Saturday, June 29, 2013

Major League Paintball Mid-season Review

The post title should probably read mostly major league because I'ma including the NPPL and CPS along with the MS and PSP. (The distinction being the presence of a pro division and yes, I quite agree that what passes for a pro division in the NPPL, after Dynasty and X-Factor depart, probably doesn't really qualify but I may keep them around anyway. Who else are we gonna laugh at?) Oh, and no, this doesn't count as an official statement of X-Factor's intention. Consider it wishful thinking on my part--at least for the time being.
The new Shawn Walker/shadow Valken NPPL 4.0 set a new record for national tournament irrelevance in their first effort with 29 non-pro [designated] teams participating at OXCC. Offering limited time reduced entry fees has seen 20 teams sign up so far for August's Windy City Open. Going above and beyond though is TMG (Trade My Gun) with 5 teams entered so far. Much of the NPPL talk this season has been about its projected demise and if it had remained in the hands of the "teams" read Chuck & Pev it would, almost certainly, be just a memory--a failed monument to ego mostly. Instead we have Valken's latest Trojan horse at work. If the NPPL remains (or grows to become) a 50-75 team series that caters to a marginalized format I suspect the PSP would be quite pleased to be inoculated against other competition sniffing around the prospects of a national base. In the meantime the NPPL will exist as long as Valken wishes it to exist.
The CPS (Champions Paintball Series) serves Euroland as the bargain paintball series offering the Race To format while maintaining a modest pro division and a four event season. Earlier this year the MS made an effort to dissuade pro team participation and that effort, along with some perhaps poor scheduling, has limited pro participation to single digits per event so far this season. So far all three events have led into Millennium events but as the gaps between event dates has closed--this weekend is CPS Milan and next weekend is MS Basildon (London)--the turnout has declined at CPS events. The fourth CPS event will be interesting to see in that it is scheduled after the final MS event of the season. While not openly competing with the MS--and even scoffing at the very idea--the CPS is nonetheless a threat of sorts with their entry fees and closer alignment to the PSP rules and version of Race To. The CPS might do better yet avoiding even the appearance of conflicting with the MS schedule next season while coordinating as they are able with the French and German national leagues.
The MS is, by any reasonable metric, enjoying another successful season "selling out" every event--although it appears London will be the least well attended event so far at around 125 teams. That doesn't include whatever special Euro-wide event will share the weekend of competition with the MS's standard divisions. (I think it's the Under 19s this time around. Suppose I'd best check. Nope, that was in April. This time it's the Mens Championships with teams organized around nationality.) The MS offers a decent quality webcast so if you're interested in the Euro action there's a link at the MS homepage and a link to all the scores at Sometime soon VFTD also hopes to post the latest discoveries of our super sleuth Mr. Curious who has been on a European vacation hoping to ferret out a few more Millennium secrets as he visits the capitols of Europe to observe the nightly displays of youth culture (and fire bombing of parked cars.)
Which brings us to the PSP. The numbers suggest the PSP has had its best first half of a season in quite a few years. Registration for Riverside isn't open yet so there's no way of knowing if there will be a decline given that Riverside will be the proverbial fourth event. (In years past when the league offered more than 4 events a year the fourth usually fell in August and consistently proved to be the least well attended of the season.) Mitigating that is the strong showing thus far and the upcoming event being the first in Cali since the season opener in 2007. Working against it will be the proximity to school starting around the country and the short seven weeks between Chicago and Riverside. Even so I expect the event will draw around 150 teams and I suspect anything in that neighborhood will be accounted a success. But even as the PSP is prospering and the PBA's webcast expands the vision of competitive paintball literally around the world the league must remain vigilant. As the recent Chicago event demonstrated--mediocre fields and some ongoing officiating concerns--the option of resting on its laurels doesn't exist and you are only as good as you're last event.
All things considered 2013 is proving to be a pretty good year for competitive paintball--and as soon as our friends in Asia make the move to a pro division the future will be that much brighter.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hammer Time!

