Here are some sample ideas in a plan that I have seen and made comparable suggestions relative to paintball. An important thing to point out and understand is that these kinds of plans are not just loose ideas and descriptions as I am writing here, but hundreds of pages of detail that define exactly what to do in all circumstances. Fields, manufacturers, promoters, teams and other participants would get detailed data to explain the ideas and train them on what to do.
- Superheroes – Kids like to be important, play along with others that are important, and in general just do fun things. Matt and I started using ‘superheroes’ at his birthday party to test the acceptance of this term and what it represents, based on the people that have stepped up and helped us in paintball. We have been making laminated field maps with this notion and handing them out to kids at scenario games. Kids accept the idea naturally. Matt talks about the superheroes to his friends, and every time he invites his friends to play paintball, the first question they ask is ‘will any of the superheroes be there?’ In other industries there are branded people called Masters (martial arts), celebrities… But paintball has the unique ability to have living superheroes. It already has ‘Living Legends’ which is a form of this. This is of tremendous marketing value.
I mentioned earlier that the key to a plan is to get the experienced people volunteering and ‘giving back’ – to perpetuate this so those kids who get ‘superhero’ treatment will later become superheroes themselves and give the same back to the new kids coming in after them. If this isn’t done then the costs will soar and it will be very difficult to get that personalized treatment that works so well.
The superhero should be at the top of the experienced adult-volunteer level. There are a good number of superheroes now, but not nearly enough. Some are in a costume, others are not. All have a persona that is significant and bigger than life (why else would they dress up), and there are many others that could move to this area with the implementation of a marketing plan that stresses the importance of these ‘significant’ personalities.
The industry needs the Living Legends out there frequently, being seen and representing the sport in a positive way. Not for the permanent players, but to make paintball a big thing for the kids. This happens well with today’s superheroes like Skel Etor, A-Train, Wolf and Akimbo Assassin. It could include more appearances by professional team players. Scenario teams have members that can easily be superheroes in areas where an individual is particularly skilled (like Paco from Team ESP, who can attack an entire army and win). It includes individuals who are known internally for special accomplishments or skills, like Tina “Golden Girl” Ruzzo (who spends much time helping kids learn paintball properly) and D.J. “Honu” Fox (great scenario general that kids would love to learn from). Many of these people already volunteer their time and efforts, however, the importance of organizing all of these people (and many, many more) into a plan for kids and new players is crucial. This should include an obvious path for kids to themselves become one of these superheroes and pass it on.
The key to success is to have these superheroes embedded into a marketing plan that trains and engages the kids over an extended period of time. Here is a page (abbreviated to show the example) out of an imaginary marketing plan that shows what I am talking about - that turns any experienced, mature player with the desire to help into a superhero capable of giving kids that special ‘performance’. Please excuse inaccuracies on Marine skills; this is just a made-up example.
|Position||Marine Gunny Sergeant|
|Lessons||Observation Posts, Ambush, Radio and Hand Signals|
|Person||Military training or extensive knowledge in marine recon|
|Introduction||An enthusiastic announcer should make much of introducing the superheroes. “Our next superhero is a marine gunny sergeant, formally of the [3rd Marine Recon], and a specialist in observation and ambush. Lets hear it for Gunny Sergeant [Walker]!!!“ Announcer then points over to the side where gunny is waiting, but not previously visible.|
|Appearance||Upon introduction, the sergeant should trot out at port arms with his marker, with mask down, in full camo gear. Upon getting in front of the kids, he should stop, execute right face, stow marker, remove mask and replace with a marine hat, and go to parade rest. He should take on the look of a marine, and perform it well. This is a performance that has to tell the kids that this is a superhero, important above others, here for them.|
|Dialogue||In a somewhat gruff, not too fast, matter-of-fact, but not scary manner…GUNNY: “In every battle, information and communication is key to winning. Marines train to deploy forward and set up observation posts, which then leads to ambushing the enemy. Who here likes to ambush someone?”[pause and wait for some hands] “Yeah, it is fun. So we will be learning how to do this today, and how to communicate with the rest of the platoon using hand and radio signals. Everyone come over to this table.” [uses a hand signal to waive the kids to a table, where he unfolds a field map (kids like maps) that will be used to discuss how and where to set up an observation post]. [discussion continues until they leave to actually do it.]|
The script will continue in full detail showing everything needed to make this work. It would be written with appropriate knowledge of the domain, in this case Marine Recon, their skills, behavior (I was just making this up and having fun)… It would have full details on what to do, say and wear, how to get applause and participation, how to include the kids in demos. It would script out the entire training and practice session. The performer (experienced adult player) would have the material to study and prepare and guide them as they go along. The critical part for the performer is to play the part convincingly. This is where the kids are sold and gives them their reason to come back week after week, as they will not want to miss out (they won’t be able to stand not know what fun thing will happen next week). The kids should also be given awards, ranks and various insignia that shows they have completed various stages of training successfully. More discussion on rank below. In addition to hooking the kids, this is always worked through with materials as a sales opportunity for the parents.
