What happened to the game we love? In 2007 there were ten speedball fields in Atlantic Canada. Today there are only four. Of those four with only three fields are being used regularly. With regards to one genre of our sport, speedball, how did over a fifty percent of our available fields happen?
The answer is simple: player decline.
The events that lead to this decline are more complicated. Of course the lack of empirical data leads most conclusions on the subject to be a combination of opinion, hearsay and reflection.
My gut tells me the reason is a generation of players left the game. The reduction in players in our genre means field owners have been forced to pin the survival of their fields on an ever aging pool of veterans, combined with a much younger albeit smaller influx of rookies.
Let's be honest, walk-on play generates operating revenue for the field. How important is speedball to the survival of a field? If anything, speedball is a diluted ‘value added’ feature at best.
Our version of the sport incorporates both the best and worst of paintball. At its best, our highest calibre players are cherished as highly skilled professional athletes, akin to their counterparts in other professional sports. Although professional paintball is lacking the finances to take the sport to the next level, but that is a whole other issue. At the worst, some veteran members of our sport do their utmost to drive newer players away.
It has become the accepted rule that players step through the following evolution: Rental-Walkon-Woodsball-Speedball. For years this has been the norm. Two things happened to this norm: firstly Woodsball/Milsim became "cool". Secondly the ever aging pool of veterans began to leave as real life set in. The first issue would take a year to debate so I will focus on the second.
What did these veteran players do for the sport. Well as previously mentioned, speedball generates little revenue to field owners. Besides the actual infrastructure that a field may provide, there are no additional resources dedicated to growing speedball. The speedball aspect of our sport is left in the hands of a few individuals or groups who take it upon themselves to organize the sport.
Let's face it; there is a huge volunteer aspect to any version of paintball. Unpaid individuals do everything from tourney/big game production right through to refereeing. Without these individuals taking a leadership and support roles, many events would simply not happen.
So the crux of the argument is this: Many veteran players who dedicated much of their career to growing the sport saw their involvement dwindle because of real-life. All the effort they put into the sport caused them to burn out, they felt used, or they simply stopped caring. When this happened, the onus fell back on the field owners who as mentioned before, were extremely reluctant to put forth resources into an empty hole.
What are the solutions? Individuals will once again have to take the bull by the horns and start organizing games/practices. Veteran players must promote locations willing to provide new player friendly facilities and protect younger players from those who would be willing to "shoot the shit out of them" pure enjoyment.
Can this happen? Sure but we as players, especially tourney players, should be expected to pay a field fee and a decent amount for paint. If I've learned one thing in this sport, the race to the bottom or a cost based mentality crippled our sport beyond belief and it injected a poison which took years to erase.
Players assuming a leadership role, plus fields willing to support events, plus players willing to travel, plus players willing to pay a little more, plus experienced players welcome and help developed newer players, equals a resurgence of our sport.