as well through promo/relegation from D1. The reason for this is with a limited access to semi-pro a short list of the best possible future pro teams are battling it out event to event. Allowing random teams to enter at their whim dilutes the competition. This isn't about giving ten crazy kids a chance to live out their dreams if their dreams only amount to paying for the privilege of one time getting their brains bashed in so they can claim to be semi-pro players. This is about not just players but whole teams proving they have what it takes to take their place amongst the best.
This season Semi-pro is comprised of ( 1.) every non-PSP pro team that wants in ( 2.) any CPL or SPL that will commit to the series ( 3.) the top two teams from D1 [promoted] plus some number of other D1 teams that choose to take up the challenge with priority given to the highest ranking first. 8 teams would be fine. (If in the future more is deemed better it can easily be bumped up to 10 when the level of competition merits the move.)
From then on two teams down each year from Pro, two teams up from Semi-pro. Same between Semi and D1. The ultimate size of any division can remain flexible but now a system is in place to ensure that only the best teams reach the Pro bracket.
This is actually good for the industry sponsors as well. A smaller pro bracket makes each team more worthwhile to support and tighter competition would provide greater sponsorship value across the division. And there wouldn't be any uncertainty beyond who might or might not be relegated in a given season. At the same time industry can opt to also support strong Semi-pro programs or take flyers on up-and-coming teams to get in on the ground floor of teams they believe will continue to do well and help deliver brand excitement as they rise.
Short term some folks will be put out but in the long run a move like this will help assure the continuing dominance of the PSP.


Anonymous said...

Completely agree, only problem I see is if there would be enough teams in semipro to make it worthwhile for the league to run that extra division.

Anonymous said...

Completely agree, only problem I see is if there would be enough teams in semipro to make it worthwhile for the league to run that extra division.

Joey said...

Might be the best idea I have ever heard.

Nick Brockdorff said...

If you build it, they will come.

The MS has proven it over the past years, and has now (finally) settled into a groove where the promotion/relegation system works as intended - and where the introduction of the scheme (after a few years of growing pains), has created a host of very serious paintball teams, 3 divisions deep.

I firmly believe that going with Bacas plan will, after a couple of years of dreamers buying spots and then crumbling into dust, result in a much broader base of serious competitive paintball teams across the US.

I see no reason the dynamics should be different in the US than they have been in Europe.

The thing is.... today "playing Pro" is a pipedream for many teams (not for players, that part works today).

But, introducing a system that creates a clear path for teams to reach Pro status, will see a lot of teams around the US buckle down and do the work, to reach the ultimate goal.

As an added benefit, it will also mean teams are less prone to losing players to the big teams, as reaching Pro becomes a team goal - not just an individual goal.

Anonymous said...

Team X plays pro this year. Gets relegated.
Team X plays semi-pro next year. Gets relegated.
Majority of Team X roster is not permitted to play due to their APPA ranking.

Care to try again?

Anonymous said...

Good ideas if we stay within the 4-5 PSP tournaments a year system. But to say, let's scrap that whole thing and play matches every weekend like the NFL, then we can have 32 teams!

Anonymous said...

btw you seem to be arguing for parity but even the best examples of fair competition have to have winners and losers. We root for the aftershocks of the world because one day they'll be back on top

Anonymous said...

2:23 Anonymous - not really. right now and anywhere near the immediate future that wont happen unless the other teams let it. the PSP is still a league of haves and have nots. this demotion plan gives a better chance to the the have nots. the power will still stay with the teams that have the money. pro ball is still facing MANY problems before we get it to where we want it. this might not even be the right first, but at least its a step.

Mike said...

I agree a solution needs to be found, and ultimately one involving a semi-pro bracket and promotion / relegation system is ideal... however.
I disagree that allowing the 2 teams in question to enter the PSP pro division "dilutes" the skill level this year in any way. Both are pretty proven teams and I'd predict finish middle of the pack (ahead of 4 - 6 of the current teams).

NewPro said...

"Now isn't the time to risk diluting the division when it's plain to see the NPPL relegated themselves to second tier status by routinely allowing weak unproven teams into their pro division. If anything it should be harder now--and in the future--to make sure every team that reaches PSP pro status is among the best of the best."

Truest statement ever written with regards to the PSP, NPPL and the pro division.

Baca Obama for president 2016

Nick Brockdorff said...

Obviously APPA classifications will have to be tinkered with a little - but that should be the easiest fix ever.

If the league changes, then so will the player ranking system.... anything else would be sheer stupidity.

Baca Loco said...

