Promoter Diaries 1
As Published in Paintball Games International Issue 229
Those of you who know me fairly well probably already know the story of how I broke my big toe. A few years ago I got a little angry after getting shot stupid during a paintball game in the woods so I kicked a tree and managed to break my right big toe. It never healed quite right and I've never been able to bend it very well since. The other day as I was walking from field three to field one for about the tenth time, hopping over mud-holes and wishing my socks were dry, I realized the tip of my big toe was numb and I haven't felt it since. It's been almost two weeks. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm Josh Silverman, and I help run one of the biggest paintball leagues in the world, the CFOA.
Many of you are probably wondering what the hell the CFOA actually is. You might have read about it here and there and from so-doing you already know that it's a paintball league in the southeastern USA, running the biggest five-man tournaments around along with some XBall events. We run thirteen stand-alone tournaments a year in addition to a number of local three-man events by-contract for a major regional fieldowner; none of that pansy five events a year crap for us. The acronym CFOA actually stands for "Carolina Field Owners Association" which is what it was when my partner in crime and league President Larry Motes started the series in 1998. Since then, we've grown from twelve teams in the woods to ten times that many on air ball fields from Atlanta, Georgia to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and oh yeah, we do still run the occassional event in the Carolinas. I had no idea when I wandered into my first CFOA in 2000 to cover it for a small paintball newspaper that I'd end up helping run the dang things almost ten years later and if I had, sometimes I wonder if I wouldn't have been wiser to run screaming in the other direction. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't trade the experiences, the friends I've made or the stories I have for anything in the world, but there are times when you're knee deep in mud, the wind-chill is below freezing, the tournament's two hours behind, the air just went down, the rain has turned to frozen, wind-blown pellets stinging your face and the refs just said "screw it" and went home, that you have to wonder if teaching history for a living might, just maybe, have been just a little bit easier on that broken big toe.
Now before you break out the Prozac, Captain and a shot glass and settle in for a long winter's night of "Russian" roulette (or before you tell me to wipe the sand out and drive on and be happy I'm making a living in paintball) I'll absolutely state for the record that yes, paintball does pay my bills and yes, because of that, I'm blessed. But that's not what this little ditty here is all about. It's about putting a face on all of us evil tournament promoters that somewhere along the line in paintball became the enemy of players everywhere. Who became the Marshals desperately trying against all odds to bring order into the lawless town of tournament paintball where wiping, fast guns (fast women?) and spoiled brat midgets with machine guns, time on their hands and access to PBNation rebel against authority at every turn. It's about reminding everyone that while, yes, some of us promoters are walking away from the event you just played with money in our pockets, it's not what you think; it's not easy, it's not a cash cow pyramid money-laundring get-rich-quick scheme that anyone can jump into tomorrow. So before you come home from your next tournament pissed because you went two-and-four and went home early and need someone to blame that isn't you and you break out your calculator and determine that your promoter just pulled down a quick couple hundred grand in entry fees and must be pocketing all that to buy a new house and truck at your expense and head to the internet to whine anonymously about how you could do better, why don't you flip to this page for the next few months while I spin some yarns of the joys of paintball event promotion?
It dawns on me that there might only be ten people in the whole world who will read these pages and truly appreciate the words and experiences within. The rest of you might very well read this stuff and come away thinking I'm a whiner, greedy promoter in search of redemption or complete idiot. But then, since so many of you probably already think some or all of that, and you just read all that stuff up there to get right back to where you started, the joke's on you and I've won this round.
This issue's column is dedicated to my brother Larry Motes, who created something great and who possesses a vision, passion, love, devotion and dream for paintball like nothing I've ever seen, if for no other reason than because "it beats the hell out of building school buses."
Promoter Diaries 2
As Published in Paintball Games International Issue 230
So in the little break I finally got between CFOA events and magazine deadlines I was invited down to Ludowici, Georgia for an SPPL qualifier. I’d never been to an SPPL before so this was an altogether new experience for me. Having spent the weekend there, it was definitely an experience that reminded me very much of the tournaments I literally grew up playing; ten-on-ten in the woods shooting it out. It also reminded me of old times for another reason, as Tom Cole brought BC Army (Bad Company) down and I’d been schooled by a lot of those guys growing up in the Northern Virginia/Maryland paintball scene in the mid-nineties.
As sportsmanlike as competitive scenario players always say they are, I saw plenty of instances where they took opportunities to screw each other over, proving yet again that once prizes and money get involved, it doesn’t matter what kind of player you are or how much “sportsmanship” you spout in the staging area, once you’re out there in goggles, behind a gun in the trees, for the majority of us, it’s about winning no matter the format. Don’t get mad if you’re a scenario player reading this, I didn’t say all of you, I said most of us, so not only did I leave a loophole for the truly sportsmanlike, but I also included myself in the statement because I admit I like paintball a lot more when I’m winning too. I also saw instances that proved unequivocally that lately, no matter how much a promoter might do or how hard they might work to please their players, there are always going to be some that will never be satisfied.
