Friday, May 31, 2013

More NPPL Pro Defections?

Today is the last day to register for the NPPL's NEO event the weekend of the 8th/9th of June. While probably not a hard deadline (especially for pro teams) the fact remains the days are dwindling quickly and if teams haven't yet made their preparations it's unlikely they'll jump in at the last minute unless the event is close to home.
Yesterday Vancouver Vendetta, coming off a strong second place at HB, announced they wouldn't be participating at NEO in part because their HB prize money has yet to be paid. Also currently missing is Portland Uprising and NE Avalanche. And among the new for 2013 pro teams LA Paintball Gateway and Arsenal Crush are unregistered [at the time this was written.] Arsenal Crush was said at HB to be a last minute fill-in and that the team had intended to compete in D1--and there is a CRUsh Too registered in D1 which may very well be the Arsenal Crush team from HB.
Given the active and vocal support given the NPPL by Avalanche owner Frank Connell it's particularly surprising to see Avalanche missing from the list. And if the status quo remains the pro division at NEO will be reduced to 10 teams with only 3 of those teams having NPPL pro experience prior to this season; Dynasty, X-Factor & Explicit.
While these events don't bode well for the NPPL's flagship division the truly telling numbers are the divisional team totals. 7 D1 teams. 4 D2 teams. 8 D3 teams and 13 D4 teams for a grand total of 42 teams. With the move to OXCC the league's expenses will be dramatically reduced but it's hard to see what can be done almost overnight to turn things around given the present state of decline. One thing the new regime has done is lower the prize packages across the board. A move that's unlikely to be too popular. But then so is the notion there's a lot of 7-man teams out there that care. If there were they'd be competing, wouldn't they?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Millennium's Unwritten Rulebook

Does it exist? I'm not sure to be honest. How does one go about determining the existence of something unwritten. Is there a secret handshake involved or maybe a secret decoder ring? Could be I'm making a mountain out of a molehill too. It could even be that the unwritten rules--whatever they are--are in fact written down somewhere but if they are it isn't in some obvious place like the MS website or even the EPBF website--or even the old existing rulebook. Copies of the rules and updated rules exist in both places of course--just none of the so far discovered unwritten rules. Now see if I'd known about this before it would have spared a lot of confusion and misunderstandings. Frankly I'm a little disappointed in Ulrich for not explaining up front that there were enumerated rules and then there were those other rules--but that's all water under the bridge. VFTD's purpose today is to bring as many of the unwritten rules together as possible and create a written record that can be referred to until the MS's new rulebook is released (or written) (or whatever.) Did you know UFO sightings are more common than new Millennium rulebook sightings?
Anyway, the first unwritten rule supercedes the current written rules regarding leaving/abandoning equipment on the field during play. You may, according to unwritten rule, leave anything other than enumerated safety related gear, goggles & barrel sock. In contrast the written rule eliminates players who leave any gear other than pods and squeegees behind. [This came up on the recent webcast during the finals when a player left the front piece of his barrel behind.] So you see how confusing it might be for players outta the unwritten loop.
And there's this one from the first event of 2013. No cameras mounted on markers will be allowed (anymore.) No explanation for why. Only that it is now in the (unwritten) rules.

There's two and I'm thinking there must be a few more. So if you are a Mills regular and know an unwritten rule or two please send it to Baca's mailbag so I can add it to the list.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lazy Slacker Re-post of the Week: Formula One & Major League Paintball

This re-post is for those who struggled to see the virtue in single paint sponsors for single events. (Baca's Mailbag: Event Paint Sponsors) If you didn't like that idea--which in terms of competitive parity remains a good one--maybe you'll like this one better as it conforms more comfortably with the status quo.

This is gonna make perfect sense. No, really. It will. What do major league paintball and Formula One racing have in common? (The answer is not untold millions of dollars or enormous contracts for the leading figures. And it's not a chance to travel the world to compete though I will grant you a fortunate few can make the claim. Still, there remains a big difference from living the high life in Monte Carlo and driving a Monte Carlo.)

In football every game ball is as identical as the official manufacturer can manage to make them. In baseball every ball is, again, identical and produced by one manufacturer. Basketball, yeah, you guessed it. Identical. In most legit sports a conspicuous effort is made to assure that the equipment used doesn't confer any advantage to the competitors--particularly where a diversity of suppliers is allowed. Like golf or auto racing. But even where the technical rulebook looks like the Chicago white pages and a platoon of inspectors will practically tear apart the winning car to assure rules compliance the equipment varies. Perhaps most noticeably in Formula One where the latest engine management wizardry or chassis magic gives one team or another an obvious advantage that may last a season or more. Don't take my word for it though. Try this stat out. Of the 51 Constructor's championships awarded (since 1958) the same team also shared the Driver's title 40 times. Superior cars make good drivers better. Much better. This, of course, doesn't mean that great drivers can't succeed, only that it's an uphill battle when the competitive environment isn't equal.

At this point you're beginning to think you know what's coming next. You don't. (Unless you remember when I promoted this idea some many moons ago.) Sure, I could focus on the negatives--and have--just not this time.

