Its time! … time to get to the bottom of who this ATrain character is and what this Track21 is all about. Read on as we ask all the tough questions with the first of our three part interview direct with ATrain of Track 21.
Tomcat: To start with. I’m not sure if you ever told me but it is a good question … where did “A-Train” begin?
A-Train: My first paintball game was very early in the 90’s shortly after High school. I was invited out with some friends to play a game. I had been lit up and was kind of littered with paintballs as fodder the first time out. In fact, by some of the guys that invited me out. Nice friends right? After getting “torched” pretty well I said to myself “This isn’t fun and this isn’t exciting” My golf game greatly improved after that.
Tom: So, you know that’s not a typical answer that I normally get. Typically people say “well, I went out and had a blast and I was hooked!” With your bad experience, what made you come back, then?
A-Train: My brother was really into paintball and I wasn’t, it just seemed like a hobby he had and based on my experience I wouldn’t be interested. A few years later I sat down with him and he said, “Well you should come and play paintball with me?” My brother threatened me with camping, a road trip and war games, he was relentless for sure. So, a blank check and a paintball magazine later my brother set me up with an everything he thought I would need an outfitted me completely for paintball. With MY money! I went to the local field and tested it all out and met some great people and had a good experience. That good experience led into me playing paintball as a part of my life ever since and that was about 13 to 14 years ago.
Tomcat: Ok, so over these years what would you consider some of the highlights?
A-Train: Wow, Well I guess the real answer to that question lies in a person’s perception of whether it is a destination or a journey. For me, and the idealist that I am, it has been a journey. The adventures I take in between the events, the people that I meet, friendships I create, professionally, or personally between and during those events and the laughter that we share
Tomcat: I can so relate to that I feel the same way
A-Train: Yeah, and there’s so much that doesn’t get shown unless you are there.
Tomcat: You sound like the very first paragraph of my Wayne’s World article today “its where paintball takes me this journey has just been so incredible many years playing paintball in the bush in rural Ontario, Canada. I had no idea back then that paintball would see me board a plane and travel the world checking paintball around the globe”.
A-Train: Right! For example: If you go to a game for example in Nevada or Arizona or New Mexico. Have you stopped by the Grand Canyon and gone hiking for three days? Well, me and my paintball friends we do that sort of stuff! So I would love to say my greatest paintball highlights are listed on one hand but I really think they are still to be made. I will tell you though, watching my son, experience and evangelize the game and inviting his friends to events and participating in their first paintball experiences is one of the greatest highlights for both of us. Oh and I did get to roll out with my brother last year and gunfight. That was cool we both just get so busy, nowadays.
Tomcat: Very cool. So here we are today. Having come all this way on the journey, as you so aptly put it, through this journey you, like myself, have more or less stepped onto a soapbox to carve a brand name for yourself and create something unique and interesting in the paintball world. Maybe you can give us a little bit more about Track 21?. What is it that you hope to accomplish with the brand name and what is it about?
A-Train: “Track 21” was just a brand that I came up to be more digestible to the masses. During a time when the team I was on was having a winter-long identity crisis. So as a team we had already built “a brand” per se, with my friends and family, for many years. That’s a lot of work for sure. People think that I do this all by myself and it’s not a lot of who I am but also about the people around me. My TZB teammates, those behind the camera and the people that watch interact and have a laugh and of course, the friends that I travel with and meet. As Behind the Bunker grew and everyone else had a brand I just threw up “Track 21”. It rolled off the tongue. I would say it’s about sharing the memories of my friends and I. See, we are fans of paintball and fans of paintball media, too.
Tomcat: How so?
A-Train: Funny, a chance conversation with someone else reminded me of this. Years ago, when I personally decided to get more active, I looked around YouTube because that was the biggest media center at the time. I think looking for marker reviews and I found a little known [laugh] channel out of the Toronto area who had a segment called the “Wolf’s Den” and there was absolutely no one that I found that was more excited about being a paintballer than Wolf. The adventures that he would share were inspiring and got me excited to just go play and try new fields. Even if Wolf didn’t play, he was in the parking lot meeting people with his camera and sharing those adventures. I thought it was great and I got to be introduced to the Catshack and other websites that are out there and some of the forums and groups. I think I started a PBNation account at that time, too. Just to see who and what was out there. I realized paintball was much bigger then I had thought. If I would just reach out a bit. Fruit is usually at the end of the vine.
Tomcat: Now, just out of curiosity was Track 21 something that more or less started with your work with Behind the Bunker? Or were you doing something prior to that? Because I don’t recall you doing anything prior to that.
A-Train: I was playing paintball and growing into the sport like anyone else. “A-Train” is just a player. “Track 21” did start with Behind the Bunker. Behind the Bunker, I think only had 100 viewers a week, at the time [laugh] but that’s what we always dreamed of in paintball, a show about paintball. And Behind the Bunker was funny to me and people got to interact with the show. When the live show had a question about air systems I would go and get the answer and bring it back. A live show is always fun because anything can happen and usually does.
