Friday, May 30, 2014

Trainspotting in London

Truthfully I was less interested in the trains than the signs for the trains. All told I think I've got around 70 different station signs from around the greater London area--but I'm getting ahead of myself. I know I said no more travelogues but I've got nothing better to do (now that I've answered all my mail) as I sit in Toronto awaiting the final leg of my journey home--and nobody to edit the content of VFTD except me.

Tuesday morning Ainsley kindly drove me to the train station in Stafford. (I still haven't gotten used to not being the driver sitting in the left hand front seat. It takes great self-control not to try and shift, brake and steer the car but fortunately I'm constantly being distracted by everyone driving on the wrong side of the road and traffic signs an Egyptologist couldn't decipher with the Rosetta Stone. What is it with the crooked white lines that look like they've been in an accident?)
Back to London's Euston Station. I arrived a bit before 1pm. I've planned my route via underground to the station I think is closest to my hotel. The cost is more than half what a day pass would be so I buy a day pass. The weather is chilly and getting colder and the sometime drizzle periodically turns into lazy sprinkles that occasionally work themselves into raindrops. By the time I get to my hotel there won't be a lot of time left for sight-seeing or sights to be seen through the blanket of gray the city is shrouded in. But I want to do something and the day pass has given me an idea. After checking in I'm gonna go ride the tube and take pictures of every station sign I see. (Hey, it seemed like fun at the time.) And it started out brilliantly. I had a station map and organized a rough plan and figured to spend maybe four hours or so and see how many stations I could pass through. First ninety minutes worked out as planned and I've been through maybe 25 or 30 tube stations but in the next half hour the trains went from half full to standing room only packed like sardines in a can. I try switching lines to ones I think might be less heavily traveled for rush hour. I head into the city. I hop off packed trains and wait for later ones and before too long it becomes apparent this unremitting tide of humanity in a hurry isn't going to stop anytime soon. Of course by that time I was one of the sardines being dragged along by the waves of sweaty blank-faced people and by the time I finally reached Paddington Station I'd past through twice as many stops as I'd managed to take pictures of. So maybe it wasn't such a good idea and as it turns out most of the signs look pretty much alike.
But that didn't stop me. The next two days every chance I got I took a picture of underground signs and stations all over the city—in the course of doing other things, hence the 70 or so I've ended up with.

When isn't the first floor the first floor. When you're in a European hotel. I wasn't going to get into this but it's madness I say, madness. My hotel in the Midlands was, once upon a time, the mews of some obscure landed country gentry and they couldn't even keep the first floor on the same floor. (Maybe not but it could have been.) My room, ostensibly 121, was down a short hall and past a fire door (an ordinary swinging door but they were keen to call it a fire door) and then down another short stretch of hall to a door that opened onto a landing. (Another fire door.) Down the stairs, turn right and through another fire door, a short stretch of hall, another fire door and some more hall was stall 17, er, room 121. On the whole however it was a large comfortable room with the exception of limited hot anything including water.
In London the room was about half the size—as was the bed—and the TV was coin operated and had a distinctly institutional feel. (Okay the TV wasn't actually coin-operated but they required a deposit to use a remote control which says something for the sort of clientele they cater to I suppose.) And my room, 226 was also on the first floor but required I take the lift up one floor to get there even though the other rooms on the first floor were in fact on the first floor. (There's a ground floor in there somewhere too but frankly I didn't care. Still don't.)
I also figured out why every room has a prominently displayed hair dryer. It's not because the Euros are obsessed with their coifs it's because those dryers are the only things that generate any heat. And of course they keep them out of the bathrooms to avoid accidental suicides when some pitifully shivering patron drops one into a tepid bathtub.
American hotel rooms may be generic but at least they're big, come with cable TV, wifi, hot & cold running water, air-conditioning and heating depending on the season—although if you want to put on the air-conditioner in the winter then by God you can!--and they change the linens and the towels every damn day instead of pretending to be environmentally sensitive and leaving you to go days with dirty towels and used sheets.
Some of the best European hotels I've stayed--for a reasonable rate of course--are members of a global U.S. chain--as you're far more likely to get something similar to what you're used to. (There's a Best Western affiliate in Florence--I know!--that's just terrific. Brilliant even. Who'da thought?)  

