Sunday, March 22, 2015

It's All About the Paint

Sometimes. Right after Dallas Damage player Jason FK Edwards posted a question on his Facebook page. As an independent Pro team this year that resurrected its fortunes late in the off season the team is buying its own paint. Seems they'd been using KEE but opted for GI on Sunday thinking it the better choice for the conditions--and GI wouldn't sell them any paint. Shocked? Surprised? Confused?
You shouldn't be. While I can't confirm it personally I'm sure working the paint angle dates to earliest competitive paintball. It's been a part of the game since I've been involved in the sport. And it isn't just the industry, it's the teams too. Look, it's a topic seldom discussed openly because everyone is so dependent on paint and more importantly, sponsorship paint but since Jason went public VFTD has decided to continue this conversation.
For a variety of reasons even good paint can be inconsistent from event to event. When it is there's an incentive among the Pros to try and balance out deficiencies. Now obviously a sponsored team can't very well openly use the competition's paint so deals get done. Frequently it's for OTB paint. Just enough to give your laners their best shot at getting early eliminations. And if Team A hooks up Team B they know Team B will return the favor somewhere down the road. That's just one example.
Perhaps less well known is the role the paint companies themselves play on occasion. While there is some outrage over the incident after it went public consider the situation from GI's point of view. Damage, a very good team, is about to play their flagship team, Heat, in an elimination match. Does it make sense to help the competition? OF course not but as soon as the option to manipulate who gets what paint enters the equation it necessarily lessens the competition and also creates the possibility of more egregious manipulations. Imagine a scenario where 3 of 4 semifinalists are sponsored by one paint company. They are in the money but what if they have preferences regarding the outcome? Could they, would they disburse paint to their own teams based on a desire to manipulate the final result? But why would they do that? Think of one reason and the possibility exists.
It's been one of top end paintball's dirty little secrets for a long time. I am told the PSP is going to address the issue in the near future. So instead of continuing to beat the bruised remains of the dead horse I usually flog unmercifully I'm going in another direction to close. Most of you should have heard by now that the rumored would be PSP competitor league is real and they are working to introduce a competing league. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

PBA vs. PSP Pro teams?

Right, the Pro (webcast) schedule is out. Although exactly how that's gonna play out in terms of the competition results is still uncertain. All the Pro teams have been guaranteed four matches but the PSP is still playing fast and loose with the format--and they're doing it without even bothering to inform the teams that have already committed to playing. Look, I get the bind they're in. The PSP that is. Too many Pro teams disbanded in the off season and it's messed with the Champs and Challengers brackets. And while the rules for 2014 suggested the opening 2015 event would be one big Pro party it didn't provide any real details about how that party would be structured. (And the 2014 rulebook also implied the relegation matches at Cup wouldn't amount to anything.) So along comes 2015 and other items take precedence and before you know it the event is just around the corner and the Pro details have yet to be formalized. Oops. ) There's also the matter of logistics. A full Champs and Challengers uses two fields and the released schedule doesn't. Participation is down over last year and the savings on a field with ref crew is significant.
However, the circumstances, while possibly understandable, aren't relevant. The PSP's job #1 is to provide a paintball competition in accordance with known rules and format. And in this case it isn't happening. Not only isn't it happening but perhaps even more inexplicable is the lack of communication between the league and the Pro teams affected. One might even suggest it's blatant misrepresentation given the Pro teams have paid entries based on expectations that won't be fulfilled. If the circumstances don't rise to that level they demonstrate a clear lack of respect (or regard) for the competing teams and a willingness to put the PSP (and the PBA?) ahead of the implied competition promises made in the rules.
It's clear to VFTD that the priorities in the decision-making process was the PBA webcast and the available cost savings to be had in not setting up a Challengers field. Those choices forced the league to modify the format and alter the competition. While perhaps justifiable operationally it's completely inconsistent with the competition the league promised. The premier league in the world is behaving like a fly by night low rent local promotion out to line its pockets first. For whatever reason the PSP has gotten this completely wrong. The teams don't compete for the benefit of the webcast and the interests of the webcast shouldn't have any influence on the structure of the competition. For years the Millennium was routinely mocked for not having a rulebook but the PSP has one upped them. They have a rulebook but ignore it when it proves inconvenient. Of course on the flip side you get what you're willing to accept. If the Pro teams are willing to be disrespected and dictated to--guess what--eventually they will be. The bigger question may be how long will the teams continue to put up with it?  

Friday, March 6, 2015

Another Kind of March Madness

Major League Paintball's leading series kick off the 2015 season this month. PSP Dallas is less than a week away and the Millennium's Med Cup is the last weekend of the month. As of Tuesday morning--after the official final deadline for entry--Dallas was at 125, down more than 25% from last year's Dallas opener. One explanation that hadn't occurred to me before may be simple as the weather. Not only was Dallas cold last year but the worst of the winter weather has hit much of the country in January and February and shows little sign of abating in some places. Med Cup numbers could be similar but the MS hasn't yet posted registrants in the Semi-Pro divisions and the Open divisions are a bit thin. While there's still time for teams to jump in VFTD is projecting event numbers around 110 teams. The MS has seen a fair amount of team turnover in recent seasons with a trend that's in decline. Until this coming event the PSP had been growing over the last two or three seasons. The MS made some off season moves to change the pattern and it will be interesting to watch what happens in both leagues over the course of the season.
The rumor mill continues to churn regarding the PSP with tales of high profile buyers trying to buy the Dye shares along with competing rumors of a competing start-up national league looking to use the current uncertainties to make a move. So far Dye is standing pat--at least according to the latest rumor--and as more industry sponsors sign on with the PSP the likelihood of an upstart league trying to gain a foothold after Dallas seems unlikely.
Across the pond the MS announced an exhibition to run concurrently with the Med Cup in which top Champions League teams will play using a limited paint per point format modification. That should attract the attention of all the teams attending and give everyone a chance to see it in action or actually try it out. There has been talk for many years about limiting paint as an alternative to reduced ROF or other efforts to reduce paint costs and variability. By offering an exhibition the Millennium is taking a reasonable step in that direction while respecting their competing teams.
Remaining across the pond VFTD mentioned the X Series last week and I have some additional information. Begun last year in Germany largely as an alternative for local venues to the top heavy DPL and teams interested in something a little different--the X Series uses a modified PSP rulebook and field layouts--the league has grown substantially over last season with the recent announcement they would have 150 teams competing across the series of events. For the host venues the big deal is the DPL is modeled on typical soccer league practice which sees much of the money stay at the top of the league while the X Series offers greater monetary rewards to the host venues. Of more interest is the fact that in one season the league has attracted such significant growth. Last year the DPL had over 300 teams competing across Germany. It remains to be seen whether or not the X Series will cut into those numbers or if competitive paintball in Germany is still growing.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Coach Billy Wing

Okay, this is an interesting development. Far as I know Billy still lives here in Florida and that commute to Cali sucks. It gets old fast. I'm curious to see how this works out. Shane and Billy have successfully worked together before so that shouldn't be an issue except that past iteration of the Ironmen isn't the way the current Ironmen roster play. Will the team remain the same hard chargers they were last season or will Billy's influence moderate their aggression? It will be interesting to see what happens in Dallas.  The other thing is Billy has been designing PSP layouts in recent seasons and he can't very well do the "secret" Pro layouts if he's coaching the Ironmen, can he? 

