Thursday, February 27, 2014

Pro Teams for 2014: Ironmen

The latest iteration of the Ironmen begs a question or two. Is this more of a homecoming of former Ironmen or a true merger of distinct teams? Hint: Don't let the return of legendary Ironman Shane Pestana influence your decision. Still it's not an easy call. Two seasons ago half (or more) of these same players played together under the Ironmen shield but not the same group as were Ironmen last year or Royalty for that matter. Two seasons ago the Ironmen were young, untested up-and-comers who had a remarkably good and consistent season. Even so the team was rebuilt last year with some of the 'Men from 2 years ago moving over to Royalty. The rebuild didn't deliver the unrealistic instant championship that seems to have been part of the unspoken push to rebuild in the first place. So here they are with potentially the best pieces of the last two Ironmen teams under the leadership of a proven winner in Pestana. So, it's a no-brainer, right? How could anything go wrong this time?
First it's not really a question of things going wrong, it's a question of fit and things working out. But there are some good reasons to suppose they will work out. The team is mostly young but experienced. It has a lot of former and present Ironmen together again--even if for some it's the first time. Virtually all of them have played for Pestana before. On paper it looks pretty damn good.
And yet I am somehow not convinced. (If I were an Ironmen fan) I'm concerned. I'm concerned because the youth movement took a series fourth but never really challenged the top teams in a season without Impact and a struggling Dynasty. Then last season with some All*Star additions the Ironmen finished fifth overall and struggled with--inconsistent play and an inability to challenge the top teams. Granted there were a lot of roster shake-ups this off season but there is also no reason to expect any sort of across the board decline from the top teams either plus Art Chaos is joining the party and a revamped Legion will have the grit and determination of the core of the Ton Tons to help shore up their roster. The ultimate pecking order may be uncertain but the top of the Champions bracket will remain a murderer's row.
I'm also concerned because I think the "problem" is less about talent and skills and more about the mental game. Don't get me wrong; I don't mean anyone on that team lacks desire or heart or determination. All good things but they are not the measure of what matters in the pro game, they are simply prerequisites for competing at this level. It isn't your mental strength that tells in the end, it's your weaknesses. And the greatest of those is fear. If you're thinking fear of failure, not so much really. It's more insidious than that. Fear of making a mistake and being benched. Fear of letting your teammates down. Fear of disappointing your coach and mentor. Fear of ... you get the idea. And while Pestana is a great motivator that isn't the answer. All that leaves me unconvinced the Ironmen have the mental tenacity to overcome their silent fears.
The practical upshot is indecisiveness. It's over-thinking. It's a rhymeless momentary hesitation. Or the sudden unnecessary desperation rundown. And all those small moments collect into tiny failures of fortune and before you know it they are lost positions, gunfights, points and matches.
Are the Ironmen destined then for another year of frustration? Not at all. Each "new" team deals with fear differently. The pieces always fit in unique patterns. The attitudes, the personalities, the comradery, the vibe is always unique to that group. But it starts with changing the mental frame. From a frame focused on the negative to a frame that is unrelentingly positive. It's never about what you can't do (or shouldn't do) (or failed to do), it's always about what you will do, this time, next time and with each succeeding opportunity for success.
The potential is there. The goal is a mission unfulfilled--so far. A return to glory. If the team can use that goal to inspire instead of overwhelm it could be within reach.

Next time, X-Factor. Hint: habitual.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

APL Redux: A Spectator's Review

Without wishing to flog a dead horse beyond all recognition it is fair for the reader to wonder if I'm secretly or not so secretly doing the PSP's bidding at least with regards their "competition" by ridiculing the APL's first event. Happily a reader who attended the event sent in his own review. To keep this short and to the point I'll restrict myself to a few quotes that suggest my post, while critical, wasn't out of line or a mischaracterization of what happened.