I absolutely know that in every tournament circuit in the country, some more than others, but in every one, there is room for improvement. Players have the right to ask for things to be improved when necessary, let’s face it, they’re the customers and they have the right to receive the best experience for their dollar, but when the league is asked to change, the league actually listens and does it, then the players continue to complain, it just cracks me up. For example, I’ve been following the SPPL for a while now, very interested in its format and logistics, and I noticed that after a few teams got beat up on by the old pros (and a few younger ones) that have come into the league like Bad Company and the Smart Corps, the league took steps to alleviate the situation by creating a divisional system not unlike that in other tournaments. You might think just creating new divisions for you guys to sandbag down into will solve all sorts of problems and all will be right with the world, but guess what, it doesn’t work that way.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, that’s basic physics. The equal and opposite reaction of creating new and multiple divisions of play for any paintball tournament series is that suddenly, instead of finding sponsorship, prizes, fields and referees for one or two divisions, the promoter now has to find double, triple or even quadruple the amount of prizes and sponsorship consideration, plus more refs and longer schedules, meaning increased payroll. We found this out the hard way in the CFOA over the last few years and Jayson, the great guy running the SPPL, just figured it out the hard way himself lately. Instead of just showing up and running a woodsball tournament with one division of play and one prize package, now he has to keep track of player classifications, team divisions, create a multi-divisional schedule that can still run in the allotted time and somehow, in this time of uncertainty in paintball, conjure up a prize package for multiple divisions instead of just one.
What does it all mean? It means that out of his good-hearted attempt to make things better for his players and customers in the SPPL, he’s created a much larger pre, during and post-tournament workload for himself and his small staff, complicated his registration and drastically increased the amount of sponsorship he has to go to company doorsteps asking for. The end-result, players got what they wanted, the chance to play without getting clubbed like baby seals by the pros, but their prize packages were reduced and they now have to pay for player identification cards and play within divisions. Now some players are asking for more prizes and complaining about paying for ID cards. Sometimes you just can’t win.
Promoter Diaries 3
As Published in Paintball Games International Issue 231
Nothing in my almost thirty years (there I said it) of life experience has altered my perspective quite like being a tournament promoter. As a life-long student of history and some-time teacher of it, I see things in this world for what they are, what they were, where they came from and how they’ve shaped our surroundings. Being a promoter has somewhat skewed my views on some historic things, though.
You guys (and girls, at least I hope some girls read this I’d be sad if it was a total sausage fest) have probably seen air ball fields and EZ-Up tents. They’re everywhere in paintball. Did you ever stop to think about just what great innovations these things are? Looking at them historically, they’ve really changed how people do things like play paintball and hide from the bright sun and rain. Sup’Air fields drastically changed paintball because before them, all we had were Hyperball and trees and neither were exactly easy to move around, set up or tear down and the last time I checked, simple to set up on a grid in a football stadium parking lot. Ez-Up tents are ridiculously easy to erect, provide sturdy, convenient shelter and actually look presentable doing it. Both are definitely great innovations and have changed the paintball world for the better.
Then there’s my promoter’s way of looking at things; that somewhat skewed perspective I warned you about. While I absolutely still believe and understand that both air ball fields and EZ-Up tents are innovations and make things much easier for promoters like us, there are times when I actually catch myself saying “there must be an easier way” when dealing with them. That’s sad, considering those things actually are the easier ways. I try to fight it, to always remember that without these inflatable bunkers and easily-folding, sturdy tents our events wouldn’t be so easy to set up, tear down or conduct, but there are times when I catch myself allowing my appreciation for those innovations to take a back seat to my frustration over using them in the quantities we do.
Why would I ever be frustrated about using historical innovations like air ball fields and EZ-Up tents to run successful tournaments, you ask? Last weekend we ran an XBall tournament, our second of the 2008 season. It was very successful by every stretch of the imagination, but XBall events need logistics like pits, scoreboards, air ball fields and all that stuff. The tournament fairy doesn ’t sprinkle pixie dust over an open field somewhere and magically a paintball tournament grows. In our case, we had to set up, stake down, tie together and net 36 EZ-Up tents for the pits, set up another EZ-Up on each field for the scorekeepers, then get the three air ball fields set up and hang the scoreboards. There’s also air, but thankfully we have Paintball Central for that. In case you didn’t do the easy math, that’s 39 EZ-Up tents and, oh, about 120 air ball bunkers. And that’s just a little old CFOA event; can you imagine how many tents must go up at PSP events and how many air ball bunkers must get staked down? It boggles the mind!
