Thursday, January 30, 2014

Speedball – A New Format

Before reading this, I would suggest those that have not read my previous post ( ), should do so now.

When competitive paintball came out of the woods and was eventually renamed speedball, it was so named not because players were shooting extremely fast (initially they were not shooting any faster than when they were still competing in the woods), but rather because games were now played on small fields and ended relatively quickly.  Gone were the days of sneaking and crawling to new positions to gain a better angle on an opponent.  High rates of fire and their association with speedball came later.

I’m not here to debate the pros and cons of high rates of fire though.  I think there is a place for everything in paintball.  I am here to discuss a new format and how it can have positive effects on two of the three problems that most people seem to associate with current formats.  Why only two of the three?   Well if you go back you will see that the first and second problems are virtually opposite of one another.  People say that too many things are happening at once and therefore the game is difficult to follow and others say it’s boring to watch because there is very little movement going on.  Both can be true, although rarely simultaneously, but both can happen during the course of any game.  It’s very difficult, if not impossible to solve both.  Therefore the problem the new format is not going to try to solve is that too many things are happening at once.  This of course is only a problem from a spectator's point of view and will remain a problem until competitive paintball becomes popular enough that heavy investment in filming can alleviate some of this problem.  Personally I don’t think it can ever be totally solved and we should be concentrating on making the game fun and affordable for players to want to take part, rather than watch.

So on to the new format.  I’ll be honest, the format isn’t so much new, it has more to do with scoring and in reality, the rules of the game do not need to change from current rules very much; that applies to Race 2, 7-Man and virtually any other version of paintball.  This may bring a sigh of relief to those players reading and thinking, here comes another new version which will mean everyone has to learn a whole new game.  No, the game can for the most part stay the same, but that doesn’t mean that the new format (scoring) doesn’t change the way the game is played, A LOT.  It does indeed change virtually everything.  In the Race 2 version, there would no longer be a Race 2 a certain number of points, but rather a set number of matches.  How many matches doesn’t really matter and can be set by tournament organizers, just as the number of Race 2 matches is now set differently for different divisions.

Bear in mind that this is a conceptual thing right now, and can be modified and changed.  Actually the great things about this new format/scoring system is that although the rules don’t need to change, the new format’s scoring system can be “adjusted” to meet the needs of the organizer and the organizer’s intention and player base/level.

The format uses modern technology, which probably wasn’t available when paintball first came out of the woods.  If it was, it would have been very bulky and very expensive.  Modern electronics and an abundance of software writers have changed that.  Now let me say, that I am not a very “techy” person, but I do know the technology exists or can be adapted to meet our needs.  We’ll use the current Race 2 format as an example, as it is probably the most predominant version of competitive paintball in the world.  Points would be scored by hitting a buzzer (yes I prefer a buzzer for this – one tied electronically to the scoring system), but instead of 1 point for a buzzer push, a team would receive 1,000 points (working number, can be changed to whatever we want).  This doesn’t change anything except adding a bunch of zeros to the “1”.  Why we need so many points will become apparent momentarily.

The new “format” is designed to encourage movement, making the game true “speedball”, rather than the occasional “boredom” ball that spectators and players complain about.  It changes the “risk vs. reward” ratio of the game, making it more rewarding to move (sometimes).  How do we encourage movement?  By penalizing players that stay in any one position for too long.  We don’t penalize them so much that they CAN'T stay in a position if they feel it is worthwhile, but we do penalize them for choosing to do so.  In other words, a team that chooses not to move will have more points deducted than a team that chooses to actively move from bunker to bunker.

So you are asking, who is going to be able to keep track of all that?  Refs and scorekeepers can’t keep track of everything that is going on as it is.  You are absolutely right, so we are not going to have any human involvement in the tracking of this data and the points associated with it.  This is all going to be done electronically, with a computer doing the calculations for us.  Each bunker will have sensors (most likely two – one on each side facing the ends of the field).  Players will be wearing transmitters.  As  a player nears a bunker (distance to be determined – probably in the 5 foot neighborhood), the transmitter the player is wearing is activated, sending a signal to the computer, basically stating the Player # “1” is in bunker “C”.  A certain length of “free” time is permitted at each bunker, maybe 5 seconds.  After that, the player starts racking up negative points.  The points increase exponentially as time elapses; meaning the longer a player stays in a bunker, the more negative points are accumulated for each passing second.  The formula would be:
[p=(x) to the power of y], where,
“p” is points, and
“x” is the negative points accumulated from the previous second’s assessed points, and
“y” is the exponential factor. 
A new calculation is performed at the end of each second using the new point total for “x”.  I’m not a mathematician, so there is probably a more eloquent way of stating this.  We’ll do an example of the scoring momentarily which will make this clearer (it’s not as complicated as it sounds).