Missed the damned canal boats campground, missed the picture opportunity that is, I saw it just fine at about 50 miles an hour and then I blinked but now I want to vacay on a canal boat and just float at my leisure along the canals of England. Of course I'll need wifi. (This won't make any sense at all if you haven't been keeping up both here and on Facebook.)

Unlike Mikey I won't eat anything but I am willing to try the occasional local cuisine sparingly. This time I had an excellent meal of pork belly braised in cider with roasted new potatoes and red cabbage—though the cabbage would have been equally at home on a dinner plate in Bavaria. (More on that in a second.) The first course was a tomato and spinach bisque that was very good and dessert was an almond tart with fresh raspberries and cream but apparently they were out of raspberries and so it came with strawberries instead. Either way the fruit was fine, the tart okay and I'll never understand what the English see in cream. On another evening out with Ainsley and Twizz I had the carvery which was nicely done and again, red cabbage on the side. This time however it was limp and bland so I'm not sure which was the real English cabbage (but at a guess I'd go for the boring one. Sorry.) While in the city I had fish & chips from a hole in the wall joint that seemed authentic to me if that's possible with two Indians and a black guy cooking. Whatever, I liked it. (They wrapped it up in paper and everything.) And I had a steak pie with mash drowned in parsley gravy which I was assured was the way locals prefer it--and have since at least the time of Alfred the Great. It wasn't bad but it was kinda bland and a wee bit thin on the steak part or meat of any sort for that matter. The same applied to the cherries in the cherry pie but it was still pretty good--without any cream.

Would it hurt anyone's feelings if I said I liked Paris better? And the language hardly matters as I can't understand what passes for English from most of the locals the first time around. Might as well be French. Perhaps it's because the city is undergoing such expansive changes and when I was here before it seemed like a city steeped in its own history and traditions and now, with all the massive modern construction--much of it of questionable design and taste--the city seems to be losing it's uniqueness. Or it could just be me. I hate change. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Bank Holiday

I very nearly survived the weekend. I had high hopes but that and a fiver will get you something Grande at Starbucks. With a bank holiday today--Memorial Day in the U.S.--it created the three day weekend that allowed us to schedule 3 day clinics from Saturday through today. And by us I mean Mark (Twizz) Dale of the Tigers, Tim Burnett of Shoreline and Ainsley Baddeley of the Lucky 15s and the CPPS. Honestly I just showed up, did my little song & dance, had an evening out and called it a day--times three. I've enjoyed every minute of it--except for those extra rainy ones--and can't thank everyone enough for both making this weekend possible and to all those who attended one day or another. It was a pleasure to spend time with all of you and I appreciate the hospitality and warm welcome. (It's been the only thing that's been warm however.)
For any of y'all mildly interested in what we actually did it was a bit different each day but at the core of each day were paintball fundamentals both explained and put into practical application with drills and game segment simulations toward the purpose of providing a--hopefully--more expansive and productive conception of how to play this silly game.
The Lucky 15s are a solid group of ballers and a reminder of how this game brings like-minded people together all around the world. Despite the funny accents--I of course don't have one--they're just like any close knit team anywhere and it was good fun spending a day with them. And I look forward to keeping an eye open to their future results and wishing them all the best.
Tomorrow, after I attempt to recuperate this evening, it's off to London for a few days of sightseeing and culture. It's Stafford to Euston Station then the Victoria line to Green Park then a transfer and with a bit of luck I'll end up somewhere near my hotel. First on my agenda once in the city is the National Gallery of Art, the Tate and the British Museum. And hopefully a picture of the canal boat campground. (Culture will only take you so far after all.)
I'm already looking forward to my next UK visit and the new turf field coming to CPPS. Playing in style that is. This by the way ends the VFTD travelogue for now. Next time we'll talk about how and where teams fail to properly prepare to compete.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