"Trade show was well, a few booths" ... "Virtue, Valken, CCPaintball (SoCal store), Aggressive Sports, HK, and a couple food vendors were there."
"Two fields and one of them was barely used 1/2 the time" ... "because there were SO FEW TEAMS. It's a national event, how do they expect to keep the series going for all 4 events when participation is like this?"
"Reffing appeared fine, no real gripes as a spectator, but I'm the wrong person to ask about that." 
"No one I spoke to had issues with the paint."
"The majority of the teams playing were all from within a few hours drive, and more often then not play at Camp P regularly"
"The pro games were well, not pro games. I felt like I was watching a Sunday scrimmage with a pro team (without their full squad) play a local D1, D2, or D3 PSP team (depending on who Heat & Dynasty were playing). Honestly, it was sad, I could have gotten my [team name removed by VFTD] brothers together (the D2 team) and we would have competed in Pro - until we played those teams and Shooters and Looters." 
"If I was Valken I would pull out, this is a waste of time and money." 

The simple truth is the APL is the PSP's best friend whether they know it or not. As long as the APL is around claiming to be a national level series alternative the PSP has no real competition. And my view is the APL makes a mockery of everything that real competitors value with their me too format and hand me down league. And for those who think any paintball "grows the sport" are you really prepared to hold up the APL as the standard of our game? I didn't think so.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The APL: the feel good league

The first APL event is in the books. Or rather the book. Granted, it's a very short book so let's call it the cliff notes edition on tournament paintball. I debated (with myself) whether or not to simply ignore this event--and gave myself some excellent reasons why I should (ignore it, that is)--but in the end the APL story has a lot of interesting elements; unfortunately the paintball being played is the least of it.
First the good. The webcast was a big improvement over their efforts last season. It still wasn't great by any reckoning but it wasn't terrible either and after the offerings last season (that helped finish off the NPPL) this webcast was a singular surprise. Okay, that's it for the good. Well, unless you include the venue given that Camp Pendleton is a decent place to play some ball. Otherwise the competition was a joke. It was gold star paintball for the competitively timid. Affirmation and prizes for the inept. Right now I'm just waiting for the inevitable PBN sigs proudly announcing their team's recent success in the APL. Of course there were 4 divisions of competition where everyone who competed finished on the podium because there were 3 or fewer teams competing in those divisions. (It would have been 5 divisions except "semi-pro" had 4 teams.) And frankly that's simply appalling. That's not a competitive tournament at any level much less one that has national and pro division pretensions. On the other hand teams with "Camp Pendleton" (or CP) in their names did quite well. (At this point I also have to wonder if all the CP teams paid in full or simply helped to puff up the total number of teams to a massive 32 total teams engaged in competition across 7 divisions of play. The Pro (or did they call it Open?) division had 10 teams with flotsam like NPPL cast-offs Flashpoint and Contact plus a couple of throw together teams that included more than a few name players in Shooters & Looters and Black Sunday.
The simple truth is if the APL can't make a dent in Cali they won't be able to establish a toe-hold in the tournament marketplace anywhere--unless of course all the CP teams follow them around the country--which I personally would pay a couple of bucks to see for the sheer absurdity of it all.
Speaking of the absurd Dynasty and Heat gotta be kicking themselves today don't they? A glorified practice and a pay-day turns into a win for--wait for it--Shooters & Looters--a once upon a time NPPL D1 team if I remember correctly. Admittedly sporting some solid pros but seriously ... isn't it still just a little embarrassing?
A quick word about Dynasty. Playing safe in big games is a habit they've fallen into in recent years and it seldom serves their interests. A team can short play a breakout and still be engaged in aggressive play but that requires making the necessary series of follow-up bumps from the initially "safe" primaries. Now it could be that's what Dynasty has in mind when the take those "safe" primary spots looking for early, quick kills but whether or not they get those eliminations they can't continue to sit back. I really dislike seeing it if only because I remember what they are like at their best.
Enjoy the APL while you can kids. And if you're looking to drop a couple grand on a $10 dollar trophy make sure you sign up for the next event before all those spots fill up.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pro Teams for 2014: Vicious

