The following is an archival post from my writings on ProPB
In the modern world of professional sports, pro athletes can often be inaccessible for the everyday participants and players. In the world of paintball, Alex Fraige and his company Coin Duel are rapidly changing that idea. This new and exciting game is bridging the gap between pro and amateur players and fostering a culture based around sportsmanship and fun in paintball.
The game has a fairly straight-forward concept; one player challenges another player for their coin in a paintball related challenge. Winner gets the coins.
I had the chance to talk to Alex Fraige in order to get a better understanding of his vision, his roots in business, and how he balances paintball and entrepreneurship. Alex has a deep love for the game, and his unique style of play has made him one of the best players in paintball history.
The Game of Coin Duel
In many competitions, players simply have the memory of their achievement that slowly fades over time; in Coin Duel, players have a lasting memento in the physical coins themselves. Winning a coin is simple; challenge a player, beat that player, keep the coins. However, if you want a gold or silver you are in for a true challenge.
The Silver Coins are a bit more common and easier to get. The more prestigious Gold and Black coins may only be earned on the field. Gold coins are initially held by current active professional players only, but can be won through challenges.
Only a chosen few get the Black Coin variant, "The kind of people getting these coins are the legends that have been around for a long time. Not even just former pro-players, but say you have someone that has been working in the industry for 20 years and had a huge impact on the game, that's the type of person we pick to give a Black Coin to."
Professional players who hold gold coins have incentives to take on challengers as well according to Alex; "If a pro wins a silver coin, I will buy that coin back from them for a bounty. I am hoping it draws pros to local fields and if nothing else it could be something where the pro can win a few coins, pay for their training, and have some fun while doing it."
"Any paintball player, even if its their very first time, could have that chance at beating a pro, it only takes one paintball. I had so many memories over my career and so many memories lost, and what is great is that these coins sort of allows you to immortalize your memory."
Silver, Black, and Gold
In the game of Coin Duel there are three unique types of coins that a player can earn; Silver, Gold, and Black Coins. Silver coins can be purchased by any player according to Alex "Currently we sell the first edition silver coins directly on the Coin Duel and Hormesis website. Our plan is to release limited edition runs of each coins to make them collectible and let them hold a bit more meaning." The first edition coins feature Oliver Lang, Alex Fraige's lifelong friend and a player widely considered the greatest of all time.
"You can buy the coins, but you can also try to get them from some of the top pros like Ryan Greenspan or Billy Bernacchia. How you acquire them is kind of up to these Coin Masters; maybe see them at a clinic and win one for doing something that stands out to them. Many events also have Dilly Donuts truck in attendance, and we gave some coins to Frank Connell because its kind of this fun and shady way to get a coin like "Hey Frank you got those coins" as you stand behind the donut truck, its silly and fun."
The Silver Coin is your bridge into the game and starts a player on their path to a Gold Coin or a legendary Black Coin. "Once you get a silver coin, this gives you the ability to challenge a pro who has a gold coin, but you run the risk of losing your silver coin to the pro and starting the process over again" said Fraige. The highest ranking coin always decides what the challenge will be and the winner keeps both coins.
Of course, this foray into the business side of paintball isn't Alex's first introduction to the sport, he is one of the longest-tenured and winningest players in professional paintball. Alex has been finding a way to balance his demanding pro paintball schedule with his business ventures, such as Field One, Coin Duel, and the explosively popular Hormesis.
His ambitions in business are grounded in the universal goal of connecting paintball players, and spreading the joy that the game has brought Alex, "Over the last few seasons I really have reflected on why I play the game and what is valuable to me. Through all this thinking I kept returning to the same thought; the things I valued most weren't the wins, the world traveling, or the money; it was the people. I get to meet and connect with people all over the globe who love this game like I do and it has been my honor to do so. I have deep gratitude for all the players I've got to connect with over the year."
However, that connection that Alex valued so greatly started to fade during the Coronavirus season of 2020. "It was hard, everything was shut down and I will say I was pretty depressed for a time and feeling a lot of anxiety. I wasn't able to get out to the paintball field and see all my buddies. So I decided to start getting on a healthy diet, stopped drinking, starting working out, and just focused on myself and my family. My wife was really important in getting me through this time of my life. Suddenly all of these ideas started to flow out in this catharsis."
