Friday, September 11, 2009

Rethinking Tournament Paintball: Part Three

Once again I want to make a quick mention that Part Three of this series is just going to cover one aspect of tournament paintball—the various levels of tournament play. So please keep in mind that this “Part Three” is just a piece of the puzzle.

Division Four, Three, Two, One, Semi-Pro, Pro, SPL, M5… Five-Man Seven-Man, X-Ball… Are These All Really Necessary Components of National Level Play?

Sometimes if you say something out loud you can really feel the effects of a statement. So, indulge me for a second and read the title of this blog once out loud. “Division Four, Three, Two, One, Semi-Pro, Pro, SPL, M5… Five-Man Seven-Man, X-Ball… Are These All Really Necessary Components of National Level Play?”

It even SOUNDS ridiculous, doesn’t it?

And the answer is “no.” These are NOT all necessary components.

As much as I love sports like baseball, football and basketball, when I go to a major league game I don’t want to see an opening act. When I walk into a major league baseball stadium I have no desire to see a minor league game first, in-between, or after the big boys play. I’m there to see the best the sport has to offer. When I go to the X-Games I’m there to see the best of the best in freestyle motocross, BMX and skateboarding. If I want to see the lower level perform I’ll catch an FMX amateur contest. No disrespect intended to the lower level athletes of any sport including paintball, but there’s a reason the professional ranks are separated from the rest.

In other sports there are lower level regional series’ that feed into the pros—like baseball’s Instructional Leagues, A-Ball, AA Ball and AAA Ball. Why not paintball? Regional leagues are more affordable for the low to mid-level teams that are finding sponsorship dollars hard to come by. It would give teams a chance to develop (or not) before they shell out thousands of dollars to attend national-level tournaments. And it would give teams something to strive for.

From The Fan’s Perspective

Paintball has been played competitively now for 26 years and outside of a handful of fans that show up hoping to snag a Dynasty jersey at each event, competitive paintball has very little fan base. The NXL has been trying to build brand identity for its teams for close to a decade and it’s not working. The NPPL and now USPL have also tried to no avail.

It’s difficult to build team name/logo recognition when you have 90 teams playing in each event. Would it make sense to separate the pros and possibly the semi-pros from the other levels? As a fan I know I’d drive an hour or two to watch the best eight teams in the world battle for eight hours on a Saturday. Imagine what it would be like to have events like that every weekend around the U.S. all season long? Just a thought, an idea, and something to get you thinking differently.

Format Standardization Anyone?

Maybe the competitive paintball format is also just too hard to follow to develop a fan base? Maybe the sport is too fractured, too confusing, and lacking consistency. “[There are] too many options for competitive formats. [We] need to consolidate all these formats into one standard. For the game to ever be considered a sport there can only be one universal standard,” Larry Motes, founder of the CFOA told me.

For most sports, not all, that’s the case. There are three outs in every inning in every baseball game played anywhere in the world. Four balls is a walk; four bases on the diamond; nine players on the field; and three strikes and you’re gone. And it’s that way in the US., Japan, the Dominican Republic, Cuba Australia and China. Baseball is baseball. The same holds true for soccer, football, basketball, hockey, tennis, and just about every other team sport you’ll find anywhere in the world. If we’re trying to build a fan base—one that attracts not just fans but future players, we need to look at this much more closely.

Maybe five-man becomes the standard, or maybe it’s X-Ball. Or more likely it’s something we haven’t tried yet. Maybe the game can take aspects of all of these formats—or none of them for that matter. I don’t know, but I do know it isn’t working. Our sport is shrinking. From the team counts at most of the national level events, to the amount of qualified refs, to the number of leagues—tournament paintball is getting smaller and less significant every year. And that’s bad news for all of us because as I’ve said in an earlier part of this series, tournament paintball is the public face of the game.

I’d love to hear your comments, ideas and feedback. Please leave a comment or shoot me an email at, I’ll be back Saturday, September 19th with another part of this blog series. Until them I’ll be in Atlanta at the Extravaganza beating this into everyone’s brain.

Thanks for reading—John Amodea

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Rethinking Tournament Paintball: Part Two

Before I get into the meat of this blog I want to point out that I am only going to be discussing the game play, strategy, and team aspects of tournament paintball here in this Part Two. My next few blogs will be more focused on things like tournament format consistency, leadership, promoter issues, equipment and rules to name just a few. So please keep in mind that this “Part Two” is just a piece of the puzzle.

See “Rethinking” Intro Here:

See Part One Here:

Tournament Paintball: Where’s the Strategy?

I’m thinking about the different team sports that I watch or have participated in over the years and one thing that they all have in common is each have true levels of strategy. Every last one of them. Team sports that are strategic include organized plays, formations, sets, or whatever the terminology is for that particular sport.

Formations, Plays, Styles & Variations = Strategy & Interest

Football has all types of formations and variations, as well as styles of play. Take defense for example: You have the 3-4 or 4-3 defense which are completely different from each other. You have a huge variety of plays that come out of those formations such as linebacker blitzes, safety blitzes, zone blitzes, “cover two,” to name a few. On offense you have two, three, or four wide receiver sets, two tight end sets, and many more formations. And from those formations there are hundreds of plays a team can run. There are different styles of play: West Coast Offense, Run and Shoot, old school smash-mouth offense, wildcat, and many more.

Baseball has essentially one type of offensive formation but dozens of plays. Sacrifice bunts, stolen bases, moving runners over, hit and run play, and the run and hit play (which is different), just to name a few. On defense there are all types of things that go on. Defensive players shift around pitch by pitch depending on what the pitcher is throwing. There are several types of plays called during one inning. This is especially so between the shortstop and second baseman if there are runners on base. On top of all that the manager makes calls from the dugout to the pitcher, catcher and defensive position players.