If It's Wet & Gray It Must Be Saturday

Today was the *real* UK experience; wet, gray and a tad chilly but honestly not that bad. It could have rained harder and been colder. Tim Barnett of Shoreline hosted today's activities with a group of Valken-sponsored teams in attendance including some of the Disruption guys--who are one of my favorite Euro teams to watch as they are a hard-charging in your face team. I won't bore y'all with details--just think half a dozen of my most tedious How-To posts--and you get the idea. Generously everyone seemed kindly disposed and at least pretended to be attentive which I appreciated quite a bit.They did, as it turned out, have a sneaky plan to get even over dinner.
The evening began innocently enough at a Chinese buffet but before I knew it everyone was offering me alcohol in one form or another and though I manfully resisted chugging beer at the British rate of consumption--I couldn't possibly have hoped to keep up anyway--elves or faeries or something keep putting these drinks in front of me--Did someone say Jaeger-bomb?--and it would have been rude to refuse so before I knew it I'd had at least 4, maybe more, of those and the quality of the conversation improved considerably. Fortunately I didn't do anything too embarrassing, at least not so I remember and as I sit here composing this post my liver isn't howling its indignation so I must be alright. Of course at 11:30 pm when the buffet tossed us out the bulk of the crew were off to the pub but I begged off with the excuse I had a clinic to run on Sunday. (They bought in right away.) Of course there's still tomorrow and Monday night but so far I've remained upright and mostly functional. Fingers crossed.
Tomorrow we begin again with Mark (Twizz) Dale doing double duty as he has Team GB trials tomorrow and I get the undivided attention of the CPL's London Tigers with Twizz stepping in when he can. Should be a great day of paintball with a promise of snippets of blue sky and sunshine. Honestly I will be happy with no rain and about 5 degrees warmer. (Is it too much to ask?) Many thanks to Ainsley and Dylan (Did I spell that right?) for making their CPPS venue available. It's a cool place to play paintball. (And thank God I don't have to find my own way about. I think I'd kill myself and some poor unlucky bastard if I had to try and drive in this country. We're in the relative boondocks and it's still a nightmare. Wrong side of the road. Roundabouts everywhere you look. Yellows before the traffic lights turn green.) Of course yesterday on the train I was thinking with a bit of sunshine it would also be lovely country to see by motorcycle.
Another report soon but no pictures. Camera? Check. Battery charger? Check. Cable for downloading my pictures to my laptop? Nope, like an idiot I left that at home. May try and find one in London next week but that doesn't help today, does it?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Can Any Webcast Survive If Spectators Are Paying To Watch Boring Games?

I wanted to call this post, 'Hello Pants.' And open with, 'Find Gary Busey!' but decided that was probably too confusing--so I sorta did it anyway. Just because I find it terribly amusing. Otherwise this is a Baca's Mailbag sorta post. From the cheap seats of blog comments: Baca, I'd love to read your thoughts on the layout in Bitburg. I recently used the webcast to go to sleep as the games were so long and drawn out. Are we going to see major changes to the layouts (both Millennium and PSP)? Paint sponsors cannot be happy with field layouts that cause all 5 players to shot over 7+ pods a game. And it just seems that the games are really boring spectators. How can it be corrected if at all? Good teams will find a way on most layouts to lock up lanes and just wait, but what if the field layouts actually gave a reason to move up? Watching the Bitburg event, it seemed like there was no advantage to moving to even the 50 snake as you still didn't have many shots available. Can any webcast (think PBAccess) survive when spectators are now paying to watch boring games?

