Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A VFTD Slacker Re-post: So You Wanna Play A Big Game?

In recent months VFTD has seen an influx of "friends"and "followers" on Facebook & Twitter from the scenario realms who have stumbled upon our happy little blog despite its competition orientation. This is my way of saying thanks and I hope y'all have a sense of humor. Below is the first half of an OG VFTD column as it appeared in Paintball Games International magazine in Jan, 2005.

So You Wanna Play a Big Game? Part 1

After an absence of a few months I went out to a favorite field one weekend, feeling the urge to relive some fond memories, and hoping to hang out with some old friends. On a lark I decided to see if I missed playing in the woods. Instead, the games I played out on the large, wooded ridge field were a nightmare. The latest crop of tourney players in the mix were as lost out in the woods as the newbies. Even the regular walk-ons who routinely played the field behaved like they could easily wander off and disappear, never to be seen again. Most of the skills needed to play in the woods, heck, even to see and recognize what was happening in a woods game of paintball were virtually nonexistent. The result was a glacial game pace that would have bored an Alabama wood tick punctuated by so much friendly fire there should'a been a congressional investigation.
The whole debacle reminded me of the assorted scenario and big games that periodically occur on patches of isolated woodlands like an outbreak of some hemorrhagic plague or monkey-virus that must be contained lest it spread to the general population and infect them with the urge to run around with paintball markers pretending they're Muldar and Scully or General Patton reincarnated. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Really. I'm completely serious but ... I've been on all sides of the Big Game battle lines. I've been a player. I've been a referee. I've played as a rec player and played as a tourney player. If you've never tried it you ought to do it once and find out for yourself if it's the sort of paintball you want to play. 
In the meantime maybe I can help separate the reality from the fantasy. Okay, it's all fantasy but play along. It'll be good practice if you ever do try the scenario thing.Most of the promoters of these events pitch the "scenario" (ya know, the concept, the storyline) as the draw. The possibilities are nearly endless as the scenarios can be anything that gives a coupl'a hundred paintball players a reason to run around in the woods shooting each other. 'Course I've never really thought an excuse was required, but ... Anyway, you get stuff like WWII or Vietnam based scenarios skirting the boundaries of reenactment and good taste to alternate history; for example, What if the Indians had Tippmann flatliners when Columbus landed on Hispaniola? 
Alright, probably not that exact one but you get the idea. More popular in years past were 'Red Dawn' type deals wherein the godless Soviet commies invade Nebraska or Iowa or wherever. Nowadays you get plenty of 'Men in Black' meet 'Indiana Jones' scenarios that happily mix and match space aliens, towel-headed terrorists, One World whackos, time travel, legendary lost treasures, vampires, gangsters and unrepentant Spanish-speaking Nazis plotting the Fourth Reich from their haciendas on the Argentine pampas in between games of polo played with human skulls. The usual suspects.
The organization and complexity of these games can vary widely. Many of the shorter Big Games don't need much more than a broad outline and a handful of guiding players to get the action started while the 24 hour scenario games often have interwoven storylines and lots of prepared missions and special events. It can go so far that every player receives a unique character I.D. complete with pre-planned skills. A large part of the play of those games is to have as many of the players as possible act out their parts as well as play paintball. My experience has been that a percentage of the players really get into the role-playing aspect but that the majority just want to run around and shoot people. Nor do they care who they shoot. Once the game starts they are so anxious there often exists a near pathological disregard for anything and anyone that gets in their way, and would, in the real world, lead to a Sam Peckinpah-esque massacre if the projectiles involved were anything but paint-filled gelcaps. Hear a branch snap? Fire at will. Hear an airplane fly overhead? Fire at will. Decide that suddenly it's too quiet out there? Fire at will. See some guys through the cover of trees but can't see their armbands? Fire at will. Buried in the brush near the re-entry zone giggling like junior high school girls while you watch some players re-join the game. Fire at will. See refs coming your way. Fire at will then run like hell.
Broadly, every scenario or big game will have two or sometimes three competing teams and each team will have a base of operations. Among other things this gives everybody something to attack and defend. And a place for the commanding general to hang out. Once the players have been assigned to their team, arm-banded with colored tape and the backstory explained to help motivate the players--Ralph Nadar and the Eco-Weenies are plotting the destruction of Area 51 while simultaneously the Alpha-Centauris are organizing a raid to recover the ship they lost at Roswell--it's time for the generals to take over. In order to keep the game on track and see to it the clever advance planning doesn't go to waste each team has a general who orders the missions and generally (get it?) tries to keep the different facets of the scenario progressing and the players actively involved. 
The generals are always seriously into the game but have differing styles of play. At one extreme are the guys (and gals) who take to the role like the latest Central American strongman intent on bringing order to his poverty-stricken pesthole of a nation even if it means killing every campesino who survived the latest cycle of insurrection and repression. The other extreme acts like they just arrived straight from some rubber chicken dinner theater staging of Gilbert & Sullivan's 'Pirates of Penzance.' The one leads his forces with a righteous intensity while the other engages with a tongue-in-cheek flamboyance. Think William Shatner.
Part 2 tomorrow

