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Old 12-31-2013, 02:32 AM   #1 (permalink)
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The Persistence of Mediocrity

I haven't really posted here in awhile but I've been doing some thinking, dangerous stuff. TLDR I used to play A LOT and then mostly quit due to lack of interest in the community. These are my localized observations; your mileage may vary.

There's been a lot of discussion on the decline of tournament paintball. There is certainly an economic impact on the entire paintball industry. Retail sales and recreational attendance are way, way down from early 2000 numbers, this is irrefutable. Still, paintball tournaments in a way have been in a decline for awhile as well.

I've been heavily involved in competitive shooting for the past two years and it's treated me well. Last year, I played a handful of tournaments, but mostly pump things. I guested on a team for a random 5 man, and played a day of X Ball rotations; that was about it.

If we track the progression of tournaments, some things become clear. During the 80s and 90s, there was a mostly older player base. Middle and upper class men in their 30s and 40s had the money to devote towards a sport. There were different formats and divisions but for the most part, there were two or three categories: one for rookies, one for "novice" sort of players, and then a professional division. This kept things relatively simple. Attendance was high and competition was fierce: there were a lot of great prizes, especially at events like Skyball. There were also a lot of well publicized regional championships with great prize packages. Winning a big event carried prestige as well. Even 6th or 7th place at an event with 300 teams was a real accomplishment. For now, we'll ignore the fact that large scale paintball tournaments have a lot of luck aspect involved.

Over time however, especially with the modern NPPL and PSP, there's been a lot of fragmentation of divisions. APPA recognizes divisions down to 6 (Young Guns), and then 5 - 1, and then Semi Pro or whatever it's called now, and Professional. Why?

Perhaps it was a business decision to get more people involved, but that implies that players stopped showing up to events and needed to be pandered to in order to want to compete. This "fair playing ground" concept was doomed from the start since there was no universal ranking system and no way to really track any player's experience level.

Either way, at least around here in New England, the highest rank most people will receive is D3. Since NPPL is pretty much dead, APPA is the only really recognized ranking system. Players progress rather quickly from D5 to D4, and that's where many get stuck. D3 is even harder to escape, since you need to participate in D2 events to earn any more points. APPA has also made multiple, major changes to how it calculates rank over the past few years, making it an even more confusing system.

APPA doesn't take local events into account unless that field signs up for it. I've played with guys who played NPPL on a national level but had to APPA points and still qualified as "beginners". Even worse are the ambiguous terms used for local events. Some local tournaments have an "Open" division only accessible to D4 players and lower. Others have "Rookie" divisions that are open to anyone who hasn't played on a national level.

People always have this pervasive anger about people 'sandbagging'. As a tournament organizer, I dealt with tons of accusations of other players being too advanced. We do want to make sure players have somewhere to compete against individuals of a relatively similar level, but regulating this in paintball is impossible. There are too many factors. There is an individual player's skill level, how that player interacts with a team, that team's performance, how many players that team lost between seasons, etc etc etc. Why bother?

There's always been a weird paradigm at play; someone who puts in time and effort to be good and achieves a high national rank is de-facto banned from most local events, since most events seemed to be geared to D3 and lower teams. Its like we're punishing our most successful players (assuming momentarily that the ranking system ISN'T arbitrary). This extends all the way down the ladder; if someone can get away with playing at a lower rank and win prizes for it, there's ZERO incentive to move up. People are more than happy to call themselves D4 heroes.

That might be the problem though: people seem to be happy with lower ranking titles, and there are no legitimate options higher up the ladder for them to pursue on a regional level. In New England, you hit that D3 level and you're stuck. Most fields in the northeast (including NY, NJ, and PA) seem to have this weird "D4 and under" restriction: I think they presume that reffing less experienced players is somehow easier or will not cause drama. So, you do your best on the regional level, hit your D3 cap, and knock yourself out of playing what few locals are left. Teams aren't travelling to play, so they will never earn D2 or higher points. Perhaps conversely, players looking to play D2 may not get a shot because their experience only shows D4 and D3 events. If D4 is the dominant competition level in terms of competition frequency and prize opportunity, is it a surprise that everyone ends up there?

