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Inside the 2012 AXBL Southwest & Event 1 Photos
- Updated: February 25, 2012 at 7:06 PM
I have a weakness for finely crafted products. Fast motorcycles, expensive watches, and beautiful guitars all bring me a peculiar type of satisfaction. I’m mesmerized by the time, detail, and effort it takes to make great things, and find myself curious about how the creators did it. Once in a while I come across craftsmanship in the form of an intangible – something you can’t quite put your finger on. This past weekend I was on hand for the first event of the 2012 AXBL Southwest at Paintball Zone in Houston, TX and I realized very quickly that it was organized and run by people who know exactly what they are doing – people who care deeply about the quality of the event and have worked very hard to make sure the event lives up to high standards. I was stunned by how they made a very complicated operation run smooth as glass and I immediately had to know how the guys behind the event pulled it off. Fortunately, I was able to pry Paintball Zone owner Jim Hensley and Steve Rabackoff of G.I. Sportz away from their duties to talk about how it came together and the challenges they faced.
“There are always problems,” said Mr. Hensley, a field owner of 11 years, “and preparation is really the key to running smooth tournaments. Most people don’t realize how much work goes into these events.” As the operator of one of the most successful fields in the country, he draws heavily from his experience as a restaurant manager in the 90s. “I worked at Landry’s in Galveston, TX before opening Paintball Zone. We’ve had to move a couple of times since then, but we’ve got something [to be proud of] now.” He learned to run a business and manage crowds there, an experience that has helped him create a well-run and profitable paintball park.
The AXBL stakeholders are keenly aware that they can’t take teams showing up for granted. “There are two things that teams won’t forgive, paint that won’t shoot and bad reffing,” said Mr. Hensley. “If you can’t shoot the other guy because of bad paint, or you don’t get the calls when you do, you won’t get players to come back to the event. You can’t make a mistake on those two decisions. It’s critical and they’ll never forgive you if you [don’t get it right.]” For this event a semi-truck full of freshly made paint from G.I. Sportz was shipped in and arrived less than 24 hours before the event – a risky but worthwhile payoff to have the best product on hand. Getting top-flight refs is a long and painstaking process that has been in the works for some time. It takes training and experience to field a competent crew; you can’t expect to throw 9 guys (plus alternates) on the field and expect games to be called fairly. To help minimize the risk of bad officiating, the AXBL hosts one or two PSP training sessions each year to help refs get current with the rules and brush up on technique. Several in the crew also have big game experience and know, from a player’s point of view, what makes a ref good. Even then, reffing is never perfect, so the AXBL has adopted the PSP Race-to format and as Mr. Rabackoff elaborated, “[the race-to] format is supposed to take some of the human error out of the game. If a bad call costs you, it isn’t over. You can still win out.”
While Mr. Hensley focused on the nuts and bolts of setting up the event, Mr. Rabackoff, who flew in from D.C. to help run the tournament, concerned himself with the schedule and game play. He also talked about the disconnect that can easily happen between players, sponsors, and field owners at tournaments. “Sponsors don’t make money at these events,” he said. “They are just trying to break even. Players ask me about the cost of the paint or the cost of entry, and they often need to be educated about [the cost of running a tournament].” Cost is one of the major hurdles that every paintball player has to confront, and the AXBL has had to do a balancing act to make the event affordable for the players but worth the effort to run. It’s a harsh reality that paintball is not a sport one can just jump into like football or basketball. A $50 basketball and a hoop are all you need for 10 people to have a pickup game, but markers, paint, and gear run into the many thousands of dollars for every team. Even practice costs are significant, especially at the higher divisions. That cost puts tremendous amounts of pressure on tournament organizers because teams are constantly short of cash and simply can’t afford to shell out dollar after dollar for events – especially if the product isn’t well thought out and put together. “We can make the paint cheap or we can make the entry cheap. We can’t do both and run a good tournament.”
In the final analysis, you have to admire what the AXBL Southwest has been able to do in just its second year. There is a lot of pressure to run every event perfectly so they can grow the sport, and satisfy the teams, sponsors, and hosting fields. Over 20 teams showed up to compete in conditions that were less than ideal and that is a testament to their simple formula: host a well-run, well officiated, and reasonably priced tournament with good prizes and expect players to show up. It seems simple, but like anything that is finely crafted, the execution is difficult and time-consuming – and worth it when a product you can be proud of can be presented to customers.
To learn more about the AXBL and see who won the latest event, visit: axbl.us