Hockey, basketball, soccer, volleyball, and just about every team sport I can think of all incorporate strategy, plays, and varied formations and positioning into their games. To me those are the things that make these games interesting to play and/or watch. For example, it’s third down and eight yards to go and the offense is in a four receiver set with no running back. Does the defense blitz, fake the blitz and drop back into coverage, or do they just play a straight “Tampa Two” defense? Does the QB call an audible and throw a wide receiver screen, or do they keep the “go” route that was originally called?

This is why we watch. This is why we have game parties. This is why we yell and scream. This is why we develop fan loyalties. I can make a case like this for each of the team sports I mentioned above.

Running Speed Is Not a Strategy. Neither Are Gun Skills.

Enter tournament paintball in its current state. Where is the strategy? Running is not a strategy, it’s a skill. Snap-shooting and running-and-shooting are not strategies, they are skills. Bumping out to the tape bunker is not a play, it’s a move. Bunkering the guy in front of you is a move, not a play. There’s hardly any “thinking” left in tournament paintball for players. It’s all instinct, speed, gun skills and old fashion common sense read-and-react playing. Strategy involves having a variety of plays to choose from. Strategy takes time and there’s no time in a high level tournament paintball game that lasts two to three minutes. There is no game in paintball.

I asked Bob Long, one of the greatest captains and game strategists in the history of competitive paintball if he agreed and he said, “I agree one hundred percent! There’s no strategy anymore. There’s basically two break-outs… break wide or bump out to the tape bunkers a few seconds in. That’s it. Two options. Then it’s who can make the moves fastest and everybody knows what the moves are. That’s the strategy. Before, when we played in the woods, you could do all kinds of things. You could draw teams into an ambush; you could set up plays; you could crawl to a spot on the field; you could set up strategies to get players where you needed them. Strategy is gone from the game now.” Tom Cole, former Bad Company captain/owner and long time pro tournament player added, “I agree that the strategy has fallen off. The game more revolves around gun skills [than game strategy]. I don't see anything changing that unless the fields get much bigger or the power slows way down.”

Let me be clear about something. I’m not advocating that tournament paintball be played exclusively in the woods. Truly tournament paintball can’t be played in the woods anymore. It needs to be in arenas with spectators in the stands (not standing around nets). Like it or not, tournament paintball is the face of our game. It’s what the non-playing public sees. It’s what corporate executives and advertising and marketing people see.

This is a let’s-identify-the-problems discussion and a let’s-figure-out-how-to-fix-the-problems discussion because the tournament game definitely needs to be fixed. For me as I’ve been working through these thoughts this entire 2009 tournament season, I’ve taken any expectations or predeterminations out of the equation and am trying to think outside of the box as much as possible. I ask you to do that with me too.

Do You Agree With These Statements?

  1. Within the same tournament using the same fields, there are only a few possible breakouts or opening “plays.”
  2. Once players get to their spots or are eliminated the game slows down and movement is difficult because of the amount of paint being shot and because of the field sizes.
  3. The game (seven-man and X-Ball) is at least a little boring to watch.
  4. The game would be more interesting if players could move around a bit more.
  5. The game would be more fun to play and watch if teams could incorporate some level of strategy, preset plays, and in-game play adjustments.
  6. The game is very predictable the way it is played now.
  7. Longer game times would make the game more fun to play and watch.

So if you agree with me that at least some of these issues are a problem for tournament paintball, do you think any of them can be changed or fixed? I definitely do.

Looking Beyond the Obvious

There are some obvious fixes that may cause some not-so-obvious problems. Making tournament fields bigger (longer) and adding a row of bunkers on each side of the field would make moving much easier during game play and it would give players more options off the game break. The problems come in because more space is required as well as more bunkers, more refs (possibly), and more netting. And in the end it might not produce a more interesting or exciting game, just a slower version of what we already have.

Increasing the time limit of games the way they are currently played would be useless since games rarely go to the current time limits. But adjusting the game in some way(s) may allow game times to be lengthened. For example, and this may not be a great example (remember, we’re thinking outside the box, right), suppose in a seven-man game played on a larger field you had three designated players on each team that could “tag up” one time at their flag station and re-enter the game if they are eliminated? That would immediately add strategy to the game; it would add a lot of movement, it would lengthen the game time in a meaningful way, and it would clearly add a level of unpredictability that we don’t have in the game now. That was one idea to get you started. I’m not committed to this idea but I want to use it to get the conversation started.

Technology Limits Exist in Professional Baseball, Football, Hockey, Golf and Tennis. Why Not Paintball?

Limiting the rate of fire has been tried or is in use, depending on where you play. In many ways it has failed to change the game in a good way. Not to mention we have many companies engineering some of the best equipment we’ve ever seen so limiting the ROF would not make them very happy. But suppose limiting the ROF was only done at the top levels of the tournament circuit? Wouldn’t you love to see what players like Ollie Lang, Ryan Greenspan, or JC Whittington could do if they played on a larger field and could move around to make things happen? You might actually see something other than someone getting bunkered game after game.

For a second think about what baseball would be like if they allowed aluminum bats at the major league level? There would be 15 home runs per game and scores would be 30-28. Yet aluminum bats are allowed in little league, high school, and college baseball. They are allowed because at the instructional levels through college baseball skill levels are not what they are in the pros where everyone is a world class athlete. Leveling the playing field with a higher technology or more “results-proving” equipment makes it so everyone has a more fairly balanced chance to compete at the lower levels. But is that what we want for the top athletes in the world—leveling the playing field with technology? I think what we want to see is athletes letting their talents show and we’re not getting that right now in paintball.