Here we go again. Another discussion about officiating. Unfortunately it seems it's needed. The PSP has been a leader in developing referees and oversight but it isn't the sort of thing you get right once and then don't have to worry about any more. It is and always will be an ongoing process and while the ultimate quality of the officiating has fluctuated it has always been a PSP priority. Well, it needs to be front burnered asap.
Here's the situation. There is a new rule book for 2013 that included some significant changes. There is a new pro division. Has the Challengers division divided the existing pro crew over two divisions? (I was told no earlier this season.) There is and always has been some turnover among the refs. How many new to the pro field refs are there this season, if any? I was told in Chicago that one of the refs (nearly all) the teams have an issue with was on a short leash in Chicago after MAO. And if the rumor VFTD reported about dissension within the pro refs group turning into a verbal confrontation Saturday evening is accurate it's clear that the current effort at institutional control isn't working and even the refs themselves aren't in agreement.
Toss in some data offered anonymously in a recent comments section breaking down the points played this year in the Champions & Dallas and the number and type of penalties called at Dallas and MAO and it will perhaps be very revealing of what occurred in Chicago when (if) we get those numbers. Through the first two events minor calls have outnumbered majors slightly with a penalty being assessed approximately once every 3.3 points. If the Chicago results diverge either by type or number (and I suspect it will be both) then the league has a problem that it must deal with now.
At this time I can't say what all is contributing to what appears to be out of control reffing that is only getting worse but from a Big Picture perspective I know what needs to happen to fix this problem. First, all the refs must know the current rules inside and out and given a few calls in Chicago they don't--or they don't care. Second, the league should develop a set of guidelines for the refs that indicate how the league wants its rules interpreted to improve consistency of the calls. Third, there needs to be oversight focused on maintaining a high standard by constantly evaluating the effort on the field and working with the refs individually to assist in their improvement. Fourth, the refs need an attitude adjustment. They aren't the cops and the players aren't criminals. Their job isn't to punish the guilty it's to enforce the rules of the game to ensure a fair result. Too often refs have the mindset they are judge, jury and executioner and it's the absolutely wrong approach as it creates an us versus them mentality that is not in the best interests of the game.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Chicago Predictions Revisited

Before the rumors spread any further, no, I'm not changing the name of the blog to conform with the new "deadboxes." Ain't gonna happen. Think about it; 'Peeking out the doorway', 'Hiding behind the air mattress', not so much. Besides, it's self-evident the league gave this decision so much thought next event we might be using shower curtains or portable storage units.
While I'm at it how can I not revisit the International Sup'Air Conspiracy, too? Just 'cus they's red don't mean those lame bunker pieces aren't the same things as the inflatable "city" stuff the league used for WC 10-man. And this after Sup'Air, at virtually every step, does exactly what the league doesn't want and yet the PSP rolls over every time. Are we talking blackmail or a secret ownership percentage .. or something worse?
Enough fun--it's time to review my VFTD pre-Chicago predictions to see how I did.

More than 90% of the pro games will end on points scored and not on the time clock running out. And that includes Challengers.
Okay, things looked good on Friday (80%) but in the end I missed on this one. The Champions ended up at around 63% of matches to score--which wasn't great but also got me wondering if points scored went up. So I took a look at the last WC data. 50% of matches went to score and of those that didn't the average score of the two teams was 8 points. In Chicago the average was 8.6 points. By the numbers the differences don't seem all that dramatic. There were plenty of long points in Chicago and I'm beginning to think the only difference were the blowout points caused by eliminations off the break. (More on that in another post.)
Challengers almost came through for me with 85% of their matches going to score.

 By tourney's end a first time team will join the Champions bracket for the next event.
Correct. Top Gun Union.

Three of the four semifinalists in D1 will be different from last event.
Correct. MAO--VCK, Wolfpack, Florida Kings & Aftermath. Chicago--VCK, Revo, Boom & Grad Moscow

All the fields will run ahead of or easily maintain their projected schedules.
Technically wrong given the extended weather related delay on Friday but in the sense I meant--that matches would run quickly and generally to score--the jury remains out. A review of divisional scores should provide some idea though.

There will be at least two injuries on the pro fields that knock players out of the event.
Unclear. I am aware of at least two injuries but only one definitely knocked the player out of the competition and hopefully it won't prove to be a longer term concern. This prediction wasn't predicated on my secret desire to see players hurt but to highlight the poor conditions of the CPX fields which, if anything, appear to be getting worse over time.

As many divisional teams as will love this layout and event will be matched by those who wanta return to the status quo.
Unknown. We may have a better idea over the next few days and weeks.

Dynasty will not make it three in a row.
Correct. But they remain at the top of the heap and deservedly so.

As for winners amongst the comments--that is a big no go, Joe. Maybe next time. And maybe next time a few more of you lazy slackers will give it a go. Kudos though to Cade X for shooting down my 90% claim and to Joey of Paintball Real Talk who picked the Champions going down by name as well as the Challengers coming up.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

PSP Chicago: Day 3 (&4)

