If you’re anything like me (and in a lot of ways I hope you’re not), you probably pay attention to the news. If that’s the truth, then it doesn’t take a guy writing in a paintball magazine to tell you that lately not much of that news has been very good. From the economic down-turn to crime to international politics and the wars our great nation is currently fighting, everywhere I turn there seems to be something wrong. Lately, paintball hasn’t been much better as the economic situation in America has led to reduced retail sales, fields, stores (magazines) and even large manufacturers closing their doors and lower turnout at local fields, scenarios and tournaments. It seems like everywhere we look, from local news to national news and even into the game we play for fun, things aren’t good and news is bad. While I know that right now things aren’t great, I’m also convinced that it isn’t all bad and I’m sick and tired of all the bad news and negativity. There are plenty of good things going on in our world and, believe it or not, plenty of good things going on in paintball too. This column is dedicated to those good things and the people who make them happen: the Good News.
The new season is coming! Have you guys noticed something about the coming season? About how excited everyone seems to be about the two league stepping up to provide an even better show for their customers, how excited everyone is to see how the new pro teams stack up against the old guard, how the player moves will affect all those teams, and how much new equipment is coming out? New teams like Houston Heat are gearing up to step inside the net while players are moving from team to team, big games like Living Legends, Castle Conquest, Fulda Gap, D-Day and the Supergame are coming and companies are announcing sponsorships and solidifying their 2012 product lineups. Let’s face it, it looks like it’s going to be a great year!
The last few seasons in paintball, good as they were compared to the woes suffered by the rest of the world, were all tainted by the fear of an ailing economy. Both individual players and the industry as a whole kept a tight reign on their wallets, anxiously watching for what the next day, week and month might hold for their bottom lines. Paintball survived and of course there were bright spots, but it hasn’t exactly always felt great. This season, at least from where I’m sitting, feels a bit different. While the merger may have failed and there will be two pro leagues again in 2012, both leagues seem committed to giving their customers the very best they can with new and old favorite venues and formats, while new pro teams are making the jump into the deep end of the pool. On the scenario side of the coin, big events like the Supergame, Living Legends, D-Day and Fulda Gap show no signs of going away any time soon and companies continue to put out more gear in camouflage every day. Finally, in the paintball
industry, new products continue to be released and while they may not be massive new inventions like semi-automatics, compressed air or motorized loaders, the new equipment looks great, shoots great and is more affordable than ever.
What does it all add up to? At least in my mind (which I admit is a strange place), it adds up to a pre-season that has been very exciting to watch and a 2012 season that I can’t wait to kick off. Players are excited to see what the tournament leagues and the scenario promoters have in store for them, customers are excited to see the new guns and equipment hitting the stores and websites, and while for the most part we’ve enjoyed a mild winter, everyone I know in paintball is excited for the weather to warm up so we can get out and shoot paintballs at each other. It’s shaping up to be a great 2012 season and that is absolutely, positively, definitely good news for the game, sport and industry we all love.
The last few times I’ve played paintball, it’s been different than it has been in years back. Not to sound old but when first got into paintball, there wasn’t much that was quality that was affordable. The cheap stuff was never any good and the good stuff was never cheap. Whether paint, goggles, guns or hoppers, you definitely got what you paid for and if you wanted a day of flawless paintball, you had to be prepared to shell out what was necessary or prepare for some disappointment. Over the years, that’s certainly changed. Now we have more than ever, for less than ever.
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be another one of those “back in my day we used to walk bare-foot, uphill in the snow to spend 120 bucks for a case of Proball” articles designed to make you feel bad about complaining about paying thirty bucks for a case of paintballs. Quite the opposite: remember this is the Good News! Some perfect examples of what I’m talking about are some of the paintball guns out there. I recently played a big scenario game called Fulda Gap and I spent most of it shooting a new marker called the Planet Eclipse Etha. Light, accurate, easy to take care of and very durable, this marker truly impressed me and I shot a bunch of people with it, but it didn’t cost over a thousand dollars. It didn’t even cost five hundred. There are other great examples of this recent trend out there, from the Empire Axe five-hundred dollar gun that has won professional tournaments in the 2011 season to the ability of new players to buy Tippmanns at Wal-Mart.
What’s the point? Simple. Times are tough, trust me I know. It’s not easy to keep playing this sport we all love when you have to pay bills and do all the other things that are important in life like eat and put gas in the car. That companies recognize this and have endeavored to put out equipment that delivers quality, performance and reliability at prices use broke, happy paintball players can afford is certainly a good thing. It’s also a good thing that new players can get into the game with quality equipment for less than ever too, because that’s going to get our game growing again.
