Monday, March 31, 2014

Crime & Punishment

This post is a continuation of the thoughts presented in 'The Problem with Referees is Penalties.' Just so we're clear. It is apparent (to me anyway) that the majority continue to see the game and penalties in particular as necessarily punitive and a deterrent to the overwhelming impulse of virtually every paintball player to cheat the game somehow someway every chance they get. While not a great surprise it's a hurdle that must be overcome. (Btw, thanks to all who chose to comment. 55 and counting and less than half of them are Brockdorf. Agree or disagree the dialogue is what counts.)

Let's look at the situations posed in the first post again.
1.  OTB a player runs upfield shooting his gun. Somewhere during the run he takes an obvious hit to a location that can't be seen unless or until he stops running and purposefully checks. The player runs to the X-side still shooting. There weren't any bunkers along his path and the run after the hit took maybe two seconds.
There was near universal agreement on this one. Throw the red flag! But what if he stopped shooting when he felt the possible hit but kept running until he reached his intended primary? On the run how fast is the player supposed to recognize the potential hit and alter his actions--and is it okay or not okay to proceed to his primary before he checks? Is he just an elimination now or does some penalty still apply?
Or, what if he does exactly as in scenario one but upon reaching his primary checks himself and raises a hand and leaves the field?

2.  A D-wire player has a pack hit on the inside where the ref on the wire can't see it. The player makes a move to run down an opponent and shoots him, then drops into the next bunker at which point the ref sees the pack hit.
I confess the mixed response here was a bit confusing. It was the only scenario in which an opponent was actually eliminated by a hit player--and yet a strong minority favored a minor penalty. I think the distinction many made was that the player in this scenario had an unobvious hit--and for deterrence to be effective it has to deter intentional acts. But what about the level playing field? What about fairness? Game balance?

3.  A player takes the snake OTB but takes a clean hit the sideline ref sees. When the player dives into the snake he doesn't stop at the first knuckle instead he crawls as fast as he can to the fifty.
And upon reaching the fifty he checks himself, finds the hit and raises his hand. Still a penalty? When does the ref throw the flag? Or what if the ref who saw the hit immediately follows the player and finally gets his attention when he's done crawling. If the ref simply eliminates the player where's the harm? Did the action of possibly drawing the opposition's attention for an extra couple of seconds really merit the red flag most were prepared to throw?

4.  Still in the snake a player is tucked in taking some heat. Suddenly he gets tattooed in the back and spins then shoots. Even Stevie Wonder couldn't get this call wrong it is so blatantly obvious what happened and when.
It was so obvious everyone was ready to throw the red flag but it was also so obvious it would have also been as easily ignored too. What if the ref simply pulled the eliminated snake player and wiped off the other player and let the point continue to play out? Do you make a call anyway because the only way for that particular point to be played fairly is to penalize the spinner or does the spinner get a penalty only because you hope to keep the next guy from spinning?

Today we have basically two penalties; a minor and a major. In divisional we always pull bodies. We pull bodies in part because for as long as most can remember that's what you do to penalize a team when their player breaks a rule. But imagine calling today's major back in 10-man days--you'd have to pull 4 bodies to make the penalties equivalent. Our current situation is we play a game that has changed in many dramatic ways while we rely on clumsier less refined versions of yesterday's penalties to define that game. Isn't it possible there's a better way?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