The thing that makes the upper echelon of racing different is that the competition functions at a number of levels. It isn't exclusively about the drivers. Largely by necessity, as much of the money and motivation comes from the competition between various manufacturers (brands, chassis, motors, tires, etc.) vying for the right to claim they are the best, too. (Although it is somewhat ironic that F1 finally decided to go with a single tire manufacturer just a few years ago.) Given that competitive paintball finds itself in a similar circumstance--one unlikely to change anytime soon--it's time to make the best of it and improve the game at the same time. (When first suggested I want to say it was the then Pure Promotions version of the NPPL that briefly attempted to make it work but soon lost interest. My original column for PGi is in the Dead Tree Archive, somewhere, but I'm not sure which one it is. Yes, I looked but I couldn't find it. On the other hand I did enjoy revisiting some damn fine columns. Man, I used to be good.)

What the major leagues need to do is follow Formula One's lead. Expand the competition. Incorporate necessity and make it pay dividends. Increase the value of sponsorship. Take control. Encourage sponsorship diversity. Differentiate between competitors and vendors. Formalize the manufacturers pre-existing competition(s) by awarding event points and crowning season-ending series titles for manufacturers with the imprimatur of the greatest paintball league(s) in the world. For example, the PSP's 2011 Goggle of the Year. Categories could include guns, goggles, hoppers, packs & paint. Distinguish between Pro & Am.

Fleshing this out a little more the manufacturers competition is separate from vending. Pro teams may not use equipment of non-competing manufacturers. Manufacturers have always used the top tier of the sport to promote their products indirectly--which they can still do by supporting the top teams--but now have the option to also do so directly. Each event the latest numbers will be revealed to see where the manufacturers stand. The advantage to the league is they control the competition the same way they do the tournaments played under their aegis. The manufacturers competition is a value added for the manufacturers. The scoring system can protect & promote sponsorship relations between teams and manufacturers. Now is the ideal time to institute a manufacturers competition because of the influx of new paint producers looking to separate themselves from their comeptition and grab market share. A likely added bonus related to paint is greater consistency in the quality provided event to event. This should have happened a long time ago. It should happen now. Should either major league be interested in greater practical detail you know where to find me.

PS--manufacturer's awards wasn't my idea. I credited the source I got it from in the magazine column--which is why I was looking for it--but don't remember anymore. Anyway, it was a clever Brit and if any of y'all recall (or find the column) he deserves the credit.
UPDATE: It was Steve Bull. The column was "Brave New Paintball World" from 2004 reprinted on the blog in 2008--and found by Kine (who posted in comments.)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Baca's Mailbag: Sponsorship, Fat Cash & the Pro Game

From the Great White North come a series of related questions that begin with: What is sponsorship?  Compare levels of sponsorship in the 10 man days, early xball days and [present day] PSP.  The importance of sponsorship and the relationship between it and podium finishes. One last thing, the difference in the top tier of pros and their financing programs and the bottom tier.

Very broadly sponsorship is support offered (and/or negotiated) between the sponsoring entity (typically a paintball company or business) and a team (or player) for a period of time that allows the sponsor to directly associate itself and its products with the team (or player.) Such "support" ranges from straight cash to free product to discounted product. Straight cash in the current environment is mostly agreements to pay entry fees or defray certain travel expenses, etc. as opposed to, well, lump sum straight cash. Free product is either specific numbers (10 guns a year) or a draw against an annual team fund that usually values the sponsor's product at retail value. Although there is a marginal category of free free stuff like sponsor T-shirts because they want the team to actively promote the sponsor. Discounted product with no strings attached qualifies too (anything that legitimately reduces operating costs) as opposed to the "discount" packages that only offer the discounts if you purchase the package.

In the last fifteen years pro paintball has seen sponsorship values grow, peak and decline irrespective of formats--with the influx of money and excitement around early Xball coinciding with industry peaks in the early middle portion of the last decade. By 2007 the Golden Age of Sponsorship was over. There is also a certain irony in that many of the teams receiving the high end sponsorships had an excess of resources relative to their strict paintball requirements which helped foster the image (and reality) of  the "pro" lifestyle--fostered and funded by the industry--and then, just as xball was beginning to predominate and a higher degree of professionalism was required of the teams and players the industry derived sponsorships began to shrink.

While sponsorship does impact results in some obvious ways we need to broaden the category from team sponsorship to team resources--and even then there are a host of important variables to be accounted for.
If you look at results over the last fifteen years success leans toward the teams with the most resources although I think it's impossible to say whether or not the gap between the haves and the have nots has widened over that period. Take for example a team like Lockout with very little sponsorship during much of its existence they still reached the pro ranks and competed for pro titles. But even then they were something of an exception. The majority of the best teams had the resources to compete whether it was sponsorship, factory backing, monied ownership or some combination of all three. That said I think it's harder now to compete in the PSP if a team is at a significant resource disadvantage than it used to be.

More money means you can afford to make more mistakes. Top tier pro teams can "buy" players. Top tier programs have the resources to put in place all the necessary pieces more easily. And of course the means to be on the practice field longer and more frequently. It is a significant advantage but money can't buy team chemistry, heart, desire or commitment or wise decision-making. There are enough money independent elements to making a winning team that the underdogs do win sometimes and can be competitive even though the struggle is greater and the demands more demanding..