It’s tough out there, I know. It’s even tougher when you don’t have enough money as it is but you want to spend some of that hard-earned cash on something you don’t actually need to do, like play a crazy game where people run around shooting gelatin capsules at each other. But that you can play this wacky game for less money and enjoy a full day of paintball, or an event, or a season, with great equipment that practically any player can afford is a good thing, and it’s definitely Good News! As we embark on a great new season, remember just how lucky and blessed we are to have the gear we have and play the game we love!
Let me tell you about a trip I take once a year, that I start looking forward to taking again, the moment that trip ends. The place is Command Decisions, located in Taylorsville, North Carolina and the thing that brings me there each year is their Fulda Gap scenario. Based, as I’ve often written, on the Cold War scenario that the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact would begin World War Three by storming into western Europe through the Fulda Gap, pitting them against the US-led NATO forces attempting to stop them, the Fulda Gap game breaks the mega-game mold of using World War Two as a scenario backdrop.
Held on a beautiful piece of the North Carolina hills, the Fulda Gap game features challenging terrain, a great vendor presence, good referees, constantly-improving infrastructure and attendance that consistently grows with each passing year. The bottom line here is that Lee Ann and Ferg put on a great game, and both the playing public and the paintball industry have stepped forward to support it. As the last paintball fired at the 2011 Fulda Gap scenario slowed down, hit the ground and rolled to a stop somewhere at Command Decisions, I was already getting excited, thinking about November, 2012 and what joy and excitement the next edition would bring.
Field owners and players have asked me on numerous occasions to explain precisely what it is about Fulda Gap that has led to its growth into one of the great paintball games on any serious player’s scenario calendar. While I can’t point to one specific item or facet of the game and say “this is what makes Fulda Gap great,” I can say that the game has an atmosphere that is greater than the sum of the game, field and event’s parts. As a vendor, I have a blast meeting so many great paintball players from various parts of the country and I always enjoy excellent sales, as a sponsor I love how well my company and brand are represented and I like how much I’m appreciated for my support, as a reporter I enjoy covering a game that is so clearly a success and a shining example of what is right about paintball and as a player I have an amazing experience and leave each year with a dozen great stories I never get tired of telling.
I’ve told a great deal of people over the years I’ve been attending the Fulda Gap game that if they haven’t come to Fulda Gap in the past, they need to make it next year. Many have, and each and every one of them, whether captains of big teams, representatives of new sponsor companies or simply individual players, comes to me during the game to tell me how right I was to recommend the game. I admit I enjoy being told I’m right, but I can’t take any credit for that in this case, as it’s Lee Ann, Ferg and the Command Decisions staff that, year-in and year-out, make me absolutely right when I tell people that Fulda Gap is a place they’d better add to their calendar next season. Personally, I’ve been on both the winning side and the losing side at Fulda Gap games over the last several years, and in the end, while I have spent some time talking about the win or the loss, that’s never been what’s mattered or what kept me coming back to Fulda Gap: rather, what keeps me coming back is the experience. The people, the
vendors, the sponsors, the players, the field and the ever-growing list of friends and family that come to the game with me have combined to make Fulda Gap a game that is very close to my heart and something I spend the entire year looking forward-to. That, my friends, is Good News!
Did you make it to World Cup this year? If you did then you’ll know that what I’m saying is true, and if you didn’t, just trust me on this one: World Cup was great this year! In the midst of tough economic times for a fairly large portion of the United States and the western world, plus tough times for paintball as well, the PSP was able to promote not just a great paintball tournament, but a great World Cup (which is on a much different level). From the games to the location to the vendor show, the World Cup was a great event and something the US paintball tournament scene needed very much.
On the professional level, the games at the 2011 PSP World Cup were fun and the stands were full of fans. The overall team count was great, there were plenty of vendors and the vendor area was busy, plus the live webcast was in full-effect! The World Cup’s location at Fantasy of Flight, while still not Disneyworld or even Old Town as it has been in the past, continues to work out well as a venue as it is conveniently located literally moments off Interstate 4 almost exactly between Orlando and Tampa.
In the World Cup’s vendor area, companies large and small showed of new products and new gear for the game that brought players from around the world, wallets in-hand. Dye’s massive trucks were packed with stylish new clothing, new markers like the DM12 and Rotors in new patterns. Empire showed off the Prophecy Z2 loader and their new Sniper pump marker, updated Luxe markers were available at the CP trailer and the new, affordable Eclipse Etha marker kept the folks at Eclipse very busy. Every time I walked past the Ninja Paintball booth it was packed and the employees were too busy to hold still. Even Spyder made the trip to the Cup, showing off their new markers, along with the gang from Zodiac, who had a great event with their Renegade marker. Those who came to the World Cup to hit the vendor area had plenty to do and lots to see!