That's a lot to chew on so let's get started. I'ma answer the questions posed in order.
Re: Bitburg layout. This year's kit added some more lane blocking type bunkers but seems to have lost some utility props in the process which may be limiting what can be done design-wise a little bit. It also seems to me that the M, regardless of configuration, is generally less playable than the A but I honestly haven't paid much attention this year.
I can't speak to what the MS will do but I expect the PSP to make an effort to try and keep things exciting. Of the layouts I sent Damien recently I tried to retain some balance but made sure certain elements were present that should provide more entertaining paintball. The question of course is how do you do that, if it's even possible, without becoming too one dimensional. The layout can (and often does) have a dramatic effect on the game play.
Paint sponsors are also paint sellers so it's a mixed bag. Do they want to give away as little paint as possible? Sure, but they are also selling considerably more in those situations as well. I don't know which side of that equation they come down on.
'Corrected' is kind of a loaded term but I think there are ways to encourage movement and more aggressive play. Ideally I'd like to see layouts that are relatively neutral so teams can play their style and compete. Unfortunately since the tendency in recent years is to tailor style to layout there are some elements that need to be avoided in creating a design.
Giving teams a reason to move up is half the answer but I suspect it will also be necessary to limit a team's ability to effectively deny their opponent's movement as well. That doesn't mean no lane control or lockdown opportunities but it will mean limiting their effectiveness so that between the enticement of superior position it also becomes somewhat easier to accomplish. And of course it will need to be nearly impossible to live playing defense alone.
The factors I focused on were: making the 50s (or near 50s) effective killing opportunities; making it harder to deny movement upfield; make the whole field playable; make a back line defense very difficult if not impossible. At the same time I tried to make some spots hard to play; retain gun-fighting situations and deliver lots of options for how a player or team choose to accomplish a winning strategy. None of this is a science however, it's an art.
On a PPV basis I think it will be very hard to sustain the webcast without exciting paintball to watch. There is already resistance to paying for what was free before and in order to overcome that hurdle the closer we get to must see paintball action the better. At the same time though I'm concerned about too much tailoring of the game simply to satisfy a webcast--even if it's the best in the business.
It's really uncharted territory and everyone is learning as we go.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

F is for phoney?

Okay, VFTD has received a conflicting report regarding the gun (marker) confiscations at Bitburg this past weekend. See the post 'Bitburg and Beyond' if you missed it. The most recent report--from a normally impeccable source--says the story was blown all out of proportion and that no guns were taken, F stamped or not, but a warning or two was apparently issued to players openly carrying their guns off site. (It's a short walk from the venue to where most of the players stay during the event.)
Of course the original report was also from a reliable source and appeared elsewhere (on Facebook) the same day VFTD reported it.
So we have two sources and two very different stories. I'd love to hear from anyone at the event who may be able to shed some light on this business--and especially from anyone who had a marker confiscated--if indeed such a thing actually occurred.
Are we dealing with a benign story that as it was passed along from person to person became more menacing--and less and less accurate--until everyone had heard it but few knew the truth? Or is it something else? I sincerely doubt there was any malicious intent involved--certainly not on VFTD's part--but it's important now to try and get to bottom of this and see if the facts may be discovered.

UPDATE: Making some progress. Some solid info is coming in. So far it seems at least one marker was confiscated but that occurred at a road stop near Bitburg, not at the venue. There are also reports that local police were present and watching the competition on the CPL field. Additionally there were apparently some number of paintballers off site in full gear or nearly so and reports of road signs shot with paintball guns, etc. If true it's small wonder the local police took an interest in some knuckleheads doing stupid stuff. More as it comes in.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Monday Poll in Review

Before I get started with the review I want to remind you slackers that you're not helping your cause--whatever it is--when you choose not to vote in The Monday Poll. The more peeps who vote the more impact the results have. Does The Monday Poll change outcomes? That's probably expecting too much but it can influence the thinking of those making decisions. And it requires so little from you that it seems like a no-brainer to me. Anyway ...
Last week's The Monday Poll wanted to know what you thought of the PSP's RaceTo MAXX scheduling formula. In reviewing the options it seems in retrospect I was less balanced and more negative in providing optional answers. So much for unbiased but I still think the results are interesting. Of the 5 choices provided only one was "positive" and even that one was less than a real endorsement. On the other hand it's a tough call for anyone who hasn't actually played MAXX or something similar. So, in part the results are less hard opinions than a reflection of what y'all are thinking given what you know about MAXX and the results at MAO. And on that score I think the results speak mostly to the voters uncertainty.
20% flatly preferred regular RaceTo format. That means only one in five opted for what they know over a change that didn't work as planned--at least initially--the first time out.
5% thought continuing to push MAXX would drive teams out of the PSP. All things considered that's almost nobody but may be an unspoken acknowledgement that there's really no where else to go for serious national level competition.
20% think MAXX is the future and hope the league gets it right in the future. I don't know if that's fatalism at work or a head nod to reality as the voters see it. Maybe a bit of both. (If it's any consolation should MAXX return every effort will be made to get it as close to perfect as possible as there continues to be an ongoing effort to evaluate and fix what failed to work as intended at MAO. The league is prepared to hire more staff and spend more money if that's what's needed.)
20% say they might not play if MAXX is their only option. In this category that's a fairly significant number--if it proved to be accurate. I understand the sentiment but I doubt the likelihood in part because of the sample size and in part because it's easy to level the threat but a lot harder to follow through if you are like most of us and hooked on this stupid game.
And finally 35% think MAXX is worth pursuing and putting up with if it allows more teams to participate in PSP events. That's a pretty significant number too, seems to me. It's a borderline endorsement from fully one third of the voters.
So what did we learn? Depends on how broadly you wish to define "learn" I suppose. In truth probably nothing other than confirming what we might have guessed in the first place. The jury is still out with the voters split over MAXX but considering how inauspicious a debut MAXX made it's receiving more (grudging?) support than I would have guessed likely.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Bitburg and Beyond