Left over from yesterday (Saturday) was an oppressive treetop-skimming bank of grey clouds threatening more rain and lots of mud with the consistency of chunky peanut butter. Fortunately the rain only threatened. I did discover the source of all the rocks and gravel on the fields. Past the paint trucks and staff parking, by the treeline, there are the leftovers of two large mounds of rocks and gravel. Obviously they trucked in the required rocks and spread them over the fields in advance. Or maybe not--but the mounds really are there.
The big stories from the Champions prelims are the unexpected success of Vicious in making Sunday, Damage not making Sunday and the resurgence of of a slightly undermanned Heat. On the flipside is the continued struggle of the Ironmen, the collapse of X-Factor and both Infamous & TonTons in a relegation game for the second event in a row. The Champions prelims are unforgiving and the margin for error is incredibly slim. For example, in Saturday's Infamous v. Dynasty match a win by Infamous makes them the bracket winner. Instead a 5 point loss put them in another relegation match and Vicious into Sunday play. All on the result of one match based on the point differential in the score. It's unbelievable. And I gotta say, however they got there Vicious and new coach Todd Martinez deserve a lot of credit for lifting their game
X-Factor may have set a 4 match prelim record for major penalties. I'm not sure of the exact number but it was in double digits. And we weren't the only ones as there were plenty of red flags flying for most everyone all weekend. (Way more reds than yellows.) While I'm not interested in pleading my particular case or in debating the merits of each and every call--I saw more than a few that by the letter of the rules were probably fair calls--I do want to suggest a couple of things. Enforcement of the rules is a necessary and honorable function that no sport could manage to do without but at the same time it's important to both the teams and the fans that the results on field are the result of the play and not official interference. If that means changing some rules (or the way some of them are interpreted) let's have that discussion. (And we will next week in a post titled, Hammer Time!)
In related rumorology the word is the pro field refs engaged in a shouting match after the last game Saturday over the subject of excessive flag tossing and it may be that a ref quit or was canned--or both--in the aftermath of the verbal brawl.
For those of you with dyslexia--oh, wait, you can't read this either--ask a friend--the results of the pro matches today saw X-Factor and Infamous retain their Champions status by defeating respectively, TonTons and Upton 187 Crew. In semi-final action Dynasty beat Impact and Heat defeated Vicious with Houston Heat taking the Chicago title with a convincing win over Dynasty. Moving up from the Challengers for the next event are the Russian Legion & T1 Top Gun. (And if you thought the Chicago action was brutal just wait for Riverside. The two Champions that are relegated in Riverside miss World Cup so the wars will be intense.)
Remember the Day 2 mysteries? Turns out there were in fact quite a few UWL 5-man teams competing that didn't appear on the APPA registration because they registered through the UWL site directly. Which was good to hear because competitive paintball is a big tent and there's room for everybody. Right. (I just burst out laughing.) If you believe that I've got some pristine coastal property for sail that just happens to have the original Brooklyn Bridge on site too. Okay, the truth is I'm fine with the UWL and if they want to pretend they play competitive paintball what's the harm?
Then there was the VIP stand at the end of the pro field. It seems that last event there were some curious beer distributors interested in having a look at major league paintball--they watched from the PBA broadcast tower--and this time around the PSP set up a separate area for them. (Although I'm sure I spotted a couple of shady characters in there too. And in covering their bases I was served with a restraining order keeping me 50 feet away from the VIP at all times.) (Just kidding.) (About the shady characters of course.)
Last and certainly least there's one more thing the webcast needs; a play-by-play analyst. While Matty, Todd & Chris all do a great job they all do variations of the same thing, color commentary. If somebody took on the role of talking about the purpose of the breakouts, the tactical objectives involved as the points unfold and the in-depth of how the game is played would add a significant element to the experience.
As usual Chicago was a great event despite all the usual Chicago drawbacks, miserable Midwest heat and humidity, the occasional tornado, downpour, rain delay and mudfest. But then that's part of what makes a Chicago event, well, a Chicago event.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

PSP Chicago: Day 2

Not exactly the way we (X-Factor) drew it up--the outcome of our matches today, that is. Strong starts and then we let penalties distract us and take us out of our game. We need to be mentally stronger and play every point like it's the only point. Fortunately we have tomorrow to salvage our event and maintain our Champions status.
Despite the weather delay in the afternoon it seems the PSP is getting what it hoped for from this layout. Some tightly contested matches and some big scores instead of a lot of snores. Along with the scoring there were some unexpected results too. (I'm purposefully avoiding calling any result an upset because amongst the Champions on any given day blah blah blah.) Even so an undermanned Heat putting the wood to Damage in the last match of the day was a surprise along with the Vicious win over the Ironmen. And if you thought today delivered some solid paintball action just wait--tomorrow in the Champions is gonna be a bloodbath and it will, once again, be down to the narrowest of margins to see who moves on to Sunday and who is fighting for their Champions status.
Regarding the new penalty boxes the rule coming out is that the player can't begin shooting until they enter the field of play and/or clear the box and make forward progress towards re-entering the playing field. Or something like that. But you can't, under any circumstances, shoot from inside the box out either doorway. (Spoil sports.)
Have you noticed the VIP with the big Bud Light banner? (Or has the webcast commentary included any info on the dealio?) I'ma see what I can discover tomorrow and I'll fill y'all in tomorrow.
On the injury front there was one hand injury this morning--nothing super serious--and the only one I've heard reported so far.
Looks like all the divisional Race To X prelims are complete so tomorrow should see alot of 5-man R2-2, perhaps the pump comp and some UWL. (I keep hearing talk of the UWL competition and the woods set aside for their competition but as I recall there was only 1 team that paid a UWL entry.) I'll see if I can get to the bottom of that little mystery too while I'm at it.
On the prediction front 80% of Champions matches went to score instead of time today. Not the 90% I predicted but pretty close. We'll see if tomorrow continues the trend or not.
Where can I get my very own (N.C.A.F.) Nicky Cuba Action Figure?

