Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Coming Decline of Pro Paintball, part 2

Alright, I knew this one might sting a little bit but there's no fixing what nobody is willing to talk about, right? There's probably no fixing this either but there are ways to mitigate the impact. Ways to more efficiently and effectively develop the existing and future potential pro player pool. But it's unlikely for a bunch of reasons. More about that later. Let's pick up where I left off last time.
Okay but what about rosters? Maybe there hasn't been a strong (or even steady) influx of competitive new pro teams but that doesn't mean existing rosters haven't taken advantage of fresh blood. True but in fact it hasn't happened. At World Cup there were six players under the age of 20 rostered on a pro team--including Challengers. There were nine 20 year olds. There are nearly as many pros over 30 as 20 and under combined. The fact is most pro players are in their mid- to late 20's and getting older every year. And that includes the Challengers. That includes pretty much every team you think is some sort of youth movement too like Aftershock. Six of Shock's players are 27 or older. The two youngest are 22 years old. What about the Royalty kids? Only Catt & Hamil at 20 and 19 years of age respectively are under 23 and their roster has two players over 40. Even Vicious when they turned pro only had two teenagers on their roster at that time. (At least according to their current roster.) The inescapable conclusion is that even among the would be Champions the rosters are largely filled with 20-somethings because there are damned few younger pro prospects. And this despite the factoid Xball was supposedly driving the competitive player demo toward a younger and younger player base. So where is that next generation of undeniably talented pro stock?
But age is only an indicator. Looking more closely at the young blood on Champion rosters the majority of them have 2 or more years of pro experience already. That means that either they are contributing now or will soon be replaced (or Daddy owns the team.) That leaves a literal handful of players on rosters in a developmental role and the reality is there are some who won't make it (unless or until the overall level of play begins to decline) and my concern is we are seeing that trend beginning to take hold. [The fact we don't see more young players as rosters continue to age means there aren't equivalent replacement players to be had otherwise they would be getting opportunities because they would be cheaper and have more upside. And it isn't happening.]
Challengers was created (in part) in the hope that by raising the competitive bar that some of the Challengers would develop into legitimate contenders in the Champions. And some of them may yet but their very existence also illustrates the growing breadth and depth of the chasm between the Champions and the best amateurs. With rosters already in a similar age range the Challengers almost certainly are less talented across the board while trying to make up for the experience gap that currently separates them from the Champions. No easy task for the current Challengers but an excellent proving ground for incoming top D1 teams. What remains to be seen is if any of the D1 teams, in the next couple of seasons, distinguish themselves or do they get bogged down in the pack?
(Here's where you try real hard to come up with viable alternative explanations. Hint: there are a couple that aren't complete nonsense.)
But all isn't lost just yet. The losses sustained among the most experienced non-pros in recent years just means a depleted pool of potential pros to pick from in the near term. It's a problem but not the only one. The other issue is the development and training of players generally--and this is where real progress can be made. It is true that players develop individual skill sets faster and more proficiently (generally speaking) than was the case in the past. At the same time the conceptual understanding of the game is generally weak as is the team training. The majority of players new to competitive play in the last 5+ years don't have an adequate foundation in how the game ought to be played or how to function as part of a team because they haven't been part of a program or team that teaches those things. And of course the bulk of all team practice isn't designed to teach and develop those qualities either, it is aimed at learning how to play a specific layout. Pre-Xball up-and-coming players learned today's lost lessons from older players and through experience because the formats of the past, including playing in the woods, required it. The modern game demands speed, quickness, instant reflexes--a whole host of physical tools that were useful in the past but weren't required to be honed to the same degree of precision as today so the focus of development has moved to the physical aspects of playing the game to the detriment of the mental aspects--and, as it's always been, it's the mental game that separates the great from the gifted.


Brian said...

I agree that the mental game is what separates the good from the great, but isn’t part of the mental game at the pro level learned only from actually playing at the pro level. I fail to see almost any player in any sport come in as a rookie and be completely ready to perform as a true professional. Paintball is also unlike most sports because in order to play against the type of competition required to build a real foundation most people need to play a national tournament series. This in and of itself causes serious hurdles for people still in high school or younger. I also think this game requires a type of maturity that might not be fully developed until a slightly older age.

To me it also seems that unless you are on one of those teams that works it way up from the bottom into pro (and its been awhile since one of those teams won a psp event) that very few spots even open up and for very good reason. If you’re a pro team and you know you are losing a player or 2, what are the odds that your first option will not be to pick up an existing pro that you know has proven themselves. Choosing an untested rookie is a risk and some teams would not be willing to take that risk.