Like I stated earlier, the scoring can be adjusted to meet the needs of the type of play needed or wanted, so we’ll just set up an example of one possible way to set up the scoring and then discuss how changing the scoring rates will change the way the game is played and why you might want to change the scoring rates based on things like ROF allowed.  Let’s say we allow a 5 second “free” time, meaning a player (we’ll use Player “1” behind Bunker “C”) can stay within 5’ (working distance – can be adjusted) of a bunker for 5 seconds after arriving there without any penalty.  We’ll use an exponential factor of 1.2 for our example.  During the 6th second at the Bunker “C”, Player “1” will receive 1.2 negative points.  During his 7th second, he will receive 1.44 negative points (1.2 times 1.2).  During his 8th second, it will be 1.728 (1.44 times 1.2), 9th second, 2.0736 (aren’t you glad we’ve got a computer doing this now?).  Although the computer will use as many decimals as required, the result will be rounded to one or two decimal places.  As you can see, each additional second racks up more points than the preceding second, meaning that the longer a player chooses to stay within 5’ of that bunker the more negative affect it will have on the team’s score.  At some point the negative points given should become either fixed or the formula changed to a very low exponential factor.  Why?  If it were kept at 1.2, after 60 seconds in the same bunker, a player would have accumulated 113,218 negative points and after 120 seconds, it would be 6,379,891,595 (yeah, that’s over 6 billion).  However if perhaps after 11 seconds the points given were -3 for each additional second, then after 60 seconds, the amount would be -155.9 and after 120 seconds, 335.9; still a lot, but not totally unreasonable.  All these numbers can be changed of course with the minimal effort of a few keystrokes.  This is just one example.  Personally, I would change the formula after a certain number of seconds to a very low exponential factor.  This will keep penalties fairly reasonable at first, but then accumulate faster if players stay in bunkers for very long times, which will help create movement on the field.  Maybe change the exponential factor to 1.005  after 8 or 9 seconds or something along that line.

During the course of the game the computer is gathering and calculating data for all active players (players in the dead box would not be near a sensor so would no longer be accumulating negative points).  In theory, a very active player that never stays in a bunker for more than the allowable “free” time, would not rack up any negative points, while the player staying behind his bunker  for the duration of the game (until the buzzer is pushed and turns off reception of data from transmitters) will rack up a lot of negative points.  Once the system has been set up correctly, you can see that teams that move quickly and more frequently will have an advantage over those that don’t.  In fact, in theory, it could even pass that the team that ended up eliminating the other team and pressing the buzzer could still end up losing the game if they accumulated enough negative points.  All is not lost though as points for each game are accumulated and included in the match total.

In this new version, the risk/reward ratio changes as time spent behind bunkers accumulates.  This creates a game where critical thinking is mandatory.  Movement, although theoretically not required, becomes an asset, while “camping” becomes a liability.  Because the risk to move is rewarded, there will naturally be more movement.  Because there is more movement, there will be less need for high rates of fire (although the games can be played at whatever rate an organizer chooses) nor will the game require as many paintballs if an organizer chooses to limit paintballs allowed.  If less paintballs are allowed or a considerably low ROF were introduced (or both), this would create a game with much movement and return to a game where the skill of aiming and leading an opponent’s run, rather than laning becomes an asset.  It would also become a game where on field, critical thinking would be a must.  No longer could players be indecisive behind bunkers for long periods of time (they could, but it would cost them dearly).  Creating a “fast” and exciting game of “speedball” in this manner, means that players can show off their athleticism, skills, and critical thinking abilities without having to shoot high volumes of paintballs.  The game would be more affordable with potentially more activity (movement).

Changing the formula and thereby the severity of the penalty will change the risk/reward ratio associated with moving and thereby either slow down or speed up the game.  This makes it easy to adapt the game for various skill/division levels.  Lower levels would be penalized less for not moving while the upper echelon gets penalized heavier for sitting in their bunkers instead of moving.  The game can further be adapted by ROF’s and/or varying paintball limits if desired.  It could be used in tournaments from stockclass all the way to National level Pro leagues.  The rules don’t need to change at any level, other than possibly ROFs and/or paintball limits.

