Monday, December 30, 2013

Heat Making Moves

We learned over the weekend in a fairly low key quasi-announcement that Houston Heat had filled out their 2014 roster by partially gutting Edmonton Impact with the pick-ups of Timmy Montressor, Ryan Moorhead and Greg Siewers. Those additions along with the Thomas Taylor pick-up give Heat a solid 10 player roster and match experience for experience against the players Heat lost in the off season. To my mind Heat still looks snake heavy--and I still like the idea of trying Dizon out on the D-side but I'm also confident Coach Trosen has a good handle on his players strengths and weaknesses. The key for Heat will be the consistency the team gets from the players filling the Solnyshkov role.

On the flip side is the hit Impact takes. While the team retains an experienced solid core it leaves some holes to fill in the roster of a team that was consistently vying for wins last year. Word on the street has been that a number of Infamous players have been quietly shopping their services during the off season (without much luck so far.) Odds are Impact will look to replace experience with experience so expect the team to target established talent. Could they make another run at Vanderbyl or a Damage player or two? A few more player moves could shake up the status quo and create some new opportunities. Time will tell.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Is Race To Really The Problem?

Since I'm about to sound like an apologist for the PSP (again) I'ma take a moment to remind all y'all that I have a lengthy track record of favoring Xball and only acquiesced to the Race To variants grudgingly because there wasn't any alternative. Nor have I changed my mind. And Race 2-9 was better than Race 2-7 and in case you've forgotten (or didn't know) part of the rationale for reducing the Pro game from Race 2-9 to Race 2-7 was that shoddy math trick that has once again been trotted out but towards a different purpose this time around. The one that claims when a team falls 3 points behind it losses the match some enormous percentage of the time. That was originally used to justify the reduction from 9 to 7--after all, once you're that far behind all those "extra" points are a waste of time, right? This time around the claim is that in a Race 2-7 match teams and players are inhibited by the arbitrary limit on points inherent to the format and are now using the same 3 points behind factoid as proof that it's the Race To format at fault. In my book any fact that "proves" two opposing points of view isn't good for much. So what's really at issue here?
The first part of the answer is time. But there's more to it than match time. There's also time measured in matches per day (per field) and days per event. Unfortunately the logistics of time management is a necessary evil--or if not actually evil an unavoidable limiting factor. The three day event comes at a price. But then so does the total number of competition fields (per event). Keep in mind the Pro Division is Champions & Challengers. 20 teams. Not just the 10 Champions teams. But there's still only one webcast field. No matter what the Champions matches remain limited whether it's called Race To or it's a timed match. So how long a timed match is even possible?
For this thought experiment let's keep it simple and say our timed match is 20 minutes. (Which is the current time allotted to a Race 2-7 match.) This time around though there's no limit on the number of points that can be scored--just a flat 20 minutes. (The reason I went with 20 minutes is because we already know it is feasible given the other limitations involved.) Will the teams suddenly begin playing differently? What happens if a team is quickly down two points? Or even if it takes half that match to end up down 2 points? If the statistic about falling behind by 3 is accurate teams will still struggle to avoid it and as matches get close to running out of time only a close match carries the odds it may be turned around.
Did you forget about point differential? It remains a critical tie-breaker--and even more important potentially in any match that allows for theoretically unlimited points to be scored.
So even when the argument is confined to time considerations alone it is less than clear that any feasible format change will alter in any way the manner in which matches are presently played. In fact logic suggests there will be more pressure to keep matches close and avoid excessive point differentials. Are we having more fun yet?

What about the ROF change to 10.2 bps? Will that have any impact at all? The closest thing to a consensus thinks the likeliest result will be fewer eliminations off the break. Will that speed up or slow down the pace of points scored? The league is hopeful it will encourage more action, more movement but do players move randomly and without purpose? Of course they don't. Every move entails a certain amount of risk of elimination and in order to make taking that risk worthwhile there must be some commensurate reward. Does a match to time alter the risk/reward ratio in a meaningful way? Does 10.2 bps do the trick? (It may alter the risk but what does it do on the reward side?)

If the goal is to produce more exciting suspenseful matches playing to time offers no guarantees. Back in the day the only scoring orgies featured terribly mismatched teams. Remember RL vs. Ultimate. Matches like those were used to validate the Race To concept because nobody wanted to see 20-2 matches, Neither does a ROF change. Of all the factors that contribute to making the game what it is at present the lynchpin  is the event layout, the field design. The day field design offers rewards in harmony with the risks taken is the day the game takes its next big step forward.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

An Unofficial Word Regarding Sideline Coaching

I am four square in favor of free speech or at least your right to say pretty nearly anything you want under pretty nearly any circumstance--I would even go so far as to allow someone to cry fire in a crowded building as long as they are also liable for the harm they might do because otherwise our so-called free speech is subject to the tyranny of the majority or the coercive power of the state. What I value considerably less is the uses to which some apply their freedom of speech. Like those determined to find fault with the new regulation regarding sideline coaching on the Champions' field--and the majority of those complaints center around why wasn't the sideline coaching applied to everybody? Either because they favor no coaching or because it's somehow unfair to the two divisional teams from each division that get to the Champions' field on Sunday. (Wah wah wah)
This isn't, btw, an effort on my part to support the league's decision. Nor is it in any way, shape or form an official statement. It is simple common sense.
Let's play a little game. How is the Champions' field not like the others? (Including the Challengers' field?) If you guessed that it was isolated, access restricted and included a large set of snake side bleachers you are in the ball park. Is it becoming any clearer yet? The decision made to limit the impact of sideline coaching can only apply to the Champions' field. Logistically all the other fields are different from the Champions' field and what works on the Champs field doesn't apply to the others. The new regulation can be applied without making any other changes. The same cannot be said of any of the other fields.
I also note that nowhere in the rules is sideline coaching made mandatory so regardless of the level of play no team must use a sideline coach so if you really don't like sideline coaching you don't have to do it. That was easy.
EDIT ADDED: Haha. Now you can see how unofficial my comments really are. Seems around noon (on the 26th of December) the league decided the sideline coaching rules will apply to the Challengers' field too--but don't ask me how--unless it's gonna be bleachers for everyone!

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Monday Poll in Review: 10.2

What are you gonna say about 10.2? See the comments section of The Monday Poll: 10.2. A lot of thoughtful and reasoned comments. Frequently mistaken but well above the PBN standard. Will it provide for more action or movement or whatever? Will it reduce paint usage? Frankly we've been there and done that before so anyone who was paying attention already knows what's coming. So instead of asking the boring, let's be oh so serious poll questions what I was more interested in was the general mood of you fickle slackers so the five "answers" were aimed at gauging not what you thought but how you felt about it.
The only surprising result was the number of respondents for "the PSP knows best" choice which received four votes. Let's see, Lane, Tom and raehl voted for the PSP but who the hell was that fourth voter? Joe? Cade? Camille? But seriously kids I'm actually a little surprised that choice didn't receive more votes. There's a lot of sheep out there. Of the other four choices I divided them between the "positive" ones and the "negative" ones. Your mileage may vary. I felt like the "10.2 for everyone" and "Don't care, let's play" were the positive options while Sucks to be Pro" and "Tired of the constant changes" reflected negative feelings. And here is where it gets really interesting. (Or at least as interesting as this is gonna get.)
"10.2 for everyone" got 25% of the vote. "Don't care, let's play" got 24% resulting in 49% positive responses--and, if you counted the "PSP knows best" percentage it bumps up to 53%. With all the Sturm und Drang over at PBN you'd think it was the end of the world--although it seems much of the angst was based on a widespread failure to actually comprehend the press release. (Apparently reading isn't as fundamental as it used to be.) That leaves a combined 47% for the Negative Nancys although "tired of the constant changes" garnered the most votes and totaled 32% of all votes cast. That's a number it might be wise not to ignore.
But then the PSP knows best don't you know. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Working fo' da Man: PSP style

Now it's official. I am working for the PSP in the capacity of Rules & Referees Coordinator along with Marcus Shepherd. When the opportunity presented itself it proved a challenge I couldn't refuse. Regulars here know I have had a lot to say on the subject of officiating and this is a grease under the fingernails chance to make a real world difference. I am confident I will have the support of the league and that the core of certified PSP referees will readily offer their help and assistance as we move forward. At events I will be working with Leon overseeing the pro fields while Marcus and his new assistant will supervise the divisional fields. We will also be responsible for certification clinics, their structure and content, rules revision and implementation and the design and implementation of a comprehensive system that will simplify and systematize the referees organization and ultimately create a replicable system that will maintain the league's standards into the future. (A whole lot of jibber jabber for making the training process better in ways that can be sustained.)
As the season goes along feel free to ask me questions about the refs or officiating in general here (at VFTD) and I will be happy to respond.(But not until after Christmas as I'm currently traveling.)
Taking this job means I will not be coaching a team in the PSP this year as it would be a clear and obvious conflict of interest. I don't know if I will ever return to coaching a team but I remain available for teaching clinics for the serious, experienced player and or team.
So how will this affect VFTD? It will mean a few changes. As part of the league I have an obligation to support the league and not undermine its efforts. On the other hand I'm not a rah rah kinda guy. My hope is that VFTD will remain a place where serious conversations can continue to happen for the good of the game. Expect that I will however moderate some of my comments (though the archive has a record of my views on most everything already.) Expect too that where I may forgo some content I will be able to be more forthcoming in other areas. For example, I have always limited by comments regarding teams and players, both positive and negative, because it seemed inappropriate. Now I'll be able to offer more in depth commentary on matches and events and team play than in the past.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Monday Poll: 10.2

This leaked change--lowering the Pro only ROF to 10.2 bps--has certainly got everybody all worked up but what do you really think? Do you believe the reason the PSP is giving for the change--or do you think it's really about something else? If the league is determined to lower the Pro ROF why not 10.5 like the MS? Guns are already programmed for it. Will it have the effect the PSP hopes for and if not what will the result be?
In your comments please identify the highest level you compete at; like D2 WCPPL or MS Semi-pro. I'm not interested in who you are, only in where you play.
The PSP did this once before but at the divisional level. It lasted a season and was then rescinded because it was extremely unpopular. Why do you think the PSP doesn't get reactions or solicit comments from the impacted groups before they make decisions affecting the play of the game?
Not only is this your opportunity to vote on the issue, it's also your chance to have your voice heard. Trust me, the PSP is listening.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Controversy Du Jour

Frankly I have been there done that before. None of the issues that comprise the latest rumor fodder are new ones and since my opinions haven't changed I am taking the noble slacker's path in responding to any and every query as to what I think of this latest brouhaha.