1:27 Anon
Where were you 5 years ago when VFTD pointed out the destruction the then classification system was having on D1 players?
At least with ex-Pro players they are all self-selecting and a smaller group than when the classification system was flushing D1 players.
And in the meantime the opportunity remains for a cogent argument to engage further changes.

The first issue with the teams in question is the expansion of the pro bracket. Something would have to go. A 4 match prelim? Race 2-7? Add a day? What's it gonna be? Will it improve the game or simply be a temporary accommodation to make 2 teams who bailed on the league once happy.
And diluting the competition doesn't just apply to wanna get ins, it plainly applies to some who already got in. No fault of theirs, all the teams currently competing work hard.

EC Lil Baller said...

Very sound reasoning and argument. To be honest i would skip most cep, thunder and shock games this year because to be honest they weren't that interesting.

If this system were in place then there wouldn't have been an opportunity for Heat to form this year and have such incredible success. Is closing the door to super teams like that acceptable? I know their performance is the exception and not the rule for new teams.

Fullbore said...

"... the PSP isn't a sports federation, it's a business. A business that has succeeded because it's offered its customers legitimate sporting competitions."

Exactly, whilst it may have been founded on aulturistic principles, it is first and foremost a business, more teams equals more money, first in entry fees and then in pitch fees/sponsorship, after all, the industry would rather support the bigger league than the also ran, even if that means handing over more cash in the first place.

I know you are a fan of the federation model, and it is, ultimately, probably the right solution. However, a federation needs to run to a business principal too. If we take the oft quoted example of soccer, there is FIFA at the top of the pile, UAFA at the helm for Europe, and then the individual national federations below that. One set of rules and regulations applying to an amateur club playing on Sundays, all the way through to the National teams. Each tier has business interests, TV rights, licensing, merchandise etc. (bribery and corruption, allegedly). They can't just sit in their ivory towers and dictate, if the clubs and players (and the industries that support them) didn't agree to their rules, or couldn't run financially with their formats, they would form breakaway leagues and associations, a little like boxing, or paintball! The federation(s) need to have some financial interest to keep it real.

Baca Loco said...

It wouldn't close the door--just change the path.

Fullbore--I advocate the federation model only inasmuch as it is a legitimate form of sports organization--not so much that I think it is the ideal option. If however some parts of the game are moving that way I simply think that it is ultimately better for the game and a move in the right direction.
You are certainly correct to point out that it isn't a panacea or a simple solution.
But one step at a time. :)

Nick Brockdorff said...


That team could still have formed, just either under an existing banner, or in semi pro.... both of which I think are acceptable solutions.

In what other sport would you see a brand new team form and be allowed to instantly compete at the highest level?

Whilst I applaud the Heat organisation for their vision and results - it sort of does make our sport less legitimate, that such a thing can happen.


The largest obstacle for the whole federation idea, which very few people have realised yet, is that paintball is very different from any other sport, in one respect:

None of the places paintball is played (day in and day out), are owned/controlled by teams/clubs..... they are all privately held businesses.

So, the biggest challenge any federation will have, is how to become relevant to the site owners of paintball.

Without the site owners supporting "the sport of paintball", and thereby generating significant membership to a federation, it will be an elitist and very narrow organisation, which will continue to live and die by the grace of industry and site owners.

I foresee a need for a structure as you see in sports like riding and motorsport, where clubs form locally and enter into long term agreements with the local site owner, for use of their property.

Only then, will we see paintball become a legitimate sport at local level..... which is key to becoming a "real sport" in the eyes of the public.

NewPro said...

Put yourself in the PSP's shoes, you've developed the only legitimate offering in North American PB and you see a "federation" on the horizon, I can see the welcoming arms now.

I guarantee, all the current owners, mfg, salesman,players not currently involved in PSP, see (disgruntled, jaded, scorned, burned,etc) will hail this federation as the greatest gift to PB since...

Nick Brockdorff said...

A federation, run properly, will benefit both industry and PSP in the long run, if run correctly.

One of the main purposes of a federation is to make the sport legitimate, and that benefits all entities currently in paintball.

With legitimacy, comes media, sponsors and a general growth in the player base.

Obviously, a lot can go wrong along the way.... but those a bridges to be crossed further down the road.

Paintball needs a governing body, with the main purpose of growing the sport, rather than making money.... and the beauty is it's a win/win situation, because growing the sport will mean more money all round anyway.