Friday, May 24, 2013

Not In The Paintball News

NPPL 4.0's NE Open is less than two weeks away with registration closing in a week and according to the team list available on the registration page the team count remains 43 (the total from last week) with only 9 pro teams and 3 D2 teams listed. Either the league is intentionally under-reporting the numbers so that a still modest turnout (sixty-ish?) looks like a success in comparison or they really have their work cut out for them. The event layout remains 180 feet long for the second event in a row despite the league officially reducing field length to 170 prior to the start of the season. (Or are we just supposed to forget about that too? You know, like the Hawaii non-event.) And I will be curious to see if Walker plays--he is a member of CP Raiders--or if that will deemed inappropriate.

The MS Bitburg event began play today and their webcast can be seen on Livestream via a link at the Millennium website. And, no, I'm not gonna give you the link, you lazy slackers. If you really want to see it you can spend the extra 30 seconds to make it happen. The camera set-up remains similar to the Med Open (or last week's CPS webcast) with good angles and views on the snake wire but nothing on the dorito wire which leaves you at the mercy of the commentators--who frequently seemed as lost as the hopeful viewer--at least during the period I was watching earlier today. All of today's scores can be found at also has a link available on the MS home page. Both Impact and Infamous had strong outings today that should see them through to Sunday.

If you're too lazy to go to the MS homepage for the webcast link or scores you might want to reconsider given the Millennium has been promising that their season ender (Euro WC) will take place "at the best venue ever used for paintball." I won't spoil the surprise but I gotta say it came as a major surprise when I saw what they have in mind. Will it be the best venue ever? I'll let y'all decide.

And finally, stepping outside VFTD's usual area of interest I can't pass up on the amusing irony on display during and after Living Legends 6, the annual (6 times and counting) scenario game held at CPX paintball park in Joliet IL and recent home of both NPPL & PSP events. Despite (apparent) efforts by media sponsors to keep the most aggrieved commenters off their sites the game itself (apparently) featured excessive bonus-balling and (gasp) cheating and borderline unsafe playing conditions on Sunday plus that special brand of low rent debauchery CPX is becoming well known for--a bikini contest judged by what were (apparently) this year's "legends" that devolved into a 'Girls Gone Wild' affair. All I can say is thank you. Next time somebody decries the state of paintball I will agree and say, "It's those damned scenario players, no integrity, no respect but what are you gonna do?"

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Baca's Mailbag: 90 Seconds or Less

Brian writes in and says: I would like to hear your opinion on shortening the time between points for pro matches. I know that a few years back it was 90 seconds. In late 2008 I proposed the idea on Pbnation. [Matches] will be more fun to watch with a quicker turn around. Teams will have more trouble running the same 5 guys making your bench more important (A deep roster should count for something). Could put a premium on player conditioning. Would make pit crew, coaching decisions, time outs and play calling all more important. I really do think that at most the time between points should be 60 seconds. Anyone who has played xball/race2 understand that 2 min is more than enough time for even rookie teams to turn the same 5 guys around and IMO this is something that should change.

So my questions for you:
Why did they change it back to 2 min?
Do you think the time should drop?
What are possible negatives to having 1 min between points (and I really, really don’t want to hear that it’s too hard to do or that you can’t run the same 5 guys with only 1 min between points).

Questions answered first, then my opinion. It changed back because some of the pro teams were claiming it was an unfair advantage to teams with organized pit crews (that were often part of the team.) Keep in mind there are pro teams out there now who hunt for pit help at each event so the level of planning, organization and resources still diverges pretty dramatically. I would personally have no objection to returning to the 90 second time frame at the upper levels of play but I'm not sure I'd mandate it across the board. Unlike Brian I've seen a lot of lower division teams in particular struggle with their clock management but it's an issue for everyone now and then. Perhaps matched up with more but shorter time outs?
The only important negative is that there literally are teams that can't effectively negotiate a 60 second time clock. (So yes, despite risking your displeasure, Brian, I'm saying it's too hard--for now.) It is largely a matter of poor pit organization and/or lack of crew but is also an issue with regards team order and discipline. And what I wouldn't want to do is risk altering the quality of play by unnecessary rule or regulation. At divisional levels this is a non-starter automatically. To my mind they are customers first, competitors second. At the pro level if pro paintball were in fact a legit pro sport, even a modest one, I would be much more inclined to say bring it on. The teams and organizations will learn how to adjust on the fly. I've already designed play calls around a rapid shorthand system similar to calling football plays and there are lots of ways to accelerate the process--if you have the time and resources to properly develop those changes. I think 60 seconds is a reachable goal but that in the present it would be another burden most teams don't have the time or resources to deal with.
I wouldn't put the extra burden on lower level divisional teams. I would take a hard look at progressively integrating some restricted clock measures for the upper level divisional teams who clearly have aspirations of moving up; D2 & D1. I'd reinstitute the 90 second clock tomorrow if I could have 2 extra 30 second timeouts per match. And I'd make the 60 second turnaround the goal to be aimed for in the future.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Monday Poll in Review