Note that any detailed plan would also provide training descriptions for the superheroes. They would not be expected to just show up and read a script. They would also need to practice and have guidance. In addition, a good player would deal with differences between fields based on size, layout and budget. Marketing plans are not just for the large fields like CPX. If anything, they are angled more at the smaller fields, as that is where the help is most needed for them to prosper and for new ones to start up successfully.
A small list of other superhero session ideas:
- A commanding officer teaching the kids how you become the general of an army.
- Specialists in attacking larger units.
- Specialists in leading larger units on missions.
- Specialists in safety considerations.
- Specialists in being a sniper.
- How to run special missions like air strikes and helicopter insertions.
- How to become an expert with pistols.
It would not take a lot of brain power to come up with one or two topics for every week of the year.
- Scenario and Farm teams – scenario teams wear gear, play with markers, get paint and field discounts from their sponsors. What better way for the sponsors to collect from their investments than with their teams participating in the superhero program. Sponsors could reward their teams based on their effectiveness of bringing in the kids and subsequent field and gear sales. Markers and gear can and should be promoted, at the right time and under the right circumstance. But the context should be oriented towards the experience of the kids that is being delivered.
In addition to the superhero training, sponsors could create farm teams for any sponsored team. The farm team should be a reward for the kids who participate, learn and train (i.e. come out more often and engage). It should have special discounts, but more importantly should be designed to include the kids in with the team and the sponsors. These kids would be part of their campsite, going on missions with members of the team, all outside of the training environment. There should be communication between the team and the farm team kids on a regular basis (a good plan would also script all of this), and the kids should feel they are needed and have to get their parents to bring them out to be with their team. They should have a designation of Wingmen (A-Train called Matt his Wingman and Matt really like it so it seems to be a good idea) but an example again of ranks or awards. Kids should be showing their peers pictures of them with the team. It would be an honor for the teams to have a farm team; showing how well they are working the kids; transforming them into the future as excellent paintballers. Valken Corp works somewhat in this direction today, but is too big and broad to give the personalized experience the kids need.
- Clubs – Clubs are a parallel to school teams and other organizations like the Boy Scouts, perhaps with one club playing against others (from other fields or organized by schools). Kids like to compete, but when they do so the playing field needs to be even. Kids of similar age and skill against others of similar age and skill. But once again with kids, it cannot be some opt-in deal where not much happens other than on paper. It has to be organized, managed and attended to properly or kids will not join up. This would be a good example of how fields close to one another can cooperate through competition, benefiting everyone. Once again, a good marketing plan could detail exactly how to do this, to the point where they have materials for schools so their announcements or school papers have information about paintball clubs, competitions, and results.
- Technology – technology in the paintball world is very far behind the social-techno-connected world that kids live in today. A marker is not what I am talking about. Today’s kids have a way they live and communicate with peers, very different from a decade or more ago. Technology exists to draw kids in based on social norms. It is not embraced by the paintball industry very well. At least not with the kind of enthusiasm that everyone manufactures markers with. This is a big miss. I will be writing an article on this shortly that will show exactly what I mean here. As an example, consider this – a major impediment with parents comes from the need to drop the kids off for an extended number of hours to play, and unless they stay there, which most parents will not do, how do they have comfort that the kids are ok? This issue, and others like it, must be addressed, and can through today’s technology.
- Individual player efforts – much like the superheroes, what I mean here is that the attitude of paintball players to kids will greatly help the industry by including and embracing them at all times. It will be difficult for kids to become comfortable and enthused every time they show up on a Saturday to play without this. Some fields, teams and players are great at this. But far too many kids do not get the level of comfort they need to return. Kids should feel special, and the pool of individual players at the field need to be aware of this and help make it happen. Which makes there field more successful and better for all.
- No one left behind – this is important for fields to do, and for parents to understand. Paintball is one of those places where the kids will not be left behind. Through the superhero and individual player efforts programs, and the attitude and advertising of the fields, it should be made over-the-top obvious that all kids of all types are not only welcome, but extremely welcomed and capable of being great and flourishing.