After carrying, placing, unpacking, unfolding, erecting, staking down, tying together and netting off a few dozen EZ-Up tents and handling a couple hundred air ball bunkers, I actually caught myself saying “there really must be an easier way.” That’s during nice weather, too. Have fun with it when it’s 105 degrees and humid enough to push the heat index to 110, or when it’s thundering, lightning bolts are striking around you, the rain is blowing sideways and oh yeah, it’s 9:30 at night and pitch dark. But don’t worry, there’s always the motivating thought that in two days you get to hose it all off, break it back down then sit down and see if you made any money. That’s after you’ve been yelled at for two days by a vocal minority of customers who after six months in the game are convinced they know more about playing, reffing, coaching, and promoting than everyone and who are absolutely going to complain on that big internet forum no matter what. There’s always that warm, fuzzy little tidbit to swim around inside your head as you lay awake in the dark at 3am when you have to be up and blowing up fields at 5am, wondering if at the end of the weekend there’ll be enough money to pay the prizes, refs, scorekeepers, staff, hotel, food, host site, air man, port-a-john guy, dumpster dude and diesel fuel for the ride home.
Let me pause and take a deep breath, because by now I probably sound like I’m complaining. I’m really not, because I’m blessed to have the opportunity to work in the industry, help run successful events and make a living somewhere in there. What I’m getting at is that it’s not a gold-mine, it’s often thankless work that few people will ever see, understand or experience, and that it can make you look at things around you in a completely different light. Like air ball fields and EZ-Up tents.
Promoter Diaries 4
As Published in Paintball Games International Issue 232
Do you ever have one of those days when you feel like you just can’t win? That no matter what you do, how well you do it, how hard you try or how well you might mean, whatever you do is going to completely take a giant dump on you and end up in the “crap” pile for the day? Promoters have those days too.
Let me tell you a little bit about a friend of mine. I look up to this guy and consider him a friend and because he’s always been friendly to me, I assume he considers me a friend of his, anyway. His name is Lane Wright and if you don’t know who he is, why the heck are you reading this again? Anyways, Lane has more or less devoted his life to paintball. From a start with some good teams in the Georgia area to playing professionally with the likes of the legendary Image and Ground Zero, Lane made a name for himself as an aggressive player who also just happened to be one of the fastest people in the sport. Last I checked, he still is. After a very successful professional paintball career, Lane somehow found himself running the Paintball Sports Promotions league, home of XBall and the NXL. He and I had a fascinating and depressingly hilarious conversation at one of his tournaments lately that I just have to tell you about.
I was covering the PSP Mid-Atlantic Open and it was particularly hot this day, and sunny. I was already sporting a pretty solid sunburn so I had sought out some relief in the form of a shady spot up in the stands under the announcer’s tent. I’m not a very big guy so I didn’t take up much space nor did I smell that bad, so Matty was kind enough to let me stay. While I was up there watching games, Lane ambled by and stopped to chat. After sitting down and saying hello, he got quiet and it was clear something was on his mind, so being the caring, polite individual I am, naturally I asked what was going on. One of his vendors, Lane told me, had just yelled at him. Evidently the guy was upset because the parking lot was full to overflowing and cars were lined up out into the street trying to get in. I must have looked puzzled, so Lane dumbed it down a bit for me. The vendor was upset with Lane because there were TOO MANY people in the venue that day.
That’s right ladies and gentlemen. A vendor at a major paintball tournament was angry with the promoter because there were too many potential customers wandering around the site. Like I said, ever have one of those days where nothing you do is right? There Lane was, running a good tournament in good weather with big crowds of people and lots of spectators, and a vendor actually yelled at him because he had too many customers. Talk about a situation where you just can’t win. Most tournaments, us promoters get yelled at because of reffing, the weather, the trade show, running behind or being too far from hotels. But to get yelled at by a vendor for having attracted too many customers, that’s a new one. How can you win?
The moral of the story? The next time you’re having one of those days where you just can’t win, when nothing you try to do seems to come out right, think of us promoters, the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” members of this crazy industry we call paintball.
This column is dedicated to Lane Wright and Keely Watson, who alongside their stellar crew promote the PSP and with it the best format in competitive paintball, and just can’t win.
Promoter Diaries 5
As Published in Paintball Games International Issue 233 (The Final Issue of PGi)
The customer’s always right, except when he’s wrong…Well even then…but not really…
Have you ever been accused of a crime you didn’t commit? Like that time after your trip to Columbia and the customs people said they found some kind of “suspicious substance” in your bag that looked a lot like “cocaine” but it totally wasn’t really “your bag” you were just “holding it for a friend?” Well that’s never happened to me either last June but what I’m getting at is sometimes as a promoter, even though all those people with guns that paid to play at our event are customers, and customers are always right, sometimes they’re wrong. But not really. Actually yeah.
