Sunday, January 9, 2011

Moving on Up

I want to revisit or expand on a subject touched upon a few weeks ago in my A Step Between post (can be found here:

It’s been fairly widely accepted in our industry during the last few years that we must protect those trying paintball for the first time and provide a less extreme environment for them in hopes that they won’t get discouraged on their first visit and may actually decide to come back, hopefully again and again. I certainly share this view and feel that as an industry we are slowly making strides in that direction, although we still have a long way to go.

But I think there is a problem if we as an industry think this is enough. I constantly see people saying things like, “well a field needs to keep renters and gear owners apart so that the renters don’t get overshot”. Again, I don’t disagree that this is a bad idea, but I also don’t believe that by itself will fix our problems.

Another thing I see very often is players that have been involved with paintball who have quit, or are thinking of quitting, because they don’t like the way the game has changed. These players are not new players but are experienced players. These would be the players that are thrown together into the “gear owner” group, keeping them away from the renter group. They don’t like play at their local field anymore. I see this sentiment voiced often, but I wonder how many times it happens (players quitting for such reasons) that we don’t hear about it, when players just disappear off the paintball map never to be heard from again.

If seasoned players are quitting because of the way the game has become more extreme, how many new (no seasoning applied yet) wannabe players are we losing? I suspect that number is very high. Making efforts to attract and make the first time players’ experience a good one, only to throw them into an environment that is too extreme for many of them to want to continue with, seems like we are only going halfway with our efforts.

At our field we have more or less given up on trying to keep renters and gear owners separate. It’s not that I think it’s a bad idea, it’s just administratively a hard thing to do. There are many days where one group or the other (usually the gear owners)are not of sufficient numbers to have a decent paintball game. Yet we have still had tremendous growth over the past years, during times when many field have not. Therefore I know that keeping renters and gear owners separate, although not a bad idea, isn’t a necessity. There are other ways that can keep both groups playing together but still playing “nice”. Nice enough to encourage growth of both renters and gear owners (turning renters into gear owners and keeping them around).

I think our industry as a whole has a much bigger problem in thinking that once a player has made the choice to become a “paintballer” that they have also made a commitment to playing and accepting a much more extreme environment as they first experienced as a renter. Maybe there are players that want to play paintball more often and want to own their own gear (we all know the advantage of that) without making a giant leap to “extreme” paintball. Maybe there are many, many of them. Maybe there would be many more, if renters saw that a fun, less extreme environment was available and awaited them, should they make the commitment to gear ownership and regular play.

I think as an industry we are missing the boat in not making more of an effort in providing a safe haven for gear owners who seek it, just as we are trying to do for renters. I think it’s affecting the whole industry. For sure it’s affecting attendance numbers at recreational paintball fields, but it’s also going to affect sale of paintball gear and participation in every other genre of paintball including tournament play (tournament players most often rise up from recreational play). So why aren’t more field owners making efforts to do this? Is it too difficult of a task for field owners to accomplish or does the average field owner not have the capability to understand that not all gear owners want to play extreme versions of paintball? Or maybe it just gets back to field owners going after the fast buck and trying to sell more paintballs to customers? I don’t know, but I do wonder why there seems to be a lack of common sense in our industry.


  1. Good to see you still plugging along. As you know I dropped out of site awhile back. Truth be told, I grew tired of trying to find any "common" sense in the realm of paintball. Bottom line - it's a service industry and that means PEOPLE.

    I consider it a personal endurance record to have lasted fifteen years in the business before my mind imploded under the stress of my obsessive, compulsive, please everyone personality. By the time I realized pleasing everyone was impossible I was too exhausted to go on.

    If I were able to make the jump from realization to acceptance it might be possible to recover. What sustained me all these years was my maniacal drive for player safety. I developed a "My field. My rules. Take it or leave it." attitude that trumped nearly every complaint or problem.

    Take it or leave it, however, is not my nature. My hat's off to you Reiner, and everyone hanging in there. I will be around. Paintball really does get in the blood.

  2. Nice to hear from you Mick. Hope you are doing well.

    Paintball does mean people are involved and whenever people are involved things tend to get complicated. I know you've had decent success with being a stringent watchdog at your field and making sure everyone plays nice, but it is a lot of hard work and the work never truly ends, although I do believe after a while you start getting some help regulars and well trained staff.

    Are you still running your field or is it a thing of the past? I know there were some issues a while back with annexing of land by a nearby authority, if I remember correctly.