Consider the links to be like menu options.
What does Baca think of shifting ROF? See Inside Merger Talk & Rumorology. (2011)
Why does Baca hold the ROF opinion he holds? See Movement vs ROF. (2010)
When it comes to minimizing sideline coaching on the Pro field(s) I don't much care one way or the other. I don't find it to be the bane of our existence nor do I think it's an indispensable feature. It will in some circumstances force teams to rethink how they intend to protect their snake leads.
And while there is no indication that restricted paint is of any concern a rumor or two mentioned the subject so here is what Baca thinks of restricted paint. See The raehl Solution. (2012)

If those aren't sufficient I have some numbers for you to consider.
A gun shooting 12.5 bps empties a 180 round loader in 14.4 seconds.
A gun shooting 10 bps empties a 180 round loader in 18 seconds.
At 300 fps it takes a paintball approximately .5 seconds to travel the length of a Race To field end-to-end.
At 300 fps a gun shooting 12.5 bps will have a gap of 24 feet between shots.
At 300 fps a gun shooting 10 bps will have a gap of 30 feet between shots.
On the dead sprint a player capable of running a 5 second forty yard dash moves 2.4 feet every tenth of a second.
On the dead sprint a player capable of running a 6 second forty yard dash moves 2 feet every tenth of a second.
On the dead sprint a player capable of running a 7 second forty yard dash moves 1.7 feet every tenth of a second.
Keep in mind that 40 yd. dash times tend to be inherently unreliable methodologically. Practical experience with pro team tryouts suggests the average tends to be between 6 and 7 seconds. (On grass, wearing cleats and pack while carrying a gun.)
Do these numbers seem to confirm your opinion or press you to reconsider?

Friday, December 13, 2013

VFTD's Top Five Influences on Competitive Paintball (sorta)

If you've been paying attention you know the plan was to drag this process out for a few more posts. Well, you're in luck 'cus I'm not gonna do that. In fact I'm not even gonna do a top five--at least not without some hedging--although I'm comfortable with my choices and think they are defensible. The reality is the majority of the items on the original list--or any list we might create--are, for the most part, not stand alone items. They were not conceived independent of other choices or ideas and in fact most of the items on our list were dependent on other items. In other words the evolution of paintball is based on the inter-dependence (connectedness) of ideas and choices big and small each in their own time making a unique contribution (for good or ill) to the game we presently play. For example an obvious milestone was the competitive game coming out of the woods but where would the game be without netting? Not at Huntington Beach or Puget-Sur-Argens for starters. Of course no one invented netting to solve a perceived problem in paintball either but prior to moving out of the woods there was no need (in most cases.)
The fact that the influences listed had an impact on other influences in no way diminishes their individual contributions to the game but it may help identify the truly ground-breaking, direction-changing influences that have made competitive paintball what it is today.
Before I begin the VFTD Top Five countdown I do have some honorable mentions. In the Technology category are break beam eyes and thermal lenses. Even with force feed loaders there was a rof limit that could not be consistently overcome before break beam eyes were introduced and for those who played in the pre-thermal lens era you know what a big difference they have made to both enjoying the game and competition. Honorable mentions also go to the 'league wars' and Dynasty. None of the leagues like to hear it but the reality is their competition drove the tournament scene to new heights around the world and the players are the beneficiaries. Dynasty is on the list for their longevity and the inspiration provided to a generation or two of players of aggressive paintball.
Now without further ado (Who needs more ado anyway?) the VFTD Top Five beginning with number 5. The electropneumatic marker. It provided the platform for the ROF race that dominated Paintball for years with the introduction of guns like the original Shocker and the Angel. Software control and switch actuation ushered in the era of overwhelming firepower, the control of which we continue to debate today.
At number 4 is the formation of the original NPPL. Conceived and initially organized as for the players (some of them) by the players (some of them) what the league ultimately did was create the tournament series. Not unique in sports it was the original organizing impulse in competitive paintball.
Coming in at number 3 is Xball. Xball was intended to be the TV friendly, make tournament paintball a sport format and while that failed to happen--yet--Xball did change the competitive environment internationally. Even though the original form of Xball isn't universally played today Xball's offspring dominate major league paintball.
In the runners-up position (second) is inflatable bunkers. While not essential to play out of the woods inflatable bunkers are now ubiquitous and allow paintball to be played competitively or just for fun anywhere. That ability has seen paintball played indoors and outdoors, in parking lots and on beaches, virtually anywhere and everywhere someone wants to set up a paintball field. And even as there is some experimentation with the bunkers the majority have formed a standardized set of shapes and sizes used around the globe.
And the number 1 influence on competitive paintball is (was) the first Hyperball World Championship in 1997. This event captured the imagination of the tournament world and demonstrated that playing the game out of the woods on a unique concept field was a purer, more compelling brand of competitive paintball and marked the moment when tournament paintball left the woods for good. (The UWL notwithstanding.)

Monday, December 9, 2013

More Pro Team Prognostications

Last time we looked at the Russian contingent. The conventional wisdom says Art Chaos rises quickly to the Champions bracket and stays there. Red Storm remains largely an unknown quantity and RL looks to be in decline.
This time around let's talk top four. Top four from 2013. Dynasty. Impact. Damage. Heat. Will we see the same teams dominating the Champions again next season? Given that peeps likely aren't done moving just yet and some sponsorship hangs in the balance it's conceivable that some critical moving parts might change the current balance of power. But, as things stand today Heat is the most likely candidate to slide. Not that their remaining roster isn't capable--they are--but untested in some key areas when it comes to carrying the whole load. They will need to shore up their D-wire attack--can Dizon play the doritos?--and perhaps reevaluate their style of play going forward.
Damage and Impact are similar in many ways. No strangers to success neither team lived up to their own expectations in 2013. Impact has the All-Star roster and Damage has nearly the same roster that won Cup three seasons ago. Damage is more aggressive off the break while Impact's players tend to be more aggressive pressing for their secondaries. Once in their primaries Damage has developed a tendency to slow play points which, to my mind, doesn't take full advantage of the team's skill set and Impact's tendency to cautious breakouts likewise can slow their attack. Against all but the other top teams it's a recipe for success simply because they are better teams but when they match up against the other top challengers it can result in their opponent gaining the momentum. Both teams are capable of winning any and every event they enter. The question is will either of them learn to unleash their best game in the most pressure packed of situations? Even if they don't they remain top four teams.
What to make of Dynasty. Love them or hate them they continue to earn respect. Dominating the first half of 2013 they survived the back half to take the series title. While the environment is completely different I am reminded of the season Ollie came back joined by Hinman & the (mostly) ex-Aftermath kids. Dominating start that faded as the season progressed. Last year it was new players and (kinda) new coach Rusty Glaze. In recent years change has energized the team but it hasn't been sustained. It isn't for lack of desire but when the core of the team has more than a dozen years of championship level play behind them the hand writing is on the wall. They put in the work last year and will need to do as much or more again this year. I'm not suggesting they are too old. I'm saying the hardest thing in sport is to maintain the level of excellence required to be champions and after doing it better and for longer than any team in paintball history Dynasty will hit that wall too. Will it be in 2014? If Art Chaos and Ironmen have their way it might be.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Not In The Paintball News

Hard on the heels of the latest news from Millennium Land it seems the CPS will be teaming up with Shoreline (the scenario superstars from the UK) in expanding the games available at this year's Valken Big Game at the The Citadel in May. The venue looks spectacular. The intriguing aspect of this collaboration [for VFTD] is in the combining of Shoreline's scenario centric offerings with the competition oriented games planned by CPS--along with a UWL event representing the middle ground perhaps. Worth keeping an eye on to see how the experiment turns out. If the whole flourishes it might create a new kind of event altogether.  

Below (in italics) is a portion of a press release tossed over the transom here at VFTD the other day. A pair of young filmmakers are working on a paintball-related movie project they are funding on Kickstarter. While I can't vouch for the finished film I took a look at some of their other work and I can say they are legit. Their budget is modest by any standard and if this interests you at all give it a look. Such projects have a funding window. Who knows, for the price of a trip through a Starbuck's drive-thru you might be helping mainstream paintball.