Also it seems like the idea that younger is better is really not true. I don’t really see any trend that proves that going with older vets is not the best way to win. They have a field awareness that you just cant teach. When was the last time that a team comprised of young players just came in and did work at the pro level? Dynasty? For a sport that is still evolving and even the top pros are still getting better, its hard to imagine any advantage that a 20 year old coming up from the divisional ranks would have over a 30 year old that has been playing for 8 years on a pro team. They might out practice them once in a while, but when push comes to shove, the vet is who I would want on the field.

I do agree that there are things that younger players should be doing to better prepare themselves, but its comes down to pro teams expanding their rosters and actually developing some of that young talent so when father time actually catches up to some of the older pros they are ready to step in with as little drop off as possible. Good read and a great topic for discussion.

Erik said...

Very valid points and insights. Do you think $$ plays a role in keeping it this way too?

I was looking at the most consistent top teams and they all have actual payrolls for key players. You would probably know better than I, but how much does Impact, Damage, Dynasty, IronMen, any Russian team, Heat, etc, drop on hired guns? I guess from looking at their overall results, it works most of the time. Those teams make it to Sunday quite often.

At the same time, does that money also remove parity from the game, i.e. the "have's and have nots"? What effect do you think it would have if we made it "illegal" to pay pro players, or if we put a cap on player 'salaries"? Would that "force" teams to grow more local talent, or to foster farm teams once again?

Reiner Schafer said...

So would not releasing layouts before a competition force players and teams to think more and develop better instincts rather than practicing set plays on a known layout?

Baca Loco said...

Thanks. Appreciate your comments.
The mental game alone could easily be a series of posts because it's comprised of a variety of different characteristics. What you're talking about is what I call the 3Cs; Confidence, Composure & Consistency and more often than not there is a period of acclimation for most players.

Like farm teams most of the top pro teams have tried at various times to carry practice players for that very purpose but between the rules and the cost it has proved difficult to sustain.

Comparing players is a complex process and the end result relies on a lot of factors. Is the older guy a short term solution at best? Does he have a history of winning? Years of losing takes it's toll. How well will a new player get along with the guys already there? If it were as simple as a direct player comparison it would make things a lot easier than they really are.

Money or the lack of money always plays a role.
The specific numbers aren't important other than to say they've increased somewhat lately--in part because there are owners willing to pay but also because of player scarcity at the margins of excellence.
There's never been parity the way you mean it and there won't be until the pro league is monetized top to bottom. At that point the league has a greater ability to control and regulate. (Ideally in cooperation with the teams for the good of the league and the teams.)
If the PSP made it illegal to pay players the APL would become very popular very quickly or else some teams and a bunch of players would simply stop playing.

Baca Loco said...

Yes, a position I have advocated for years. The PSP's concern has been that it would hurt the local field that caters to tourney players but that's nonsense. Players and teams are gonna practice. The current situation just reinforces the "wrong" way of doing things.

raehl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
raehl said...

Am I missing something?

In most any sport, people are at their physical prime in their early 20's, but Pro careers last longer than that because, to a point, experience gained by older players outweighs physical performance lost. Brett Farve would still be playing football if his body could handle the physical demands of football.

But paintball is a lot less physically demanding than most sports, tilting the equation far more in the experience direction.

So why is it at all surprising that we don't have many young Pro players? How is a 20-year-old with a minor physical performance advantage supposed to compete with a 33-year-old pro with a 15+ year experience advantage?

So of COURSE young up-coming pro players don't have what it takes to be as good as the older Pro players currently playing the game - they haven't had an extra 10-15 years to get the same experience!

(I know someone is thinking, well, how do you explain the Dynasty generation that DID manage to perform better than the Pros that preceded them when they were still young? And the answer to that is the Dynasty generation was the first generation of athletic players. They had a much larger athletic advantage over the previous pro players, and they had that athletic advantage at the same time we changed the game (from woods to speedball) to provide a much larger advantage to athleticism. That generation of players is older now, but they're all still pretty athletic, FAR more athletic than the established Pros 15 years ago were. I.e., 18-year-old Ollie on a speedball field was much better than a 1998 33-year-old pro on a woodsball field. 33-year-old Ollie is still much better than today's best 18-year-old players, and much better than 18-year-old Ollie for that matter.)