Monday, March 2, 2015

"True" Semi Revisited

I spent much of this past weekend hanging out with Dave Painter and the Upton 187 Crew here in Florida. The guys got to experience a typical winter monsoon on Saturday but were rewarded on Sunday with sunshine and temperatures around 80 while the northeast got some more snow to go with their frigid temps and, er, more snow. Damage came out to play and it was good to see those guys too as they have a 'second' chance to keep competing and keep the team together.
After watching the teams go at it for a couple of days I've also had the chance to observe the PSP's "True" Semi in action. If the "true" purpose, as has been rumored, was to save the paint sponsors some cheddar by reducing sponsored paint usage--it's working. For right now. I have no doubt that paint usage among the pro teams will be down in Dallas. That might change some during the season if and when the players become more accustomed to shooting the mode and continue to improve. Even so I expect overall usage will decline season-over-season from last year to this year. One of the other things I was curious about was how different brands of markers might perform. Would one gun be easier to shoot fast or sustain a ROF simply because of ergonomics, some quirk of design or software or the reverse, would any be noticeably harder to shoot. The jury is still out on that one--at least for me--as the sample over the weekend was MacDev and Planet Eclipse and the most readily apparent factor remains the individual player. Otherwise some of the guys could approach what sounded like about 10 or 11 bps for brief periods with 7 or 8 being closer to the norm. (Actual ROF may prove to be different but I'm confident my guesstimate is ballpark.) At this stage the biggest difference is handedness--which hand a player is shooting with, his dominant hand or off hand and more practice is going to be required to get everyone up to speed. Or at least what constitutes speed in the new mode.
The other and certainly more important question is whether or not the new mode will open up play and create more excitement and interest among a paintball audience. This past weekend the teams were playing the divisional layout for Dallas. The answer is maybe. As previously suggested here it will depend primarily on the teams and the layout. The current divisional layout creates some opportunities for creative players in the mid-game and close out phases of play but whether or not that carries over to the pros competition layout in Dallas and matches where the score matters remains to be seen. At this stage I still expect to see mostly the kind of ball we're used to with the possible exception that the pace across the board will accelerate and broadly become more aggressive. This could happen because the risk/reward balance has been altered by the new mode but still requires the right kind of layout to encourage taking advantage of the potential the new mode makes possible. A couple of weeks and we'll all know more.
UPDATE: Left Coast sources are of the opinion that both Dye and Empire guns are easier to shoot faster in "True" Semi than their Planet equivalent. Will be interesting to hear more on the subject from the players.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What's Shakin'?

Today's post is really just an assortment of observations and comments as the truth is ain't much shakin' going on in the Paintball universe today. A big deal for the industry is Paintball Extravaganza which has more or less become the big annual industry expo and I suppose it gets all the gearheads excited what with new guns on display and such but it just isn't my thing. Clearly I'm in the minority as many of the most popular topics of paintball conversation and interest revolve around the latest guns and gear--and that's okay. I don't imagine industry cares how often you play if you're prepared to buy new stuff regularly.
This past weekend I was in Birmingham (Alabama not England) and thank goodness that despite the fact it was rather dreary and damp it wasn't cold. This poor old Florida boy doesn't tolerate the cold all that well anymore. It was my first weekend this season coaching Pr1me D1 and the rest of the Pr1me program of divisional teams. The team has high aspirations and the commitment to putting in the necessary work. I couldn't ask for a group of players more willing to learn and determined to succeed. With only limited time until Dallas it was necessary to dump a lot on their plate right away and they handled it extremely well. By Sunday we were making real progress and while there's still a long road to travel we managed to lay a solid foundation for the upcoming season. I'll be back in Birmingham for the last practice weekend before Dallas and then it's off to Texas to see where we're at. Tournaments aren't won until Sunday but they are frequently lost in practice.
PSP Dallas registration has flattened with little or no change over the last week. The final deadline is March 2 but unlike past practice I don't expect the numbers to swell much with last minute registrations and entries paid. And if the numbers stay where they're at with all current registrations paying entry fees Dallas 2015 will be a full 20% off last year's participation. I still haven't had a chance to review regional turnout so I can't yet say if tournament participation is shifting toward the regionals or if competitive paintball is suddenly losing teams--again. Or it could just be all the off season silliness. Who knows? We'll have a better idea at Nashville.
Over in MillenniumLand GOG Paintball will be sponsoring a 3-man competition featuring their 50 cal marker. 50 cal is making inroads into recreational play and here it is being introduced into the high end tournament environment. For those in this audience attending the Med Cup event if you get a chance to check it out VFTD would be interested in your thoughts. Without a real rollout in the past 50 cal was largely rejected by the player base and I don't know about you but I'm curious to see how it turns out this time.
Last week my Twitter blew up with X Series tweets from Germany. Best I can tell the X Series is offering a PSP style alternative to the Millennium based DPL and includes an Open or Professional division. Apparently it was active last season too. If you're involved in the X Series give me a holler with the 411. I want to know more.
The first XPL event was this past weekend in Phoenix. 32 teams in three divisions; D3, D4 & D5 competed in a 4 match prelim with the number of Sunday teams determined by the size of the division. From what little I've heard it apparently went pretty well. If anyone who participated would like to comment on the event please feel free to do so. With a national event schedule from the get go the XPL could use the publicity.

Monday, February 23, 2015

One Big Happy (Paintball) Family

Not. I saw the latest promotional piece from Houston Heat today--a photo (poster) of the 2015 squad--with the banner, One Team, One Family, One point at a time and the first thing that came to mind was an admittedly cynical question: Would anybody be on that team, other than the junior Smith, if they weren't getting paid? And the second question that came to mind was; What about the family members that got kicked to the curb a couple months ago? Where I come from family isn't about what you've done for me lately. So who is really the cynic here; Is it me or is it Heat? (And they aren't the only ones. There's a welcome to the family message on Facebook from GI to a local field in Ohio. Are they too family now or are they in a business relationship each side hopes will serve their independent interests?)
Look, maybe I'm making too big a deal outta nothing. I mean everybody understands the game being played right? So what's the harm? Beside the whole family schtick plays in Peoria. (It's a showbiz saying from a very long time ago.) Paintball at every level is about friends and family and having fun--except when it isn't. And every time an idea like family is co-opted it diminishes the real meaning of the word. Okay the truth is we all do it and when it's homegrown teams and teammates we even mostly mean it. (Though I have yet to see anyone bleed, die or give up a kidney for the kid whose been on the team 6 weeks.) But all that really means is when the business of paintball gets into the act it really is a cynical sham. It isn't about the business of paintball sharing values with players it's about them manipulating all those positive emotions and love of the game on behalf of their bottom line. I know, it isn't just paintball either but just because everybody does it doesn't mean I have to like it. And today it just rubbed me the wrong way.   

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What The Hell's Happened To Paintball?