Vicious has a story. Competitive paintball's version of the up by their own bootstraps success story. To many Vicious did it the right way, they moved up the ranks with one success following the next until they earned their way into the pro ranks. And if that's where the story ended nobody would blink an eye except for the sentimental brushing away the beginning of a tear. But that isn't where the story ended. The Vicious story goes on and living in the past doesn't satisfy the future.
Of course it's no small feat to reach the pro ranks period. The list of teams in the past that managed it is a short one but, again, dwelling on the past doesn't serve the future. And what Vicious requires to complete their story is pro success and by most accounting that's a win; a permanent record that if only for one day at one tournament Vicious was the best team in the world. That is an elusive prize.
It is also a prize that the current structure of the league and the team itself make very difficult. But the 2014 season is one marked by an uncertainty that could easily infect every event and leave the established order of the past--even just last season--in ruins. Can it change to favor Vicious? It can but it probably won't.
In preliminary brackets of 5 teams everyone plays everybody else and only the top 2 from each bracket advance. There is little margin for error and no way to gain a favorable draw. The literal difference between moving on to Sunday versus fighting to avoid relegation can be a single point. There is no place to hide, no place to hope that luck will be on your side just this one time. When the league had 12 teams it was possible for fate and the draw to conspire in a team's favor--even if only once in a long while. Not anymore. Yes, there are a lot of close calls, tight scores, uncertain outcomes until the very last games are played but those matches tend not to favor Vicious either. Over the last two seasons their PSP record was 21-26 and that includes winning two Challenger brackets last season. In matches determined by 2 or fewer points they were 5-9.
The reason is in their DNA. The very things that boost their popularity, a home grown team of friends, is also one of the things that holds them back. The strength of the team was forged in a crucible of sound fundamentals and tempered with precise execution and firepower. They do not play a sophisticated game, they play a straightforward game and rely on brute force to overwhelm their opponent. It's an excellent formula to excel in divisional paintball. At the pro level it's not enough. Their roster is solid and consistent but lacks breakout talent or a breakout player who has the ability to change points. And when they are routinely competing against teams that have more talent and/or unique players Vicious frequently struggles coming up a step slow or a second or two late in making a critical decision. At this level of competition it is often small differences that eventually add up.
During the preseason so far Vicious has made a concerted effort to get more practice time against other pro teams. They've been to Florida and California but scrimmaging other pros isn't going to be all that helpful. Vicious as a team has always been tenacious. They always play hard to the last point no matter the score and competing against pro opponents holds no new surprises. Consequently simply scrimmaging isn't the best way to try and address and fix their weaknesses. (It is certainly possible to focus on strengthening weak areas while scrimmaging but it isn't the ideal scenario.) And two areas Vicious might take a hard look at are capitalizing on eliminations OTB and closing out points. It would be an interesting team statistic to have but without hard numbers I can only offer the impression that Vicious doesn't win a high enough percentage of points when they eliminate an opponent OTB and routinely fail to take advantage of those same eliminations by taking up more of the field. Likewise working on making changes and improving in those areas as a team are more easily and quickly accomplished with drills, reps and simulations.
Currently caught in the no man's land of better than the majority of the Challengers and not quite as good as most of the Champions a swing of a few key points could make the difference between hanging in Champions or slipping further down. VFTD sees another season much like last year in store for team Vicious.

Next time, Ironmen. Hint: mission 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Pro Teams in 2014: Impact