The wretched and worthless poll is over and Blogger is also wretched and worthless when it comes to dealing with these sorts of idiosyncratic errors. Mostly because they don't really care all that much unless a problem becomes systemic. Anyway--the final tally was seven. Votes. 4 favored the top Challengers playing the bottom Champs for the opportunity to move up but so what? The polls are supposed to be fun and give the VFTD community a snapshot of what you think of the latest trends or topics in competitive paintball but when the gadget don't work we are all up the proverbial creek without a paddle. Besides ruining this last poll it also means I probably won't be attempting another until I can get some answers as to what went wrong this time. In the meantime find something to amuse yourselves on Mondays; work, school, inventing better hangover recipes, the usual.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Baca's Mailbag: Event Paint Sponsors

What do you think about Joey Blute's [Manager of TB Damage] suggestion in the recent Social PB video about limiting events to specific paint providers so as to avoid an advantage?

Is there that much variance in paint from event/manufacturer event to event to provide an advantage and warrant such a change?

Let's begin with the second question. Yes, there often is. And the reasons are almost endless. It can be as simple as miscalculating the local weather if the top grade paint was made for the event or deciding a large quantity of leftover from the last event was really good and if it's been properly stored it should still be good ... And complicating the issue further is separate lots within the grades of paint vary as well. Now I don't want to suggest the differences are enormous but then they don't have to be to potentially impact the results. Which is why the smart pro teams (and I assume that's all of them) make their event paint supply a high priority.

I think it's an intriguing idea. I liked it back in the days of print mag 'Paintball Games International' when I suggested it and again on this blog in 2008 in a post called, Paradigm Shift. And I have no doubt that somebody else before either one of us got around to it thought it sounded like a good idea because it is a good idea. From a competitive perspective it would remove the most influential existing variable from game play. And it's a significant enough variable at times to have an impact on the outcome of matches particularly if the teams are closely matched to begin with.
I also think now was a good time to bring this idea back. In the past when virtually all the pro teams were locked into substantial (and very valuable) paint sponsorships it would have been impossible, or nearly so, to make this kind of change but now we have a one paint league with the NPPL and the level of team paint sponsorships has shrunken to the point where a change may be in the best interests of the manufacturers and most of the teams. There has been a trend of late for local and regional leagues to feature single paint sponsors. But exactly how that might work in the PSP for example is hard to say. I do think it's an all or nothing proposition though and an event like WC would have to be shared on a rotating basis between the paint sponsors. What if PSP offered two 2-year paint sponsorships to the highest bidders and each sponsor would get 5 alternating events. Whoever took the first event the first year would get the first WC but each sponsor would get exactly the same number of events over two seasons. High bidder gets choice of schedule. Would leaving someone out work? In the hothouse environment that is paintball industry probably not but who knows?
And of course at the end of the day whatever the arrangement it would have to make economic sense to the manufacturers.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mid-season Humdrum

It's not that nothing is happening. All the usual stuff is happening--which is good--plus some extra stuff like the NCPA finals on CBS Sports earlier today. I confess I haven't seen it yet but I watched a large chunk of FGCU thumping a hapless Liberty and that alone could stand as the reason we now play Race To 7. (Although with the advent of Champions "real" Xball might be a completely different animal the second time around. Just a thought. I mean if it's good enough for the NCPA why not the PSP? Anybody want to take a stab at answering that? Raehl?)
It's not even that there aren't a couple of juicy rumors floating around even. I expect the word to break soon that a high profile pro is leaving his current team and looking to make a move. (No names or teams until it's a done deal, if a deal is gonna get done, cus I don't want to interfere.) Even bigger than that is the talk a Champions level team may call it quits after this season. No lie. But not, that I've heard, a done deal just yet though it seems to be a legit possibility.
And there's always the MS to kick around--still no sign of the long-rumored rule book--but even the Millennium Board has been making various overtures to at least pacify their peasantry lately so what's the point? (And everytime I hear from some Eurokid on the down low who is gonna have a scoop for VFTD it never seems to materialize.) The sad truth is despite their desire for world paintball hegemony and spotty officiating (and no rule book) the MS is doing a good job in the eyes of most of their critics and customers.
Then there's the NPPL. For now. Here today--could easily be gone tomorrow. 43 teams registered for NE Open. All the rest of their promises disappearing down the memory hole as fast as Chuck can dig. It's gotten so bad that slapping the NPPL around is like shooting fish in a barrel or engaging in a battle of wits with a Downs Syndrome kid. It's only fun the first time or two.
In the meantime this is your opportunity to ask a question--or even two. Unless something significant strikes my fancy I'll be nonstop answering questions submitted to Baca's Mailbag. (Use the email link on the sidebar.) As long as there's a paintball connection all questions will get a reply. Who knows, if enough questions come in VFTD might even start giving out awards and prizes for stuff like the best, worst, dumbest, etc. It's not like you're winning Powerball any time soon.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