Friday, June 21, 2013

PSP Chicago: Day 1

By the numbers it wasn't extraordinarily hot or muggy. Don't let that fool you as it was plenty hot. Maybe not quite carting off players with heat stroke hot but hot enough to be a potential factor in the outcome of matches. Today the divisional teams got started competing and the pros got in some last minute practice. Friday morning PBA fires up the old webcaster right around 8:15 am, erm, nope, make that 9:45 am. Don't you hate it when they change the schedule at the last minute? Me too. Oh, and there's nary a sign of any Challenger matches on the prelim webcast schedule this event.
Is it possible that the kids at CPX added some rocks and debris to the fields from last year? Probably not but the Champions field is pretty rugged and some of the others look pretty bad too. Some patches of uneven ground, ruts, gopher holes? dirt and rocks mar portions of most of the fields. (This is why I predicted injuries on the pro field--but I hope I'm wrong.)
Another prediction I made concerned the percentage of matches going to max score after a couple of years of slower, to time games. In a sample from D1 78% of today's 39 matches went to 5 points and while it doesn't reach the level of my prediction it suggests my prediction has a chance of being correct.
As usual the pro field is a long walk--from everywhere--past all the vendors over the same sort of rugged uneven ground that are the Chicago fields--which is fine for the youngsters but there are more of us old guys around than the league seems to recognize. (No, we aren't playing, just paying--and working on behalf of ours and others kids. I'm just saying we deserve a break.) (See what I did there? Now I'm a champion of the people, the old and downtrodden, instead of a lazy old whiner. Pretty slick, right?)
One other item of note is the latest lame fiasco from our friends at Sup'Air--the new penalty box, formed of the inflatable walls and doorways first seen last fall at World Cup making a mockery of the 10-man field. (Was that a wee bit harsh? Good.) In this version the pro fields now have oversized silly penalty boxes/starting boards with doorways on either side. Players in the box will have the choice of running out either doorway but won't be able to see anything while in the "box." With player(s) in the box the refs will have to assign a ref to let the player know when he can leave and there's been some talk of marking off a smaller start area as otherwise players at each end of the new structure would already be halfway to either corner. (Ok, that's a slight exaggeration but still.) The doorways, btw, are behind the boundary baseline so I imagine there will need o be some rules modification for players exiting this new monstrosity as well.
Welp, I don't know about y'all but I didn't go to bed last night 'cus I had a 5 am flight and, you know, things to do. Managed a couple of hours of sleep on the flights up from Tampa but we were scheduled to practice the TonTons at 1 pm and we needed to get everybody together, scrounge up some pods, get our paint and find a heavy duty first aid kit (because the practice fields were perhaps worse than the playing fields.) Oh and do all the routine stuff like registration and walk the event field. (Ok, so maybe I exaggerated the first aid kit thing but it could'a come in handy. Just saying.) See all the Champions action live on the webcast and check in everyday for more from VFTD. Good luck to all the competitors.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Some Chicago Predictions

Without picking specific teams I'ma putting on my swami's turban, consulting the Magic 8-ball, throwing out the leftover tea leaves and offering up a few predictions for the PSP Chicago Open beginning later this week. Feel free to join the fun in the comments--but keep in mind VFTD doesn't grade on a curve.
More than 90% of the pro games will end on points scored and not on the time clock running out. And that includes Challengers.
By tourney's end a first time team will join the Champions bracket for the next event.
Three of the four semifinalists in D1 will be different from last event.
All the fields will run ahead of or easily maintain their projected schedules.
There will be at least two injuries on the pro fields that knock players out of the event.
As many divisional teams as will love this layout and event will be matched by those who wanta return to the status quo.
Dynasty will not make it three in a row.