Monday, July 29, 2013

Let's Try (The Monday Poll) Again

Time to find out if Blogger has fixed its malfunctioning poll gadget. And what better time than the one event nearly every Champions team anxiously circled on the calendar at the beginning of the season after the new event-to-event relegation plan was announced. Bad enough to fall into the Challengers bracket but doubly to be avoided going into World Cup.
This time around the Champions bracket sees the return of the Russian Legion and first time Champion Top Gun. Given how evident the gap between the established pro teams and those who would join them really is I suspect the top vote recipient to be relegated will be Top Gun but after that it becomes, er, interesting.
While the Legion was the clear class of the Challengers they still must prove they can hang in the brutal and unforgiving competition of the Champions. And X-Factor and Infamous have staved off relegation twice. Vicious made a remarkable comeback to the Champions bracket in Chicago but the margin between success and failure is very small. Then there's the Ironmen who have recently cut LJ and seen Corey Bornstein leave the team at a crucial moment in the season. And while nobody expects any of the top 4 to falter it would only take one or at most two uncharacteristic losses to put any team into a fight to evade relegation.
Who will it be?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Rankings & Results in the Champions Bracket

A fan of stats for paintball from Day 1 I haven't been quite as enthusiastic about some of the particulars (I find one or two of the stats to not only be not terribly useful but potentially misleading)--but that was before there was nearly two seasons of data collected. With the info currently available I wanted to do a rough analysis to see if (and how) player stats corresponded to team results. Yes, I realize it's not an apples to apples comparison but one still expects the teams with the (statistically?) best players to be among the best teams at least as a general sort of rule. So the question becomes do the stats bear that out? Not unequivocally as will be seen shortly.
In 2012 the top 7 pro teams were (in descending order); Heat, Damage, Infamous, Ironmen, Russian Legion, X-Factor & Dynasty.
So far in 2013 the top 7 pro teams are (in descending order); Dynasty, Damage, Impact, Heat, Ironmen, Infamous & X-Factor.
Six of the seven teams remain the same from one list to the other which is nearly ideal for this purpose. The obvious place to begin is with Dynasty. Seventh last season and first so far this season. And do the player stats inform that movement? They do.
In looking at the stats I divided the placements into separate tiers; top 10, top 25, top 40, top 50 & top 75 in order to see more precisely the relative placement of each team's players.
In 2012 Dynasty had 5 players in the top 40 but all were ranked between 11-40. In 2013 Dynasty has 7 ranked in the top 40 with 5 in the top 25 so it's plain to see that Dynasty's improved team results correspond to improved player stats too. Among the teams listed the Ironmen also seem to bear out the correlation though less convincingly as they had 5 top 40 players last season in finishing fourth but have only two top 40 players this season while holding fifth.
The other question that arises is do the player stats predict the results consistently? And the answer to that is no. Both seasons Damage held (holds) second place yet last season dominated the stats with 8 players in the top 40 while only having 4 this season. Russian Legion finished fifth last season with 6 top 40 players and still have 4 top 40 players even though they have been relegated once this season. Then there's Infamous. Finished third last season with three top 40 players and stand in sixth so far this season with three top 25 players.
At this point it's difficult to decide whether the Dynasty correspondence is an anomaly or if we need more information. When the numbers are extended out to the top 75 players (in 2013) 4 of the top 5 results make up the current top 4 in the rankings; Dynasty--9 players, Damage--7 players, Impact--9 players & Heat--9 players. The odd team out now is the Legion also with 7 top 75 players.
Running the numbers out to the top 75 gives us perhaps a better indication of potential roster depth but if it also provides superior corresponding accuracy in representing team results it opens up a whole new batch of questions about the relative meaning of the stats and the variations in placement.
More on that next time in--Stats & Status of Pro Rankings.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Not In The Paintball News

