Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Coming Decline In Pro Paintball, part 1

Before you consider the title of this post fighting words, start hyperventilating and sputtering like a toy motorboat let me explain what I don't mean. If you want to object after that then be my guest.
I'm not talking about formats, leagues or presentation. While I favor a match format closer to *real* Xball I understand the current realities. And while I have mocked the recent efforts of the now seemingly defunct NPPL they made a mockery of their pro division first and so deserved the disdain heaped upon them. In the meantime both the PSP, particularly with the newly implemented conception of Champions and Challengers, and the Millennium offered legit pro brackets--though top to bottom the Mills version is both less consistent and an inferior competitive format (to the PSP) given its preliminary structure. And the webcasts from those leagues are providing a level of accessibility unmatched in the short history of competitive paintball. In a number of positive ways pro paintball is peaking.
Where the pro game is in trouble is with the absent next generation of pro quality players. One of the first series of posts ever to appear on VFTD (summer 2008) warned that the then classification system was destructive of teams and players at the D1 level. Over the intervening years changes were made that improved the situation but damage was done. In part the group of most likely future pro players was short-circuited leaving fewer potential *new* pros to replenish the existing pro teams or fill rosters for future potential up-and-coming pro teams. Nor are we seeing any (okay, a few maybe) fast track kids rapidly climbing the ladder and getting noticed. The surprising truth is the current pro teams are getting old and not only aren't there ranks of young players pushing the older players for spins and spots there have only been a handful of young players able to compete at the pro level in recent years.
Today--and next season--it won't mean anything but the day is approaching (sooner than you think) when teams will have to replace player losses with players that simply aren't of the caliber currently competing and when that happens it will impact all of competitive paintball by lowering the standard of excellence.
If you're skeptical I understand. Nobody wants it to be true and for players who aspire to the pro ranks it's a jab in the ribs from the pointy end of reality. But you don't have to take my word for it 'cus I've done a bit of research looking for factoids to either support or disprove my theory.
Let's begin with new pro teams in the Age of Xball. (Since 2004) How many have there been? How many are still around and how did they do? For 2013 I considered the teams competing in Dallas plus any team that appeared in the Champions bracket during the season. The result was 17 *new* pro teams have competed in the PSP since 2004. Of that 17 at least 8 no longer exist and at least one won't be competing in the PSP in 2014. That leaves 8 new pro teams to have joined the league in the last decade that are still competing. 5 of that 8 joined in 2010 or later. Vicious, CEP, Heat, Upton 187 & Thunder. By my reckoning only Heat is (was?) a Champions caliber team.
What about the pro teams that didn't make it? What are you hiding? Of the pro teams with a brief existence there were a couple of worthy teams and a bunch of those players are still playing. For the record we're talking about Ultimate (remember them?), Legacy, LTZ, Raiders, Aftermath, Bushwackers, Hurricanes & Entourage. And in the case of the Bushwackers it was one season and they weren't a new team, only new to the PSP pro division and the Hurricanes weren't a new team either and in their case were a continuation of the NY Extreme franchise.
Still not convinced? No problem. Next time we'll look at current pro rosters and I'll explain how to minimize the coming decline.


Anonymous said...

The ranking system is the problem, not the skill of the players. Once you get pasted d3 your screwed into playing national events say by to at least half the teams right there.

Anonymous said...

For there to be the next crop of phenomenal players we may have to endure a few years of decent amateur ones.

My thinking is that what enables a superstar is disparity in talent (at higher levels... Not talking noon level).

Classification as you point out would work against this.

Once we have lost the current stars we will see a level playing field of pro mediocrity which will make possible for some stars and teams to really rise. But you can't see that now until the current stars fade out.

Ebb and flowing of talent is probably the natural way to view it. said...

At the point of maybe sounding rude towards some of the very talented Pro players who are still in the league now. Some of the knock around "newer" NXL teams did have many of the current crop of industry supported poster boys who back in the day used to end the season without any wins at all. I'd assume that in time the current and upcoming newer players to the Pro level will get knocked around until they adapt enough to be the possible future poster boys for the industry.

