Friday, December 26, 2008

What Have We Done to Our Game?, Part Four

Paintball, What a Pretty Game

Merry Christmas everyone! I trust you had a great time with family and friends the past few days. I wish all of you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year as well. I hope to be a part of your New Year as well.

Once again I can tell you that the response to this series has been amazing. I’ve been talking to players, store and field owners, manufacturers and every other walk of paintball life since Part One, and the conversations have been very positive, encouraging and promising. I say promising because the majority of those that I have been talking with about this series agree that things need to change. Even those I’m talking to in manufacturing. Not everyone agrees on how things need to change, but that’s okay—we can figure that out as we go. I’ve also noticed that there’s a lot of talk around the internet about this series, and that’s very encouraging to me.

Part Five will be the final blog of this series, but it will be just the beginning for me. I plan to take this vision to rethink the game of paintball to another level—but I’ll hold off on the details about that until the last part is done. Also in Part Five, I’ll have comments, quotes and ideas from many recognizable names in the game. Please e-mail me your thoughts and ideas in the next week and I’ll try to fit some of those in. So let’s get on with it.

How We Packaged Paintball

Going back to the early 1990s when the game was played only in the woods at all levels there was a growing concern within the industry about the game’s public image. I touched on this in earlier parts of this series. Many of us thought that the “war” image associated to paintball would at best hold the game back and at worst draw a negative campaign against our game that might somehow end up being our demise. In 1990 and again in 1991 I tried to open a paintball field in Pennsylvania but my efforts stalled when members of the local planning and zoning commissions convinced area residents that we were simply reenacting the Viet Nam War and that to allow the field would be an insult to those that lost their lives in the war. A year later in an attempt to open a paintball field in Virginia I ran into that same mentality. This was happening across the U.S. to hundreds of people who were looking to open paintball fields. That war image was holding the game’s progress back.

By the time the mid-90s rolled around the industry as a whole was tired of the stereotype placed on the game and its players. A purposed “anti war image” shift was on. In came the colorful jerseys, color anodized guns, and an adjustment in the playing fields. This was led by the NPPL and other independent promoters in the UK. First Smart Parts built their “mounds fields” for the NPPL events held in the Pittsburgh area. Set in open fields (not in the woods) the mounds fields were mirror image fields that had huge rows of dirt mounds and giant piles of dirt strategically placed to allow movement in the games but still left plenty of room for strategy. The mounds fields were really a precursor to the arena games like Hyperball and airball to follow. These fields allowed for spectating for the first time ever at national level events but did little to dispel the war image. Other events, such as the Splat-1 Indoor Championships, used custom-made bunkers set up on indoor fields and teams were not permitted to wear camo of any kind. Hyperball was another try at a new kind of field. By the mid-90s airball was introduced. Airball fixed a bunch of problems--the bunkers were easy to transport, they were colorful and very inexpensive compared to moving hundreds of tons of dirt to build fields like the NPPL mounds fields.

Like any other game, the “professional” side of the sport has a huge influence on the recreational or less competitive side which led to the local fields to change the look of their game. Soon every commercial paintball field in America was introducing airball and Hyperball fields. Players who came to those fields wearing camo were often scoffed as newbies as “real” paintball players at least wore jerseys. By the late 90s the game of paintball, which started out in the woods of New Hampshire, showed almost no semblance of its origins. And by the mid-2000s the number of players was declining.

Why Are We Surprised?

Should we be surprised? We replaced trees with pink and yellow “tacos.” We replaced grass with turf and camos with motocross jerseys. We nixed fifteen minute games and substituted them with two-minute car crash games that were “exciting” to spectators. We made the game appealing to the eye but less appealing to the player.

And pretty costs money. It takes more cash to open a field than ever before. It costs more to pretty up your gun than it does to make it black. Your Salvation Army camos were replaced with $200 head to toe paintball apparel. This advancement of the game is not black-and-white television to color or color television to high def. The game of paintball in just a span of fifteen years was so different it’s difficult to call what we do now “paintball.”