Something a little lighter is in order I think after all that brain-numbing serious talk. (The Hammer Time! series, d'oh.) Nowadays the lighter side--not to suggest the frequently more idiotic side as well--most often means a visit to the 800 lb. gorilla of paintball chatter, PBN. At least it did for today's foray into Not In The Paintball News.
First up is the latest round of shoot & sniff paintballs in a Jelly Belly assortment of scents available in 100 rd. test bags. Well, not exactly. There are, apparently, a whole bunch of different scents available but not as a mixed assortment. A Jelly Belly assortment of mixed scent paintballs would probably be better. Anyway, I still don't get it. How long can the novelty value last? Is this stuff being marketed to girls or have the man parts of today's youthful male failed to drop leaving them susceptible to this kind of silliness? Hey, just asking. I don't know about the rest of y'all but I like my paintballs round and I want them to break on stuff I shoot leaving an opaque Day Glo splatter of paint. And if they don't do that I want something else that does. If it doesn't perform to basic paintball standards what difference does it make if it smells like strawberries or even a porterhouse steak? And if it is a decent paintball I still don't understand who is going to go out of their way to insist on lemon creme. Now if they could make a paintball that tasted like donuts they'd be on to something.
Item two revolves around number stickers for hoppers. You see, in the PSP, as a way of aiding in stat collection all the pro players have their player number on their hoppers now--usually big white numbers on black shells. Well, it seems divisional kids who appear in the finals on the webcast on Sundays get numbers for their hoppers too and it's become something of a point of pride--at least among a vocal faction--that not just anybody earns those numbers. Consequently anyone who would put the numbers on their hopper without earning them is a poseur and worthy of derision if not ostracism. So is it a symbol of achievement or a status symbol for divisional players or a little bit of both? I didn't think most divisional teams even bothered with player numbers. Is that on the rise too? Do div teams that consider themselves serious contenders have individual player numbers--or am I just outta the loop on this one? Am I blowing this out of proportion or is really kind of a big deal? Heck, there was a time too when having a PSP (or NPPL) ID was a big deal too.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hammer Time! (One Last Time)

Don't think this is really the last VFTD post on officiating 'cus you know I'll just change the post title next time I want to talk about reffing. And it will come up again sometime unless of course you all do as I say. (Cue maniacal laughter.) But seriously ...
I'ma suggest two options today; Reform Lite & the Overhaul. Personally I prefer the Overhaul (because I'm a forward thinking kinda guy) and I think it would improve the game and ultimately be easier to officiate but in the meantime there are a couple of less radical alternatives that I am hopeful would go a long way to providing greater consistency in the on field calls.
Truth be told there's actually Reform Lite and Reform Ultralite. What it amounts to is a handful of rules for refs that are introduced across the board to all of a league's refs along with a new scheme for dealing with fast aggressive action, mostly on the wires. It wouldn't change the basic rules as they exist today. It might change the number of refs per field (but "might" only because I don't know how many are normally on divisional fields.) I imagine a work around would be possible. The goal of ref reform is to achieve improved consistency and greater uniformity of process across all the event fields. Consider it a step in the right direction.
Reform Ultralite is very very simple. It's a single rule (or guideline) that states all referees will always default to throwing a yellow flag unless a red flag is unequivocally the correct call. Which means only throw the red when there is no doubt that it's the correct call by existing rule and if you have any doubt throw the yellow instead. But, but, but--no buts.
The Overhaul isn't really much more difficult than than Reform Lite except it would require everyone, refs, players and spectators to assimilate change and of course would require reconciliation of the rule book. (I am not, btw, locked into this particular formula as I believe there are lots of so far unconsidered and unexplored alternatives. This is just what I have to propose right now.)
Two things first; it's my opinion there are two kinds of refs on most fields. The kind who feel like they have to throw more flags to maintain control and those who sometimes hesitate because maybe the "crime" doesn't fit the penalty. The other thing is the range of penalty effects is very narrow (you're out and so is that guy and maybe that other guy) whereas the potential range of a violation's impact on the game is pretty broad. So on the one hand the refs are limited in what they can call and in my estimation the penalty doesn't always fit the "crime." Part of the Overhaul is to even out that imbalance.
Here's the concept. We can debate the details in the comments. The refs keep their flags and the penalties as called now remain (for the most part.) The refs get one extra flag, a black one and to make this work at the divisional level each field gets two extra folding chairs.
In the pro game any player cited for a penalty goes immediately to the box to serve the time and the scorekeeper assigns x number of demerits depending on the flag color; a yellow is one demerit and a red flag is 3 and a black flag is 5 and after x number of demerits the player serves an automatic match suspension at which point the player's demerits reset at 0 but if they reach match suspension level a second time in the same season the suspension becomes and event suspension. The black flag is for the rare gross penalty but given the changes to the penalty structure it would also allow for finer distinctions to be made, for example, wiping might become a black flag offense. [Given that divisional play lacks a penalty box and that most teams do not play a full season a simple alternative is required. Any player receiving a penalty is immediately eliminated and proceeds directly to one of the extra folding chairs next to the scorekeeper's tent. The scorekeeper only needs to note the color of the flag and the point during which the flag was thrown. If yellow, for example, the penalized player must remain in the penalty chair for his/her team's next point before being allowed to return to the pit. If a red flag then for two points after the penalty was called. This way the individual penalized pays the price. (And the option remains to have the penalized team start down a body or split the difference with a yellow flag not affecting the team and a red means the team starts down one the next point. Regardless more flexibility exists under the 'penalty chair' system.)]
Now I still think the refs tend to throw too many reds and are too inconsistent when it comes to routine calls but the changes suggested tend to minimize in game impact while remaining an increasing deterrent to the individual player (as the demerit total gets closer and closer to suspension.) And it would keep the refs from running around to grab extra bodies and allow play to continue with minimal interruption. The structural changes alone aren't sufficient though and every reasonable effort to improve the reffing crew's consistency remains a priority.
There you go. The demerit (or 'penalty chair') system can be implemented almost overnight without disrupting any major element of the Race To format--the largest obstacle would be re-writing the damn rule book again.

