Where We Need To Go

editorial 125 buttonI don’t know how many of you have noticed this, but a lot of old names are popping up in the industry.  You could start with Gino Postorivo (Valken, formerly NPS), or Richmond Italia (GIMilsim, formerly ProCaps).  You can add Tom Kaye to the mix – and there are a whole lot more, like Kevin Donaldson from ASO & the Master Blasters team.

This is an interesting development.  Part of it coincides with the fact that some of these folks have come to the end of their non-competition clauses, but the interesting take-away from that is – they’ve all decided to get back into paintball.  Most of those guys could pretty much do whatever they want to do.  But they decided to get back into paintball.

I can’t presume to speak for any of them, but discussions with various and sundry over the past couple of months has revealed a thread, certain feelings, certain conclusions.

The conclusions (which one imagines had something to do with convincing them that the time was right to get involved with paintball again) are pretty much in-line with the feelings.  They run the gamut but all of them seem to point in the same direction:

paintball needs to slow down if it is going to survive.

The arms race is killing us.  By that I mean that the need to keep up with the Joneses has made the game cost prohibitive.  It’s more expensive to get into than it ever was and its more expensive to keep on playing than it ever was.

For many years the industry has acted as if it were a movie production company: more money has to be spent on each successive project in order to up the special effects ante – more explosions, more crashes, bigger battle scenes with more extras (real and CGI) – and the outcome is NEVER certain.  If you spend your dollars on a blockbuster and it closes in one weekend – you are gone.

The industry should have been spending money like it was a theater company – you don’t make the blockbusters, you give the folks somewhere to go watch them.  Your building stays in place, your costs are the same from month to month, your dollars are made on popcorn and soda sales.

Our tech is the equivalent of the blockbuster, our fields and stores the standin for the theaters.

Another way of looking at it is this: over the past twenty-five years there has been a fundamental shift in the perception of the game in the minds of players, to one that emphasizes spending money on gear and balls.  This seemed to be good for business, but it has not been because we’ve stepped over the line from good-for-growth to non-sustainability.  (You don’t slaugther the milk cow for steak.)

The emphasis in the game (when those self-same folks mentioned above had their first go-round) was on player skill – not on gear.  When we talked about this player or that player, the first thing we discussed was how they played: that guy is an excellent shot; that guy really knows how to play the tape; that guy really knows how to scope out a field; so and so is really tactically smart; so and so is really fast and sneaky.  These days, some players have risen to the level of individual recognition based on skill, but the vast majority of players out there are identified by the equipment they use – by the logos they wear and the gun they carry – as if the hardware were what was playing the game.

If paintball as an industry is going to cross back over to a level of sustainability, the opportunity is now upon us.  The past several years have seen an (unfortunately) necessary shrinking of the manufacturing and retail base (along with a concommitant shrinking player base) as the industry has come more into line with reality.

Now is the time to push for a model of play that will curtail the loss of players and move towards one that encourages growth.  The industry needs to concentrate on returning to a game that supports and encourages individual skill – one that rewards good play – rather than one that is all about rates of fire and cases of paint shot in an afternoon.

We need to change our mode of thinking.  Rather than being awed over how much money a player was willing to spend for a gun – we should be wondering why such an expense was necessary.  Rather than being impressed by how fast someone can pull the trigger, we should be shocked that it took that many shots to get an elimination.  Instead of admiring a team that goes through a half a skid of paint in one practice, we should be laughing at such a ridiculous waste of time and money.

Growth for our industry should not be based on how much we can encourage one individual to spend, but on how many individuals we can bring into the game.

Our events (all of them from tournament to scenario, big game to milsim) should be mental and psychological challenges first, trigger-pulling fests second.  Limited paint should be the order of the day, not ‘whoever has the biggest wallet wins’.

Business may be impressed with a promoter crowing about how many cases of paint were shot at the event – but players and the public don’t see that. What they see is a couple of hundred people shooting an insane number of paintballs in an apparently uncontrolled fashion.

What would impress the public would be several thousand players, shooting in an obviously controlled, intelligent and deliberate manner.

What would impress them even more (if they were interested in playing) would be to hear that a day of play – a day where a newbie can expect to become reasonably competitive relatively quickly and can expect to have some fun (and learn a little bit) – rather than getting pummled, confused and bruised – would be to hear a player say that what they just witnessed didn’t cost all that much – a little bit for air, several hundred rounds, an entry fee with rental gear (you can buy your own stuff later if you want to).

As it is right now, we’re trying to sell the unsellable.  Want to play like those guys out on the field?  You need to spend several hundred on your gun, several hundred on the rest of the gear (goggles, loader, tank), and about a hundred (or more) on paint every time you play – and btw, you need to play every weekend if you’re going to get skilled enough to make the expense worthwhile.

Let’s slow things down and get back to a game that’s about people and skill, not about money and gear. My name is Steve and at one time I was considered to be a helluva tape player and a master at reading a field.  My name is not WonderElectroGun SponsoredBy BigProfitCO, and my skill does not reside in a chip-enhanced trigger finger.  What’s your name?

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