The same holds true in other sports. How would a professional hockey game change if you were allowed to put a greater curve on a hockey stick? The games would be 12-10 instead of 4-3. Back to football, do you remember stick ’em? Defensive backs and wide receivers used this sticky substance to help the football “stick” in their hands. But it was removed from the game because it allowed mediocre players to play better, catch more balls and leveled the playing field. The bottom-line was it allowed mediocre players to play better and took out some of the athletic ability of the game. Even in individual sports like golf and tennis there are serious restrictions on the equipment used. At the highest level of most sports the equipment technology is limited to keep the game fair, interesting, and to reward the best athletes. (When I say “fair” I mean, the equipment is limited so you can actually see the difference between an average athlete and a superior athlete.) So why not incorporate this into paintball at the highest level? Just another idea to get other ideas flowing.

Chuck Hendsch, President of the USPL/NPPL even hinted that something needs to be done with the equipment when I spoke with him last week. “I believe that the Capture the Flag format is a great format for tournament play. Whether seven, five or three-player teams, the format is grass roots and very strategic. The question really is ROF, classification, and equipment.” Did you catch that? “The question really is ROF (Rate of Fire) classification and equipment.”

Renier Schafer, co-owner of TNT Paintball in Victoria, BC, Canada made these points, “The game has to be re-designed so that the greatest amount of paintballs is not one of the biggest determining factors. Therefore a game designed around limited amounts of paintballs would be imperative. The game needs to not be an arms race.” But he doesn’t believe guns and hardware need harsh restrictions. “There is no need to severely handicap equipment. Limit the amount of paintballs enough and that will take care of that problem. Let players use what they want and what they are comfortable with. Trying to limit equipment is a difficult task, so don’t do it. Limit the amount of paintballs instead. This is much easier.” Another idea to get more ideas flowing.

Is Tournament Paintball A Sport?

We’ve been referring to tournament paintball as a “sport” for years and in many ways, rightfully so. But we’ve also missed the boat in the design of this “sport” side of our game. Tournament paintball is barely watchable in person and even less than barely watchable on television unless you play. The games are over before you even get a feel for what’s going on as a spectator. As a player the game is robotic. Game to game tournament paintball is too repetitive for players and for spectators. And the “sport” is not gaining a fan base even after being played competitively for 26 years.

Some Things to Ponder Until Part Three (Coming THIS Friday, September 12)

  1. Assuming the on-field game is tweaked to be more interesting/fun to watch and play, when you attend a major event as a spectator (not friends with a team, podding for a team, or related to the team) do you really care to watch the lower level teams play?
  2. Would major events be more exciting and spectator friendly if you saw only the best teams in the world competing?
  3. Do you agree that a true regional series that fed into a national-level pro/semi-pro series would be more like the model of other professional sports?
  4. With X-Ball, seven-man, five-man, three-man and a variety of other styles of play happening all over the world, does paintball really look like a “sport” to the outside world?
  5. How confusing would football be to spectators if there were seven, eleven, and fifteen-man teams played on different size fields with different rules? How about seven or ten-man basketball? Do we simply have too many game formats?
  6. Would a truly unbiased governing body for tournament paintball work? One that could work towards unifying rules, standards, formats, and resolve conflicts between the various entities in paintball.

In Part Three of this series we’ll look at some of the above issues and more. We’ll get the thoughts of Dave DeHaan, CEO of the PSP and others. In the meantime let’s hear some of your thoughts, ideas, and feedback.

I’d love to hear your comments, ideas and feedback. Please leave a comment or shoot me an email at, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Thanks for reading—John Amodea

Monday, August 24, 2009

Rethinking Tournament Paintball: Part One

By John Amodea (and a cast of thousands)

It’s Broken But It Can Be Fixed

Like it or not national-level tournament paintball is the face of our game to those that don’t play. It’s what they see (or saw) when they turn on the TV. And National level tournament paintball is broken. It’s weathered, chipped, cracked and leaking water. But it’s not dead. It’s disoriented and lost and can’t find True North. It needs someone to find it, point it in a direction, cultivate it and fix the nicks and cracks—otherwise it’s going to keep limping along, cracked with spouting leaks and drifting aimlessly and pointlessly. Let me repeat, I believe it CAN be fixed. Please join me in this online think-tank journey for the next few months and let’s see if we can revive this barely breathing part of our game together.

The Bullets For Part One Of This Series

1. Tournament paintball games were originally played in either 12 or 15-man formats, with large fields and long time limits.
2. By 1989 15-man was gone for good and replaced by 10-man.
3. By 1990 there were a handful of large 5-man tournaments happening across the U.S.
4. Until the mid ‘90s promoters were turning profits and tournaments were generally seen as affordable.
5. In 1992 the NPPL introduced “bring your own paint” to national-level tournament paintball.
6. The NPPL and its promoters (PSP) split. Since then we’ve had two major paintball leagues.
7. Promoters are not making money, players are overspending and the game is boring.
8. Outside money has not come in as the leagues had hoped.

See Rethinking Tournament Paintball: The Introduction here:

A Little History – Setting the Backdrop

The first paintball tournament ever played took place in 1983 in New London, New Hampshire, where eight 12-man teams battled for a $1,000 first prize. Teams came from Canada, Miami, San Jose, Ohio and other places not close to New Hampshire. The game time-limit for this event was 90 minutes, the field size was around 15 acres and players were limited to carrying 40 rounds of paint. The event took place just two years after the first ever game of paintball was played, also in New Hampshire. At that time there were around 350 paintball fields in the U.S. Now there are approximately 3,500 paintball fields/stores in this country alone—a number that shows the growth in popularity of the game since the first tournament took place.

Within three years of the first tournament played, NSG (the event’s promoter) expanded the team size to 15-players while cutting the time limit to 45 minutes. Until the late 1980s the most common game format remained 15-player teams, large fields, and long time limits. By 1987 15-player events were happening around the country with several fields/companies/promoters running events or series. In 1989 Jim Lively (Lively Productions) changed their format from 15-player to 10-player and when the NPPL was formed in November, 1992, they also adopted the 10-player format. That one decision virtually ended any chance that we would ever see 15-man teams again. The NPPL also brought with it a “bring your own paint” policy that greatly reduced the cost of playing tournament paintball at the national level.