Impact is the biggest question mark among the Champions entering the new season. Without speculating on why they chose the direction they did--piecemeal pick up of mid-pack talent or untried youth--the more important question is what will be the result on the field for an Impact team used to being a perennial contender?
Before answering that question let's look at the pieces the team picked up. Raney Stanczak (most recently of Damage) and Ryan Martin (Topgun Union last season and the Ironmen the year before) are well established pro players who have both played for a number of different teams and bring with them a consistent versatile game. They are solid role players. Plug and play. Impact also picked up Nick Leival (former captain of 187 Crew) and perhaps the player with the most upside but also the player most difficult to quantify. Nick is a good player and being freed from his leadership role may allow his game to grow and really shine--but it's a gamble and Nick still has to discover how he fits in on a new team. The final piece of the Impact puzzle is Danny Park, who went from D2 to the Ironmen and has the least high level experience among the pick-ups. Park is a snake lead who is still rough around the edges. No longer surrounded by a young, hungry group learning together he will rise to the occasion or he won't--and the team is going to need him.
Impact plays a low risk methodical game OTB but aren't content to sit and wait a point out. Once in their primaries they want to push the leads but are willing to be patient. This doesn't mean the team lacks aggression but that they are more calculating about how and when to apply the aggressive push. Impact is more than capable of closing out a point in seconds given the right circumstances. But the one area where Impact sometimes broke down, even with a roster full of experienced top tier pros, was in pulling the attack trigger too soon and/or failing to maintain cross field communication which amounted to the same thing, overextended player(s) or unbalanced pressure.
So how will the new guys fit? All the players except Park fit the style requirement and will be comfortable playing the way Impact plays. In the past Park has been a single speed push the envelope hit or miss kind of player and either Impact will have to conform to his strengths or he will have to expand his game to be compatible with the rest of the team. The other principle struggle will come in deciding where best to utilize the skills of the other new pick-ups and in a curious way their versatility is problematic. The team has roles to fill and no clear cut beginning point. For example, are Stanczak and Martin significantly different from the Yachimec brothers--and if they aren't deciding who plays where when is gonna require some subtle distinctions. And if the majority of Impact's preseason practice is devoted to scrimmaging the team will be limited to a drawn out trial and error process for determining roles and player combinations and likely reps that will very likely leave the team uncertain in their decisions entering the first event.
Player for player they may have lost something but that isn't really the critical factor. Will the sum of all the parts equal a team as good as last season's team was? Even if the ultimate answer is yes odds are it's going to take time to find out how the new pieces fit in best. I can see it even being a season long struggle. I would also have concerns about the D-wire player combinations as this is where I think their losses will be most telling. I expect an uneven season with the team dropping out of the top four. And the key player this season will not be one of the pick-ups but will be Justin Cornell. As JC goes so will the team.

Next time, Vicious. Hint: incomplete 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Pro Teams for 2014: Art Chaos

This one is dead simple and practically writes itself. It's nearly a Russian Legion reunion tour and unlike the uncertain puzzle pieces added by an Infamous or even a Houston Heat the majority of the team has played together before and they are winners together. They have the talent, skills, dedication, experience, organization and leadership to continue to be winners. They are also motivated by having to fight out of the Challengers bracket--nothing like a collective chip on the shoulder to energize and focus a team--plus Coach Max P. is back in charge, the oft overlooked man behind past RL successes and Art Chaos's one time dominance in Euroland. Throw into the mix a new *old* (or is that *old* new?) team determined to reach past heights of glory (with the organization and resources to do whatever it takes) and you have the potential for a dominant season. There won't even be a transitional period where they have to adapt to the PSP because virtually the whole team has played in the league for years .
It is also a fortuitous time to join the PSP given all the off season changes to various Champion team rosters. Instead of a phalanx of stable, experienced teams with years of shared play under their belts nearly all the top tier teams experienced changes--some, like Heat, reconstructed their roster while Impact chose to experiment with diverse up-and-coming talent and the Ironmen melded with Challenger Royalty (and in the process returned Shane Pestana to the fold) and still others added a piece or two in the hope of shoring up a weakness and/or adding a strength to help take them over the top this year. All except Dynasty who lost their premier D-wire lead in Dalton Vanderbyl. Art Chaos couldn't have scripted a better scenario for their assault on the Champions bracket.
I expect, after Dallas, that Art Chaos will be one of the teams to beat and that the pecking order at the top of the Champion's division will change as a consequence. Which team or teams will find themselves shoved down the ranking ladder? It's almost a toss up. It will depend on how effective their off season changes prove to be.
But if a successful season appears to be in the works for Art Chaos it isn't a given. It never is. It's a long season that always delivers a surprise or two. The only thing I see forestalling a successful campaign, barring unexpected injury, is finding a comfortable and complementary style of play that suits everyone. I suggest that because I wonder if that doesn't at least partly explain Chaos's uneven results in the Millennium last season. While it's true they've mostly all played together before they've also been apart and this is where I think Coach Max will make a strong contribution. They won't play a little like RL part of the time or Heat at other times or like anyone else. They will play Art Chaos ball and they will do it from their first day of practice. The only other potential weakness would be something akin to what I see in Damage, a struggle to be fully psychologically prepared and mentally tough. I expect instead the players will see this as a new beginning and a fresh challenge.
Then there's always the question of what constitutes a successful season. A team like Art Chaos won't settle for less than a shot at the series--though coming out of Challengers is a huge handicap--and if that is out of reach multiple wins focusing on World Cup is a given. And not an unrealistic goal.