And sure, the usual suspects saying "paintball will never be legitimate, it's been tried and failed" are sure to crop up..... but what they fail to see, is that the biggest problem our sport has had in all previous attempts, is a lack of structure.... a structure a federation would bring to the table.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks federations make sports legitimate is fooling themselves. Some legitimate sports have federations, and some legitimate sports don't, but there's lots of sports with federations that no one gives a crap about.

And even with "legitimate" sports - the Olympics is FULL of "legitimate" sports that no one cares about except for maybe a little bit once every four years, where the athletes work minimum wage jobs to feed themselves while training.

Sure, there are the soccers and the swimming and the skiing and the divings of the Olympics, but there's also the biathaletes, the lugers, the badminton, the handball, the fencing...

And then there's the sports that are Olympic sports precisely because they are NOT federation sports - Basketball, Hockey, Boxing... participation driven by non-federation private pro sports leagues where once every 4 years pro athletes run back to their home counties to compete.

That's not to say some damned agreement and cooperation couldn't help paintball advance, but to suggest that all we need to do to make paintball "legitimate" is to come up with a federation is ridiculous.

Nick Brockdorff said...

You seem to need read up on some stuff ;)


If talking olympics, every single olympic sport has a functioning governing federation - it's a prerequisite - and a big part of why paintball cannot be considered for the olympics, despite participation numbers being quite a bit higher than a lot of olympic sports.


You mention badminton and handball, as sports nobody cares about..... both sports are full of full time professional athletes (there are more professional handballers than basketball players in the world), who play for crowds in excess of 20.000 every weekend and make quite a bit of money.... a GREAT deal more money than the best of our sport.

Lugers are also full time professionals, unless they are from Jamaica ;) - Though, many of them do luging as a second job, typically in the off season from athletics (sprinters are very popular in luging crews).

Fencing - I have no idea to be honest, but would venture a guess it's a sport very much part of the olympics for traditional reasons.... though, when I flip through channels, I occasionally see fencing from France or Italy, where the crowds are huge... so I'm guessing there is money there.

Biathletes, also full time professionals who make a lot of money - not quite as much as downhill skiers, but still enough to make a comfortable living.


No sports are in the olympics "precisely because they are NOT federation sports".

Basketball: Outside of the US (NBA), every other league operates under federation rules, and without a functioning federation, basketball would not be on the olympic programme.

Hockey: Same thing, outside the US (NHL) - everyone else in the world plays a different game (different size rink, different rules), and as with Basketball, those are the rules used in the olympics.

Boxing: No professional boxers take part in the olympics, and every participant in the olympics is selected by the local federation, under federation rules.

Another example: If Football were to gain access to the olympics, it would also be under the world federation rules - not NFL rules or college rules.

.... so, it might be a good idea to take a global view of sports, before you make assumptions ;)

It is all well and good to look at the NFL, NBA, NHL, or the many "boxing federations" - if the object is to create a professional sport for the few best players in paintball so that they can make a living.

But, if what we want is for paintball to become a sport the general populations of the world take part in, so that paintball is not an oddity like professional wrestling, it might be a good idea to come up with a structure that supports the broad masses, rather than 10-15 professional teams ;)

A federation inherintly creates growth at grassroot level, simply because a federation needs member clubs to function.... and forming those clubs, generates a local structure that boosts participation numbers.

Look at it this way:

How many colleges do you think would have paintball clubs today, if Raehl and some other good people had not founded the NCPA and driven the development?

We need the same type of structure (with obvious differences since it is will not be school driven) to paintball generally.

raehl said...

@1:27 Anon:

I didn't do the exact math, but if you lost and then lost again, I doubt your players would have enough points to be above D1, assuming you kept the same players for three seasons. Even if that turned out to not be the case, and the only way it could is because the Pro division currently gets more points at the bottom than the others, it's not like the classification system never gets adjusted.


Are there more college teams because there's a federation, or is there a federation because there's more college teams?

The biggest reason there are so many college teams now is the internet. I'm not saying having the NCPA doesn't help keep competition organized, but the idea that I filed some paperwork to create a federation and then all these college teams spring up as a result is just not realistic.

We also have the (non-federation) PSP and now PBA in the US. They're just as good at promoting tournament paintball as NCPA is at promoting college paintball.

If I hear one more person reference "path to Olympic sports" I'm going to ... well, you get the idea. The biggest obstacle to being an Olympic sport isn't the presence (or lack thereof) of a federation. It's the lack of athletes to play. Even if the Olympic Committee approved paintball as an Olympic sport tomorrow, I doubt we'd be able to field more than a handful of national Olympic paintball teams once you explained to all the players what the actual requirements for being an Olympic competitor are. Starting with the anti-doping regimen, which includes very strict monitoring of EVERYTHING you ingest so as not to run afoul of some drug restriction. (Did you take the wrong nasal decongestant? Ooops, you fail the test.)