It’s not the splash-anodized markers that are the problem. It’s not airball that’s the problem. It’s not the lack of camo that’s the problem. These things are good for the game of paintball and its image. This problem “number four,” the prettying of our game, in the proper context is good. We don’t really want to be known as a “war” game, do we? But we don’t need to be told the only way to play this game is on small airball fields with colorful markers wearing motocross-looking jerseys. Paintball is SO MUCH bigger than that. It can be the “action” or “extreme” sport to those that want to play that type of game. It can be “playing war” to those that fell in love with the game because it was like those games of “army” they played when they were kids. Playing “army” is the base thrill of the game.

In the past two years we’ve seen a resurgence of woodsball, huge growth in scenario games and the introduction of Mil-Sim paintball—and that’s a good thing. Even camo patterns are back in tournament paintball wear. Manufacturers are diversifying their product lines to sell to all types of paintball players—and that’s a good thing too. The imbalance of media coverage, available paintball products, and the level of “cool” the tournament side of the game has enjoyed for almost ten years is beginning to shift a bit towards the woodsball part of the game. Woodsball may always take a back seat in many ways to tournament ball, but at least there’s an understanding developing that it takes both sides to be successful for our game to flourish. This needs to continue to happen.

Doing it Right

Field Owners

So how do these two different types of paintball live together? How can they both be called “paintball”? It starts at the field level. I’ve talked about this before—field owners and game operators are the entry point of our game. They set the tone, the standards and image to new players (and their parents in many cases). If paintball game operators offer diversity to their players the game will be attractive to so many more. If it’s attractive to more people the game will grow. So diversify your special events. Hold tournaments, scenario games, big games, night games etc. Not only will you attract more players to your field, but the ones you already have will probably come back more often. But the key is to run these events right. If your staff is exclusively tournament players you’ll need to find a scenario game promoter to handle your scenario games at first. And visa, versa of course.


Continue what you’ve been doing in terms of expanding your product lines to appeal to all types of player. Don’t leave 100 percent of your marketing and R&D to people that don’t play the game. Over the years we’ve seen many manufacturers hire out their marketing campaigns, ad designs, and company image to people and companies that don’t know the game. Attend a few scenario events, tournaments, fields and visit some of your customers to see what is really happening at the grass roots level. I’m sorry to say this but many of you have lost sight of what players really want.


Try something different. If you’re a woodsballer try playing an entry-level tournament. If you’re a tournament player pick up a pump-gun, put on some camos, and play a woodsball game. You might be surprised at how much fun it can be. Also learn a little about the history of the game and the players, inventors, engineers, visionaries and personalities that helped shape the game. I’ve been noticing that at the big tournament level, many of you young players do not have a historical appreciation of our sport. I encourage you to gain this to help you be better ambassadors to the rest of the world.


I promise you that I will be doing something from my corner to help this. Stay tuned.

Please check back on Thursday, New Years Day for the conclusion of this series entitled, “Never Say Never.” Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What Have We Done To Our Game? Part Three of Five

What Happened to Our Economy?

Okay, so it's obvious that the overwhelming majority of you reading this blog know that this stuff needs to be talked about if we want the game of paintball to grow and flourish. I also know this topic is not for everyone. There are paintball players everywhere that only care about playing in their backyards three times a year. The paintball economy and the number of people playing is irrelevant to them. And I understand that. But those guys (and gals) aren't reading this blog. I'm going to guess that if you're paintball savvy enough to find this blog and actually read it, you care about more than just playing a few times a year. To that end, your feedback, comments, and the fact that many of you are discussing this around the paintball cyberworld is a really, really good thing. So whether you agree with me or not, please keep the talk going, because difference-makers in paintball are watching and listening. I know this because they are telling me they are. In the final article of this series (Part Five) I'm going to wrap this topic up (for now) and in that wrap-up you'll be reading a lot of quotes on this subject from names you know. People are paying attention to what you are saying.