Monday, July 22, 2013

(Some More) Hammer Time!

I've already written 90% of the final Hammer Time! post and had planned to post it today. Before I got the post finished I had a brief conversation with a guy heavily involved in divisional paintball and decided to take one more stab at convincing y'all of the value of rethinking (and changing) the penalty structure. Oh, I know, you're open to change but if that's true you ain't been contributing much to the comments 'cus most of those betray, intentionally or not, the difficulty it seems many are having thinking outside the box.
But first, for those who missed it, a past series (or two) of posts focused on penalties and officiating, here, here, herehere & here that are on point and relevant to this conversation. If you didn't see them and you're really interested in this subject give them a quick once over. (Go ahead. Take your time. I'll wait. Done? Cool.)
Like in the 'Name That Penalty' series I want to highlight actual outcomes to illustrate the weaknesses (unfairness?) (inadequacy) of the current system. Since divisional no longer has a penalty box minor and major penalties result in pulling bodies, 1 and 2 respectively. In the case of a major the timing of the call impacts the penalized team to varying degrees. If it occurs early in the point the result likely leaves live players still on the field and capable of contesting the point--though the odds are stacked against pulling out such points. Same penalty called after the offending team has dropped a couple of bodies results in defacto loss of point as there's no one left to contest opponent. Finally, the same penalty is called against the last player on field which results in a point for the opponent and the penalized team starting down two bodies, 3 on 5 the next point. (Which, most of the time, results in the opponent winning the follow on point as well.) The same penalty call results in varying levels of impact based on the number of live players. (To my mind that is a problem on its face.) Now imagine you're playing RT2 or RT4 and consider the potential impact from that one penalty. Is this really the best option? And if it isn't how does one go about reconsidering?
Let's take a look at some other sports for clues. Hockey for instance has penalty boxes, time-based penalties and even extra chances to score. Basketball has fouls which lead eventually to added scoring opportunities but even with the greater number of points scored doesn't award points for penalties. And football penalties are largely predicated on field position, yards plus or minus. The real difference regardless of the sport is a proportionality to the penalties they assess that paintball has yet to replicate. And that needs to change.
Next time, I promise, will be the last one--for now.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

You're Welcome, PBA

No, it's okay. Really. Don't you give it another thought, PBA. I'll be happy to do the heavy lifting, the actual work Y'all go right ahead and pretend like you thought of it. Seems PBA got interested in how the pro teams are using their rosters. Fascinating. For their inspiration (and content) see here and here. For their contribution check out PBA article.
It's bad enough that there's a near total blackout of poor old Baca by the PBA but now they's dredging VFTD for their content too. Shameless, I say. Fortunate for them (and the rest of y'all) I am a one-man worldwide competitive paintball content provider. You're welcome, PBA.

Should the PSP Bring the All*Star Game Back?

It's not a trick question. It's a simple question. Unless perhaps you witnessed some of the past All*Star games. On a practical note it would be a good way to drive traffic at the PBA site during the slow summer months--if fans could vote for their favorites--and keep track of the latest results.
Look at the Millennium kids. No All*Star game but they have a whole secondary series of co-events featuring national teams. The first was an all-female event. Despite (or maybe because) a number of all girl teams already play in the Millennium. The second event featured national teams made up of players under 19 (years of age.) And at the last event it was (Open) national teams. That's a whole lotta extra paintball--and a clever way to expand the Millennium's base appeal and European [at least] legitimacy. But that's really another story for another day. I just wanted to point out that with no All*Star game or something like it the PSP is being left in the dust when it comes to specialty/unique paintball challenges. Even WCA now features the Intercontinental Cup. Of course one might also say the PSP doesn't need any gimmicks to validate its position either.
If the PSP were to bring back the All*Star game it would raise a lot of questions too. When and where is it to be held? How are the teams chosen? By PBA stats or popular vote, or a mix of both? How does it fit into a very tight webcast schedule--and as a consequence who gets left out? Or maybe it happens Thursday afternoon in Chicago or at Cup? It probably wouldn't be easy to organize but now that the pros feature both Champs and Challengers and for the first time ever the game has some meaningful stats shouldn't we have some special event that celebrates our sport?
Well, what do you think? Should the PSP bring the All*Star game back?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