  3. Through an amazing grass roots effort the 300 families in the proposed annexation area managed to fend off an arrogant city council by enlightening the towns 10,000 voters. We won. My daughter has been my field manager for the last eight years and currently has taken over the day to day operations.

    She needed a few days off this past weekend. I came in to relieve her and half way through the second day I was promptly gang raped by a couple of Moms who took offense to me dressing down a dangerous(literally) player.

    Just another day. 48 players left telling me what a great day they had (a number of them thanked me for stepping in and pulling the offensive player) and the Moms left saying they would never return.

    I spent most of the night wondering what I could have done differently, the rest of the night chastising myself for giving a damn and most of the next morning wondering, "Who needs this crap."

    I remember venting a similar situation on the blog a long time back. One response went something like, "If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen." It pissed me off at the time but maybe it was the best advice. Apparently being the nicest guy you will ever meet till you piss me off a THIRD time is not enough in this business.

  4. We've been pretty lucky that we've never had a parent flip out on us for reprimanding their little "darling". And like in your situation we've often had parents or other players come to us after "dealing" with an unsportmanlike player, telling us that they are appreciative of the fact that we did.

    Glad to hear you were able to fend off the annexing and rezoning issue.

  5. Gunner (US/ DC Area)February 26, 2012 at 7:52 AM

    I just came across your blog, and as a former avid player, I just thought I'd note how refreshing it is to know someone in the business shares my thoughts on where the game has gone. I started playing pretty late in life, but got hooked, and really loved it. But all the trends you noted have sucked a lot of the life out of it for me. The cost has risen dramatically, especially since almost every field (here in the US at least) is field paint only now, so it's $50 US for even mediocre paint. Add to that the rampant cheating I see, and so many fields reluctant to act firmly when they see it happen. I saw fields rush to set up speedball fields, only to find that pretty much only sponsored teams and kids living off their parents money could afford to fling the amount of paint it required. And if you stick a newbie in with a bunch of experience speedballers, they will get creamed within seconds and often never want to set foot on a field again.
    I could go on and on. Suffice to say, though, it is nice to see someone who emphasizes fun in play actually succeeding as a field owner.

  6. Mixing renters with gear-owners is good. The renters see the gear and imagine the possibilities, and think, "I could use flashy gear like that someday." Or they see the guy with a pump, or the guy with a scope, or the slingshot, or the archer's bow, or whatever, and get all sorts of crazy ideas in their heads. This will draw them more and more into paintball. In order for renters and gear owner to mingle nicely requires a referee or game-master who is creative with games and also very fair. He could take 3 or 5 gear owners and have them try to capture-and-drop a flag defended by 9 or 10 or 12 or 24 rental player, giving the gear owners "touch-and-go recycles" if they tap their hand on a distant object or rock to go back to play after having been eliminated. Make this game 15 minutes or shorter and the renters will feel like they are kicking butt, even if at the end the gear owners end up winning. But the experienced ref will balance things in such a way that hopefully it is a 50/50 chance, and if not, then the next game will make up for it. The referee has to have an imagination also. He can say the gear owners are zombies shooting virus-infused paintballs and if they get one of the 24 rental players eliminated, they too become zombies and must respawn at the rock or whatever the starting position for the attacking side is and face their former friends in combat. Silly stuff. As for unsportsmanlike conduct, the ref is the "great decider" on this. One time I got greedy and snuck up on a kid, the referee waving at me as if to say, "No, no, don't do it!" and I went ahead and shot the boy in the foot. The other kid next to him got scared and they both surrendered. The ref was like, "Really? Really? I'm so disappointed in you, shooting a kid close range. This isn't you." I told him I only tagged him in the foot. The ref shook his head, but I could tell he was smiling. The kids were just as much regulars to the field as I was. I wanted to leave a good impression, that, just because they were kids didn't make them immune. I think deep down everyone present understood this. One time I bunkered another kid, and he was surprised and hurt. In that instance I had shot him once in the ribs as I was going door-to-door in an area that was all shelters. He later showed me that it left a really gnarly welt. I felt bad and offered that he shoot me in the back ten times, and that I'd give him the ten paintballs to do it. Any of my friends would've gleefully accepted, but the kid did not. I don't know what to make of that. I just hope that it wasn't a bad experience for him and that it was just a threshold for him to move through before fully-embracing paintball. No matter what, woodsball is key to enjoyment. And near the close of the day, let us pump players duke it out on the speedball field after the wannabe pro players leave for the day. Mwa ha ha ha.