To date I've covered how the game coming almost completely out of the woods has hurt the growth of the game. I've also covered how the rate of fire has become a huge problem--not at the tournament level, but at local fields. If you missed the first two parts of this series, please stop reading this now and scroll down and take the class prerequisites.

The Economy's Affect on Paintball

It's obvious that the shrinking of game fields, the coming out of the woods, and the rate of fire issues are problems--but they're not the only problems. The third problem with the state of paintball really has very little to do with paintball. The economy in this country for the past year or so has drained us all--and that includes most paintball players, field and store owners, and even the mega-manufacturer.

I am definitely not an economist, a financial forecaster, or someone that even knows for sure if we're really in a true recession. But I can see the obvious. According to The Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the unemployment rate in the U.S. rose from 5.5% in June to 6.7% in November. (I wonder if they counted me in there??) So far in 2008 1.9 million people have lost their jobs. U.S. labor costs have increased and while productivity has fallen throughout the year. Retail sales are now down for the fifth straight month in the U.S. according to For a good portion of 2008, gas prices were in the $3-$4 per gallon range across the country. The subprime mortgage scandal broke this past year and according to Fox News one out of every ten homes in the U.S. is in foreclosure. And that doesn't count the hundreds of thousands of home owners who are behind several months in their mortgage payments. Some of the world's largest banks are folding, the auto industry is in shambles and Wall Street is a disaster. We all know our economy is a mess.

How can a bad economy not affect the state of the game of paintball? Despite what some people may tell you about disposable income, teenagers are not going to drive 40 miles to the paintball field when gas is $4 a gallon. Parents are not going to give their kids money to play paintball when they are behind on their mortgage payments, have lost a job, or had their "extra" money in Wall Street investments.

The economy effects paintball manufacturers as well. If people are not buying like they were two years ago, people are going to get laid off. Companies with big manufacturing plants and warehouses are wishing they didn't have to pay for half-empty spaces. Manufacturing numbers are down and quantity discounts are less. It's a catch 22. They need to charge more money because less people are playing. Yet, the increase in price will drive more players away.

The Dollar Versus the Euro

If you've been following the dollar versus the euro dudring the past year and a half, you probably already know that the dollar has been weak, although lately it has been much better. From April of 2007 to April of 2008 the exchange rate skyrocketed. In 2007 one euro would cost you $1.33 U.S. dollars. A year later you would have to shell out $1.66 per euro. So let's assume you're the owner of a England-based paintball magazine and the price you charged for a full page ad from an American company was $1800 per page in 2007. That exchange would net you roughly 1400 euros. A year later you would have to charge almost $2200 for the same ad to net your 1400 euros. American companies, now in a money crunch, simply can't afford to advertise--or they continue to advertise but are forced to raise prices. For American paintball teams traveling to Europe to compete, the average cost of a hotel stay increased from 2007 to 2008 by more than $26 per night because of the exchange rate. That's an increase of about $300 per team just for their hotel stay. The same increase percentage would follow for gas, food, paint, entry fees, etc.

The Paintball Economy

Going back to the 1990s (and even the 1980s) you would find that most paintball business owners were not really "business people." It was fairly typical for someone to play paintball for the first time in the late 80s and six months later they would open a paintball field. People saw the potential of the game and many jumped in with both feet, experience or not. And in many cases these businesses flourished and thrived. Money was coming in like nobody predicted and business owners spent it like it would never end. That goes for field and store owners, manufacturers, and distributors. Times were really good for more than a decade. In essence most of these businesses grew too large, too fast and were being managed by people with no business managing large businesses. But it's all they knew. They did the best they could. But when times got hard, they were in too deep. When small businesses could no longer sell a "tricked out" Autococker for $1300, they were in trouble because for the first time they were forced to live on "normal" profit margins.

