Friday, July 18, 2014

State of the Game Survey

Kinda. Sorta. There are no standardized questions to answer and VFTD isn't trying to collect data that can later be analyzed in any formal or systematic way. But I am curious--and a little concerned, truth be known, about the state of the game at the so-called grassroots level of competitive play. With the demise of the latest iteration of the NPPL and the "hiatus" (dirt nap) that the APL is taking PBN informs us of something called the UPL is offering 'big cash' and the coming soon to a paintball field near you XPL is offering 'real' xball (with as of yet no indication how many prelim matches a team will play.) But these are (future) events with national pretensions and not really what I'm interested in at the moment.
The thing is none of the national draw type events exist in anything like their current (or hoped for) state without the local and regional events to provide venues where teams can form and flourish. At least that's the conventional wisdom. But competitive paintball has reached a point where the top teams can compete only (mostly) at the national level because there aren't enough of them to fill divisions at the local or regional level of competition--and that seems in recent years to have included D2 as well leaving the locals at D3 and below. (Have we continued to add lower and lower divisions to encourage participation--and is it working?)

Which leaves me with a bunch of questions. (This is where you volunteer to help me out with answers or at least your opinion.)
Would there be more D2 teams coming up if there were more local places for them to compete and grow?
Is there a noticeable trend in competitive paintball in your area? Is the local scene (including any regionals) growing in your area? Is it stagnant? Or in decline? Where is the divisional cut off? At D2 and below or D3 and below? Does your local competition scene encourage or discourage higher ranked players from playing locally?

One reason I'm curious is because while everyone talks a good game about growing the sport it all seems pretty haphazard. Which doesn't mean progress isn't being made but it's difficult to know--hence our informal survey. The PSP's affiliate program was/is an effort, in part, to unify competitive paintball and standardize play but again, it's tough to quantify progress. But if y'all pass along what you know maybe we'll end up with a better idea of how our sport is really doing.


plovell said...

MiLP seems to be taking over in the southeast and has definitely helped to grow the tournament paintball scene in Alabama. The league has definitely grown over the past 2 years and everything is running smoothly under the new management this year, plus the venues are great.

I feel like a big part of the problem is the lack of D2 tournaments and teams in a localized area. While there are a few d2 teams throughout the Southeast(Prime in AL, PC Katana in panhandle Florida, and a few d2 teams in the Carolinas) the ceiling still seems to be division 3 paintball regionally. Maybe with the way MiLP has been expanding and the basis of some strong d3 teams that play it along with the already solidified d2 teams, they could start to move toward holding a division 2 bracket next year? I think a lot of people are also afraid of making that jump from d3 to d2.

D4 is definitely the biggest scene in the Southeast. Maybe next year that will even out between d3 and d4 due to players being ranked up, but I feel like one of the reasons teams collapse is that they're forced into a higher division and when they hit bumps in the road, they don't know how to deal with it.

Anonymous said...

Regional series such as the MILP and MSXL are doing fairly well in the south east. The MILP has really done well this year in overall growth. The decline is at the local level tournament series or state level series. This is where / how I started and is on the decline. There are quite a few less fields in the area and there are not as many local entry level tournaments as the result. We are not bringing new players at a rate to maintain tournament paintball much less grow the sport.

The stalling point from a ranking perspective is D3. Once players edge toward D2 they are phasing out. No real tournaments to play locally or regionally. Many can not, or choose not to, compete nationally at PSP events (expense, time away from job, etc). Some choose to play the closest PSP and then travel to Cup at the end of the year.

I have seen a lot of young players play in middle school and high school only to fade out of the sport afterwards. I don't think there is one reason for this: Other sports offering college scholarships, national tv exposure / popularity of other sports, life in general, economic down turn, ... a mix all of the above probably.

It has taken soccer over 25 years locally to grow from a sport played at recess only to having high school and college teams and now having true fans of local and national level teams. This seems to be quite fragile as well.

In a society faced with economic down turn in the recent past, paintball can be quite an expensive sport at the tournament level, not to mention to those outside looking in any sport played using a "gun" can have a negative connotation. Many kids are steered to other mainstream sports instead of trying to become the next Oliver Lang. It's ok to be a family hobby, but it's not really seen as high level sport with a future by many parents.

Tournament level paintball has had and will continue to have an uphill battle to maintain it's popularity not to mention to grow the tournament scene.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that Airsoft has become an entry level alternative locally, and has also helped to diminish the new player base for tournament paintball.

Probably much more rambling that you asked for, but here it is anyway

- Chris K.
Ringgold, Ga.

Nick Brockdorff said...

Very interesting and difficult question you pose.

We used to have only 3 divisions at national/International level: Pro, Amateur and Novice.

Back then, the major events pulled 60-80 teams.

So, it stands to reason that adding divisions has grown the team participation (while eroding the local scenes).