Next up, Impact. Hint: untested

Monday, February 10, 2014

Pro Teams for 2014: Damage

Complacent was probably a poor choice of words--for Damage's hint. I struggled to come up with the right word. I thought about content but that was wrong too. I should have gone with comfortable instead. Anyway, you can see a pattern of sorts. Damage has the advantage of having the majority of the team together for a number of years. They are a tight knit group and there aren't, or shouldn't be, any surprises left in how the individual pieces fit together anymore. They are also a very strong team with an unshakable belief in their ability to win tournaments. This would seem to be a very good thing but there is a downside. Particularly when matched with the style of play the team has adopted.
But before we go down that path let's take a look at this season's additions; Jason Wheeler (ex RL) and Dalton Vanderbyl (ex Dynasty.) Two solid pros with Wheeler a steady and consistent performer and Vanderbyl the more explosive player. While it is always nice to have an excess of talent any time new players are introduced it alters team chemistry. Now this may prove to be a good thing for Damage. Shaking things up may be just what's needed. Personality-wise both Wheeler and Vanderbyl will be good fits for Damage. Or, the introduction of highly competitive new players could undermine group cohesion. Damage was long past setting an internal hierarchy. The admittance of new, high value players will change that, particularly the Vanderbyl signing. Was that too subtle for you? Throwing a fat cash new guy into a settled team scenario like Damage is like tossing a live hand grenade blind-folded. It's gonna go off. The question is who does it take out in the process, us or them?
On a team like Damage that damage, if it occurs, won't be visible from the outside. It's not in the team's nature but it will end up being seen on the field.
Damage prides itself on being a player-for-player match for any team and consequently has developed a style of play that minimizes most risk taking while relying on superior skill to do their damage. (This isn't universally true but we'll to get to that in a minute.) And given that it is a fundamentally accurate perception it works most of the time. Damage is seldom challenged anymore by inferior teams or even the better teams in the prelims. They handle business and there is little or no pressure. Sunday becomes another issue. Over the last two seasons the team, by its own admission, has failed to meet its own expectations and it isn't because they aren't capable.
It is because practice has become a rote exercise. Even when the team scrimmages other top teams. It no longer improves the team and reinforces the comfortable factor. It is because they struggle when the pressure builds to find another gear, to step up their game. (It is a testament to how good they are that they routinely challenge for wins anyway.) And, it is because they leave an opening to any opponent willing to try an exploit a small weakness.
The one situation where Damage will take a considerable (or considered) risk is OTB though with their team speed they may consider it less a risk than others would. Regardless, the results are instructive. Successful aggressive breaks normally result in quick dominating points. They also make it difficult for an opponent to project what's next and prepare effectively to counter OTB. The team is more than capable of high speed high pressure aggressive play but don't prepare to play that way. Consequently when the going gets tougher they become more defensive instead of less.
And therein lies the opportunity. To attack. Something no team seems to want to do to Damage. Is Damage strong OTB with their guns? Yes. Are they competent at covering lanes? Controlling and containing? Yes to all of it but if a team is losing playing Damage's game why play that game?
Part of the invisible game of competitive paintball is player spacing and occupying various positions. A team pushes the fifty to (ideally) keep the opponent at bay, apply pressure and improve the number and ease of shots available that will eliminate the opposition. But one of the features of recent seasons is teams, almost regardless of numbers, holding back and when both teams do it there's a substantial no-man's land in-between. This is the ground that must be taken in order to challenge defensive play. A constant and determined effort to apply pressure and force errors is the way to crack open the defensive game and conversely it's also a way to push players who are comfortable and settled in their ways.
2014 presents Damage with a real opportunity to be the dominating team they believe they should be. Will they find a way or will the competition stumble? Or will the status quo remain?