That was the starting point of a conversation I had today with an old teammate and friend. (Who, btw, it was great to hear from. As many people as paintball brings together time seems to have a way of separating. I appreciated his reaching out and while I'm as guilty as the next guy of letting things slide at least y'all know where to find me on this happy little blog. Don't be a stranger.)
So anyway ... what the hell's happened to paintball? The last fifteen years have seen up times, down times and over the last three or four years a sense that everything was settling down and if slowly at least surely getting better again. And then this off season happens. It's chaos I tell you, nothing but chaos. Pro teams exploding left and right. The annual ritual of the PSP changing stuff again and then the Great Sponsorship Debacle of 2015. In the background but definitely on every competitor's radar is the status of Dye and how that will affect both the PBA and the PSP. Like the Sword of Damocles hanging over national paintball's metaphorical head nobody knows when or if the thread will snap--and what will happen if it does.
Despite all that I'm here to tell you don't worry, be happy. And if you're not a Bobby McFerrin fan (or not old enough to remember the tune) Renn & Stimpy will do, happy happy joy joy. (Or have I dated myself again?) Yes, there's more uncertainty and upheaval on the national scene than we've seen in a long time. Yes, it could easily portend more changes, some possibly big others not so much. At the bare minimum the stability the PSP provided the whole system of competitive paintball has been shaken and left some competitive ballers without a clear path forward. And while that's less than ideal it's still okay. In fact it was bound to happen eventually. If it wasn't this set of circumstances it would have been something else. Paintball as sport is still too young and unformed and without a settled path forward that change was (is) inevitable.
The PSP has changed the game we play over the years on the basis of economic reality and league profitability--with a dash of industry domineering--but the truth has always been that the national event / traveling circus model has built in flaws. It isn't going to last forever. In the last fifteen years various factions have been hellbent on profiting from paintball as sport mostly focused on television as the vehicle of progress. At the same time they've treated their product--pro level competition--as a disposable commodity. There is an obvious disconnect in there that nobody paid any attention or addressed because they didn't have to. If paintball as sport is ever to approach anything like sporting legitimacy that paradigm is going to have to change. (There's that word again.) If the pro teams want a different future it's on them to make it happen. (And it won't happen by climbing into bed with other industry factions.)
Our game may not currently have the top down stability it had but it's got a lot of other positives working for it right now. In the same way that standards have trickled down from the pro team grind to serious divisional competitors the standards implemented by the PSP in recent years have trickled down to influence and improve regional and large scale local tournament promotions. Affiliates or not regional paintball has taken a few leaps forward in the last five years and as a consequence is delivering quality competitions to more teams. Paintball is entering an era of decentralization and that's a good thing. More opportunity for more teams and more opportunity for more new ideas to percolate.
New ideas, new formats, new tournament series are popping up everywhere. Some small and some with grander pretensions. It's all good. Local 3-man events begin to put the pieces together and offer an outlet for those inclined to the competition side. Local 5-mans give new teams a place to learn and grow and the expanding regional scene provides an ever more satisfactory baseline of real competition. In the meantime those with no outlet other than the national venues will continue to gear up and make the necessary sacrifices to compete because that is who they are and what they do.
Paintball is fine. Paintball where it matters--at the grassroots--is fine. More importantly that is a level where everyone can make a positive contribution. All paintball is local.
For probably 90% of all competitive paintballers--perhaps more--none of the off season shenanigans that stir up the internet is meaningful in any way other than as our very own soap opera. Just keep doing what you're doing. Playing the game and having fun. For those affected to one degree or another it goes with the territory but on the plus side it could all change tomorrow. In fact, it probably will.

Monday, February 16, 2015

PSP Backlash

If you thought the latest escapade from the PSP was over and done with you are mistaken. Yes, the league backtracked mightily on the sponsorship restrictions impact on divisional teams and players and they have offered a quasi-defensible explanation of how they stepped in it this time--but this time it's not all simply gonna be swept under the rug, dismissed as the occasional PSP screw-up or forgotten. Besides, there are elements of the grander narrative still in play; the fate of Dye, PBA and perhaps even the PSP itself. And the extent and duration of how this sponsorship rigamarole unfolded will continue to send ripples across the pond of competitive paintball. Not only has the league taken a hit but so too some of the early responders among the league's sponsors. Whether fairly or unfairly the PSP's latest miscalculation has had an effect across the spectrum of paintball up to an including local fields and stores. Stories about a grassroots backlash aimed not only at the league but at its sponsors are beginning to be told. Stores threatening to switch product lines and fields threatening to impose their own gear restrictions. VFTD has no idea how widespread this phenomenon may be but if I'm hearing about it it's substantial enough to get industry's attention.
Closer to home today is the second entry deadline for the PSP Dallas Open and as of this afternoon the team numbers stood at 136 registrations with 107 teams paid. There is no doubt whatsoever that the latest brouhaha has cost the league teams and participation for Dallas. With today's numbers the league may be lucky if the turnout is only off 20% from last year. And as reported previously the losses are in the critical D3 and D4 RaceTo divisions. What the league needs now is a rousing success in Dallas and a lot of positive buzz from the Dallas webcast. The new rules need to prove effective and the matches need to remind the competitive player base that its the game we love. If the PSP can reassert its role as the leader in professional paintball the prior natural order may be restored.
Of course that still leaves the uncertainty of critical divisional losses to begin the season and the unknown legal status of Dye. Meanwhile conversations and tentative plans continue to form and reform in various corners of the competitive paintball universe. Until the previous status quo can be reestablished--if it can--the future of competitive paintball will remain less certain than it has seemed to be in many years 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

VFTD Attempts to Write PSP Press Release

Since the PSP hasn't seen fit to comment yet I thought I'd take a stab at it for them. See what you think of this:
Today the PSP is pleased to announce a revamped, new and improved, offering of sponsorship options for our industry partners. The new programs will integrate our sponsors into every level of access and promotion available to the league and deliver exciting new levels of value. All members of the industry are welcome to join with us and we look forward to building a brighter future for our players, our partners and the sport of paintball.
While individual arrangements are necessarily confidential it is important that we correct the broader misunderstandings that are causing all the present speculation.  Our sponsors rightfully expect us to value their partnership and help them promote their businesses as they support our efforts to deliver the very best competitive events in the world.

Okay, this is where I get stuck. I cannot figure out how to tell the players they're getting the shaft and make it sound like a good deal for everybody. Maybe that's why the league hasn't responded publicly yet either. Look, I get the idea and if this was restricted to sponsors of pro teams I'd understand even if I disagreed. All the pro teams gear is up on the webcast all event long and if the miserly companies won't buy enough ads to help prop up PBA we'll find another way to tax 'em. Sure, why not? Of course nobody has said this has anything to do with the webcast though and the info that has leaked is from this year's sponsorship packages the league sends to potential industry supporters. So it seems to me this is a PSP decision (whether Dave demanded it or not.) [Hey could it be the divisional impact is restricted to those teams that appear on the Sunday webcast? It would be a little easier to swallow if true.] Right now too little is known with any clarity to do more than guess. My first guess is anyone waiting for an official statement on this topic best not hold their breath. Best the public is gonna get is a clarification of the impact on divisional players. Bigger and badder rumors in the background only serve to further confuse matters but the end game here goes one of two ways; it further tightens industry's grip on the competitive game or it opens a door to new opportunities. It's pretty much always been the former in the past. Maybe this time things will be different.