However, I believe there is a critical mass for a division size, and once you hit that number, a bunch of teams will stop attending, because the chance of making sunday, much less the podium, becomes very remote.

I don't know what the answer is, because it would be ridiculous to just go to "division 9" or something, to inflate event size... so this is a hard nut to crack.

I do know one thing however: Paintball starts at local level.

If the local venues are not offering tournament style fields and are unable to support paintball tournaments, we will continue to struggle for teams at all levels.

Joshua W. said...

All said above is completely true, especially when it comes to MiLP. I'm involved in MiLP as a player and I usually ref the GFOA, a local league in Georgia, and I'm watching loads of teams leave the GFOA for the better run, better formatted MiLP. However, as MiLP continues to grow I could definitely see the league becoming over saturated, as Nick was saying, so that teams return to the local GFOA for a better shot to win.

Reiner Schafer said...

"I do know one thing however: Paintball starts at local level.

If the local venues are not offering tournament style fields and are unable to support paintball tournaments, we will continue to struggle for teams at all levels."

I totally agree with this. I think it is human nature, especially for males, to be competitive. Competitive paintball should be very popular, but it’s not and that is due to several reasons, but the biggest reason is cost. I think competitive paintball “evolved” poorly and I think that has to do because the evolution was for a large part was steered by paintball manufacturers and to a lesser degree, paintball hardware manufacturers. Field owners during competitive paintball’s evolution also steered things in the same general direction and it all had to do with greed.

“The money is in the paintballs” was the mantra I saw everywhere in the late 90’s and early 2000’s when I was doing research, but I’m sure it was prevalent before then already. It was all geared to get players shooting more paintballs and it wasn’t difficult to do in a sport where more ammunition gives you a competitive advantage. But that whole business model that the sport is built on is also the main reason people can’t afford to play the game they love.

In the end, many of those same field owners that were pushing for more and more paintballs being shot in competitive paintball have closed those competitive paintball fields because not enough players could afford to play on them.

Serious competitive sports mandate ongoing play and ongoing practice time. In a sport where each and every outing adds significantly to the cost of participating, it is no wonder that the attrition rate is so high. This results in much fewer serious athletes and even relatively few casual participants. This will never change. It’s simple economics. The cost to take part is high, therefore Demand will be low.

Also, most “popular” sports are subsidized by Governments. If users of soccer fields, for instance, had to cover all of the cost of creating and maintaining those fields, soccer would not be growing. That goes for baseball, football, basketball, hockey and many other sports. Those paintball field owners who are closing or removing their airball fields are doing so because it is not economically viable to keep them.

Liam92 said...

In the UK the CPPS is a fantastic league. Personally i play in the 'elite divison' which hosts some CPL and SPL teams such as nexus, tigers, disruption etc.
Now this league is fantastic, with great competition at the top, and fantastic entry divisons and everything in between.
I'm personally based in the deep north in Scotland which does host 1 league in the country, but the problem is it's so isolated from the rest of the country and the UK that the teams there are at a standard of divison 5, maybe 4 at a push.
Its so out of the way in the north that its not even viable for better teams to go there to practise and so the standard there will never improve, with the few scottish teams there are driving a 500 mile round trip to compete at CPPS.

Nick Brockdorff said...


Sure, the cost of paintballs is the largest reason for people not playing tournaments.

But, that is not the biggest issue right now. - The biggest issue is that it is probably only 10 % of the fields out there, that contribute players to our sport.... the rest currently have no interest.

That's not about the cost of paintballs... that's about our tournament fields not being viable for a rental operation.

The biggest obstacle to paintball today, is that the logistics of operating a airball field, is far more costly than operating a woodland field.

It will always be more costly, but it is also a better product, so you could live with a little extra cost.

I find myself missing the old style airball, where the whole field was connected by tubes, and you inflated the field by flipping a switch and waiting 10 minutes.

Back then, airball was a far more viable option for commercial fields.

Our next big innovation, is in the hands of the airball field manufacturers.... if they can invent a concept that also works for rental operations... we will be on our way.

Reiner Schafer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reiner Schafer said...

“The biggest obstacle to paintball today, is that the logistics of operating a airball field, is far more costly than operating a woodland field.

It will always be more costly, but it is also a better product, so you could live with a little extra cost.”

I hang out at the busiest painball field owner forum a lot (have for many years) and I can tell you that cost is a factor for fields choosing to not have or to remove airball fields, but it is certainly not the only reason and probably not the biggest. Most field owners feel the types of customers airball fields attract is detrimental to the rest (larger part) of their business (most of which is rental business). A local field that opens an airball field will automatically attract the “tournament” players and worse the “wannabe tournament” players. Those players demand more and want to pay less. They also often do not want to share the airball field with renters. The foul mouths and superior attitudes are all things field owners would rather do without and from a business perspective, do financially better without. That unfortunately is the sentiment among most field owners.

