Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Baca's Mailbag: The 2013 WC Layout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 28, 2013

And The Winner Is ..

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

New Headers

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

The Superstar Conundrum

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

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

Friday, October 25, 2013

Mr. Curious Says

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

For Future Reference When Making Predictions

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

World Cup Wrap-up

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

Monday, October 21, 2013


X-Factor wins World Cup!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Saturday World Cup Day 3

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

Fantasy Paintball Update

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

Fantasy Paintball Score

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

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday World Cup Day 2

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

Thursday, October 17, 2013

PSP World Cup Day 1

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

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

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

Monday, October 14, 2013

Interview with John Robinson, CEO of KEE

A rare treat for y'all today. This is part of the 'Unnatural Selection' series of miscellaneous musings.
What better way to get the inside info on the SplatMaster effort to date and the plans for the future than to go right to the top--and ask? Probably against his better judgment, John Robinson, the CEO of KEE Action Sports, has generously agreed to answer a few questions.

VFTD: Am I correct in saying the SplatMaster products are aimed at a pre-paintball age demographic, say 6-10 year olds?
JR: The target was really 9+ as the packaging suggests. That said, we believed that with parental supervision younger kids would play as long as they could cock the markers. In our testing 6 and certainly 7 year olds could accomplish this. It was definitely targeted to pre-paintball kids.
Our view is paintball has two great components to it that are hard to match in other shooting sports:
· The Splat itself – instant gratification of the mark that you don’t get with airsoft or BB
· the adrenalin rush from the act of playing versus paintball

VFTD: While SplatMaster can stand alone as a safe fun for kids activity don't you see it as more than that?
JR: The vision was to portray SplatMaster as a backyard, target activity that highlighted the “Splat”. We also focused more on the skills side because Paintball is a dirty word to most Mom’s. We have a lot to overcome in perception, which is unfortunate because our industry has a great safety record. We knew that if we could get kids to pull the trigger, they would ultimately gravitate to versus play. So yes, we view SplatMaster as the T-ball of paintball and our on-going goal thru things like First Shot is to create the SplatMaster (T-Ball) to PSP Pro Player (MLB) connection.

VFTD: Is the concept behind SplatMasters to provide a fun less intense paintball lite if you will to kids in order to introduce them to paintball later? Or ease the transition when they're older?
JR: Yes – We (KEE) are focused and committed to paintball. The step from back door to .68 cal is too far for many and again, we have a perception that paintball hurts, etc. SplatMaster was created to make that first step manageable and let people who are cautious grow to paintball. As an industry, big box is important in that step because there are people who don’t currently play or consider paintball.

VFTD: How is it working so far? Are the numbers meeting your expectations?
JR: Here are some numbers:
· We have sold over 150,000 markers
· We are currently in 4,000 mass/sporting goods doors
· We are in 200 traditional fields/shops
· SplatMaster is offered in nearly 150 fields in the US.
I believe as a stand-alone product SplatMaster has been a success. That said, the goal was .68 paintball growth, so it has not met my exceptionally high expectations. To grow paintball, we need more mainstream acceptance.
Internationally, it is doing great and experiencing the fastest growth curve. Many countries have laws that prevent paintball or limit the age (18 in Australia). Country by country we are gaining acceptance from local and national authorities to get SplatMaster in or younger where .68 cal cannot. Again, we believe/hope that a kid in Australia who plays SplatMaster at 12 will ultimately play paintball at 18.
There are countless US fields who are reaching a younger audience with SplatMaster. You can speak with Sean Walker about his success with it. He does a great job and as you know, he is not necessarily in the “KEE fold”.
I wish it was doing better at places like Walmart, but a lot of that is merchandising. For places like Academy that take our POP displays it does great. SplatMaster is a hard story to tell at retail because they just throw it on the shelf. It needs to POP behind it to tell mom and dad the full story. At Walmart where it is one or two items, not always placed together and many time on the bottom shelves, it hasn’t done as well.