Monday, February 9, 2015

PSP Unofficially Jumps Shark

I'm almost expecting the first official word from the league to be, "Nevermind," but who can guess anymore what the league may do. (If you'd like to add a soundtrack to this post let me suggest 'Runaway Train' as apropos.) While not offering an official statement--yet--the league has apparently confirmed they are constructing a policy requiring teams and players to only use the gear of league sponsors. How comprehensive and/or restrictive that policy will be is so far unknown. The Millennium Series has enforced a similar policy for some years though it's been limited to their locked upper divisions and early rumor has it the PSP's version will affect all divisions of play. While most of the hue and cry aimed at this "unofficial" policy has come from players they aren't the target of the policy. In the parlance of modern hostilities the players are simply collateral damage as very likely will be the self-inflicted hit the league will take. With today being the first payment deadline and mounting uncertainty about what the league is doing policy or no the league could very easily take a huge loss in participating teams at Dallas. In fact given the patterns registrations have shown in the past this Dallas looks to be off at least 15-20% over last season's Dallas opener--and that's without feeling the impact of this new policy. The real target of this policy is the marginal or tiny industry players and for them the policy is nothing short of extortion. To be even-handed the league will make the case it's only fair to all their sponsors who pay for access. What it really is is a gatekeeper policy intended to further marginalize the smaller competitors--unless they pay up. And it comes perilously close to telling their other customer base, the players, what they can and can't compete with based on a separate financial arrangement the league may or may not have with other industry parties.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Major Leagues Update

The way things have been going of late no telling if it will all change again before I can get this posted. Let's begin with the Millennium Series. Mostly in the news this last couple of weeks--besides the return of Hugo Dominguez--have been the introductions of new teams picking up spots in the two semi-pro divisions. Red Storm, a PSP Challenger last season, has joined the ranks of Mills teams this season but the other names are less familiar. It remains unclear whether these latest additions are filling spots attritted by other SPL teams or are adding new teams to the division totals. Last season there were 49 SPL teams so the question is are the newest teams going to swell that number or simply hold the line. Until a team list is posted for the first event there's no way to know but in recent past seasons the league's efforts have been aimed at maintaining numbers that are slowly eroding. Even then it's problematic if the league is willing to take unproven teams into the ranks of the SPL because it eventually becomes more of a vanity project than one of accomplishment. And without a teams list it's hard to know how well the off season changes have been received--though the general response was positive--a positive response not reflected by improving participation isn't much use.
There's more information available from the PSP and it isn't good--though there's still a window of time for improvement. Current Dallas registration is at 116 teams. The only bright spot is that 92 of the teams are Race To 4/5/7 while only 26 are Race To 2. That's still off 31 Race To X teams from last year's Dallas event and 54 teams short of last year's 170 team total with the first deadline less than a week away. And in looking at the registrations by division it's the bread & butter D3 & D4 ranks that are well off past numbers and that is a trend--if it continues--that will be of real concern to the league. (Looks like a review of D3 and D4 participation at the regional level is in order. Is the PSP possibly losing teams to other leagues or is competitive paintball losing its foundation?) In related news DYE's status remains in limbo--at least as a matter of public knowledge and what impact the resolution of their issues will have on the PSP (and PBA and the webcast) is also uncertain at this time. Also uncertain is the ultimate "true semi" ROF as the league announced yesterday it was being raised to 13.3 bps or more correctly the timing gap was being reduced to 75ms. So we've gone from uncapped to 12.5 and now to 13.3. Where will it finally end up? (And will it inevitably trickle down to divisional?) On a more positive note the demise of Damage was apparently somewhat premature as the core players have managed to resurrect the team with the help of some new sponsors and the reconsideration of ownership. On a less positive note rumors swirl regarding the fate of the Ironmen with recent defections and the team's status as DYE's defacto factory team. Including the Ironmen the pro ranks presently rest at 16 teams--too many for one division and perhaps not enough for a Challengers bracket though the league has discussed the possibility of a reduced Challengers division.
In player news Woodley and Dizon (late of Heat) go to Shock and Velez returns to Shock without missing any events but the shocker is the return of Todd Adamson. While Todd's role is unclear Coach Bruno threatened to return to the playing field with some regularity last season. Could Shock field two OG's in 2015?
Whatever happens 2015 is shaping up to be one wild ride.

Friday, January 30, 2015


Acronym humor. Or red pill humor if you know the score. It stands for Pros Go Their Own Way. And, who knows, in some alternate universe reality it could happen. If it did it might work like this.
A dozen pro teams decide enough is enough. Their present course offers no future. Thinking about it they conclude there is a potentially viable tournament alternative to the league they currently compete in. First thing they do is consider the logistics of operating independently. Given their current format or something similar they need one field for three days. And they need referees and perhaps neutral oversight in the interests of fairness. As a group they currently pay around 36K an event in entry fees. That becomes their working capital per event. Let's say they contact some of the better known and larger regional tournament series promoters to see if they have any interest in hosting a pro event in conjunction with one of their regularly scheduled tournaments. They target series that have a permanent facilities base. Someplace like an OXCC or a Cousins Dallas or a Pev's perhaps. The goal isn't to increase costs to the host but to provide the potential for value added. Secondary possibilities might be paintball fields that would fit the tournament criteria required of a pro event. The goal is to use existing permanent field set-ups. Scheduling pro events in conjunction with regional events provides a built in audience, raises the profile of the regional series and helps support tournament paintball where it grows.
Great as far as it goes but it's still all money being spent. There needs to be a way to generate revenue as well since the ultimate goal is to make money and make the "professional" part of pro paintball meaningful--even in a modest way--and potentially sustainable.
On site at each pro event access to the pro field is restricted, bleachers added and tickets sold to watch the pro matches live. Keep the ticket prices low and fill the bleachers. This isn't the principle source of revenue. Choose a media partner with the expertise to set-up and operate a web-accessible live feed of the event closer to what the Millennium are doing than the PSP. It can always be built out if income warrants but in the early stages costs need to be controlled. Using the same or other media partners film additional elements of each match; in the pits, extra on-field angles and shots. The object is to produce post-production individual matches with added content value, behind the scenes, in the heat of battle and player/coaches interviews, etc. Charge modest fees for the live feed during the event. (With fewer outlets and little connection to the pros otherwise will paintball industry be willing to advertise during events and in other event-related content?) Make individual matches available for cheap downloads post event and offer full event DVDs as well. At this point there are a number of revenue streams and anyone who wants to follow the pro game can mix and match content options but all of them are provided exclusively by the teams and their media partners.
Other options may exist as well. If sponsorships have any value at all (now or in the future) instead of being beholden to the industry sponsors the teams would be in control. Individual teams would be free to arrange whatever deals they wanted or the collective could offer exclusive rights--the paintball of pro paintball--and be promoted as such in all the pro media content.
Initially the unknown concerns are what sort of numbers can reasonably be expected to pay for pro paintball content and can those numbers generate enough revenue to match team outlays and eventually turn a profit? Next question would be can those numbers be grown? I don't know but wouldn't it be money better spent trying to create something sustainable than marching in lockstep until the inevitable end comes? It's money already being spent, just add some work and who knows?
What if the pro teams went one step further and offered a season ending championship event? And the only teams invited were those from the hosting regionals and/or other sanctioned series where the best of the best could fight it out for a real national championship.
Of course this couldn't happen except in some alternate universe because in our universe the factory teams wouldn't be allowed to participate and the primary sponsors would pressure many of the other teams not to participate and the status quo would be maintained and the pro teams will simply continue to come and go.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Future of Pro Paintball