On The Paintball Calendar

Don't for a minute think this post means I'm done with the whole penalty thing 'cus I'm not. Not even close. And, btw, I appreciate all the comments posted so far. It's progress. So about this calendar business--there's a lot of stuff percolating right now.
We're a little more than a week away from the HK Army getting a belated April Fools if nobody shows up for their version of the Surf City Open. No numbers seem to be available but from where I'm sitting it doesn't seem to be drawing a lot of interest after the initial hype. Hey, at least there will be lots of beer. Could be too that with the WCPPL hosting 62 teams in Vegas this coming weekend put a cramp in the HK style.
The first Millennium event is on tap the same weekend as the Surf City Open. The "new" open divisions have nearly 60 teams combined but there isn't any info on the newest divisions; 5-man Breakout, the 1-on-1 tourney, the Woodsball event (UWL anyone?) & the Geezers Championship of national teams with players 40 and older. Maybe afterward we'll get an idea who showed up and how they worked out. The weather is looking warm--for Europeans congregating south to escape a long winter--but the early report is rain. Hopefully as the date gets closer that will be amended--to less rain or no rain. We will get our first look at how the new layout works for spectators on their webcast featuring the D-wire and with the Big M in the middle of the snake. (As opposed to the Giant M in the center.)
Remember the introduction last year of the NPL--is was the NPL, right? You know, they had a draft and conferences and played offense and defense. Are they back for a second season? According to their Facebook page it appears they are dialing up a second season and will be webcasting on Livestream this time around. Looks to be mostly a Northwest phenomenon at the moment.
Then there's the new Xtreme Paintball League. Sorta. Right this minute it seems to be mostly an idea but the peeps behind the effort are trying to tease some buzz out of the paintball community by limiting information releases to the amount of attention they can draw based on Facebook "likes" etc. The format is *real* Xball of varying lengths of match time based on division of play. They are also looking to structure their league into regional conferences and come together for a championship event. The idea also includes a 5-event season but it's getting a little late already so maybe it's not gonna happen this year. No word on event structure or total number of matches per season etc. The CXBL is Xball too but they only play a relative handful of matches over the whole season. Anyway, there's that.
And, oh yeah, there's also the next APL scheduled for the end of May--so it's still quite a few weeks out. The over/under at the VFTD Sports Book is 29--teams that is. Currently 11 are registered. Of course all bets are off if any teams don't have to pay full price for entry.
For those who think the more leagues the better this must be a Golden Age as it's damned near impossible to hammer throw a sack of angry cats without hitting an event somewhere.     

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Problem with Referees is Penalties

Okay, now that the intentionally provocative title has lured you in you might as well hang around and toss in your two cents. I'll be straight with y'all. I'm looking for 100 comments to this post. One, I think the topic merits the conversation and two, I think if you think about it for a minute or two you just might have something to say. (Besides, I'ma do my best to provoke you.) And yes, we're talking not so much about refs as we are penalties. We'll do refs another time but as long as they are motivated and reasonably well prepared refs aren't the problem with competitive paintball. It's the penalties.
Okay, I know I'm freaking some of you out. Sit down and breath into a paper bag. I don't know if it helps but it'll give you something to do until you can see straight again. Better? Good. Let's continue.
All I'm going to do is describe four fairly common situations which generally receive the same penalty and when I'm done I intend to leave it to you to either justify the penalties in one or more of the scenarios--or not. But if not, then what?
But before I get to the 4 scenarios a quick reminder: What is the purpose of calling a penalty in the first place? Is it to maintain a level playing field? To deter future actions? Or penalize the team and player that acted outside the limitations imposed by the rules?

Here we go. OTB a player runs upfield shooting his gun. Somewhere during the run he takes an obvious hit to a location that can't be seen unless or until he stops running and purposefully checks. The player runs to the X-side still shooting. There weren't any bunkers along his path and the run after the hit took maybe two seconds.
A D-wire player has a pack hit on the inside where the ref on the wire can't see it. The player makes a move to run down an opponent and shoots him, then drops into the next bunker at which point the ref sees the pack hit.
A player takes the snake OTB but takes a clean hit the sideline ref sees. When the player dives into the snake he doesn't stop at the first knuckle instead he crawls as fast as he can to the fifty.
Still in the snake a player is tucked in taking some heat. Suddenly he gets tattooed in the back and spins then shoots. Even Stevie Wonder couldn't get this call wrong it is so blatantly obvious what happened and when.

Odds are better than even money all those players got a major penalty called on them. (Not always but that just makes it more infuriating, right?) In divisional RaceTo that means the offending player plus two more live bodies get yanked. On the Pro field it's one extra body who spends the next two minutes of match time in the penalty box regardless of points scored. So, are all those scenarios equivalent? Are all those calls appropriate? Why or why not?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Baca's Mailbag: In the Penalty Box

Mike writes in:
As a player and a spectator I have a suggestion based on the new penalty rules. With the most recent change the penalized player is pulled and removed from the field while a teammate is pulled and sent to the box. Good change, logical and prevents the penalized player from rejoining that same point if the penalty expires.
My suggestion is the next logical step. Assuming the point ends before the penalty expires the original player who incurred the penalty should be placed in the box to serve the remaining time. To me it doesn't make sense that the penalized player can come out and help "kill" his own penalty while a teammate is in the box serving the time for him!
Would love to hear your thoughts.