Reiner Schafer said...

The local fields get a relatively short blast of practices once the layout is released. If layouts were not released, the overall amount of practice would probably not change much, just be spread over a longer time period, which in all honest is probably better for local fields and for attracting new players.

I know one of the arguments has always been that layouts can be "leaked" to certain teams, but that is something that can be dealt with relatively easily. It could be as simple as having 20 different layouts in a hat and having an impartial drawing at the start of setup.

Reiner Schafer said...

raehl, I agree and was thinking the same thing as I was reading Baca'a post. Even hockey players most often don't peak until their mid twenties. Goalies usually considerably older still because their position is less physically exhausting, but needs more mental concentration.

Baca Loco said...

raehl & Reiner
The average length of career in the NBA is 4.8 years. The NFL is 3.5 years. MLB is 5.6 and the NHL is 5.5.
The overwhelming majority of one time pro players are out of their game by their late 20s.

Anonymous said...

Your argument is based on age of new players or at least thats what i think your getting at.

So why don't you look at the average age of pro players at world cup for the past i don't know maybe 5 to 10 years.

I think what you will find is that the new pro player is 25-27 years old while the old guys the ones that it might be there last season are 30-35.
This would change the conversation quite a bit because now young is thought as 25 and like you were saying is that the game has become more physically demanding and hence your pro players are now more fit and can compete in their later years. while they are retiring later their metal game continues to improve making it hard for younger plays to adapt to the pro level. It really all makes sense our game is maturing in a good way. we just need to fix a few things to adapt to this new level of play we are seeing because it obviously is working.

For instance in the divisions the best teams in d4 and pretty damn good in d3 and the best d3 teams can compete in d2.

Look at what 187 did and Vicious.

Now lets look at the upper divisions in past years make the jump from d1 or even semi pro to pro and guess what your lucky if you dont get last let alone win a event.

now this year was a little different with challengers vs champs but didnt we just see mostly the same teams go back and forth?

raehl said...

@Baca: NFL and NHL are both pretty brutal from a physical abuse / injury perspective; even NBA has its fair share of injuries and a fairly long, intense season.

I'm also not sure that length of Pro career alone tells the full story. Do your MLB numbers include time spent in the minors for example?

The average age of a MLB player is apparently 27.2, so if the average career length is 5.5 years, that would put the average starting age of MLB players at about 23-24 or so - so they're doing something between high school and MLB to get the experience they need to be effective Pros. Incidentally the average age of all-star game players is 29.1.

So I would say paintball just has a temporary "bubble" in Pro career length, because the current crop of pros happened to break the "athleeticism barrier" in paintball so they were the best when they were 18-20 and have been getting better since. We won't have room for more than a handful of the most talented new players until the current batch of pros gets old enough that the physical effects of age start to overwhelm the experience advantage, and even then new pros will be older than we're used to simply because that'll be the experience level required to be good.

Short version: The absense of a crop of 15 or 16 or 18 year old phenoms should be expected, not a surprise nor regarded as a problem. Why would anyone expect a kid with 6 years of experience to be able to compete with a player with 20, especially in a sport where the 30-year-old player doesn't have 8 years of tackles/concussions/torn tendons/ligaments/etc under his belt?

Reiner Schafer said...

Those average career lengths Baca pulled out of the statistics book also include the careers of many players who only last a few weeks or months, which majorly skews the numbers downward. Those players are called up to the big leagues, are seen as not having what it takes to get to a peak that is worthwhile, so are sent packing. There are lots of them. We just forget them very quickly.

But if you look at the stats of players in the NHL ( the sport I am most familiar with), you will see that most of them have their best years well into their 20's. It takes a while for them to reach their peak. I can't see why paintball would be any different. The problem with paintball is that most players can't afford to hold on long enough to get even close to their peak. Playing for 10 or 15 years paying your own way in paintball can drain just about anyone... and to what end? For the glory? So you can be adored by 15 year old agglets who want to be just like you when they grow up (spending many of your best years missing out on developing a real career)?

MikeM said...

MMA ("UFC") fighters typically don't "peak" until between 25-28 years of age. Unless they are a physical freak like a Jon Jones.

Soccer players also last until well into their late 20's.

splatkid10 said...

I was thinking many of the points that Reiner and raehl brought up (never thought I'd agree with him). The issue of age is less important than in other pro sports because well, the NBA, NFL, MLS, etc. are more physically demanding. And even if those sports were not more physically demanding, I bet that the athletes playing in the professional levels in major/popular sports are superior athletes to the top level athletes in paintball.