Looking rather bleak isn't it? The future of pro paintball, that is. Among the noble but dwindling ranks of hardcore competitors there is a lot of confusion and uncertainty--and if not fear at least concern. What's happening? Why now? What, if anything, can be done about it?
The rather bleak answer is nothing much because the impermanence on display is a feature not a failure. Granted it is also a largely unintended consequence too but once the basic pieces were in place all of this was pretty much inevitable. The PSP's origins were nearly the opposite of what it became--a for profit paintball event promoter. The beginning of the NPPL was as a representative body acting on behalf of aligned tournament teams to improve the quality of events by acting cooperatively. The NPPL was to vet promoters and see to it that events the NPPL teams agreed to attend were held to certain standards. Within a couple of years that morphed into a smaller sub-group from within the NPPL promoting sanctioned events which in turn evolved into the PSP. And an operating assumption of the league is that players and teams have a shelf life--and they act accordingly. The league is, after all, a business. It provides the best tournaments it can and they do their best to get as many teams as possible to play. Who those teams are is ultimately not important because teams come and go. It's just the way things are. What does concern the league is numbers. That is the environment the pro teams compete in.
The other principle contributors (would be virtually irrelevant if the good times had continued to roll) to the coming complete collapse of pro paintball as we've known it in America was the electro-pneumatic marker, the rise of the Russian Legion and the shift from a growing industry to a declining industry. The Legion pushed the existing pro teams to professionalize (and consequently spend more money to be competitive) at nearly the same time sponsorship dollars began to shrink. The end result seen in recent years were a top tier of pro teams that were either the factory teams of a declining industry or teams with independent outside resources. Ironically applying more pressure was the move amongst a few of the independents to buy what they hoped were elite players in order to compete for wins right away.
All today's top tier teams will be gone in 3 years if things stay the way they are. The future pros will be simply some percentage of the best divisional players and either by rule or necessity the standards and demands placed on pro teams will decline. New names will rise up but in the near term future the quality of play will also decline--although making that quantitative judgment may prove difficult or be disputed based on whatever game is then being played. And somewhere around 5 years into the future the cachet of pro paintball will be sufficiently threadbare that it jeopardizes the existence of the PSP. (If it takes that long.)
Could a brighter future exist? Sure, I'm simply extrapolating the near term future. Who knows where competitive paintball might be in twenty or fifty years? (And most of us don't care all that much.) I also think it's possible for a different path to lead to a different outcome. My comments reflect the way things are today.

Monday, January 26, 2015

So Long

Tampa Bay Damage is no more. At least it's no longer a competitive paintball team. Everything else Damage was lives on. The successes and failures. The good and bad times shared. The friends, the family, the camaraderie. Everyone who was a part of making Damage the team it was remains. Along with the memories of all the moments that were team Damage. Like it or not the nature of things is transitory. For every beginning there is an ending. It was a great ride while it lasted.  

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Can the XPL succeed?

If you haven't heard about the XPL check out their website or Facebook page. (I'll wait.) Okay, it is a would be national league looking to build a following primarily by offering a more xball-like (or lite?) format while flashing cash prizes--at least for the winners. The XPL is using APPA for registration and appears to be on board with APA's classification system as well. Entries are a fraction of PSP fees and the venues will all be pre-existing local fields in various spots around the country. For example first up will be a hometown Phoenix event in February followed by a March event in Florida (at the new Tracks & Trails near Ft. Meyers.) The Phoenix event isn't offering an Open division but the Florida event is and 'Open' is included in the (very) thin rulebook. Otherwise it's bread & butter will be D3- D5. The Phoenix event had 39 teams registered when I checked and Florida had 38. Nearly half the Phoenix registrants have already paid.
No, the numbers aren't huge and I doubt they frighten the PSP--yet--but if those kinds of numbers actually show up for the inaugural series of events everyone will begin to pay attention. In part because the teams the XPL is targeting for customers/competitors is the same teams the PSP relies on to a significant degree and if the XPL pulls entry level divisional teams away from the PSP the loss will hurt. Looking at the teams presently registered for Phoenix they appear to be heavily local (no real surprise) and not sporting names I recognize. (Though I confess I'm not any sort of authority on D3/D4 PSP teams.) Even so the Florida list of teams has a number of teams I recognize as PSP regulars or semi-regulars. Both events however are largely populated (so far) with local or regional teams.
All of which is almost meaningless right now. How the XPL does will depend on how well they deliver on their promises. How satisfied the competitors are with the events and whether or not the new league can make a few bucks in the process. For now the most important thing is to not screw it up. That means having viable schedules and staying on time. It means having experienced refs. It means providing oversight and customer service. It means being prepared for unexpected eventualities or at least learning from past (hopefully) small mistakes. It means using these early events to project the right image and build a brand.
Right now interested teams are giving the XPL the benefit of the doubt because it sounds like something they want to do. The first event or two will either support a positive impression or begin to tear it down.
There are things that need to be improved on sooner rather than later. The website is the face of the league. It's okay but some of the efforts are amateurish with misspelled words and poor grammar. If the events are great nobody will care but if the league appears unprofessional now it may put off teams that might otherwise try an event sooner instead of later. Do we play the first one event near us or wait and see how it goes first? And the rulebook is a page, not a book. Nothing about penalties or equipment or even post-preliminary play. Issues will come up at events that require rules in black & white. I could nitpick a few other odds and ends but I trust the point is made.
Can the XPL succeed? Absolutely, warts and all. All it has to do is deliver on promises made (and implicit) and deliver a positive competitive experience for its teams. Come close to that target in the first season  and the XPL may end up turning teams away in the second--and it won't matter if the website is in Portuguese or not.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What Will PSP Pro Look Like In 2015? (part 2)

