Monday, December 29, 2014

Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New

Mostly just some miscellaneous musings on the old (news) of the day while we wait for the new (year) to deliver something fresh. In actual news Upton 187 finally got around to announcing the pick-up of Nick Slowiak, formerly of Heat. It's nice to see a nice guy get another opportunity to continue competing but--being a half empty kinda guy at times I can't help wondering about the fate of all the other "pro" players in limbo currently without a team. What does 2015 have in store for them? (Perhaps more Open divisions at the regional level?) This move certainly won't hurt either Nick's or 187's popularity but whether or not it improves the team remains to be seen.
There's also a lot we don't know about the fate of some of the other pro teams. Rumor has it CEP is teetering on the brink of disbanding and who knows what impact the plunging ruble will have on Russian Legion--but odds are it won't be good. And there's still one other team out there I expect to call it quits sometime before next season. Which leaves the fate of the PSP's Champions and Challengers uncertain as well. Is Challenger's worth sustaining if it's made up of mostly unchallenged recently bumped up D1 teams? (Assuming the league can convince enough D1 teams to make the jump.) The announced pro rule changes seem to assume the status quo--but who knows?
I also want to take a closer look at those rule changes plus the laundry list of changes announced by the Millennium. Let's start with our Euro friends. The interesting question is why? In the past the MS has often done an admirable job of shooting itself in the foot so routinely rumors of the PSP going to Europe were met with much hopeful rejoicing. So what changed? I don't know but it may have something to do with following recent trends in team turnout. Over the last three seasons the league has worked hard to keep the locked divisions mostly filled and in the process they have reached out to just about every corner of Europe and beyond. At the same time open divisions have slowly declined. They've also felt pressure from the growing popularity of national leagues. So across the board the league focused on small ways they could make competing more economical while also trying to create new ways for new players and teams to give the Millennium a try. If nothing else the changes made earn the league some goodwill and fresh credibility that will help keep the league in the forefront of tournament paintball in Europe.
Meanwhile on our side of the pond the experimentation continues--maybe. And who knows, they might not be done yet either. Dropping divisional ROF is good for the majority purely from a play of the game, learning the game perspective and should have come as little surprise to most. Conceptually the pro changes are fine too except that they were taken haphazardly ("we'll figure out how to make it work later") and contradict past league practices. When the NXL was subsumed into the PSP and RaceTo was introduced part of the rationale was that it was important the game be uniform top to bottom. That D4 would play the same basic game the pros played. That's now out the window and even if the league can make their high speed cameras work the chances of bringing that technology to divisional is likely nil. And no sideline coaching isn't trickling down any time soon. (The secret to regulation is butts on bleachers, not crowds lining nets or rope lines or bicycle racks.)
The PSP tracks the participating team numbers very closely.  Last year approx. 70% of all entries were paid by casual competitors, teams that only play the PSP once or twice, and as a consequence aren't committed to the series. One might think that would encourage consistency and deliberation when contemplating changes. If recent seasons are to be relied upon one would be mistaken. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Have a Merry Christmas Unless ...

I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year--so I will--but keeping in mind the perils & pitfalls of our ever more tolerant and diverse world I also offer this alternative:
Please accept with no obligation, implied or explicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2015, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere. Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Paintball Resolutions & Predictions for 2015

I know, this sorta post ought to come after Christmas and before New Year's but knowing what sort of lazy slackers y'all tend to be I thought I'd help you get a head start on at least thinking about your resolutions or predictions for the coming year in paintball. And if you're feeling particularly adventurous feel free to post up those resolutions or predictions (or both!) in the comments. I know, I'm asking a lot but this is a hopeful time of year--so here's hoping.
I'ma even gonna get you started. What could be fairer than that? I've had a paintball project or two in the works for a while (mostly gathering dust) but I've recently added to that list of paintball to-do's and they will all get done in 2015. That is my paintball resolution. But I'll also up the ante: the first project will go live in January and the next two will go live in February. No lollygagging in 2015.
For predictions I'm gonna say expect the PSP schedule to be overhauled this year. A Cali event will still be on the schedule however. (And, no I've no idea what was discussed in the December meetings.) I've already predicted "semi-auto" will be capped at some point during the season and I will also predict a number of local and/or regional tournament series will stick with APPA (for registration and scheduling) but opt out of the classification system. My final prediction is that the fledgling XPL will survive their inaugural season even if they cancel an event at some point during the year.
Okay, now it's your turn. What'cha got?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

History Lesson

Leaving aside for the moment the new 'no coaching' rules for the pro fields and the quagmire that will be uncapped semi-auto I want to take a closer look at the other new pro rule--release of the pro layout the day before the event begins. VFTD views this change as a very positive move in redirecting how players train and a playing field leveler when it comes to the costs associated with practice. But I also want to take a look at it from the PSP's perspective--at least inasmuch as that's possible with the limited amount of info available. With follow-up interviews of Lane Wright on Social and Tom Cole on PBN the only official statement addressing the layout release change (indirectly at that) comes from the original press release

"PSP believes these changes will provide Pro players with exciting new opportunities to exhibit the skills that make them the best players in the world while simultaneously providing fans with more exciting contests between the best teams in the game."

It's not a lot to work with. But it will do. I understand how 'no coaching' is intended to impact game play. I also understand the argument about semi-auto even though I think enforcement will be virtually impossible. (But that's another conversation.) But how releasing the layout at the event will help create "more exciting contests" escapes me. Sure it sounds good but what is really likely to happen? We can't know for certain but it's possible to make an educated guess or two. 
Let's begin with a little history lesson. The last time competitive paintball revealed layouts at events the premier game played was 10-man and/or 7-man (as early NPPL 2.0 had multiple playing fields.) When 10-man still ruled game times were 15 minutes. 7-man games were 10 minutes (although that was eventually reduced to 7 minutes primarily for scheduling purposes.) Today if a point lasts two minutes it's boring and impossible to watch--or so we're told. Game plans were formulated to win games not to win fast or win flashy. Even the aggressive teams unless involved in a grossly mismatched pairing took minutes to win games, not seconds. If you're thinking that was a completely different playing environment and the purpose was to challenge the knowledge and creativity of the players--not to speed up the pace of play--you might have a point.
Ignorance of the field and its nuances will have the same effect ignorance on the paintball field always has: uncertainty results in delay, hesitation and inaction--not the opposite. Teams that are by nature or design cautious will likely be more so while they learn as they compete and the teams more aggressively oriented may attempt to push the envelope but only if they succeed. For years the league justified RaceTo on the basis that anytime a 3 point gap in score occurred it almost always assured victory to the leading team. So if a team is predisposed to be aggressive but aren't successful how long do they keep pushing the envelope? One point? Two points? The magic three points? Do you see where this is leading?
Another simple reality is that the playing field remains the playing field. I know pointing out the obvious is kinda boring but bear with me a minute. ("A whole minute? You've got to be kidding!") Given the current dimensions and bunker set whether the particular positions are known or not each layout will have the usual fundamental characteristics in play, two wires and a center that may or may not be useful plus a few lane blockers and even fewer bunkers that feed the wires. Smart teams will use that knowledge as the basis for how they begin to think about playing an unpracticed layout. And their goal, more often than not, will be how to best avoid unnecessary risk and maximize live bodies early. The results will look very much like the pro game has looked of late regardless of the changes.
One last thing. Re-read the league quote above and ask yourself if the stated goals are good for the pro game why not divisional? Or why the league is trying to create "more exciting [pro] contests"?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Millennium Series Changes for 2015

In the past I have both applauded and been critical of various aspects of the Millennium Series effort. They do a number of things very well and, in my estimation, a couple of things, er, not so well. However for the 2015 season I can find no real faults because those items I might object to in a perfect world are included for reasons that are self-evident and which do harm elsewhere. The following comments are in the same order as the league's statement.
3-man play will be an added option on its own unique field that will also be used to give visitors/spectators an opportunity to try paintball if they'd like.
Each venue will have a camping option to help make the event more affordable.
The league hopes to use their webcast in more creative ways to expand paintball's outreach as well as improving their effort to reach outside of paintball within the local venue area. (Sounds swell though exactly what it will mean isn't clear. It is however consistent with other efforts.)
A new rule will require new high visibility shell colors only for event paint.
Addition of a new open D3 that will play a RaceTo-2 format and their reduced entry fee will include 10 cases of paint.
Players of the 3-man won't need player IDs.
Locked division rosters will be slightly reduced but the active roster will be raised.
Rosters for open division teams will remain unlocked all season long.
Player IDs will now be available at reduced cost for single events. (No more buying season ID in order to play only a single event.)
And on the prizes front the CPL will award prizes at each event now instead of a single end of season series prize.
The changes made this season are focused on making the league a more attractive and accessible competitive paintball event. It's a series of sensible moderate steps aimed at bringing in new players and new teams and perhaps some old teams and players too. The only place I can see some of the regulars objecting is the new reduced rosters for locked division teams as this will in effect shove the last couple of bench players off their current teams. It may also raise the cost of competition for individual players as well and if the goal was the see if those players cut loose would reform into new teams I think it highly unlikely. More likely they will join existing teams that probably don't play Millennium events.