Now could and do fields operate with only airball fields? Yes, some have basically little other choice and they do fine if they are in areas where players have little other choice. When you look at it in that context, if all fields had airball fields only, we would probably have more tournament players, but probably less paintball participation overall, in my opinion.

I’m not sure why you feel airball fields provide a better product (from a rental business perspective). My customers actually like going into buildings, onto towers, behind vehicles, and yes they even like to crawl through the forest and hide behind trees. I’m pretty sure if all they had to play behind all days was sets of airball bunkers, they would find that less interesting.

In another discussion I mentioned that paintball doesn’t have that “awe factor” where people having a little experience see the pros play and think, gee that looks so easy when they do it, I wish I could do that, and then proceed to try to get to that level. What competition paintball has, and what attracts most new players is the “That is insane!” factor”, where people see tournament paintball and say to themselves (or to their friends), “I want to try that”. This is what attracts new players into competitive paintball, some of whom can stand the physical discomfort that goes along with the insanity and stick with it for a while. And that would be fine, if.....we weren’t back at the unsustainable business model of competitive play.

Nick Brockdorff said...

First of all, the sentiment that tournament players have bad attitudes is just BS.

The attitudes you get at your field, are the attitudes you instill in your regulars.... It's a cop out to suggest otherwise.

I think most field that attract "tournament" players will tell you... these are the people that show up for work days for free, that run rental groups for you against a low hourly pay (or even just walk on and paint), that step up as refs for local events, and that attract more customers to your field.

Yes, I know plenty of field owners with the attitude you describe... but sadly, it is often based on hearsay and urban legends.

Airball is a better product, because it allows the customers to try paintball as a sport.

Now, looking at the individual group on its own, that makes very little difference (actually taking a narrow view, it is a negative), so you have to take a larger perspective to see why it is better business.

1. More airball players means more tournament players
2. More tournament players means more repeat customers
3. More repeat customers means more paint sales and more equipment sales
4. More paint and equipment sales, means a larger overall market that supports the sport
5. A larger market means more media exposure
6. More media exposure means more customers.
7. More customers mean more airball players.

Problem is, that no single field can tackle this issue alone and fully reap the benefits.

It will require a movement in the market... and that, can only be brought about by the industry (as long as paintball is structured the way it is).... an industry which is today very fragmented and full of adverserial relationships.

So, in the current climate, what I describe is a pipe dream.

If our industry sacks up at some point, and realize it should not be spending all its energy competing with itself, but instead be focused on growing the overall market (by competing with all the other pasttimes and sports out there), the scenario I describe can play out in a positive way.

As for the "awe factor", that is based on a very limited number of people have been exposed to the sport we play... as said earlier..... and growing the market would fix that.

Baca Loco said...

Nick/Reiner You're both off topic and as much as I enjoy Nick blithely telling a guy who actually has a thriving paintball field operation why he's wrong I want to hear players of local/regional events. (I know, there's not much chance of that.) Even so, knock it off.

Anonymous said...

Reiner's post is bang-on. He's living in the real world.
Airball is not a better product in the eyes of the rental player. The rental player pays the bills.

Also, the attitudes Reiner is talking about exist in abundance. Stop the denial.

Sean Ponder said...

Dismal is what i would describe it up in my neck of the woods of Thunder Bay, Ontario. The closest city in Canada that actually has tournaments is 7 hours away. Luckily the US border is 30 minutes away and we can drive the 6 hours to go play in Minneapolis.

The local scene is pretty much nonexistant with only 1 field being left and the state of the airball field is sad to say the least. A quarter of the bunkers got destroyed by a bear last year and never replaced. There have been no local tournaments since the last one that a couple of us put together ourselves.

Anonymous said...

I think Reiner is spot-on about the airball portion of the field often harming the rental side -- and it is the rental side that pays the bills. At fields that run both airball and woodsball, the airball field is typically right next to staging. So you have a group of 12 year olds at the field for a birthday party who have never played before, and the first thing the see (and hear) is a speedball breakout where guys are sprinting out shooting 12+bps and yelling out positions. For a first-timer, hearing a rope of paintballs hitting an inflatable bunker is a bit intimidating. That is going to happen even if the crowd of tourney players is super polite and never swears.

Anonymous said...

Baca please ban Nick Dorkoff. Every time I come here he is posting stupid crap and makes me leave. I want to hear reasonable opinions not some d4 child who doesn't even play competitively.

Missy Q said...

Nick isn't a D4 child, he's a grown man, and he has plenty of competitive experience.
He just can't see past his own opinions. Ever.

raehl said...

No field owner has ever closed an airball field because it was expensive. Airball fields get closed because they are not PROFITABLE.

And one reason they are not profitable is the way they are currently used involves taking most of the customer's money and using it to buy gelatin and PEG.

It's like trying to run a Go-Kart track with cars that burn two gallons of fuel per lap.