Mike isn't the first person to question the new rule--or offer a similar "solution". This very issue was discussed repeatedly at Dallas. From the earliest NXL days there has always been a trade-off when it came to serving penalties. Until this year the thinking was that you may on occasion make an eliminated player 'active' again but if the penalty was to serve its purpose the offending player needed to serve the penalty and in the case of majors the time often rolled over multiple points played.
Two factors came into play this time around; safety concerns and the potential for directly violating our own rules given that the rules are clear that no eliminated player can regain 'active' status during the same point. In addition no one wanted to put a hot gun or excessive ROF gun back on the field either so the decision was made to reverse previous policy and remove the penalized player from the field.
On Friday in Dallas I spoke with the stats guys to see how much data they were accumulating and if the change posed any problem. They knew who committed each penalty and knew who was in the box serving the penalty. Given that fact Mike's "solution" seems like it could be instituted.
We also ran into the unexpected issue of what to do when the penalized player was the last player on the field for his team. While not currently outlined in the rules (it's a fix that should be in place by MAO) we chose to simply put the offender in the box at max time to begin the next point.
Taking it one more step and transferring the offender to the penalty box for any follow-on points both makes sense and can be accomplished logistically so why not?

Friday, March 21, 2014

PSP Dallas Open Layout

There were two simple changes to the Dallas layout compared to the 2013 group of layouts that impacted play of the game dramatically. But before I get into those changes I want to point out a couple of things first. Last year's layouts experimented with no back center prop and it didn't have an appreciable effect on the pace of the game. This time around both the snake and the d-wire were somewhat unconventional and that didn't hinder a fast paced game. Teams could, and some did, try to control the layout and play at a pace they were more comfortable with--and if the opponent refused to slow it down the control teams were in trouble.
One thing a faster pace means is that teams with potentially dominating skill sets are partially neutralized when they are unable to dominate the angles and slow the game play down.  (There were still some extended points but mostly as a result of teams getting quickly down to 2-on-2 type situations.)
What about 10.2 bps on the pro fields? Did that have any impact? Given that I was curious (and having already drawn a conclusion and formed an opinion) I made some inquiries. From observing the weekend's play the ROF didn't appear to make any substantive difference and every player (and team) I asked said basically the same thing. I also asked about paint usage and some teams were up and others weren't sure. I expect when more info is available we'll see paint usage may rise a little across the board.
Okay, so if it wasn't guns, or no back center prop or an unconventional layout or the ability to attack the center (and it wasn't) then what made the difference? I'm glad I asked.

The bunkers in red were the primary containment positions on the field. (Any time a layout features bunkers aligned within a single column or nearly so it means a typical corner prop cannot contain or control movement along that wire.) Nothing unusual just yet. Often as not both Cans and MTs also serve as lane blockers. Less so here they still partially serve that purpose OTB because of their distance away from the starting position. In the first 5 seconds they are both lane blockers and cover depending on how the players choose to approach them.

Using the snake side T as a beginning point look at the green zones and how much of the snake is obscured. This is the effect caused by the TCK props within the snake and the fact the T player is mostly on his knees. Complete vision isn't blocked but is sufficiently blocked to allow much freer access to and movement within the snake relative to attempts to control those movements from the T. In blue the same applies from the midfield MT. Again it's not completely obstructed but sufficient to encourage aggressive snake play. Similarly on the D-wire there are enough blind edges and unseen spaces to be able to work upfield aggressively particularly when the corner Can can wrap on the contain Can or MT. So far we have a layout that limits the ability to contain or control movement so that we encourage more and bigger moves. But that's not quite enough to get the job done. There's one more piece to the puzzle.

Making the big moves and taking up territory has to pay off otherwise the risk/reward balance trends toward more passive play. Here, as illustrated by the purple arrows, it's easy to see how effective getting upfield proved to be not just in eliminating the control positions but most of the opponent's backfield and crossfield positions below the 40s. Add to the dominating 50s the ability to attack the center at any time and the result is a layout that is fun, fast and takes no prisoners.

There you have it. This field was fast and furious because it neutralized to a degree the ability to contain and control the opponents movements and it rewarded making those moves by delivering killer angles. Simple as really.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Post PSP Dallas Report 2