While all of this was happening, national-level 5-man events were growing as well. Lively had a 5-man series running alongside of his 10-man events. Later the NPPL and International Amateur Open ran 5-man events. But the event that really put 5-man tournaments on the map was the Paintcheck 5-Man held in May of 1990 at Skirmish in Pennsylvania. This was the largest 5-man event the world had ever seen and it set the bar for events of its kind.

Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s paintball continued to grow in the U.S. and the number of teams entering paintball tournaments grew accordingly. The 15-man events that were getting 12 teams in 1986 were getting 24 to30 teams in the 10-man format by 1993. And 5-man events were pulling in 50 to 60 teams or more.

Then the explosion happened in the mid-‘90s. By 1996 events like the NPPL World Cup were hosting 100-plus 10-man teams and that number doubled just a few years later. Again this growth was directly proportional to the growth of the game in general.

It’s probably also relevant to point out that from the first event series (NSG) until the NPPL/PSP split there was always just one major national-level series happening at any given time. One series for teams to play; one series for sponsors to give product/cash to; and one series to bring your product to sell at. Much of what happened in paintball in those years centered around those five or six yearly events and a few stand-alone tournaments like the IAO.

Promoter Profits, Player Affordability And a Sport Divided Cannot Stand

As a promoter of three NPPL events in (1994-1995) I can tell you that most major tournaments back in the late ‘80s to mid-‘90s were profitable for the promoters and affordable to the teams and players. Teams were allowed to bring their own paint, entry fees were reasonable, and in a growing game, sponsorships were plentiful. That’s all significant because for the most part, this has not been the case in the ‘00s. It was in the winter of 2002 that the NPPL and its promoter group, the PSP, decided to part ways which led to two separate leagues who would now be competing for the tournament team base.

When the NPPL ran their first event after the split during the weekend of February 7th, 2003, they brought their new format to the table—7-man tournament paintball made its professional debut in the U.S. The Millennium Series was already running 7-man events in Europe. Just two weeks later the PSP introduced X-Ball as part of their series of events. (For the record X-Ball was played about a year earlier at the Nation’s Cup in the IAO and in an introductory fashion at the 2002 World Cup where the games and points did not count in the league’s rankings.)

The competition between the two leagues was interesting to watch. The NPPL held its first event in Huntington Beach, California, which was a huge cost-increase to the league over the typical tournament site. The PSP held six events that year and the following year held two events on Disney property, again representing a larger increase in promoter spending in an effort to be competitive and to bring the best to the players and teams. The intentions of both promoter groups was good and admirable. While the split and the subsequent formation of two major leagues appeared to be a good thing for the players (yep, that’s what we all said back then) in hindsight it may not have been. Many of the upper level teams felt the need to play in all of the events and that taxed players from a financial point of view. (At this point NXL teams were forbidden to play NPPL events. That ended soon after LaSoya challenged the NXL rules and his team, Infamous, played the NPPL Tampa event.) Sponsorships were not doubled so the extra spending came directly out of the players’ pockets. Players were now taking off ten weeks of work to accommodate their playing schedule—with many players on the pro-level quitting their jobs to play, with most not financially ready for that move. On top of that some teams were now practicing two formats (seven-man and X-Ball) which cost them more time and money and diluted both products.

Another financial aspect of the split was teams that chose to play X-Ball, especially early on, were now shooting more than double the amount of paint in practice and on game day than ever before. Remember, X-Ball games had much longer time limits back then. Added to all that, sponsors/vendors were traveling to ten-plus events per year as opposed to five. Another problem with the leagues splitting was there simply were not enough qualified refs (and there still are not) to handle the increased number of events.

Huntington Beach, Disney, Stadiums & Financial Hardships

As the early ‘00s faded and we moved into the middle of the decade another big change happened. Existing paintball fields were no longer the sites of choice by either league. By 2004 the NPPL was using NFL stadiums almost exclusively to run their events. Of course, that increased the league’s expenses and some of that excess was passed on to the player and vendor/sponsor costs. Also around this time the PSP moved most of their events away from paintball fields and to sites with much more visibility and much more cost.

On the surface things seemed to be heading in the right direction. Events were getting thousands of spectators; there was genuine interest in televising events from some very powerful people like Dick Clark and Penny Marshall; and teams were playing at great locations. But things were different below the surface. By 2007 sponsorships were way down, the TV deal that was supposed to bring in outside cash never happened, the leagues were continuing to lose money, and team participation was down. Eventually the NPPL/Pure Promotions sold to Pacific Paintball (a company that had no experience in the paintball industry).After less than two years the company crashed, filing bankruptcy. The PSP has continued on and clearly has the upper hand on current rival, the USPL, but things are far from perfect in the PSP camp despite its larger market share. I’m sure no one is doing cartwheels over the success of either league and no one is making money.

So Now What?

Since the NPPL’s demise our country has had its worst economic crash since the Great Depression. That has hurt every aspect of our game including the national-level tournament circuits. But if you’ve been paying attention you’ve probably also come to the conclusion that the economic crisis we’re in is just part of the problem. There are too many leagues, not enough sponsorships, no outside monies coming into paintball, no standard format, not enough refs, not enough high level teams to support the circuits and we’re a game/sport in flux.

My Proposal

I think we need to start thinking WAY outside of the box. If we’re going to fix tournament paintball we need to think like Apple or Google. Do you think their smartest people care what was done last year, let alone ten years ago? They’re thinking about “what’s next” and to them what’s next NEVER looks like “what was.”