The statement also addressed the recent PSP changes. The Mills 'no coaching' policy remains as formulated and seems to work. For one thing bleachers in Euroland all seem to be elevated and at the MS events I've attended were also separated from the playing field by a greater distance than is normal at PSP events. The Mills will continue a 4 week pre-release of their event layout(s) and will continue to use a 10 bps cap in the current mode of operation as the league has serious concerns about enforcing semi-auto and continues to believe all teams and players should be playing the same basic game. (Something the PSP used to tout as well until ... they didn't.)

On the whole a cautious thumb's up to the Millennium this time around though only time will tell on how well the roster changes are received.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Making Of The Modern Pro Game, part 5

Finally we've reached the series conclusion. One last (longer) bit and you can say you read the whole thing--or skimmed it or skipped it more like. Either way for the younger generation if you have any follow-up questions I've got answers--that might even be true. (If you've just arrived this is the fifth installment of a series that you can find down the queue on the main page of the blog with part one furthest down.)

Dollars and Sense
Pro Paintball’s ticking timebomb is the success we’ve been chasing all along. Or more accurately, the changes that success will bring–and is already bringing. Used to be that success on the field was enough. In the emerging Pro environment success off the field will prove to be as or even more important. The competition to score the serious sponsorship deals is fast becoming a more ruthless game than any the fans will ever see played out on the field. The dream has always been about making big money but somewhere in the imaginary calculations it seems no one took seriously the idea that as the stakes grew greater so too the price tag to participate. And the price tag for failure.
That’s the overview but when we get down to specifics it’s important to realize there are two kinds of Pro teams; the owned and the independent. Ownership of Pro teams resides principally in the hands of industry-tied individuals or companies. The few remaining independents operate in different ways but are independent in that no specific paintball entity controls them outright. This distinction identifies which teams are at the greatest risk. Industry owned teams have more resources at their disposal and revenue sources separate from the team. In essence those teams have a safety net if ownership is willing to spend more money. The independents don’t have that luxury and must operate with what is available to them.
Regardless, all the Pro teams must re-orient their approach to meet the growing demands of professionalism in a time when the traditional resources don’t meet a team’s needs. When greater and greater dollar amounts are at risk industry and sponsors require greater assurance of success and stability. The new professionalism on the field must become the policy and practice off the field.
Should any mistake this as a veiled cry of poverty, it isn’t. It is a warning and an acknowledgment of the shifting state of Pro Paintball. It is the teams’ responsibility to maintain themselves but at a minimum it needs to be recognized and understood that it will almost certainly prove impossible for some and there comes a time when the flagging vitality of the Pro teams will inevitably effect the leagues as well.
The bottom line is simple. The cost of being a competitive Pro team is skyrocketing without a comparative system or structure in place to support it. The race to successfully lift tourney paintball to Sport status and attract outside of industry interest (and money and support) and gain a foothold on TV hold out the promise of future prosperity but the question becomes how many of the Pro teams will survive to benefit?

Who’s Who?
Behind the scenes there are teams in turmoil. Some are easily guessed, others might seem the picture of health. While it’s human nature to be curious it would be unfair to the teams and players to openly speculate as to their fates, but here’s a few clues to look for in the coming months and even the coming years. Routine or excessive player turnover. Teams with declining or unexpectedly poor results on a consistent basis. Signs of strife among the players. Those are a few of the most visible clues to potential problems and can be indicative of poor management or a lack of leadership or both. Teams without established sponsorship relationships of some duration. Teams tied almost exclusively to one sponsor. The independents. Teams in these categories are at immediate risk should the status quo change.
Look for a dramatic off season, it’s coming.

The New Era
The New Era is gonna require some fresh thinking and, perhaps, some revised expectations. It will require business savvy and management skills. At some point in time the leagues may be forced to take affirmative action to help maintain the viability of the pro teams and in the meantime the teams that are serious about being around for the long haul had better start exploring alternatives to the status quo or at least find supplemental ways to improve their financial health. The days of treating Paintball like a hobby are over, at least at the Pro level. Like it or not it’s become a business and in the future the teams that succeed will be businesses first and sports teams second.

Not exactly the way you pictured Paintball success would turn out, is it? Of course, we aren’t there yet. There’s still a long way to go and the only thing that is certain is there will be a growing list of the victims of success between here and there. Between now and then. Tick, Tick. Tick.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Making Of The Modern Pro Game, part 4

Today's installment is a short one and if you're like Paintball Industry executive types this one should have your full attention. It's ...

All Paintball companies, big and small, want to reach the widest possible audience of consumers as cheaply and effectively as possible. Nowadays they do it with sponsored teams, participation at the big events and media ad purchases but incrementally they are turning their attentions to TV. This isn’t an either/or proposition but budgets are finite and choices will have to be made. Once TV enters the equation on a routine basis it’s another slice (a big one) out of the marketing pie. Consider these options: small growing company can either sponsor low ranked Pro ream or high ranked Am team or they can help sponsor a league on TV and capture a small but glamorous slice of that league’s appeal. Part of any team’s marketing power depends on their results but the league is front and center all the time. Whose pocket do you think those future dollars are gonna line?
The same applies to the dreamed of outside of industry sponsors only more so. All they want is for potential customers to associate their product with the pleasure of Paintball and being the official snack cake of the NXL is likely to serve their interests better than choosing to support a particular team.
Let’s shift gears for a moment and ask a more basic question. How does TV help the Pro teams right now? It seems to me that while TV offers vastly greater exposure it also ups the ante on advertising and marketing budgets significantly. Short term this may draw away dollars from the teams as Corporate Paintball shifts priorities. Long term TV hopefully expands the market as it reaches the largest possible existing paintball audience and enhances the marketability of the Pro teams. There is no doubt TV would ultimately benefit the participating Pro teams but does TV also usher in the era of irrelevancy if you're not on TV? And even if you are on TV the role you play is significant. Everyone knows who the Harlem Globetrotters are but who remembers the name of the team they play? (For trivia buffs that would be the Washington Generals.) Does TV further widen the existing gulf between the haves and the have-nots? Or create an unbreachable chasm?

Part 5 looks at the economics of the Pro Game and projects the likely future.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Making Of The Modern Pro Game, part 3

VFTD now returns you to our previously scheduled series. Keep in mind this is part 3. Parts 1 & 2 are down the queue on the main page and the whole tends to make more sense if you start at the beginning. No pressure just a suggestion. Also, the original piece was written in late 2005 early 2006 and this re-posting is intended to serve as a history lesson of sorts--not commentary on the game today. Two more parts to go.