In the past my interest in, and association with, reffing a tournament was purely intellectual. It revolved around the rulebook, the perfect outcome and the imperfect reality and where and how to make improvements that resulted in providing the best competitive environment possible. In actuality there's a lot of dirt under the fingernails kinda work that is necessary to make the system work--and that's what this post is about. Mostly.
There were also a couple of under the radar changes I thought I'd mention because (frankly) I thought at least one of them portended problems. Perhaps the highest profile change--at least for the players--was the introduction of player ID readers used by security to regulate access to the various fields pits. Yes a few peeps still managed to dodge the security effort and some cards were (apparently) routinely rejected but for a first time effort things went amazingly well. I even got checked--when I wasn't driving my golf cart--despite wearing my official PSP shirt. (If you can sneak a golf cart onto the venue one of those bad boys will get you pretty much anywhere you want to go.)
One of the big operational decisions made last year (far as I know) was to bring the complete operation of an event in house. That meant taking control of the pressurized hose system used to spray bunkers clean of paint and in a much bigger move the league also spent an enormous amount of jack to build and run their own air system. (The league's ability to deliver high pressure air was tested at the last Cup using the Champs & Challengers fields as the guinea pigs. It was not a rousing success--which led to my (privately held) concerns that maybe it was too big a project and maybe needed to be done gradually. Well, au contraire as it turned out. Except for some incompatible fill nipples the whole thing ran like clockwork across eight fields of play.
Which brings me to the wild world of wrangling referees. (It's similar to herding cats.) As a practical matter there were nearly 90 refs (including scorekeepers) to account for which included rides as needed to and from the airports. (I finished my last airport run Sunday night at 7am Monday morning.) All the refs need field assignments and jerseys. (They need to be registered as well but we're doing so cool new things along those lines. More about that stuff another time.) Each field has an allotment of gear from scoreboards and cables to squeegees and rakes and chronos--oh my. Then there are computers and radios and batteries and pre-event set-up and operational checks to make sure everything is working. Before each event all the ref related gear is unpacked, placed in field kits, set-up and wired into the system, etc. And when the event is over its all taken down and collected and repacked and wrapped on pallets ready to take the trip to the next venue. And in-between there are lunches to be organized and delivered, breakdowns, on field issues and the unexpected. (I made runs for extra batteries twice--around $200 bucks worth plus a new horn when one failed on pre-check.) Added to that the refs gotta be paid plus everything accounted for and it turns out there are quite enough odds and ends demanding attention to stay busy.
Beside the on site routine work required I brought home a list of 14 items related to the rules or officiating choices made during the event that require further review (and hopefully resolution) prior to MAO. No game changers, mostly just detail kinda stuff. (I'll be posting about one of them over the weekend in a Mailbag post.)
It's a bit of an eye-opener to see the tourney experience from the other side but the one thing I can conclusively say all things considered it's more fun to play.
I also want to take a moment to thank everyone who took a moment during the event to contribute to the process. Lots of folks across the divisions had helpful things to say and I appreciate everyone taking the time to pass the kind word, the appropriate criticism or thoughtful comment about how the various fields were functioning. I would also encourage anyone attending a PSP event to feel free to stop me anytime and let me know what you think. (Or drop me a line any other time as well.) A broad spectrum of feedback is an essential element in helping us do the best job possible.
Tomorrow, let's talk layout.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Post PSP Dallas Report 1

I had--foolishly as it turns out--intended to post daily, if only an update or snippet from the event but it turns out the PSP was serious about being there to work. Who knew? Between travel adventures, the weather and the job there weren't sufficient hours in the day left for sleeping much less posting. (I tried napping while driving but I'm a lousy multi-tasker.)
But first things first; shout out to Infamous for jumping with both feet on the opportunities presented in Dallas and bringing a sufficiently versatile game to get the job done. The same kudos go to runner-up Vicious for making this field work for them. I didn't see it coming. Congrats to the whole crew including staff and of course coaching. Nicely done. No real surprises in the Challengers bracket except perhaps for VCK's outstanding first pro effort. The kids not only looked good they looked like they belong.
In a bursting at the seams D1 division there were a lot of new names and faces that included a sizable number of last year's better D2 teams plus a few teams that made the jump over from the defunct NPPL. It was a strong showing for the PSP regulars and perhaps a more difficult than expected transition for some of the others. The best thing about the first event of the season is that winners get to try to do it again and everybody else knows they've got a few more chances to grab the gold ring for themselves.
But I almost didn't make it to Dallas. Oh, I know, everybody has a travel nightmare story (or three) but I think I've got y'all beat. My flight(s) to Dallas went first to Charlotte. During the last half hour of the Charlotte flight I get a kidney stone attack. (On a scale of 1-10 a bad attack is a 15.) I got off the plane and walked across two concourses and the pain subsided. (Sometimes walking is helpful.) I've got my fingers crossed but no, 10 minutes before the next flight the pain is back and by the time I get on the plane I'm sweating profusely and apparently extremely pale. Long story slightly shorter the air crew called the paramedics and they pulled me off the flight for a battery of tests. (Like I don't know what's happening. Hello. Been here done this before.) Ten minutes after the plane had departed the attack subsides again except now US Air won't let me fly until Thursday earliest. I end up at my Dad's in Raleigh overnight and arrange to drive a rental car Thursday to Charlotte for my next attempt to get to Dallas. At the rental car office--I schedule my pick-up an hour earlier than I thought I needed just to be safe and it's a good thing I did. The guys working the rental car counter are slow and slower, like molasses in winter. I get slower and first my reservation has disappeared and then the computer denies every credit card in my wallet (I pre-paid.) After about 50 minutes of this merry-go-round from hell I call my bank. Everything's fine with the cards according to my bank so some "manager" shows up, resets their computer terminal and gee whiz my cards are suddenly good to go. 'Slower' however is still slower so it takes awhile even without the hiccups. I drive across North Carolina doing 90 and only make my flight because my ticket included a TSA pre-check clearance. Finally I'm in Dallas and I only had to wait two and half hours to get picked up. There you go. See if you can top that. Free VFTD T-shirt for a better story. Real story, that is.
Tomorrow VFTD will go behind the scenes to give you a peek at all the moving parts that help make such a venture function. Trust me, it's kinda fascinating, like examining the mind of a serial killer. Not a place you want to hang around but still compelling.
End of the week we'll review the field layout and VFTD will identify the features of the layout that promoted the fast play and why.
Last but most certainly not least I'd like to thank all the folks I met this past weekend who helped me or had a friendly word like Leon and the Champions field refs, O-Town and his boys over at Challengers, Dawn and Tracy and Traci working divisional score-keeping as well as the guys in the crew, in particular Eric. There are plenty of others but I've recently been afflicted with a disease I thought only my Dad had--the inability to remember names. My thanks to one and all.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