I want to reiterate how adaptable this system would be.  The criteria for the scoring can be changed very easily.  For instance, the length of “free” time behind a bunker can be changed to any duration desirable.  The severity of the penalty points for staying behind the same bunker can be changed easily by adjusting the exponential factor involved.  We can even change those criteria for different players.  For instance, maybe we want to have the game set up, so that a couple of the players (back players) have more free time before the penalty points start racking up and maybe they rack up slower.  This could be easily accomplished by having different colour transmitters for different types of players.

How much will converting to this new format cost?  The sensors, transmitters, receivers and software would be sold by the bunker manufacturers and could be purchased with a new set of bunkers or the components would be available separately.  The components would be transferrable and would be adaptable with any computer, even a cheap $250 laptop.  When replacement bunkers need to be purchased, they can be purchased with or without sensors, depending on whether the buyer has them already or not.  Like I said earlier, I’m not particularly “techy”, but I think the initial setup would be under $1,000 on top of the bunker price.  Being transferrable, in theory it would be a one time (per field) cost.

So who’s up to creating a faster, more exciting, less expensive competitive paintball game?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Speedball - Problems.

Speedball is the generic name used to describe versions of competitive paintball played on relatively small, symmetrical fields using air bunkers.  The name didn’t exist when players were competing in the woods.  The name implies that at least one thing in the competition is taking place in a rapid manner.

Admittedly, my personal involvement with speedball has been fairly limited.  By the time I was more seriously involved in paintball, I was a family man in my late 30’s.  With family commitments and age not being on my side, there was no point in getting very excited about starting a competitive playing career.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t be a fan or put thought into something so closely linked to the industry I have chosen for myself.

In a way, speedball is a lot like the game of Dodge Ball with players trying to eliminate other players by hitting them with a ball.  The big difference obviously is that in paintball, the balls are difficult to see and travelling much faster, therefore there is not much dodging going on, so we need obstacles (bunkers) to hide behind to avoid being eliminated immediately.  The other big difference is that in Dodge Ball, there is usually only one ball involved, making the game relatively easy to follow.  Imagine what the game of Doge Ball would be like if there were 5 players on each team and there were 10 balls in play.  The action would be very difficult to follow.

Speedball is also a game where the strategy changes as the game is played, much like a game of chess.  Speedball teams may have set plays for breakouts and may have a few loose plays for when certain things happen, but in general, the players on the field need to be aware of what is going on and make decisions on the go.  Chess is like that as well, especially real chess where moves are limited by time.  Here the big difference is the number of players on each team.  Imagine what would happen if a chess “field” had 5 players on each team making moves simultaneously.  The game would be completely different and would be impossible for a spectator to follow.  As it is, chess isn’t a very exciting spectator activity unless you are deeply involved with the activity, much like paintball.

Whenever I read one of the threads on forums where people discuss how to “fix” competitive paintball, one of the first items that pops up in the discussion is that paintball is difficult to watch.  There are too many things happening at the same time for spectators to keep up.  While watching one part of the play, spectators will most often miss other important moves happening at the same time.  I have watched competitive paintball many times when the game is over, spectators are turning to one another and asking, “What happened?”.  With video replays, if enough camera angles exist, this can be somewhat alleviated, so that spectators (if watching a video version and not live) can catch up on what they missed.  But that’s still not nearly as good as a sport where spectators can see enough of the action live that they don’t need video replays to enjoy watching.

The other thing that comes up in these discussions every time is that paintball is “boring” to watch.  There are too many times where the risk of moving is much greater than the potential reward, therefore players will stay in their bunker and fight it out.  This most often happens when the number of players has been reduced, especially when there are only two players left, one on each team.

The third thing that comes up is the cost to participate.  Paintball, in most competitive versions, is expensive to take part in, and most often the cost of paintballs is the accused factor.  It’s obvious that all things being equal, a team with more ammunition has an advantage, therefore to be competitive; teams must arm themselves with large volumes of paintballs.  Teams that want to do well must also practice.  Practice, again, involves shooting paintballs.  Sure you can run some drills and maybe teams can even do some fitness stuff that doesn’t involve shooting at all, but when a game is basically about shooting paintballs to eliminate the other team, it’s difficult to practice without using paintballs.  Even “cheap” paintballs are a big expense if you need a lot of them, and to be competitive, more is better.

Next week I will discuss an off the wall solution that can help solve two of the three major problems associated with competitive paintball with the goal to make the game more exciting and more affordable without actually changing many rules of the current competitive paintball game.  The solution is so simple, you’ll wonder why you haven’t thought of it years ago.  Although a simple concept, the explanation is a bit lengthy, so be prepared to set a few minutes aside for it.