A life dedicated to being a striker for a European football club will breed a faster and stronger athlete when compared to the fireman who happens to play paintball every weekend.

This all starts to indicate that the age, from a physical perspective, isn't as important as you reason. I think the reason most pro paintball players were "retiring" early in their 30's was maybe due more to the fact that life started to catch up with them. They could not make enough $ playing paintball and "Real life" whatever that was, caught up to them. Maybe it was a wife that didn't like them gone as much, or the fact that the promotion at work prevented them from traveling as much, who knows.

I think the level of play that is to come will be more dependent on the health of the tournament industry at local fields. Do kids have a place to play every weekend? Can they attend national events to gain experience on the bigger stage at the higher divisional levels? If you look at the current crop of 20 something pros that came from SoCal (think aftermath, HK kids, etc.) I'd be willing to bet that a field like SC village 5-8 years ago was WAY more busy on a weekend and that more pro teams/players were out there as well.

splatkid10 said...

Edit to my above post - SC Village on the weekend now is kinda lame….and if "THE" SC Village is lame, what are other spots around the US like?

Baca Loco said...

If you knew what a talented paintball player looked like I might be inclined to consider

You claim short careers skew the averages. I could say the same about long careers. The issue isn't when a player peaks it is the fact that there is a constantly repeating class of younger competitors pushing everyone in the system. Some prove to be better than the established crop and some don't which creates a lot of turnover. In paintball nobody is pushing and there is damn little competition from below to take an established player's spot--or even force them to work harder to stay on top.

Reiner Schafer said...

No Baca, you can't say that about long careers because for every long career there are probably 50 very short careers. So although the statistics for professional sports leagues you quoted are probably factual, the careers of those that actually have what it takes to play at that level and SHOULD be playing at that level is longer than those numbers indicate.

But I agree that there isn't as big a push from the bottom in paintball as there should be to bump older players off the top. That has to do with the cost to participate and the fact that most true athletes are going to pursue other sports where the return on invbestment is bigger (i.e. scholarships & a chance at the golden goose).

Mark said...

One thing I'd like to interject is that the current generation of which you speak also coincides with what I would call the "uber supervised generation" Mom's, terrified of child abductions, meet their kids at the bus stop less than a block from home, even rural street corners now have a crossing guard, they are never permitted any REAL alone time where individuality and self reliance give birth in their little skulls of mush. I see them 16-18 years old at my field still dropped off by Mom or hitching rides with 20-something teammates because they have yet to get a drivers license or in many cases not even a learners permit, and seem quite ok with it too. Forget any of them having a job by the age of 18 too. Remember playing dress-up? Not these 18 year old "children" they all dress like they're still 13. Today the new adult age is 22 or 23 and rising, where the alone time finally takes hold right in the middle of their 3rd year (of 6) of their 4 year college degree.

Anonymous said...

If you go back to how paintball events used to be you'd see a dramatic change. Woods fields plus concept/speed fields. Different layouts every other game.

The generation that played then was "better" (certainly they lacked some specific technical but easily learned sup air techniques). The generation that was immediately trained by those guys also got it.

Now we have people who were only raised by x ball. All I hear them talk about is "edging" or running and gunning to the corner etc. They have to clue about coordinating lanes of fire or just barely understand zones, other than to cross up if you're losing (even then they don't have the focus in their short attention spans to maintain it.)

But really that might be too harsh... Watching Impact play X factor I got the feeling they couldn't figure that out either....

NewPro said...

As the game has progessed, many of the older pros seem to have realized the benefits of off-field training: Diet,gym,etc. Coupled with experience, not only is the shelf-life of the pro player extended, their improved fitness makes them more dangerous.

Im not going to bore anyone to death with stats but I assume its safe to say that the shelf-life of MLB players is significantly longer than their physically assaulted counter parts as long as they commit to a healthy training program.

Anonymous said...

I think that too many posters for this topic are focused on age, and trying to prove that today's older players are going to play for longer times due to reasons x, y, & z...but I don't think that age has anything to do with it.

I believe that today's divisional players, or the xball only generation, lack skills that were previously considered necessities (communication, ambidextrous gun skills, & field awareness), because of the work-arounds built into the rules.

As far as the conceptualization that you keep referring to Baca, part of that comes from a foundation of skills, but the rest comes from experience. It might not always be experience against their current division, but it's almost always a been there, done that type of feeling that drives the conceptualization process. Higher divisions hone that more as they experience more, driving their contemporaries with the same process.