In Euroland News

Portugal becomes the latest haven as Eurocash doesn't know where to turn next for safety or security while world "demokratic" leaders play 'Game of Thrones' for real over crypto-state Ukraine as Gazprom calls   Chevron's bluff and Putin takes off his shirt and Obama goes Vogue all over the oval office. To say nothing of Chinese bond defaults and the world atmospheric tour of the Fukushima radiation cloud's next stop in LA. "Hello Anaheim!" Oh wait, this is supposed to be about paintball. I get distracted now and again by the so-called *real* world. Ever notice John McCain has never been a party to a war or international intervention he didn't support? Oops. Sorry. (Did it again.) Back to paintball. Promise.
Just this past weekend the CPS kicked off their season with an event in (near?) Rome competing on the PSP Dallas field layout. From the results it appears approx. 46 teams competed in 4 divisions including 5 teams in the pro bracket. Despite using the PSP layout it looks like all the pro teams that will be competing in Dallas this coming weekend chose to get their final practice on in the U.S of A. (Except perhaps Red Storm.) The early word is positive--after all a party is a party and the weather was wonderful--but it may prove instructive to get a vendor's view of the proceedings to gauge just where the CPS stands.
Meanwhile the MS is gearing up for a return to the hinterland near the Cote d'Azur with some interesting if mildly bizarre news. Somebody has sold their spot in the CPL or it may be that GI Sportz has simply traded out Houston Heat for Generation Kill Paris. GK Paris--as best VFTD can ascertain at the moment--played as or with Boost Air Rennes the last couple of years until this opportunity came up. While some individual team announcements have been made no public list of participating teams has yet been posted on the "locked" (or licensed) MS upper divisions.
Of greater interest to the average fan is the Millennium Board's decision to flip their field layouts and feature the D-wire on the spectator side. Sorta. In an interview with subtitles available here Laurent Hamet explains. This means the snake wire will be on the pit side of the field in 2014. It seems the league tested a theory at Chantilly last autumn when a symmetrical field was used with snakes on both wires and more big moves occurred on the pit side away from shouting fans and efforts to "coach" the players. Using that rational the MS is making the change. (Did anyone look at big moves down the D-wire prior to Chantilly?) The league will supply a large screen on site to help the spectators catch all the cross field action (there is after all that enormous M and the blocking cylinders, well, blocking) and new camera positions will display the new rasher of big moves snake side for the webcast audience. There is no official word on the expected fate of D-wire big moves at this time.
In closing rumor has it the EPBF has promised to have an English translation of the new rulebook available for the first Millennium event. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Half Measures