CPS Paris on Livestream

If you're not playing Bunkerfest or CFPS event #3 this weekend--or perhaps getting your grind on for MS Bitburg (two weeks out)--or you're simply jonesing for some tourney action you may want to check out some of the matches from last weekend's CPS Paris event on Livestream. Of course if you are playing Bitburg taking in some of the CPS action will give you a head's up on how the Bitburg layout plays with the opportunity to watch some of the Millennium's CPL pros competing. Or if you are a student of the competitive game--not to say a paintball nerd--it's an opportunity to watch for differences in very similar layouts (PSP MAO & MS Bitburg) and the contrasting styles apparent in the European and American games.
I don't recall if Livestream requires registration or not but if it does it's dead simple--otherwise I wouldn't have done it. And while the quality of the webcast isn't up to the PBA/PSP standard it offers a good view across the field and a strong snake presence so you can get a good look at breakouts, shooting lanes and the snake wire action. The CPS brought over Matty to do the commentary and while he lacked some familiarity with the teams it's a plus for all the English-speaking only audience.
The one truly unique feature of the CPS webcast is the diversity of teams shown. Their webcast isn't limited to pro team action or even exclusively upper division action as they offer matches across all the divisions competing at the event. So, next time you're bored check out the CPS action and if you are a member of a divsional team and would like to see yourselves on an event scale webcast the CPS may be the ticket.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Housekeeping: Worthless Poll

The latest The Monday Poll went up, er, Monday and appeared to functioning correctly but about midday on Monday it began registering different vote counts that have since gone up and down seemingly randomly but mostly down. I've checked repeatedly using multiple browsers so I'm officially blaming the Blogger widget responsible. Blogger isn't usually much help for this sort of thing but I'm going to let the poll run its course and see if reveals something more like accurate results at the end of the polling period. I'd apologise for the inconvenience but most of you slackers didn't vote anyway.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Dissecting the 2013 PSP Field Designs

There's quite a lot to be learned from the Dallas & MAO layouts but what I want to focus on is how layouts intended to be one thing--promoting a faster game play--and that was plainly the intent--turned out to be nearly the opposite.
How do I know the intent was to promote faster game play? Simple. Look at the back center. It has been conventional wisdom for some time that no back center, or a marginal one at best, pushes teams to run for their primaries and diminishes laning OTB. The theory is less laning with its concomitant lowered risk encourages more aggressive actions OTB. But actual game play doesn't match up with the theory. For starters heavy guns OTB are far more likely to get breakout eliminations and every kill is a 20% reduction of the opponent's players and numerical mismatches are what promote aggressive play particularly when the situation is fluid. And of course the fact there is no traditional laning options doesn't stop teams from finding lanes to shoot in a variety of different ways. Now you might think the risk involved shooting lanes despite lack of cover would result in those early eliminations and mismatches we want but simply watching a few games will show otherwise. The reason for this is usually the placement of the blocking bunkers (the bunkers that block certain lanes and shots) which results in the unintended consequence of also blocking efforts to find those laners using blind spots and dead zones to temporarily hide in.
As you can see the snake used in Dallas was very different from the one used at MAO--and the MAO snake was a much better "fast" play snake--up to a point. That point was the mid-snake or snake 50 dorito. Anytime you see an isolated prop in the fifty, especially snake side, you can be confident play will bog down at that point. But the place where all current snake designs have difficulty in promoting aggressive play are the elbows and "technical" beams or more accurately the efforts made to make those bunkers playable. The technical snake requires its own set of blocking bunkers which make the snakes playable but also reduce the number of inbound and outbound shots and angles available to be played. Since it is now sufficiently difficult to play the snake in the traditional manner alternatives have arisen. For example, if you can't deny the snake you prepare to deny the one or two positions in the snake that could be effective.
Now let's look at the d-wire. Note that all the wire bunkers are within a single (green) column of gridded space the length of the field. When aligned thusly it's nearly impossible for players on the wire to contest their opponent's wire movement. This theoretically promotes aggressive movement and a race for the fifty. As can be seen subtle adjustments do allow some contain opportunities on the wire but they are minimal. So if a team intends to contest their opponents movement they require a different bunker and angle. (The orange props.) [In the case of Dallas the Can also functioned as an offset "Home".] The orange positions provided inside angles capable of shooting in the gaps but were also easily double-teamed. (At Dallas teams could double the Can and upfield MT and did but the Dallas Can was also in demand as a cross field lane option at times.) 
The light green column is just a demonstration that illustrates that most of the blocking bunkers also fill a column space and often create in interior running lane--and if you flipped the fields the two green columns would contain the snake and a similar inside lane on that half of each field as well. And usually does.

If both Dallas & MAO were intended to promote faster play what happened? In Dallas it was possible to aggressively lane the snake and corner OTB which forced teams to short play their snake breakout to reduce their risk. In order to both slow down d-wire movement and maintain a snake wire presence the teams used the snake inserts to post up cross field. (See pink colored bunkers.) And also used D1 (or D2) as a primary snake contain position. Remember, they weren't denying access, they were denying useful shots and since the number of positions in the snake with useful shots is limited now it's easy to target the spot(s) you want to stop. And even though it was fast and easy to access the MAO snake the same limitations applied that allowed the lead snake players to be contained more often than not. Right now we are getting the games the teams are choosing to play and it isn't going to be easy to encourage change.