I think another contributor to the erosion of skill sets is cheating. I have witnessed teams devote practice time to cheating, & have heard players discuss cheating tactics & methods at national events.

Chris said...

How much of the decline is simply economic? Ten years ago, paintball was the up-and-coming extreme sport. Visions of TV, outside sponsorships, and lucrative pro contracts danced in our heads. The money (and related momentum) helped attract young players. Today's veterans used to be those players. Now the dreams of money are gone, and we're (headed) back to being a hobby sport. If you can't make money running a pro team, why would we expect lots of gifted young athletes to devote their lives to the game?

Baca Loco said...

138 Anon
The lessons most often learned thru experience in the past can be taught.
With respect to cheating it's nothing new but institutionalizing cheating is counterproductive.

That's an interesting take and probably has some merit but it doesn't account for the lack of prospects from the ranks of today's divisional yutes.

Anonymous said...

I feel that Baca is worried about the future of quality of Pro paintball once the existing "old" guard group of players quit/retire/get injured. His argument is that the Challenger/D1/D2 teams do not have the rising talent at any age to fill the gap.
This may be a good thing. We may see a few years of Pro teams struggle to rebuild like the Russians are doing now. But, this is the chance for those players who have shown a spark of greatness to get the chance to move up. How much longer can we expect Dynasty to be completive? All of the core of the team is over 30, and around 35 seems to me where most players start a rapid decline.
One problem I see is that lower division teams no longer have the chance to play a game or two against higher division teams at tournaments. I know this is next to impossible now, but in the past it really gave teams a chance to see some of the up and coming players in action. Do any of the established pro teams pay a whole lot of attention to D1 games?
I also feel the decline in sponsorship dollars has pretty much done away with the "farm" teams that some of the Pro teams used to have. Teams are hurting more now than ever for the money they need to make an event and have good solid practices in between events. They can't afford to siphon off money with the chance that a few kids on the farm team will be able to make the jump.

Anonymous said...

I don't think we will ever see a team challenge the top 5-6 Pro teams without spending some serious cash (i.e. Heat). Bridging the experience gap that the top teams have and the ability for unlimited amounts of practice against other top teams will keep that gap.

There are very talented players (young phenoms) out there, but they won't get recognized because they are on a top tier team.

Baca Loco said...

1110 Anon
How did the top teams' players get all their experience? And what's different now from then?

There is no unlimited amounts of practice.

NewPro said...

I think he may be referring to the PRO/AM split of yesteryear's, while I like this idea, the pros would argue that the 49'ers don't play against Texas A&M.

Im curious as to your opinion coach
NXL Champs Trauma vs PSP 187
Strange vs Heat
BL Ironmen Vs todays ironmen

Baca Loco said...

Playing across the divisions in the prelims--as per the old days--was objected to eventually by the divisional teams. Imagine a bracket where you play the top Pro or Am team in your bracket and your nearest competition ends up with a much easier bracket. In order to offer some kind of competitive balance to divisional play they stopped mixing the divisions and the only teams that objected were the ones that never expected to win anything.

AS for your match-ups we need to determine the format. Are we playing 10-man, full Xball or Race 2-7? For example Heat will lose at 10-man and their regular 6 are gonna have a hard time playing 50 minutes.

NewPro said...

I guess I should've been more specific, there have been many comments on OG pros vs new pros, coached pros vs non-coached pros.

Lets use the closest parallels

The best non OG race to 7 vs the best open Xball

Heat Vs Trauma

The best OG woodsball vs the best woodsball today

Shock vs Vicious

Federov vs youngblood

Although we cant compare BL 96 ironmen vs todays RL,formats being the factor, knowing how pros played "back in the day", what would happen if we reversed and took a team from today and put them "back in the day". I believe they would destroy???

As always, thx for your time coach

Baca Loco said...

I will grant you it's an interesting topic for disagreement but that's really all it is, at its best.

The skill sets of each era are molded by both the formats and technology and deciding which era or player is/was better isn't anything that can be reasonably quantified.

But if you want to argue about stuff try these on.
Neither Heat or Trauma fit your description.
Put Vicious and OG Shock on a three acre tournament woodsball field with the OG gear and Shock eats their lunch, all day every day.
K-Fed :)

Anonymous said...

Fedorov is an anomaly that even e Russians don't know how to recreate.

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