There has been talk among the pro teams for over a year now about returning, in some fashion, to the Xball standard of a match to time with halves. The halves are really nothing more than the legacy of the old Xball format which was originally conceived as a way to package (and play) competitive paintball like other pro sports. (The NXL had big plans.) Be that as it may the proponents of halves think it's the answer to the occasionally tedious paintball that gets played at the pro level. It's not. (And for the most part last season's (2013) scoring range was an improvement over the year before (2012.)
Btw, before I get deeper into this I should probably mention that full on Xball has few more enthusiastic supporters than me. I loves me some Xball. And if I thought agitating for it would help bring it back I'd be at the front of the line. But the issue today is whether or not a timed match has any likely advantages over the current RaceTo format. Will it encourage more wide open play?
What does a match to time offer that RaceTo doesn't? A chance to score more than 7 points? A chance to pull a match back from the brink of defeat with more opportunities to score? Or simply the claim that pro teams would be more willing to take more risks if the race element didn't exist? I'm not seeing it. What happens now when neither team scores 7 points in a match? The match goes to time. As for the popular if mangled stat about losing percentages when a team gets down two or three points--that was originally introduced as a rational for running RaceTo in the first place. "Once a team is down three points they lose 90% of the time"--so there's no reason to play all those additional points! Using that as justification we went from Xball to Pro RaceTo-9 and then to 7.
Reviewing Sunday results last season proves interesting; at MAO all 8 matches went to time with an average combined score of 7.5 points per match. At Chicago only 2 of the 8 matches went to time and the combined average score was 10 points per match. At WCO 4 of 7 matches went to time with a combined average score of 9.5 points per match. And at World Cup 4 of the 8 matches went to time with an average combined score of 10 points per match. See a pattern there that favors matches to time? Me either but what I do see is a range of outcomes and I'm wondering what caused them. (Not really but something caused those variations and it wasn't the format.)
Regardless of the argument a match to time just "feels" right, like other sports. Like auto racing. Or tennis. Or volleyball. Okay so maybe there are other legit sports not based on a set clock and a limited amount of time.
Whatever, but if the PSP was willing to make changes why not try it out and see? Which doesn't sound unreasonable but does have some potential consequences. The APPA folks insist the pro schedule would go straight to hell in a handcart for starters because of wildly inconsistent match times. While I frequently don't see eye to eye with Chris (Raehl) he has more experience with complex large scale tournament scheduling than anyone else, period. So scheduling is likely to be a significant problem. Am I the only one who remembers the game we were playing when Xball ran to time? Longer events. Double elimination for divisional play.
Fine but what if the scheduling complications can be overcome--or just ignored 'cus it's only the pros we're talking about? For the sake of the argument then what? Then there are the reasons the league moved toward RaceTo in the first place; paint usage and the length of the event. A few of the pro teams could handle it but not most of them. Being generous at least half the pro teams struggle to manage the season as it is now. If in fact matches to time resulted in more points, more breakouts more wide open play then paint bills would rise too and the only teams to benefit from that scenario are the ones who can afford to pay more to play.
As y'all know the league reduced the pro ROF for this season hoping (fingers crossed) it might speed up the game. [It won't.] But there are other options. Efforts to date to alter layouts to encourage faster play have delivered inconsistent results but not because it can't be done. Let's just say this season there may be a layout or two (or three) that will bring something new to the table.
Or how about this? (I looked at this option hard during the off season but wanted to study the ramifications in more detail.) If you look at the tie-breakers in the rulebook they are, in order: match wins, head-to-head, point differential & total points scored. What do think would happen if total points scored and point differential switched positions in the tie-breaker order? Suddenly teams are no longer concerned about the margin of losses they are focused on scoring the maximum number of points possible. Would this change how the pros played? I think it probably would but my larger point is there's more than one way to effect potentially positive change.
At the end of the day PSP promotes RaceTo as their event format and frankly I don't see that changing anytime soon. (They've got logos and trademarks and everything.) Would halves be a more satisfying game? Maybe, maybe not. Will Sunday games tend to slow down no matter what? Of course they will. As long as the teams are relatively evenly matched and when all the marbles are at stake teams will slow it down. The only thing that changes that equation is if or when the defensive game becomes a losing proposition.

Friday, March 7, 2014

After Dallas

I thought the team-by-team review would be of general interest to VFTD's audience and might (ha) spark some dialogue and/or debate but not so much as it turns out. The problem that arises, such as it is, is that without much in the way of feedback I am left to my own devices. And if I'm being totally honest while I am on occasion curious what you the audience think it's not a serious priority. Even so, I have some interest (and the willingness) to cover topics you're interested in. (Btw, if this is the first time you're reading this sort of post I do one like it every couple of years or so. I have no idea why.) So if there are any subjects of particular interest to you post them up in comments--and if they have any appeal (and don't require a lot of work) I'll get around to them in the not too distant future.
In the meantime the ideas currently on my radar are of course the new gig with the PSP and all the things being done to modernize and improve the process but I've stayed away from that stuff on purpose so far assuming it's rather like making sausage--you may have an interest in good sausage but that doesn't mean you want to know how it's made. I will also be keeping a slightly jaundiced eye on the CPS, the APL and the Millennium plus who knows, maybe some CXBL and one of these years live blogging World Cup Asia. Some post-Dallas analysis probably is in order and maybe a post or three on the ins-and-outs of playing some key positions like the snake.
I should also probably take this opportunity to mention that I'm always open to answering specific questions submitted either in comments or by email.