Next time, Art Chaos. Hint: reunited. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Kicking Off 2014: The Tourney Scene

Since it's a dreary wet day (and kinda chilly and, no, I don't care to hear about your blizzard) here on the Florida gulf coast I decided to take a look around and see what's happening tourney-wise in the universe of major league paintball--or, in some cases, what used to be major league paintball.
In two weeks the APL kicks off their inaugural event at Camp Pendleton in SoCal running a Millennium-like (Lite?) event but so far it hasn't exactly captured the imagination (or attention) of the paintball playing community as only 31 teams are registered across 7 divisions of play and only 17 of those teams have paid. Of course there's still plenty of time to sign up and I hear the artillery range is quite beautiful at sunset. The drone of helicopters can be soothing ...
One month from yesterday the CPS opens their season in (near) Rome. They have limited the event to 60 teams and presently have 31 registered. The CPS has had a solid pro presence in the past with events that featured upcoming MS layouts in advance of Millennium events that provided, in essence, a refereed practice. Over the course of last season the MS attempted to dissuade its teams from participating in CPS events and the CPS has since become a PSP affiliate and will now be using PSP layouts and rules. So far the pro registration is down. Will it pick up? Will the league make it up in other divisions? Time will tell.
In about five weeks the PSP season will get started at Cousins outside of Dallas. At present there are 152 teams registered and 50 paid. Even with what looks like strong numbers meeting last year's participation levels may prove difficult. The long (and long lasting) winter has almost certainly made it tougher than usual on cold weather teams. On the plus side though entering year two of Champions & Challengers with all the off season roster moves and the appearance of Art Chaos the pro brackets should be a wild west shoot out filled with uncertainty and high drama. (It wouldn't surprise me if the webcast numbers explode at Dallas. In fact it would kinda surprise me if they didn't.) Looking at D1 registration I see a few would-be pro teams from last year's NPPL series that could as easily throw the D1 bracket into the same kind of chaos and cutthroat competition as the Pros. Should be exciting and fortunately I'll have a front row seat.
The first weekend of April finds the Millennium at Puget-sur-Argens, a Cote d'Azur budget backwater, opening their season in the south of France while the HK Army presents surf city paintball on Huntington Beach in southern Cali. It appears the kids are stepping in where the NPPL left off and are offering a different sort of HB experience, an HK HB experience, a Bash at the Beach maybe, where you and 5 or 6 friends can come and party with HK and, oh yeah, play some paintball. It's BYOC (bring your own cash) as entry ain't cheap and neither is an HK-style party. Instead of the "traditional"--can you really have a tradition that only lasts a decade?--7-man tourney this will be traditional 5-man center flag using a 100 point scoring system with the event limited to 45 5-man teams. Alternatively there's a 2-on-2 tourney as well.
Over in Euroland there are no advance numbers yet available but VFTD will project that the MS would be satisfied with 130 teams; 18 CPL teams, a combined 50-something for SPL 1&2 plus another 50 for the *new* D1 and D2. The latest divisional additions are simply being tested right now. Ever wondered why the MS changed the label on their divisions adding another Semi-Pro group and turning D2 & D3 into D1 and D2? Me too. the only thing that makes any sense is they're trying to sell the idea that only the very best teams in all of Euroland compete in the Mills. It may be clever but it isn't doing anything for a world standard--except dumbing it down.
Once the regionals get rolling VFTD will take a look at their numbers too and see if can make heads or tails out of the state of the tourney game over the course of this season.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Pros for 2014: Heat