Corporate Paintball
Rumors abound that business is down and that some of Paintball’s biggest corporate players are feeling the financial squeeze. It’s gone so far as public acknowledgment of merger talks between a pair of industry giants. All of Corporate Paintball could be in line for some seismic shake-ups and if we see any of the giants falter that could (and almost surely will) have a domino effect on sponsorships across the board. What the business types might call consolidation may end up looking an awful lot like contraction to the Pro teams. Even if the contraction doesn’t happen Corporate Paintball is dominated by a handful of companies and the nature of the business is changing for them, too. Fewer, if larger, companies would predictably narrow their sponsorship focus, perhaps trimming their list of sponsored teams but surely making the bottom line decision to dispense the majority of their sponsorship dollars to a shrinking list of elite teams, the sure things. (It’s already happening in portions of the industry.) Contraction would guarantee it.
This really isn’t anything new. Most of the available money already goes to the biggest, most valuable (promotionally) teams. This dichotomy hits even the Pros and, coupled with the growing demands of professionalism, is already putting a severe strain on more than a few second tier Pro teams. A shift towards a tighter focus on sponsorship returns will only draw the dividing lines more sharply between the haves and the have-nots. But that’s not the whole story.
Teams aren’t only competing amongst themselves for sponsor dollars, they are competing against one of the leagues, the NPPL. (The structure of the NXL precludes this concern but otherwise the NXL has its own laundry list of issues. See the View from the Deadbox column in PGI issues 195 & 196 for the NXL story.) Right now it doesn’t seem like it because everyone is used to the industry paying vendor fees to promoters but the NPPL model is intended to function differently, particularly at the Pro level. In a fully realized NPPL Pro future the league is the star player and the principle revenue recipient with the teams as expendable dependents. This is so because in the NPPL model it is the league that validates the status of the teams while at the same time offering the industry prestige and profile as high visibility supporters, or “partners.” Unless there are plans in place with promises made for the teams to share in the potential Pro prosperity in ways other than simple conditional participation then whether they recognize it or not the Pro teams are already competing with the NPPL for future support and the attention and popularity that helps make a team a valuable commodity.

That leaves small paintball companies, outside the industry sponsors and discount sales often called sponsorships. Ignore the last one as it doesn’t apply to this situation. The small companies have the same decisions to make as the large ones but in cases where they are in direct competition with the large companies they usually get frozen out of the major sponsorship opportunity because of the disparity in budgets and are left picking up the next best available teams. There is no reason to expect this to change except to the detriment of the teams as changing opportunities vie with traditional sponsorship to attract the limited available dollars. Which brings us to the outside of industry sponsors. Paintball already has a few. Should more come on board their interest will be in associating their product with Paintball in hopes of finding favor (and sales) amongst ‘ballers. Further down that road the value to a company comes in finding favor with fans of paintball. In either case it’s a wide net they are casting and given examples from other sports-supporting companies like Coke, Budweiser and Gatorade it will be the leagues that receive the biggest benefit. That doesn’t mean that individual teams won’t benefit from outside of industry sponsors only that there is little reason to imagine most Pros will automatically benefit as a result of increased popularity to the Sport generally unless they are a part of a league’s revenue stream.

Next time the impact of chasing TV.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Latest Changes From The PSP

VFTD interrupts its current pro paintball history series to comment on the latest off season surprises from the PSP. So far most of the changes are aimed at the pro teams. If you're hoping for some insider gossip or even an explanation for why these changes--other than the official reasons offered--you are out of luck. In the generous spirit of the season I'm opting to not speculate. (Feel free to read between those lines all you like.)
The only change at the divisional level (so far) is the move to a 10.2 ROF cap. Given this was done last year to the pros divisional teams should have expected this to happen to them too as it wasn't hard to guess that was the plan. (Everybody wants to be like the pros so if they do it first everybody else will want to do it too! Or something like that.) Of course it isn't true. What everybody really wants is consistency. The status quo--except for a few desiccated OGs who harbor fantasies of playing pro until they're fifty. Right now there's a general hue and cry opposing the reduced divisional ROF but then there's always objections to every change when they're announced. Eventually it dies down and everybody falls in line.
The pro changes are no sideline coaching, no early layout release and *true* semi-auto play. As in uncapped. Regarding no coaching I don't see how that can be policed. Last season limited coaching was sorta kinda allowed mostly because they couldn't effectively police the restrictions. Now they claim it will be stopped altogether but I'll believe it when I see it given the current definition of sideline coaching. *Real* spectators can yell whatever they want--including team codes and player names--but anyone directly associated with a team can't. Is that really no coaching? Are they gonna start throwing out paying customers? And how long, if it can made to work, before divisional teams start demanding the same treatment? I'm not opposed to the idea but wishing it were so doesn't make it happen.
Next up is the no early layout release which I have been advocating for years. I believe this will be good for the teams and players and force them to train differently and tilt the desired player skill set back toward some of the intangible creative skills. Which of course begs the question if it's good enough for the pros why not everybody else? How do you develop the next generation if you make them play a different game?
(I have heard from one team so far that already assumes that the pro teams that can come in early on Thursdays will also see to it the layout is set-up at a local field nearby so they can get at least some practice time on the field. I guess we'll see.)
And then there is uncapped semi-auto. First, the league is relying on the gun makers to independently provide "legal" software supporting so-called true semi-auto. Okay, maybe but we've been here before and it didn't work. Then there's the issue of adjustability. Give me a gun with a microswitch and I can make it dance even up to the point where I'm not really pulling the trigger--just twitching it--and in that state I can shoot me some serious semi-auto. Is one extra paintball per 6 or 8 shots okay? Per 10 shots? Or maybe only 12 or more? Failure to put some cap on this ill-conceived attempt will only lead to a return to the wild west past. And if I can't tune my marker I am left with a gun that may very well provide inferior performance to another manufacturer's gun. (Some of you will remember when some of the manufacturers tried to police themselves and how clunky some of those markers were. In practice when you set up an electro-pneumatic marker to be unambiguously semi only the performance will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer unless they are all relying on the same hard- and soft- ware component parts.) Unless the league can categorically say all the markers regardless of manufacturer are equal it won't be some newly recovered player skill on display. And they can't say that. Okay they probably can but it will prove to be untrue.
Lastly let's discuss enforcement. A rule is only as effective as your ability to enforce that rule and there is presently within competitive paintball no tool that can enforce uncapped semi, one pull one shot. The old NPPL robot was a joke and the only other thing that was ever seriously debated was the use of high speed cameras. You know, to count trigger pulls. Of course that would require matching trigger pulls counted with paintballs exiting the barrel. Perhaps the league has come up with another alternative. (Using some sort of counter attached to your board or solenoid isn't sufficient because those methods can't confirm trigger pulls only trigger actuations. In any case it will be necessary to match paintballs shot to intentional trigger pulls in order to police uncapped semi and I seriously doubt it can be done in a live action time frame that will allow referees on the field during a match to call gun penalties.
If I thought you could keep fan participation and ban coaching I'd be all for it. Consider me skeptical. I'm foursquare behind not releasing layouts in advance--even if a team or two may get three or four hours on the layout in advance. And I'm okay with true semi-auto but I do not see how that's going to happen unless there is some new technology introduced that will allow enforcement. In fact I'd be willing to lay a modest wager no comprehensive plan exists or has been tested in game situations. As a consequence I predict that semi-auto will be capped before this coming season is over and things will be more or less the way they were only everyone can say they're playing semi-auto now.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Coach for Hire

Please don't inundate me with your questions or comments on the latest PSP changes as it seems I no longer work for the PSP. (I will as I find out more details post on the latest changes.) No need for condolences either. As they say (whoever they are) it is what it is. Apparently the league is downsizing in its very own austerity plan. Best of luck to them.
All that means is that a worn out tired old paintball coach with 10+ years of pro experience who finished his last gig with a second World Cup title is available again to coach. All inquiries will remain strictly confidential. Please use the email link on the sidebar to communicate (unless you already have my number then feel free to, you know, call.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Making of the Modern Pro Game, part 2

The Change it had to come

The Russian Legion got the ball rolling by demonstrating what was possible with modern training methods and a full time schedule committed to playing paintball. Even though they weren’t winning everything in sight their example raised the bar on what it took to be a pro team and began pushing all the top teams and players–-as well as more than a few who aspired to that level–-to begin emulating the Russian Legion’s commitment as best they were able. The result has changed the baseline for what it takes to even contemplate competing at the Pro level. It has also changed the price tag. (A lot more about this aspect coming up later ‘cause when you get right down to it, it’s all about the money. And not in a good way.)
Coming into focus as well is what sort of infrastructure is required to put a team in position to prepare and train like professionals. Right now nobody does it quite like the Legion but more and more teams are attempting to implement Legion-like concepts and besides the facilities, the time and the basic resources there are also greater manpower and managerial demands placed on the teams. It isn’t enough to want to be more professional. The support pieces must be in place, too. As a result the list of basic necessities continues to grow as teams strive to remain competitive.
At, or around, the same time as the Legion Effect was beginning to take hold tourney ball saw a split in leagues and formats. This practically doubled everything from the teams’ point of view. Any attempt to be universally competitive now requires practice, training, preparation and time for competitions times two different leagues and games. The result has been that a significant number of Pro teams haven’t even made the attempt and are, in essence, staking their future on one format or the other. (Yes, there is some overlap as the basic skills remain the same and some cross-pollination exists as Xball continues to influence how all competitive paintball is played. So even if every factor isn’t literally doubled the impact remains large.)