Okay, let's review--and expand. No sideline coaching could create the occasional moment of high suspense for the audience but it won't be predicated on new displays of player skill but on ignorance.
Imagine two opposing snake players nearly side by side separated by a Wing and neither aware of the other. Definitely suspenseful for the spectators but not a showcase for talent. Conversely two snake players in mirror positions both aware of the other produces another sort of suspense for the educated viewer. Each player is calculating his next move. Is he close enough to run down his opponent? Wire or highway? How well defended is he? Which way is he looking? Sit tight, defend myself, make a move or keep working the inside and crossfield for kills while relying on my support? From my point of view being successful in the second scenario is considerably more difficult but to each their own.
But without sideline coaching players can make (more) successful bunker runs and live (more often.) Given the tendency of even the pros to overrun their targets while often displaying poor technique and the fact the runners are most often shot by someone other than the player they are running down I think it unlikely. The exception being situations where the players involved are isolated on a portion of the field from teammates and opponents alike. For example a three on three where each team has two players on the snake wire and one each in the doritos. In that scenario a game changing opportunity exists on the d-wire. How often does a similar scenario arise in which sideline coaching would make a difference? Not too often.
While it will probably prove to be correct that we will see more diverse breakouts early in events because of the unreleased layouts some other factors will influence results as well. The reason teams might try unique plans is because they are calculating their opponent won't be prepared for it. But the calculation then proceeds to the next question: Does successful execution provide sufficient reward to take the risk? Did we blow up their play, get a couple of quick kills and generally cause havoc? It's all good. Did we lose a body and end up in inferior field position? Not so good. And since no one will have played the layout (much if at all) the answer will likely rest on a couple of other factors. Is the team/coach predisposed to take chances and is the team normally inclined to be more defensive or aggressive? Note that neither factor has anything to do with the actual layout. The point is that in a scenario where a number of the elements are unknowns teams and players will revert to their normal tendencies and probably shade toward the defensive given the uncertainties involved. This would definitely happen at the divisional level but a larger percentage of pro players, even those on nominally defensive teams, are liable to overestimate what they can do in uncertain situations and so may be more inclined to try. And there are a handful of players capable of intuiting these environments more successfully than most but even they are hampered in this situation by the field itself. Whether or not the teams "know" the layout they understand how the game is played in the current environment of a 150x120 field with around 50 props arranged with 2 wires and a center A--and they will prepare accordingly. Will this prove to be a playing environment that encourages aggressive play? Only if the players are aggressively-minded to begin with and should that aggression fail to win points for now it remains an open question how long the aggro efforts last. Finally it's far easier to play defense as a unit than it is to organize and play offense as a team in a playing environment filled with unknowns so even if best case this effort frees up some players to "display their talents" in won't be as a result of superior team play but rather unique individual efforts. (Which may or may not matter to anybody.)
The crux of Xball has always been the balancing act between ROF and movement. And one of the defining characteristics of the 'pro' player was to evaluate, understand and act effectively under the most adverse of circumstances; high volumes of concentrated paint. The pros didn't sit in their bunkers all day when 15 bps (or more) were flying around the field. Nor did they necessarily run all over the place when the ROF was reduced to 10.2--though that is what should have happened if the ROF was previously overwhelming and depressed movement. The move to "true" semi-auto is simply another step in the same process. Of course it is also true that at some ROF restriction it all breaks down and players would then be able to run around almost at will. But would they? Only if it proved to be a winning tactic. [In Dallas I expect to see Ironmen, Shock and X-Factor attempt to push the envelope the hardest--and give the PSP what it wants--but their success will depend on the other pros preparation and the layout.]
Apart from the impact of "true" semi-auto on laning (fewer eliminations?) will be its impact on other aspects of game play; gunfighting, running & gunning, gap control, lead support and more. If players are at a distinct ROF disadvantage running & gunning will they do it anyway? The point is there are dozens of these individual repeated situational scenarios that varying proficiencies of shooting "true" semi will impact. And while it isn't unreasonable to suggest the players get better early on at least game play will be heavily weighted for a "skill" whose impact is only being guessed at presently. If for example snake players are heavily out-gunned routinely with the new firing mode it alters the risk/reward and if support players are less effective in keeping their leads protected it alters the risk/reward for pushing that lead forward. How much that sort of situational change will impact general game play is unknown but as the unknowns stack up the cumulative effect isn't likely to persuade players to be more aggressive and unpredictable.
If the league really wanted to open play up they would stop penalizing aggression with the confetti of red flags that routinely discourages taking any chances at all. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

What Will PSP Pro Look Like In 2015?

An excellent question. I'm glad I asked. In order to offer some ideas it must be assumed the stated changes will be in affect and no radically different additional changes will be added. The league seems to believe (hope?) that the changes will free up the unique creative potential of each team and with less sustained streams of paint in the air facilitate more action packed aggressive paintball--and cost the paint sponsors less. (Seriously. The paint guys will tell you they lose money pretty much every event.) By the way, this is gonna be a long post so I'ma break it up into sections given your limited attention span. No need to thank me.
That outcome is predicated on the notion that no sideline coaching, no early layout release and the so-called "true" semi-auto firing mode will change the nature of the game in ways that will encourage that result. The no sideline coaching is intended to reduce the amount of game flow information snake players have (and can respond to) in real time with the expectation it will result in more aggressive snake play or at least more random snake play. No early layout release forces teams (and players) to evaluate the field and devise plans for competing based solely on their understanding of the game and their inclination as a team. The expectation (assuming some actual serious consideration applies) here is that team styles will emerge creating more dynamic spectator interest and that in general those efforts will be more aggressively-oriented (than the trend of recent seasons.) And the new firing mode is intended to make it easier to move, harder to defend (or deny movement) and tip the risk/reward balance toward faster more aggressive playing styles.
Could things work out that way? It is possible but I think it's unlikely. (The only element that will work as planned is the less paint shot and that will happen for different reasons than assumed though ROF is a contributing factor.)
Interestingly both the PSP and the Millennium are attempting to achieve similar outcomes but are choosing radically different methods. Both want faster more aggressive play. The MS is attempting to alter play balance with their latest bunker kit. They have eliminated the MTs (Mayan Temple, tower, rocket, etc.) and added an extra snake beam and 6 cones. The cones will prove to be difficult to nearly impossible to live in particularly in comparison to the MTs. Per the example the league provided it seems reasonable to expect layout designs that use the cones in important positions that will force them to be played to one degree or another. And high risk props in positions that normally ought to be played will result in some quicker eliminations and/or some new strategies introduced into the game play. At least that seems to be the hope. And that too could work as desired but runs the risk of also alienating some percentage of the players as well. [There is some tipping point between making the bunkers so "technical" game play goes from challenging to just plain frustrating. Will the cones be that point? We'll see.]
The least significant change is the no sideline coaching. It should encourage better on field communication and for some players who may have gotten a little lazy it will push them to prepare better. Otherwise, the principle impact will be a loss of real time game flow information and less information means more uncertainty and uncertainty never has encouraged more aggressive play. Still that's the least of the changes in practical terms. (The only caveat is the rare occasions when players "get lost" and their opponent has no idea where they are.)
No early layout release will have more impact on practice than on the play of the actual matches. Even so I do expect more diversity in breakouts especially on Fridays. Team tendencies will effect play calls and different teams will evaluate the possibilities differently and that will result in more variance initially. However teams will have to learn quickly what is working and what isn't and (hopefully) adjust accordingly. By Saturday and certainly Sunday the teams will have scouted the other teams and everyone will have seen what everyone else is doing and much of the newness or wrinkles in play will have evened out by that point. By Sunday the matches will be about execution more than tactical choices, as usual, and teams will play the matches consistent with their philosophy, in other words after a fashion they believe gives them the best chance of success. [More on this later because it's important.] Should things play out as I've suggested it means that the Friday game results become the most uncertain in outcome in clashes of unexpected and unprepared for breakouts and game plans. Consequently smart teams will focus on getting successful results and (again) depending on philosophy this will tend to make teams more, not less, risk averse early on. And of course the nature of Race To hasn't changed. A team may start out balls to the wall but if it doesn't work odds are they won't keep at it. Conversely a team that is more deliberate by nature only becomes even more defensive. Nobody wants the point spread to get out of hand ironically because PSP claims justifying the move to Race To initially--a 3 point spread is the kiss of death--is now the conventional wisdom.
The introduction of "true" semi-auto could make the biggest difference. If everyone adapts without too much trouble and most players can shoot around 10 when stationary and upwards of 8 on the move then the impact on game play will be insignificant. If however there is a wide variance among the players in how well they adapt or if the moving ROF is closer to 5-6 the outcome is less predictable but could go either direction--to retaining the status quo or giving the PSP what it seems to want, more action, but that isn't exclusively a function of paint in the air or knowledge of the layout.