The start of these ideas came to be realized when, out of the blue, Alex heard from a life-long friend; "Oliver (Lang) called me one day and just said "hey! lets make headbands!" Now I hadn't talked to Oliver in nearly three years, so on a whim, I did it, just so we could reconnect. Then once we started making headbands I saw the Hormesis community growing and met some amazing people that really led me to dive into it fully."
Alex has since been the key figure in the growth and development of Hormesis and their popular paintball headwear, and he is getting to once again share in this success with his life-long friend. That friendship has re-ignited the competitive nature of their relationship that once helped them both rise to the top of the competitive paintball world together.
"Oliver and I had this vision and it was a complete surprise in how much the community embraced it. It wasn't about money or sales, but to just do something with my best buddy. I've always been a bit jealous of Oliver but it has driven me to always want to beat him whether it was on the field or in business. Its a natural competition that still drives us both to be great. It's in that competition against each other that we have always found success, whether it be on the paintball field, or working in a business."
Alex Fraige is a brilliantly creative individual and his relaxed, fun, and easy-going nature on and off the field is evident in the way he has built the rules of the game.
The rules of the game are fluid and merely serve as an outline for how it can be played. Alex really emphasized that the rules aren't set in stone:
"I made the outline of rules but they are loose rules. If a Black Coin player wants to take a challenge from a Silver Coin holder, they can. I don't want to rules to tie it down because it is about the community around the game and not just the coins themselves. I want a player to walk up to someone like Chris Lasoya, for instance, and challenge him. The rules are loose because I want any player be able to connect with legends and pros of the game because they could have been the pro player this challenger has looked up to their entire life."
The entire premise of the game is founded in the idea of fostering new relationships on the paintball field with an added kick of competition.
This is what makes Coin Duel so special. Alex has found a way to combine the love of the game and the pure passion found in it where, ultimatley, everybody wins. Whether you leave with the coins, or walk away with a great story about how you almost beat a legendary pro player, you have fun and create a new bond that lasts a lifetime
The following is an archival post on my writings with ProPB
When we look at the landscape of the NXL Professional paintball league and have the conversation of the best players in the league, names such as Goldman, Archie, and Malloy are prevalent. I believe the conversation is flawed, because when it comes to the best player in the league, there needs to be a balance between elite marker skill, high paintball IQ, and positional versatility.
Marcello Margott has been a pillar in the professional paintball landscape for more than a decade. He is redefining the subtle nuance and elite skill required to be, arguably, the most complete player in the league. As a player, he has all the intangibles that paintball coaches dream of.
As mentioned above there are three critical areas of evaluation when we begin to look at who the most complete player in the league is; elite marker skill, high paintball IQ, and positional versatility. Many will ask about athleticism, and I left this off the list because with the direction the NXL is going, there are few pro players left who are not great athletes in the traditional sense. I will reference the 2020 NXL World Cup for parts of my argument.
Elite Marker Skill
Taking just a few minutes to watch Marcello play, one of the most immediate skills that becomes obvious is his marker skill. While of course almost all pro players in the NXL are skilled with their marker, Marcello takes it to another level. In a typical point, Marcello combined decades of experience to show this.
When he brings his marker up off the box, he can consistently shoot multiple spots on the field, landing 2-3 paintballs in some of the tightest windows on the field in milliseconds. While doing this he is also able to utilize subtle marker adjustments to help provide supporting cover for his teammates to help them make their spots. In addition, his ability to control zones with elite ball placement and the best first shot in the league, makes him a dangerous gun-fighter.
The 2020 NXL World Cup Final is perhaps the best game to show this. For the majority of the finals, he was given a task that almost no other player in the league was able to do all event; eliminate Billy Bernacchia, arguably the fastest paintball player in the league. Game after game we saw Marcello able to do this, shooting Billy 5 times in a row to start the match and a total of 7/11 points. Show me any other player capable of shooting Billy 64% of the time in a match.
High Paintball IQ
When we begin to analyze paintball IQ, it can become a bit foggy on what that means. To me, it means a consistent track record of excellence, being relied on by your team, year after year, to play the toughest spots on the field, and survivability.