(More) Hammer Time!

I can see I've got my work cut out for me on this one. It seems many of you have a difficult time even conceiving of rules and regulations as anything other than 'Crime & Punishment' writ small. And, as I've suggested already that's the first hurdle that must be overcome in order to rationally evaluate alternative ideas. That said, I appreciate all the efforts made in the related comments and I would encourage more of you to participate. Having an opinion isn't about being right or wrong but the more of y'all that contribute with more thoughts and ideas tossed into the mix the better.
Before I start offering rule change suggestions--that means at least one more Hammer Time is still to come--I'ma take a stab at the setting the table for the rest of you one more time. Before we even talk penalties let's look at the game for a minute. In its favor its a simple game. After dealing with basic safety, equipment, field dimensions and format pretty much all that's left is shoot people and don't get shot. Don't get me wrong, all those other elements that require some sorta rule or regulation aren't unimportant or a walk in the park to construct coherently--but they also mostly don't directly impact play of the game. Yes, there are some exceptions like gun rules regarding ROF and velocity but those can routinely be enforced.
Even so, the majority of penalties that attract attention and have the most impact are play of the game penalties related to being shot and eliminated. Even this wouldn't be a significant issue except flying paintballs don't always break. Which means that not every paintball that hits a player is necessarily a cause for elimination. Some bounce, some break. This is the source of most of the difficulties. This, and insufficiently well trained officials who fail to operate as a team at least as effectively as the players competing. I'm not, btw, slamming the refs. They can't do what they haven't been trained to do and we won't see consistency in the calls until all the refs on a given field are on the same page and oversight of officials is predicated on a philosophy of officiating. All things considered the Champions field refs are pretty decent but they won't get better and officiating in general won't get better just because we want it to. It will only happen when the league decides on a direction and begins to make the necessary effort.
Let's look at one scenario that is repeated dozens of times a tournament; bunkering a player in the snake, either down the wire or highway. The common result is both players are eliminated. Sometimes one of the  players also receives a penalty. Now we have a problem. The standard response is that it all happens so fast--and left unsaid is that it happens so fast we can't be expected to get it right--but when you start tossing yellow and red flags into that situation as often as not it simply compounds the unfairness instead of fixing any intentional rule breaking. Does throwing a flag then serve the intended purpose of maintaining game balance--or even punishing violators? I don't think so. It does however generate uncertainty and frustration. So why do teams keep making those plays? Because whatever the refs do it is often a tactical necessity.
Forget about penalties for a minute. What's it gonna take to make the game, competitive paintball, a better game?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Hammer Time (Again!)

Can't touch this. Just after PSP Chicago--and the parade of red flags (no, I don't have the numbers of penalty calls breakdown yet) you should recall a little post titled, Hammer Time, wherein I posited that a current area of weakness in the officiating process was a strong tendency by most (if not all) referees to view themselves as the police and all the players scampering around as criminals--and when the flags fly as something like justice being done.
This time around I'ma double down and suggest the next thing to consider is the penalties themselves. Where did they come from? And what makes the current penalties right (or most effective, etc.?) Since when have the rules enforced pulling players other than those responsible for the rules infraction? Since always except of course it hasn't been always. At least not in the case of Xball, Lite & Race To. But before that bodies were pulled for various infractions.
The rationale for pulling bodies is to a) sufficiently punish a team to send a message and deter another infraction, or b) to level the playing field of any advantage the team that broke the rules might have gained in the process. Or both.
How long ago were the 1-4-1, 2-4-1 and 3-4-1 penalties devised? In paintball years a long time ago. How many players did each team field? At least 10 and it may go back to the days of 15 players or even 20 players. (Before my time.) Let me now suggest there's a substantial difference in pulling 3 bodies when there are only 5 players on the field compared to 10 players. In essence we continue to use penalties designed for a different era and a different game that as a consequence have a much greater impact--dare I suggest far more punitive?--today than when first conceived. The same was true of the penalty box as well. Originally a major penalty was 5 minutes but a full match was 50 minutes. As the game time was reduced the penalty times weren't reduced commensurately--until some individuals who shall remain nameless began to suggest it was a necessary change.
The point is the game has carried along various conventions since its inception not necessarily because the original way was the best but because nobody gave much thought to accompanying changes until the need became obvious (to the peeps with the means to effect change.) And I think it's time to reevaluate the penalty system and consider bringing it into the 21st century.
While you're giving that some thought try this one on too. What other sport removes "innocent" players from the game for infractions committed by teammates? Or that have penalties so ill-defined that three different refs can make three different calls on the same play?
Okay, let's return to the rationale for pulling bodies in the first place. Deterrence to whatever degree it exists, exists only within the range of penalty call consistency. If there is no consistency there is no deterrence. And the idea that it's somehow "fair" to remove from the field of play 20 to 40% of a side's players without any real consideration for an actual advantage gained is preposterous. It's the easy excuse of someone unwilling to really consider what's good for the game and its players.
The basic game is pretty simple. Once you're willing to begin with the premise that the refs are there to simply enforce the rules and oversee a balanced game you may be ready to move to the next consideration. What sort of rules will best serve that purpose?
Cogitate on that for a while and next time I'll offer a few ideas on how the penalty structure could and should be changed.