Anyone talking about the Olympics at this juncture is living a pipe dream, no more valid than the TV dream from 5-10 years ago. We have far, far more basic stuff to work out before we worry about national and international governing bodies. How are we going to do any of that when we can't even get people to agree to one common rule book?

Coming back to the topic at hand, how can we call ourselves a sport deserving of Olympic recognition when apparently one of the biggest problems with expanding the number of teams competing in the most elite division in our sport is whether the athletes are able to devote 15 days of missed work per year instead of 11? Everyone realizes the Olympics runs for 17 days, right?

Anonymous said...

I think you are dead on Baca.

1. Heat is an anomaly. The team has mostly seasoned Pros on the roster. Not taking anything away, but you can't compare them to a D1 team coming up. Some of Heat has been competing in Pro for longer than the D1 kids have been playing paintball. Regardless, future "super teams" would need to go through the promotion system or it loses credibility.

2. If a team were to get relegated out of Pro and then relegated out of Semi-Pro, that team will implode and the players will be scattered to other teams. Just saying. The ranking won't matter. If a team chooses to move from D1 to SP, that team should understand the risk to their ranking and their future ability to participate.

3. The idea of a Federation sounds great. It is going to take a while to put in place and then to reach the US. I think the PSP has the ball here- they could choose to take the lead and become a more "democratic" organization. Putting in place an elected governing body. Further, they could use the Affiliate League program already in place to reach the grass roots in a more effective way. Most of the pieces are already there.

4. Having a clear promotion/relegation system in place might be the extra nudge to keep high level (D2/D1) teams together.

Nick Brockdorff said...

Raehl - nobody is saying paperwork is doing the trick, and to suggest that is cheap :)

It should be obvious to anyone, that a federation, as any other endeavour, will take hard work and have a lot of growing pains..... I am taking a long view at it.

As for olympics - I did not bring that into the debate - I simply responded to some erroneous claims.

Hoever, paintball has participation numbers far greater than a number of olympic sports, so apart from any possibly philosophical resistance from the olympic comittee, what is standing in our way is structure.

Drug testing? - Sure.... that will sort itself out in due course.

raehl said...

Actually, Nick, you are saying paperwork is doing the trick, you just may not realize it.

The only fundamental difference between NCPA and PSP is the paperwork. I run NCPA, with some help. Lane runs PSP, with some help. We both have some people we need to answer to, although in practice we get some pretty wide latitude. Both are pretty solid tournament leagues. One being a federation and one not has had no effect on the outcome.

Nick Brockdorff said...

Sometimes you are close to being a troll Chris...... or maybe you just don't realise how annoying it is, when you try to tell other people what THEY think ;)

Either way, there is a very large difference - especially philosophically and to some degree pratically - between a privately held company and a democratic federation..... which you know very well.

So, my guess is your allegiance to the PSP precludes you from taking part in this debate in a real way?

Now, NCPA may not be a democratic organisation (in all honesty, I don't know), and the only reason I dragged your organisation into this, was as an example of how creating an organisation inherintly generates clubs/teams which might not otherwise have seen the light of day.

How much is generated, is obviously dependent on how bright the people put in charge are, and how much work they put into it.

People like structure.... that is why we have tournaments, teams, divisions and rankings.... and don't just all go play walk on games at our local field all the time.

Whether you like that structure to be a business or a democratic organisation representing the participants, is for each individual to decide ofcourse, and I have no doubt a lot of readers of this blog, is for the business model.

But whilst I have a lot of confidence in the organisation Lane is currently running, and his good intentions... nothing lasts forever, so as a matter of principle, I would prefer our sport to be governed by a democratic federation, which has the sport as the main concern, rather than profits as the primary goal.

Look at it this way:

Is the NFL or FIFA the most successful?

If we are talking profitability, I'd say it's about even (without having looked into it really).... heck, the NFL may even come out on top in that category.

But, if we are talking growing the sport at local level, generating players and teams, running a framework which allows millions of people to compete, world wide.... there is no contest, FIFA is the clear winner.

So, my point is that paintball might actually be better off, by being headed by an organisation with "the good of the sport" as the primary focus, rather than PSP, NPPL, MS, etc, who are all "just businesses".... albeit to varying degree run by people that love paintball (at present time).