Business is easy when you're making money hand over fist and when profit margins are high. It gets a lot more difficult when margins shrink and you have less customers spending less money. Companies like National Paintball Supply, PMI, Tippmann, the NPPL, JT, and many others were forced to sell off their assets (or they did it before they actually were forced to). This brought the new era of paintball corporations. Jeans and t-shirt CEOs were replaced with "suits" and many of these guys knew nothing about the paintball culture. They were successful businesspeople that were finding it "shocking," as one CEO told me, that so many companies were run "by the seat of their pants," as he put it. I've found it "shocking" myself that many of these corporate guys didn't do their homework and due diligence before spending their millions on companies with such weak foundations. But it is what it is. The "paintball economy" is even worse off than the U.S. economy. And it's going to get worse before it gets better.

A Bad Mix

Call me crazy but I just don't see how a new player shooting a Tippmann or Spyder playing against experienced players shooting Egos on a 200' X 250' field in a bad economy is a recipe for success. You're asking walk-ons to get shot up all day and to pay more than ever for the privilege. Separating skill levels, limiting the rate of fire in walk-on games, playing on larger fields (woods or arena), and even introducing stock games and playing different game scenarios are just a few ways to keep the cost of the game down and to keep the game fun for all players.

Again let me say that I could care less if the PSP allows players to shoot 50 balls per second. If you're at the level of those players you're probably getting what you want. If not, it's in your control to change the rules. But for the average Joe Blow paintball player from Small Town USA, the game is too fast, too painful and too expensive the way it is currently played at the majority of our playing fields and even in backyard games.

Doing It Right

The economy is out of our control to a large degree. There's nothing you can do about that, right? That seems like the easy answer. If you lost your job you can't continue to spend money on frivolous things like paintball. If what you are earning isn't going as far due to the increased cost of living, paintball gets cut out of the budget. I understand that. Economists will tell you that the best way for our country to get out of this mess is for our people to spend money. Spending money creates jobs, more manufacturing, and consumer confidence and it probably would fix our economy. I'm not going to tell you whether you should continue to play paintball and buy paintball equipment in this economy. I don't know your financial situation. But my attitude is I'm not afraid to spend money solely because of the economy. I'm not going to shut down my spending because there's impending doom. I'll shut down my spending because I can't afford to spend. So I guess I'm saying don't be "afraid" of the economy. Spend wisely. Spend thoughtfully. But don't be afraid.

Business Owners
For paintball business owners big and small, you've probably figured out that the money that was once flowing at an almost seemingly endless rate is not flowing so freely anymore. There's probably nothing I can tell you about tightening your belt and cutting your overhead that you haven't already figured out over the past few years. Now it's time to be creative. How? Maybe you should take some of your left-over now-defunct event sponsorship money and sink it into a grassroots paintball promotion aimed at getting new players to try our game. But please don't send them to the Billy Bob's Paintball field where goggles are "optional." Maybe some of that ad budget money that isn't going to PGI or PB2X anymore should go to establishing an 800 number where players can be directed to the best places to play. That's two ideas on the house. Any more are going to cost you. You have my phone number, right?

As always, thanks for reading. Keep the comments and ideas coming. I'll be back Saturday with Part Four entitled, "Paintball, What a Pretty Game."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What Have We Done To Our Game? Part Two of Five

The Rate of Fire Disaster

“Reason Two” – the Bullets

  1. Paintball guns fired less than one ball per second in the early 1980s.
  2. 1985 signified the beginning of a new age in paintball.
  3. The Phantom and Bushmaster, both cocking guns, dominated playing fields nationwide.
  4. The semiauto was introduced, yet the game remained largely the same.
  5. The jump from semiauto to electronic markers created a “haves” and have nots” situation.
  6. Field owners were unsure how to handle mixed groups of semi and electro players and in most cases they threw them together.
  7. New players were now getting bunkered by players shooting 10-plus balls per second.
  8. How fast is too fast?