Baca Loco said...

340 Anon
While I've never been a fan of universal classification it's only a contributor. If there was a local/regional demand for higher division competition the existing leagues would be happy to provide opportunities to compete.

442 Anon
How will you know? Your phenomenal player of the future is only in comparison to that future mediocre player. If player potential had truly peaked I might agree but there's lots of room for improvement.
You inadvertently make an important point. While I expect the overall level of play to decline that doesn't mean the current level represents the peak. In a truly professional environment there's plenty of room for improvement.

Anonymous said...

Part of the reason the new pro teams (Vicious, CEP, & 187) that have entered the PSP in the last 3 seasons struggle, could be because the other pro teams, as you stated Baca, have been playing for so long at the highest level possible. The older team's have been playing so long against other teams of the same experience level, talent, etc, that of course new pro teams will struggle, in any scenario like this.

Baca Loco said...

604 Anon
There is a learning curve but a day comes when either a team can compete or they can't. Of the three teams you mentioned one of them may have a competitive roster but other factors hold them back.

Anonymous said...

Following is a list of me crying cuz I pway duh divisional rank and I wanna be Prooooo. Anyway, here goes.

In the divisional ranks players are learning the skills needed at a faster pace than ever. The problem is they are forced to compete with their regional peers on teams because current Pro teams refuse to give their roster spots away. To their own detriment.

If you took the Heat route of flying in almost your entire squad and hand-picked like-minded divisional players from across the country. I would GUARANTEE a Pro Champions event win in three seasons.

NONE of the new teams can match the finances of a Damage, Heat, Impact, Philly Americans (RIP), Ironmen, Legion. Compounded by the fact the new teams haven't had the experience of Pro cores like Dynasty, Infamous...

Oh, and NONE of these teams have farm teams. These guys that want to play sports franchise owner spend unconscionable amounts of dollars to win a pro event but spend zero on developing lasting models of talent development. They keep their practices, scrimmages, and tournaments Pro only keeping that experience circular.

Divisional players are playing at a higher level than current Pros were at the same age/experience level. Pro teams are just trying to slam in company or home-site players instead of fishing and paying comparably for the best talent available.

Long and self-serving. Can't wait for Part Deux.

Dave Painter said...

The fact is paintball is not like other sports. We don’t have a salary cap, we don’t have a yearly draft, we don’t have a shared revenue stream from a big TV deal, etc. The off season is basically a bidding war between the top teams to draw the top talent. The very nature of our setup allows (even forces) the top talent to end up on a limited number of teams. Yet with all that set against us we, 187, have managed to be competitive. We’re not winning enough matches to stay just yet, but we’re gaining experience and closing the gap. Vicious has managed to stay mostly local and remain competitive as well.

As one of my players put it in the DerDer video – take most any player from the top 7 or 8 teams and that one player has more pro experience then our entire team combined. We need time to gain that experience. Without the major funding of a Heat, Impact, Damage and Russians or the industry giants (Ironmen, Infamous) helping defer the expense of travel & paint, etc the cards are stacked against a team coming up from the divisional ranks into the pros these days. I simply don’t know enough about x-factors situation to place them into one of these groups, but I suspect they’re well funded too.

As the top 7 or 8 teams’ players age out of the system they’ll just continue to cherry pick the talent they need to stay on top, further weakening the up and coming teams. It’s the system we have. It’s the system we’ll have to live with for now. There’s no business reason to spend the money on a pro team. Was the return there for the money teams: Heat, Impact, Damage, Russians? Was the return there for the industry teams: Ironmen & Infamous (heck – throw JT’s XSV into the mix there too)?

I guess we could pony up and buy a few players and get us a top coach, but I’m committed to the guys that got us here. The very ones that fought through divisional play and the last two years in the pros. They’ve earned the chance to prove they belong and we’re on the hunt.

Baca Loco said...

