What USA paintball can learn from Australia….

Before I start there is a lot that is not perfect about paintball in Australia. For example each state has their own age limit, In Victoria you need to be over the age of 18, SA and WA are 12 and 16 in NSW. In Tasmania – we cant even play at all at this point!

We are also very restricted as far as what the paintball guns are able to be and do. For example as a general rule around Australia, the following are illegal…
1. Paintball Pistols
2. Folding stocks (fixed stocks are ok)
3. Magazines on the paintball markers (real or fake)
4. Full auto modes
5. With the exception of NSW – ramping.
6. Airsoft

There are also 2 very important restrictions that can be used as a case study for other areas of the world.

1. To own a paintball marker in Australia you need to hold a paintball license
2. Paintball can only be played at a recognised, registered paintball facility.

This is where the US can learn a few things from Victorian paintball.

Relax!! Before you panic, I am not suggesting that paintball in the US should be restricted in any way but by looking at the impact on Victorian Paintball is interesting.

The first thing to look at is the impact of the paintball licensing on the industry. One of the biggest factors people talk about in relation to the future of the sport is the recruitment and retention of new players. The biggest issues that appear repeatedly in paintball forums and facebook threads is one of the biggest problems people have is that generally the difference in skill level between a casual, recreational paintball player and a regular, competition level player is extremely high.

Now – to be completely honest I have never played paintball in the US but are under the impression that it is considered normal for a div 1 player to play on the same field as a new first time player with rental gear. This creates a dilemma for the more skilled player. On one hand they want to practice a the highest level that they are capable of. This can include cases of close bunkering and in some cases overshooting. On the other hand they don’t want to smash the person so badly that they don’t come back. Sadly I suspect that too often the personal motivation to win the game can outweigh the thoughts of the long term industry when the blood starts pumping. I highly suspect that this has contributed to the long term decline of paintball in the USA and around the world. Below is the google trend data showing the reduction of searches relating to paintball in the USA

paintball searches in US
Google Trend data for US searches of paintball

Now just in case that doesn’t scare you enough – have a look at the searches for paintball vs the searches for airsoft over the same time period. Paintball has not outperformed airsoft in any real way since pre-2009.

paintball vs airsoft
Paintball vs Airsoft searches in the US since 2004

Now there is always going to be a lot of banter between airsoft and paintball players but it is impossible to argue with the data. While airsoft has not ever reached the popularity that paintball dis pre-2004 it has managed to hold ground over the last 10 years while paintball has dropped dramatically.

Searches for paintball Aus vs US
Searches for paintball in US compared to Australia

Australia has been able to hold its overall popularity during the same period. And we did go through tough times with the GFC the same as the US. In fact the US currently has a lower unemployment rate compared to Australia in Jan 2015. (5.7% compared to 6.4%)

The big difference as far as I can tell is the separation of the 2 types of paintballers in Australia has lead to a more sustainable industry. Because you need to be licensed to own a paintball marker, they tend to train away from the general customers coming in for a birthday or a bucks party. This means that casual players play casually, with rental gear on an even playing field.

This is by far the most popular way to play paintball in Australia.

If a customer becomes interested in paintball as a sport they can come to a training session and see what it is about. We also find that due to a clear distinction in the types of customers, competition players are more likely to be inclusive of new players. They lend equipment, give advice and generally don’t bunker new players until they get used to the pace of the game.

Without any distinction between casual paintball and competition level competitors paintball in the US may continue to waver as new players are not willing to start in a sport with such a variety of skill levels on the field. Essentially it just isn’t fun to be dominated in any sport and when it happens in paintball – it hurts more then most.

In Summary – Separating new and experienced players helps in the following areas.

1. New players can play without fear of getting hurt or competing against vastly higher skilled players.

2. It helps identify players that wish to play a more competitive version of the sport

3. Players that wish to train at a higher level are playing against players that also want to participate as a sport rather than a hobby. This improves the skill level much more than if they were to practice against lower grade players

 

Another area that differs in Australian paintball is restriction on playing paintball away from a licensed venue. Every paintball field in Australia is registered and licensed and due to the fact that a paintball marker is considered a firearm, they are not allowed to be used outside these centers. This means that all training and competition as well as casual play occurs at these centers. At last count it is understood that there is approx 28 paintball fields servicing Melbourne.

There are legal supervision ratios – particularly for unlicensed players and this obviously increases the cost.

It also means that more money from training sessions as well as the casual sessions are funneled into established venues. Each venue competes and one of the most important ways is quality. The better the venue, the more customers and the better the venue gets.

In Summary on this point –

1. Always try to support an established venue with good fields and facilities.

2. Purchase your equipment there instead of online stores without an established paintball site

3. Expect to pay for the service. If fields are forced to compete on price alone, they wont be able to support paintball as a sport.

 

I would love some feedback on this but please help by sharing this post if you think that it is worth talking about.

Mathew

Snipers Den Paintball Melbourne

 

 

 

 

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