Survivability is a great indicator of IQ, especially for a player that engages in gunfights as often as Marcello, because it shows a player that is engaging with a purpose. When Marcello decides to gunfight, he is doing so for more than just an elimination. He is controlling a zone, he is edging in support players in order to open small windows for his attackers, and he is getting more information to diagnose the best possible move for his team.
In the World Cup Finals Match, out of 12 points played, Marcello was among the last 3 players alive for his team in 11/12 points, an astonishing 92%. He finished 7/12 points as alive or the last player alive for his team, an even more impressive 58%. What is mind-blowing is the fact that he did this against San Antonio X-Factor, the hottest team of the last 3 seasons.
This one is fairly obvious to me; any top player needs to be able to play any position on the field in a moment's notice. We can analyze almost any game Marcello is on the field and see him play every spot. Whether he is asked to shoot 12 pods from the back line, support the dorito attack, insert into the snake, or create chaos in the center, Marcello answers the call.
As noted above, Marcello was tasked with playing the snake side can, a spot that many players struggled in. The bunker had to be played extremely tight, and you had to be ready to fill a gap in the center or snake side at any time. Perhaps only Raney Stanczak has been able to rival Marcello in terms of pure versatility over the last few seasons.
During the 2020 World Cup, when asked to push the snake side or go up the center, he did so flawlessly. When listening to this game's Sound FX on GoSports, his level of communication from any spot on the field was the biggest advantage Dynasty had. I have seen few players able to quarterback a field from any spot and Marcello does this consistently. No one player effected the outcome of the 2020 World Cup more than Marcello did.
Talking With Marcello
When conversing with Marcello, his commitment to the game, and his endless drive for excellence is extremely evident. The intangible portions of his game and subtle nuance in his technique are hard to quantify with stats so I sat down to talk with him to show everyone what is obvious to nearly every other pro and coach in the league.
You had to take on a larger role for this event with the injury to Ryan Greenspan, how did you prepare to take on that leadership role?
Marcello: "I’m no stranger to that role.. Dynasty is full of natural leaders and that’s what makes the team so great. Any one of us can step up and lead the team at any given time. To win in the pro division you have to have an immense amount of discipline in your preparation - and then you have to execute. The team that makes the least mistakes is going to win on Sunday. My focus is always to get the best out of us. I’m here to make sure we hold ourselves accountable are doing the necessary things it takes to win. This event was no different."
What was the conversation like in the Dynasty pit after you got knocked out on Sunday at NXL Florida? Were there some negative feelings or was it all focus on looking forward to the next event?
Marcello: "It was actually a really positive one. I pulled the team together on the field after we shook hands with X-Factor and expressed my happiness with the organization. I think we showed extreme resiliency in Florida. All within a few weeks of the event we found out we were going to have a new coach, No Ryan, No Dalton, Blake was dealing with an injury and we were bringing in a new player that has never seen the pro field to get meaningful reps. We had every excuse to just roll over after Friday but we came together and played some great ball to earn a Wild Card spot. We made a few situational mistakes against X-Factor that ended up leading us to an overtime loss but in all honesty that game could have gone either way. I feel that if we win that game we had a good chance at winning the event. Things were starting to click and most importantly, our young guys really stepped up. To me, this event was a huge building block for the future of Dynasty and the focus is on getting better for Philly. "
How has coaching divisional teams helped you at the pro level? Does working with these teams help develop any new areas of your own game?
Marcello: "Not just coaching divisional teams, but competing with teams internationally. I talk about this often.. When you go overseas and are expected to lead a team to championships you have to build an entire culture of an organization. You are constantly preaching the things you’ve learned and of course that benefits your own game too. It is a constant reminder of the dos and don’ts. Most importantly though, it has helped me understand one of the most important things in leadership and that’s figuring out how to get the absolute best out of each of your players. Everyone is different and its imperative to be able to connect with each of them uniquely.
Was the decision for Tyler to leave a known event for the team, or was it a sudden bomb that was dropped on the team?