Setting the Scene

So I think it’s safe to say that most of you figured out that I’m not blaming the downturn in paintball completely on the field owner and industry’s infatuation on the arena (a/k/a airball, Hyperball, etc.) style game play. That’s definitely a very big part of it in my opinion, but it’s clearly not the only reason the game is shrinking nationwide. Reason number two for the shrinking number of players nationwide also has a lot to do with the speed of the game that is currently played. But again, I’m going to go back in time a bit to set the stage.

The first marker used in paintball back in June of 1981 was the Nelspot 707, which slightly predated the Nelspot 007 (despite what some others would tell you). Both the 707 and the 007 literally used a bolt sticking out of the side of the gun to do the cocking. There was no gravity feed system and the feed tube held ten rounds. The term “rate of fire” was never used at paintball fields back then because you would be measuring the ROF in balls per minute, not balls per second—literally. Imagine crawling around a thirty acre paintball field. When you finally found someone to shoot at, you had one shot, or two, if you’re really lucky. Everyone that played in the early to mid-80s knew that better, faster and higher performance guns were coming. It was just a matter of time.

By 1985, the first year I played, the National Survival Game introduced the Splatmaster, the first gun made specifically for paintball (not for marking cattle of trees for excavating) and water-based paintballs were replaced with oil-based paint. These two things are significant because they caused everything to change. The first four years of paintball was played with Nelspots and oil-based paintballs. There were virtually no equipment innovations—unless you count Ken Muffler’s cardboard pump-handle modification to the Nelspot that he debuted in November of 1983. Then in 1986 Gramps and Grizzly, a father and son duo, discovered constant air which slowly put an end to using 12 gram C02 cartridges.

Enter Dennis Tippmann and his SMG-60 in 1987. The “Smig,” as it was referred to back then, was the first fully automatic paintball gun. It was astonishing for its day but it was definitely not without flaws. One quick pull of the trigger fed five round “clips. One pull and it was time to load another clip. Later that year the Line SI Bushmaster and the Component Concepts Phantom were introduced to the paintball playing public. Although both were pump-style markers, they were very high performance and these two guns dominated playing fields nationwide until the end of the decade.

The continued advancement of paintball equipment clearly made the game better in many ways. Markers were more reliable, more accurate, easier to use, and in general, more fun to play with. And as the guns were able to put out more firepower, paintball prices were dropping—and that’s never a bad thing.

1989: Out with the Old, in with the New School

In 1988 Glenn Palmer was working on a semiauto/auto-cocking marker that would later in 1989 hit the market under the name the Hurricane. Then came the Autococker, the Automag and a host of other semiautomatic markers. All were capable of shooting 7-9 balls per second. Amazingly the extra firepower afforded by the semiautos didn’t really change the game tactically all that much. Most games were still being played on large wooded fields (both in tournaments and rec play) and as we moved into the early 1990s most everyone was shooting guns of about the same quality. For several years there were no real innovations—except for the introduction of the VL-2000, the first electronic hopper hit the market. For those not playing at the time, the VL-2000 was the first commercial electronic hopper and the first commercial hopper that did not rely on gravity for feeding.

And Then It Happened

By the mid-1990s Smart Parts introduced their Shocker electronic marker and within a few years a major change happened in paintball. For the first time ever the game was divided by the equipment players were using. The “haves” were shooting Shockers, Angels and other electronic paint throwers and the “have nots” were shooting blowback semiautos. Field owners had no idea how to handle this. Most fields didn’t have enough customers to divide their games up by equipment or skill level, so once again new players and the “have nots” were thrown to the wolves. Smaller fields (covered in Part One) and faster guns are a bad mix for new players. Yet the game’s numbers continued to grow—for a while. Despite the disparity in the marker firepower, at least most games played recreationally were still played in the woods. Smaller woods fields but woods, nonetheless.