Millennium Bitburg is a wrap. Impact wins again. The rest of the top 8, more or less, from Puget trade spots like a game of musical chairs and Art Chaos is left scratching their heads once again with another mid-pack finish. After two events the North American teams are still leading the CPL pack with the rest of the competitive teams so close in series ranking to be almost indistinguishable from one another. Then there's the 8-10 slots with teams like Ton Tons and Art Chaos who expect to be higher up the rankings--which is still possible--but only just. They are followed by the non-contenders who at this stage are really working to stay in the CPL.
Yesterday local police confiscated some player guns outside the Bitburg venue that didn't have the required F stamps and there was a rumor the police would return today. So far VFTD hasn't received any info regarding a follow-up or the results of yesterday's grab. German law classifies airguns as firearms and requires the F stamp to show the markers are legal in Germany. So no stamp no marker for you. The unspoken reality is that any marker used in competition in Germany is illegal by German law F stamp or not because they exceed the ROF restrictions. This complication is nothing new but having the popo show up at the venue is. Word yesterday was that the MS was trying to get the markers back but police procedure is to destroy confiscated illegal firearms--including paintball markers.
Of greater interest (to me anyway) is the lesson being illustrated this season by Impact and Art Chaos. (It is a lesson that everyone will claim to already know but one that almost no one ever acts on in reality.) Art Chaos entered the season with a reunited Russian roster of past Russian Legion superstars along with some additional top Russian talent and other hand-picked top players. The expectations were sky high. How could they not be? Practically an All-Star roster, experienced and winning coach and tradition--How could they possibly fail? Compare that to an Impact roster rebuilt in the off-season after the loss of 3 top tier players with admittedly other established pro players but players with less experience and less successful resumes. By normal reckoning, straight talent for talent, Impact shouldn't be as good as they are--at least not until the new players improved and proved themselves.
So what's happened? Art Chaos is struggling for respectability and in the meantime everyone is bewildered by their performances and clueless to explain their results. Impact, in an experimental and rebuilding year, struggled the first day in Dallas and since then has turned it around completely and is vying for titles at every event since Dallas. And they're doing it with ostensibly an inferior roster to the ones they've had in recent years when victories eluded them.
Are the old players overrated? Are the new kids better than expected? The answer to both is probably not. So what is making the difference? Why is Chaos struggling and why is Impact successful?

As you've likely heard by now the APL cancelled Chicago. (Are you following VFTD on Facebook?) They had a good excuse whether it was true or not hardly matters. what mattered was that nobody was signing up and paying entries. For all you (I'm guessing 5 or 6) lamenting the likely passing of the APL and the loss of another outlet "for growing paintball" take heart. What happened when the NPPL died? Well, first we had a couple of zombie NPPLs and then the APL but that's not the point. The point is there will always be a replacement if even one person thinks an opportunity to get into the tournament business exists. And if you were to list all the tourney series that have ceased operations you will almost certainly be able to name a series that popped up or expanded or whatever to take the "lost" series place. It is the nature of things--even in paintball.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Some Random Thoughts