I am willing to guarantee that if emphasis was put on overall finish instead of divisional placement, we'd see better competition. The divisional soup is just out of control. It does nothing to track a player's legitimate playing progress. Both NPPL and PSP have tried so many divisions, its insane: 5 man this, tactical that, race to whatever. All of those novelty divisions seemed cool and I wish that they'd work, but obviously they don't make comebacks because they aren't a viable option. Teams don't want to play and the leagues can't make money on it.

The one thing I like about competitive shooting so far: for the formats I'm into, there is class recognition so that people at different stages of skill development are rewarded for their hard work, and people who do not devote all their time to shooting can still compete against like-skilled individuals. At the same time, the prestige and awards are for the overall winners. People don't want to be the D Class champion forever, it's not a title that bears a lot of clout.

Either way, around here, local tournaments are way way down. In Connecticut back in the 2000s, there were around 6 places running local tournaments. Now, one of the largest fields can't even get people to play trophies-only tournaments. If given the chance on a regional scale, do you think people would step up to the plate, or would they hide in lower divisions? What if there were state championships that offered D2 APPA points? What if there were GREAT prizes for the best divisions, where 10th place in a pro division was better than 1st place for the next one down?

All rhetorical questions for discussion's sake of course: the tournament scene is tied heavily into the industry's general success and the subjectivity of paintball competition means that an organized ranking system is impossible.
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Old 12-31-2013, 03:24 AM   #2 (permalink)
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I agree that a nationally recognized ranking system is useless. Especially with the consideration that many area's can not support anything above D3. I think the APPA would be better off allowing leagues and regions to use their template for their own ranking system to break up local divisions more so that their is legitamit class seperation.
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Old 12-31-2013, 08:24 AM   #3 (permalink)
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I've never played speedball, or been to a tournament... So take my comments with that in mind.

But, it seems to me, that the biggest problem with paintball is it is primarily an "individual" sport, that is played in the national level as a "team" sport. This by its nature is self destructive over time, as people by their nature want to be the "best" but, they are limited to the skill level of the players that they can cobble together to play with them on their team. Often players that aren't as good as they are, but will show up to play...

Finding good team mates that have similar skill level and drive to succeed would be very difficult and likely one of the "issues" of high level tournament play... Especially when you are talking about advancement. If you have one really good player, and 4 ok players, typcially the good player is running the team. So of course he wants to advance, but his other team mates are holding him back... And his other team mates SHOULD be in the lower level...

If I wanted to go play a tournament, I would have to find a group of players to play with... As I can't go by myself, and honestly in this economic time, most people I know that are big into paintball, just can't justify the expense of team practice and play...

If there was a place for single players to be able to compete at the national stage I would think it would popular, as so many of the better players just don't have the time or talents to "scout" out other team mates, or the ability to meet up to practice as a team...

Has paintball ever done events where you just show up and throw your name in a hat, and individually get scored in your matches, so that you can advance, or is it only a "team" advancement system?
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Old 12-31-2013, 10:24 AM   #4 (permalink)
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I agree with a lot of what NSGSplatmaster posted. I've always thought that, especially at the local level, there is not enough incentive for players to want to move up. The prizes at lower levels should be a LOT smaller, so that the reward to win at the lower levels is not close to that of placing 3rd in the next division up. But hand in hand with that comes another problem. That is finding, training, and retaining referees that can handle a sport happening at the speed at which paintball is played, with limited vision (obstacles on the field). It sucks to lose when you know your opponent cheated (or the ref made a bad call), especially if there is a worthwhile prize you just lost because of it. When that happens a few times, that alone can be enough to turn you off competitive play.

I've always thought that there should just be one "National" tournament (the World Cup if you will), with all other tournaments being Regional (The PSP could run the regional tournaments as well). Part of the prize package of the Regional tournament would be paying for the winners (or top 2 or 3) to attend the National tournament. That way the National tournament is a showcase of the best teams, rather than anyone that wanted to show up, the National Tournament would only have the top level of players (1 division, not 7 or 8 divisions at the World Cup). The regional level is where everyone else plays (less travel costs).