North Hollywood, California (November 29, 2013) – Writer/director Andrew Kadikian has partnered with producer Ryan Stockstad to make a teen romantic comedy set in the world of competitive paintball. The two filmmakers have launched a campaign on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter to raise $5,000 of the project's budget.
“The paintballing sport is not represented very often in film. We're hoping that this movie will change that a little bit. We're hoping that this is the kind of movie that if you play paintball, you'll like what we've created”, said Ryan Stockstad, founder of Crowned Prince Productions.

Writer/director Andrew Kadikian adds, “I'm kind of drawing my inspiration for this from my love of John Hughes movies and teen comedies of the 80s... And at the same time, my love for paintball and playing paintball and watching professional paintball.” 

Social Paintball reported a day or two ago that Damage and Impact will be participating in the WCPPL's proposed Open division in 2014. As a PSP affiliate WCPPL owner Mike Hinman has said his event dates won't conflict with any PSP dates. Of interest to VFTD is how this is likely to impact the APL's effort to regain some legitimacy for its Pro division. (Remember the APL has been trying to talk some of the defunct NPPL's old pros back into the fold.) If the WCPPL fills in the open spaces between PSP events--and with the commitment of two of the biggest names in pro ball already on board--it's beginning to look like the best the APL will be able to do is some sort of split. Will that be enough to anchor the "new" league?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Millennium Moves: The Cool War Chills

The cool war continues to chill. Soon Paintball will acknowledge its very own Cold War between the Internationalist Millennium Series and the Colonialist PSP. (Colonialist probably gives the wrong impression but it sounded good. Still, one might consider the affiliates a reflection of a larger ground-taking strategy--but I doubt they are. Or were intended as such. Anyway the PSP's principle form of outreach is really cultural as it almost unintentionally promotes a like-mindedness via its influence--as the 800 lb gorilla--and format.) If you find this description overblown then you haven't been paying attention. Sure the two sides communicate routinely. Share sponsors and even do business together at various levels but make no mistake, they represent forces that will collide at some point with resulting winners and losers. In recent years the Mills have feared nearly annual rumors of a pending PSP invasion of their home turf. Last year the Millennium ham-fistedly tried to crush the nascent CPS which thereafter turned to PSP. The extent of that relationship bestows affiliate status on the CPS according to the PSP--and nothing more. But like it or not it also establishes a potential beachhead in Europe for the PSP.
Meanwhile while the PSP was gaining a dominant position in North America U.S.-based paintball industry was establishing strong ties in Central and South America and the Millennium (via the instrument of the EPBF) was gaining traction in Asia.
One crux of contention is commercial as both leagues are tied to industry powers always looking to extend their reach and market penetration. Another is structural. Largely satisfied with going it alone the PSP stands to lose power and influence if it were ever to align with the international model of the MS. (Make no mistake that wouldn't end the conflicts it would only internalize them.)
The latest moves by the MS suggest cooler heads are at work than before. From the very first concern the MS has been making a concerted effort to provide a better product and we are beginning to see the signs of some forward thinking. Take Puget-Sur-Argens for example. In essence the MS has created a potentially permanent venue in a location capable of catering to nearly every budget and with other diversions nearby for those who want them. Consider also the new Masters events recently announced by the EPBF. Offered as low cost, high quality one off events that deliver the most ranking points outside of the MS itself within the EPBF system and conveniently scheduled to take place in the gap months between Millennium events it is a much cleverer way to address the potential threat the MS thinks the CPS may pose.
This is just beginning to turn cold--with more to come--and it's just getting started.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Monday Poll in Review: Top Influences on Competitive Paintball

One of the fascinating influences on the poll results is, I think, the point in time the respondents got serious about their paintball. From my point of view (which is of course the most important point of view here at VFTD) much of the technologically driven changes are vastly underestimated which I attribute (mostly) to a lack of awareness of what the game was like in the mechanical/gravity feed days. Anyway, the results are interesting--and that's all that really counts. They also demonstrate a distinct lack of interest in the few industry side options on the list which I take as pretty typical of a player-oriented venue (despite the fact a lot of industry peeps routinely peruse these pages.)
This review will confine itself to the top ten responses in increasing order of popularity. (That means we's beginning with # 10.)
Tied for tenth place with 17% each is the formation of the original NPPL and the modification of Xball we know as Race To. An intriguing element to such rankings is the What If? conundrum, a sort of multi-faceted Chicken and the Egg question. Clearly Race To doesn't exist without Xball so where will 'Xball' figure in the list of influences? And just what, in the greater scheme of things, did the NPPL bring to competitive paintball beyond the tournament series? It moved singular events to a series concept but that wasn't part of the original intent. It ostensibly placed the power and future of the game in the players' hands but that didn't last--despite the endless hype over the years.
In ninth place with 18% is ROF. There's a couple of ways to look at this one. First there's the explosion in the rate of fire made possible by electropneumatic marker technology, force fed loaders and software-directed operation which almost overnight created both a manufacturers war and changed a critical element of the nature of the game. (I still distinctly remember the first time I was shot with a Shocker set on burst mode. Hello!) There is also the regulatory consideration. The opening of a Pandora's Box nobody can close and has caused endless debate (at least on the internet) over its influence on the mid-decade collapse in the number of competitive players and teams and it's impact on growing and retaining players at the local & rec level.
In eighth position with 22% is HPA--my all-purpose stand-in for all the possible compressed air answers that took the game beyond CO2. Did HPA make the hyper ROF sustainable? Improve marker longevity and reduce maintenance? Did it make tournament Xball possible? It certainly provided a cleaner, lighter and easier-to-use variation on the CO2 theme.
In seventh place with 25% is sideline coaching. I'd like to say this answer, perhaps above all others, is symptomatic of the age divide but the truth is there are a lot of old hands also blaming sideline coaching for most of paintball's perceived modern ills. The truth remains sideline coaching can take the rap for snake wire trade-outs at least some of the time but everything else it's blamed for has antecedents in other facets of player development like practice.
Coming in sixth with 26% (and missing a top five spot by only 2%) is the internet. Here is the quintessential age gap answer. While I happily grant the influence of the internet in disseminating paintball worldwide it cannot do so without content. One might contend the scale and reach of the internet alone makes it a game changer--and there's probably some validity to that--but given its reliance on dedicated content does it deserve it's exalted place or does it really share that position with a longer list of content providers? (There's that Chicken or the Egg question again.)
Cracking the top five in fifth place with 28% of the vote is the symmetrical concept field. It may seem obvious today but back in the woods it was anything but. Were attempts made to make fields balanced? Well, sort of, but not in any way we'd recognize 'balanced' today so the symmetrical field wasn't an obvious extension of past practice. Can you imagine an xball field not being symmetrical? Would you even consider competing on such a field particularly after you discovered how the asymmetry would effect game play? Nor did inflatable bunkers generate the concept of symmetry yet where would our game be today without it?
In fourth place with 33% is Dynasty. Clearly the most influential team in paintball's short history a good case can be made they have uniquely impacted the way the competitive game is played today in large part because of their success and longevity as the team bridged eras of tournament play.
Making the podium in third place with 36% is the electropneumatic marker. It revolutionized the game without doubt. Yet we are confounded once again by other related technologies (like the force fed loader, "cheater board" software and fiber-wrapped HPA tank) that facilitated the potential of the electros. Of course the answer might be in the order the items appeared as in the gun begat the other related advances--if in fact it did.
In second place edging out the electopneumatic marker by a single percent with 37% is Xball. No question Xball changed the nature of competitive paintball and directly influenced the direction the competitive game has moved in recent years up to and including the league wars and changing the face of competitive paintball internationally beginning with the Millennium Series while disseminating to every corner of the globe.
Topping the list by a wide margin (51%) the number one influence on competitive paintball as chosen by you lazy slackers is inflatable bunkers. No question the inflatable bunker made the modern game mobile allowing venues like HB and Fantasy of Flight or Disney's Wide World of Sports to host an event. Nor is there any debate over its dominance of the current competitive paintball environment but even so, inflatable bunkers didn't bring paintball out of the woods even if it was at the forefront of popularizing the out of the woods game. And it didn't introduce the symmetrical field design so even an influence as important as the inflatable bunker is a product of it's own influences and time.
Next time VFTD visits this topic I will post my Top Five influences so that the debate can continue.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Pro Team Prognostications

In the cold and dreary days of darkest Silly Season (except of course for sunny Florida) there is little to do besides our off season drills, organizing early tryouts, setting the next season's schedule, evaluating past efforts while seeking out new ways to improve--so we are left in our idle hours to speculate on what will happen in 2014. (I know [and you know] that most of y'all haven't given next season more than a passing thought. I'm just pretending you're on the ball.)
Today's idle speculation revolves around Russian Legion and the incoming Russian teams, Art Chaos & Red Storm (Grad.) Will Kirill beat the odds and get back on the field before Chicago? Will the latest rumored European player additions replace some of last year's squad or add to it? Does Berdnikov resist the urge to jump to Art Chaos? (Is that even an option?) Beyond that the big questions are which Russian team ends up on top? Which one is the first team to gain a Champions birth? 
Will the Legion slide continue? Will Red Storm be competitive in the Challengers?
And if you want to go there: Will any of last year's Challengers bail out before the season begins? Will the relegated teams take their place in D1 or disband?
The answers could depend on whether or not sponsorship shrinks any further.
I don't know about y'all but I can see a Challenger (or two) bow out--and I can see RL bouncing back and forth all year between Challengers and Champions.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Monday Poll: Retracing the Evolution of Competitive Paintball

For the last week or thereabouts those of you so inclined have had the opportunity to suggest what you think have been the most important or influential changes to competitive paintball over its short history. Counting duplicates and very similar suggestions I whittled your choices down to 45 possibilities. I am going to reduce that list even further by combining some related or overlapping suggestions. For example, inflatable bunkers and symmetrical concept field will represent all the possible field permutations on the final poll listing. With a list as close to 25 items as possible y'all will have this holiday week in which to vote your top five choices. (Gonna be more like 30 options to choose from.) And just to drag this out a little longer after next week's 'The Monday Poll in Review' I will list the official VFTD Top Five influences on competitive paintball so y'all can see where you went wrong--or, who knows, got it right. Could happen.
In the meantime you should know the drill by now. Vote early and vote often.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Drills: A Coach & Lil' Baller Short

Before I realized that my online animation resources were no longer available I was experimenting with the idea of some short short features that would allow me to produce them more often. I may have found an animation alternative but while I test it out I thought I'd also test a short feature script out on you lazy slackers. If you are unfamiliar with Coach & Lil Baller check out VFTD's YouTube channel here.