In case you missed it each team analysis has a predominant theme. For XSV it was a glaring tactical deficiency in making the transition from a 7-man team focus to a Race To focus. For Infamous it was how ability on paper must translate into a cohesive unit in action to succeed. For Heat it will be about constructing--or reconstructing--a roster; fitting the new pieces of an invisible puzzle together into a winning team.
At the end of 2013 Heat lost 5 players with Jacob Edwards returning to Damage (after less than a season with Heat) and Bouchez moving into a management role and the three Russians; Fedorov, Kniazev & Solnyshkov. Filling those spots are Thomas Taylor, Ryan Moorhead, Tim Montressor, Greg Siewers and Keith DeVit. For those familiar with the pro game 4 of Heat's 5 pick-ups are very high profile names that in terms of recognition and experience are a match for their losses. In addition Ryan and Tim have played with Monville and George before when they were Philly All Americans. The initial comparison looks pretty good. Top tier pro replacements with prior relationships with existing team members matches lost talent and minimizes chemistry concerns.
Looking a little closer the transition may not be that simple and the issue isn't ability or star power, it's role play.
In professional sports there is always some tension when draft day rolls around between filling a need--a perceived weakness in a specific position--and taking the best available talent. Which choice improves the team the most now and into the future? And, conversely, which choice has the least downside attached to it if it doesn't work out? I have no doubt when the Heat were thinking about how to reload their roster they took a variety of factors into consideration including filling specific roles. But looking at the new roster there are a couple of relative weaknesses that will require some shuffling of the new pieces to work out.
Weakside play on the D-wire is likely to be inconsistent at best--especially early in the season. (Weakside refers to committing only two of the team's five players to one wire or the other from the breakout.) The concern is twofold; Siewers's and Moorhead's strength is in the lead role, not the support (insert) and they didn't play as much together as might be assumed since Ryan played quite a lot of snake last season for Impact. If it isn't Greg and Ryan who is it? Maybe this works out but if it doesn't the fixes are working different player combinations and more strong side D-wire breakouts. In the first case it's players new to each other learning how to work together and in the second case it is a potential limitation when calling plays.
The other potential role weakness is the home shooter. (Despite the fact recent field layouts don't have a "home" bunker there is a player 99% of the time filling some version of that role.) I see 3 (maybe 4) players capable of taking on that role. Two are carry overs from last year and received limited spins. Will they earn more opportunities or simply get them by default?
However those situations are resolved expect to see Heat utilize this year's roster more completely and it wouldn't surprise me to see Coach Trosen routinely going 8 deep on Sundays while pushing the action harder. Any significant roster changes alter team dynamics in unpredictable ways and force them to become a new team. Heat clearly hopes they've limited the impact of the changes but there is no way to predict how long or how difficult the process will be.
And finally, in the pre-season and into the first couple of events Heat will be experimenting with player combinations and line-ups discovering where their best results are likely to come from as the season continues. Take them down early 'cus the odds are they'll get better as the season progresses. The pieces fell into place for Heat the first time around. Will they again?

Next up, Damage. Hint: complacent.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Pros for 2014: Infamous