As a person who still loves to play paintball, I’ll be the first to admit that getting shot is probably my second least-favorite part of the game, just above losing. Losing sucks, especially when you’ve paid good money to show up and play, ostensibly to shoot people. However, and I’m not sure all of you got the memo on this, only one team can win any tournament. Unless there are a bunch of different divisions, at which point there can only be one winner in each of those divisions so in some cases there might be several, don’t mix me up. Not every team can win so someone’s bound to be upset, but blaming it on the promoter probably isn’t the best solution or a sure-fire way to improve your performance at future events.
Yes, I know, you’re shocked and perplexed that anyone who’s come in less than first at a paintball tournament might accuse the promoter of favoritism, unfairly reclassifying players into lower divisions or ensuring that refs see to it that a particular team finishes poorly. Perish the thought. You’re probably just as shocked and dismayed that a paintball player might wipe or play on with a goggle hit, but believe me it’s happened. Would you believe I’ve actually had players accuse my partners, referees, staff and I of all sorts of underhanded event promotion? I know it sounds predictable, but honestly we’re not that horrible a group of people.
Let me throw some mind-boggling logic on you guys. You people who pay your hard-earned money and show up at our events, you’re our customers. We can’t run these tournaments without you. So why in the name of Tom Kaye’s telescope would we ever want to piss you guys off any more than we already do by cheating you? Think about it for a second and try to follow me here: you pay entry fee money to come play paintball with us, we cheat you, you get pissed off and don’t come back and play any more paintball with us, so you don’t pay any more entry fees. That hurts us. So how, in any way shape or form, would we want to piss you guys off by cheating you or making it any harder to win than it already is? We actually want you people to come back to our tournaments because those entry fees are how we pay our bills; we’re not going to run you off.
You’re our customers and the customer is always right, but when you get so mad about losing that you blame it on us, in all but the very rarest cases, you’re wrong. Could that loss that kept you out be because you skimped and bought that thirty dollar paint instead of the good stuff, because your team doesn’t practice anyone better than you or because your snake player spun when he got bunkered and got you a two-for-one penalty? I’m not saying you’re definitely all cheaters or that you’re not that good, I’m just asking you to consider all the options before you start with the conspiracy theories about how evil us promoters are, the second gunman or those black helicopters you better not tell anyone you saw.
Promoter Diaries 6
The Unpublished Edition. To have appeared in PGi Magazine Issue 234, had the magazine not ceased publication after 233.
Have you ever looked down and come to the shocking realization that your right arm and both legs from the knees down are completely covered in fire ants and life is about to suck? Really? Me too! It happened to me the other day while I was breaking down one of the fields we used at the CFOA Peach State Challenge. Turns out we’d set the snake on the far end of the field overtop of a rather large fire ant hill, mound, fortress of death or whatever they’re called, and I discovered this at the end of the event while I was tearing it down. To make a long story short, a whole bunch of them bit me and I proceeded to hop around yelling and slapping at myself for a few minutes before submerging in a cooler but don’t worry, the swelling wasn’t too bad and went away in a few hours, and only a couple of the bites have scarred.
The fire ant ambush was just the crowning glory of the event, however. It came after a somewhat intense conversation with a customer concerned about a call he’d just had from one of our referees. The referee, he said, was wrong for calling a one-for-one on one of his players who had been shot on the break and continued to play. I asked for his reasoning behind this and he made a good point; his player was hit on his way to his initial bunker and continued moving to that bunker, at which point he incurred the one-for-one penalty. It wasn’t fair, he stated, that his player was penalized on his way to a bunker and wasn’t given a chance to check himself when he got there. For a moment I was absolutely, wholeheartedly on his side and just as a quick follow-up before I went to give my referee a bit of on-the-job training, I asked where the player in question was hit. The gentleman then had his player come over and show me the hit, which was a gigantic orange splat squarely in the vicinity of his male reproductive
organ. Yeah. This guy got shot in the balls, kept playing, got a one-for-one and they couldn’t get their heads around it. I remember thinking as I walked away how it could possibly get any better. Fire ants.
It’s been a crazy season. Between numb toes, fire ants, enough EZ up tents and netting to make someone’s head spin and somewhere in there some paintball, it’s enough to make someone want to beat their head against a wall. I wonder which will fall over first; me or the wall.
Thanks to all those who flipped through the pages of PGi Magazine and stopped to read my little corner of the publishing world. To those of you that took the time to not only read Promoter Diaries, but who found me and took the time to talk to me about it, thank you very much.