Wednesday, March 11, 2009

History Pt. 2

Yesterday, I started to delve into something that has irked me for a while, and that is the lack of History in our sport. Or at least, the lack of attention paid to it. The history is there... so why do we ignore it? Today, I conclude my thoughts on the subject.

To make the "fans don't care" even worse is the fact that our sport is split in two. We have made strides in the past year or so in getting the scenario/big game crowd acknowledged at all by the manufacturers, but that's mostly out of necessity in this economy. Given their druthers, I still think the industry would ignore scenario if they could afford to. There is even less glory to be had there, fewer stories that mean anything to be told. And the average scenario/big game/recreational player couldn't care less. Mostly as a reaction to being the red-headed step child for so many years. "They don't care about us? Fine, I'll care about them even less." To them, tournament players are just a bunch of cheaters anyway. They don't play this game with honor. All they want is a free handout they don't love the sport above themselves. They don't love the sport the way I do. They aren't even that good because they have to cheat to win. Yes, these are all things I've heard. I wish there was more I could do to change their minds other than tell them flat out, "You're wrong." But that doesn't carry much weight and it certainly doesn't instill within them an admiration and passion for the sport played at the highest level.

In many ways, they are exactly like the tournament players they dislike: they are very "Me Me Me!" They tend to only seek out media coverage for events they were a part of. I'm guilty of it. I never read the articles about the scenarios I didn't go to. They're boring! Yeah yeah... there was some sort of story, a bunch of people in camo show up, there's lots of people shooting each other, some nerd does something with a cap gun or water bottle, everything comes down to the final battle, everybody has nice things to say about each other afterward and they gave out some good prizes. Oh, and maybe Greg Hastings was there. Do you see? I'm apathetic and the media is failing me. We are failing each other. There's a good chance someone was playing in their first scenario or even paintball game. There's even a decent chance that someone experienced something that gets them addicted to the sport. A new fan is born. A new chance to tell someone our story. But I'll never know. Because the guy writing the article probably didn't even go to the game. If he was there, he certainly didn't go in search of these kinds of stories, and I'm not going to read the article anyway because there won't be a picture of me in it.

So, what's the fix? Where do we go from here? How do we get people excited about the Who and the What, and how do we effectively give it to them? This is the part of the equation I am weakest at. I'm good at finding the problems, but horrible at finding the solutions. It's easy for me to be passionate about what the pros are doing and what they've done in the past because that's just my personality. I'm a sports fan, and approach my chosen sport in the same way I approach those sports I'm just a spectator for: Pick a home team and favorite players, and root for them until it hurts. And, I have a hard time understanding why everybody else isn't the same way. I hadn't met a single pro when I chose the Ironmen as my favorite team. I chose them because I was reading an article about the founding of the NXL, and I'm from L.A. Seemed like a no brainer for me. So I looked up the roster, and they were some of the same names I learned about in PUSH. So I started following Matt Marshall and Micah and Telford. I didn't need a personal connection for that to happen, but I feel that maybe some do.

Being as involved as I've been in this sport since I first bought a Spyder and wrapped it in camo netting so I could be a "sniper" (I've come a long way. A long, loooong way), I've had the privilege of meeting guys I'd only read about in magazines. It's becoming harder and harder for me to root against any teams. I'm a homer! I like rooting for my team and hoping the other teams all die in a fire. But that is hard to do when you know the players on those other teams. At PSP Phoenix this year, I got to know Nick Slowiak a little bit. Great guy. Now, how the hell am I supposed to root against Aftershock? Tim Montressor? Really cool guy. Now I can't hope Philly's Luxes all get replaced with airsoft guns and they lose. There's almost nobody left I can root against!

And maybe that's the secret. Maybe more of those camo nerds need to get to know these tournament nerds. I've been to scenario games that had a wide range of Pro players, past and present, but there was almost zero interaction between the commoners and the pro's. Except for on the field, where the pro players proceeded to lay waste to the regular folks. But, getting shot by Max Lundquist isn't the same as sharing a soda with him. He's such a nice and charismatic guy, you can't help but like him. Even when he's stealing your girlfriend, you are almost rooting for him. He could walk out of any woodsball event with a ton of new Joy Division fans if anybody actually took the time to socialize and mix it up. But, the pro's tend to keep to themselves and the scenario teams tend to keep to themselves and the divide gets even wider. Even on the field, the competitive nature takes over and the tournament players tend to all team up because they are more effective that way. But, as ambassadors, shouldn't they all split up? Shouldn't each pro find a kid and drag that kid everywhere with them, showing them how to play and keeping them up front and in the action? Shouldn't they play for different sides so the game is even and everybody gets a chance to meet and play with these guys? It can only help. Every pro I've personally met seems to have gone to the Rocky Cagnoni School for Fan Interaction. They're all great guys. (Yes, even Brandon Lambertson.) And if I were a kid or new to this sport and spent a weekend with Todd Martinez, sharing a bunker and a burger with him... what do you think the chances are that I'm going to take time out when there's a PSP or USPL tournament in my area to go and root for Dynasty? Aren't I more likely to consider Luxe or Empire as my gear of choice? Don Saavedra is a nobody, but every chance I get when I go play walk-on I trade guns with someone with a rental. I have no idea how many Ego's I've sold that way, but you'd think Planet would be pleased. Imagine if Nicky Cuba let me use his DM9 for half a game? I'd be hooked! Not only on Dye, but on anything Ironmen and Nicky Cuba.

Ok, I've beaten that idea to death. But, like anything else, I get passionate over what I think might bring this sport together. I'm a crossover guy, and I think we should be One Sport. United in our love for everything this sport has to offer. We need to get the dialogue started. About what's going on. About what it all means. So that 10 years from now, we can argue with some kid about how good Oliver Lang really was compared to whatever stud is top of the game now. So that those kids can be passionate about their guy, too, and tell us old guys that we are biased. The movement to start keeping stats will help tremendously in this area. It's the only way you can even hope to compare Stan Musial to Tony Gwynn. Right now, it's purely conjecture to compare Rich Telford to Gary Noblet. But, that will serve for now. We just need to get the proper forum for such discussions and put some butts in the seats. And get it sponsored. So I can make some money so I can not care about you guys or this stupid history stuff.

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.