From the fields to the vendor area, the 2011 World Cup had a noticeably “feel-good” attitude about it. While paintball and the world at-large may not be enjoying happy economic times at the moment, the fact that the World Cup was so successful and enjoyable should make a great deal of people feel a little bit better about the direction in which tournament paintball is moving. Times may not be great for every company or every player, nor is paintball anywhere near out of the financial or political “woods” just yet, but even us crazy Americans can still run a great professional paintball tournament with an excellent vendor show, at a great location. Now all we have to do is figure out how to answer a few more fundamental questions about the future of top-level paintball in the US and we can get back to growing the sport of paintball, as well as the game! A great World Cup amidst tough financial times sounds like good news to me!
So the last two times I’ve played paintball, it was at scenario games and there were plenty of fast guns around. Everything from the Egos to the Tippmanns were shooting fifteen shots per second and everyone was either shooting lots of paint or trying to figure out how they were going to pay for the lots of paint they were shooting. I admit, I did some of that too. I wasn’t ramping, I was shooting in semiauto, but I definitely shot fast guns and I definitely shot lots of paint. However, I also put those fast guns down and picked up a pump on both of those last two days and I have to admit, I had a blast.
I started playing paintball just in time for semiautomatic paintball guns to really come into vogue and become affordable enough that more people had them than didn’t. Granted, I started with a Splatmaster and played a little pump paintball here and there as I grew up in the game, but I’ve played the vast majority of my paintball with various semiautomatic and electronic paintball guns. More recently, thanks to the good people at CCM, I’ve gotten my hands on some of the best pump paintball guns ever made and they’ve helped me rediscover a true love of actually playing paintball: not being a walking turret with a machine gun, but actually playing the game. While some people have looked at me as crazy and even told me, while we were playing on the field, that they’d never use a pump and I was crazy for shooting one, the concept of moving to get an angle, making each paintball count and simply having a blast while I’m wearing goggles and carrying a paintball gun around are truly amazing things!
There’s more to this story, especially lately, and it’s bigger than me (my Editor tells me I’m five-eight and there’s a lot out there bigger than me) and it’s actually great news! I’ve spoken to at least five well-known paintball gun manufacturers who are actually preparing to release new pump paintball guns in the not too distant future! I know that many players who love pump paintball are already shooting guns from CCM like the 6.5 or T2, a Phantom from CCI or an old Sniper or even a new Trracer from BT, but there are more on the way and I think that’s awesome. Those who love the game but are strapped for cash in these tough times can stay in the game by playing pump and will have more options for their pump paintball gun and more companies making pumps means more players will have the option to shoot them and try a new aspect of the game and find yet another certain something about paintball to fall in love with for life, just like the rest of us.
Between the fun of pump paintball, the affordability of pump paintball, the growing industry support for pump paintball and, of course, the awesome people you meet playing pump paintball like Sal and the gang from Total Grief for example, pump paintball in and of itself is good news. However, the fact that pump paintball provides the option for even economically challenged players to stay in the game added to the fact that more pumps are coming out, means that more fun, more paintball and more affordable paintball backed by a wider cross-section of the industry isn’t just great news, it’s Good News!
So I’ve been dealing with a lot of “little guys” lately. No, I don’t mean short or otherwise small people, because let’s face it, who am I to call anyone little? I mean, as much as I’ve been dealing with big corporations and large companies in paintball lately, I’ve found myself making great relationships with some of the small companies that make up a large portion of our industry. You know the ones – the “one-man-bands” or small companies made up of a few, passionate and like-minded individuals that once created, and have many times innovated to shape the game and industry we all love. All these recent dealings got me thinking about just how great this game is: the “little guys” can still enter paintball, innovate and become successful.
Let me make sure it’s clear that I have nothing against the “big boys” in this game. KEE, Tippmann, you guys are more than alright by me. After all, the companies that became KEE and for that matter, Tippmann, didn’t start as large, incredibly successful entities either. It’s just that this particular article just so happens to be about the small companies that are in this because they love the game and want to be a part of our dynamic, unique (and uniquely challenging) industry.
I’ll give you a few examples of what I’m talking about. Before I moved back to Virginia I worked with my good friend Larry Motes at the CFOA Tournament Series. Yes, there was a time when the CFOA was one of the largest tournament series in the world, routinely drawing over 100 teams. However, even during our biggest events, it was never more than a handful of people doing what we loved, for not very much money. Long hours, we put them in. Blood, sweat and tears? Check, check and check, absolutely. We put in those twenty hour days in 110 degree weather not because we were making the big money, but because we were alongside the family and friends we all loved, being a part of the game we also loved.