VFTD: Given the goal of expanding the player base isn't the ultimate success or failure of SplatMaster yet to be determined? As you've described it the process is both an ongoing one and also one that covers a number of transitional years.
JR: Correct, it is a long process and we really have to see those younger players, matriculate to the .68 fields. We are fully committed to continuing to push it as well as adding product between SplatMaster and .68 cal (see note below). You will see us re-load the marketing spend in 2014 to continue to reach the masses who are not currently paintballers.

VFTD: SplatMaster is available in a number of the so-called big box stores (and chains) like Walmart. Are those outlets reaching the bulk of the target audience or is KEE using other avenues to reach the intended market?
JR: That may have been true last year when we launched or TV campaign, but now the focus is clearly on trad and international at field level. Its grass roots. Its why Rich Telford, Thomas Taylor and Nicky Cuba were hired to be spokesmen. We have a 100x50 mega arena and other shooting booth assets we send to large non paintball events across the country and now world to provide a free shooting experience to raise awareness. The “Pros” are our link to .68 cal and promote the larger mission.

VFTD: Do local paintball fields have a place in the process?
JR: Absolutely, as mentioned above. Those that understand it gives them a new, younger customer are doing exceptionally well and are very happy. Those that are dug in on what they have always done, have either not taken it or haven’t marketed it. The reality is a field can get a new customer and start people on a paintball path earlier if they want. It’s more of a bowling alley model that actually provides fields better margins if they choose the path. There are so many great stories about younger brothers who couldn’t play, dad’s wanting to introduce their kids to paintball, but couldn’t… If you look at on line reviews, the product is still exceptionally well received. My mission, again, is more broad based awareness. If we can get them to pull the trigger, they always love it.

VFTD: Does introducing SplatMaster at the local field level open the door for full on 50 cal paintball for a growing player base that may have a different set of expectations?
JR: Using the T-Ball to MLB analogy, I believe paintball should have:
SplatMaster – spring loaded (no air/gas ever) shooting up to 170 or so fps
.50 cal aired product, shooting between 200-250fps
.68 cal – as we know it today
To me this provides the natural progression for the player. I am not dug in fps necessarily, I just believe .68 at 280+ will never appeal broadly to some people who are afraid or have a low pain tolerance. Like other sports, people will drop out at various times and that is normal. I would just like to see our sport offer more options for games, activities that require one to pull a trigger and a paintball (of any size) come out the barrel. Ultimately, I believe if we are successful with Level 1 and Level 2, .68 cal will grow. Though the consumables are more expensive than airsoft or BB, the experience is what we have to sell and in my mind paintball is far superior to airsoft, so we have to be committed to telling the story and getting people in at whatever level they choose.

VFTD: Keeping in mind this audience has ADD I think we'd best call it a day. Thanks, John.
JR: Sorry to be long winded, but I am passionate about this and First Shot. Our industry was down another 10-12% during 2013 and while we were once a $700 mil industry, we are now closer to $225 worldwide at wholesale. For too long our industry has not focused on the one critical issue that has faced us since 2005 – new player participation. I hate all the other drama that gets in the way of the one issue we all must address.

VFTD: No such thing as long-winded around here. I am confident the readership will appreciate your candor--and long-windedness, if that's even a word--in providing an inside industry view. Thanks again.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Get Your Game On

(PSP) World Cup is nearly here. This time next week the Champions field will be hosting the final pairings as the divisional titles lead at last to the Champions Pro final. At every step along the way, before each and every match, at every level of competition teams get ready to play in unique and sometimes unusual ways. Players have routines, rituals and habits they perform in order to get ready to compete--and so do teams. In honor of the biggest event of the year VFTD wants to know what you and/or your team do to get ready to compete. From the banal to the bizarre everybody has their own way to prepare. What's yours?