UPDATE: Aight, kids. Maybe I was less than clear--or maybe you simply disagree. Part of the process of rethinking penalties is to first let go of the notion players must be punished. The rules define the limitations of the game and when those limits are exceeded players receive penalties. We're playing a game. Consider penalties in other sports and the way leagues, officials, players and spectators view playing their game. A player who fouls out of a basketball game isn't denounced as a cheater. Nor is a football lineman who risks a penalty by holding an opponent in order to protect his quarterback. And when penalties are dished out in hockey--the inspiration for elements of Xball--the player and only the player committing the penalty end up in the box. Can we get past the crime and punishment nonsense, please?  

Friday, July 12, 2013

It's On Like Donkey Kong

Okay, they've gone and done it now and it will be very interesting to see what, if any, public backlash is delivered in return. Oh, sorry. Got a ahead of myself. I had a nice conversation in Chicago with CPS (Champions Paintball Series) prime mover, Jaroslav Z., who said at the time he was hoping to make the move to PSP affiliate status--and darned if he hasn't done just that. It's official, the CPS is now a PSP affiliate. At a practical level that means using PSP layouts, field dimensions, rule book, etc. At another level I'm wondering how it will be received by the MS. As regulars know the MS sorta kinda tolerates the CPS but already seemed to believe the CPS was a competitive threat. With this move will the MS perceive the CPS as now a proxy for the PSP? And what impact might it have on the rumors that the MS was considering more closely aligning its format with that of the PSP? Specifically, moving the CPL to Race To 7 and SPL to Race To 5. Does it become more or less likely?
And what will be the response to the CPS from the Euroteams? Registrations for the season ender in Milan in September should provide an answer. For the latest check out the CPS Facebook page.

And the Winner (of the Summertime Blues contest) is ...

Before I get around to announcing the winner VFTD would like to thank everyone who participated--all 5 of you--and congratulate the runners-up for their contribution.
In third place based on sheer determination (and volume of submissions) Missy Q.
In second place with a couple of clever ideas, July 2 Anon. (See how lame that sounds? It's pitiful really. I know y'all are lazy slackers but how hard is to pick a fake name?)
And the winner is ... the first Anon of the thread who identified his suggestions with rule #x. Use the email link to send in a shirt size and mailing address and once that has been received your prize will be shipped via tramp steamer to the nearest port (to your location.)

The new Rules of the Game will be posted soon. That is all. You may go about your regular business.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Baca's Mailbag: Working Your Roster, part 2

A comment in the recent post (Why Superstar Teams Don't Automatically Win) noted that last year Heat, using a tightly controlled rotation was successful while this season Dynasty, using something closer to two separate lines, has also been successful and was curious as to what I thought--and if I had any preferences when it came to how to work your roster in competition.