Pro Teams in 2014: Upton 187 Crew

Once again we have a home grown team (from New England this time) that worked its way up the divisional ladder to earn a pro spot and Upton 187 has stayed true to their roots. It's a team that's easy to root for because they play hard and, for their divisional fans, they represent what is possible to the latest generation of East coast ballers dreaming of a pro future. They've also earned the respect of the rest of the pros because of their never say die determination. And with the addition of the Challengers bracket Upton was one of the few teams to earn their way into some Champions appearances in 2013. However ...
In evaluating 187 I have a couple important concerns. First, it is difficult to determine the skill ceiling of this team because of the way they play--particularly under duress. Despite two seasons in the pro ranks they tend to revert to a D1 style of play. Allow me to explain--before you grab the pitchforks and light the torches. Yes, I'm aware the team frequently tries some bold breakouts--and I'll even agree that superficially they often look like some of the other pro teams, but come crunch time, not so much. And as for those bold breakouts--they are terrific if they work--but they tend to be haphazard and suffer the same problem as the rest of 187's game. The team gets lost in the mid-game.
Normally this is the result of a game plan that doesn't really extend beyond the breakout. Or it can reflect poorly defined player roles or both. All of which are common problems at the divisional paintball level. Watching 187 during a crucial point is like watching salmon swim upstream to spawn. They will fight with every ounce of energy they've got while looking like they don't know exactly what they're doing or why. The big giveaway comes right after the breakout most of the time. The team takes up their primaries and rolls their guns. And then--they keep doing the same thing seemingly waiting to get a kill or two before looking to advance. They tend to be reactive to their opponents movements while delaying their own and they tend to treat the first elimination of a teammate as a signal to play defensively. Interestingly this was less true in their first season--and as I noted above--is a pattern more likely to appear when the team is under duress.
If their gun game was stronger across the board they might make such a strategy more effective but against the top teams it devolves into a war of attrition and inferior field position (for 187) that they will lose most of the time. All of these characteristics lead me to believe the critical missing component is coaching. And I don't mean match play coaching, I mean developmentally. There is no one currently involved in the program who can teach them what they don't know and take the talent, teamwork and commitment they already have to the next level. They have peaked in the sense they have either learned everything they know how to teach each other or they've built their game to the limits of their experience and knowledge. Far from being unexpected, it's a tribute to their effort they've achieved so much without having an expert guiding hand to help them.
If my assessment is accurate I don't know what they can do about it. It may also be that the pressure of the big points plays a role too. On the practical front I also have questions about their leads but it may also be that their support efforts and player spacing tend to leave their leads hanging. As mentioned before without some in-depth time spent with the team it's hard to judge just where their players are at in comparison to the rest of the pro ranks.
Competing without Nick Lieval this year could be a good thing for the team. It will force them to rethink their role assignments and spread the spins around the squad differently and should be a constant reminder to the whole team they all need to step up. Playing without Nick will give some others a chance to shine. We will soon see if they are up to it right out the gate in Dallas soon. Overall 187 Crew probably remains in the mix at the top of the Challengers, bottom of the Champions churn much like last season.
I don't think the team has reached its potential yet but every pro season makes the final hurdle that much harder to overcome and I don't have a good answer for how they get from where they're at to where they may be capable of going.

Next up (and last in this pre-Dallas series) Russian Legion. Hint: Rebuilding?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Pro Teams for 2014: X-Factor

(Some may have seen an incomplete version of this post. Apparently in meaning to save a draft I accidentally published it instead. The following is identical to the original--except it's also complete.)