There you go, slackers. Your turn. If any of y'all want to try and pick the podium in any division above D3-R24 VFTD will send any winners a free T-shirt. (Winning entries must be dated prior to start of the event.)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Father's Day: Pre-PSP Chicago

Sarge and the Heat (not a great name for a band) were at the field and ready to rumble at 8am Sunday morning. The plan was the beat the Texas heat (and humidity) and get our reps in before the real heat of the day could bake us into submission. It was a good plan as we got in nearly 40 points before the Heat needed to hit the road and head back to Houston.
It was a very productive day--and yes, I know everybody always says that or something like that--and no, I don't know if everyone else who says it is lying--but in this instance it's the complete unadulterated truth. It was a big help to butt heads with the Heat and we definitely came away knowing more about the field and better prepared to compete. Given the team's desire to compete in both PSP events and NPPL events (and the NPPL's ham-fisted scheduling) I have been concerned about getting enough practice in to properly prepare for our Champions bracket prelims in the PSP. [Damn little margin for error and every match a real contest, hopefully.] In an effort to work around our self-imposed limitations we got some field time in with Dynasty at the NPPL event last Saturday and will also get in a couple of hours this coming Thursday in Chicago with the TonTons. Include this past weekend where we put in some long hours and got a lot done (with the help of the Heat) and while I always want more time I'm satisfied we are about as ready as we could possibly be given the circumstances. The event will be a real test of both our reduced prep time and the attitude and desire the team plays with. I am optimistic.
A couple of days ago on VFTD (Facebook) I asked if y'all wanted to see some fast break paintball. I was being slightly facetious at the time but the more I see of this layout the more convinced I become that at least the pro action will be something bordering on the fast and the furious much of the time. Even the slower longer points are very unlikely to draw out into the multiple minute range if one team of the two competing presses the action.
For those curious as to how Jacob (Edwards) is doing with his new team he looked today like he'd been there all along and with the recent injury to Chad George I imagine Heat is particularly happy to have Jake now.
As it turned out it was also Father's Day. Frankly I'm not a big holiday guy and as a Dad it's a lot more important to me that my kids be the kind of people I can be (and am) proud of the other 364 days of the year. Even so it's kinda nice to have a day I guess but somehow I don't think it makes up for the fact that every father in a sitcom or dad in a TV commercial is an idiot or moron who needs to be led around by a leash and told not to drool on himself the rest of the time. So there I was in Texas--off doing the paintball thing--and missed a call from my daughter only to discover early (really early) Monday morning my son had handled his filial duties on Facebook. Low effort I'll grant you but they know how I roll. Which only left me. But, but ... but I talked to my Dad on Friday. I meant to send a card--and call on Sunday but my flights got delayed and, and ... and fortunately he'll understand and not be any more offended than I would be in the same situation but even so, there's no excuse.
Much love to all the paintball Dads out there. We could use a few more.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Pendulum Swings

Tired of the 3-2 pro scores that sees players sit for endless minutes in the same bunker controlling the same lanes until somebody gets dinked or the team that is down bodies is forced to concede the point? No need to answer that 'cus I know you are, as am I. In the off season the league returned to its traditional field length and Adrenaline Games talked the PSP into adding bunkers (in order to shorten the gaps between bumps leading out to the wires [which they did not follow through on in this season's designs]) (and that have had zero positive effect on play) and the league is now going so far as to organize a layout committee in order to do, er, something about these long slow points and dull matches.
But even though I am not a fan of slow play I have a warning for y'all--this is a scenario that is ripe for the law of unintended consequences to smack everybody hard upside the head. It is a truism amongst trial lawyers that you never ask a question you don't know the answer to already in order to avoid being blind-sided, caught unawares and unprepared. And while I respect the committee members the PSP has chosen I have yet to see a solid indication they have a comprehensive understanding of how a layout will play short of playing it. So far we have had three layouts that either minimize or delete a back center position. One made the snake hard to reach, the other made it easy. All the dorito wires have been aligned, more or less, within a single grid column and now we have one devoid of a back center and with the barest minimum of feed bunkers inserting to either wire--and a clutter of Pins and TCKs in the middle. (O/T: should the playing surfaces be elevated at one end of the field compared to the other it will provide a significant advantage to the team shooting down on their opponent. Just saying.) Along with open lanes wide (and restricted primary options) the objective is to facilitate eliminations OTB. The layout also clearly hopes to encourage play at the X. Let's for a moment consider the results if this layout plays as intended.

Imagine it's the fourth event in a row where the odds are your team or the other team or both teams will lose one or two players off the break every point. (I know we haven't actually had any like that recently but play along 'cus I'm trying to make a point.) How many events in a row like that would it take before the divisional teams and players started to complain about the unfair manipulation of the layouts? Why, you ask, would they do that? Simple really. Race To is played either to a point total or a time limit and if nearly every breakout results in losses between 10%-40% that's a lot of not playing paintball. If you're a 1 you're risk for getting shot OTB is higher than the rest so how many points are you really playing if that many bodies are dropping OTB? Or you have some older players who are the backbone of your team but have fewer to no places they can play effectively anymore? Will teams used to playing to time begin to resent playing half the time because the points go faster? And when it's random players getting shot does the skill factor go up or down for trying to pull back those sorts of points or do teams mostly get steam-rolled depending on how many and which player(s) they lost OTB? If the norm becomes fast points and lots of quick easy kills how much actual paintball will teams end up playing in Race To 4 or even Race To 5? And will the luster wear off that style of play just as quickly if (or when) it becomes the norm?