Today’s Pro teams are in a state of transition foursquare on the path to professionalism if not real professional status. The price tag on professionalism is not for the faint of heart. And that is the crux of the problem. The demands on the Pro teams have never been greater and the expectations have never been higher yet most teams lack the means of the real professional. Meanwhile the standard model for support–sponsorship–hasn’t changed and primarily paintball industry sponsorship alone isn’t enough anymore. In fact, there are new pressures coming to bear that will probably decrease sponsorship dollars across the board.    

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Making of the Modern Pro Game in 5 Parts

Time for another VFTD experiment. Since a significant portion of VFTD readers and today's competitive players are unfamiliar with much of paintball's history I thought a little lesson, or five, might be of interest. Over the next five days I'ma serialize a feature (long) article originally written for PGi magazine in (I think) 2005 maybe early 2006. It discusses how and why the pro teams of today came to be. As you can see even then I was partial to inflammatory titles. So if you're interested--enjoy--if not--as Jeff Probst says to the losing team on 'Survivor' each episode, "I got nothing for you." 

Pro Paintball’s Ticking Timebomb: part 1

Timebomb sounds pretty scary, right? Do I have your attention? Are you mumbling guesses as to what the ticking timebomb could be? If you’re thinking buried Iraqi WMDs you’re way off. If you’re concerned about unfettered illegal immigration join the club, but remember, we’s talking about Paintball, so lighten up. A good guess might be the trend toward consolidation in the paintball industry but that only points us in the general direction. And, no, I’m not telling just yet. After all, the idea is to get you to read more by teasing your curiosity. Trust me, it will be good for you. Like eating all your vegetables. So read the whole thing. It’s what your Mom would want.
Here’s a clue for the impatient: I warned all faithful PGI readers back in issue 181 in a View entitled, Livin’ the Dream, that the nature of sponsorships was changing–and not for the better in the likely opinion of many teams. That included the Pros. Little has changed except the precipice looms nearer and PGI’s growing readership means many of you missed the first alert so what better topic for an anarchist-at-heart and conspiracy buff to return to?

The Professional Leagues
There are presently two Pro leagues of consequence; the NPPL’s Pro Division and the NXL. (Yes, I know the MS has its Champions League but I did say, of consequence.) Each league is aiming to be the vehicle that delivers tourney paintball to legitimate sports status. Part of the process has been to elevate and isolate the pro ranks from the rest of the paintball proletariat. It is a preparatory early step along the road to positioning tourney paintball as sport similar to but distinctly different from the pay-to-play crowd.
Still don’t get it? Time was when Pro ball was really no different from the rest of tourney competition. Oh sure, they were mostly the best teams and players but pro status wasn’t really anything more than the name given to the top division of play. A big part of the new pro leagues current strategy is to separate the pro teams from everyone else. To make them special. And it’s working.

Do you hear that timebomb tick, tick, ticking yet? Everyone has been so intent on chasing success; wider marketplace, more players, fan appeal, outside sponsor interest, TV, real sport status, etc. that the true cost hasn’t been of much interest. Sure, the prime movers have been keeping a close eye on their account ledgers but, surprise, surprise, it isn’t all about them. The rapid changes have had, and will continue to have, enormous impact on the pro teams. The result is Pro Paintball is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success. The changes made in search of “success” and more importantly the changes necessitated by that growing success are also changing the teams from the inside out. It used to be that success on the field was all that mattered. Not anymore.

Friday, December 5, 2014


I saw an episode of 'Undrafted' on the NFL network recently. (I started writing this post before the holiday but in light of the recent internet debate [#graysongate] this seems more appropriate than before.) If you like football or sports generally it's a great show. Turns out the NFL isn't satisfied scouting college players and annually drafting seven rounds of talent--around 224 players. No, the league also invites scouted but undrafted players to camps too and even operates a series of regional combines for players who went largely unscouted and undrafted but who are still looking for an opportunity to compete at the next level. (For you non-sports types a combine is basically a series of physical tests of strength, agility, speed, etc.) Those that get past the regionals are invited to a super-combine where scouts for all the NFL teams are in attendance. It's one last chance to attract the interest of an NFL team. One last chance to get invited to a training camp. One last shot at making an NFL roster.
A couple of things grabbed my attention. One, it tells an inspirational story that often gets overlooked and two, it's a story of real dedication, determination and sacrifice. In the preseason NFL rosters swell to over a hundred players. In a series of cuts that number is eventually whittled down to 53. Every year half the players who actually make it to an NFL camp don't make the team. And every last one of them is bigger faster stronger than the norm, more athletic and have been competing at their chosen sport for years before they even get a chance at a professional roster. And the undrafted guys are among the least likely to ever earn that roster spot and most of them have already failed at least once--yet there they are--trying again. And trying again means that in the preceding year they were training on their own in order to be ready for the next opportunity, if it should come. Most have families and jobs and everyday responsibilities so they have to make time to prepare. To train. If that means a little less sleep or running in the dark before going to work or skipping most of the usual social opportunities with friends then that's what it takes. Even though there are no promises. Not only no promise they'll succeed but no promise they'll even get the chance to prove themselves.
Competitive paintball players pride themselves on the grind but the vast majority are clueless. Are there trade-offs in choosing to be serious about paintball? Sure. So what. The same is true of damn near anything in life. Are there some sacrifices? Yep. Do some players really push themselves and earn the grind everyone wants to claim a share of? Yes. But it ain't most players. And it sure isn't all those squids with APPA cards constantly posting (or should that be posing?) on social media how hard their life is because they play paintball and how much they give in order to play paintball. It just isn't. They may even believe it but it just isn't so.
Let me see if I can explain. Back in my gym rat days the serious lifters--in the gym six or seven days a week--sometimes twice a day--would be entertained by the new guys inspired to get healthy or fit or big. You see, the new guys would be highly motivated, gung ho and ready to go and in their early weeks in the gym their trainers would put them through a moderately paced 45 minute standardized workout and the new guys would be all sweaty and beat down at the end--and here's the thing--convinced they'd just completed the mother of all workouts. After all it was hard work and they had pushed themselves, or been pushed in order to finish but the reality was it was just the beginning. It was preparation. It was getting their bodies ready for the real work to come. As one might expect some eventually quit, some stayed at that level and a small percentage continued to drive forward and push harder.
It's easy to mistake hard today for doing the best you can do. Don't limit yourself. There will always be somebody out there who wants what you want and they will be willing and able to outwork you--in fact they are doing it right now. Stop talking about how hard something is and start refusing to be denied. (And I'm not just talking paintball.) I'm also not, btw, suggesting that throwing yourself 110% into competitive paintball is an optimal life choice. What you choose is up to you but I am saying we too often limit ourselves.
Watch a couple of the early episodes of 'Undrafted.' See real dedication and sacrifice in action and see if it doesn't inspire you. #Thereisnooffseason

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Pros: OG vs. New Skool

The first mailbag question of the off season comes from Kevin who wants to know how the OG pros would stack up against today's best of the New Skool. (Kevin was inspired by the Grayson Goff PBN post commented on in VFTD's last post.) Give everybody the same equipment--new or old or maybe both--to compete with and see who comes out on top. Do the OG's win with autocockers and the New Skool with DMs?