I think everyone in the game respects the efforts you and 187 have made and your decision to retain your core identity--I certainly do. But I'm not talking about individual teams, I'm talking about trends and one of the points was that there will NOT be equal talent to cherry pick from for a variety of reasons.
I'm also not clear on why you associate buying players with getting a top coach but that's probably just me. ;)

Anonymous said...

Excellent article.

Anonymous said...

@anonymous. you mentioned teams like cep, vicious, 187 all strugling once they get to the pros, but i don't remember seeing aftermath and xfactor struggle like that. mainly because they destroyed d1 level teams. not just won one event a year prior to going pro. you have to win 3 or 4.

Anonymous said...

How many pro teams have a secondary squad? (What I mean by this is kind-of like an academy team who get to practice with the pro rosters and get coached by the top coaches).

Academy teams could be a solution. It would certainly provide current teams with some longevity and eventually less brittle rosters.

Anonymous said...

The Ironmen I believe is the only Pro team with a farm team, Royalty.

Shane Pestana is essentially the Talent Director for the Ironmen by captaining Royalty. Tok Hamil, Danny Park, all the satellite players that have jumped onto the Men have all come from Royalty.

I believe Dynasty had Entourage as a sort of farm team for a short period of time.

Also, "academy team"? Is this a UK / Euro-soccer term or something?

Dave Painter said...


I’m curious what you feel is the “old age” of pro paintball players. Just because many of the current pros have been playing for many years now does not make them old. If you look at the 10 “Champion” rosters for this past season's CUP you get an average age of 26.2. Xfactor, Damage and Dynasty at the top end with 28, 27.9 and 27.8 and Ironmen, Legion and Heat at the other end with 23.1, 24 and 24.1. Yes – that Ironman average includes Mike Paxon at age 33. One could say they’re doing it right with a few seasoned veterans helping bring along the next generate of great pro players. Same could be said about Heat as well; they mixed a seasoned line of veteran players with some strong divisional players when they came together 2 years ago and have helped accelerate their learning curve. Helping to creating the next generate of pro players.

Yes – there are a few folks that are outside the “Average”, but even if you remove the oldest and youngest from each roster (removing both Kevin and Christos from Damage) no team’s average moves significantly except Damage, which drops a full year+ down to 26.3. You might have thought x-factor would drop down a bit more, but they actually end up at the same average (28).

It seems to be the system will continue to work as it does today. The top 7-8 teams will continue to “corral” the top talent and supplement them with a few strong divisional players. In turn creating the next generate of top players. Every once in a while there will be a team coming out of the divisional ranks that will have the raw talent to win a few matches in the Pros and given enough time to gain experience will be competitive in the pros too.

Nobody fields a team full of AAA players or new college graduates and expects to be competitive in the MLB, NBA or NFL. It just doesn’t work that way – and there’s no reason to believe we’re much different. You need the mix of veterans and “Rookies” to create a sustainable model. If you just have veterans, then you’re right – the top teams are going for the short term gain and getting the long term pain.

Baca Loco said...

The issue isn't age, it's innate talent for the game. I don't disagree with your model, I'm saying the next generation of incoming players won't be as good, at their best--in aggregate--as the current pro players.
However the age of a player upon reaching pro status is an indicator of that player's potential for further improvement.

Reiner Schafer said...

Baca, the way I am understanding your post is that you are suggesting a decline in overall talent, rather than a decline in numbers of pro teams. If true, will this hurt or help participation numbers in competitive paintball in general? If players don't need to be as talented to play at the top level, won't that encourage more players to strive to get there because it's more likely to be within their reach? Isn't the argument by some that it used to be easier for players and teams to compete at the top level, therefore they did?

Dave Painter said...

For the most part I think I follow what you’re saying, but don’t you think the Champion/Challenger split is going to help bridge the gap? The experience we’ve gained by playing Pro teams over the past several seasons has helped speed along our growth as players. Same thing is happening to the other teams in the Challengers bracket, they’re gaining experience and beginning to advance their game to the level needed to compete in the Champion’s division.