The Monday Poll: Read Before You Vote

This is the last time--for now--that I'ma bring up relegation and promotion and I'm only doing it because I want to know what you think. (And if you believe that I have some pristine wetlands commercially zoned for your immediate development. Cheap.) I think most everyone agrees that some form of relegation/promotion is a good idea but I want a clearer idea of how the differing opinions shake out. Not like it will influence anybody. (The PSP.) But as they say in all the gambling disclaimers purely for entertainment purposes only. So here's the deal. The poll only addresses promo and relegation between the Champions division and the Challengers division. Got that? Good. A vote for keeping it the same would be a vote for event-to-event as is. One alternative would be promo & relegation at the end of the season only. Another would be no automatic relegation and promotion but would instead feature lowest ranked Champions versus highest ranked Challengers in head-to-head match-ups. Or a return to the status quo; no relegation or promotion period. Lastly you may choose other if you have a promo & relegation idea that hasn't been mentioned yet. (And if you do please share your concept in comments.)
You only have one chance this time around so make that vote count. It's a little tougher than making toast but at least you can't drop your vote butter side down. (The only time, btw, that the five second rule doesn't apply.) Consider your options carefully. The future of paintball may depend on your vote.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Russians, Challengers, Relegation & More

A single "unexpected" outcome doesn't invalidate a system. The current version of relegation/promotion isn't a failure because the Legion got relegated and, yes, it's almost certainly still a work in progress. Regulars should recall that in early discussions before the season began this blog suggested the first year would be a learning process--and it will be. It is also true the Challengers concept was conceived in response to pressure to add more pro teams when the practical limit (given the webcast and tournament duration) is 12 teams. It was determined, based primarily on "political" concerns to identify the Challengers as another pro division instead of semi-pro which would have been more accurate and more in keeping with the purpose of the division which was to bridge the gap between D1 and the pro teams. And to give the overflow of pro teams a place to go. Whatever status you assign the Challenger teams it has largely fulfilled its purpose. As the season goes on it will continue to serve as a training and proving ground for the promoted D1 teams. It should also unlock the bottleneck that for years has seen teams reluctant to compete at the D1 level and then make the leap to pro. Even if it's eventually decided that the process requires a tweak or two none of that will negate the positive benefits Challengers is delivering today.
One of the opportunities a forum like VFTD offer is the possibility of a free-wheeling no-holds-barred intelligent discussion of things of interest or concern to competitive players. This situation is no different. I usually advocate for the changes I think are worth considering but this blog also broaches topics in order to open a dialogue. Disagreement is to be expected. But disagreement alone isn't productive. Disagree all you like but bring something constructive to the mix.
As to that unexpected outcome it wasn't unexpected at all--at least not among some of the Champions. Prior to MAO the expectation was that RL stood a better than even chance of being relegated. This isn't the Legion y'all grew up watching dominate. There have been roster changes and coaching changes and a number of things have been apparent for some time. The Russian Legion system proved not to be a paintball player making machine. The system develops the individual player's skill set--a process that has expanded across Euroland in recent years--but it has limitations. It doesn't create intuitive and talented players. Fortuitously they started with a core group that proved to be both well trained but also adept at the game. What they couldn't do was develop a second generation as gifted as the first which is why they have picked up so many non-Russians in recent years to fill gaps in the roster. Include the departure of coach Max and some decline was almost inevitable.
I originally liked the event-to-event relegation and promotion concept mostly because year-to-year seemed too extreme, at least when you're dealing with only a ten team division and no guarantees about the quality of the promoted teams. As it stands now a Russian Legion can be relegated for an event but that's substantially better than if it were for a whole season. All that's missing now is for the Challengers to actually earn promotion by beating the Champion they replace. And should the league ultimately make no changes that will be less than perfect in my never to be humble opinion but then most things are.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

NPPL 4.0

The second coming of Shawn Walker hasn't exactly fired the imaginations of tournament players the world over--or even in more mundane if more practical places like the northeastern and mid-Atlantic regions of the United States if the 32 teams currently registered for the next NPPL event is any indication. There was a Walker sighting during the recent PSP MAO event however as he made an appearance at the venue and was observed taking lots of photographs along with a bevy of notes. One might imagine he was collecting information and insights into how to organize an event at OXCC if he wasn't already a high profile tournament promoter.
But my purpose today isn't to share gossip--that's just a bonus--it's to encourage Shawn and the league to stop being stupid with a capital S. In revising the league's event locations and schedule to something more closely aligned with reality they still managed to do themselves no favors by attempting to schedule on top of the PSP. Both their June and October events fall on the same weekend the PSP releases their layout, two weeks prior to their events, and the NPPL's August event went from being the same weekend to the one before. Granted there are limited options and without reflection it might seem like a good move to get in front of the PSP events but in reality all the league is doing is forcing teams and players that compete in both to make a choice--and the majority of the time that's a choice the NPPL is gonna lose. A fact that may already be reflected in the very modest upper division numbers registered for the Northeast Open. The two leagues may no longer share a significant number of teams but there are a lot of players, particularly in D1 and above, who compete in both leagues and since the NPPL is forcing them to decide which league and events to play it's the NPPL that will lose players--and teams--not the PSP--and that could extend to the pro ranks as well. Especially when you consider the discrepancy between the promised prizes and those delivered--so far.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Relegation & Promotion: PSP Style