Despite the fact the question is unanswerable I will take a crack at it. After all every other sport does the same thing; who's better, Montana or Manning? Nicklaus or Woods? Jordan or James?
While direct personal comparisons are fun (and the source of endless disagreements) at its core is the meta-question about what makes a pro player and have paintball pros always been pro--by a single unifying set of criteria? 
The answer is, as you might have expected, yes and no. Yes because paintball pros are separated from the rest of the competitive player pool because they are deemed to be the best players and because the basic skills haven't changed dramatically. No because some important elements of the game have changed significantly due largely to technology and those changes have altered the importance of some elements of the basic skill set.
The technology matters. Today is volume over accuracy--even though accuracy still matters. CA has improved consistency and reliability.
Digging a little deeper we find enormous format changes as the game moved out of the woods, shrank the field dimensions and is currently played (under ideal conditions) on a flat open well manicured grass pitch. Much of the New Skool is about as well-equipped to play in the woods as an unsuspecting counselor at Camp Crystal Lake is to survive until dawn while the distances the game is played at today are brutally unforgiving of even the smallest errors. Game times have changed with the format changes. 25 minute games of 10-man on a non-symmetrical wooded playing field to routinely playing multiple points in half that time. 
Begin to put the pieces together and it's easy to see the disparity. High ROF fire guns on small relatively open fields with an accelerated pace of action is a substantially different game than the one played in the woods that demanded stealth accuracy and advanced planning and as a consequence the best players focused on the tools that would best advance their game. The upshot is that I believe it highly likely that each side would win their preferred format and game with the era appropriate gear. At least initially. But I'm also inclined to think the New Skool would eventually adapt to the game of the past and when they did they would win there too. The New Skool's superior technical skill base would ultimately prove to be the difference maker.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

You Will Never Play Professional Paintball

I've stolen this post title (nicely provocative, just the way I like them!) from an item posted at PBN by Grayson Goff of X-Factor (and BKi.) I encourage you to read Grayson's OP here. [Disclaimer: Grayson is both a friend and former player of mine as are all the X-Factor kids.] G's post is one reason I post here and not at PBN. While it has generated 10 pages of comments lots of them have little or nothing to do with the topic presented. While I encourage comments here I also know they will be a cut well above the PBN norm.
If you were the lazy slacker you usually are and didn't bother reading G's post the upshot is that the dividing line between pro level play and not pro level play is the mental toughness, determination and drive of the players and that the current generation shows a decided inclination to be *ahem* soft. And further Grayson's answer is to drive those showing any inclination to be the best with a combination of positive and negative reinforcement--though the article focuses on the negative.
While it's easy to get hung up on what form that negative reinforcement takes the real issue is how best to drive players to reach their potential. And make no mistake most players of any era or generation require some outside influence or motivation to maximize their ability whatever the game or sport may be. Is an unrelenting barrage of negativity the best option? Probably not but does it have a place in the process? For many perhaps even most there is a time and place for negative reinforcement. It's not all the time or in an absence of occasional positive reinforcement but nothing but pats on the head and "good job" will never get the most out of most players.
The other contentious point challenged the dedication and drive of the players of today. And not a minute too soon. If I hadn't made the same claims myself in the past I'd second Grayson's claim without hesitation. That doesn't mean there aren't some dedicated driven up-and-coming young players but again the issue raised was the next generation of pro players. And the reality is there have been individuals making the move (rarely) but the current generation has been passed by. The great majority of today's pro players whether they are Challengers or Champions are in their mid to late twenties and there is no wave of late teen phenoms pushing to take their places. The reason isn't a lack of technical skills. It is in part a developmental failure based on how most teams and players currently train but it is also a failure to bring to the table the requisite intangibles. (A case might be made that the pool of potential or future pro players has shrunken too making it more difficult to replace the current crop of aging players.)
There may be reasons. There are always obstacles to be overcome and hardships to be endured but there are no excuses.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Holidays & VFTD's International Audience

Consider this post a little bit of public housekeeping. Not necessarily all that exciting but occasionally required. If you are on Facebook you might have noticed a recent campaign to bump up VFTD "likes." (If not you'll just have to take my word for it.) It was conducted by a friend of the blog who works for FB as an experiment and in an effort to increase VFTD's reach among paintballers. It has yet to have a similar impact on this blog's analytics but it may have broadened the international audience here and there. (And there may be some lag before the campaign's impact asserts itself.) In recent years over a typical month long period VFTD is read in around 70 different countries with a few changes month to month at the end of the listing. In the last week China has jumped up to #10. That means paintballers in China had the tenth most page views this past week of any country around the world. (I think it's the first time China has passed Malaysia.) And that leaves me curious. I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who knows more about the effort to bring paintball to China and what if any progress is being made. Thanks!
There's also been a big jump recently in VFTD's audience in France. France has been in the lower half of Euro countries since the blog's start despite the popularity of tourney ball in France so I'm pleased to see such positive movement. (France is currently number 3 behind the U.S. and Canada. Normally it also trails the U.K., Russia, Germany and sometimes various of the Scandinavian countries in ranking the world audience.)
This time of year here in the United States things tend to slow down paintball-wise as winter takes hold and the holiday season begins in a couple of days. Here at VFTD I will keep up with the latest news (and the best gossip) but it may be things won't begin to heat up again until January. That very likely being the case in the past I have encouraged this audience to take advantage of the lack of activity to send in questions, comments, observations or whatever strikes your fancy to Baca's Mailbag using the email link (in blue) on the sidebar as this is the time of year when I have the most time to respond to readers' queries. I'm happy anytime of year to respond to email addressed to this blog but during the holidays I can handle more volume. So I would encourage you drop me a line anytime wherever you're from but for a while at least I'll give priority to email from China and France.
Happy (early) Thanksgiving to all. Whether you and yours officially celebrate Thanksgiving or not there's never a wrong time to take a moment and reflect on our blessings with gratitude. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

TMP in Review: Live or Later?

Last week's sorta The Monday Poll (the poll posted in the sidebar in conjunction with the post, 'Too Much Of A Good Thing') wanted to know what you thought about modifying how PBA delivers PSP pro action. Currently it's a live webcast (d'oh!) offered in a ppv format with individual matches made available some weeks after each event. It's an expensive proposition that --according to everything I've heard--doesn't pay for itself much less make a profit. The related post put forward a few other options for presenting the matches and monetizing the process like downloadable single matches or other possible menu-type choices that are pay for what you want and available whenever you want. The not quite The Monday Poll was looking to gauge your collective response. (But as usual y'all are a bunch of lazy slackers who mostly couldn't be bothered.)
The poll choices were simple: No preference, Live webcast, downloadable matches or free or forget about it. No preference received 3% of the votes. Live webcast garnered 58%. Downloads collected 22% while Free or it ain't for me weighed in at 17%. Given the paucity of actual votes--the raw data--it's probably not wise to draw too many conclusions beyond the (seemingly) growing apathy among tournament players--and maybe all paintball players. (If you are a regular reader of VFTD chances are you are a serious paintball addict which would suggest a predisposition to be more actively involved in the game--and consequently more likely to participate in stuff like The Monday Poll. And yet it doesn't happen.)
Otherwise the poll suggests what we already knew--most peeps don't like change--and while most like the idea of or the existence of the webcast they also assume somebody else will pick up the slack in making it happen. Meanwhile I can't decide if that 22% favoring cheap downloads is a positive number or a negative one. Or perhaps more importantly representative of a large enough segment to make a test effort worthwhile.
Realist that I am I'm inclined to think everyone not in the download category refers the status quo whether they buy the webcast or not--probably not--because eventually the PBA makes individual matches available for free. And if that's the case it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.  

