Paintball is Not a Spectator Sport
American football is approximately an hour and a half long affair, broken into half’s and quarters, Basketball, Hockey and Lacrosse are all similarly timed competitions. Soccer (or proper Football as the rest of the world knows it) is two 45 minute half’s; rugby is the same, just 5 minutes shorter each half. Baseball is 9 innings. What do these sports have in common? They’re team based sports that clock in at around 60-90 minutes in duration per match (except baseball, because baseball is just weird). Tournament, professional level paintball events, however, last 5-10 minutes at a time. Then the teams are swapped around based on a ladder bracket and how they did that round. It’s not very spectator friendly.
Now hear me out – it’s not a bad thing. There are and have been multiple leagues throughout the history of paintball. There is a professional circuit where only the best players from around the United States and the rest of the world get to play. Like other sports, tournament and professional level play pushed the boundaries of what is possible in the sport, both on the technical level as well as on the game play level. Speedball and now Ultimate Woodsball have done a ton of good for our beloved sport, but where is the ESPN coverage? Why don’t you see Paintball trading cards, or a fantasy paintball league?
I believe it is because the professional level of paintball is not spectator friendly. Each match is too short to get emotionally involved or invested in a particular player or team. That’s where the other team based sports excel – their longer matches give the spectators time to get emotionally involved in a specific players performance throughout the match, and even more so over the course of a season.
Other sports have short matches. Boxing, MMA, Tennis all come to mind. But these are much smaller affairs, one on one competitions where a shorter format puts a hyper focus on the participants. If professional level paintball went to one on one matches it might work, but it would be like gutting the main component of the other team based sports like basketball or football – it wouldn’t be the same sport and wouldn’t draw the crowds they do now. Admit it, would you watch a series of 15 minute matches of 1 on 1 basketball where every match is a new pair of players? No? Exactly.
So if we were to extend professional level paintball to a longer duration what would such an event look like? I am not the right person to ask that question, though since I suggested the prospect here are a couple of ideas:
1) Longer match – duh, its my whole argument! Stick to a format that’s been proven – four 15 minute quarters.
2) Two teams – because the format changes as much as it does, instead of trying to cycle and process an entire march madness style bracket in a day, do it like the big league sports do – two teams at a time during a given match. Increase the number of players to 8, 10, 12 or 15 on each side.
3) Bigger Arena – more space to move around in. Still needs to be limited in some fashion, something that could potentially be adapted to various arena’s around the world, but bigger than the current speedball fields.
4) Limited resources – Keep one aspect of speedball – you only have what you can carry on you to play with for the duration of the match. Better watch your tank pressure closely!
5) More variation of obstacles – Airball speedball is great for the players, but from a spectators perspective they make it difficult to really gauge the action and maneuvers from the sidelines. You’d end up relying on overhead cameras. If you add some hard obstacles you could easily add more cameras down where the action is and instead of being in the way, the camera-obstacles add to the field.
6) New objectives – Instead of Capture The Flag of traditional speedball tournament play, change it to something that can go back and forth and change throughout the duration of the match. Could borrow from Ultimate Woodsball League and do 3 timed flag stations where each team gets points for holding a flag over time.
7) Re-spawns – Add a system along the lines of dodge-ball where an out player can come back in. This way there’s an added level of risk-reward and prevents players from just constantly turning over in unlimited re-spawn or the match is over too quickly due to total elimination. This adds a level of tension while allowing the other team the opportunity to rebound and come back. Drama. Spectators eat that up!
8) Different Play Styles – Lets radically change the formula for a second, shall we? Make each quarter a different style of play. 1st quarter: Speedball, 2nd quarter: Mag-fed, 3rd Quarter: Pump only, 4th Quarter: Freestyle. Or instead of quarters make an entire match one of the formats – make sure that over the course of a season each team must play each format once or twice. Lots of room to play with here.
I would watch the shit out of this. Seriously. Watch as players adapt to the other teams tactics on a longer time scale. Witness how certain players excel with one style of marker over another. Observe how some players overcome their handicaps by playing a different position on the field. Bonus: If the different styles of play are adopted imagine what the extra exposure of pump markers would do for that segment! Or mag-fed, or pistols!
Dammit, now I really want this to happen. So who’s with me?