There was another down side to the introduction of the electronic marker. Tom Cole, captain/owner of Bad Company and exec at Spyder also pointed out to me today, “I think the jump from pump to semi was good for the game. More people could play and compete. But the jump from semi to electronic was a different story. The cost of a day’s paint went up (because of the volume used) and because players have a cap as to what they will pay for a day of play, margins for the store and manufacturer came down.” This is a significant issue. Field and store owners were now forced to work with much lower profit margins and things like customer service and overall business quality and ethics began to slip. Slowly we were losing players.

Bring the Pain

Now by the mid-2000s there is still no solution as to how to handle the players shooting Tippmans and Spyders as opposed to those shooting Intimidators and Shockers. Fields continued to shrink and move towards arena settings and guns were getting faster and faster. Let me say at this point that I don’t think anyone is to blame here. It’s difficult to make an argument against bettering technology, and it’s equally difficult to place blame on field owners for not separating the gun types in walk-on games—the number of players at most fields doesn’t allow that to happen. As the saying goes, “It is what it is.”

In Part One of this series I said, “Instead of playing half hour paintball games in the woods, where players could crawl, hide, or otherwise stay in the game long enough to learn how to play and feel they got their money’s worth, now players were playing two-minute games, often getting bunkered by much more experienced players game in and game out, day in and day out.” Now factor in that most new players that were “getting bunkered” were getting bunkered by someone shooting 10-plus balls per second. Instead of going home with a few welts, kids were leaving the field covered with bruises. Not good for them and definitely not good for their parents to see.

Even players at the highest level of the game have been complaining about the rate of fire. So much so that all three major paintball leagues have lowered their rate of fire maximums and/or are considering doing it now. We’ve no doubt reached a point where the rate of fire not only takes away from the game’s movement and strategy, it’s painful. It’s also not fun to watch. Shooting in full-auto at 13.33 balls per second gives spectators the feeling that the game can be played at the highest level by anyone. It also slows down the movement of the game to a point of being boring.

Rich Telford of XSV told me, "I think that it [increasing rate of fire] has hurt if not crippled the amount of players coming into and staying in the sport. It has also increased the use of paint which further keeps people from playing. I think that anyone can sit in a spot and stair at a gap between two bunkers while holding a trigger down--you don’t have to be good at paintball to do that."

Fans and spectators drive sports—all of them. If the game is boring to watch and painful to play, what are we doing?

How fast is too fast? Isn’t that the question? Here’s the answer: When the game becomes boring to watch and games regularly stalemate, we’ve reached the “too fast” point. When new players are consistently outgunned, we’ve reached the “too fast” point. When your gun fires so fast that you can’t afford the paint, we’ve reached the “too fast” point. Maybe manufacturers should consider not making guns that are capable of shooting 30 balls per second. Maybe field owners shouldn’t allow ramping guns in walk on games (some are doing this already). Maybe players should try to “play” the game rather than “spray” all game.

Doing It Right

Again, there’s something for each of us to do in this.

Field Owners

You need more players to make a living and you need more players to run your games in the most effective way you can for your customers. Like I said in Part One of this series, if your business if failing look at the ones that are thriving. What are they doing to attract more players? Maybe you should consider not having electronic gun rental upgrades. Many fields offer Tippmanns or Spyders as rentals and also offer Egos and Angels as up-sell rentals. So you’re making a few extra bucks up-selling your rentals so your Tippmann-shooting walk-ons can get shot up all day. Does that really make sense? This is just one example of thinking outside of the box. I once heard an expression that I’m not sure who originated, but it’s one I like. “If it ain’t broke, break it and make it better.” Don’t be satisfied with “good enough.”

Store Owners

Are we trying to sell the most high-tech guns available or are we trying to make our players/customers happy? Find out where your customers are playing and advise them to purchase gear and equipment that suits their playing style best.