Some Things to Ponder Until Part Two
1. Are players becoming bored with tournament paintball in its current formats?
2. Do we really need a national-level series with so many different levels of play?
3. Would a true unbiased, unaffiliated, fresh-thinking organization be able to put together a regional/national feeder series that could build a better foundation for the sport?
4. Would smaller be better?
5. When was the last time you went to a pro sporting event (football, baseball, soccer, basketball, etc.), and saw a minor league game first?
6. Is paintball a game that can ever translate to TV and if so, do we need a format change?
7. Are we shooting too much paint too fast?
8. Is “strategy” gone from tournament paintball for good?
9. Aside from the “break,” are there “plays” in tournament paintball anymore?
10. If four of the best paintball teams in the world were playing hour-long games in a stand-alone event an hour from your house, would you go watch?
11. How different is 7-man from X-Ball? How different is Japanese baseball, Mexican baseball and U.S. baseball? Catch my drift?
12. Can the powers that be put aside pride, ego and finances for the good of the sport?

The Next Installment – It’s Not a ME Thing, It’s An US Thing

In Part Two of this series we’ll start to really talk about fixing the “sport” aspect of paintball. I’ll have quotes and thoughts from many of the top promoters, players and industry people in the game and we’ll get this THINK TANK going strong.

Thanks for reading—John Amodea

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rethinking Tournament Paintball: Introduction

National level tournament paintball is broken. It’s weathered, chipped, cracked and leaking water. But it’s not dead. It’s disoriented and lost and can’t find True North. It needs someone to find it, point it in a direction, cultivate it and fix the nicks and cracks—otherwise it’s going to keep limping along, cracked with spouting leaks and drifting aimlessly and pointlessly.

Pro/Am tournament paintball in its current format(s) is draining everyone. The leagues and promoters are losing a fortune: sponsorships are down causing teams to struggle to pay entry fees, paint and travel costs; the number of events that take place with the two existing leagues is taxing manufacturers/vendors; and the leagues are finding it difficult to put enough qualified refs on the fields. If you play on a team that competes in the PSP or USPL (or the CFOA, RPL, WCPPL, or WHATEVERPL on the regional level) you know exactly what I’m talking about. Unless you’re one of the top four or five teams in the world you are pulling cash out of your own bank account to subsidize whatever sponsorship money you have coming to you. If your name is Keely, Chuck, Lane, Dave, Adam, or Tom you also know what I’m talking about. You’re working day and night trying to figure out how to come close to “breaking even.” And you’ve been doing it for years and nothing’s really changing. If you’re a manufacturer or vendor, as we speak you’re probably trying to figure out which events you can afford to attend because you know you’re not going to be able to make it to all of them. And for you over-worked refs, when was the last time it didn’t cost you money out of pocket for the privilege of working a ten hour day? The current state of national tournament paintball is not working for anyone at any level.

Before I get too far into this I want to make it perfectly clear that I realize a lot of very smart people have been trying to figure this all out for a long time. I also want to make it clear that I’m not faulting the leagues, promoters, refs, sponsors or players in any of this. But it’s time to rethink what we’re doing with this aspect of the game of paintball. Tournament paintball is broken and it needs to be fixed. I don’t have all the answers but I think I can push the buttons that will bring the answers out of you.

So on that note I am using my space this month to introduce a new blog series on the topic. Much like my “What Have We Done to Our Game” blog series, “Rethinking Tournament Paintball” will be an online think-tank of ideas which I hope will get us all talking, thinking, brainstorming and working creatively together. Tweaking the game format isn’t the answer. Adding a division isn’t the answer. Webcasts are not the answer. And an improving economy isn’t the answer either. Truly fixing tournament paintball is going to take a lot more than any of those things. Thinking outside the box isn’t even going to be enough. We need to crush, recycle the box and start over as if we’ve never been to a paintball tournament before. We have almost eight months until the next tournament season starts. Are you tired of the same old song yet?

Part One of Rethinking Tournament Paintball will be available at on August 24th, 2009.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What Have We Done To Our Game? Part Five

It’s a New Year & A New Day for Paintball

Thanks for sticking with me for this past few weeks. Starting has taken every waking minute (and many minutes I should have been sleeping). As I write this fifth part I’m still amazed at the response across the board. From players to field owners and people that have been in the industry for years, the overwhelming majority of people that have responded directly to me or in the various forums of the paintball world agree that it’s time to change the old thinking in our game.

In each of the past four parts of this series I focused on one major topic that I believed to be hindering the game. In this final part I’m going to touch on a bunch of possibly smaller issues, and then I’m going to wrap this series up with some ideas and some challenges. Let’s get started.

Skateboarding in NOT a Crime

Admittedly the “Skateboarding is NOT a Crime” campaign of the 1990s seemed like a lame attempt to market skateboarding nationally, but it worked. Paintball had its own version of this when Skirmish began the “Paintball: The Fastest Growing Sport in America” campaign in the late 1980s. That slogan was picked up by stores, fields, manufacturers, distributors and eventually the mainstream media, who bought into it hook, line and sinker. A few years ago Darrin Johnson, a field owner in Wisconsin, came up with the idea to have a “World Paintball Day” in honor of the first game played in 1981. It was a great idea, but again, not picked up or supported by the industry. So why has the industry not adopted a national-level marketing campaign in the past 20 years? Because “the industry” can’t agree if the sun is shining or not—and despite efforts by the IPPA in the 80s and the PSTA in the 2000s, the term “industry cooperation” remains an oxymoron.

Support for the Fields and Stores

As a former paintball field and store owner, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the industry does very little to support paintball stores and fields. Markups for paintball retailers are ridiculously low. I don’t know of any other industry where a small retailer (not Wal-Mart that makes money on volume) can sell a $150 product and make a profit of $15 or less. And to add insult to injury the reward is some manufacturers will sell directly to the public so you have to compete with your own supplier if you own a store. Nice business practice.

