Monday, February 23, 2009

PSP Phoenix Open, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Wolf Shirt

Sleep! It is precious and good. I’m not an old hand at this… I haven’t been attending out-of-state paintball tournaments for years and I’m certainly not much of a party animal. So, recovering from this weekend’s PSP Phoenix Open is going to take me some time. Time, and massages with release.

So, I was tasked with writing about the Phoenix Open and the “condition” of our sports current Longest Running North American National Paintball League. I will do so by telling you my story. I am doing this for 2 reasons: because I think it will illustrate to you what I see as going on in our sports top level, and also because nobody else (not even my wife) cares at all about my story.

I arrived in Phoenix on Friday morning to begin preparing the PSP Webcast. The work was already underway and I made myself busy pretty quick. Patrick Spohrer, the man, the god, was running a day behind because a member of the crew was unable to make the event. As you may or may not be aware, we simulcast the webcast via closed-circuit feed to the major vendor booths in the vendor area. Patrick had to do all of that wiring and set-up himself, putting us behind in everything else that needs to happen to put on a webcast of this caliber. For those who don’t know, I myself have webcast 2 PSP Events, but they were rinky dink. I think everybody deals with me with kid gloves over this, because they weren’t really all that good. But I know that. I knew going in that it was me and a cam and a laptop and that it wouldn’t look anything like a professional show. But, it was better than nothing, and I take pride in the fact that what I produced was so bad it forced the big wigs to give Spohrer the financial backing to do his thing. I’m the grain of sand that irritates the oyster into producing the pearl. Patrick isn’t someone who does anything by half, though, and the sheer amount of equipment and cabling and computers and complexity to the webcast absolutely blew me away. There is no way in hell, not with all of the funding in the world, I would have been able to do a show like this. I didn’t even know this many cables existed!

Not only was the budget expanded a bit to add cameras for Dorito side coverage, the PSP gave the webcast away for free. The PSP seems really committed to building a show for the long term, taking the initial steps to packaging their product for more mainstream consumption. The plan, as I know it, is to do all four events this season, refining our practices and adding features as budget allows. Working on making this a viable avenue for advertisers to give the PSP money. You have to break eggs to make an omelet, and they have already broken a few thousand eggs on this.

As I ran around the event on Friday, before super huge weekend crowds hit the venue, there was a very somber mood in the air. Nobody was mad, or sad… but I felt a weight over the event. As if everybody knew some hammer was going to drop. Again. Like a Giant Hand might come out of the sky and yank you right out of the event, never to be seen in paintball again. Walking through the vendor village really brought this feeling out. Yes, the PSP changed some rules this year and only manufacturers, or their official representatives, can sell product at the events. A whole other 5 blogs can be written arguing the merits of this, and frankly such matters are way over my head. But I got the feeling that the vendors looked to their left and their right and wondered who might get yanked by the Giant Hand next, hoping it wasn’t them. This is how I imagine the streets of London felt in daylight during the bombing in WWII… only far less dramatic because nobody is getting killed. Underneath this oppressive weight, however, I could sense the plucky reserve of our current group of survivors. They were all determined to be the ones still standing in their respective niches when the tide comes back in. And yet, there were times during the weekend when the single row of vendors was packed. The Phoenix event increased in size over last year by about 20 teams, and as I moved through the crowds of the divisional players, I never sensed this weight of impending doom. They were there to win and have fun, and that much hasn’t changed. Not true when I was around the pro teams, however, as their fate is more closely tied to the manufacturers than the lower divisions.

As Friday got to be Friday night, there was still so much to be done. Our brand new, remote controlled, wide angle Dome camera still wasn’t working, and we didn’t realize until Chris Raehl had already shut off our wireless internet that we needed to download the control software! It took us over 2 hours to do something as simple as duplicate the scoreboard computer’s desktop out to my remote monitor so I can make sure the webcast’s scoreboard and the official scoreboard remain in sync. Little things like that which made our Friday turn into Friday night and then Saturday morning and then Sunrise and games are starting and 3 of us haven’t been to bed yet! Surprisingly, Saturday’s webcast went off pretty well. We were all tired and were facing around 13 straight matches, but managed to do a good job. Sure, our encoding software was wreaking havoc with everybody’s ability to watch, but we didn’t know about that until the end of the day. None of us had a spare moment to even look around the internet for feedback. If XSV hadn’t completely embarrassed someone in one of their games, we wouldn’t have even had a 30 minute break to eat a quick sandwich. Sat. night is a haze to me right now. I think we went out and had Wings and watched a UFC fight. Sunday morning just came too quickly and so did that first game.

Now, with a little sleep under our belts and a whole day of working together, we were ready to really start screwing up. Actually, I was the only one who did. I hit the wrong button and went live on Matty’s camera right as he took a huge bite out of his sandwich, and on another game I got the start time on a game wrong and was caught in the vendor village at game on. But, the good news is there was a whole night of cleaning up to do, and Patrick couldn’t fire me just yet. When cleanup was finished, we caught up with the 2nd place Ironmen at a nearby eatery and had a good meal. The feedback from the interwebz went from “You suck!” to “You are amazing!” Zero to hero. We went from being on the verge of seppuku to being the kings of paintball. The web is a fickle and terrible mistress.

So we all finally relaxed and I got a chance to start processing all of the conversations I had with various people throughout the weekend. PSP execs, vendors, players, pro’s; everybody with their own piece of the puzzle that is the State of our Union. On the one hand, we have this new and shiny toy with the webcast. We are able to watch this sport like never before and it feels like we’ve reached a new plateau. Only to look back and see the entire mountain looking less and less stable. Is this a last ditch effort? A shot in the dark attempt to at least look “mainstreamable” so someone comes a long and pumps some much needed life into our coffers? Did we fire our last flair into the air? Or is it not all so bad? Maybe we are being overly sentimental to what was lost in this constriction. Maybe we look back on the days of Money Wasting as the salad days, barely conscience of what has caused our near demise. Perhaps someone has created the webcast to shine a light on what is still great about our sport and hopefully show us the way. One thing I know for sure, the professional players never fail to deliver the excitement and drama that makes for good show. If we are truly passionate about this sport, then we’ll at least carve some time out of our day to put eyeballs on a professional presentation of that drama and excitement, right? Especially when it’s free.


Oh, and a quick note to those cowards out there that didn't wear their Wolf shirts at the event, you've lost your right to wear them in the future. Don't blame me when the zombies come and you are powerless to stop them.


Brandon Lambertson 909 said...

WELCOME Don Saavedra!!! Thanks for taking the time to write on this humble little outlet of ours. I can't wait to see your next blog....seeing as how you are now inked into a 35 year contract with us here at The Paintball Agenda!! Sucker!

Zombies.....hahaha that made me laugh a little. =)

Caranthir said...

From across the great pacific, thanks for the sweet insight Don! All the best in your future writings.

I like Brandon and your writings. Chris sucked at writing. nyehh nyehh..

Don Saavedra said...

Thanks, guys! My first ever blog post.

Joe R said...

To be fair, I was the one that shut your wireless off on friday. And every night when we left.

Despite all the technical problems, the sunday webcast was something else. I, as some others have expressed, actually preferred watching the cast than watching the games live, which is pretty phenomenal considering I spent the event about 50 feet away from the Pro field. My hat is tipped to all involved in the cast.


Don Saavedra said...

I couldn't blame it on you, Joe, since you were responsible for fixing so many other things that made the webcast possible.