Next time VFTD will take a look at how the changes might produce some unintended (and unwanted) consequences.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Latest On Not So Semi-Auto

Geez Louise. Busy day. 2015 PSP schedule released. Check. Website updated. Check. (Love the nearly illegible new font choice!) Got those covered in the day's first post. And now word that the pros have been given a "semi-auto" mode--as of last weekend--to try out. (See this PBN thread for a heaping help of the usual fare.) The first thing to keep in mind when trying to decipher this change is that it has zip zero nada to do with whatever rationale the league offered up for public consumption. Some drivel about player skills and so on iirc. The objective here (along with the no coaching change and no early layout release) is a desperate attempt to give the webcast more universal appeal by altering the risk/reward characteristics of the pro game, ie; they want to speed up play and generate more action. And since they've discovered manipulating layout design doesn't deliver any guarantees this is the next step. Well, that and a pressing desire to give away less paint. If you keep the Big Picture in mind it all makes a certain kind of sense.
Regarding this latest "semi-auto" effort apparently uncapped is out. At least for now. (And probably for good as I suggested when the original announcement was made back in December.) It's now capped at 12.5 bps--what divisional used to shoot--and the new PSP standard software requirement eliminates shot stacking. It not only eliminates shot stacking (or queuing) it also eliminates any shots for trigger pulls that may occur in less than 80 millisecond increments. (A trigger pull every 80 ms would result in a ROF of 12.5 bps.) Without shot stacking the gun will (theoretically) only fire a shot as the result of a recognized trigger pull. I say recognized because in this current configuration it won't recognize any trigger pulls that occur within the 80 ms window. The result is you could pull the trigger 14 times and discharge fewer actual shots. (There's a decent graph explaining this characteristic at the front of the PBN thread.) So while the league is still advertising semi-auto as one pull one shot this particular version isn't anymore semi-auto--by that simple definition--than the ramping guns were.
What the cap and the 80 ms gap do is allow for easy enforcement as the league's hand-held chronographs can enforce that standard. So no need for expensive high speed camera equipment that was never going to work anyway. Is there some wiggle room in this "semi-auto" formulation? Yes, there is but even with the requirement all pro boards be factory standard issue if they can be flashed externally potential problems remain. And the higher the cap the greater the enticement to find ways to shoot faster. In fact with the given rules its possible to cheat the intent and remain legal--which may be why the league has implied it has a variety of enforcement methods available. Time will tell.
In the meantime enjoy the spectacle and when the details make your head hurt remember the Big Picture.  

MLP News

Major league paintball, doh! MLP. Are you new here? Try to get with the program. I guess I should have posted yesterday's speculation sooner. The PSP might have released the 2015 schedule sooner. Naw, probably not. Busy busy busy negotiating park space in Smyrna TN (outside Nashville) for event #2 no doubt. The Sharp Spring Natural Area is part of the city of Smyrna parks system and appears to be predominantly wide swatches of open grass fields--which works for paintball quite nicely. According to historic weather patterns the norm is low to mid 70s in early May but we'll see. Nobody expects snow in Texas in March either but crazier things have happened. The last time--a long time ago--I was in Nashville for a paintball tournament it was cold and dreary. Fingers crossed.
The long time order of events has been altered as well with Chicago moving to event #4 in August. If Chicago can retain its recent attendance it will go a long way toward negating the traditional event #4 attendance dip--which seems to happen no matter where that event is hosted. MAO (at OXCC) takes over as the mid-season event. While a fine venue it is ultimately limited in how many teams can be accommodated so I wouldn't expect it to rival the old Chicago numbers but anything around 180 teams ought to be considered a great success.
Perusing the updated league website the only other note of interest was in Prizes. (Although I was amused that to see "How to be a vendor" was currently listed under the Media tab.) I don't honestly know if these prizes are new in significant ways but it seems like there have been some changes made so here goes. Champions gets 10K for first and 4K for second per event with another 10K for the series title. Challengers finalists get half off an entry. There's money to two places in D1 and D2 at each event. The rest of the divisional event prizes are entry fee related and all the divisional series prizes will be half off a full season's entries for the next division up.
I expect there will be more PSP news before the Dallas event so stay tuned.
Over in Euroland the Millennium announced their annual upgrade kit from Sup'Air and the 2015 bunker kit adds one snake section and replaces the Mayan Temple (MT) (rocket) with 6 cones. The cones are about 4 feet in diameter at their base and approximately 6.5 feet tall. No word yet as to whether or not they can be laid down or not. It seems since the league was struggling to design fast paced action layouts they've rid themselves of a bunker type everyone can play for another "technical" prop that will encourage players to ignore the Cones altogether unless compelled to play them. On the example field provided with the news release it's apparent that much of the opposite wire can put enormous pressure on the corner Cone. It will prove difficult for even compact players and, depending on placement, mighty damned technical for everybody else.
It seems a curious choice given the efforts the MS made in other off season changes to be more inviting and accessible. It's one thing to challenge the players and another thing completely to make the game unplayable for some. It wouldn't surprise me if some of the national leagues retain and use some of their available MT's once the season is underway instead of slavishly following the Millennium's lead. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

East of the Mississippi

I thought it might be amusing to play a little what if while we all await the PSP schedule for 2015. What if rumors are accurate suggesting a Nashville event will replace a west coast event? That would put the whole season schedule east of the Mississippi. Is a league that ignores have the country a national series? What makes a national series, well, national? Is it venues? Is it the draw? Is it the presence of pro teams? Or upper division teams in general that would otherwise have no place to compete?
What if there were no pro teams participating? Or the slate of pro teams was similar to those taking the field the last season of the NPPL?