Friday, October 11, 2013

PBA Presents Fantasy Paintball

If you haven't checked it out yet go here immediately--or rather right after you finish reading this post. It's based on stats the PBA collects so they'll have the data necessary to assign each player's score every day. Anyway, I've no idea how well this will work but it sounds like fun and Dye is giving a pile o' new gear including a gun to the winner. And I'm going to play and as long as they keep a daily scorecard I'll post my running total on VFTD--the Facebook page--and you can see how you're doing compared to me. (And the other top scores.) It's 8 players auction style. Each player has a dollar value and your team can't exceed 25K. Read the rules carefully and put your top team together today--or tomorrow. You will need an APPA account to play so if you don't have one it's nearly painless, and free, to sign up. There are potentially a variety of strategies and it should be interesting to see what the winning strategy turns out to be. Probably blind dumb luck.
In fact, let's make this more interesting. If anyone beats the "official" VFTD score their names will go into the cyber-hat and a winner will be drawn at random who will win a free VFTD T-shirt.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

VFTD Slacker Repost: Robots vs. Ninjas

Back to the future this post comes to you from Spring, 2009. And continues to be the subject of (more often than not moronic) debate. 

Time flies when you're blogging and so this post is about two weeks late, give or take, but now that it's here, who cares, right? For a quick refresher on the topic go here. Now that you're up to speed it's full throttle robots v. ninjas. The argument aimed by the ninjas (proponents of 7-man) against the robots (xball players) is both ironic and misguided. The core of it is that coaching turns the xball player into a robot simply following commands and if that wasn't bad enough these same coaches kill the ninja style of play by making game-breaking run-thrus almost impossible. At least the kind where the player making the move also survives. This view has a lot of advocates not least a chunk of the Middle Skool pros–-those guys whose careers span most of the out-of-the-woods era of competitive paintball and perhaps even a few Old Skoolers. Doesn't however make them right.
Coaching is communication. And communication is a basic tenant of competitive paintball going deep into the forests of yesteryear. No one objects to a back player rolling his gun and telling his insert to make the move they worked out before the game started. Yet when a coach tells a player to go-–bumping a gap in the snake or the like it's the ruination of the game. The plain truth is the xball player still must have the full complement of individual skills in order to be successful. All that those within the sound of the coach's voice get extra is information about the unfolding point. And more and more the notion of a coach "operating" a player, any player, like his robot is failing the practical test-–it doesn't work very well and most of the time that's not the focus of the coaching going on–-which is simply to provide more info in a changing environment. (The obvious "secret" to neutralizing coaching is rate of change; how fast things keep happening.) Even so, coaching can and does alter some things and it's a fair debate to question just how much. That said, coaching never eliminated anybody or stopped a single run-thru.
The real argument is over the nebulous skill called timing. Timing being that sense a player either develops or doesn't of when to do things though it's usually associated with making moves, judging the opportune moment and going for it. Hence the objection to robot-like players and "ruined" run-thrus. Of course the critical element that made (makes) timing valuable is LACK of information.
The irony in the whole argument is that xball has altered all of competitive paintball in ways those making the argument have apparently failed to recognize.
You gotta crawl before you can walk or run. Remember the example in the original post of how crawling has changed? 15 years ago crawling was the ninja style of paintball. And what changed it? The game environment.
How long has 7-man been a major format in the U.S.? Less than a decade or about the same amount of time as xball has been around. Is 7-man a more natural progression from the prior generation's 10-man than xball is? I think that's a fair statement but neither format is played the way 10-man was in the past. 10-man was a gun dominant game. Yes, the same basic rules applied and peeps worked for angles, moved up field etc. but the guns controlled the rhythm of the games and the first teams to push the pace were changing the way the game was played. I'd start the transition with Image followed by Dynasty but you might want to throw in turn-of-the-century Shock and old Lanche, too. (I've often wondered if the early electronic cheats weren't motivated by a desire to reestablish the old order of the game. Okay, too philosophical and not to the point.)
Regardless Dynasty epitomized the new game of speed and movement and xball formalized it with a tiny unforgiving field of play that demands skills sharpened to a knife's edge.
For those of you who've been around long enough the differences in the 7 minute 7-man game of today from even the last incarnation of 10-man is pretty stark and the style of play and broad skill sets demanded of players today owe far more to xball and teams like Dynasty than they do to the historic game.
There are no robots or ninjas, only ways to play the game that demand a different balance of skills. [Which reminds me, one of the better ways to introduce rookies to tourney ball would be on larger scale fields.]
I've little doubt this debate will continue but the important part of all this isn't who is right or wrong in the robots versus ninjas debate. The lesson is that so far in paintball's brief history very little prior consideration has been given to the consequences of the changes being made. Or the corollary that future changes will, whether intended or not, mold and shape the game in new and different ways. And, lastly, that any contemplated change should be rigorously examined for its likely consequences before being instituted.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

