Friday, April 10, 2009

Surf City Open? Damn near Killed 'im!

Photos courtesy of

I suppose one of us, at some point, has to talk about the USPL event in Huntington Beach this past week. I was there, and on Saturday I was lucky enough to be joined by Brandon and Chris. Funny thing about the internets and blogs... it was the first time I had met them. I also got to meet Baca from VFTD and talk to him a little bit about blogging. I even recorded the conversation for later blackmailing/podcasting. If you want a preview, we talked about how much better looking bloggers are than normal peasant folk. I'll leave the details for when the podcast comes out.

I arrived on Friday and helped get the SplatXD studio all set-up. I brought my sound studio so I could record interviews. I managed two. 2 and a half if you count Chris Iaquinta telling embarrassing stories about badmouthing others in the paintball industry. Yes, it was recorded, but it will only see the light of day if someone pays me a cool $1 million USD. Yes, IQ, you'll get a cut, don't worry. The traffic on Friday was very light, but the event looked good. I think, if this was someone's first HB event, they might have thought "Paintball has never looked this good." Those of us who have been coming to the HB event year after year saw it as small. "Lesser" to some degree. That was my initial reaction, and based on conversations I had, was the initial reaction of many HB veterans. But, the more I peered into the inner workings, the more I thought about what was different this year than years past, the more I came to view the event as "intimate" and not "small." All the same faces were there, for the most part. What made the event small had nothing to do with Chuck and Camille, or the USPL, or the relevant success of the PSP. What made the event small is the same thing that has made paintball a bit smaller lately. WDP used to always have the coolest booths in past HBs. They put up picket fences and potted trees and had killer music playing. Now? They're not even a corner in the JT booth anymore. Speaking of JT, they didn't have a booth at all.

And that's not anybody's fault and shouldn't be used as any kind of "measuring stick" for how well this first event, or any subsequent event, should be judged. What matters, first and foremost, is the paintball. Not the sales, not the girls (ok, the girls are the most important but not when you're pretending to be serious), and not the spectacle. It doesn't matter how big you make the party look if it has a rotten core. That's how I came to view the NPPL in it's last 2 years or so. Sure, the events looked top notch, and as a spectator I was assured of certain creature comforts. But the competition itself was rotting away with constant reffing problems and smaller and smaller team turnouts. Pro teams self-combusting midway through a season and some Pro Teams just up and leaving altogether. It was all pyrotechnics, no decent rock music. And, on that scale, when looking at the competition side of it, how did the USPL's first event stand up? 7-man is still plagued with reffing problems and diminishing turnouts. Problems in reffing is self explanatory, but the problem with diminishing turnout isn't quite so obvious. I was bummed to see that the Ironmen were reduced to mercenaries. Same with the All Americans. Joy Division wasn't anywhere to be found. If there were swedes at the event, they were in disguise. Smaller turnout isn't about the money the league is able to earn (and use to continue existing), it means diminished competition as well. When the NPPL first splintered and half of the best teams and best players were forbidden to compete with the other half, I never had a sense of who was actually the best. Dynasty was winning everything... but against who? I get the same feeling now. As a spectator and a fringe member of the media, I want the best of the best all on the field, battling it out in a bloodbath for 1st place. I want to look at the schedule and have no clue how it will all turn out. Makes it much more exciting. Were I a competitor, leaving money aside for a moment, I would want to be standing on top of that podium with NO QUESTION that I am truly the champ. This goes for all divisions.

Now, very little of this is the direct fault of the USPL. One could make an argument about the timing of starting this league being a partial cause and therefore a direct fault, but that is still only partial. A promoter is mostly in a position of "build it and hope that they will come," where the only real direct influence they have is in how they "build it." And, when it comes to that, I would say they did a great job. The combination of Chuck, Tom and Camille along with professional players who have devoted themselves to this cause was enough to build a very respectable venue. I would like to see them pay more attention to the reffing, and I could write a whole 'nother blog about that (in fact... I think I will. Next week!), but they put a venue in place that was professional and an improvement in many areas. The games turned around very quickly thanks, in no small part, to no more arm bands! What a concept! I liked the field design and the teams were very aggressive on it, making for some exciting play. I even like the U bunker. I like anything that mixes things up and introduces something new. Because, let's be frank... for the most part these paintball games eventually start to all look the same. Once in a while (but not necessarily every event), someone will pull an amazing move and you'll see something new. But the rest of the time... it's like watching Run Lola Run. The U was fun to watch, especially when each team got into the 50 snake.

Saturday and Sunday saw traffic through the vendor area increase dramatically. The vendors were on the sand, and our collective butts were facing the main thoroughfair where most of the walkers/bikers/skaters travel up and down the beach. Traffic had to be diverted in, and there was some concern on Friday if we'd get enough traffic. I can't speak to any sales (we had nothing to sell for a digital magazine), but the walking lanes through the vendor tents was packed. The stands looked like they drew good crowds as well. All in all, I would rate the USPL's first outing as a success. I don't know that it will translate into longevity. I'm a terrible prognosticator. Yes, I thought HDDVD would beat BluRay. So I won't even begin to speculate about the USPL's chances for solvency this year or in years to come, or if they'll even make it past their 2nd event. But I will give credit where credit is due, and Chuck & Co. did an admirable job of starting off their new league.