I'ma give y'all the benefit of the doubt and assume you kinda skimmed over the relegation/promotion part of the MAO review--and since it's important (to me and all right thinking peeps) I'm taking a moment of my valuable time to address this topic specifically.
Right now 2 teams are relegated from the Champions division every event and 2 teams are promoted up from the Challengers. The current process is dramatic but it doesn't really fit the claimed league intent, which is that the Champions division consist of the ten best teams in the world that event. But just because the league relegates the 2 lowest Champions there's no reason to believe that teams previously relegated are better than the teams the newly promoted are replacing. It's simply that if 2 go down 2 gotta come up and right now they make the biggest deal out of the 4 teams fighting on Sunday morning to stave off relegation. All that really does is give the prelim bottom dweller(s) one last chance to avoid being relegated but it seems to me more of a spectacle than a system guided by competition or the league's stated desire to see the 10 best teams compete in Champions.
What the league should do, beginning in Chicago, is simply take the bottom team from each Champions bracket and match them up with the top 2 teams from the Challengers. If the Challenger wins then that Challenger is promoted and replaces the defeated Champion. If not, you reaffirm for the time being that the ten best teams are the ones that are currently competing in the Champions division. In you want to be the Champion you have to beat the Champion--and those match-ups will be a lot more exciting than pairs of Champs fighting to avoid relegation.
Promotion & relegation is a good idea as is the Challengers division but this is a better way to implement promotion & relegation than the system used now. Tell the PSP you favor head-to-head Champs vs. Challengers.

Monday, May 6, 2013

More MAO Talk: Post Event Observations

Before delving into the couple of problem areas that arose during the MAO (or continued to be problematic) I'd like to take a moment and be positive--beautiful weather, beautiful venue and the shuttles running back and forth from the expansive parking area were greatly appreciated. Now if only the league would stop making all the pros hike past all the vendors to get to our field every event paintball life would be nearly perfect. I mean really, how much stuff are pro players gonna buy on impulse if you endlessly walk them past the vendors? (I know, the idea is to make everybody else trek past the vendors to go watch the pros, and maybe buy stuff, but I'm old, slow and cranky and your rational explanations are wasted on me.) I want a shuttle! I want a shuttle everywhere we go. Or at least a radio dialled into the frequency the Paintball Central air crew are using 'cus Roy will hook a brother up. (Okay that turned out a little less positive than it seemed in my head before I began.) Suffice to say it was an excellent event that appeared to run like clockwork and while OXCC is off the beaten path a ways it has proved to be a hospitable venue.

Here is where things go negative. Nobody else will say so publicly and I'ma be circumspect in how I discuss this because of the very real possibility of on field ramifications but the reffing has suffered lately. Badly. At least the pro field reffing has. (I didn't hear any great hue & cry from the Challengers field so, fingers crossed, let's hope they did a solid job as I'm told most of the Challenger's crew are refs pulled up from D1 duties in the past and it would be a real plus to see they've made a rapid transition to the pro game particularly given the new rulebook and so on.) 
Maybe a little background is in order first. When past NXL (PSP Pro) commish Tony Mineo left to join the NPPL in a similar capacity the league simply passed many of Tony's duties to the pro field head referee. While the new boss had a different style the refs as a group generally did a commendable job. With the addition of the Challenger's field the former head ref was promoted to supervising both fields and that loss of direct contact I think has seen things get out of hand to a degree on the pro field. During this past weekend there were some very poor calls made at very inopportune times and worse the consistency of the officiating has deteriorated. Here are a couple of examples: Player in his snake 2 attempts to bunker an opponent out of the snake 50 dorito. The ref signals the player in the dorito eliminated, pauses for a slow two count then throws a red flag on the aggressor. For starters those actions are inconsistent. If the player was eliminated cleanly there's no flag and if he wasn't he should be wiped off and left in the game. In another instance a player runs down an opponent in the snake shooting that player in the pack then dives into the opponent's snake. For a moment they are laying next to each other. The eliminated player makes a questioning hand gesture to the nearby ref because no call has yet been made. With no signal from the ref the player shoots his attacker who promptly fires back again--at which point the refs throw red flags on both players. If, however a ref had simply made the call without delay none of the other action would have followed--and the ref in question did see the first player get hit. Admittedly paintball in some situations is very fast and its difficult to officiate but that is a fact, not an excuse. There are also refs "playing" out of position and duelling refs arguing over whether a player was eliminated or not and players being penalized for playing after a different ref has called them clean. It hasn't deteriorated to a free for all yet but if the fundamentals aren't addressed it will only get worse.
While I'm at it it would enhance the webcast considerably if there was a way to relay reffing decisions to the boys in the booth. They currently do the best they can but they are also sometimes simply guessing as to what the calls made were predicated on. It would also be a positive way to improve reffing accountability.
There was also some uncertainty in a couple of situations about how or if the rules applied so you've got to wonder if the group is up to speed on the new rulebook too. (Beware, Raehl has his hands on an editable copy so who knows what will suddenly change overnight. You think I'm kidding. I'm not. Much.)