Coach: Let's move, maggots. Four on the board. You know the drill.
Lil Baller (LB): Not again.
Coach: That was a joke. Feel free to laugh.
LB: What was a joke, Coach?
Coach: You know the drill? Oh, never mind.
LB: Awright! You mean we don't have to do this stupid drill?
Coach: No, that's not what I mean. If you want to play you are doing the drill.
LB: But Coach if all we do is drill then we aren't playing.
Coach: And it's not a stupid drill. It's a very effective drill that improves both your laning and running & shooting.
LB: But Coach we already know how to do that.
Coach: Do you now?
LB: Yes.
Coach: Riddle me this then, Lil Baller, why do professional baseball players take batting practice every day?
LB: When you put it like that it does seem pretty stupid.
Coach: Kill me now.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Tracing The Evolution Of Paintball

The idea of presenting the top five influences on the evolution of tournament paintball was suggested by FOB (Friend of the Blog) Nick B. And it's a good idea but I want to expand it a wee bit. So to get the ball rolling VFTD wants to know what you think are the top five influences on the evolution of tournament paintball. But if five is too hard then one or two will do. All I ask is that you not only list your influences (in the comments) but give a short reason as to why you think a particular thing is a top five influence. Keep in mind we could be talking anything from technology to rules, formats to rate of fire. Anything that has impacted the game is fair game for being named a top five influence. After y'all have had time to ponder the question--and offer up your ideas--VFTD will use the best or most often mentioned top fifteen or twenty suggestions in an upcoming 'The Monday Poll' so that even the laziest of the lazy slackers can have their say. And after we've determined your top five I will list VFTD's top five influences on the evolution of tournament paintball and we can argue about it all over again.
I'm guessing that there will be near universal agreement about two or perhaps three of the influences when it's all said and done but at least a couple will generate a lot of disagreement (and name-calling if we're lucky.)
What are you waiting for? Surely you can think of one or two things that have changed the game in important ways.
Btw, we're saving the name-calling for the end. This post and the comments are for posting your influences and reasons--not for commenting on somebody else's choices. Time enough for that later.

The Monday Poll in Review: Masters Division

Last week's poll was aimed square at the PSP in hopes enough supporters of Masters play would make it clear the league was missing a great opportunity by not offering some version of the division--and frankly, I think y'all blew it. The turnout was embarrassing and (as usual) it leaves me to do all the real work. If half of those who actually play Masters had spent half the energy they expend bitching and moaning on PBN the poll might have achieved something. Fortunately for you lazy slackers I continue to believe Masters play is important and a real opportunity for the league to expand its reach across demographic boundaries with a positive outreach to older players (just the sort of players who will be the coaches and team leaders of the future if they aren't already active in those roles.)
So, without further chastising let's review. The poll was divided into competing questions in order to get some idea what the majority preferred. The first category was age limitation or restrictions and the current 40 years old and above was the clear favorite with nearly 50% of the vote over either dropping it five years to 35 or increasing it five years to 45. Not surprisingly dropping it to 35 received nearly a third of the votes and when you add in the 36% of the vote of those who are either waiting to play Masters or would play an Open (over 30) division of Race 2-2 it might be worthwhile to find out what sort of real numbers--peeps willing to pay and play--are really out there.
The second category was about format. Masters has been Race 2-4. For a variety of reasons it's more difficult for the league to offer that format compared to Race 2-2 so the poll sought to gauge the views of potential players. Only 10% insisted Masters ought to be Race 2-4 even though a clear majority preferred Race 2-4 they were open to competing in Race 2-2. And an additional 22% preferred Race 2-2 over Race 2-4. Those results suggest minimal resistance to a format change and given that Race 2-2 is both less physically demanding and cheaper it is likely to encourage greater participation than previous Masters events.
The last category was looking to define the voters. Unfortunately this section drew the fewest votes. Only 15% had played a Masters event before and would again if it were available. 22% wanted to play Masters and have been waiting to qualify--which likely puts them over 30 or 35--and 14% are ready right now to compete in an Open Over 30 Race 2-2 division.
Are there enough older players who will actually commit to playing if divisions designed specifically for them are made available? By this poll result it's hard to say but probably easy to dismiss. But even if the numbers are marginal I think it's an effort that ought to be made. Race 2-2 is considerably more flexible in its scheduling demands and if the league would make a definitive announcement at the beginning of the season that Chicago and World Cup would offer Open Over 30 and Masters divisions in the Race 2-2 format the results might surprise. And even if the turnout is poor initially the league can't expect to keep aging players playing if they have no place to play. I'm betting if the league makes a commitment to those players they will come.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Animation Domination Put On Hold

I intended to release the latest 'Coach & Lil Baller' animation this week in an episode entitled, "The Tryout" and discovered the online company I'd used (and paid) has discontinued services. So no video for you. And, no, if you're wondering I wasn't hoping to compete with (or upstage) ETV's 'The Roster' season 2. (If you haven't checked out 'The Roster' yet what's the matter with you? Go here.) Anyway, I've looked around for an alternative and haven't found anything online I like the look of very much. If any of you lazy slackers have used or know of a good online animation creator let me know or alternatively I'd consider a software program that would facilitate creating my own animation. Other than that the only option would be to simply post the script(s) for the exchanges between Coach and Lil Baller without any animation.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Coming Decline of Pro Paintball, part 2

Alright, I knew this one might sting a little bit but there's no fixing what nobody is willing to talk about, right? There's probably no fixing this either but there are ways to mitigate the impact. Ways to more efficiently and effectively develop the existing and future potential pro player pool. But it's unlikely for a bunch of reasons. More about that later. Let's pick up where I left off last time.
Okay but what about rosters? Maybe there hasn't been a strong (or even steady) influx of competitive new pro teams but that doesn't mean existing rosters haven't taken advantage of fresh blood. True but in fact it hasn't happened. At World Cup there were six players under the age of 20 rostered on a pro team--including Challengers. There were nine 20 year olds. There are nearly as many pros over 30 as 20 and under combined. The fact is most pro players are in their mid- to late 20's and getting older every year. And that includes the Challengers. That includes pretty much every team you think is some sort of youth movement too like Aftershock. Six of Shock's players are 27 or older. The two youngest are 22 years old. What about the Royalty kids? Only Catt & Hamil at 20 and 19 years of age respectively are under 23 and their roster has two players over 40. Even Vicious when they turned pro only had two teenagers on their roster at that time. (At least according to their current roster.) The inescapable conclusion is that even among the would be Champions the rosters are largely filled with 20-somethings because there are damned few younger pro prospects. And this despite the factoid Xball was supposedly driving the competitive player demo toward a younger and younger player base. So where is that next generation of undeniably talented pro stock?
But age is only an indicator. Looking more closely at the young blood on Champion rosters the majority of them have 2 or more years of pro experience already. That means that either they are contributing now or will soon be replaced (or Daddy owns the team.) That leaves a literal handful of players on rosters in a developmental role and the reality is there are some who won't make it (unless or until the overall level of play begins to decline) and my concern is we are seeing that trend beginning to take hold. [The fact we don't see more young players as rosters continue to age means there aren't equivalent replacement players to be had otherwise they would be getting opportunities because they would be cheaper and have more upside. And it isn't happening.]
Challengers was created (in part) in the hope that by raising the competitive bar that some of the Challengers would develop into legitimate contenders in the Champions. And some of them may yet but their very existence also illustrates the growing breadth and depth of the chasm between the Champions and the best amateurs. With rosters already in a similar age range the Challengers almost certainly are less talented across the board while trying to make up for the experience gap that currently separates them from the Champions. No easy task for the current Challengers but an excellent proving ground for incoming top D1 teams. What remains to be seen is if any of the D1 teams, in the next couple of seasons, distinguish themselves or do they get bogged down in the pack?
(Here's where you try real hard to come up with viable alternative explanations. Hint: there are a couple that aren't complete nonsense.)
But all isn't lost just yet. The losses sustained among the most experienced non-pros in recent years just means a depleted pool of potential pros to pick from in the near term. It's a problem but not the only one. The other issue is the development and training of players generally--and this is where real progress can be made. It is true that players develop individual skill sets faster and more proficiently (generally speaking) than was the case in the past. At the same time the conceptual understanding of the game is generally weak as is the team training. The majority of players new to competitive play in the last 5+ years don't have an adequate foundation in how the game ought to be played or how to function as part of a team because they haven't been part of a program or team that teaches those things. And of course the bulk of all team practice isn't designed to teach and develop those qualities either, it is aimed at learning how to play a specific layout. Pre-Xball up-and-coming players learned today's lost lessons from older players and through experience because the formats of the past, including playing in the woods, required it. The modern game demands speed, quickness, instant reflexes--a whole host of physical tools that were useful in the past but weren't required to be honed to the same degree of precision as today so the focus of development has moved to the physical aspects of playing the game to the detriment of the mental aspects--and, as it's always been, it's the mental game that separates the great from the gifted.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Special Holiday 'The Monday Poll'