Nobody seems to know how to design a layout that can be played either fast or slow while staying sufficiently neutral that it rewards the better team--or to even shade an advantage perhaps to the risk takers as it is fundamentally easier and less risky to play defense. Instead we are getting these experiments in brute manipulation and while it might force play on the pro fields, it might not, and I doubt any consideration was given to what it might do to divisional play at all. It will certainly be interesting to see how this latest experiment plays out.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Baca's Mailbag: Tournament Preparation for Beginners

What's the best way to get a team ready to play tournament paintball, specifically D5 CFPS?

For those who don't know the CFPS is the largest tourney series in Florida and they use APPA which means that D5 players are, for the most part, beginners or players with nominal tournament experience.

The foundation of all competitive paintball is developing individual skills, imparting the rudiments of strategy and team play and preparing your team mentally for the experience.
Typically with the first tournament or two you needn't be overly concerned with the team's mental state as they will be excited and nervous, both of which are good. The best thing for them at this stage is to let them know what happens during the actual play of the tournament and provide them with a routine to follow during their down time. Taking care of the basics like potting up, getting their air fills, cleaning up hits, replacing batteries etc. all the simple routine stuff that is part of the process. Habituate their routine to keep them on an even keel and from making the minor mistakes their lack of experience and excitement normally engender.
Individual skill development is pretty straightforward (stuff like laning, snap shooting, accuracy, running & gunning, etc.) and largely a function of time, commitment and practice but there is one area you might want to focus on that is a common weakness at this stage of player development. It is what I call body awareness and what is usually called playing tight. The point is less experienced players tend to be sloppier in their play and broader, less controlled in their movement. Focusing on lots of of 1-on-1s in different bunker types and running both snap-shooting and gunfighting drills are good but perhaps the best drill is to set-up the same as your 1-on-1s with two added features. Include a target for each player to shoot at that requires the player to wrap his bunker and also have a second shooter from a crossfield position shooting paint at the inside edge of the player's bunker. The drill incorporates the same snap-shooting and/or gunfighting elements but adds the necessity to gain edge control in order to quickly wrap and shoot at the target all the while also being aware of the off angle paint incoming that could clip a leg, knee, shoulder or pack if the player isn't careful. It is an excellent drill for players of virtually all skill levels as the degree of difficulty can be adjusted to fit the level of player.
Here the tendency is to try and do too much too quickly so keep it simple; basic wire control on offense and the simple defensive (or close-out) counters like spread the field are sufficient for now and allow you to discuss more complex situations as they arise. Of more or equal importance is laying the foundation for your players filling roles, what that means and how they successfully accomplish that goal. Your 1s are your primary attackers, your 2s (inserts) are there to support & assist your 1s and your 3 provides cover, communication and adds his gun to your close out push or cuts off the field. Again, keep it simple but make sure everyone is doing their job when they are playing.
And lastly with a young or newbie team stay positive and encouraging.

Monday, June 10, 2013

NPPL NEO Recap: Between a Rock and a Very Hard Place

Before I get started I'd like to give a shout out to our invisible overlords at the NSA and apologize for providing only boring paintball talk. And to all you tools of the oppressor, nothing to see here, move along and keep up the good work on building our burgeoning fascist state.

