Tuesday, March 10, 2009

History Pt. 1

Who can name everyone in this photo?

Why don't we have any history in this sport? To most people, Lane Wright is just the guy who runs the PSP and gets in arguments on the internet. Most people have to be told that he used to run to the other teams 40 and kill everybody... in the 10 man days when the fields were huge. When Oliver left Dynasty for the Ironmen, only a few saw it as a RETURN to the Ironmen. I think we can point to a few things for a reason why. None of them, by themselves, account for it. Fact of the matter is, we have about a 3 year shelf-life for the Story of paintball.

The big story right now is Dynasty wearing Empire gear... but people do an "Oh yeah!" when I remind them of what it was like seeing them shoot something other than an Angel. This sport has a long, complicated history, and we have collectively dropped the ball in keeping that history alive.

First, we can blame the media. We do have some excellent storytellers in this sport. People who are passionate about all aspects of it and starve themselves in singular pursuit of telling stories. People like Patrick Spohrer, Matty Marshall, John Amodea. But, those stories have always been told long after the fact. In the case of videos or magazines, it is months or even years later that we get a taste of what happened and why. Especially in the digital age when the gist of the story has already been told. And it's not a very lucrative career choice.

Decisions and sacrifices have to be made that dilute or minimize the story. Things move so fast and there is so little money in it that we have no Guardian of the Past. No Bob Costas who can make a living talking about Micky Mantle for 40 years. Technology pushed the splatmasters and autocockers and automags out. Shortened the fields, games and rosters. Faster faster faster. Meanwhile, who remembers what it was like? Who is keeping it alive to put today's game in the proper context? The only reason we marveled at how high Jordan could jump is because we had guys around to remind us what Dr. J could do. So Carl Markowski is the "fastest man in paintball," but we don't really have anyone to compare his feats to. We just have to take it on authority when Matt Marshall says it or Mike Paxson writes about it. I can't get into an argument with someone about Lane vs. Carl like I can about Wilt vs. Shaq.

Once something happens, we seem to mention it and even marvel about it... but quickly forget it. Our magazines are already looking to the next story, the internet has dubbed it "old news," and by the time we see it on a DVD, we can't remember what tournament that was or what it meant at the time. We don't have a cast of characters who will talk about it forever on the radio or internet, and just one filmmaker who can seem to build a good story out of it... but can't make it financially viable enough to do it more than once every 5 years.

And that brings us to the 2nd part of our blame-game: the fans. They don't care. Well, that's not true. I'm a fan, and I care. But I am, it turns out, a very small demographic. I'm rare. I actually sit and read stories and pay for DVDs and I even spent a year of my life talking in to a microphone to try and keep the dialogue going and the stories alive. I do plan on doing it again (podcasting), for sure. But, to what end? So I can entertain 80 people again? Or 120? I never got thousands, unless I was actually showing a live tournament, and that was only the PSP. Nobody seemed to care when I simulcast a local tournament in Canada. Not even Canadians tuned in.

Magazines have gone out of business left and right. The only ones putting DVDs out on the market anymore is DerDer, and as much as I like their videos, they don't really tell stories. Not like Jawwbraker did. Not like PUSH and Sunday Drivers. And if you ask Dan Napoli or Spohrer how many DVDs they sold, they'll quickly change the subject on you. Mostly because it's a rude question. It's like asking a woman her weight. But also because they don't get the support from the fans of this sport. If everybody who was willing to download a torrent of a paintball video actually purchased a paintball video, we'd actually have storytellers with cameras in this sport.

I don't think any of them would be buying yachts, but they'd be able to not only afford to produce another disc, they'd be able to feed themselves in the meantime and give their craft 100%. It's hard to make the effort when there seems to be no market for the stories. I ask myself, "Why? Why doesn't anybody seem to care?" I could sit and listen for hours to Matty or Chris Iaquinta telling me stories of the old days. Guys I only know by name and magazine photo only come to life as I hear about their hijinks or idiosyncrasies. I'm a relative newcomer to this sport. Bea Youngs had to tell me all about Lane Wright as a player. IQ and Mike Paxson had to tell me about the little tricks Ron Kilbourne has gotten away with. I actually had to force a story out of Eric Felix about his playing days. He was as hesitant to talk about it as my dad is about the Japanese occupation of his village in WWII.

Tomorrow, I will continue to berate you all for everything that is wrong with you, and then sit very high on my horse and tell you what you need to do to please me. Or... something.


bruce said...

I've been in paintball only a few years (competitively just one). Everything you are saying about paintball history is true which makes it so frustrating. I've been slowly collecting every DVD I can get and it seems to just not be enough available.

As for players not supporting it - people who don't blink to drop dough on a new gun or case after case of paint have no problem borrowing or downloading bad copies rather than purchasing a legit copy. I wish there were an easy answer for this, but there isn't. Pre-order freebies can only go so far.

What would be nice would be a comprehensive wikipedia-type entry that went into the gory details about who/what/where.

Don Saavedra said...

That would be one huge wiki. What I'd like to do is start the Paintball Hall of Fame. Each inductee will be another small piece of the puzzle of our history, slowly to be revealed over time.

Gabriel R. said...

I've also pondered about the absence of useful paintball information on wikipedia before. All it takes is people putting in the time to write the articles.

editor said...

I've got most of that paintball history locked up inside my head. I've been letting it out in bits and pieces in a regular feature up on 68caliber.com called 'Paintball Then and Now'; I've looked at guns, masks and etc; the next one coming up is tournaments.

No one cares about the history of this game because if they did, they'd have to accept how far off-track we've gotten.