A few of you may have noted the passing of the Masters division at World Cup this year. Originally conceived as being a Race 2-2 division of play it first saw "life" in the Race 2-4 format at the behest of one of the PSP's then owners and remained a Race 2-4 division thereafter until this year when it wasn't offered. The difficulty the league has is that it's relatively sparsely attended--usually less than 10 teams--and the league doesn't want to get locked into a Masters commitment because they need to stay flexible for the more popular Race 2-4 divisions as they accept entries from for Cup. With a finite number of fields there is a finite number of teams that can be accommodated but the league doesn't know until rather late in the day just how the divisional numbers will break down. That means Masters is generally perceived as more trouble than its worth.
But--if it were reassigned as a Race 2-2 division it would be much less hassle to schedule. It would also be cheaper (which might draw more teams) and as a less demanding format (might also draw more teams and an even broader age demo.) As you probably guessed this week's poll is aimed at the Masters crowd. I'm not restricting who votes but I do want to encourage every potential Masters player to participate and if you know other players interested in this topic get them involved as well. The larger the vote count the better. I want to know what age ought to be the cut off age for participation and how receptive y'all are to the idea of switching to Race 2-2. Please read the whole poll thoroughly as it will be framed rather like a series of questions or paired options and you will be allowed to respond to as many option as you choose.
You know what comes next. Vote like the future of the Master division depended on it. ('Cus it might very well.)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Coming Decline In Pro Paintball, part 1

Before you consider the title of this post fighting words, start hyperventilating and sputtering like a toy motorboat let me explain what I don't mean. If you want to object after that then be my guest.
I'm not talking about formats, leagues or presentation. While I favor a match format closer to *real* Xball I understand the current realities. And while I have mocked the recent efforts of the now seemingly defunct NPPL they made a mockery of their pro division first and so deserved the disdain heaped upon them. In the meantime both the PSP, particularly with the newly implemented conception of Champions and Challengers, and the Millennium offered legit pro brackets--though top to bottom the Mills version is both less consistent and an inferior competitive format (to the PSP) given its preliminary structure. And the webcasts from those leagues are providing a level of accessibility unmatched in the short history of competitive paintball. In a number of positive ways pro paintball is peaking.
Where the pro game is in trouble is with the absent next generation of pro quality players. One of the first series of posts ever to appear on VFTD (summer 2008) warned that the then classification system was destructive of teams and players at the D1 level. Over the intervening years changes were made that improved the situation but damage was done. In part the group of most likely future pro players was short-circuited leaving fewer potential *new* pros to replenish the existing pro teams or fill rosters for future potential up-and-coming pro teams. Nor are we seeing any (okay, a few maybe) fast track kids rapidly climbing the ladder and getting noticed. The surprising truth is the current pro teams are getting old and not only aren't there ranks of young players pushing the older players for spins and spots there have only been a handful of young players able to compete at the pro level in recent years.
Today--and next season--it won't mean anything but the day is approaching (sooner than you think) when teams will have to replace player losses with players that simply aren't of the caliber currently competing and when that happens it will impact all of competitive paintball by lowering the standard of excellence.
If you're skeptical I understand. Nobody wants it to be true and for players who aspire to the pro ranks it's a jab in the ribs from the pointy end of reality. But you don't have to take my word for it 'cus I've done a bit of research looking for factoids to either support or disprove my theory.
Let's begin with new pro teams in the Age of Xball. (Since 2004) How many have there been? How many are still around and how did they do? For 2013 I considered the teams competing in Dallas plus any team that appeared in the Champions bracket during the season. The result was 17 *new* pro teams have competed in the PSP since 2004. Of that 17 at least 8 no longer exist and at least one won't be competing in the PSP in 2014. That leaves 8 new pro teams to have joined the league in the last decade that are still competing. 5 of that 8 joined in 2010 or later. Vicious, CEP, Heat, Upton 187 & Thunder. By my reckoning only Heat is (was?) a Champions caliber team.
What about the pro teams that didn't make it? What are you hiding? Of the pro teams with a brief existence there were a couple of worthy teams and a bunch of those players are still playing. For the record we're talking about Ultimate (remember them?), Legacy, LTZ, Raiders, Aftermath, Bushwackers, Hurricanes & Entourage. And in the case of the Bushwackers it was one season and they weren't a new team, only new to the PSP pro division and the Hurricanes weren't a new team either and in their case were a continuation of the NY Extreme franchise.
Still not convinced? No problem. Next time we'll look at current pro rosters and I'll explain how to minimize the coming decline.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Mr. Curious: Heat Still In The Hunt?

Seems silly season is heating up early this year as Mr. Curious informs VFTD of the latest rumors regarding player movement. Rumor is Chad George and Sam Monville were feeling a little left out and will be joining their former (and future) Russian compatriots on Art Chaos. If correct that would mean the Heat have lost 6 players from last season's roster including their basic starting five. Word from the Heat camp is that they will carry on but Mr. Curious can't help but think that will be contingent on Heat's ability to re-stock their roster with some credible talent.
The latest rumorology also has it there's more movement coming among SoCal players. 'Raney' Stanczak, reported to be a free agent only a few days ago is rumored to be in talks with the Ironmen--a team he has played for in the past. Also rumored to be in talks with both the Ironmen and Dynasty is a high profile player from Infamous.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Grow the Game

It would seem that the highest civic virtue, the purest aspiration in paintball today is an expressed desire to "grow the game." I don't know about the rest of you but I got into this game because my son thought it looked cool and wanted to play. Turns out it was fun and in its competitive formats kept track of the winners and losers. My focus ever since has been on having fun and competing. If that makes me a selfish bastard according to the mores of modern paintball so be it. Sure I'd like to see more people playing paintball (mostly because I think they would enjoy it) and I certainly support the advancement of competitive paintball as a recognized sport but .. I confess I strongly resist the urge to encourage anyone to "grow the game."
In part because it's a fatuous thing to say. Mostly because those who admonish the rest of us to "grow the game" haven't given it two seconds of actual thought. Which game is that? Is it the Mil-Sig game that relies on realistic looking guns, er, markers? Is that the sort of paintball you mean to promote? Or perhaps "grow the game" means you favor scenarios that are quasi-reenactments of modern battles like, oh I don't know, D-Day? Is the game you want to grow directly associated with war? (Personally I'm not a fan but have no issues with others enjoying their own brand of paintball entertainment. That said I think if those were the brands of paintball the public most often associated with paintball it could prove disastrous eventually.) Let's try something more innocuous. Perhaps you favor speedball. Or even tournament paintball. Or rec ball in the woods. Or pump only paintball. But your "grow the game" wishes (consciously or unconsciously) reflect your desire to see your preferred form of paintball prosper. Which is all well and good but it should also be apparent that paintball isn't a monolithic activity. It's a dozen or more different games and each has its advocates and detractors. And even if you insist you support all forms of paintball it's irrelevant. The "grow the game" mantra is paintball's version of self-indulgent groupthink; a feel good way to be engaged and be a part of paintball's caring community without actually doing a damned thing. (Was that too harsh? Sorry.)
In planting season most farmers don't frequent pool halls, playing billiards, drinking beer and reminding each other to "grow the crop." (Think about that for a minute.)
If you really want to make a difference support the local stores and fields in your area that provide a positive safe paintball experience--and have fun.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Hasta Luego NPPL? Hello APL

There's breaking snooze, er, news if you happen to be a cave-dwelling hermit living in the Pyrenees. Otherwise you will recall that Mr. Curious informed the well informed readers of VFTD that the move (by PBpromotions with the backing of Valken) to dump the NPPL (name & association) was under discussion months ago. Today PBpromotions made a formal announcement that henceforth they will be promoting the APL (American Paintball League). The APL will be offering a "Millennium-style 5-man Race format" in divisions from Pro to D4. Pro will (apparently) be by invitation--and as also previously reported by Mr. Curious Valken reps have contacted some established [and former NPPL] pro teams about what it would take to get them to play APL. Beyond the basic announcement however there is little in the way of details yet.
Given their intention to follow the Millennium's current format it is unclear what if any relationship may exist between the two leagues or whether the APL will follow such features as the 3 match preliminary round or what they'll use for a rule book given the MS (& EPBF) have yet to produce an up-to-date set of rules.
As to what will become of the NPPL Mr. Curious reports that there have been rumors in recent months that Chuck Hendsch was attempting to sell what remains of the NPPL property, intellectual and physical, but has been stymied by a lack of interest--though there are elements of the Valken camp that suggest Valken may have purchased some NPPL rights at some point. That remains wholly speculative. Rumor also has it that Mr. Hendsch is also the holder of some substantial amount of the NPPL's accumulated debts though what the precise legal status may be remains unknown.
By ditching the NPPL brand and changing formats it's clear pbpromotions and Valken are hoping to buy some time and goodwill in building a competitive national league.
Without encumbering associations is it possible Chuck may find new partners and try, once again, to bring the NPPL back to life?  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Ruminations on Paintball & Media, part 2