Our Next Scenario Game is June 14th, 2007

Okay field owners, time for some of you to get your act together too. Every month someone that works at the magazine is responsible for updating our Calendar of Events in the magazine and website. And every month that someone sends me 25 links to paintball field websites that have dates two, three, or four years old in their “Upcoming Events” section. How can you expect a customer to feel confident that you will run a great day of paintball games when you don’t do something as simple as updating your website. I understand you’re busy. But if you’re too busy to cut and paste a few dates into your website, then take down the events link. The bigger picture is many fields owners need to change the way they see their businesses. If you’re too busy working your “real” job to make paintball your “real” job, it’s time to change or get out. Paintball doesn’t need fields that are run like second businesses. The culture of how to run paintball fields needs to change.

Poor Startup = Quick End

The first time I played paintball I was already thinking about trying to open a paintball field. I did the math. There were 100-plus people playing that day and each of them were spending $50-plus. The quick math said the field was taking in $5,000 or more every weekend day and some weekdays and that was a lot of money 23 years ago. I know I’m not alone in this way of thinking. Over the years I have gotten hundreds of emails from people saying something like, “I played paintball last week for the first time and loved it! What do I need to know to open my own business?” I used to think the answer was you need to play for a few years, hang around paintball players a few years, and be ready to work really hard for not a lot of money. But that’s not entirely true. I think what is needed to open a paintball field the right way is a year’s worth of operating money, a good business plan, good knowledgeable help and guidance, the right type of tools and resources, and the dedication to work hard. Clearly many fields are missing most of these elements when they open. Garbage in, garbage out. If you think you can get away cheap you’ll just wind up working for very little money for a year or so and then you’ll throw in the towel like the 100 or so other field owners did in 2008.

By the way, I did eventually open up my paintball field and I did do what I just told you. It works.

I’ll Sell That to You and I’ll Throw In Five Million Paintballs for Free

The internet has changed buying and selling in every industry. It’s hard to justify going to the mall to buy a baseball cap at the “Cap Store” when I can go to Ebay and find 20 times the amount of colors, types, and styles to choose from—and usually they are cheaper. Online paintball retailers have taken that a step beyond and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is debatable. If you’re bored sometime go to a few paintball stores and look at the marker prices, keeping in mind these stores are making very little profit on their items. Now look at that the same markers at a few online paintball stores and they’ll be pretty close in price. The difference is the online guy will usually throw in some goggles, a barrel cover, a squeegee, some paint and a C02 tank---and they’ll pick up the shipping. Great deal, right? It’s a great deal if you don’t mind pushing retail pro-shops to the curb. Write this down in your journal—if online distributors continue to sell everything at a five percent markup (because they can make their money in volume sales) in three years there will be only a handful of retail paintball stores in the U.S. I realize this is a slippery slope. In essence it looks like I’m asking distributors to raise prices so their competition can survive—and that’s not going to happen. Maybe what I’m hoping for is that manufacturers will see the benefit to keeping retail pro-shops around. And to do that they may have to level the playing field between online stores and walk-in pro-shops somehow.

Custom This & That

I was talking to Renick Miller, owner of Bad Boyz Toyz and the Badlandz a couple of years ago. We were talking about the many ways in which the game had changed from the 90s to the early 2000s. One thing Renick said stuck with me for a long time. He said, “We can’t take a $400 Autococker, carve it up, add some internal upgrades and sell it for $1,300 anymore. The days of making that kind of money are gone.” Those days are gone because you can now buy an electronic marker for under $100. You can buy a premium electronic marker for under $500. What’s left to customize? This is another huge reason pro-shops are going by the wayside. But in the end one of the big reasons players go to the local pro-shop is because of the culture. Paintball pro-shops are like the Elks Lodge of the 2000s. They are a place to go hang out with like-minded people—a place to live paintball. A place to get away from reality for a while. If I owned a paintball store I would do everything in my power to make walking through the door an experience that can’t be duplicated shopping online. People pay for experiences. Just ask anyone that’s been to Disney.

We’ve Reached Maturity

Chris Remuzzi mentioned in one of his “comments” to my first blog that the game of paintball “reached maturity” and that the growth we experienced in the 90s will probably never happen again. There’s no doubt in my mind that Chris is correct. So how about we try to keep the paintball players, also known as customers, we all have? We need to make the playing and shopping experience special. One marketing director at a large paintball manufacturer mentioned to me recently, “We need to bring new players to the game. There are just not enough people playing anymore. We’re (his company) spending a lot of money advertising non-endemic magazines to do that.” No disrespect to the author of that quote but bringing players to the game is not and never will be a problem. Keeping them is the problem. And all of the things we’re discussed here and all of the comments readers of this blog have left and all of the emails I have gotten have confirmed this problem. Instead of spending a bazillion dollars on advertising in other magazines with similar demographics, maybe companies should consider a program to teach and help small paintball business owners do things right.

The Parking Lot Pro Mentality

Okay, I stole that from Renick Miller. There’s a mentality brewing in the player base that has players believing that the only way to play the game is to make it faster, smaller, quicker, and more athletic. In Renick’s words, “There are far too many ‘17 year old parking lot pros’ that think the only way to play is uncapped semi-auto or ramping and have no idea just how amazing our game can be.” Paintball was “amazing” when everyone used Nelspots, or Phantoms, or 68 Specials, or Automags and Autocockers. It’s amazing now when everyone on the field is using Egos, Angels, and Shockers. But the common thinking is this is “the only” way to play the game. Need proof? The PSP just lowered their rates of fire to 10.5 balls per second outside of the Pro Division and other leagues are following suit. If you have 30 minutes take a look at the tournament forums in the various paintball forums—people are up in arms about it.

John’s Ten Step approach to Fixing the Game of Paintball

It’s really pretty simple. This blog series was more than 10,000 words—a small book. But in the end fixing what’s wrong with paintball won’t take much from any of us. No one entity is to blame and no one entity can fix the mess.

