Competition Paintball is a great sport. Once people enter the Australian Paintball and get established onto a team they tend to be around the sport for a relatively long time. With that said – the sport has some problems that are blocking new players from getting involved, playing a team and developing into a player that can actively compete at a high level.
I actually started this blog post as a lead in to the paintball league that we were looking to run but the more I looked at the structure of the sport of paintball overall in Victoria, the more holes in the current structure became a little more evident. I want to say early that this is not a reflection on any individual, paintball business or paintball event in Victoria but an assessment of how I see the sport at moment – in particular the transition into the sport of paintball in Melbourne. There are many people working hard to build the sport and the industry in general but I think we need to look at the lifecycle of a player in the sport from introduction to the sport to exit. We need to look at the roadblocks to entering the sport and look at some of the factors that push players out of the sport.
Here are a few of the things I have come up with….
1. No Starting point
I think in Victoria we have put a lot of the onus onto the players to handle new paintball players coming into the sport, but this can be a lot to ask – especially without a structure to back it up. Many people that have been playing paintball for 7+ years got their start at Extreme Indoor Paintball in Geelong. Although they have been closed for a while now the structured competition fostered new players much better than we are doing now. Since then focus for a long time in Victorian paintball is on the delivery of the higher level competition and as a result there have been less avenues to get in at a lower level.
While Vic5s (formally the Paintball Association of Victoria) did develop into the current WPBO rules, it did fill that function better in the early stages. Within a few years of the first round in 2010 at Snipers Den Paintball Melbourne, the original round robin series had 28 teams register for the event and many were new players and new teams. The round robin format was a lot easier for newer players to get involved with compared to the “Race to” or “Mercy” model. While it is important to have the more elite formats there needs to be something in between the casual birthday or bucks party paintball session and high level competition.
2. The current team focus
If you commit the time and money it takes to be good at a sport like paintball you want to be competing at the highest level you can. But this is slowly cannibalizing the Melbourne paintball scene. This might seem like an over emphasis but I see this as a massive contributing factor to the reduction in active players and active paintball teams. The current recruiting, is in most cases, coming from a shrinking pool of active players with new players struggling to find a start somewhere.
As often happens in paintball teams, a 5man team will have 7-8 on a roster and be rotating through for different tournaments to make sure that they are competitive. This works well when the roster is maintained but when you lose a player or 2 from the team for lifestyle or other reasons the team has a dilemma… They can either recruit from the new players that they have seen start training or try to attract another experienced player.
There are problems with both options. If they recruit a newer player they are limiting their ability to compete at a high level and play at the level that they are capable of. If they recruit from the pool of existing players they take experienced paintball players from Melbourne paintball teams and negatively affect the competitive level, often leaving bad blood.
The paintball teams that don’t take either of these 2 paths tend to fold which can cause players to become free agents or leave the sport as well. This means that there is no good option when it comes to topping up a paintball team, particularly one with any ambition. We need to make sure that the players have the opportunity to develop in such a way that that they can fill this gap.
They need to be able to train, compete at a lower level and be exposed to teams. This will help plug the cycle of poaching players and the downward spiral of participating paintball teams across Melbourne and Victoria. Support at this level will go a long long way to prop up the upper level of competition paintball in Melbourne.
We recognise our role and responsibility in helping Melbourne paintball players move into the sport. We have thought about and discussed at length how to provide an environment that helps this process and think we have an idea that will help a lot in building the paintball scene back up to the heights of 5 years ago. We hope that existing paintball players support us in this, as it will be an important part of the process.
3.Paintball is expensive
Paintball has a significant cost hurdle in the early stages of entry into the sport. New players can part with a lot of cash by the time they buy a paintball marker (paintball gun), tank, mask, jersey, pants and any padding. While this is certainly comparable if not cheaper than some other activities like motocross, cycling, golf etc. The difference is that stacked on top of the initial entry cost is often a high cost of competition. When you try to make the leap in a short period of time the costs can be harder to manage.
We need to make sure that the initial training and early competition is at a price point that allows the players to gradually build up the equipment necessary to compete at a high level. We need to be able to engage new players and give them a good taste of the sport prior to the cost of a full blown paintball tournament. We are hoping what we will put together will accomplish this.
4. The need to have a team before you start
The teams that have entered the sport have come in as a unit. The issue though is that this is very rare occurrence and more common is for a hopeful player to look to enter the sport solo. The current team model does not make it easy for new players to enter the team bast competitions solo. When they do end up getting a spot on a paintball team at a Melbourne paintball event, it tends to be more of a guest appearance. These roadblocks to entering paintball are not the most conducive to growing the sport. In the last 2 months Snipers Den paintball has already had 12 people successfully complete the P class safety course. In most of these cases the person is not coming as part of a team already but flying solo or close to it to get into the sport.
The Game Plan….
We have come up with an idea that we think will make it much easier on players to transition from casual paintball with rental gear to someone who can be an active member of a team. This has been done well in the past and in a lot of cases, I think everyone connected to tournament paintball in Melbourne and Victoria in general assumed would continue. Before we spell out how the paintball league would look, I was hoping to let current Victorian paintball players have a think about the how the current process works before putting up a potential solution. Anything that addresses the holes in the current model will need to have have the support of the current core group of players and teams to be effective. Would welcome any feedback on the above and any ideas are welcome. I will put up the game plan for the league as a separate post and hope that players will see the game plan and support it.
Mathew – Snipers Den Paintball Melbourne
For the League details – Melbourne Paintball League