On Competitive Excellence

Warning: This post may be hazardous to your pride. Continue reading at your own risk.

On numerous occasions in the past I've expressed concern that the classification system does the players a disservice--and some of those concerns remain. But the other thing the player classification system does is force teams up the divisional ladder or out of the league. The counterclaim is, no it doesn't, it simply assigns the appropriate points to the players on a team's roster so the system isn't responsible for the consequences. The reality is the players are the teams and when they are forced to decide between moving up as a group or going their separate ways the result is some significant percentage of teams and players are lost to tournament paintball. Now on the flipside of that is the claim that it is unfair and potentially demoralizing to the up-and-coming teams to in essence be blocked by better more experienced teams. Somewhere between these poles is a worthwhile discussion.
If you want to review the arguments pro and con in greater detail go back to the 'Unnatural Selection' post--down a couple of posts on the main page--and follow the included links.
Let's try a little thought experiment. Imagine the NPPL's pro division as a D2 division. (Insert your own joke here.) Further imagine that instead of choosing to not play teams like Dynasty, X-Factor and Vendetta were moved up a division because of the player classification rules. Now there may be a reasonable argument to be made for moving those teams up but there are also consequences. For today's discussion the important one is that the standard of winning excellence has been lowered. Where once an incoming team needed to be as good (on a given weekend) as Dynasty now the standard is CP Raiders or Outlaws. And next time those will be the players (and teams) the classification system forces up (or out) and the standard of excellence will once again decline. And it gets better--or worse, depending on your point of view. It doesn't take long before what was the (slowly diminishing) standard of excellence in D2 becomes the majority of your D1 teams. The end result is weakening both the division in question and the one immediately above it and in time as the system works its way throughout the divisions the lack of excellence finally becomes apparent when there are no D1 teams capable of successfully taking the next step up. Next stop Challengers.
Wait, you say, what about a team like Revo? They've moved up the divisions and each time proved to be a top team.
My reply is that's what excellent teams are supposed to do but in this environment what does their accomplishment really mean? They were the best of a series of mediocre groups? Remember the Vicious path to the pro division and that was years ago when the system hadn't taken complete hold of the divisions. And Vicious won a semi-pro division too before going into the pro ranks--and struggling.
Challengers exists, in part, to remedy the chasm that has developed between the first tier pro teams and all the rest including those that aspire to one day compete in the Champions division. The hope is that the process of competing in a division dedicated to results alone will eventually produce teams capable of competing with the existing Champions on even ground. And on that score the jury is still out.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Mr. Curious Hears What? About Who?

