Balancing Act

It’s been a long weekend of walking up hills, waiting in lines for air-fills, punishing your bank account mercilessly and generally having a blast playing the scenario game you’ve been looking forward to for months. Numerically the sides seemed pretty close, but the score says otherwise. The balancing act of trying to keep both sides even for a fair fight is a difficult one to maintain. While, for most of us, the score isn’t important – it’s often disheartening to have your achievements so overshadowed by the other side.

Sometimes, it doesn’t even feel like the sides are close numerically, as you trudge back to your staging area to reload and commiserate with your team mates you hear the grumbles from other camps, and sometimes in your own, complaining about how outnumbered your side is as you all try to push through the envelope the other side has so expertly locked yours in.

Whose fault is team balance really? The Teams? The Generals? The producer?

Scenario teams are perhaps the most valuable weapon for winning a game. Compared to most walk on players, scenario teams have a better grasp of how scenario games work, and most are more dedicated to completing missions and earning points for their side versus the average walk on player. Many scenario teams are also very used to working with other teams, almost coalescing into one giant scenario team for the weekend, enhancing their side’s effectiveness in the game. Being more used to teamwork, communication, and objective-oriented play makes the scenario team highly successful in these types of games. Many teams are so used to working with certain other teams they will elect to play together on the same sides more often than not. As teams grow and mature and branch out more and more, this has a swelling effect for a side’s numbers. One team that has two or three “friendly” teams that will only play on the side means that when they sign up for “red,” then red’s registration suddenly jumps up by huge margins. Especially when you consider the cascade effect this can have as some of those friendly teams will have other teams that are friendly towards them and will join their side. Those teams have other friendly teams that want to play on the same side, and so forth and so on until suddenly a huge percentage of area teams are all lumped on one side. This drains the “talent” pool of experienced scenario players and leaves the other side, “blue,” short in this department. Sadly, a recurring theme in this post will be politics – because many paintball players have no idea or have forgotten that this is a sport we started playing to shoot and be shot by our friends. Also because many players have also forgotten that we play this game for fun and challenge. I have more fun getting pushed and forced to fight my way out and earn my ground than just cornering an entire side of scenario players and preceding to whomp them as viciously as my debit card at the paint counter. Are these teams the problem, or could it be strategy?

Generals begin their game long before the weekend of the event. A famous quote from Sun Tzu that has more forum mileage than a fat virgin is, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” This is basically a fancy way of saying, don’t waste too much time making elaborate battle plans, drawing on gridded field maps, and rehearsing victory speeches. However, a basic strategy is important and finding the right people to make it happen are as important as field position. Having good scenario teams who are willing and able to complete missions, getting a good and reliable system of communication, and knowing how to react to your opponent are important things. A strategy that is ineffective, a breakdown of communications or “order,” a wily opponent, or just a string of bad luck can render your entire side buried under the poo. But how important is strategy compared to recruitment? An unsuccessful or non-existent recruiting drive can assure defeat before the game even starts.

Which brings us to the final suspect: the Producers. As I write this, I am in the middle of setting up a game in September. This means making props, securing generals, advertising/promoting the game, trying to negotiate reasonable paint prices with our host field, guilt trip companies we order a lot of stuff from into cutting us a deal on or donating outright prizes to give away, all while waiting on you to pre-register and get us the money we need to make half of it happen. And these are just the things I know about from past experience; the other stuff that will pop up has yet to reveal itself. It’s our responsibility to find the right people to be generals. If one is very popular then that will upset balance, if one is extremely unpopular; that will also upset balance. Choosing poorly in the avenue of generals can ruin a game before it ever has a chance. It’s like naming your baby Stripper, Axe-Murder, or Ladyparts. Knowing reputations is difficult sometimes when you spend more time running paintball games than actually playing them, but it’s still our responsibility.

So what is the solution? From the production point of view, our hands are kind of tied. You will sign up for whatever side you want, and that will be the end of it. I can’t go up to you and say, “Sorry guys, I know you pre-paid and wanted to play on ‘Red,’ but…yeahhh, I’m going to need you to go ahead and switch to blue….’kay? Thanks…” (You should read that in the voice of Bill Lumbergh from Office Space. You signed up for a specific side and that’s what you expect to play on, who am I to tell you otherwise after the fact? We want you to have fun, and we know this relies on a lot of different things including team balance; but ultimately it’s your decision what side you play on. Plus the politics of the situation prevent us from actively recruiting outside the realm of advertising. If a producer is seen recruiting for one side more than the other, and that side happens to win – well the butt hurt is activated and some players cry foul. Or, to be more accurate, “fixed.” (Which I think would hurt more). Sadly, some people can’t get the fact that they will win some games, and they will lose some games into their scope of reason. Play to win, sure, but focus on having the best time of your life, win or lose. Scenario teams could track who is playing for what side and choose who to balance your team against. If one side is stacked with all of the experience try to talk some of those teams you are friendly with into going on the other side with yours. You can also spur the occasional weekend of friendly competition by choosing in advance what games you will play with and against each other in. Generals should work together in the aspect of recruiting, most generals tell me they are mainly concerned with everyone having fun – so it isn’t unreasonable to try to work together in this aspect. The generals for our upcoming game in September have opted to recruit for the game itself, and then assign sides with me as mediator later on. Walk on players play a role in this as well, if you play a scenario game for the first time, don’t hesitate to ask some of the experienced teams for guidance. Many will invite you to run with them, and also don’t hesitate to ask the general if you can do anything. There are times when a couple of people can pull in some big points just by babysitting a flag or retrieving a prop. Generals can also utilize small groups or lone-wolves for recon, diversion, or a multitude of other essential and highly useful roles. So, walk-on players: get involved! You can earn your own glory with a MVP award or gaining a good reputation that will get you on a team, or assure you an honorary spot on a few.

I guess at the end, the culprit of an unbalanced scenario game is everyone involved. From production all the way up to the players. If, at the end of the weekend, you feel the need to whine about balance ask yourself which category you fall into, and what you did to contribute.

Mike "Voodoo" Shumate
Originally posted on 'Voodoo Spells It Out'

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