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Houston Heat By The Numbers

In VFTD's last post, 'Is The Microwave The X-Factor,' I used a recent Champions level pick-up to make a point or two about how teams should think about improving their rosters. Given that I have a penchant for mercilessly beating a dead horse you might reasonably be expecting this post to be more of the same. It won't be. Instead I want to explore some of the difficulties Heat will face this coming season because of the roster changes they made this off season. (I know, it seems counter-intuitive on its face but it really isn't.) Remember it took most of the season for Art Chaos to figure things out.
Let's begin by taking a look back at the original Heat roster. The original Heat roster featured three Russians; Federov, Kniazev and Solnyshkov, a few experienced role-playing pros plus some fresh talent from the divisional ranks that spawned the pro team. (For those of you who insist on calling every pro a superstar my identification of guys like Slowiak, George and Monville as role-players isn't a knock. The Russians played roles too but are both more versatile and brought more winning experience to the team.) The resulting team was built around the Russians with the role-players providing situational flexibility as the inexperienced talent developed in practice with limited spins in match situations. That Heat team was also deliberate, most comfortable with steady, error-free paintball which was arguably a carry over stylistically from Coach Trosen's All Americans background (as a player and coach.) It also proved to be a winning formula.
The "new" Heat retains the players brought in last season to replace the missing Russians; Montressor, Moorhead, Siewers and Taylor plus original Heat members Bouchez and a returning Ryan Smith (who played last season with VCK.) With the return of the original Russian players plus Berdnikov.
One of the key issues Heat struggled with last season was that the replacement stars (for the departed Russians) only superficially filled similar roles. The issues that will manifest as a result this season are lines, roles and spins.
The original Heat ran the 3 Russians plus George and Monville paired on the snake side as their primary line. Now that the team has 4 Russians they only have a single slot to fill for their primary line. (Unless one of the Russians doesn't play up to their standard they almost have to be played together given their experience together and the language issue.) With a single slot available what role is filled? While all the Russians have versatile games whoever fills the last slot will determine the roles of the other players to a significant degree. If it's Moorhead is he still predominantly playing snake wire? If so who plays that wire with him? If it's Siewers, who normally plays D-sire, it likely changes the pairings. Last season the majority of the snake wire spins went to Moorhead (75% of all points played), George (72% of all points played) and Monville (53% all points played). That won't happen in 2015.
Last season the Russian foursome played between 88% - 81% of all points played by Art Chaos. If those numbers are even close in 2015 with Heat it doesn't leave much opportunity for the rest of the roster except whoever fills the primary line slot with the Russians. Any lesser ratio of points played is contrary to past Heat practice and raises different concerns. Last season with the rotation opened up a bit players like Montressor, Bouchez and Taylor all played less than 40% of the available points while as a team Heat under-performed expectations. One reason was because the replacement players skill sets weren't consistent with the players they lost and as a group they had an over-abundance at some positions while being weak in others.
Finally there's the question of pace of play. Heat prefers deliberate and the PSP seems determined to try and push teams to play faster. The issue isn't whether or not Heat can adjust--because I think they can--but will they or will they try to sustain their pace of play? (Remember how Impact opened the PSP season? Same situation but to their credit Impact realized very quickly they needed to make some adjustments and went on to have an exemplary year.)
To sum up: despite having a terrific roster on paper the team is going to have a number of serious issues to contend with even if all the players take a selfless attitude and are collectively determined to serve the best interests of the team. But if discontent sets in at some point or success doesn't happen right away this roster could implode or quietly undermine every effort to re-build a winner. Ironically the one thing that may unite the team is money. If rumors are correct Heat players will make more as a group than the entire budgets of virtually all the other pro teams. And it's a little easier to set the ego aside if you're traveling the world and making a viable living playing--or not playing--paintball.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Is The Microwave the X-Factor?

Tuesday X-Factor announced the pick-up of Carl Markowski, formerly of Aftershock, for the 2015 season and as usual the internet onlookers offered up nearly universal praise, predictions of success and congratulations. Which is all well and good--and considerably better than sticks, stones and Romany curses--but it also provides an opportunity to take a closer look. Too often high profile player movement is uncritically assumed to be the greatest thing since sliced bread and frankly I think it too often, intentionally or unintentionally, influences how lower level teams look at improving their own rosters. (I am not, btw, suggesting that picking up Carl was or will be a mistake but it does provide a real life example to analyze. The same holds true of the major roster shake-up at Heat which VFTD will also analyze in a future post.)
Breaking down the X-Factor roster reveals a number of interesting, related factoids. Billy and Mykel are primarily snake leads. Meter plays both snake wire positions but is a better lead than support. The primary snake side support (insert) is Archie. And according to PBA stats he played 86% of the team's points (while earning top gun honors.) Dixon can play anywhere but mostly plays snake side or center. Besides Arch the principle snake side players ranged between 58% - 50% of the points played. Now toss Carl into that mix and realistically he simply takes spins from other players. Does he play the snake side better than the others? That is at present an unknown. One alternative is to begin moving some players around. Experiment and see if there are any performance advantages to be gained by being more flexible. However by 2014 stats Colt played 84% of the points while Scotty played 67% and they typically work together as the primary pairing on the D-wire. Grayson frequently filled in on the D-side or in the Home. So where and how does Carl fit? It's not enough to simply grab a really good player.
Even the best players aren't plug and play. And as a team sport each of the players have roles to fill and in a given point particular jobs to do and it is critically important when working to improve a roster that first one understands the team's current strengths and weaknesses in order to focus on needs. Ideally then roster additions are both good chemistry fits and address areas of weakness with personal strengths that will enhance overall team performance.
Let me put it another way. If your team needs a d-wire lead you don't solve that concern by bringing in the best local player (not on the team) if that player's strength is playing an insert or support role. Yes, he's a very good player but if he isn't what the team needs then you haven't addressed your real area of concern and gotten better as a team in ways that change the outcome of matches.
So what about the Markowski pick-up? If X-Factor is losing a dedicated snake side player or making a change Carl brings a lot of potential pluses and fits the team's aggressive style. On that score it can't be faulted. And Carl is versatile enough to play either wire so in that regard he's a net positive but the real question is does the Markowski pick-up address the team's most pressing need? Perhaps. Keeping in mind that any roster change impacts the whole team and potentially forces changes that might not otherwise have been made in terms of lines and spins.
Otherwise X-Factor remains a solid Champions team and should continue to be a serious competitor going forward. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Too Much Of A Good Thing

At least give me a chance to explain myself before you start in on the rude gestures and profanity. (Fortunately no one has yet discovered how to transmit rotten fruit over the internet.) Oh right. Hard for you to get loud and angry if I haven't said anything yet.
Okay, here's the thing. I think perhaps there's too much of a good thing with the PSP webcast. I know, I know, it's good and getting better. And how else can any but the lucky few attending an event get to see all those pro matches without the webcast? All true, but ...
There's about 10 hours a day on offer when the webcast is live. It seems a little daunting, don't you think? And with 10 hours available if you only watch one or two hours it seems like you're not getting your money's worth even though you'd spend wads more to attend a basketball game or hockey match. And on a Friday? How many peeps are up for 10 hours of competitive paintball on a Friday what with work and school, etc? Even peeps who are serious about their paintball gotta find it tough to block out (nearly) endless hours to devote to watching the webcast on a weekend. And if you buy the whole weekend and watch mostly on Sunday it's hard not to feel like you wasted your money. Even if it is cheap in comparison to other sports entertainment options. (And we haven't even mentioned competing with 'free' sports on TV.) All I'm saying is I can see how it might be a harder sell than it seems like it ought to be.
Is there an alternative? Maybe.
Then there's the individual matches that show up on YouTube (and the PBA website) within a few weeks of each event. You can watch for free and pick the match-ups you want to see. Got 45 minutes before you need to be somewhere--you can watch whenever it's convenient. Now that's what I'm talking about. Between classes? Watch a match. Cooking dinner? Watch a match. Watch a match anytime you like. How many views do some of the most popular matches have compared to how many paying customers watched the same match live? Is it even close? The first match that popped up on my YouTube page was a PBA Match of the Day from World Cup; Revo vs. 187 with over 30,000 views.
What if PBA fast tracked post production on the best matches and began releasing them within a week or two? At the same time they posted summaries of each match so anyone interested in one team or another would have an idea of what happened beyond the final score. And what if PBA made those matches available asap but charged by the download. Like a cheap phone app. 99 cents each? 79 cents each? How much appeal might that have? I don't know but we're gonna try and find out. (See related The Monday Poll.) No doubt the number of views would go down but PBA could still release a free version sometime later on. Just a thought.
By the way, I'm not necessarily proposing changing the webcast but I wonder if it isn't too expensive to sustain indefinitely given the size of the audience willing to pay for it. Is there really too much of a good thing? What if it was Sunday only? Would that reduce costs and increase viewership? I don't know. What I do know is I'd like to see the webcast continue indefinitely--or at least until competitive paintball is a popular TV product--and it may require looking for some new ways to support it. All I'm saying.