The NPPL is hosting their championships in Vegas this weekend. Now I could comment on the sad state of affairs that is their webcast. Really? One camera panning across the field? Announcers with muted mikes half the time--which is an improvement over when we can actually hear them. Or that only 55 teams are competing. Or that less than half of them are competing in the traditional 7-man format. I could comment on all those things but I won't--because I feel kinda bad for the NPPL. (Naw, that's a lie. I just can't muster up enough energy to care anymore.)
However Mr. C did perk my interest with his latest rumor. He picked it up creeping the dingier corners of the Vegas strip--otherwise known as the Riviera Hotel & Casino--along with something else he'll likely need penicillin for. Apparently some of the NPPL 4.0 braintrust is debating the possibility of going with a 5-man format and kicking 7-man to the curb.
As the Dr. Phil of Tournament Paintball might say, "Really? REALLY? Have y'all lost your minds? We need to talk."
Look, as long as the NPPL offers an alternative format it can make the claim its trying to keep a paintball tradition alive. If or when they go straight 5-man is it traditional 5-man? Xball lite? or Race To? Since the NPPL "pros" are playing 7-man Race To and the D4 5-man division is playing a variation of Race 2-2 odds are a full on 5-man league would present itself as direct competition to the PSP in the PSP's format. The result is the league alienates what's left of the hardcore 7-man players and teams and challenges the PSP directly in their format. And that, my friends, would be no bueno. It would probably force the PSP to respond and what makes the NPPL imagine that competing directly against the PSP would be an improvement?  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Unnatural Selection

VFTD is returning to an old theme today. The first two series of posts ever written for this blog covered aspects of this broader theme. That first series of posts posited that intentionally or unintentionally the then (relatively) new classification system was forcing D1 level players out of competitive paintball. (And it was. To a lesser degree it still does.) The second series identified what I thought were some of the flaws of the then formulating Universal Player Classification system. And I have written quite a few related posts over the years as well but it's a subject that's collected a bit of dust lately because the current version of the UPC is the least onerous version and seemed to me to be a reasonable compromise. (Even so I have suggested in the past that as long as the UPC exists it is better for beginning and local players to avoid the UPC track if at all possible. Any player registered with APPA is automatically included because it is an integral element of the APPA's function.)
A word of warning. I'm kinda organizing my thoughts as I go so there's a good chance this post will prove more confusing than enlightening in the process--particularly if you aren't familiar with past posts or the subject. It may take a while to start making sense. If you'd like some background before continuing look here, here and here. If you're curious and want to start at the beginning go here and here.
What brought all this to mind was the final CPS event in Milan over the past weekend. As the upstart European series pretender/contender the CPS is much cheaper than the Millennium and presents itself as a low key, let's have fun while we compete Mills warm-up that is perhaps beginning to morph into an alternative to the Mills option. Be that as it may it reminded me that traditionally there have been thought to be two kinds of teams that compete at the national (or international) level; teams driven to be the best and teams curious as to where they fit in (competitively) but really participating for the experience. The series competitors versus the one timers. In its time NPPL 1.0 (Pure Promotions) promoted the experience. The PSP promoted the competition.
Now a brief historical interlude. When the NPPL/PSP split occurred 10-man ruled the game and the league was coming off the biggest World Cup ever with over 400 teams competing (and over 200 10-man teams.) Numbers that have not been matched since. PSP went to Xball and the NPPL with 7-man. It has long been my contention that much of the dispossessed 10-man teams went 7-man and the NPPL dominated for a couple of seasons while the new format (Xball) was in its infancy. Over the years the NPPL numbers faded away and the PSP grew stronger though no league has matched the numeric successes of the late 10-man era.
Over the last half dozen years there have been a variety of theories put forth to explain the declining participation numbers in the competitive part of paintball and overall. (Though some might say it was less a loss and more like a shift to scenario. Not necessarily less players but fewer player days.) Regardless the theories range all over, from demographic (the trend toward youth), the technology ceiling, used gun proliferation, a limited lifecycle for intense interest and heavy participation (frequently placed at around 4 years), making way for newcomers, the 'punk' factor, the pain factor, the fun factor, the "new car" smell has worn off (nearly everyone has a general idea of what paintball is) and the general economic malaise. [With all of these I'm speaking to the developed paintball world if you will--areas where paintball is ubiquitous--and not the developing paintball world where opportunities for growth through awareness remains relevant.] You could also add things like the Airsoft alternative and extreme variations in quality at the grassroots level and others that probably have a measure of validity too. And yes there is some incoherence in my list as the impact of some theories affect industry more than playership but the tendency in the past has been to jumble all these ideas together or pick and choose the daily favorite. I mention all of these because they are the unstable foundation most of the conventional wisdom has been built upon.
This time around my interest is in two areas; maintaining or increasing the general excellence of competitive play and the tactic spearheaded by KEE (with the Splatmaster, etc.) of pushing for mass appeal at an extremely young demographic with a paintball precursor. In the case of the former I am concerned that the system stifles excellence as evidenced by the growing gap between the elite pro teams and S-P/D1. This isn't new but it's now glaringly obvious. Regarding the later the ultimate question is does throwing a wider net result in a larger catch? Will hooking the 8-year old on pee wee paintball lead to the 16-year old regularly playing rec ball or trying a scenario game or contemplating joining a team? It's an interesting question.
Next time some thoughts on competitive excellence.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Monday Poll in Review