X-Factor is like an old married couple (or dude with a dozen wives if you're a Utah polygamist) in that they have all been together so long there is an established routine and patterns that everyone has gravitated toward without giving it more than a passing thought most of the time. This can be either a good thing or a bad thing. It creates a tight bond but it also creates a comfort zone. It offers few surprises. It habituates expectations. Some might call that sharing the same purpose, others might call it falling into a group rut. Truth is it can both at the same time. Teams that have been together almost forever have advantages but it also comes with hidden and not so hidden pitfalls.
In X-Factor's case the insular nature of the team makes it difficult for them to effectively evaluate when and where their game breaks down and how to fix it. It also makes it difficult to change directions. Not because the guys are so set in their ways or determined not to change but there is an inertia that builds up and tends to carry everything and everybody in its path along for the ride--that must be overcome.
Two areas where the team sometimes loses its way is they lose confidence in each other and confuse roles with skill sets. By way of example let's say a team has an all-around outstanding player who is capable of playing anywhere on the field. The issue is never that that player is better at any particular role than somebody else on the team--or everybody else for that matter--the issue is one guy can fill one role and every team has four more roles to be filled and executed during a point if the team is going to be successful. It can be easy to confuse a skill set for a role to be played and in the process lose sight of what the other player(s) bring to the team's table. Nobody wins on their own.
Knowing your role (perhaps counter-intuitively) frees up a player's decision-making process. When the team has a game plan and each player has a job a do it immediately resolves a lot of uncertainties. Do your job, be aware of how the point is unfolding around you and respond accordingly. Training and practice, when done in depth, will fill in the blanks and a decisive player is a confident, aggressive player.
Also within the context of roles the team must not lose sight of individual contributions. Every member of the team has a valuable contribution to make to the team's success whether it's playing every point or filling in when needed. There is a difference between saying you believe in your teammates and playing like you believe in them.
As long as the guys know their roles and respect the job their teammates are doing they will have set the table for continued success.
Another critical element in X-Factor's game is rhythm. As a team they want to be the aggressor and that requires a team commitment. It requires a collective decision that one of the goals for every point played is to impose their will on the other team, pressure the opponent into error and win, lose or draw being the kind of team they choose to be. The aggressive game is played behind heavy guns, strong role play and speed; making moves and dominating the angles. Control the field, control the point. Control the point, control the game. The foundation for a team's rhythm is laid in practice; in endless repetitions and game phase simulations and in driving and challenging each other to keep the pressure on. The team has the mindset. They have the physical tools. Will they make the commitment?
The other key to success for X-Factor will be regaining the same degree of urgency and confidence the team played with at Cup. While a world class team X-Factor remains at core a working class team, built on hard work and friendship. Those same qualities are the foundation of their success. In order to stay competitive they have less margin for error than some of the other teams in Champions and must focus on playing their game (imposing their will) while minimizing correctable mistakes, like penalties. The team needs to bring their A game every time out and time and past success make that more, not less difficult to do consistently.
(And of course, with the new chrono rules Archie is gonna have to get on the field a little quicker.)
The opportunity is there to grab some more success and elevate the stature of Texas paintball once and for all.

Next time, Upton 187 Crew.  Hint: peaked?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The CEP Experiment: Living the Dream

There is a side to any competitive sport we seldom talk about. It is the aspect of the game that leaves its victims battered, dispirited and sometimes broken; it's losing. Not just the big game. Not once in a while. Not ending a hot run that comes just short of a huge victory. After all, everybody but the winner eventually loses. No, I mean the habitual loser. The player, the team that takes its lumps over and over. How does a team or a player sustain their effort in the midst of that sort of mental and physical beatdown? The answer is they mostly don't. It saps the will and chokes the joy out of the game, any game. Losing breaks you down piece by piece until there's nothing left to fight back. And perhaps what's worse is nobody cares. Losers are yesterday's news, the butt of jokes.
That's where I expected CEP to be today. I mean that with no disrespect at all because it's hard, so damn hard to keep losing. And that has been the team's steady diet since they joined the pro ranks. I figured they were just about done. Not only was I surprised they survived the off season but I was positively floored at the attitude the team has toward the upcoming season.
Somehow, despite everything the team has been through they believe in each other and their potential to turn this thing around. They are approaching the upcoming season with an impossible level of positive determination and excitement just to get back on the field of competition one more time.
They are also experimenting with crowd-sourcing to help fund the team for the 2014 season. On its own a clever and intriguing idea whether it works out for them or not. To check out their campaign go here. And for a PBA podcast featuring CEP captain Robbie Goldsmith look here. If you're interested in helping out time is rapidly running out.
Normally VFTD stays away from promotional pieces because if I started doing them I'd soon be swamped with them and this isn't a paintball news outlet. And I'm not going to encourage you to act on behalf of CEP either. What I will say is as a team, a group of players and an organization struggling to stay afloat they embody all the best characteristics of the true competitor and they have done so with character and fortitude in virtual obscurity because those who have never been where they are or done what they've done call them losers. And yet they persevere with unnatural grace under duress ready to grind again for the opportunity to compete. Unbroken and unwavering they still love the game that has tried oh so hard to crush them. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the example CEP has set for those who can see them and they are all positive ones whether we're talking about paintball or life.