I also have always thought that each level should increase in intensity, rather than everyone playing at the same ROF. At the lowest level, that ROF should be relatively low. That would attract more people into the game in the first place, but would be an incentive for those serious about the sport to want to move up because serious players aren't going to want to stay in the "wimpy" levels, which works well for those who want to play seriously and those who don't. Couple that with much better prizes at the higher levels, and there won't be many players playing lower than they should be playing.
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Old 12-31-2013, 11:14 AM   #5 (permalink)
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I agree with FreeEnterprise and Horizon on most of what they had to say. Having only played in less than a handful of local tournaments and getting our butts handed to us in each case because we were the only team with cobbled together once-in-a-while players vs dedicated regulars for all the other teams, here is my perspective.

We didn't expect to win and, of course, we didn't. I and one other player were the only ones that understood the true cost of playing at a competitive speedball event and the rest of our team and sponsor had a bit of sticker shock at how much paint was needed, even when we were getting shot out fairly quickly and losing.

Horizon mentioned a gradation of ROF from lower levels to higher levels. I think the ROF isn't the problem for getting participation up to be able to properly support the leagues and have proper local, regional, and national divisions with appropriate skill levels at each point.

The problem is the cost. I feel that rather than limit the ROF, let players shoot anything but limit the total paint per player on the field. This isn't a new idea and gets batted around these forums from time to time. If I knew that I'd be playing x games at most and our entire team could only care x amount of paint at y cost, we could budget for it more easily. And if that amount of paint is real low like 40-100 balls per player per game at most, more players could afford to try the tournament scene.

Some fields, event organizers might not like that limited paint idea as their profit models are built around it. Perhaps alternative pricing structures are needed in that regard.

As the game is an individual sport as FreeEnterprise noted, perhaps having a top gun, 1v1 style format similar to other individual sports would allow the skilled individuals to shine without being held back by lower level teammates, accidentally (or deliberately) hiding among them, or feeling cut out from local options.

1v1 with limited paint would be affordable, easy to get teams for (just yourself), more spectator friendly (fewer things to focus on at once and more movement), and have lower reffing staff requirements.

That said, it is fun working with your pals on an actual team.

Just my random thoughts on the subject.
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Old 12-31-2013, 11:30 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by esperto96 View Post

The problem is the cost. I feel that rather than limit the ROF, let players shoot anything but limit the total paint per player on the field. This isn't a new idea and gets batted around these forums from time to time. If I knew that I'd be playing x games at most and our entire team could only care x amount of paint at y cost, we could budget for it more easily. And if that amount of paint is real low like 40-100 balls per player per game at most, more players could afford to try the tournament scene.
I absolutely agree and forgot to mention that along with the low ROF should be a lower amount of total paint carried by teams, increasing with higher divisions. Having lower ROF only, although it might help some, would just mean that players are shooting non stop if they were to be allowed to carry unlimited paint which would not lower the intensity level enough. Lower ROF coupled with lower paint limits is what should be happening in the lower levels.
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Old 12-31-2013, 11:54 AM   #7 (permalink)
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I always felt that divisions should be something more than just experience. I agree that the prize money in the lowest divisions should be minimal or non-existent. I would much rather play in a tournament where prizes were determined by drawing with every team having a chance for prizes and PERHAPS the teams who did the best having a better chance (think more ping-pong balls in the drawing machine for more wins). How well you do should not directly impact your prizes except in the highest divisions.

Why is it that D4 is playing with the same equipment as D1? If I go watch my local car races these guys are not running NASCAR vehicles. IIRC even the Nationwide series (or whatever it is) does not run the same equipment as NASCAR. I may be off in these examples as I am not really a fan of auto racing but I think my point is made. I would love it if D4 were a pump (perhaps going as far as stock class or limited paint) division with virtually no prizes

My "ideal" set-up

D4: Stock class (however it ends up defined) with limited paint - no prizes or random draw prizes. Fields could make some attempt to limit team experience and prevent stacking.