In part 1 a close review of PBA stats for PSP events in 2012 and the first two events of 2013 showed that no pro team actually ran two separate lines though in 2012 the Russian Legion came closest and in 2013 Dynasty uses its roster, top to bottom, more comprehensively than any other team. Every other team tends to favor a dominant 5 to 7 or 8 player rotation. 
Given the tendencies we have quantified across the pro teams the first conclusion to be made is that there isn't one system that is inherently superior to any other. And given the history of Xball (Lite & Race To) multiple lines were far more commonly used when the matches were longer. Not necessarily two separate lines but a much deeper reach into the bench. (Of course there was also a time when Xball teams could roster 15-18 players.) However it appears that a clear trend is to focus on a tighter rotation even if the roster is full.
So what besides match duration does, or should, influence a team's use of its roster?
To demonstrate that it's not anything like cut and dry here's a short list of potential influences when it comes to working your roster.
Practice performance. The youth of the team and its players.
Stage of team development.
Expectations. (System) (Culture)
Most coaches and/or teams (owners, management) will have a philosophy of how best to run a team. That philosophy will run the gamut from how to practice, how to treat the players, interpersonal relationships, style of leadership and, somewhere down the list, how best to utilize your roster.
[If the situation merits it I personally prefer as much of my roster as possible. In a pro sport that isn't truly professional and just barely a sport I believe strongly in team cohesion and chemistry to keep players committed and working hard and it isn't something that can be sustained if there is a clear dichotomy between the haves and the have nots.]
Practice performance is more about knowing your players and how closely practice reflects competition. There are alot more practice superstars than the real deal.
Is a young team? A team still coming together? A team that has a lot of inexperience but a core leadership believes in? If so it may be necessary to accept inconsistent results now to build for the future.
Is it a team on the rise but untested at the latest level? Like the inexperienced player the team that hasn't yet experienced that ultimate success may not come together the way you expect and since there isn't any guaranteed formula sometimes the process is hit and miss.
Team chemistry is always a consideration and some pieces may be excellent pieces but still not fit a given situation. Winning makes everything okay but failure to meet expectations can tear a team apart f-a-s-t.
A changing environment can also wreck havoc with a team and new coaches and/or management tend to want to do things their way right away. In a truly professional situation that's fine--but still causes plenty of upheaval but in our sport wholesale change is either desired by everybody or resisted, not necessarily on the merits, but simply because it's change. In the context of a roster a judgment has to be made how and how quickly any changes will occur and that implementation could be the difference between success and failure.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Baca's Mailbag: Working Your Roster, part 1

A comment in the last post noted that last year Heat, using a tightly controlled rotation was successful while this season Dynasty, using something closer to two separate lines, has also been successful and was curious as to what I thought--and if I had any preferences when it came to how to work your roster in competition.

As it happens I do. But first I want to be clear that what follows applies to the pro game only. This is because the other variants of Race To demand a different set of priorities due to the duration of the matches. Only 5 or 4 points respectively. So right away we see one primary consideration; limitation by format. (And one of the reasons I was consistently opposed over the years to the changes away from Xball up to and including the move from Race To 9 to 7. And why I think there may be some merit in the idea of dropping the 'race to' element from the pro game and just play the clock.) Either more time or fewer restrictions allow for greater roster flexibility.
Let's return though for a moment to the original hypothesis about Heat and Dynasty. It's important to have an accurate view of our working premise so we don't build error on top of error. While Heat did not use only 5 players last year, they did routinely use a group of 5 between 72% - 61% of the time. Say approx. 2 out of every 3 points played and that pattern refined itself over the course of that season. In fact, it carried over to the first two events of 2013 as well with the exception of the reps (spins?) (Really, when did that expression enter the paintball lexicon and goofy SoCal activity was it ripped off from?) Dizon got filling in for injured players. Given the data I think it's fair to say the Heat have chosen to focus on a tight roster and a minimal rotation of players--at least up to Chicago where the addition of Jacob Edwards and injury to Dizon clearly had an impact.
Since all the same data was available for all the pro teams in 2012 I also looked them all over to compare general roster patterns with Heat's example and found a few interesting factoids. Two teams ran tighter rosters than Heat; Upton 187 & CEP. Neither managed anything like similar results and both were 10- [minus] teams. (One other thing I looked for was roster consistency and a team rated 10- did not have the same 10 players rostered for a minimum of 75% of the team's points played over the season. All that means is there was some player turnover on some teams during the season. But that's the sort of scenario that would likely impact roster usage and team tendencies.) The next three teams last season most likely to run a tight roster were Thunder, X-Factor and Vicious though in the case of the later two teams it was a rotation of 4 players, not 5 with Thunder and X-Factor being 10- teams. Followed by Damage, Ironmen & Infamous. Now before you go and assume too much about these later teams on the list the numbers suggest that all the pro teams last year except two played their first five players within a similar percentage range. The point of divergence is how the remaining reps are apportioned amongst the remaining players. If one or two additional players got the lion's share of the leftover reps the roster was tighter and if the leftover reps were spread more evenly among the remaining players on a roster the looser. In any case there were more similarities than I expected across the board.
Of the two teams unmentioned so far, Dynasty and Russian Legion, Dynasty falls closer to the main group of teams while the Legion ran closest to using two lines. Player preference on Dynasty began at a lower baseline and filled in a much narrower range but there was still a clear demarcation of playing percentages given that Dynasty was a 10- team. Legion played their top line around 57% of the top and their other line around 43% though to make that distinction is probably not completely accurate as players were still moved around some.
The available data on Dynasty for 2013 shows not a strict two line operation but a purposeful use of the whole roster with Ryan, Alex and Dalton getting the most reps and everyone else fitted in perhaps by play call or effectiveness at the time. It is also consistent with what the team was doing last season if perhaps more controlled this year. So while there are no true two line teams competing in Champions Dynasty comes closest right now.
More next time in what has turned into at least a two-parter.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Why Superstar Teams Don't Automatically Win