You’re holding almost ALL of the cards here. You make the gear and you sponsor the events. Sometimes it just appears all that matters to you is how to make it lighter, smaller, and faster. But is that good for the game? If you’re not happy about the rate of fire the league or event you sponsor uses, ask them to change it. You have influence—probably more than you realize. But to use your influence you have to have a plan and a big picture. Do you know where the game is headed? Is that direction okay with you?


I have the same suggestion for you that I had in Part One. You are our ambassadors. Teach new players how to play the game instead of having them thrown to the wolves. Play games with at least fairly equal competition. There’s really not a lot to be excited about shooting a ten-year old kid with a Spyder when you’re shooting an Ego. You probably have your used Spyder in a closet. Enjoy a game or two with that gun again.

Friday will have Part Three of this series entitled, “What Happened to the Economy?” Please come back. Thanks for reading—John Amodea

Friday, December 5, 2008

What Have We Done To Our Game? Part One of Five

1995: The Year The Game of Paintball Began To Die

The game of paintball is shrinking right before our eyes. According to SGMA reports and insurance reports about half as many people play paintball now compared to 2004. Major companies in the industry are selling off or going out of business. The number of paintball markers sold is at a five year low and paint sales are dropping by the day. The game of paintball is in serious jeopardy.

“Reason One” - The Bullets

  1. The game was played exclusively in the woods for almost 14 years
  2. By 1994 the game began to stagnate for lack of new money coming in
  3. Paintball gets an aesthetic makeover and begins to come out of the woods
  4. We put our faith in getting paintball on TV
  5. Non-paintball companies come into paintball in a small way due to TV and the game’s new look
  6. The industry goes WAY overboard pushing the clean version of paintball
  7. Tournament paintball is now played exclusively outside of the woods
  8. Commercial fields begin to think all it takes is an airball field and one acre of property to host games
  9. Hundreds of thousands of new players are forced to learn to play paintball in 150’ X 225’ foot fields
  10. They can’t compete, get frustrated and leave the game
  11. By 2005 the player base shrunk by the millions
  12. Companies are selling out and going out of business by the dozens
  13. And here we are today, waiting for the next shoe to drop… and it will.

The Obsession with Television and the Arena

Part One, Reason One of Five

By now you probably know that the first game of paintball ever played took place in the woods of New Hampshire on June 27, 1981. And for almost 15 years the game was played exclusively in the woods, with the exception of the occasional Attack and Defend game held at some of the bigger and more professionally run commercial fields that had a village or other fields with buildings or multiple structures. By 1993 the NPPL was formed replacing the Lively circuit as the “go to” event series for serious tournament teams and players. And just like all other tournaments and rec ball games back then, their games were also played in the woods.

By 1994 everyone that was involved in tournament paintball knew that the game would never reach the masses as it was being played. Guys running around in the woods dressed in camos, and shooting guns at each other just didn’t have that big show appeal. The tournament circuit also was bogging down because there were no fresh revenue streams feeding the game’s high cost to play. In the fall of that year ESPN ran a one-off made-for-TV special called, Paintball USA, hosted by Fred Schultz. The show featured the game of paintball played right on Main Street in Disneyworld. The show was hokie but most of us in the industry at the time realized that getting the game on TV could open up some major doors.

In 1995 Jerry Braun, promoter of the World Cup, co-promoted (with ESPN) an event called the ESPN World Paintball Championships, which was played in the thick woods and palmettos of Kissimmee, Florida. ESPN hauled multiple cameras into the dark woods filming from several different locations on the field, as well as with a roving camera, trying to catch the action and the flow of the games. After intense editing the event aired on ESPN and ESPN II for months and for most of us that watched, the show failed to capture the intensity, the flow and the essence of the game. So it was back to the drawing board.

Lose the Camos and the Woods

In January of 1996, Braun and ESPN hooked up for another edition of the ESPN World Paintball Championships. This time however all games were played on an open grass field lined with hard plastic blue and white, and red and white painted bunkers. (On a side note, this was the clear precursor to airball and Hyperball bunkers, both of which were introduced later that same year.) When this new incarnation of the game was seen on the ESPN networks later that year, the flow was better, the game was easier to follow, and the bright colored gear and clothes the teams were made to wear transferred well to TV.