Last week's The Monday Poll offered eight options for ways to improve the PSP ranging from restoring the Masters division to having an annual Cali event and y'all voted for your top preference. But before I announce the top results I want to begin with the least popular choices. For all the hand-wringing going on over at PBN only 3% thought bringing the Masters back to WC was the best choice. Twice as many (6%) favored the alternative of bringing Masters back in the Race To 2 format. This is interesting (to me) on a two counts; the lack of votes considering its advocates are very vocal and the fact that those who care about the Masters enough to make it their vote strongly prefer changing the format. (Now I confess I included the Race To 2 option because VFTD has made this suggestion on more than one occasion--and also recently--because I think it would engender greater participation and be much easier for the league to schedule.) Vying with the Masters in apathy generated were the two 10-man related options; offer a 10-man division at every PSP event (4%) or offer 10-man in Open and Amateur brackets (4%). VFTD favors providing a 10-man opportunity at Chicago and WC only to maintain interest given that the phenomenon is mostly a nostalgia and novelty option. But if it should gain greater support (and be played on a "real" competition layout) the potential disparity between player (and team) skill levels will result in some ugly paintball.
Interestingly next up (6%) was the option of returning to a six event seasonal schedule. Given that everyone who voted is serious about paintball and the fact that it's easier to vote for more paintball than to actually pay for more paintball the marginal support. It seems that there isn't any support, even at the wishful thinking level, for expanding the season. Finally we enter the realm of double digit support as we reach the third most popular option in last week's poll; include a Cali event every year received 11% of the votes. It's impossible to know for sure but at a guess I'd say the second most popular option (22%) hold a PSP event at HB probably siphoned off a decent percent of votes that would have otherwise gone with the generic Cali event choice. Between the two of them they totaled 33% of all votes. (HB is problematic as a PSP venue because of the limited number of fields that can be set up. HB can't deliver more teams than an alternative site but comes with more 'baggage' [beach clean up and overtime pay to off duty police working security] than a typical venue. The beach is cool but I doubt it will ever happen, with or without an NPPL.
Dominating the poll with 39% of the votes was the option for changing the means by which Challengers move up to Champions. Specifically by having to challenge and defeat one of the bottom two Champions in order to replace them in the Champions bracket. I like the idea of the two pro brackets being flexible enough to move teams up or down during the season but all we've seen from the current system is mostly the same teams yoyo-ing back and forth.
Will the PSP take note? Will anything change in the off season? Time will tell.

As an aside I'd appreciate hearing from you in comments if you use Chrome. Last week's poll functioned normally for me in Explorer and Firefox but was seriously mangled in Chrome and I don't know if it was because I posted the poll or if there is a general disconnect. So please let me know if the poll seemed to be working correctly for you if you are a Chrome user. Thanks.