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.)
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.