It’s no secret that the popularity of Grifball has declined over the past two years. Anyone giving an honest assessment of the league since SML08 has seen that Grifball would suffer an inevitable decline. The fact of the matter is that Grifball is one game type in a console game that was released in 2007. Any gaming league fed by such a narrow constituency is bound to decline as less dedicated players wander off to try out other, newer games.
However, the game with nine rounds just might have nine lives. Grifball will be given a second lease on life this fall when Halo: Reach is released. By all accounts, Reach will either include a pre-set Grifball variant or will include all the tools necessary to construct one.
Halo: Reach will sell millions of copies. It won’t be unusual to see one million people in Matchmaking this fall. Once a Grifball playlist is put up, we will see populations in the six figures.
Reach will give the Grifball.com league a shot in the arm. How can we best capitalize on that? How can we recruit these people into the league? How can we get them to play their games? And, perhaps more importantly, how can we get them to stick around for more than one season?
First, let’s take a look back at how the number of teams participating in the Grifball.com league has fluctuated over time:
Beginning in SML08, Grifball.com featured two concurrent US leagues: A less-skilled league (Rookie/Amateur) and a more-skilled league (Legacy/Pro). Both leagues were designed to be competitive, but teams were divided so that, as Commissioner Jack put it, new players could “learn the sport before a punk vet team whomps away on their fresh hides.”
In SL08, the league had 16 divisions of 6 teams each. Participation spiked in SML08, when the Rookie League, restricted only to newbies, had an astonishing 32 divisions of 6 teams each, while the Legacy League had the equivalent of 13 divisions of 6 teams each.
SML08 was the high-water mark for Grifball.com for a variety of reasons:
We can see spikes in the summer months when children are home from school and have more time for video games. We can also see undeniable declines for every other season. 47% fewer teams signed up for the WL08 season than signed up for SML08. That number halved again in SL09 when we only had 53% as many teams sign up. While we had a 50% increase for SML09, we’ve been losing over 20% of the league each of the subsequent seasons.
There will always be a core of Grifball fanatics who will field a team. With hardcore players with flexible schedules, leagues can succeed even with only six teams. However, if it is a goal of Grifball.com to have multiple competitive leagues segregated by skill level, the simple fact is that the league needs more teams.
To capitalize on the spike in popularity that will result from the release of Reach, the Grifball.com management and community should focus on two goals: Recruitment and Retainment.
Unless the Grifball.com league devolving into a mixed-skill, non-competitive league (like the GGL) is an option, the league will always need new blood. New players become more skilled and eventually provide competition for the Pro League. If there are enough new teams, they can play together along with the lesser-skilled veterans to ensure that Pro-caliber teams only play against teams of equal skill. Retainment is equally important because if a team plays one season then leaves, the league will have to find a brand new team to replace them. If too many teams leave, Grifball.com will no longer be able to support two leagues.
In Part II, I will discuss reforms that can be put into place to increase Grifball.com recruitment before Reach is released to ensure that the league can best capitalize on the inevitable influx of new players. In Part III, I will discuss reforms that can be done to increase the likelihood that new teams will stick around for one or more seasons.
In the end, every fan of the game is on the same team: Team Grifball. By working together, and having better administrative leadership, we can make the Grifball.com league the best it possibly can be.