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Peter Principle (Sorta)

A few of the OGs will recognize the post title. Back in the last millennium--no not the European tournament series--The Peter Principle was a popular fad in the business community. It posited that good employees were promoted to their level of incompetence. Every promotion was earned on merit until that good employee was no longer capable of doing a good job because eventually nearly everyone reaches the limit of their abilities. But it's impossible to tell when that limit will be reached because their past is filled with success.
This post, btw, is the year's first overtly devoted to the deficiencies of the (nearly) universal classification system employed by APPA and supported by the PSP. (Or vice versa. Whatever.)
The prior post published entitled, 'One Undeniable Truth About Paintball' was an introduction for today's post (and in case you failed to pick up on it was about so-called sandbagging. Now go back and read it again. Puts a different spin on things, doesn't it?)
Not so long ago there was a robust national scene--until there wasn't--while competitive paintball at the local level was frequently a free-for-all. Within this time frame the national level format was changed dramatically, a competing league evolved, the industry hit a brick wall and the turn out for traditional 5-man began eroding at the national level.
Within that environment the original classification system was introduced. It was considerably cruder than the present version. As most of you well know it not only classifies players but also engages in the redistribution of talent by formulaic determination of where a given player can or cannot play. It does so based on team rosters and team results. It does not--because it can not--evaluate and rate the player's performance. That means if a team rosters 12 players and 6 or 7 of them play most of the points all 12 are treated identically by the system.
By the numbers somewhere around 15% of a divisions competitors will be moved up a rank by season's end. Given however that multiple scores are required the teams that compete more frequently are effectively ranked up at a rate greater than 15%. The result tends to diminish the standard of competition in that division from year to year and elevate some teams and players who prove unprepared or unable to compete at the next level--and the end result of that is a significant attrition rate among teams and players.
(The gist of the counterargument is that teams and players quit everyday regardless of division of play and the life cycle of a competitive player is around 4 years so it's important to keep the up-and-comers motivated and with places to go.)
However even assuming all of that is correct shouldn't there be a focus on and an effort made toward retaining as many players and teams as possible while upholding a standard of competition that makes the divisions meaningful tiers of accomplishment?
For a league, an industry and current players everywhere concerned the sport is in decline isn't it rather foolish to be actively driving away players who want to play the game in the name of a formulaic fairness?

Next time, All Paintball Is Local.

Friday, January 9, 2015

One Undeniable Truth About Paintball

There's always somebody better than you. Even if your name is Ollie Lang. (It applies to more than just paintball too.) Maybe not better all the time but given the object of any competition is to win--and nobody always wins--on any given day there's somebody better than you. Even if you consider yourself a winner.
Now there are a lot of applications that can be drawn from that simple truth but I have a particular one in mind. Once upon a time in paintball's distant past--a dozen years ago or so--competitive paintball was easy to sort out. There was Pro, Amateur, Novice and eventually Rookie was added to the mix. At the national level the differentiations were mostly self-selected. There was always a team or two here and there that didn't belong but mostly because they weren't good enough, not because they were too good. And, surprisingly, it all worked out, by and large. The majority of national level competitors were there for the experience and to discover where they (currently) fit on the grandest stage in paintball. There were (a few) winners and there were (more) losers and everybody knew how that was gonna work before they got there.
The local level was sometimes, okay, oftentimes a different story. While national events were a big deal the locals tended to attract attendance with prizes. Although sometimes it wasn't even about the prizes. Sometimes it was just a matter of reputation and sometimes it was an issue of skill. With only four categories of player (or team status) it was possible to have some fairly wide swings of ability even within divisions--at least that was the claim. And when some sweet prizes were on the line, well, you can see where this was leading. Promoters would exclude some teams cus they were "too good" (meaning nobody else would show up) and the divisions were eventually divided further. Further divisions reduced the size and content of individual prize packages--and over time more than a few promoters, events and series disappeared.
Paintball now has a top down movement to systematize at least 8 player ranks and to what end? Fairness? (But what's fair?) To encourage participation? To make everybody a winner? Is it working?
I don't think so and in the next couple of posts [or at least soon] I'll get around to the whys and why nots.
In the meantime allow one undeniable truth of paintball to sink in: There is always somebody better than you.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Reminder

I never do this but I'ma make an exception this time. (Okay maybe once or twice but the exception proves the rule.) There's a new video out about a paintball team--yeah, I know, you've seen it a hundred times--except you haven't. This one is special. I don't watch paintball action videos. They're boring. The mechanics of the game are pretty straightforward and different players will execute them with varying degrees of grace and skill but none of that tells you anything important about playing competitive paintball.
 'The Awakening' condenses both the essence of competition and the experience into a nicely crafted short (13 minute) video. You can watch it on YouTube or over at PBN where I first saw it. It features a D3 team out of New England called the Bay State Bandits but that really isn't important. It could be the story of any player, any team, any where, any time. And it tells a universal story shared by all competitive ballers--with one not insignificant distinction. These guys are winners but were once everything but. Another truth about winning is it really doesn't much matter what level--at least not in how that final success feels; the relief, the joy, the pride and accomplishment. But wherever you are in your competitive paintball journey 'The Awakening' is also a reminder that win or lose the game and the grind is something you share with like-minded ballers everywhere.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Functional Team Chemistry

It might be worth your while to check out ROI Of Pro Paintball post before getting into this one if you missed it. It is only peripherally about team chemistry but still serves as a good lead-in. As noted in the previous post most efforts at building team chemistry occur off the field of play and are, at best, a hit or miss proposition. Teammates may end up being the best of friends and yet it somehow doesn't translate onto the field. The reason for this is while positive relationships amongst players is normally considered a facilitator of team chemistry it isn't functional team chemistry or even a substitute for it.
Before going any further it might be helpful to try and define what team chemistry is in a functional sense. (As opposed to the usual--and nebulous--notion of a group of players really getting along and having a good time together. After all, what exactly does that get you if your objective is winning?)
Functional team chemistry is about transforming the play of five individuals into that of one team; of elevating personal play to corporate play.
It doesn't happen because everyone is friends. It doesn't happen after some non-specific number of practices or events. It doesn't happen just because you work hard. It doesn't happen if everyone really wants to win. It doesn't happen if everyone piles into a single hotel room on the road.(etc)
It begins to happen when everyone puts team first. It begins to happen when everyone takes on field communication seriously. It begins to happen when everyone shares a common understanding of how the game should be played. It begins to happen when the game plan provides a unified team goal for each play and it begins to happen when each player understands his or her role in executing the game plan.
Easier said than done these are basic building blocks to the kind of functional team chemistry that elevates contenders to champions.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Doing The Math

With yesterday's announcement by XSV that the team will take off 2015 the pro team count continues to dwindle--and I expect there to be a few more announcements. Once the dust finally settles I think the carry over from 2014 will be 12 pro teams. If that proves correct then doing the math Challengers would need to add 8 D1 teams to fill the bracket. Should 8 D1 teams be willing to move up such a move would decimate the standard of play in D1 and in Challengers. [The new standard of D1 excellence would be last year's 9th ranked team and 8 formerly D1 teams would now have a pro label slapped on them when at least half of them couldn't win in D1. Of course this routinely happens to one degree or another all the time due to the classification rules.]
One purpose in creating Challengers was to make an intermediate step between D1 and Champions because it was evident the gap (in the standard of play) was growing. The idea was to give teams a secondary pro bracket where teams would have an opportunity to develop and the best would eventually be able to compete in the Champions bracket. When promotion and relegation moves up (and down) two teams a year in accordance with the current rules there's no (significant) dilution of talent but wholesale team changes will trash the credibility of both divisions--and rightly so. (It was also a way to shoehorn more teams into Pro and still be able to maintain a viable schedule. A 12 team Pro bracket is pretty much the limit based on the current format before some matches would be forced onto other fields.)
But what alternative does the PSP have? (2 of the top 8 teams in D1 last year didn't even play all the events. Are 8 D1 teams gonna commit to competing in 5 Challengers events?)
On the other hand if my calculations are wrong there could be as many as 15 pro teams ready for 2015. (There won't be.) Of course that still requires pulling up 5 D1 teams--which isn't as bad as 8--but still not so good. Looks like more changes are coming to the pros than the ones the PSP have in mind.