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.


Reiner Schafer said...

Commenting on your wider catchment (younger players), one thing that I've noticed since we started offering our Low Impact 59 caliber games (50 caliber played at about 250 fps) is that there is much more movement and shall I say aggressive play by the younger kids (our youngest is 10 y.o.). Kids are getting involved in the action without as much concern about getting hurt, because it does hurt less. Personally I think this will lead to more and possibly better players in the future competitive scene. If competitive paintball could be played in a low Impact, low cost (limited paint) way for younger kids, it could surely help bolster numbers and talent. Sort of like virtually every other sport does it.

Reiner Schafer said...

That should read Low Impact 50 caliber and not 59 caliber obviously.

Missy Q said...

Interesting stuff Reiner.
I don't believe that if you get a kid playing paintball at the age of 8 that they will still be playing at the age of 13. I think the shelf-life of the player at that age is about 2-3 years if you're lucky. The older people are when they start playing, the longer the shelf-life of the player will be, because the younger players are not personally invested (financially speaking) and have shorter attention-spans.

The player that saves to buy his paintball gun will typically play longer than Christmas, because he is personally invested.
The younger the player - the more likely they rely on 3rd-party funding.

Reiner Schafer said...

I wrote about this on my Blog recently. Paintball players "burnout" for financial reasons more than any other reason. Soccer (football for you Brits) players start at 5 and 6 years old or even younger and often play well into adulthood. The financial burnout. Kids funded by parents would probably play for a while if it was up to them and structured in a league type environment like other sports. As soon as kids would need to fund themselves, everything changes. Paintball in general doesn't have a lot of parental financial backing and since it's expensive to participate, therefore, paintball played on a regular basis, as competitive paintball needs to be done, will always suffer from low participation and high attrition rates. Until a format can be found that lowers the cost, that will never change. Sure it will fluctuate up and down a bit due to economic fluctuations, but in general thee will always be a relatively low Demand. Simple economics.