There are LOTS of examples of these situations out there, in fact, almost any company in paintball could be considered a great example the more I look around. My buddy Evan over at Pinokio is a great example. He and his son go play paintball, and he glues a weird looking pod-nose onto the front of an already weird-looking hopper, and now a few short years down the line, he’s got a patented product and sold literally thousands of Pinokio Hoppers that players really do seem to love.
I was hanging out in the Understood booth at the PSP New Jersey Open last weekend and there’s another great example. John has really put together a great lineup of unique and attractive casual and competitive soft goods, from Underjerseys to Gatwraps to mesh shorts. While he seems to be doing just fine, I’m willing to believe he’s not doing this to thing to get rich. He seems to genuinely love the game of paintball, and if he doesn’t, I’d hate to think he’s miserable at all those events he shows up and sets up at.
A final great example I’ve recently gotten involved with is Chris Cole and Zodiac Paintball. In a world where big companies put out new high-end, thousand dollar paintball guns and dominate the game, Cole and company have conceptualized, engineered, invested in and finally produced the Renegade marker that shoots great and seems to be more than able to hang with anything out there. For a small company of talented individuals to have come up with a high-end paintball gun surrounded by big name companies with big advertising and R&D budgets is a pretty impressive.
What does it all add up to? Honestly, these few examples I just threw out there of small companies, handfuls of people, who truly love the game of paintball and want to be a part of the industry. While I’m sure they’d all love to make plenty of money, even when they don’t, they do all they can to make ends meet and do it because they love the game. I believe it’s not just good news, but great news, that paintball is still a game, sport and industry where small companies, the “little guys,” can still get in, do something well and be successful.
How often does it happen, anywhere in life, that something truly great is given away completely free? You don’t show up at your favorite restaurant expecting a free cheeseburger and you certainly don’t find many emails in your in-box giving away free BMW cars or F350 Super Duty trucks. The concept is just as improbable in paintball – you don’t see too many free Eclipse Ego paintball markers and I have yet to see Richmond Italia or Johnny Postorivo standing by their paint trucks handing out free Imperial or Evil paintballs. However, today I found something truly outstanding that was given away free, the PSP Chicago Open webcast.
The PSP have put together the technology and capability to produce an outstanding webcast, covering their RaceTo professional paintball tournaments. Teams like the Ironmen, the Russians of the Red Legion, Infamous, Dynasty and Tampa Bay Damage (amongst others), square off in a true sporting format that leaves nothing to doubt and nothing to chance about who the winner of each match really is. While paintball hasn’t quite made it on television yet, as a sport the major leagues have their heads around how to make a very good webcast. The PSP certainly have the formula figured out, thanks in no small part to their format that lends itself well to be broadcast, outstanding officiating and a host like Matty Marshall. A truly great paintball player, a great person, a true intellect and a witty paintball sports commentator, I could listen to Matty read the back of a cereal box. The best players and teams playing a great format at a great park is a formula worth paying to watch. Then the PSP announced that they would produce the 2011 Chicago Open webcast absolutely free.
It’s tough to ask a whole lot from something given absolutely free. If someone walked into a restaurant and was handed a free steak, they’d seem like a real jerk to complain about it being medium-rare instead of well-done. That being said, expecting or even demanding a top-notch, high-quality product for free isn’t a realistic thing, but in the case of the free 2011 Chicago Open webcast, the product provided to those who tuned in was certainly of excellent quality. The commentary provided by the aforementioned great one Matty Marshall and friends like Steve Rabackoff and Chris Lasoya was enjoyable and informative, the footage was solid and the paintball was excellent. Even the commercials, from companies like Dye, Planet Eclipse, Empire and DXS, were enjoyable and advertised hot products like the NT, Rail, Rotor, Axe, Ego11, CSL Ego and Hellfire paintballs.
Paintball may not be in fabulous shape and the US economy isn’t much better, but when major industry companies and the biggest professional league in the game come together to give players and fans around the world the chance to watch the very best play for free, that’s a great thing. Matty Marshall and company providing commentary while CEP gets their first professional win and the Russians, Dynasty, Aftershock and Infamous battle at CPX in Illinois isn’t just good for paintball, it’s definitely good news!
