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.