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The group of tournament promoters which came together to form Paintball Sports Promotions share a history of pro-am tournament production in the North America running back to the early 1990s. Through most of that history, the group produced tournaments under the banner of the original NPPL, in 10-man format at each of five locations per year, and 5-man at World Cup and select other locations. In 2003 Paintball Sports Promotions turned in a new direction, separating from the newly formed NPPL, Inc., and adding X-Ball competitions.
While a select group of teams that had bought franchises in the NXL competed in a closed circuit at NXL events, divisional teams were faced with choosing between X-Ball, 10-man and 5-man competitions. Ten-man, the format that had been the glorious crown of tournament paintball withered away, and was discontinued in 2004 due to low team turnouts in 03. Teams were instead choosing to compete in PSP’s X-Ball, NPPL, Inc.’s 7-man, or both. PSP continued on with X-Ball and 5-man, though some of the teams and players in the made for TV NXL grew disheartened with the lack of a TV deal, and headed out to PSP X-Ball and NPPL 7-man. The NXL responded by changing their rules, allowing NXL teams to compete where they wished, and soon a portion of the NXL’s teams were becoming serious competitors in the Super-7 pro division. For the teams that had headed for the Super-7 however, there was no in-road to also compete in the NXL, as it was a members only league, with the purchase of a franchise as the cost to compete.
For 2006 PSP is changing things again, both on the field and off. One of the most notable changes is expansion of the NXL from the franchise owning teams to a total of 15 teams competing. This means that the small pool of teams that had been facing each other in PSP pro-X-ball as well as Super-7 will now be allowed to sit at the big kids table in 2006. The season is set to bring crowd drawing game pairings like Dynasty against Russian Legion
Rather than battling only for series points that rank them for an end of the year competition, the NXL teams will play a comparable number of games at each tournament, but then they will be ranked by a point system with winners being awarded on site. The per-event prize packages will consist of 100% of the $5,000 entry fees paid by the teams to compete. While some of the invited teams have balked at the entry fee, PSP President and CEO Lane Wright says that the number of teams asking to play is more than the available slots. As divisional X-Ball will no longer include a top pro division, the NXL has now become the only option for X-Ball teams that compete at that level.
Major changes are also in store for the way divisional X-Ball will be played. Rather than the double elimination format which knocks weaker teams out of the running straight away, round robin preliminaries will be used in which teams will compete with four others in their group and then be ranked for advancement based on points. Varying time clock systems will be put in place for the different skill based divisions, to help the events run to schedule.
The last vestige of 1990s style national tournament play – centerflag 5-man format ended at the Paintball World Cup in October of 2005. For the 2006 season PSP is replacing 5-man with 5-man X-Ball. While this may at first seem a redundant concept, as the X-Ball format puts 5 players from each team on the field at a time, 5-man X-Ball will really be far more like the original 5-man style, but scored differently, and in a different tournament structure. Teams will play a traditional 5-man centerflag game, but rather than play 8 other teams and then be ranked based on total points, they will instead play in groups of 5 teams. Each team will play for the best two out of three games against the other four teams in their group and then be ranked for advancement to the next round, similar to the NPPL Super 7 semifinal and finals format.
Another big move is the change from five tournaments in the year to six. Present plans for 2006 put PSP tournaments in South Texas, Las Vegas, Chicago, Southern California, and the Northeastern US, with the series wrapping up at the Paintball World Cup in Orlando, Florida.
Something that might turn out to be a major change, or become a footnote in paintball history is the entry of the PSP into the United Paintball Federation – the UPBF.
With a large pro-am league in Europe, two pro-am leagues and one pro only league in the US (not to mention regional amateur leagues,) many in the paintball industry have been saying it is time to see some sort of unification of tournament play. One major reason for this is that for competitions like the Olympics to consider a sport, there must be a central body around which the activity is unified. There must be one group that states what the official rules are, and how the game is played. While NPPL, Inc., promotes itself as “the sole sanctioning body for all amateur and professional paintball players in North America,” it only represents a portion of the pro and amateur tournament play in the US.
In a release dated December 13th, 2005, Paintball Sports Promotions announced its planned participation in a new global governing body for the sport – the United Paintball Federation. According to PSP’s announcements, the UPBF is designed to simplify the unification of national tournament leagues in order to have an organizing body which can deal with organizations like the International Olympic Committee, and unify rules as well as player tracking, ranking and identification.
The initial plans for the United Paintball Federation involve a group of five confederations representing America (North America, Central America and the Caribbean,) Europe, Asia and Pacific Islands, South America and Africa.
According to PSP’s Lane Wright the ideas behind the orgainization started taking serious shape while he was at a tournament in Asia discussing with European promoter Laurent Hamet how the two leagues could improve reffing and rules consistency. At the same event numerous promoter and player representatives also met to discuss forming a federation for Asian and South Pacific paintball. Wright says the concept continued to grow and gain support from there.
While it is still in the planning stages, and does not yet have official leadership appointments, Wright was able to outline a number of the ideas those involved hope the UPBF will be able to achieve. A key to the organizations hopes of success is that it will need to avoid a structure that gives unbalanced political power to member leagues. In addition to representing the sport, working on a standard identification system is a primary goal. This does not mean that players in affiliated leagues would need to have one particular league’s ID, but that by defining a standard as to what information is tracked in the ID, and how a player is ranked, it would be easier for leagues to offer reciprocal ID use.
According to Wright, the PSP, Millennium, UKPF, Pacific-Asian League Series, and leagues from both South America and Mexico have all expressed positive interest in the new group. Whether or not the UPBF eventually does become an international unifying and governing body for the sport will depend largely upon how many of the world’s major leagues and promoters groups choose to be involved and support it. While past attempts to unify the paintball industry through trade associations and other organizations have failed, many manufacturers are finding the idea more attractive as the paintball market is no longer on the amazing growth period it experienced in the late 1990s and first years of the new millennium. Most of these manufacturers either have ownership interests in leagues, professional teams, or at least major sponsorship of events. And the new interest in cooperation may extend to the UPBF.
With their major plans laid out for 2006, the PSP has plenty of details left to iron out, but these will unfold as we roll into the new year and the new tournament season.
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