Paintball is a game in which players use compressed-gas-powered guns (paintball markers) to shoot each other with small balls of encapsulated gelatin. When these paintballs break, they leave a brightly-colored mark, about the size of a quarter, signifying that the player is eliminated from the game.
Since its introduction in the woods of New Hampshire in 1981, the game has grown to include 11 million participants across the United States. Europeans, South Americans and Australians also play paintball; Europe has its own professional tournament league, the Millennium Series.
Games are played in the woods (“woodsball”) or on small fields containing brightly colored inflatable bunkers (“speedball” or “tournament paintball”.) Both formats include several subsets and are played regularly by everyone from casual enthusiasts (rec-ballers) to diehard pros and semi-pros.
Woodsball can be divided into categories including walk-on or “rec” play, scenario games, big games, and even scenario tournaments. Founded in 2004, the Scenario Paintball Player’s League (SPPL) was the first scenario tournament league.
While walk-on play is often limited to small groups of about 50 players, scenarios and big games include hundreds or even thousands of players on large fields. These games employ tanks, rocket launchers, paint grenades, missions and props to create a true adventure for players.
The world’s largest scenario games are Oklahoma D-Day and Skirmish’s Invasion of Normandy, each attracting more than 4,000 players.
Speedball or Tournament Paintball
Speedball is played on smaller, more open fields, and includes game formats such as hyperball and air’ball. Air’ball comprises a variety of versions, such as three-man, five-man, seven-man and XBall (a very intense five-man format, where each match lasts an hour). The NXL, considered the first professional paintball league, plays XBall. The NPPL, a tournament series produced by Pure Promotions, plays a seven-man format in divisions ranging from amateur to pro. Both the NXL and NPPL have televised games on national TV networks in recent years. The biggest tournament event is the PSP World Cup, a season-ending extravaganza held every October in Orlando.
Some professional paintball players receive salaries for competing, as well as receiving income through endorsement deals or for public appearances. They have achieved the “holy grail” of a generation of aspiring ‘ballers–being paid to play paintball. When Oliver Lang of the Ironmen signed a $100,000 deal in 2006, he became the highest paid paintballer in the world. Players such as Oliver are recognized as the “public face of the sport,” signing autographs at tournaments and hosting clinics for new players.
“It’s All Just Paintball”
While some players are passionate about one form of the game or the other, most ‘ballers happily play whatever they can, whenever they can. “It’s all just paintball,” is the battle cry of this growing group of “non-partisan” rec-players.
Teams like the Tippinators have earned their reputation by bridging the gap between the two formats. Well-known paintball personality Craig Miller of the Paintball Sports Trade Association dubbed them, “a scenario team with a speedball problem.”
In the past decade, largely thanks to the popularity of tournament events, paintball has overcome its reputation as a “pseudo-military war game.” Paintballers are not militia-in-training. They are normal men, women and children who enjoy a fun game that builds teamwork, athleticism and strategic thinking.