Hang on, I almost forgot video, the majority of which features wretched music and short snippets of discontinuous action edited together seemingly without rhyme or reason. I am assured  that such scattershot video does, now and again, grab the imagination sufficiently to get some people to try paintball. Yo-kay.
Btw, in case you missed it--and how is that even possible?--there was a part 1 and this is the second post in a two post series. Go back and read the first one for the full flavor.
Fortunately there is one other sort of video that is gaining both attention and new practitioners. Pioneered by Pat Spohrer with 'Push' (more than a decade ago) it's paintball as narrative. It tells a story and puts all the action, excitement, personalities, joys and sorrows into context. And the story is what makes all the diverse elements of the game accessible to those who have not played it before. And it's the story that connects with the similar stories of those who already play, a recognition that we share more than the game in common. More recently Dan Napoli and Brad Maugham have been creating small gems like the 'Artifact' series and the latest season of 'The Roster' in their telling of the stories of paintball, both unique and universal. Lately the Derder crew have begun producing documentaries featuring some of the most well known teams in the sport. While made for an audience of ballers these stories of paintball also offer a portal into the world of paintball for those on the outside looking in.
But the same claim applies to one degree or another to any and every form of media. The real issue is effectiveness and outreach. What percentage of people who see a gallery of still photos will be moved to play? And how is that gallery of images put in front of an audience? Or a YouTube video or a show on SKY 3000 TV for that matter.
Which leaves us with the webcast(s), diverse online entities that focus on paintball (like this blog or Social Paintball or PBN) and social media. Is the webcast really a vehicle aimed at outreach? I don't think so--even if it happens to serve that function now and again. It's really about providing high level competitive paintball access to a niche target audience. Can its very existence build that audience? I think it can but to what degree and for how long or at what cost are relevant questions. Then there's paintball on the web. Undoubtedly new peeps discover or rediscover paintball daily via the web but it is a passive activity and relies on a searcher to make progress. Even so, there has to be something there to find. Otherwise most web based paintball sites are really targeting the existing player base. But maybe social media is different. (It's not.) You may have "friends" all around the world but if you're serious about your paintball odds are most of those friends are too. And your *real* friends and family are all perfectly well aware of your paintball obsession without the aid of Facebook and if they were ever going to play they would have already. I'm not saying nobody ever finds paintball on social media but I am saying social media is less social than you might think and is more like inclusive circles of friends that in places overlap and where they do it's because of primary shared interests, like paintball, so that in the end it's mostly preaching to the choir.

The way to make media work for paintball goes something like this; solicit Justin Bieber's agent and find out what it would take to get the Bieb to start tweeting about how much he loves to play paintball whenever he's not on the road and make sure the next issue of Celebrity Trash has photos of Justin sporting the latest gear and gun from [fill in the blank.] Whose playing paintball now?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Ruminations on Paintball & Media

Fragments of thoughts on this subject were brought to mind again recently from a number of sources and so I'm inclined to comment on them. (Wouldn't be much of a blog if I didn't. Yeah, yeah, I know and I don't want to hear it.) In order of least important to most there's the tiny tempest in the comments section of the recent post on the new masthead photo. It's inconsequential if mildly amusing but it does remind that photos of paintball at best serve as a record of the past but since most of them are simply pictures of anonymous players shooting guns they are literally a dime a dozen--if I'm being generous--and may please a few players but don't do much if anything for paintball. By the way, that's the criteria for these ruminations; what sorts of media may actually function as outreach for paintball? Since everything nowadays is about growing the game.
Well, there's a couple of magazines still around. Kinda. (Maybe?) (Is some version of APG still out there somewhere?) I like the one from Portugal 'cus it's plainly a labor of love. I liked Grind. There was a Russian one too but I haven't seen it around lately. Word is Paintball News has reappeared but rumor has it Valken is using it mostly for corporate promotion. (Anyone seen it yet?) There is of course the latest iteration of the now online only magazine that is working hard to produce volumes for everyone but could one possibly do a more perfunctory job? Hard to imagine. It's about as generic as generic gets with an emphasis on photos over written content and the written content is about as dull and unexciting as a day spent at the DMV. And have you ever noticed the photos tend to feature the advertisers--or maybe it's just me. It's almost as if the magazine really exists purely as a vehicle for advertisements.
Ironically, crass commercial advertising almost certainly reaches more non-paintballers than vanity photography and webzines aimed at existing players and if you broaden the definition of advertising a wee bit and include product packaging it's not even debatable. So there you have it. It's on all you advertisers to make sure your ads--if not your products--are suitably enticing that they draw in new players.

In this transitional era is media simply an echo chamber for those already actively involved in paintball or does it--can it--have a real role in promoting the game? More ruminations coming in part 2.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Baca's Mailbag: The 2013 WC Layout

Andrew asks, "Are we going to see a world cup layout breakdown? Also would you be willing to include adjustments you made during the weekend?"

The short answer(s) are no and not really but that would make for a very short and unsatisfying post so instead I'm going to address a couple of related topics. In the first instance I'll address the strategy employed and in the second I'll highlight how the adjustments used complemented the strategy.
Before I get started there is one caveat. The concepts (founded on fundamental paintball principles) apply to any Race To format but the shorter the game the more critical each decision becomes and, as always, strategy and tactics are secondary to execution. Wait, make that two caveats. Even for teams strong on the fundamentals by the end of the season it's easy to let that element of practice get pushed aside. Don't lose sight of your priorities. All practice, whatever else it might also be focused on, must always be geared toward improving execution of the game plan as a team.

Our strategy was simple. It's practically standard operating procedure on any and every layout--don't allow the opposition to get wide. (If you've been diligently watching the PBA webcasts this year you also know that by Sunday if not sooner  many of the pro teams tend to slow play anyway. They go shorter on their breakouts in an effort to reduce risk so the more successful a team is in getting those OTB eliminations the more they encourage their opponent to opt for the slow play. Even so there are situations where the risk must be taken.) With open shooting lanes and a commitment to getting those eliminations even if it cost us bodies too we were sufficiently successful to encourage a lot of slow play from our opponents. Denying the wires on the breakout is its own reward but we took it one step further and developed a number of ways to specifically attack slow play.

Looking at the diagram the gray arrows indicate the general line-of-sight of a player in that prop and the gray shaded areas indicate zones those players can't see. That fact inspired two plays we used to consistently positive effect and also allowed players to move into and through those zones with guns up. With gun up and rolling and eyes up and surveying the field aggressively playing those grey zones allowed players to take advantage of what their opponent was or wasn't doing. Gun dominance OTB offers a lot of options--like early kills or extended primary runs. On our snake side play we were looking for a brief delay at the Can and the wider the opponent attempted to get OTB the better--leaving us to trail their breakout. The reason for the play was our determination that on this field it was very important to match up the snake wire and even better to take control early. This play allowed us at different times to do both and when run correctly was much lower risk than it may at first appear. The D-side play was a bit more complicated. Once in the grey zone the player 'reads' the center of the field. If an opponent is moving into the center there's an opportunity for an elimination. If that player is also looking to the D-side the option existed to break off the primary run and go to the corner or the insert dorito. (OTB laners were shooting both the insert and corner dorito.) If the center was clear, or looking the other way, we finished the primary run into the 50 MT looking for quick kills from the snake side primaries. With the option to break off the primary run this play was very flexible and helped us control the center of the field as well.

Take a look at the red arrows. From the D-side Can they illustrate the gap control and ability to contain wire movement by a player in the Can. This was the key bunker in playing that wire as it supported your lead and denied your opponent. Knowing this our focus when getting into the snake was to eliminate that Can player as quickly as possible in order to free up our dorito wire attack. The other two arrows on the baseline illustrate a key position in our efforts to breakdown the slow play. We determined in practice that players crouching or kneeling in an area behind the upfield Pins usually went unseen even by teams/players counter-laning back into the center of the field and those two spots provided excellent unblocked lanes inside of the insert Temple on the snake side and the insert MD on the D-side. And those were the two key bunkers to make on the majority of slow play breakouts. The opportunity to consistently attack those runners OTB delivered regular OTB advantages while disrupting (and regularly eliminating) the opponent.

Finally there's the role scouting plays. Even after we made the planned adjustment to shoot the inside lanes it was important to know precisely where we wanted them. Did a team or player tend to run straight at the prop and dive in or did they run deep and make an L cut up into the prop? Knowing such tendencies can be the difference between getting the critical kill and missing the shot. On Sunday against Heat we knew K-Fed would use the same run to the snake we used (see diagram) but only in a specific player configuration. In advance the players were told how to adjust when we spotted those players on the board before the horn. More simply, against Impact we thought there was an opportunity to shoot Dave OTB when he was laning crossfield and doubling the D-side Can. We shot it once in the finals and it was successful (Other Impact player combinations broke out differently and didn't provide the same opportunity.)