D3: Open class pump limited paint - no prizes or random draw prizes Fields could make some attempt to limit team experience and prevent stacking

D2: Semi-only unlimited paint - minimal prizes - at least under 50% of prizes offered in D1 if not even lower

D1: Ramping unlimited paint

You could even sneak in more divisions such as mech only. At the end of the day the top one or two teams from each division could participate in a round robin "bragging rights" playoff that did not effect prizes.

Of course this would require enough participation.

For the record: ever try to ref a low level tournament with ramping? The refs take a lot of shots.
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Old 12-31-2013, 12:17 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Lohman446 View Post
Why is it that D4 is playing with the same equipment as D1? If I go watch my local car races these guys are not running NASCAR vehicles. IIRC even the Nationwide series (or whatever it is) does not run the same equipment as NASCAR. I may be off in these examples as I am not really a fan of auto racing but I think my point is made. I would love it if D4 were a pump (perhaps going as far as stock class or limited paint) division with virtually no prizes

My "ideal" set-up

D4: Stock class (however it ends up defined) with limited paint - no prizes or random draw prizes. Fields could make some attempt to limit team experience and prevent stacking.

D3: Open class pump limited paint - no prizes or random draw prizes Fields could make some attempt to limit team experience and prevent stacking

D2: Semi-only unlimited paint - minimal prizes - at least under 50% of prizes offered in D1 if not even lower

D1: Ramping unlimited paint

You could even sneak in more divisions such as mech only. At the end of the day the top one or two teams from each division could participate in a round robin "bragging rights" playoff that did not effect prizes.

Of course this would require enough participation.

For the record: ever try to ref a low level tournament with ramping? The refs take a lot of shots.
The base problem that is in my area is 90% of the players are D4. We use APPA ranking but only have 6 events a year in the series so it takes a good team 2 seasons to move up in class, and a average to sub-average team a LOT longer. And thats if teams stay together that long and players don't drop for 3 years and loose their ranking and start over at the bottom. Not that I have a problem with it but everyone would be playing pump.

I think that asking rookie to play stock class is a little on the extreme side as it does require more and skill awareness to play pump.

I am fine with ramping, it equalizes the ability of players to shoot the same rate of fire and focus on other aspects of the game but I think they need to bring the new 10.2bps cap down to all levels and raise the ramp threshold so guys can't just flick the trigger at a measly 5pbs with one finger. At least bump it to 7 so most players will have to use two fingers and somewhat walk it.


My main ***** is the lack of distinguishment between divisions.
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Old 12-31-2013, 12:33 PM   #9 (permalink)
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I don't think the equipment should necessarily change between divisions. Soccer/Football is played with the same shoes, shorts, and ball regardless of whether it's a pickup match at the local park or FIFA World Cup.

Having different formats is fine. Have local, regional, national pump events. Have local, regional, national semi events. Even though they're both "paintball", Nascar isn't Formula-One isn't WRX isn't Midget Racing. They each have their place in auto racing. Same for the different flavors of paintball.
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Old 12-31-2013, 01:04 PM   #10 (permalink)
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There is a huge challenge in human nature

Competitive drive can be many things - in some it is a drive to be the best and compete with the best. In others it can drive them to take every possible advantage to be the best even when those advantages are neither fair nor right. There is also a full gamut in between the extremes.

Human nature is such that quantifying these things in a way that is acceptable to all is impossible - even to a majority is difficult.

How do you quantify skill, drive, experience, ability? Our sport is very physical and some who once were highly competitive may now be hyper relaxed through age, injury, inactivity. Does one arbitrarily choose when to drop or advance? how do you balance this?

I have seen competition bring out champions, monsters, build friendships, destroy them.

and to be honest with you - I see no easy balance or fix

I hope they find a good way to level the playing field for those who seek to compete

But I find solace in that there is a field - for those of us who simply wish to enjoy

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