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