Friday, November 14, 2014

In Millenniumland

Our neighbors across the pond have their own silly season. While I've yet to hear anything quite as silly as the (rumored well in advance) demise of Art Chaos things are happening in that corner of the paintball world. The biggest news to date was broken by the kids at GFH. (Check out their FB page here.) Seems that team Hulk out of Ukraine is done--and just after they won SPL1 and earned a golden ticket to the CPL next season. No explanation was forthcoming but it could have something to do with the civil unrest (war?) in eastern Ukraine--or not. That also leaves two Ironmen (Mouse & Marcello) without a Euro home so get in line if you're a Mills team looking for a couple of top notch hired guns. (Or if you're looking for a coach ...)
Hulk's loss could be MLKings gain. They finished third in SPL1 and should get the invite to the CPL next. In second place with their own golden ticket is Amsterdam Heat regaining a CPL spot they lost a couple of years ago. Interestingly they did it with a completely home grown roster that has only three players remaining from their last season in the CPL back in 2012.
For those curious about how the MS is doing keep an eye on SPL1 and SPL2 attrition. Over the last three years or so the divisions have not been full and the league has made a concerted effort to draw teams in from an ever-widening circle which may have reached its limit. So too the open divisions have been a little soft as the MS may have lost some numbers to very strong home grown national leagues in France and Germany. (And in the UK CPPS draws from across the British Isles and is also growing.) It would be good for competitive paintball if the league can hold the line without off season losses in overall numbers of participating teams.
And finally, the Millennium kids have already released next year's schedule--almost. No dates yet for Paris-Chantilly but it will be in September. Otherwise the dates are set. Not all the locations have been confirmed yet but seem likely to remain the same venues. Or, who knows, maybe not. After all doesn't everybody love going to Wart-on-Arse, Germany and Vegas-on-the-Thames? (Okay, it's Bitburg and Basildon but still ...) 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

VFTD Key(s) To Playing Winning Paintball

This post represents a new feature I intend to make a regular feature--meaning it will reoccur now and again. It's kind of a catch-all but the idea is to keep these short and sweet and on point--and still offer something broadly helpful. (That may be a very tall order. We'll see.)
Today's key is aimed at optimizing practice. There are a number of important ways to optimize practice but today's key is the most important. Key: every possible aspect of practice should replicate game play. The objective is to train your mind and body in such a way that every repetition and action undertaken in practice mirrors those same actions under game conditions. For example, every laning drill begins with players in position with barrel tips on the board awaiting the horn. Every last one every time the players line up to do the drills. This way everything about training to lane simulates the exact conditions of a real match. (Which also means its equally important the distances you're shooting comport with the actual match environment. Laning on short or long fields is almost counterproductive.) Another example would be the 1-on-1 warm-up drill I prefer. The action takes place on one half of the field (a standard RaceTo scale field normally) either the snake side or the D-side. Competing players line up at the other corner opposite the half the drill is being run on. If you're playing the D-side line up at the snake corner. On the whistle a player at each snake corner runs across the back line of their end of the field and may not begin shooting until they reach the other corner bunker. At which point other conditions may be added. The core idea is that I want the player in a mental and physical state during the drill that begins to replicate both the early adrenaline rush or late game fatigue experienced in match play when the score matters. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

What happens when the Champions sit down with RedBull?'

It seems amazing to many involved in the competitive game that a company like RedBull puts (relatively) enormous sums of money into events like airplane racing and an appropriated and manufactured contest like Flugtag but (so far) have completely ignored paintball. (Of course both those events are brand builders and don't even require attendance to do their job.) But even so, why not paintball?
What happens when the Champions sit down with RedBull? What pitch can the Champions make that will make RedBull sit up and take notice? We're the best competitive paintball teams in the world. And? We represent a highly desirable demographic. How much of that demographic? (According to industry analysis not even the majority of paintball players.) See where this is going? It doesn't require too many pertinent questions to discover competitive paintball--even at the highest levels--doesn't, at present, have a whole lot to offer and is really looking for a sugar daddy willing to fund an expansion effort.
So what if the league and the PBA join the Champions and present a united front to RedBull? Sure, but how is this fundamentally different than the Champs alone? It's just more mouths to feed and what is gained? Remember, you need to be considering this from RedBull's frame of reference: How does supporting competitive paintball help RedBull--or any other potential supporter or sponsor? Does the league legitimize the Champions or do the Champions legitimize the league? And is support for the league support for the status quo--and if so, what does that get any sponsor in either the short or the long term? Now advertising via the PBA might free the PBA up to go back to free access and extend its reach but then the question is does that sponsor/advertiser have other avenues to reach that same prospective audience? At the end of the day there might be some hypothetical value in advertising with PBA but if there is PBA has yet to make it happen. Otherwise what's really on offer is potential.
And that is why there have been all the determined efforts to get competitive paintball on TV. If paintball was on TV and enough people watched then the game would have something to sell. That model has recently been abandoned--due to repeated failures--in favor of the PBA model that has attempted to build an audience that would prove attractive enough to start pulling in some advertising money which in turn could keep the effort going and expanding. And it didn't work within the time frame that PBA resources allowed. So now PBA has resorted to charging the audience in the hope of being able to maintain a continuing webcast and hopefully build a larger paying audience in future--which may or may not eventually attract outside advertiser attention. 
Independent of the effort to sell the game some percentage of competitive players find spectating paintball boring and in presentations like the webcast we have yet to be able to follow the narrative of a game or point in real time in any coherent sort of way--despite the fact the webcast is constantly improving. And if we want to build an audience beyond players, friends and family there needs to be an effort to educate potential fans so they understand what's happening when we have opportunities to present the game to them.
Still hopeful there's a bigger future for "pro" paintball? (Yeah, me too.) Here's what you do. Find a venue like the grandstand arena at the OC Fairgrounds and organize a one off event. Call it a Champions Invitational. Take 5 of the top pro teams and devise some half day format. A round robin prelim perhaps going directly to a final. Whatever. Start promoting at least six months in advance. Put a winner take all prize on the table. The object is to sell tickets to the grandstand seating and access to the livestream for a worldwide audience. If it makes a profit for the promoter it might prove to be another avenue for developing a true pro game. Maybe. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Optimizing the OODA loop in Paintball

Consider yourselves fortunate as this is the last post in the OODA loop series. I would promise not to bore you to tears with similar posts in the future but that would be an empty promise. So you will simply have to suffer through these sorts of posts or you know you could skip this one or quit reading VFTD altogether. Whatever works for you and I promise not to take it personally.
The way we optimize the OODA loop is we cheat. (As paintball players you no doubt already have plenty of practical experience. Well maybe not you but certainly all those other guys.) But unlike paintball we won't be breaking any rules or coloring outside the lines--instead we will be manipulating the process. Remember what we're dealing with in an OODA loop. It is simply a systematic way of thinking about how we make decisions. And in manipulating the process we are in fact adding new elements to the process. Elements designed to provide 'answers' that allow the mind to take a short cut or two to a decision.
It is a truism of competitive paintball that experience is the guiding hand to superior paintball because experience provides 'answers' to game play scenarios that help us make better choices. While this is true it is neither universal or a constant. What I mean by that is that my two years of experience isn't always comparable to your two years of experience and this is because 'experience' is just what happens when we play and what we do with it is what makes all the difference. So, while experience is a given it is also uncertain. (This is also why not all players with ten or fifteen years experience are universally better than all players with less experience. Which is why 'experience' is an incomplete metric; it is learning and application that matter.)
Taking 'experience' as a given let's look at the short cuts that can improve and accelerate the decision-making process. First is a comprehensive awareness of the game playing environment--which is a fancy way of saying field-walking--but to be very clear I am talking about a level of preparation well beyond the standard of even most diligent teams. For example, during game play the position of an opponent is communicated to you. The most common response is to then visually check off on the information given--and then consider if there is an action to be taken. What if because of your advance preparation you already "know" and understand the options available to you? And further, given the other positions of teammates and opponents you are aware of you also know what actions you can successfully take or be able to more accurately assess the risk to a given decision? [Okay, it's true, This short cut actually takes quite a lot of real time to accomplish but it's worth it.] A high level of preparation adds information to the Observe phase, filling in the details, and providing a fuller 'picture' of any situation.
Our next short cuts operate within the Orient phase and help prioritize (or replace) the filtering process. These are 'keys' to situational awareness and maintaining focus on the 'Big Picture' goal. The 'keys' are any sort of predetermined guide to acting within a narrow situation. For example, widest gun always wraps to minimize exposure and maintain contain in order to deny opponent a matching rotation wide. Or lead snake always pushes to take up as much territory as possible. Or the priority of players in a support rule is to defend and advance your lead. If you think about it for a bit you'll discover you already act under the influence of various 'keys' whether they were taught directly or picked up indirectly. In this way 'keys' actively replace part of the filtering process. [One danger of course is that your 'keys' may on occasion be sub-optimal too. So while 'keys' can lead to accelerated decision-making they can also lead to poor decision-making.]
The 'Big Picture' goal in this context is knowledge of how your team intends to be successful. (That also means as a team each point you play has to be played with specific intent. Here is where we're going and this is what we're attempting to accomplish. Call it the plan if you like.) Knowing the game plan and what your teammates intend to do to accomplish their portion of the plan provides active and practical context for every decision you make during that point as you execute your responsibilities within the plan.
Preparation, 'keys' and context act as accelerators in the decision-making process because they tend to instill a level of certainty not always present otherwise and short cut or bypass much of the Orient (evaluation) process altogether.
Keep in mind none of this avoids poor decision-making or ill-timed action but it does tell you where to look to get at the root causes and also serves as a reminder that the real speed of the game occurs in the mental game and is only reflected in the action we see on the field.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The OODA Loop In Practice