If you have any follow-up or related (or even unrelated) questions post them up in comments and if they aren't too hard I'll answer them.

Monday, October 28, 2013

And The Winner Is ..

Before I make the announcement I'd like to inform y'all that the random drawing was performed by a blindfolded chimpanzee pulling a numbered chip from a vintage bingo wheel I picked up at a yard sale from St. Thomas the Doubter Episcopal church--but that would be a prevarication, a big fat lie. Still, it sounds pretty good so I'd appreciate it if y'all just imagine it were true. Now isn't that more fun? I know, right.
Oh geez, now I've forgotten who it ... kidding.
The winner is Christopher Sullivan. Congrats Sully and better luck to the rest next time. (Like there's gonna be a next time.) Send me a mailing address using the email link on the sidebar (include shirt size) and I'll send it off to youse post haste.
See what happens when you participate. One guy is happy and everyone else is left disappointed. There's a moral in there somewhere.

New Headers

I'd like to thank Gary (and Eduardo) at for permission to use a version of a spectacular photo of the Champions field from the most recent World Cup--and I encourage you to check out the original.
While it's true I have, on occasion, been critical of paintball's vanity photo industry--and even a few of the so-called photographers--it's also true that there are a number of dedicated and talented individuals visually recording our sport and VFTD would like to help them. It's not much but if I can put together a dozen headers from a dozen active sources I will rotate them on a monthly basis and provide a sidebar link to the photographer's website to help publicize the talents of individual photographers. If interested drop me a line using the email link on the sidebar.

The Superstar Conundrum

A version of this post may have already been posted. In which case this is an unintentional yet not-as-lazy-as-normal slacker repost. I say that because I checked the posts over the last 3 years thinking I must have posted this piece already given that it was written at least a couple of years ago. (Last date on the document file.) Anyway I couldn't find the post so here goes. It seems appropriately timed whether it's the first posting or a reposting.

The term 'superstar' is overused. Mostly because fans, followers, supporters and advocates for the game generally tend to get carried away. Before you know it one notable event or killer move preserved on video or unexpected move to a new team for the rumored big pay day and another “superstar” is born. The term has been over-hyped. Excessively. (Yes, that was a joke. Although, at the time of their original formation XSV was intended to be a “superstar” team built to compete with Dynasty.)
But the issue of the day isn't undeserving players given too much credit or publicity. That's largely how the business of paintball has gone about promoting the products of paintball and under those circumstances it's easy to lose sight of the fact that real contenders for titles aren't the biggest collections of superstars but instead are the teams that best bring together the talents they have and function most like a team.
At this point the argumentative might offer up a variation of the chicken or the egg debate; which came first? They will grant the team concept but insist without the superstars even the teamiest team is unlikely to succeed at the summit of competition. And it's a tough egg, er, argument to crack because there is some truth in it. Certainly, everything else being equal, talent should win out. But of course all other factors are never equal—which is why the history of sports is awash with unfulfilled greatness; teams that should have won yet never did.
By way of example let's look at the latest superstar team in the NBA, the Miami Heat. If you're being generous they have 3 superstars. If you're being honest they have 2 and a half at best on an active roster of 12. And if you are paying attention you're aware that at their best they play a fundamentally sound aggressive team defense and that failure or success, as a team, wasn't dependent on LeBron and D-Wade heaving up 25 shots apiece a night. Could they win some games that way? Yes they could. But they won a championship with tenacious team D and when it mattered most a commitment to a style of offense (attacking the rim) that opened up the floor for their teammates. Did the superstar factor matter? Yes, it did but if you look at the rest of the best teams in the NBA this past season the thing that stands out is that they were all very strong teams short on superstar credentials. Superstardom alone is not a guarantee of success. In team sports team always comes first.
That said there's more to it than that. Imagine a couple of engine blocks on work benches surrounded by parts. One block is engraved Ferarri and the other, Porsche. The assorted parts are for the two torn down motors. Nobody who knows anything about engines would assume that just because they are both high end world class motors that the parts are interchangeable so why do we tend to assume players are? Yes, switching players around is a more flexible process than made to match auto parts but while using the right parts guarantees your motor works choosing the “right” players is also harder to do. It's also true that players don't have to always get along in order to succeed but it's certainly easier if they do—which brings us to the superstar's bane, ego. At the top of every sport there's lots of talent and what often sets the superstar apart is will and an unshakable self-confidence. Two awesome qualities to have but two qualities that more commonly work against team cohesion than for it.
The superstar attracts all the attention. Teams and leagues the world over push their stars front and center so it's small wonder the average fan focuses on the stars. Even the most fanatic team followers will pick out and identify their favorite players when talking about their favorite teams. But if you're serious about what makes teams tick, what it takes to be a winner you need to look past the superstars and take a closer look at the team.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Mr. Curious Says

Let silly season begin! Why wait? Oh, yeah, if you're a potential sponsor you want to wait, drag it out and keep the those second and third tier teams on the hook. And if your a recipient (otherwise known as a broke ass team) the sooner next season's terms are settled the better. Get in and get out with the biggest piece of the pie you can before the finite resources have dwindled too much.
On the NPPL front rumor has it Valken reps are trying to sweet talk a few *real* pro teams into coming back on board. Not sure what they could possibly offer. Maybe real money instead of Valken bucks? Maybe cooperative scheduling instead of counter-scheduling?
A couple other nebulous NPPL rumors are floating around and Mr. C will have more as soon as he can pin down a detail or two.
On the Art Chaos front it seems the new Russians soon to be on the block are having trouble prying a few American pros away from their current teams. The money is rumored to be good. (At least for paintball.) In a couple of instances it seems a team or two preemptively locked their players in with contracts and/or it may be the terms Chaos is seeking aren't too attractive despite the money. The latest word is the team has picked up at least two Euro players with the initials, A.G. & C.M. Also in the rumor mill of late is word that Chaos is looking for a stateside coach, the list is short and they've already been turned down at least once.
Despite rumors for months that the Heat might be done with the expected defections of at least two of their Russians 'Sarge' Smith insisted the team would be around in 2014. Despite those assurances it's rumored the team will lose at least one other player (besides the Russians) in the off season.
There is also talk in some quarters about the future of the Russian Legion. Long used to being a top contender the struggles of the last couple seasons may be wearing thin with ownership. Mr. Curious doesn't have an opinion on this rumor but to be fair none of the chatter seems to be coming from within the Legion camp.
Finally, rumor out of Euroland is suggesting that Nexus is finished. Restructuring of the Dye presence in Euroland has cost a few jobs and word is the team has had their sponsorship pulled--or were informed it won't be renewed for next season. Mr. C also says that rumor has it a couple of Nexus players have been shopping their services but so far the asking price is too high.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

For Future Reference When Making Predictions

The first thing to do is find out what the brackets are, d'oh! I was reminded as I took a look at the pre-Cup predictions thread over on PBN. I was curious to see if anyone picked X-Factor to win, place or show and noticed, once again, that at least half of the predictions were impossible. Here's a hint. You can't have three teams from one bracket in the final four. It doesn't work that way. I know the four teams you picked are your four favorites but it doesn't matter. Remember, two go through. Two (and 2 only) from each bracket make the semis. It doesn't take a rocket scientist people.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