In analyzing Infamous we could pick-up where we left off with XSV; at the commonplace struggle of the inserts to balance offense and defense--but we won't other than to say Infamous tends to answer the insert question by playing the corners very well. This does nothing to minimize the problems caused by inconsistent insert play but it does allow the team to play to a particular strength. Compared to a strong 2012 season 2013 was a season of struggle. Instead of building on 2012's successes 2013 saw the team take some backward steps. If you look back at the (PSP) results from the 2008 season forward you discover a team that is mostly a mid-level Champions team that in even years gets a win (not a small thing) but more often finishes toward the bottom of the division. So was 2013 a return to mean and what does it portend for 2014?
2013 brought a key injury and two important roster losses with the departure of coach Todd Martinez and Siewers move to Impact. It weakened the team's ability to be the aggressor OTB and it completely altered who the team was in the pit and on the practice field.
With Infamous I think the answers can be found in team chemistry. A roster review shows a continuous core of players across recent seasons. A consistent roster filled with experienced veteran winners and where youth holds a spot they aren't projects or developmental players, they are capable contributors. Though frequently unfulfilled remain expectations are high among the players and fans alike.
What has also been true of Infamous is a sometime volatile mix of personalities like gasoline fumes exposed to an open flame--now and then it goes off.  And the return of Zach Wake and the addition of the Bornstein brothers does nothing to change that pattern. Here is where I think the loss of Martinez as the team's coach hurt the most. Martinez brought an intensity to his job that matched his most volatile players and that allowed him to keep the team focused, positive and in the present. Binding diverse personalities into a cohesive and focused unit is the essence of team chemistry. Overlooked at your own peril it is neither art nor science and it can't be artificially manufactured. Right now I don't see anyone filling the Martinez role. Strong personalities abound and the volatility remains but it will tend toward the negative if not kept in check. Better it be re-directed in a positive way but the open question of who can do that is yet to be answered.
Next, the Damien Ryan effect. Ryan is a unique talent and one of the most gifted players in the world, no question. But for all the pluses there are also some negatives that the team needs to deal with in 2014. Ryan routinely plays in the back wherever it provides an opportunity to attack the center of the field--which he may very well do better than anyone else playing right now. As many spins as Ryan gets it necessarily limits the utility of some of the other Infamous players like Nicky Cuba. This in turn impacts everyones spins and makes it more difficult to get and keep everyone involved and contributing to the team. And while Ryan has carte blanche making his play in the center it frequently appears that the rest of the team doesn't know how to play off the openings and opportunities Ryan can create. One thing that would help is pushing Ryan into other roles, at least in practice, to free up line-up decisions and more actively involve his teammates in his game.
Once again Infamous has a capable roster and have attempted to shore up deficiencies while maintaining their strengths. A better effort needs to be made to involve the whole roster in the team's efforts. Then all they have to do is stay positive stay together and stay determined. All of this year's off season changes have created, at least temporarily, opportunities for everyone to step up and challenge for wins.

Next up, Houston Heat. Their hint is: Retool.

Fat Cat Paintball

For long years the heaviest hitters in the game worked diligently--if nor always effectively--to legitimize competitive paintball and reap the attendant rewards, fame and fortune, if only in modest proportions relative to the mainstream monoliths of pro sports. After a fashion PBA is still mining that rocky soil. The one thing they all share in common is they spent a lot of money chasing the dream of *real* pro paintball. A dream that should it ever become reality continues to hold out the hope it may produce a truly professional competitive paintball league. So it is particularly ironic to note that the only people making any cheddar off big time paintball is a handful of players. And they are making it, by and large, from a small handful of fat cat owners who have, this off season, accelerated the bidding wars on the limited number of perceived top tier players.
Good for the players who are in the money, I say. But it's more complicated than that. Is it good for the game? Is it likely to continue? What happens a little further down the road, say three, five or ten years into the future?
In a recent post VFTD took a look at money versus talent when it comes to winning. But while money doesn't guarantee success it does have a powerful influence on the game. And the Fat Cat owners with the deepest pockets (and a willingness to dig a little) are affecting the game in a variety of ways. Even during the Golden Age of sponsorship the big industry factories weren't tossing around the kinda cash the Fat Cats are this off season. With little or no thought about the ultimate consequences.
The Fat Cats make a mockery of even the pretense of parity. They aren't concerned in the least with true competition and have zero concern for the future of the game once they're done with it. The recent bidding war has enriched a handful of players and impoverished the game to the detriment of everyone else. And where does it all lead? To an ever widening gulf between the haves and the have nots and a growing cynicism among fans and players. The leading players have become nomadic mercenaries and the teams temporary stopovers.
The Fat Cats are creating unstable precedents and unsustainable standards that will tumble sooner rather than later. Do the names Draper, Monroe or Shows ring a bell? (Former Fat Cats one and all but they never dreamed of the excesses of the current crop.) The fact is once they tire of the game they're gone as are their teams and money and all that will remain are impossible expectations and empty spaces where transitory teams once competed. Perhaps it's an inevitable part of the game's development but perhaps not.