I’d like to think everyone involved in paintball on the professional level, and I don’t mean the “pro” players, I mean the people who work a daily job in paintball, got into this game because they enjoyed playing it. Maybe paintball wound up as their nine-to-five grind and maybe that’s made it like any other job, but I really don’t believe anyone played paintball for the first time and thought “wow this would make a great thing to stress over.” I’d prefer to believe that everyone involved in the business of paintball played the game for the first time, fell in love with the game for one reason or another and loved it so much that they found a way to make it what they do. That’s what happened to me. The problem is, a lot of the people in the industry, especially during this down-turn, couldn’t be blamed for falling back out of love with the game. Something’s happened over the last few years that’s changed that for a lot of people who have been around the game for a long time, Living Legends.
Produced for the last four years by Viper at CPX Sports in Joliet, Illinois, Living Legends has grown to become one of the must-attend games of the year for thousands of players, dozens of teams and a long list of industry “heavy hitters.” While, yes, many of those industry people might be there to run a booth, staff a vending trailer or otherwise conduct business, what I’ve come to love about Living Legends is the fact that for all those “Legends” who work paintball and have devoted a large portion of their professional and personal lives to paintball, they set aside the business, gear up and go play. I’ve noticed that when that happens, regardless of the gear they use or how many people they might shoot out on the field, they all come off the same way: smiling. To the people they pass in the staging area those smiles might just be smiles, but when I see them I see something else- a love for the game that going out and playing in the woods for fun with a bunch of friends can rekindle like nothing else. For
me, that fun and the smile it inspires was why I fell in love with paintball in the first place, and playing among some of my best friends in the whole world (not to mention some people I practically grew up admiring) at Living Legends has helped me fall in love with paintball and playing the game all over again.
If you’ve been to Living Legends you know what I’m talking about. Everyone you see at the game is smiling. The Legends are always smiling and we always wind up talking about the wacky stuff we’ve been through in the crazy and sometimes politically complicated and cut-throat world of paintball business. But the fact is we talk about those things and see people we’ve probably competed with and against, and we can set all that aside and just go and shoot it up for the fun of it, and I truly believe that’s what paintball is all about. I love paintball and love it more than ever thanks to Living Legends, and to see all my friends in the industry walk off the field with those big smiles on their faces means they love it too, and that’s Good News.
This past week I was blessed to be a very small part of something I thought was a great thing. Rick Chard, Tom Ghee and Pev put their heads together and promoted the Paintball Extravaganza Field Conference, which was held a short distance from my home. While X3 will feature coverage of the event next month, I simply had to talk about it this month here in the Good News because of what I saw there. The Field Conference brought field owners from across North America together and put them in front of both successful field owners and representatives of the paintball industry in an engaging and educational atmosphere that allowed attendees to learn how to run a better paintball field!
Held on a Tuesday and Wednesday here in Northern Virginia, the Extravaganza Field Conference spent one day at the Holiday Inn Dulles Airport and the second day out at Pev’s Paintball. The first day of the conference saw Pev teach on concepts of field marketing, birthday parties, team building and more, with major conference sponsors on-hand showing off their products. Sponsors included Tippmann, NXe, Valken, Empire, Money Paintball, Ninja Paintball, Procaps and even Bauer Compressors! While field owner attendance wasn’t massive, what was great about the event was that it was clear that all the fieldowners attending the show truly wanted to learn all they could to make their business better, and that’s great for paintball!
Wednesday out at Pev’s remarkable playing field, it was great to watch Pev and his staff in action. He and his brother Todd really opened up, showing the attending field owners everything they could about their amazing facility. Everything from concessions and sponsored umbrellas to check-in procedures, pro-shop operations and purchasing paintballs was covered in the day-long tour of the park while sponsors taught even more seminars and classes. Attendees frantically scribbled notes and snapped pictures left and right, attempting to take in the wealth of information that was spread before them. Best of all, the number of attending field owners, split into smaller groups, made it much easier for them to ask questions of Pev, Todd and the attending industry representatives that were specific to their particular fields and businesses.
Every field owner attending the conference that I spoke with declared that the trip had much more than paid for itself in the pile of information they had obtained. While not every concept or idea that worked for Pev might be usable for every attending field owner, many would absolutely help, allowing every field owner at the show to go back and improve and streamline their businesses. That won’t just help each of them as individuals, it will improve the experience for every player that visits their facility and help each of those businesses grow. Players having better experiences at fields that are more successful means that for those customers and those field owners, paintball just got a great deal better!
A legendary field owner opening his business to other owners from across the US and Canada, supported by major industry companies and facilitated by the Paintball Extravaganza for the purpose of helping other field owners run a better business? That sounds like Good News to me! Look for more in-depth coverage of the Paintball Extravaganza Field Conference next month in PaintballX3 Magazine!