The Pro Game
On the flipside the pro game has become more and more tedious to watch just when the league and PBA are making a huge and expensive push to promote our sport. It's boring and it doesn't help our prospects for the future. The slow game is not good for tournament paintball. There, I said it. And I'll say this too--the PSP doesn't know what to do about it. (So, like usual, I'ma help y'all out.) For starters the reffing ain't helping. If as a team you don't have to risk crapshoot officiating why would you? One thing the slow game does is take the refs outta the game to a large degree. And paintball is like other sports. If a team succeeds (Heat last season and to a lesser degree Damage before them) playing a particular style it won't be long before it's being copied by other teams. And in large part what that means is that teams and coaches around the league are breaking fields down focusing on defense. How do we deny our opponent movement up field? We are talking counterpunch paintball with a heavy duty dose of defense. And of course the layouts are contributing. In part because the league doesn't know how a chosen layout is going to play (and apparently neither do the peeps generating them.) And, and I really hate beating this particular dead equine some more but those wretched "technical" snake beams ain't helping either. You put all those pieces together and you gets slow play paintball. You wanna change that it's going to take a concerted effort on all those fronts. (Hey, I didn't say it was gonna be easy.) 

Our Event
We missed Sunday by the smallest of margins but part of that calculus was dependent on what other teams did and consistent teams, winning teams, don't get lucky or routinely sneak in the back door of success. They control their own destiny. So, sure, it was a little disappointing but we've already been over the webcast of our matches and there's lots of room for improvement. Improvements we will begin making immediately in preparation for Chicago. And of course it's just that much harder to make the cut this season while fighting through every match to keep the relegation monster at bay. It's brutal and nobody is exempt, not even the storied Russian Legion.

Thoughts on Champions and Challengers
Even though 3 of the top 4 teams in Challengers were former Champions I must say the new kids on the block put up a better performance across the board than I expected. Good for all y'all and well done. None of the former Champions came through the prelims unscathed (though Vicious only lost to Thunder) and Shock and XSV got thumped. I confess I didn't expect any of the new Challengers to perform that well but this result bodes well for the concept of Champions and Challengers given the idea is that the second pro division is intended to build competitive pro teams to Challenge the Champions.
Despite the fact the whole relegation and promotion thing is brand spanking new and has only just been initiated--it needs a tweak. Let's not call it a fix. Rather a tiny upgrade. Here's the thing: the idea is for the Champions division to be the 10 best teams in the world at any given time. So all the rigmarole around fighting off relegation in the Champions and battling for promotion in the Challengers is the right idea but the wrong application. If the goal is to always have the ten best teams compete in Champions then what needs to happen is for the bottom teams in Champions to play the top 2 Challengers head-to-head. Winning Challengers doesn't make a team better than the worst Champion--beating that Champions team does. Best of all it would be more intense and exciting than the battle to avoid relegation among the bottom four Champions, it would be a direct one off war to be or stay a Champion.

Things You'd Never Discover Without Paintball
On the way to the Philly airport we pulled off the highway early to get gas. The first station was on the other side of the road and we were already in the wrong turn lane have followed Siri's directions. The next one proved to be a Wawa market--no gas. (Since when does Wawa not have gas?) The third one was a private gas station for the service buses working the airport. Finally we found a station willing to sell us gasoline and were rewarded with the gas station radio network. Piped through tinny outdoor speakers we were reminded that buzzed driving is drunk driving which was followed by Tom Petty's 'American Girl' as muzak which was cut short as we pulled away from the pump with an identifier that we had been listening to "The Gas Station Radio Network."

Top Super Secret News
VFTD can report that a rep of a very large multi-national was on site over the weekend checking out the event and the webcast. The unnamed company targets our demographic and is very active in the sporting world. I have no idea what they were looking for or expecting to see or what they thought afterward. I suspect the league doesn't know either--at least not yet--but the fact is the league has been working behind the scenes quietly pursuing the kinds of outside sponsorship we've all been hoping for for years.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Well would'ja look at that

Or, the PSP folds under pressure of the incontrovertible logic of VFTD. (Not really but it sounds mighty impressive, don't you think?)
What am I talking about? Oh, right. I should probably explain. Thing is a while ago in discussing future webcasts I suggested that it was possible to schedule up to 12 matches per day on the Champions field which meant the league could feature a Challengers match (or two) during the prelims. I split the difference and suggested one per day would be good as it would remind folks of the Challenger action and give the webcast crew the opportunity to keep the audience up to speed on all the Challenger results. It seemed like an obvious move but when I broached the subject directly with the PSP it was categorically rejected--at least for the foreseeable future.
So imagine my surprise when I (finally) got a look at the schedule--what was up with the delay in releasing the schedule this time around, btw?--and there were two Challenger match-ups per day on the Champions field on Friday & Saturday. See the official schedule here. However it happened that the Challengers have been included I think it's a good thing. Except of course when the teams that didn't get a webcast match begin to complain--then all bets are off.