Marcello: "Tyler gave his heart and soul to Dynasty for 8 years so of course any move at all is going to feel unexpected. That’s my brother though and I’m happy to see him get paid. He has devoted his life to becoming a top professional both on and off the field with a wife and 2 kids that have sacrificed so much to support him. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be compensated appropriately for that."
Now more than ever, the weight of Dynasty’s success is laying on your shoulders. What does that mean to you and how will Dynasty pull the roster together to compete at the highest level for the rest of the season?
Marcello: "The weight of success lies in the culture of the team. It’s about the work a team is willing to put in. We have a lot of work to do and a lot to prove - it’s something to be excited for."
Marcello wanted to thank his sponsors HK Army and Field One Paintball. You can catch him on his popular show, the Play the Game Podcast on Itunes and Youtube. If you want the chance to learn from one of the greatest minds in the sport, Marcello's company Paintball IQ offers books as well as clinics to improve your game. He will be at the bKi Clinic at Blastcamp and the bKi Summer Camp in July.
This archival piece was one of the first major publications I made to a website. It was posted to PBNation during a time when the paintball industry was hanging by a thread. Since then, the industry has seen a massive period of growth and prosperity and is once again a thriving extreme sport.
An Honest Look at why the Paintball Industry is Failing.
I have been pondering doing a piece like this for some time now. Growing up, this sport has always been the one constant in my life. I've owned and operated 2 different shops, managed multiple fields, and am currently in the process of running my own. I have done manufacturing work for paintball companies large and small. And, I have been a player for as long as I can remember. I have watched this industry go from the largest growing extreme sport in the world, to the state it is in today, and let me tell you, its a state of emergency.
The Local Operator, Paintball's Champion
When put as cut and dry as possible, the life-blood of this industry is the local operator. No matter what way you try to look at it or word it, it is these champions of paintball that make it all possible.
Like any business, the owners of local fields and pro-shops desire one main set of objectives, increase revenue, decrease liabilities. And in a time where the industry is failing this is becoming harder and harder for local field owners. Many of you "old-timers" can probably remember a time 5-10 years ago where fields were everywhere and more and more were popping up each year to help satisfy the needs of a growing market. Paintball was no longer just a bunch of guys in the woods shooting each other in the ass, it was a full blown industry. By the mid 2000's paintball was earning nearly $700 million nationwide for all of its business'. By 2006 almost 5 million people in the United States were playing paintball an average of 21 days per year.
This meteoric rise eventually came to a cool down point. In late 2007, when the recession hit, paintball participants began to stop going out to the field and much. The average household income of a paintball participant was $67,300/year at the time and this showed, in income, that the average paintball player was quite average. Paintball, like many other industries, was just not recession proof and took a hard hit. Flash forward to today and we see a nationwide industry profit of about $580 million dollars, and roughly an 18% decrease in growth.
David, Meet Goliath
One of the biggest areas of concern, that in my opinion have been destroying the industry as a whole, is online retailers. The rise of the online paintball supplies retailer brought along a large decrease in average marker, paint, and accessories cost. While this is quite good for the average paintball participant, the negative impact of local fields was seen and felt pretty quickly.
With so many online retailers all competing for business, price wars began. Local fields just could not compete with the purchasing power retail suppliers have. A field buying maybe 5-10 markers a month to sell could not see anywhere near the same kind of margins as a retailers purchasing hundreds of markers in the same timeframe. MAP prices violations began to stack among online retailers and local fields and shops felt the pain more than anyone. With a decrease in margins, and an increase in held inventory, many fields and shops just decided to call it quits and close their doors. According to PBR, their are currently around 1450 fields operating in the United States, this number being drastically reduced from a 2007 statistic listing over 2300 fields in the United States.
It is evident that fields have been consistently closing over the last 4-7 years. Lets look into some reasons why. So lets create an example using 3 hypothetical companies, Marker Company X, Local Field Y, and Online Guy Z.
So Marker Company X decides to sell their all new gun to Local Field Y and Online Guy Z. Both parties purchase the marker at the wholesale price of $100. The marker has a Minimum advertised price(MAP) of $150 and a Manufactures Suggested Retail Price(MSRP) of $200.