The APL cancelled the Chicago event claiming their was a problem with local authorities not granting permission to use a parking area to set up the tournament fields. Or field. Or whatever. Further the league is taking a hiatus from operation to evaluate whether or not it's worthwhile trying to continue with the league. And as we all know 'hiatus' is Latin for "has assumed room temperature" or "taking a dirt nap" which makes the likely outcome pretty apparent to anyone who hasn't assumed room temperature. At this point the only real question is do the teams committed to the APL call it quits or put on their big boy pants and attempt some serious competition. Time will tell.
The APL news could leave open a slot for "the other would be national paintball league" which might be good news for the XPL, the self-proclaimed "xball" league coming in 2015. The XPL has a Facebook page and a website but is still thin on real information. Of course it's only May of 2014 so they've got some time to figure the rest out but considering the track record of recent new leagues if I was running a team I'd want to know more before I gave it any serious consideration. Stuff like event structure (beyond halves and 15 bps) and likely venues. How many events in a season? Where are the refs coming from? Who is in charge? Maybe have an actual rulebook that outlines all this basic stuff so I can see some real thought and effort have gone into the process. Am I against another competitive league? Heck, no, but I am skeptical. Turns out running a national series is a wee bit tougher than the average monkey seems to think it is. (For some more XPL info check out the interview at Social.)
Millennium Bitburg begins tomorrow. Follow the action for free by going here. You may want to monitor sound levels--or that may just be me. (A little Bear goes a long way. That relentless good cheer and energy are damned annoying after a while ) For those curious about MAXX and how the Europeeps do it watching some of the tourney action will let you see how relatively seamlessly it works once everyone knows the program. (Excepting the business of keeping track of which teams are playing for on site spectators.) Personally, I always felt like switching teams took the steam out of the suspense and tension out of a tight match--but that may just be me--as always your mileage may vary.
The word seems to be that Chicago will be MAXX free but all that really means is if you intend to compete at the Midwest event you'd best get signed up and paid up as early as possible because there won't be extra fields or any unexpected surprises and given the turnout for Dallas and MAO odds are Chicago will fill up fast. Or you could, you know, take your time and assume the league will find a way to get you in at the last minute. Your call.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Monday Poll

The Monday Poll makes a triumphant return to VFTD! This week it's all about RaceTo MAXX. Should it stay or should it go? Will it impact your decision to compete in the PSP? I'm not thrilled with the category but I think there are lots of varying opinions out there and I'm curious. Besides, it it wasn't MAXX VFTD could'a asked who will win CPL in Bitburg--like the North American audience could care less or whether any team will show up for Chicago APL that isn't affiliated with Camp Pendleton Paintball Park. (Okay, that's maybe a tiny exaggeration but it's still funny 'cus you know it's nearly true.)
When you vote choose wisely 'cus you only get to pick one answer. You are however allowed to vent to your heart's content in the comments so if you have a take on this whole MAXX business and voting didn't satisfy your desire to express yourself don't hold back. Let's hear the good the bad and the ugly.
And for our European friends feel free to venture your opinion on how Art Chaos will do in Bitburg. Do they get their act together or does some unwanted chaos continue to disrupt their performance?
Vote early vote often.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Paintball's Traveling Circus

Next week at this time the Millennium kids will be in Bitburg on the second leg of their 2014 series. Bitburg will have the usual competition plus another edition of one-on-one's and the Euro Women's Championships. Based on the teams listed Bitburg is down from the Mediterranean Cup numbers slightly and it's too early to determine whether it's a trend or not although the year-to-year numbers are down some as well. In recent years the MS has scoured Euroland for filler teams to take the place of attrition losses and there are few if any untapped regions left to pull teams from. And the stronger the national leagues get the less the incentive to compete in the Millennium. Clearly the Euro-wide challenge posed by the MS still appeals to a lot of teams but viable and growing alternatives exist.
(Unlike in the U.S. where local and regional series are unable to accommodate D3 and above teams for the most part thus pushing them into the PSP. This is almost certainly [an unintended?] function of the universal classification system.)
Once again the snake wire will be along the pit side with the D-wire facing the spectators. I didn't notice any particular difference it made at Puget-sur-Argens but I am curious what those actually watching on site thought. Did you like it? Hate it? Didn't care? Didn't notice? As to the webcast I expect once again to Shelley doing her best to offer some cogent info while Rene and Bear fight over the microphone and I turn down the sound. (It is otherwise quite good as are some of the guest announcers.)
Bitburg will also be all-grass. Does that have an impact on the teams at all compared to turf fields?