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. (Although at the time of their original formation XSV was intended to be a “superstar” team built to compete with Dynasty.)
But the issue 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 success of 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 than 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 a night apiece. 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 often 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 Ferrari 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—and then we come 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 unshakable confidence. Two awesome qualities to have but two qualities that more commonly work against team cohesion than for it.

There's more but that should be enough to illustrate why superstar teams aren't automatic winners and when the next so-called superstar team comes along reserve judgment until you see how well all the pieces fit and whether or not the superstars are willing to be part of their team.

Friday, July 5, 2013

MS London webcast

Is available on Livestream. There's a link on the MS homepage. As I recall you may have to register but it's fast and easy. The day's events are nearly done but you can replay same day coverage. The quality is consistent with prior MS events this season--so weak on D-side coverage but overall not too bad. It's particularly interesting to watch this layout versus the similar PSP Chicago layout. It looks like Chicago was the better more versatile layout but like Chicago there's lots of bodies dropping OTB. Not much action at the M today that I saw but, like Bitburg, some premature if not completely ill-considered moves into the middle of the field. Catch some action over the weekend and tell VFTD what you think of a comparison between PSP and MS play.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


Unless you're in England (or on your way) for the Millennium's London event in Basildon it's one of those times of the year when there just isn't enough paintball to fill my (your?) week. Fortunately some friends in Portugal have an answer--the latest edition of GRIP magazine. The English is sometimes interesting shall we say but every bit as good as any Telford piece in the old Facefull. The latest is volume 6 so if you like it or are seriously jonesing you've also got 5 earlier volumes to check out. Even if you aren't bored silly it's worth a look as it has some solid articles along with the photos y'all love so much.

The other thing I'd like to do is add a sidebar element featuring links to other paintball e-zines around the world. It's not a big deal but if you know of a paintball mag remind me in comments or via email so I don't miss anybody. Thanks.

Monday, July 1, 2013

VFTD'S First Annual Summertime Blues Contest

When in doubt, throw a contest--or in this case, when you got nothing, throw a contest. I was thinking of doing a power ranking but what's the point anymore? It's the PSP Champions bracket, isn't it? Oh sure Art Chaos deserves some consideration but TonTons are in the PSP now and they're the ones winning MS events and power ranking are all about what have you done for me lately. I considered doing a team-by-team breakdown but I've avoided doing that in the past because I'm not an impartial viewer and don't want to rock any boats while participating in the competitions--but that just goes to show how desperate I am for a decent interesting (competitive paintball related) subject. And, who knows, I still might pick 3 or 4 teams and do one a week until Riverside.
In the meantime I'ma revisit one of may favorite topics and make it a contest, again. Baca's Rules of the Game were last offered as a complete or nearly so package a couple of years ago so it will be new for many of y'all. To see all of the current "rules" go here. If that's too much like work or following directions here's a couple of samples instead.

Baca's Rule #6: The shiny perfection of your gat is in inverse proportion to your ability to use it.

Baca's Rule #7: If you routinely dish out bonusballs quit squealing like a schoolgirl when you are on the receiving end. It's unmanly and pathetic. (Unless you happen to be a schoolgirl in which case it's okay. And could you post it on You Tube? Thanks.)

Baca's Rule #8: Communication is vision.

Baca's Rule #9: ROF is not the determinative factor in paint consumption.

Short, pithy, clever and amusing. I'd like to add some new "rules" to the list, thus this contest. If VFTD receives at least 15 possible rules the best one will receive a free T. If VFTD receives more than 25 anyone whose contribution makes the permanent list will win a free T. And, of course, your comments aren't limited to possible new rules. If you have ideas for something you'd like to see VFTD talk about feel free to add your two cents to the mix.
The contest will remain open until I decide to close it. There it is. That's it. There is no limit to the number of time you may participate in this contest. See, I'm making it as easy as possible for somebody to win. Do your share. You know you sorta kinda almost want to.