One of the underlying tones about the show is that they “rib” each other a little and have good-natured fun and after a few episodes, I realized the show was very contributor supported. I convinced myself to make a video and my video was not serious at all. I guess the first thing you have to understand is that I didn’t do these videos for anyone else. I think I am funny. That’s why I made videos, because I think I am hilarious. I did not do this to become popular. Just promote some laughs and my team because we played a lot of paintball. So one day I went to an event and I will admit to you that I was reckless, I did what I wanted, when I wanted to and said what I wanted. I may have ‘tipped a few apple carts’ in the time and a lot of people thought it was part of the appeal. Some people might say that I am brazen or brave, but I took risks that others may not have so. I knew not what I was doing as far a production or promotion went, videos were long, the editing was poor, the quality was miserable, the sound was atrocious In fact, my videos were making fun of everyone making videos! If you didn’t get the joke in that, you would not get my humor.
It wasn’t until I found something called analytics where I found out who was really paying attention and not many people watched them. So, who cares right? I got to a field that I had never been at and people started to interacting with me and responding in a very different way where THEY held me on a soapbox. I guess I never looked down and realized I was on one. I only thought I was making jokes and telling stories to my friends. However, with social media, people would share. Viewers would feedback stories of their favorite Behind the Bunker segments, or wondered what an event I had been to or talking about some of the custom tanks and gear I had. I started seeing people get “interactive” again which was great. People associated me with the show (BEHIND THE BUNKER) and that’s fine with me. So I kept it up when I could. The staff and crew at Behind The Bunker World HQ have been great friends and we still wave at each other with all five fingers. Now, the “reach” of Track 21 and what we’re doing may not be, in comparison, as numerous or as big as other ‘channels’ and social media sources, we stand proudly on our beliefs of who we are, what we’re doing and how we do it, each day. We invite people to participate, but subscribers on a YouTube channel do not matter to me, personally. Oh, and I think that guy, Wolf from the Wolf’s Den, is still doing paintball videos and has over a thousand subscribers by now. If I ever meet him I will have to say hello. [laugh]
A-Train: Basically! It was “you are hilarious but I watch out of morbid curiosity to find out what you are going to do next”. I only thought I was talking to my friends, Tom.
Tomcat: I can certainly relate. We are all there on our “soapboxes” and we are in the public eye and because we are in the public eye. we are subject to the viewers.
A-Train: The public opinion of course. I am probably reluctant myself in some ways to be on the soapbox but if the shoe fits, I still think I’m funny.
Tomcat: The community as a whole. Okay, what you would say to the individuals who play the part of the armchair critic never having picked up a camera, never having written an article nor done a video of any kind … and have no clue what it takes to create these things.
A-Train: Hmmm. Tom I don’t know if I would have any kind of really poignant response because I am under the belief that when you point a finger at someone else you have to remember that three of them are pointed back at you. If you do not have the accurate information and you have not walked a mile in somebody else’s shoes you have no right to pass judgment, or I would consider the opinion meritless. It is a lot of work. It’s very expensive to travel and the time is a major factor. Working on learning from our mistakes along the way it became a little easier to produce the media, because I was learning how to be a producer, anchor, reporter, videographer, photographer, editor, music engineer, social media officer, and sometimes a recording artist when effectively, I was just trying to be “comically me”.
Most people and teams that host a website, run a camera, produce a show, do reviews, general games, snap photos or promote this game or otherwise – put one hell of a lot of time into their work. You can tell who does and who doesn’t, too. I still think of what it takes to stream and cover the professional events on pbaccess.com, it boggles me! What the end user sees took a lot of work, It’s the “illusion” that it looks easy and seamless. Even before we leave for the airport or get driving, the preparations alone take sometimes a week maybe more. Then the 17-hour work days during events. And when we get back to ‘The Station’ production begins and we disseminate all the work. We are on location, not just in front of our couch or computer. It’s a lot of editing. Especially because we are trying to constantly “up the level” and we have a standard around here now. We want you to think it’s easy for the 2-5 minutes we have you. We want you to get excited about paintball again! People criticize others sometimes for a myriad of reasons. I don’t care, if it’s good, watchable, and entertains or informs me for a bit…I’m in! Trolls are everywhere.
Tomcat: Yes, but such is the way of the internet.
A-Train: Correct. Some people monetize YouTube channels, some people are looking for advocacy, some people are looking for advertising. Some are looking for a way to play free paintball! Some people are doing it to promote a media outlet or their team to attract sponsorships. Everyone has their own motivators for doing it. I think it’s important to find that out first. It’s not just what they are doing, it’s more interesting to find out WHY they are doing it. Then someone’s actions have meaning. I think there are only two or three videos that I monetized just so they are available on all platforms. And all that money will go to charity. When and if YouTube ever cuts me that $10.21 check for 1 ½ years of work.
See part TWO of our lengthy interview with ATrain and Track 21 tomorrow … same Cat time, same Cat Channel!
Photos by Catshack Reports, Track21 and Tristan Hardy of grim-gear.com