In two weeks the APL will be in Chicagoland for their second event of the season. At present 23 teams are signed up with only 12 teams paid. (The number paid hasn't changed in recent weeks but may simply mean the rest of those registered decided not to pay until closer to the actual event dates.) Even so, if everyone registered shows up we're still only looking at 23 teams across 6 or 7 divisions of competition and unlike the SoCal event at Camp Pendlteton there are no Dynastys or Heats registered for Chicago. On the plus side everyone podiums (or nearly everyone anyway.) Frankly it's hard to take the APL too seriously--okay, seriously at all--and if the Chicago event doesn't heat up quickly it's hard to see what justification they would have continuing with the series.

In less than a month the next CPS event will take place in Belgium and at last count there were nearly 50 teams signed up including half a dozen pro teams. There is some overlap of teams that also compete in the MS but the CPS also appears to be drawing teams that aren't part of the MS and this season they've chosen to schedule events behind MS events which may have served to lessen the sense of direct competition. The CPS is more laid back, less formal and more like a big party that just happens to have a paintball tournament going on at the same time. For some that's a good thing and for other's perhaps not so much. Regardless the CPS aims to keep the fun in paintball and that can't be a bad thing. The other thing the CPS does is bring PSP-style tournament play to Europe with a PSP field kit and layout offering the RaceTo 4 format--if I recall correctly

And before you know we'll be on to round three of the 2014 season and doing this all over again..