- Ranks – kids like recognition. But they need to be able to sport that recognition, to their peers at school and to others on the paintball field. Kids will do a lot of work to get ranks, awards, insignias… that prove that they did something they hold in value. They should be able to get these through the programs they participate in and as part of awards like MVK (most valuable kid) in a game… Adults and older kids should hold them in esteem and respect as that is what the kids will think of their accomplishments.
- Special projects – paintball has a lot of high technology in it with more to come over the years. Manufacturers could have programs that participate in kid’s science fairs and similar projects (another opportunity to show kids and parents the value of paintball). Kids could also have paintball community-wide projects that they think would be fun. One I have considered is getting a community-level comic book project that has kids making a ‘superhero’ comic that features their favorite superheroes and the kid’s individual roles interacting with them. Scenario games provide the backdrop for this ready-made. They should extend out these story lines to the comics and let the kids be the creators of them, complete with filming, writing and production.
Another special kind of project already successfully done in paintball was with Bob Gurnsey’s car racing, where he turned his race car into the “Play Paintball” car. Then he organized manufacturers to come and let the fans shoot markers. This was very successful at getting people aware of paintball.
Here are the kinds of things that could be planned outside the field/player areas:
- Manufacturers – can help by supporting kids in academic settings, like science projects, with research on new ideas for paintball markers and equipment. Manufacturers could also stop the 20+ BPS direction, that does nothing but make it very difficult for new people, especially kids, to get into the sport and to afford it. They could create markers that enable fields to lock-down velocity settings after being crono’d. They should provide support, manuals, and truthful positioning on their equipment – where kids are purchasing the right things the first time, and parents can easily understand how to maintain them.
- Fields – fields are supplying what the industry norm is for safety. This is not enough and keeps a field only lucky at not having more legal actions. Each part of play needs to be inspected and proper safety conditions implemented (again, a marketing plan would do this). In addition, play areas need to work so that kids and novices are not wadded up together with experienced players, or if they are, there are appropriate refs, rules and precautions to make it safe play. Often fields attempt to do this, but because of a lack of numbers it may not work out. This points again to the need for a marketing program that dramatically increases the number of players as the answer.
- Promoters – could promote for kids, or at least include special kid sections or portions of games. Kids should be included in all parts of an event, with appropriate attention to language, alcohol and overall behavior kept in line with a family orientation. Insurance and legal issues that arise from including kids more heavily would need to be addressed in the marketing plan and not the specific onus of the promoters.
- Teams – mentioned above in the farm teams. Overall teams need to embrace new players, especially kids.
My friends want to be important and play in paintball as bigshots, but in safe way. We would like to be part of everything in a game, not left out or sidelined. Once we get to being good players, it is easier for us to work in many situations safely but getting to that point can be difficult.
I asked my friends, and this is what we agreed on that we like:
- 1. Be an important player to the game – we don’t want to be the lone wolf and left out. We want to be included in safe ways.
- Play with other kids and superheros when possible.
- If my school could have a paintball game against other schools that would be a lot of fun.
- Kids should have ranks and dogtags for when they do a good job. You could have different colors of dogtags like karate belts that show what rank you are. I can wear my dogtag to school and kids will want to know what they are and what they are missing out on.
- Be safe during play – when players shoot too many paintballs at you, too fast, that just makes kids not want to play. We don’t need to or want to shoot too fast. We want to have fun playing with everyone and take part in all the strategies.
- Learn skills not just paint shooting – like we do with video games. We have to learn lots of game techniques and facts, how to play together, and do lots of creative things to win. That is fun.
- Play at a good field – places where you can sneak around and hide, lots of different areas to play, and you get lots of chances to play in all the different areas.
- Shoot with good markers – we don’t need to shoot lots of paint but it helps when the markers shoot straight and don’t jam. Bad shots (from the marker not the kid) leads to having to shoot lots instead. We have trouble with fixing jams.
- Be a Commander – kids want to be important in front of their peers, and will work hard to show that, so that other kids look up to us and want to be like us.
In conclusion kids need more chances to feel included and can get an experience of what a superhero feels like. If they don’t feel important they won’t want to play anymore. We also like sneaking around surprising people and then shooting them. Kids don’t like being shot without a chance to shoot back. If kids feel like they are important then they will play more. PEACE!
Article and photos courtesy of Kelly and Matt Wical