I might as well begin with the pro results because I can guess that you lazy slackers are salivating over the hoped for juicy story. (Prepare to be let down.) We (X-Factor) finished third by demolishing a disappointed Uprising 5-0. We got to the semi-final round by doing the same to Warped Army. In between was a match versus Avalanche--a team we beat in the prelims--along with 4 other teams including Dynasty. Now I could imply that I can sympathize with the naive young man with the purty lips who finds himself all alone and incarcerated. If that's too subtle for you I could say that I approve of the NPPL hiring the handicapped but suggest that they should be crew perhaps instead of referees. Or that BShort received a major because the rubber sleeve on his barrel swab, when folded and tucked into his pants, looked like a hit. Or that the commish apologized to our team owner over an "incident" from our semi-final or that the team is divided, today at least, over whether we compete in the NPPL again or not. But none of that matters within the larger context of winning and losing. Not because it isn't all true but because it isn't relevant. The more important truth is that there are no excuses and champions or would be champions acknowledge and accept the fact that every obstacle to victory must be overcome whatever the obstacle. If that seems unfair, guess what, it is. But the point stands, there can be no excuses.
Now about the tournament itself. It seems the unofficial real team count was 29 with almost half the turnout filling the pro division. That factoid alone demonstrates the difficulty the latest iteration of the NPPL is up against. Not only must it deliver on modest promises made it must convince those few remaining players and teams with an interest in 7-man to give them one more try--and those numbers now appear to be nearly non-existent.
There were a few positives. Registration lines were short. Parking was close so no shuttles to the venue were required. The paint was adequate until the pro grade ran out early on Sunday leaving some teams with and others without. On the logistical front scores were recorded in a timely fashion, relayed, made public and schedule modifications happened almost as quickly--even when they weren't exactly right.
Otherwise the circumstances required a lot of compromises. Why move the event to OXCC instead of say, Pev's where it's been on the east coast the last few years? Because Valken has closer ties to OXCC (and perhaps Pev is now deemed part of the problem?) Whatever the rationale the place was a veritable ghost town compared to the PSP presence the month before. The event was played on two fields, neither of which was set-up for walking the day before, although that may attributable to concerns about the weather. Both fields were less than ideal as well but this is where those compromises begin to be noticed. An established local field like OXCC was used to minimize costs so the tournament fields needed to go where there was already netted off playing areas. The basic infrastructure at a large recreational field also provided most of the infrastructure required. Then there was the "webcast" which might as well have been a live security camera feed at a warehouse for all the information and game action it displayed--to the dozen?--people who both knew it existed and wanted to watch. I get the NPPL feels it needs to compete with the PSP on a number of fronts but it's wrong. They can't so they shouldn't try and claiming the "webcast" existed was counterproductive as all it did was highlight the differences between the two offerings. Then there was the stuff the NPPL did choose to spend its money on; spectator bleachers (of modest proportions) and the covered VIP area looming over the bleachers. The VIP is supposed to be a value (and revenue) added feature as well as the method by which the league promotes its Sapporo sponsorship--and offer the appearance (once again) of competing with the PSP on a national stage. [The VIP is also a perk for vendors and a way to separate the "vips" from the ordinary folk.] Bottom line, does it make money or cost money? If it costs money is it money that must be spent or is it an attribute of the old NPPL that isn't sustainable for the time-being? Let's toss in the players party while we're at it. If I were a proper social scientist I would have attended to get a head count and see if the league was getting a kick back but I honestly didn't and don't care other than it's a vestige of the old NPPL and the old NPPL's mentality. If it can be included as a cost neutral "extra" then sure, why not, but once again the question needs to be asked how does the new NPPL separate itself from the old NPPL when it seems to want to do all the old stuff, just less?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying those things are terrible or should go the way of the Dodo. I am saying much of the old vestiges cost money and give the appearance that nothing much has really changed. Take all that, the wretched turnout, the poor weather, the same old promotional style and perhaps the most unfortunate occurrence, the pro results, the only "good" to come out of the event was an unwatchable webcast and the fact that almost nobody was there to witness the event in person.
For those of you who are fans of prizes you may have noticed the prize packages were reduced (slashed) (razed) from HB. In a page included with your registration packet (I assume that's how we got a copy) the prizes were further reduced by the inclusion of free entries and paint to cover the dollar values given on the NPPL website. Now if entries go down commensurately it would seem a fair trade-off if one reason you might attend a NPPL event is for the prizes.
Overall having attended more tournaments than I can remember over the last fifteen years this one would have rated a good local tournament given the conditions if teams had paid local prices. As a state wide or regional level event I would have rated it fair but considered the turnout low--even in these troubled times. As a national level event it was poor. It was NPPL ultra light with nothing to distinguish it from a thousand other tournaments and very little that stood out and signaled either real improvement or hope for the future.
But it was the first for NPPL 4.0. Maybe the second go round will be better--if anybody decides to show up.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Greetings from the NEO

Here we are again in deepest darkest Chesapeake City for the NPPL's relocated Northeast Open. Today it was in fact deepest and darkest as slow moving low flying rain-laden clouds proved to be the only spectators on site and if the volume of rain was any indication the weather is no fan of competitive paintball. At least not today. It finally got so bad the final three match sets of the afternoon were cancelled and rescheduled to begin early tomorrow morning. "Fortunately" we got in all 3 of our scheduled matches for the day. (And won all three.) The starts and the backfields at each end of the layout were mud and standing puddles from the get go. The paintball wasn't always pretty but it wasn't really the weather's fault. The rainy day didn't help of course but it often looked like the teams competing didn't know what they wanted to do or were *gasp* trying to emulate the slow play trend of the PSP pros.
There are 12 "Pro" teams here. Missing are Vendetta, Arsenal Crush & PB Gateway. Also missing from a team or two are some players who are probably practicing for the PSP Chicago Open with their regular teams. With two brackets of 6 teams we are playing 5 prelim matches--1 more than previously--yet still taking 8 teams thru to Sunday. 5 matches to eliminate the bottom third is ridiculous but what are you gonna do? (I know, stop playing NPPL.) We could forfeit tomorrow's matches and still make Sunday.
All told there are apparently fewer than 40 teams competing with no D2 at all. (Tippmann was legitimately signed up for D2 but bumped up instead of down when they proved to be the only D2 to pay their entry.)
Despite the weak turnout, general struggles and the inclement weather Shawn Walker announced on PBN the new NPPL was committed to finishing the season at very least--and the word on the street is that Valken (Gino P.) will help keep the league alive and if that's true the number of competing teams won't matter--for now.
Tonight we dry out the boards of our guns and wash & clean our pods. We will also wash and dry our gear (dry mostly) cross our fingers and hope for the best. Since it's still the NPPL we'll gladly settle for something less.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