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

MAO: In The Rearview Mirror

This is gonna be a long one so if you suffer from short attention span deficiency try reading it in sections. It's gonna be long in part because I didn't post anything at all during the event, not even some highlights or quick comments, 'cus I was too damn busy. I know that's a poor excuse for the but-it's-free-crowd but it's still the truth. Anyway, it's all in the rearview mirror now and objects may appear closer than they are so let's engage in a little post-event review.
The Weather & the Venue.
Under normal circumstances OXCC is a comfortable venue tucked away in a bit of rural eastern Maryland although it's not as rural as it might seem on site. During the event the weather was lovely though a tad cool for my taste much of Sunday but not even close to Dallas cold. (Only in tournament paintball do the words "Dallas" and "cold" go together.) It would have been nearly perfect except it rained all day last Wednesday with a lead-in on Tuesday and a parting thunderstorm or two on Thursday that soaked everything. Among other things it left an apparently permanent puddle of mud behind the snake side insert Aztec at the far end of the Champions field. But that was the least of it.
It's said that bad things come in threes. If true the PSP can breath a sigh of relief 'cus they got their three outta the way at one event. Fingers crossed. Knock wood. Parking at OXCC for a PSP tournament uses the enormous expanses of grass fronting Old Telegraph and if the ground had been dry instead of recently soaked it would have been fine as it has been fine in the past. Soaked it became a patchwork parking lot with crew guessing where cars could be safely parked and lines of waiting cars snaking away from the field back to the road and beyond. And of course the daily effort to extract the stuck and winch out the careless. Not a game breaker on its own it made the simple act of showing up a struggle of sorts.
The webcast.
I didn't see one minute of the MAO webcast. Normally I get a chance to watch some of it if only after the day's event is over but not this time. I'm told the webcast itself was up to par and that most of the problems and associated frustrations were related to the introduction of pay-per-view. Which proved to be more pay and less view--at least for a while there--along with some delays in refunds, etc. Like most of you I'm not a fan of the last minute change--How's that been working out lately?--or the failure of a product I've paid for to deliver on promises made. Nor am I inclined to make excuses. What I am inclined to do is put the webcast in a different context perhaps. PBA certainly didn't help their cause and they had better make sure Chicago goes off without a hitch as anything less will begin to look like they don't have the competence to pull this off. That said, who criticized the webcast when it was free? (Free to you that is as it's never been free to produce.) Who hated on its mistakes when it was free? Who has come to take for granted its inclusion as part of a PSP event? Everyone was thrilled to have the webcast when it was somebody else's problem to pay for. It would seem those days are over. The question now becomes what are you willing to pay in order to keep the webcast around? (Free or P-P-V the production costs are in the tens of thousands every event.) If the answer is nothing or not much then you won't be shocked when that's eventually the webcast you get.
Are we having fun yet? While not quite an epic disaster Friday morning's opening rounds of MAXX were a trainwreck. If it could go wrong, it seems, it did go wrong if only briefly but when added all together it made for a chaotic introduction. Fixes were implemented on the fly and by the afternoon the matches were running much more smoothly and that carried over to Saturday which was night and day different from early Friday. Even so it was clear the league was ill-prepared to implement MAXX on such short notice and if Saturday suggests MAXX may have a future in the PSP that may depend on how the teams and players respond than anything else. Even before the event was over discussions were underway on where and how the process needs to be restructured and what needs to be done in order to make sure nothing like Friday morning happens again. Among other things the league needs to educate the teams and players on exactly how the process works and what they can do to avoid unnecessary hassles. Too many teams tended to get caught up in watching the action without realizing they needed to be getting ready for starters. No decision about the future of MAXX has been made yet and hopefully when it is that word will be passed along in a timely manner.
As little as I like saying it I think it's probably inevitable at some point. Maybe not Chicago and maybe not even the rest of 2014 but if not now eventually. The potential for space and time savings makes it attractive for maximizing team participation and potentially opening new venues to the league besides. And despite the rugged beginning the rest of the event demonstrated it can and will work when implemented better than was managed at MAO initially.
The Refs
It turns out MAO can be a tricky event to fully staff. In part because of the location and in part because it falls on or just prior to a lot of schools finals week. This time around we had a lot of last second drop outs--not due to MAXX though--and where Dallas was a great start for the new program we took a half step back at MAO. And it was only a half step due to the above and beyond effort put forth by the crews that were out there this past weekend. The refs at MAO more than earned their keep--they deserve our gratitude. Any failings on their part are our responsibility and we will do better. It seems like circumstance conspired to make MAO a difficult event all around but we will continue to expand the pool of certified refs and continue to work with the best of the best in an effort to improve, if only a little at a time, from one event to the next.
The Cali event is similar to MAO in that the league hasn't had a presence out west for sometime so if you or anyone you know has an interest in reffing don't hesitate to drop me a line at: paul(at)pspevent(dot)com.
The Layout
Okay, I'ma 'fess up. Yes, the same person who did the "fake" layout could in fact come up with the MAO layout because they were predicated on different concepts. MAO was intended to be a highly technical layout demanding coordinated effort but also allowing teams of any tactical persuasion to play the layout to their strengths. Which, at the divisional level, happened quite frequently. Not universally but still. Not so much however on the Champions field where risk aversion has been elevated to a core principle. (The fact that one end of the field was a mud pit all weekend didn't help but even so.) To see how the field could be played watch Heat versus Russian Legion. Or the final few points of Shock and Art Chaos when Chaos was finally sufficiently desperate to stop sitting in their bunkers. It seems to me, at least conceptually, that the ideal layout is one that suits all styles of play as equally as possible but it seems that reality is if it can be stalled and/or slow played that is what most of the Pros will choose to do. In the meantime I'll take the blame for the terrible layout on which the Pros chose to slow play their points. Trust me, that won't happen again.
The Results
Didn't see that coming. Infamous wins Dallas and is relegated at MAO. Didn't see Art Chaos winning MAO but surely didn't predict they'd be relegated either. Impact recovered their balance in Dallas and have carried on since with a win in the Millennium and a finals spot at MAO. And what about Aftershock? The off season additions seem to have brought the right balance of experience and discipline to the team without diminishing their aggressive tendencies and the result was some great paintball at MAO. Has the Champions bracket just gotten that much tougher? It might seem like Vicious took a step back but the reality is that one or two points at critical moments is the difference between moving on and playing a relegation match. And 187 struggled but they stayed in Champions. No more yo-yoing for now.
In Challengers VCK has been consistently at the top of the ranks without breaking into Champions yet. The Russian Legion turned their fortunes around to join Heat back in Champions while XSV and Top Gun saw their Dallas fortunes reversed. What will Chicago bring?