One of the fascinating influences on the poll results is, I think, the point in time the respondents got serious about their paintball. From my point of view (which is of course the most important point of view here at VFTD) much of the technologically driven changes are vastly underestimated which I attribute (mostly) to a lack of awareness of what the game was like in the mechanical/gravity feed days. Anyway, the results are interesting--and that's all that really counts. They also demonstrate a distinct lack of interest in the few industry side options on the list which I take as pretty typical of a player-oriented venue (despite the fact a lot of industry peeps routinely peruse these pages.)
This review will confine itself to the top ten responses in increasing order of popularity. (That means we's beginning with # 10.)
Tied for tenth place with 17% each is the formation of the original NPPL and the modification of Xball we know as Race To. An intriguing element to such rankings is the What If? conundrum, a sort of multi-faceted Chicken and the Egg question. Clearly Race To doesn't exist without Xball so where will 'Xball' figure in the list of influences? And just what, in the greater scheme of things, did the NPPL bring to competitive paintball beyond the tournament series? It moved singular events to a series concept but that wasn't part of the original intent. It ostensibly placed the power and future of the game in the players' hands but that didn't last--despite the endless hype over the years.
In ninth place with 18% is ROF. There's a couple of ways to look at this one. First there's the explosion in the rate of fire made possible by electropneumatic marker technology, force fed loaders and software-directed operation which almost overnight created both a manufacturers war and changed a critical element of the nature of the game. (I still distinctly remember the first time I was shot with a Shocker set on burst mode. Hello!) There is also the regulatory consideration. The opening of a Pandora's Box nobody can close and has caused endless debate (at least on the internet) over its influence on the mid-decade collapse in the number of competitive players and teams and it's impact on growing and retaining players at the local & rec level.
In eighth position with 22% is HPA--my all-purpose stand-in for all the possible compressed air answers that took the game beyond CO2. Did HPA make the hyper ROF sustainable? Improve marker longevity and reduce maintenance? Did it make tournament Xball possible? It certainly provided a cleaner, lighter and easier-to-use variation on the CO2 theme.
In seventh place with 25% is sideline coaching. I'd like to say this answer, perhaps above all others, is symptomatic of the age divide but the truth is there are a lot of old hands also blaming sideline coaching for most of paintball's perceived modern ills. The truth remains sideline coaching can take the rap for snake wire trade-outs at least some of the time but everything else it's blamed for has antecedents in other facets of player development like practice.
Coming in sixth with 26% (and missing a top five spot by only 2%) is the internet. Here is the quintessential age gap answer. While I happily grant the influence of the internet in disseminating paintball worldwide it cannot do so without content. One might contend the scale and reach of the internet alone makes it a game changer--and there's probably some validity to that--but given its reliance on dedicated content does it deserve it's exalted place or does it really share that position with a longer list of content providers? (There's that Chicken or the Egg question again.)
Cracking the top five in fifth place with 28% of the vote is the symmetrical concept field. It may seem obvious today but back in the woods it was anything but. Were attempts made to make fields balanced? Well, sort of, but not in any way we'd recognize 'balanced' today so the symmetrical field wasn't an obvious extension of past practice. Can you imagine an xball field not being symmetrical? Would you even consider competing on such a field particularly after you discovered how the asymmetry would effect game play? Nor did inflatable bunkers generate the concept of symmetry yet where would our game be today without it?
In fourth place with 33% is Dynasty. Clearly the most influential team in paintball's short history a good case can be made they have uniquely impacted the way the competitive game is played today in large part because of their success and longevity as the team bridged eras of tournament play.
Making the podium in third place with 36% is the electropneumatic marker. It revolutionized the game without doubt. Yet we are confounded once again by other related technologies (like the force fed loader, "cheater board" software and fiber-wrapped HPA tank) that facilitated the potential of the electros. Of course the answer might be in the order the items appeared as in the gun begat the other related advances--if in fact it did.
In second place edging out the electopneumatic marker by a single percent with 37% is Xball. No question Xball changed the nature of competitive paintball and directly influenced the direction the competitive game has moved in recent years up to and including the league wars and changing the face of competitive paintball internationally beginning with the Millennium Series while disseminating to every corner of the globe.
Topping the list by a wide margin (51%) the number one influence on competitive paintball as chosen by you lazy slackers is inflatable bunkers. No question the inflatable bunker made the modern game mobile allowing venues like HB and Fantasy of Flight or Disney's Wide World of Sports to host an event. Nor is there any debate over its dominance of the current competitive paintball environment but even so, inflatable bunkers didn't bring paintball out of the woods even if it was at the forefront of popularizing the out of the woods game. And it didn't introduce the symmetrical field design so even an influence as important as the inflatable bunker is a product of it's own influences and time.
Next time VFTD visits this topic I will post my Top Five influences so that the debate can continue.