Five or ten years ago Local Field Y and Online Guy Z would both sell the marker for the MSRP of $200 and call it a day. Everyone was making money, everyone was happy. Then the industry started to evolve. Online Guy Z began to sell the marker for 10 or 20% off and watch profits soar, while Local Field Y continued to sell at $200 and watch sales decrease. Flash forward to the current market and now Online Guy Z is selling the marker for $120, while Local Field Y is still selling the marker at $200. Online Guy Z is making smaller margins while moving a larger volume, where Local Field Y is lucky if they sell even one unit. Local Field Y's inventory comes to a standstill and they decide to close shop, further increasing Online Guy Z's market share and his stranglehold on prices.
The problem with all of this is that all the manufactures are already in such fear of losing money, that they cannot afford to put a halt to Online Guy Z and his price gouging and they have to watch as their client list dwindles and Online Guy Z gains more and more leverage with the company.
Do not Pity your Master
Online retailers are not the only problem. Although manufactures are being leveraged by many of the online retailers, they themselves can take some of the blame for this market downturn. Five or Ten years ago it was almost unheard of for large manufactures to be sponsoring lowly divisional teams, as it did not make financial sense since many of these divisional players were their main target market. These companies would bite the proverbial bullet and cough up free product for the professional teams in exchange for the advertising and marketing that the pro teams offered for them.
Fast forward to today and we see many major manufactures flooding the market with sponsorships for divisional teams in order to create an artificial market share and further increase their presence in the marketplace. I could go into how unsustainable this is in business, but that is another article. But, these actions are temporarily helping to increase revenue and market share for manufactures while leaving their own dealers, the local fields and shop, high and dry. 5-10 years ago before this was occurring, fields would sponsor the lower divisional players with gear or paint discounts to not only help sell more product, but to help local players have the ability to afford to play and increase attendance at the field. It worked great and many fields thrived.
The Rise of the Conglomerate
In business there are two main ways to increase your market share, build it or buy it. Large conglomerates, which I will leave unnamed, push to purchase small companies in order to increase their market share. Many of these companies doing this start out with non-paintball management which cares little about the effects of their action on the future of the sport, and more or less, just see the here and the now of the industries profit. Everyone wants a piece of that constantly diminishing $580 million pie.
Years ago I'm sure we can all remember the sheer number of companies out there. Whether you wanted custom hard parts for your gun or a set of gloves, there was a company who specialized in it. Each company would find their niche, fill it, and everyone would make a living. The constant infusion of new products to the marketplace kept shop inventories fresh and profits rolling. But as of late, many of these companies are struggling with the increase of technology in the game and the large conglomerates have been buying these small companies up to increase market share.
A Changing Attitude
Although I feel manufactures and online retailers are the main culprits to the failures in the industry, I think players are to blame as well. The increase of technology in paintball has made shooting a gun 12, 15, or 18+ balls per second pretty much automatic. Rarely do you pick up a gun in todays industry that doesn't have the ability to do this. Whether its a low end blow back or a high end spool they all can do it.
I can remember years ago when players would first get into the sport, they would start with a low end mechanical blow back. They would learn how to play the game out in the woods with their friends and this would eventually translate into playing at a local field. Players learned how to play without the assistance of technology and they learned to play the game right.
Now in these days, equipment that can act as a crutch to newer players. This is evident everywhere and it is causing issues at local fields across the country. Many newer players that come out to rent and play once or twice a year are now turning away from the sport and it is causing us to lose more and more players each year. Players who used to go to the field and have a good time are now greeted by young kids and adults decked out in new gear ready to blast them in the face at 15 balls per second with no self control on their play, just because the technology allows it. This is turning players away from our sport and is a big cause of concern that field owners and manufactures must find an answer to.
The attitudes displayed by many current players is not conducive to a growing industry and hinders the ability for new players to join the sport and stick with it.
Overall, I feel that some big changes are needed in this sport in order to get back to the kind of growth we saw in the early and mid 2000's. Online retailers need to get a grip, and manufactures cannot continue to enable them to use their market leverage against them. Without an infusion of new players and a changed attitude of players this industry will continue to fail until we hit a point of no return and become just another extreme sport afterthought like inline skating or BMX.