I wrote the piece below on October 28th, the second day of the PDC Asia, North and East region qualifier. Since then, I have not been able to find video of the event on Youtube. I can find video of the qualifier held here last year in Taipei, and I can find videos of many other PDC qualifiers, but unsurprisingly I cannot find this year's Taipei qualifier on Youtube. This may have something to do with the level of competition and quality, or rather, lack of quality play.
The Great Die Off and the PDC qualifier in Taipei. Oct. 28, 2017
40 players competed at the PDC Asia qualifier, North and East Region (South Korea, Mongolia, Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyztan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan) in Taipei, Taiwan, last night. I was shocked, but not too surprised at the small number of players who showed up. I took a look at the tourney bracket, and only a few names were not written in Chinese. I didn't see anybody who looked like Borat, so I guess the turnout from the former Soviet republics may have been non-existent. There were a couple guys from Mongolia, some South Koreans, a contingent from Hong Kong and Macau, and of course local Taiwan players. Many top Hong Kong shooters failed to attend. Royden Lam surprisingly didn't come. The top 16 will fight it out today for a place at Allie Pally this December. I will not go watch today. It's just not worth my time.
There is a core group of steel tip shooters here in Taiwan, good players, getting up in age who no longer play. Most of them are in their late 50s and early 60s. They understand etiquette, counting, and chalking. These are guys who played during the peak of steel darts in Taiwan, the 80s and early 90s. Many played through the 90s, and a few of them play soft tip even now. Several of them played on the Pacific Cup teams of the 80s that played against Paul Lim and his teams. I am of the same generation. We are the dinosaurs of darts.
Darts culture in Taiwan saw what I characterize as the Great Die Off of darts. This started around the mid 90s and lasted until around 10 years ago. Just as the dinosaurs disappeared and mammals took over, steel tip darts disappeared and was eclipsed by machine darts. The Great Die Off saw steel tip pubs and competition all but disappear in Taiwan. It was during this time that the core of good shooters stopped actively playing. It was also during this time that I was importing darts supplies and selling to people I knew in Taipei. It was a desperate time for darts. A handful of places had boards, with only a handful of people going out and playing. It was difficult to get darts supplies. At that time, Taiwan companies made over 90% of the world's darts supplies. But it was all for foreign markets. Only the cheapest Walmart quality darts were sold domestically. For me, darts was missionary work. Instead of handing out Bibles, I carried around a darts catalog and a bag of supplies.
The problem with the Great Die Off was not that players stopped playing. The problem was that another generation of steel players didn't emerge. Darts is a sport that is social, and for the most part played in informal environments. Formal coaching and training that is found in many popular sports is nearly non-existent. Knowledge of darts is passed on from player to player, older player to younger player, from one generation to the next. Darts knowledge was lost. The Great Die Off was a dark ages from which soft tip darts and soft tip culture arose in the mid 2000s. There are now hundreds of locations in Taiwan with soft-tip darts, and thousands of players. But those players only know how to push the buttons on the machines, shoot at bulls, shoot the outs suggested by the machines, fist bump, and tell you "Good shot!" after you hit only one of three bulls - Not PDC bulls, but fat bulls.
Last night at the PDC qualifier, I saw the impact of the Great Die Off of darts in Taiwan. No steel tip players from before the Great Die Off participated. The Taiwan players who attended gave a good effort, but it was clearly apparent that many of them lacked fundamental darts skills. The low level of chalking and general counting skill by a lot of the Taiwan players was quite stunning. I saw players leave themselves 50 after three darts, instead of other numbers that led to better checkouts. At other times I had no idea what players were shooting at when they were trying to leave outs. As for chalking, many people had their cell phones out and were using scorekeeping apps. I saw one of the better Taiwan players just raise his hands and admit that he had no idea what his score was after he'd thrown his third dart. He just took the word of the chalker. All of these players are soft tip players that have no connection to darts from before the Great Die Off.
There may be an arising. The last year or so has seen a couple of steel tip events. The Baxin darts club in a local suburb of Taipei has installed several locally made coin-op steel boards called FIDODarts. Scoring is automatic, and the interface is similar to soft tip boards. Any standard bristle board can be attached and will work. I first saw them two weeks ago. They don't have the slick style and colors of Dartslive boards, but they offer a variety of games and automatic scoring. No one was using them, but people were playing and practicing on the adjacent Dartslive boards. Are the Dartslive boards that much more entertaining? Is there any chance that players weaned on plastic boards can learn to enjoy the quiet rhythm of shooting at a bristle board? Can those players demand of themselves the practice and skill that the narrower rings on a steel-tip board demand? Can the arrival of steel-tip boards, albeit in a coin-op guise mark a change in darts culture here? As for the last three questions, my hope is yes.