PSP Chicago 2013: The Layout

Aight, kids. Just a few observations--and not about how to play this layout. Instead something slightly more philosophical in nature. But first I would be remiss if I didn't mention the glaringly obvious that once again the PSP and MS [London event] are sharing nearly identical layouts given that there are some bunker variations and field dimension differences between the leagues. Is this Sup'Air's passive aggressive attempt (as has been suggested before) of creating a defacto World Standard in design or is everyone just out of ideas and feeling lazy lately? You decide.
So far 2013 is turning out to be the 'Where's Home' season as this will be the third tournament  in a row without a back center prop. (Okay, MAO had a CK twenty feet up the centerline but still ..) You may recall there was much gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands after Cup last year as the capper to a season that trended toward slow play. And there was some (quasi-?) (semi-?) (pseudo-?) serious talk about what to do to pick up the game pace with Sup'Air posting some sample layouts with added props--whose impact was easily debunked--along with suggesting a return to the original 150 foot field length. And so on. Apparently someone also suggesting removing the Home bunker altogether and everybody raised their hand. (I didn't get that memo.)
Unfortunately the Chicago layout also carries over a number of issues that will help thwart the effort to speed up game play; like wire 50s that fail to deliver  kills but are spaced to encourage bunker runs (with the likely result that players and teams that don't want to run their opponents down will resist pushing those 50s.) Also the midfield props may or may not prove effective lane blockers but they certainly complicate the effort to play across field except for the lanes we've become used to: the lanes teams are using to slow play.
Now I'ma surprise y'all a little bit--this field still has potential for some fast action, train-wreck paintball--not that I'm confident we'll see any you understand--but it's possible and this is where the PSP's dilemma really exists. It's possible but (almost) nobody is prepared to risk it and as long as teams win slow playing much of their matches and are constantly playing against the magic +/- 3 points (teams almost never overcome a 3 point deficit) and missing or making Sunday based on point differentials we are unlikely to see any significant moves towards fun, fast, aggressive styles of play.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Novelty Formats & Major League Paintball

Normally I'd be cruel and include 7-man in the coming litany of has beens and never was but I have a soft spot on my head for 7-man and besides, it's not a failed format in my estimation, it's a format that was failed. In fact most of the other formats I want to mention are all good, clean paintball fun--they just don't have any business being grafted on (like mismatched body parts on a Frankenstein's Monster) to a perfectly fine national series featuring variations of the Race To format. You know, stuff like Young Guns 3-man, gimme a freaking break. Or more recently pump, mechanical (Dare I say it?) UWL or even 10-man. [And if push comes to shove I'm not a huge fan of any division D4 or lower playing at the national level with the exception of World Cup, but that's just me being all snobby and stuff.]
I can appreciate the notion of the league trying to cater to diverse player interests but there has to be a limit and for me the limit is when the whole thing is little more than a sad laughing stock parody of what was intended. Nor do I lay even most of the blame on the league--with one exception--but on the caterwauling players claiming that players will show up in droves to play [fill in the blank] if only it was offered.
Well, it's been offered. Over and over and over again and the same 12 guys and that loser with a duffel bag full or Airsoft crap keep showing up.
Don't get me wrong. I'm all about Young Guns. I'm down with 3-man events. It's great to see pump play make a revival. And if mechanical markers only were taken seriously I think it would open up truly competitive play to a much broader participation base and I love seeing some Old Skool 10-man and I'm even willing to extend nook space under the big tent of competitive paintball to the UWL. My problem isn't with the formats, it's with the fact that no matter how loud the hue & cry gets to add this or include that at the end of the day nobody shows up. Okay, not nobody but not nearly enough bodies. And the PSP shouldn't be in the business of trying to be all things tourney paintball to all people. In part the truth is not all that many people are really interested and a national stage isn't the right place for some of the others. For the league it's a distraction and it dilutes the brand.
Then there's the exception I mentioned earlier. That would be 10-man. 10-man can't stand alone at this point in time or likely draw a real field of competitors from less than the national scale and nobody else is in a position to offer 10-man other than the PSP. (Except perhaps as a one off and the risk would be very high the promoter would lose his or her shirt.) But if the PSP is gonna to make the effort they need to do it right and quit treating 10-man like the red-headed stepchild it was at Cup and at Dallas. For now it ought be promoted only at the Chicago event and Cup and potential players need to know at the beginning of the year (when and where 10-man will be available) if the league is even vaguely serious about giving 10-man a real shot.