  1. The industry movers and shakers need to continue to realize that the game of tournament paintball is only a small percentage of the game’s players. The obsession with small fields, fast guns, red, yellow and blue jerseys, and television needs to stop. Does anyone make an airball bunker that a 300 pound player can stand behind? The woods game is seeing a resurgence. Please, please, please see that this is happening in spite of your negligence (and mine).
  2. The vast majority of paintball field owners need to reinvent themselves. Stop treating your businesses like second jobs and start looking at your business in the bigger picture. And if you’re not a paintball field owner yet, don’t do it if you think $20,000 is enough to get you started or if you believe you’ll make extra money quickly.
  3. The manufacturers and distributors also need to take some responsibility for the reasons field owners are commonly failing. Stop trying to make people think all they need to do is buy this “20 gun package” from you and they’re ready to go.
  4. Paintball store owners (and field owners), you can’t compete on price, so stop trying. Make the buying experience special, you’ll keep people coming back and buying at a price where you can make money. Offer things that the online guys can’t—things like a quick turn-around on repairs, rewards system for frequent buyers, extra warranty on guns purchased at your store, free field play with large purchases, etc. If you are a store owner and don’t own a field, network with field owners so you can offer the complete buying and playing experience. Customers will be much more loyal to you if they see you as a one-stop paintball experience.
  5. Serious players—the every weekend walk-on types need to take a part in this. “Revrend,” a poster on our forums at, has suggested players take their old gun, non-electronic hopper, old butt-pack and accessories and give the package to a friend and take them out to play, with the condition that if they like paintball enough to buy a gun that they do the same thing for someone else. What a great way to bring new players to the game and to introduce them to the game in a more fun environment. There’s a million ways to be an ambassador for the game of paintball, you just have to be committed to do it. This could bring 2, 3, 4, or 5 new people to the game and will create new customers for the stores and fields.
  6. The paintball media—and this means websites and magazines--also need to see and promote the diversity of the game. I understand that if you’re URL is you’re only going to focus on that side of the game, and that’s fine. But if you see your website or magazine as diverse, then be diverse. Let’s stop glorifying one side of the game and leaving the other side on the back pages. There was a time when media and industry were worried about our game’s “image” so we were all hesitant to put the guy with the camo Tippmann on the cover because we were tired of hearing the “war game” stigma held over us. Look where that got us. Cover the game the way it is played.
  7. Paintball fields need to separate player skill levels and equipment. If you only have ten players at your field and you can’t do that, figure it out. Either figure out a way to get rental players their own day or fields to play on or you will lose 90-percent of them quickly. Stop throwing new customers to the wolves. Challenge your regular walk-on players, the ones that show up every week, to lay down their Egos (the gun and the personality trait) and play occasionally with rental gear.
  8. Players—stop being the wolves.
  9. Internet “giants,” are you really happy making $5 on a goggle system or $12 on a gun? I know raising prices is not what players want to hear but if this doesn’t happen from the distributor, you as internet stores, and the store and field level, the game is doomed. One thing about a free economic system like we have in America—it doesn’t help self-destructive business owners. Maybe your internet store can be the first online store to be creative enough to offer something of a shopping experience like I talked about with the walk-in stores. Maybe building a community around your business will allow you to actually make a buck? Be creative. There are 25 of you doing the same thing.
  10. Can we all get along—even for a moment? Can we stop the ridiculous lawsuits? Can we have annual meetings within the industry that are productive? Can we have demographic numbers that are real so maybe we can bring in some outside money? Can we stop jumping at the latest this or that and focus on what’s important? Can we support companies, leagues, magazines, players and teams that are helping the game grow, not bleeding it dry… again?

I will take as much responsibility as anyone from where paintball is and the direction it took. I’ve been writing about paintball, promoting national tournaments and owning stores and fields for twenty years. I’m tired of this. I’m tired of hearing of another paintball manufacturer being bought for pennies on the dollar. I’m tired of magazines going out of business. I’m tired of good people losing jobs. I’m tired of seeing the numbers drop. Will you join me? Will you do your part?

Thanks for reading this series. In the next month or so you’ll be hearing more about what I’ll be doing to hold up my end of the bargain. Until then, I appreciate all of the comments, feedback and even criticisms of this series. A good in-depth dialog is a great start.

Parting Shot

Can we stop referring to the great game of paintball as “the sport”? if you’re talking about the PSP, CFOA, or some other tournament league it is a sport. But it’s not a sport if you’re dressed in camos, crawling through underbrush trying to get that one good shot with your Phantom pump. To me this typifies the problem—we think we’re something we are not.

John Amodea

Friday, December 26, 2008

What Have We Done to Our Game?, Part Four

Paintball, What a Pretty Game

Merry Christmas everyone! I trust you had a great time with family and friends the past few days. I wish all of you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year as well. I hope to be a part of your New Year as well.

Once again I can tell you that the response to this series has been amazing. I’ve been talking to players, store and field owners, manufacturers and every other walk of paintball life since Part One, and the conversations have been very positive, encouraging and promising. I say promising because the majority of those that I have been talking with about this series agree that things need to change. Even those I’m talking to in manufacturing. Not everyone agrees on how things need to change, but that’s okay—we can figure that out as we go. I’ve also noticed that there’s a lot of talk around the internet about this series, and that’s very encouraging to me.

Part Five will be the final blog of this series, but it will be just the beginning for me. I plan to take this vision to rethink the game of paintball to another level—but I’ll hold off on the details about that until the last part is done. Also in Part Five, I’ll have comments, quotes and ideas from many recognizable names in the game. Please e-mail me your thoughts and ideas in the next week and I’ll try to fit some of those in. So let’s get on with it.