In a VFTD first I'm posting a completely different post than promised in the OODA Loop series. (Yes, I've done this before--but not with this series.) For the simple reason that in thinking about how to follow up I decided I was leaving some necessary information out which will (hopefully) prove useful when I finally get around to posting, Optimizing The OODA Loop For Paintball. 
Remember what the loop represents; Observe, Orient, Decide & Act. Collect information about the game playing environment. Given the nature of the game determine what information is relevant. Choose from among the possible responses. Act on your decision. Repeat constantly. It seems simple enough but there are some common pitfalls to be aware of. First, there is never perfect information. That means that much of the time decisions still must be made on incomplete information. This is where inexperienced players get hung up initially. Not only is the available information incomplete it's always in a state of flux, it's constantly changing and the inexperienced player struggles to process the seemingly chaotic input to a decision. And in a game where seconds often matter failing to make a timely decision is a default decision--and usually not a good one. The second common pitfall is a failure to examine the personal filters we bring as individuals to the Orient (evaluation) process. The inexperienced always bring a higher level of uncertainty--they frequently aren't sure at all what constitutes a good decision in a given situation--to the process along with their personal filters. These filters can be characteristics like caution or aggression. Fear is perhaps the most common. (I don't mean fear in the sense of being afraid so much as fear of failure. And nearly every player contends with that fear to one degree or another.) It is important to have a sense of our personal filters so they don't have undue influence on our decisions.
(If you are wondering about the relevance of breaking down and understanding the decision-making process the most obvious line of separation between D1 and Pro level players is the mental pace of the game--how quick;y decisions are made.) 
On a practical level the tendency for most competitive players to scrimmage and learn a field layout instead of the game itself tends to inhibit a player's development at the decision-making level. This happens because of the player's innate fear of failure and desire to succeed--and more often than not success means doing those things the player is already comfortably doing and confident will work. And given the repetitive nature of the training process it is very easy to develop safe habits and fall into a rut; a pattern of playing it safe. (This also manifests with players "cheating" in practice.)   The best way to combat this tendency is to relentlessly encourage players to push the envelope in practice situations. (And I don't mean play the gray or commit penalties. I mean make aggressive choices and see what happens.) Take risks and ignore the consequences. Success reinforces confidence in the process and decisions made--and the value of this is almost impossible to overstate. Failure requires reevaluation of the whole process to see where, how and why a decision failed so that we learn from that mistake. In either case the focus remains positive as both outcomes, success or failure, are a learning opportunity. Without the risk the result is we play within our comfort zone and our comfort zone is making those decisions during gameplay we are already familiar with--and tend to be focused on staying alive--playing it safe. Pushing beyond those self-imposed boundaries is the beginning of experience. Experience that will carry over to competition.
Okay, next time I really will deliver 'Optimizing The OODA Loop For Paintball.' 

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Monday Poll in Review: Dead Pool

A Very Special The Monday Poll wanted to know which teams you lot thought were most likely to turn in their PSP cards and call it a day. During the vote Art Chaos announced they were not only not coming back to the PSP but were pulling the plug altogether. And, if you're gonna go out you might as well do it in style which Chaos did winning the last three events they competed in including World Cup. Which is a long winded way of saying they screwed up the poll. If they'd waited a few days ... Also, over the Halloween weekend GI and Empire announced (respectively) they'd signed up VCK and Revo for next season which, barring the end of the world, makes their intentions pretty clear. Even so the results are in -- and they are kinda predictable. I'll let you in on a little secret. I was hoping we might see an indication or two in the results that suggested who might be next. Thing is players talk and every secret or even discussed possibility eventually leaks. The fact that the numbers mostly don't offer any clear signs may be a good sign. Let's hope--even though Mr. Curious assures me more teams will fall before the spring brings the 2015 season.
By the numbers XSV is the most likely to close shop and there have seemed to be a variety of indications that is the direction things are going but nothing official has been announced yet. CEP is the second most likely to call it a day according to the poll results. (Everything Mr. C has heard to date suggests a desire to see CEP continue but again, who knows for sure?) Art Chaos was running third when they ruined the poll and officially quit leaving that distinction to Red Storm. Having struggle most of the season in the back half of the Challengers bracket and with the expense involved in competing in the US as a Russia-based team makes them a reasonable guess. It has also been suggested in some quarters that the Western sanctions imposed on Russia is having an impact which would also affect the Russian Legion. Five other teams were in double digits ranging between 16% and 10% of the vote. In descending order they were Thunder, Aftershock, Top Gun, Russian Legion and Damage. Infamous came next at 8% with everyone else between 1%--6%. The four least likely to quit teams were Impact, Ironmen, X-Factor and Revo.
At this time VFTD is aware of two more teams on the list that will make official announcements at some point in time (unless things dramatically change) and believes there could end up being two or three others when it's all said and done. We'll all know soon enough I suppose.

And for those already counting the Houston Heat victories next season with the formal announcement the Russians (plus Malloy) are coming not only should last season provoke some caution but juggling that roster is going to be a prodigious undertaking. Not least because of the expectations but in any sport first stringers expect to play and some members of the team will be disappointed.  

Thursday, October 30, 2014

How Speed Kills

This is probably the first in a short series of post delving into this topic. I say probably 'cus I've no clue as I begin just where this is going to lead--but I know where it begins.
It begins with the OODA loop. The OODA loop refers to the mechanics of the decision-making process and was conceived initially for application in the field of military strategy. It quickly was applied to other fields like business and in our case, sports. OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide & Act and can be used to describe an individual or group process. As we will apply it to competitive paintball it is both simultaneously. In it's military application the basic scenario assumes a conflict environment in constant flux; everything from strategic war planning to battlefield management and response. The similarities will become obvious. Phase 1, Observe is the information gathering phase. In paintball the input comes from direct visual observation and communication. Phase 2, Orient refers to how we organize and evaluate that information in order to make a decision. In this phase a number of potential influences (called filters) come into play. Things as diverse as training, experience, confidence and subconscious preferences. All our individual filters impact our decision-making. Phase 3, Decision is the process of choosing form among the options that present themselves when we Observe and Orient. Phase 4, Act implements the decision(s) made. The faster this process is completed the better.
Keep in mind too in a real world situation the loop is being reprocessed constantly (or a new loop is started) as new information comes in. This means incoming data is always interfering with both our decision-making and the action that follows. Endless reprocessing (or loop juggling) most often results in inaction which is a default decision and "action" whether intended or not.
Given the OODA loop how does speed kill? Our objective is to make faster decisions than our opponent, act on those decisions and force our opponent to act on an incomplete process. Every time our action interrupts the opponent's decision-making process in creates poor choices and/or confusion. Think of it like a fast break in basketball or the hurry up in football. The object is to take action before the opponent can react or force them into less than optimal responses.

Next time, Optimizing The OODA Loop For Paintball. (For those trying to keep score at home I'm presently juggling at least 3 series of posts I've recently promised to complete but haven't yet managed. If I should forget one or more of them feel free to remind me in future.)