Since I’m too lazy to actually go and look at all the player’s records I’m going to use age as a measure. Looking back at the WC rosters there were 13 players age 22 or younger. That is roughly 13% (101 total players). That means the “system” is bringing along 13 players as replacement pros. Are you going to lose 13 seasoned veterans this off season? This doesn’t even look at the 10 rosters in the Challengers division. If we continue this pace we’ll be bringing along enough new players and getting them up to speed in time to replace the players that are aging out of the season for whatever reason (age, life, etc..)

We may not be able to field 20 Champion caliber teams, but we should be able to continue the system of 10 and 10 without a drop in overall talent - Don’t you think?

I think I'd be more concerned with what happens when the money behind the teams decides to go in a different direction.

Baca Loco said...

As a business or a sport I think that's a short-sighted perspective. The more players capable of the achievement devalues that achievement and ultimately lessens the appeal--along with miring everyone in mediocrity.
"Easier" in your context doesn't refer to talent required but process and resources expended--but that applies across the board in comparing past players and teams to present ones.

splatkid10 said...

Would you disagree that the divisional players today are better then the divisional players of years past? The same could be said for the pro division as well, but think about it for a second.

Top D1 teams today would probably beat up on top D1 teams from 06, 07, no? The game has evolved and so have those players. The same could probably be inferred of the pro ranks as well, they've just been doing it longer, which could help to account for the disparity.

I think a big issue here is money. Big pro teams can practice more often and with more resources where as a typical D1/D2 or even challenger team doesn't have nearly the same amount of resources. How do you expect a top divisional team to produce talent that can compete in the pro ranks when those divisional players don't have any where near the same resources as the pros do? It's not just paint money either, X-Factor playing the Russians for a week before an event is a much higher level of practice then a team like Revo playing Wolfpack.

I think as teams cherry pick top talent the status quo will remain largely unchanged. If anything the way the game is played will continue to evolve and the quality of play be high as always.

Baca Loco said...

Depends on how far back you go. The average player today develops the basic individual skill set much more quickly than in the past. What they lack is a conceptual knowledge of the game and how to play as a team. the game has evolved bu the incoming players aren't evolving with the game--not in the ways that really matter--largely because they aren't enough people out there capable of teaching them. And no, the top D1 teams of 5 or 6 years ago would crush the current crop.

The issue with resources is how you use what you have. Current practices are resource wasters and not particularly productive.

NewPro said...

Two things
1. The instinct of when to "go" cannot be taught and although many older/experienced players have played w/o coaching, this did not teach them to break a game open. campers in 1999 are still campers in today's game
2. Plain and simple the sport needs a proper development system like any other sport: high school -college- pro, etc

Coach: the comment that hits a nerve is your "most practices are a waste of resources" , can you elaborate and give 30 secs on an approach to practice should we have a proper development system.

Anonymous said...

Baca raised a good issue and I want to elaborate 1. divisional teams used to have access to practice the pros a decade ago, which improved the skills of said players and gave pros a chance to scout and develop talent. Nowadays, a D3 vs Pro matchup is almost unheard of. 2. The lost generation of players during the economic crisis (or whatever you want to blame it on) caused a ghost town at speedball fields nationwide and lasted for good four year stretch. I agree we will see a dearth of new talent until about 2018. The PBA webcast, HK, KEE, the PSP have all contributed to a generation that's excited about the sport/ I've witnessed an upsurge at local fields with younger players on the turf.

Baca Loco said...

The norm has become wait for the layout release then "grind" through your paint, be it 20, 30 or 40 cases and when it's gone your practice is done. You've trained to the layout and even then it's very inefficient.
I strongly favor breaking the game into its component elements and work thru a series of focused drills that finish with close outs. At that point you begin to put all the pieces together with 15 second breakouts until you're running full points and finishing with penalty points to time. The complete process trains a specific layout more precisely but it also trains fundamentals and execution. The full process isn't easy on paint either but it's a more productive use and the process can be taylored to available resources.