World Cup Wrap-up

First order of business is my apology for failing to post daily updates--but by now y'all ought to be used to me not always posting what I intended to post. In my defense I was a little busy--and preoccupied. For the record that was 3 World Cup finals in a row. (Yeah, I know, Big Dave is way ahead of me and no, I ain't likely to catch up. It's okay.)
On the fantasy paintball front post your team name and score by this Friday either here or at VFTD--Facebook to enter the T-shirt giveaway--as long as your score is higher than 20975--(and whose wasn't?)--I'll announce the official winner next Monday.
I mentioned the air supply situation the other day. Turns out the league's experiment with doing it themselves was confined to the two pro fields (What?! Really?! Who thought that was a good idea?) and they only managed to keep up a consistent air flow the whole weekend with help from the the Paintball Central crew. (Thanks, Rob & Roy!) Guess the jury is still out on the league taking over that aspect of operations completely.
Remember the missing TonTons? Turns out not all of them were missing. Quelle surprise! Fabrice Columbo was playing for the D1 team Red Storm (Grad Moscow). So what's the deal with that? The PSP put the "TonTons" on probation but what does that mean? That the individual players that made up that roster don't matter? While I'm in favor of players playing it seems like the league needs to decide exactly what sort of probation they are enforcing particularly as league officials seemed unaware that Columbo was playing at all.
As we have come to expect the webcast was stellar. (Although I heard some folks were unable to access the HD version but I don't know if that was a delivery or reception issue.) What I do know--or at least have an opinion about--is that the booth needs a shake up. All 3 guys do the same thing, provide the same sort of commentary and stumble over each other at times along with more than a few awkward silences. It's one thing to replay an exciting rundown or a controversial penalty but how 'bout using the opportunity provided by the webcast to also help educate the audience? And I don't mean by just regurgitating PBA stats. More along the lines of explaining the nuts & bolts of the breakouts and player reactions, decisions, etc. in light of core principles of play. Just a thought.
Many of the big vendors are also major team sponsors and as such provide private areas for their teams to collect their gear, get out of the sun and relax between matches. Planet Eclipse went the extra mile and had air conditioning inside the big tent of their booth. Great way to relax and get ready for the finals on Sunday afternoon. A space we shared with Impact. Planet should've had a huge banner outside promoting their air conditioned space too. (If they did I didn't see it.) A great way to get everyone walking by to step inside and oh, yeah, check out all the latest gear.
While I'm not usually interested in the gear end of this game--if the gun shoots, the paint breaks, the goggles don't squeeze my head and the pads stay put I'm pretty easy to please--I did see some of the new stuff on the field and there was too much white going on. At what point is a stained yellow, formerly white, jersey illegal? And even if the leagues let that slide it's gonna look bad fast. Right?
It seemed like there were more substantive complaints about reffing standards this year compared to years past. (Oh sure, there's always complaints with a significant percentage falling into the sour grapes category but from my perspective that was less the case this time around.) Echos of last year's complaints put a little tarnish on the 10-man effort with a few teams and players unsatisfied with the lack of consistency and civility. And some element of the broader inconsistency was evident on Sunday when divisional teams suffered some brutally penalty ridden games. Clearly some of the teams were used to a different standard of officiating and that speaks to inconsistency. At the same time I think the lower divisions should be officiated a bit more leniently than the pros. There was also some background chatter among the refs that changes were coming and some thought those changes might include them. Since we're headed for silly season I guess we'll find out in the coming months.
Congrats are in order to the 'Shock crew for playing hard, aggressive and defiant paintball all weekend and sticking in the Champions. The recent return of Sosine to the roster has helped settle the team down--and it didn't hurt that Chris was a killing machine at Cup either. If you're a fan of competitive paintball you gotta like what 'Shock is bringing.
So how's this relegation thing gonna work at the end of the year? By season ranking Vicious & Upton 187 finish in 9th & 10th place but Shock retained a Champions spot in their relegation game and the Challengers results has Vicious and Texas Storm moving up. Of course ranking isn't the same as seed position and if all the pro teams start at zero for the first event of 2014 I suppose it doesn't matter.
Open 10-man saw 20 teams compete on a field larger than the Race To standard but a bit smaller than last gen 10-man fields from a decade ago. This year the field was made up of standard airball props with a traditional snake and dorito wire(s). It looked like an excellent layout. Past the 10-man field the UWL kids were humping the boonies in a soggy stand of trees by the lake that emitted occasional clouds of smoke that drifted through the trees and either toward the 10-man field or across the water depending on which way the breeze was blowing.
Sunday the forecast was for intermittent thunderstorms but the morning matches began with intense sunshine and stark shadows cast across the playing fields. Later and for much of the day clouds rolled in and threatened the forecast rain but it never came. Only the odd blustery breeze that helped keep the debilitating humidity at bay. We arrived around 9 am for a scheduled 11:20 am semi-final against Heat. The mood was low key but expectant. Relaxed at first but as the time ticked by the tension and intensity began to build. We stayed with our routines as we prepared to compete. In the tournament format the best teams usually prevail but largely on the basis of past success are teams considered the best. But every now and again a team will rise to the occasion. In many ways the season was a struggle, an effort to find a new balance, to find the path to success. It was punctuated by frustration at times but never despair. No matter what the team believed. Believed we could do better, that we were better than we had showed. On Sunday we (X-Factor) were the decided underdog, a team with talent and experience, yes, a team that earned a Champions spot long ago but not a favorite or a flashy team. Not an all-star team or a defending champion. In all sports intangibles nearly always play a significant role in the outcome of the biggest moments. Momentum. Chemistry. Heart. And in rare moments it all comes together in victory. X-Factor wins World Cup.

Monday, October 21, 2013


X-Factor wins World Cup!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Saturday World Cup Day 3

Tomorrow is the day every player imagines. The day every team dreams of. The day every team plays for. The one day that holds the possibility of making every sacrifice worthwhile. The day that answers every question. That makes all the hours, days, weeks and years worth the effort. Worth the commitment. Worth the cost and the time. It is championship day for the biggest most important tournament in the world.
Tomorrow is one more chance to win it all. To hold the Cup high and know that for one moment in time you are a part of the very best the sport has to offer. Tomorrow we play Heat at 11:20 am. Best of luck to all tomorrow's competitors. Enjoy the moment. I know I will.

Fantasy Paintball Update

After day 2 I'm sitting on around 19000 points with 4 players going tomorrow. Make sure you post up your high score after tomorrow--to put me in my place and receive a shot at winning the free VFTD T-shirt in next week's random drawing.

Fantasy Paintball Score

I'm in trouble already. One of my sneaky stars didn't even play today. Wassup with that? So I'm well behind the leader board but it's early. The Fat Lady ain't singing until Sunday. But with only 8475 points I've got a lot of ground to make up. How're you doing?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday World Cup Day 2

Note to PSP: If you want to make a few extra bucks rent golf carts to us old geezers and/or make paint runs for teams for $5 a trip. It's a gold mine I tell ya.
Friday was not unseasonably hot but the humidity made it uncomfortable and sticky. Otherwise it was a day filled with blue skies and sunshine as intermittent cotton tuft clouds drifted by. The venue is much as it's been the last couple of years with a grand corridor of divisional fields laid out side by side with a giant cheese wedge of vendors between the fields and the parking lots. Past the vendors and set-up end-to-end are the Challengers and Champions fields. And in the same space as last year is the 10-man field with the stand of trees by the lake that last year served as the field for the UWL competitors. (At a guess I'd say that's where they will play this year too but I don't actually know that for a fact.)
For those interested in new gear you'll see of it in advertisements on the webcast and threads and videos over at PBN. (I'm not a big gear guy but I gotta say the new scenario gun from Empire looks pretty sweet as does the "ammo box" loader from Dye for their DAM marker. And before any of y'all start carping I'm not commenting on price or value or advocating you immediately empty your piggy bank and buy on--only that they are some cool new stuff. Aight?)
There were a few surprises on the pro fields today too as the Ironmen blanked Dynasty and X-Factor knocked off Damage. Beyond that Aftershock dropped both their matches but as usual played hard and attacked, attacked attacked. There were a lot of tight matches in the morning session while Impact was the class of the afternoon session today. But nobody wins the event on Friday and odds are nothing will be decided until the final matches are played tomorrow afternoon. Over on the Challengers field XSV took a narrow win from Vicious in the bracket the TonTons would have played in. Without them participating the other teams are reduced to 3 prelim matches which magnifies the importance of a first day win over Vicious. In the other bracket only Royalty remains undefeated.
Uncharacteristically it seems the PSP wasn't quite as on top of things as usual--at least over at the Champions field. No ref tents at all today with last second delivery of a couple of tables and some ongoing issues--which now seem resolved--with the air stations. Word is the league is in process of handling the air themselves. (For those not in the know in recent years the massive portable unit provided by Paintball Central has handled the air requirements.) By our second match we weren't having any issues getting our air but we weren't getting anything like a full fill. Of course it was the same for both pits and competing teams but it did limit how much paint could be carried or shot. I've no doubt it will get dealt with but I gotta wonder why make the move at Cup--and experiment with the webcast field? Oh well. More tomorrow.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

PSP World Cup Day 1

Officially it's Day 1 of World Cup but the first matches won't begin for a few hours yet. Sensible people are in bed trying to get some sleep. To get a good night's rest before the first marker is fired in earnest in the morning while the grass is still slick with dew and fog hugs the ground and clings to the boles of trees as if hiding from the rising sun. The quiet soon to be shattered by a thousand voices, the echo of horns and the incessant staccato racket as thousands of paintballs take flight.
Unofficially the World Cup experience has already begun. It began a few days ago with the early arrival of teams and players looking for some Florida fun to go along with last minute practices at nearby local fields like CFP. It began with the arrival of the PSP crew at Fantasy of Flight in order to get a dozen fields set-up and the grounds prepared for the vendors, parking and routine logistics of an enormous one-off annual event.
It began when the PBA team arrived to a-fix the cameras, lay the cable, build the studio and prep the broadcast facility for the webcast that begins Friday morning. It began when the dozens of vendors rolled up in their big rigs and rentals in order to set-up their booths and blast the music they hope will help attract a crowd.

My World Cup began in San Antonio nearly three weeks ago when X-Factor stepped on the practice field for the first time focused on preparing for this event. Each weekend a trip to Texas from Florida until finally the coming weekend is the event. On Tuesday I spent a half day with Mark "Twizz" Dale, coach of the London Tigers and a D4 Tigers team getting in their final reps before the competition. It's a great opportunity to meet new people, catch up with old acquaintances and offer a helping hand. (And means among other things I will be taking in some of Destiny's games this weekend--on purpose!--to watch my new favorite female paintball player, Shelley Farmer. It's a dead heat between her and Freddie from FL Charms.)
This afternoon (Thursday) X-Factor got in a final practice session with the Ironmen in preparation for Champions bracket play beginning tomorrow morning. The boys are rounding into form and the excitement is beginning to take hold.
For many divisional teams competition began today. For some the dream remains alive and burning hot. For others it's already fading. If this is your first Cup or your tenth, win or lose, take in the whole experience and enjoy the heck out of it. There is nothing else quite like it and as at every serious competition there is only one winner leaving the rest to regroup and vow to do better, be better next time. In the meantime World Cup has a lot on offer. Don't miss out.

I will try to post up something every day of the event and I'm planning on shooting some behind the scenes video as well as taking some photos for those who can't be at Cup this time.