How We Packaged Paintball

Going back to the early 1990s when the game was played only in the woods at all levels there was a growing concern within the industry about the game’s public image. I touched on this in earlier parts of this series. Many of us thought that the “war” image associated to paintball would at best hold the game back and at worst draw a negative campaign against our game that might somehow end up being our demise. In 1990 and again in 1991 I tried to open a paintball field in Pennsylvania but my efforts stalled when members of the local planning and zoning commissions convinced area residents that we were simply reenacting the Viet Nam War and that to allow the field would be an insult to those that lost their lives in the war. A year later in an attempt to open a paintball field in Virginia I ran into that same mentality. This was happening across the U.S. to hundreds of people who were looking to open paintball fields. That war image was holding the game’s progress back.

By the time the mid-90s rolled around the industry as a whole was tired of the stereotype placed on the game and its players. A purposed “anti war image” shift was on. In came the colorful jerseys, color anodized guns, and an adjustment in the playing fields. This was led by the NPPL and other independent promoters in the UK. First Smart Parts built their “mounds fields” for the NPPL events held in the Pittsburgh area. Set in open fields (not in the woods) the mounds fields were mirror image fields that had huge rows of dirt mounds and giant piles of dirt strategically placed to allow movement in the games but still left plenty of room for strategy. The mounds fields were really a precursor to the arena games like Hyperball and airball to follow. These fields allowed for spectating for the first time ever at national level events but did little to dispel the war image. Other events, such as the Splat-1 Indoor Championships, used custom-made bunkers set up on indoor fields and teams were not permitted to wear camo of any kind. Hyperball was another try at a new kind of field. By the mid-90s airball was introduced. Airball fixed a bunch of problems--the bunkers were easy to transport, they were colorful and very inexpensive compared to moving hundreds of tons of dirt to build fields like the NPPL mounds fields.

Like any other game, the “professional” side of the sport has a huge influence on the recreational or less competitive side which led to the local fields to change the look of their game. Soon every commercial paintball field in America was introducing airball and Hyperball fields. Players who came to those fields wearing camo were often scoffed as newbies as “real” paintball players at least wore jerseys. By the late 90s the game of paintball, which started out in the woods of New Hampshire, showed almost no semblance of its origins. And by the mid-2000s the number of players was declining.

Why Are We Surprised?

Should we be surprised? We replaced trees with pink and yellow “tacos.” We replaced grass with turf and camos with motocross jerseys. We nixed fifteen minute games and substituted them with two-minute car crash games that were “exciting” to spectators. We made the game appealing to the eye but less appealing to the player.

And pretty costs money. It takes more cash to open a field than ever before. It costs more to pretty up your gun than it does to make it black. Your Salvation Army camos were replaced with $200 head to toe paintball apparel. This advancement of the game is not black-and-white television to color or color television to high def. The game of paintball in just a span of fifteen years was so different it’s difficult to call what we do now “paintball.”

It’s not the splash-anodized markers that are the problem. It’s not airball that’s the problem. It’s not the lack of camo that’s the problem. These things are good for the game of paintball and its image. This problem “number four,” the prettying of our game, in the proper context is good. We don’t really want to be known as a “war” game, do we? But we don’t need to be told the only way to play this game is on small airball fields with colorful markers wearing motocross-looking jerseys. Paintball is SO MUCH bigger than that. It can be the “action” or “extreme” sport to those that want to play that type of game. It can be “playing war” to those that fell in love with the game because it was like those games of “army” they played when they were kids. Playing “army” is the base thrill of the game.

In the past two years we’ve seen a resurgence of woodsball, huge growth in scenario games and the introduction of Mil-Sim paintball—and that’s a good thing. Even camo patterns are back in tournament paintball wear. Manufacturers are diversifying their product lines to sell to all types of paintball players—and that’s a good thing too. The imbalance of media coverage, available paintball products, and the level of “cool” the tournament side of the game has enjoyed for almost ten years is beginning to shift a bit towards the woodsball part of the game. Woodsball may always take a back seat in many ways to tournament ball, but at least there’s an understanding developing that it takes both sides to be successful for our game to flourish. This needs to continue to happen.

Doing it Right

Field Owners

So how do these two different types of paintball live together? How can they both be called “paintball”? It starts at the field level. I’ve talked about this before—field owners and game operators are the entry point of our game. They set the tone, the standards and image to new players (and their parents in many cases). If paintball game operators offer diversity to their players the game will be attractive to so many more. If it’s attractive to more people the game will grow. So diversify your special events. Hold tournaments, scenario games, big games, night games etc. Not only will you attract more players to your field, but the ones you already have will probably come back more often. But the key is to run these events right. If your staff is exclusively tournament players you’ll need to find a scenario game promoter to handle your scenario games at first. And visa, versa of course.


Continue what you’ve been doing in terms of expanding your product lines to appeal to all types of player. Don’t leave 100 percent of your marketing and R&D to people that don’t play the game. Over the years we’ve seen many manufacturers hire out their marketing campaigns, ad designs, and company image to people and companies that don’t know the game. Attend a few scenario events, tournaments, fields and visit some of your customers to see what is really happening at the grass roots level. I’m sorry to say this but many of you have lost sight of what players really want.


Try something different. If you’re a woodsballer try playing an entry-level tournament. If you’re a tournament player pick up a pump-gun, put on some camos, and play a woodsball game. You might be surprised at how much fun it can be. Also learn a little about the history of the game and the players, inventors, engineers, visionaries and personalities that helped shape the game. I’ve been noticing that at the big tournament level, many of you young players do not have a historical appreciation of our sport. I encourage you to gain this to help you be better ambassadors to the rest of the world.


I promise you that I will be doing something from my corner to help this. Stay tuned.

Please check back on Thursday, New Years Day for the conclusion of this series entitled, “Never Say Never.” Thanks for reading.