As a result of two years of seeing paintball on TV often (25 times in 60 days), the industry began to buy into the notion that TV coverage and the increased national visibility would bring bigger non-endemic companies to the sponsorship table, making the slice of the money pie bigger for everyone. There was talk then of ESPN doing more seasons of their World Paintball Championships, but a rift between Braun and ESPN appeared to kill any chance of ESPN doing anything with the game. In fact, it was almost a decade before they allowed paintball back on their network.

In the meantime people like Bob McGuire, Milt Call, Jeff Gatalin and several others began working on a variety of projects to get the game on TV again. And virtually every paintball company that sold apparel began designing game gear that was bright, colorful and “sport” looking. Now by late ’96 we saw Adrenaline Games introduce their blowup bright colored Sup’Air bunkers, players began to wear bright colored apparel, and a plethora of companies began making “splash” anodized parts for all of the hot paintguns. The game was changing right before our eyes and many of us loved what we were seeing. Paintball now had a “sport” aspect that ran parallel to its woodsball, rec-ball version.

The next decade saw tournament paintball come completely out of the woods. For a few years the NPPL and events like the IAO ran tournaments where teams played some of their games in the woods and some on the airball and Hyperball fields. But that was short lived. By 2000 all tournaments were played in “arenas” and even Hyperball was gone. The easily transportable airball bunkers served two functions: they looked bright and colorful and you could travel with them in your trunk. All was good until…

We All Fell Hard

All was good until the industry, myself included, fell for the allure of television and the false belief that TV would grow the game enormously by bringing in non-paintball sponsorships. There were just enough of those outside companies showing interest that we all kept pushing for smaller, brighter, faster, easier, cleaner paintball games. The game’s leading companies and the paintball media pushed this agenda for a decade or more.

For a while we were seeing the game grow. The SGMA’s paintball participation surveys showed paintball’s steady growth until 2004. But by 2004 the industry had virtually pushed the rec-ball, big game, and scenario side of paintball off to the corner and asked them to be quiet. After all, more people were playing than ever before. We liked this clean game. We finally shook off the “war” image. And we saw our players as athletes, not a bunch of overweight, middle-aged, wanna-be kids. This new look of paintball gave us credibility. We were now an action sport, or an extreme sport, not just a game or hobby.

Somehow though, by 2005, our player numbers were declining fast. Why? The industry’s almost blatant disregard for the game’s roots finally caught up to us. By 2005 there were literally several hundred commercial paintball fields across the country that didn’t have a single woodsball field—and no one seemed to care. To hundreds of thousands of players the only game of paintball they ever knew or played was the airball, sport-jersey wearing, electronic-marker toting, five-on-five game that was being played on TV and being shown on a dominating number of pages in every paintball magazine. And this caused three major problems.

Two-Minute Games

Instead of playing half hour paintball games in the woods, where players could crawl, hide, or otherwise stay in the game long enough to learn how to play and feel they got their money’s worth, now players were playing two-minute games, often getting bunkered by much more experienced players game in and game out, day in and day out. New players had nowhere to hide their lack of skill, lack of quality equipment, and no way to stay in the game long enough to learn how to play. For the first time in my years of living in the game of paintball, I was seeing kids everywhere playing paintball once and walking away never to come back. The game was too fast, too painful, and too elitist.

The Game Moved To?

We forgot why we fell in love with paintball. If you’ve been playing paintball since the woodsball-only days please answer this question: Did you ever really think you’d be playing on a hockey-sized, netted in arena, standing behind the pink “taco” tucking in so you don’t get shot by the “snake” guy shooting 12 balls per second? Where in that is the original game?

What About the Big Boys (and Girls)?

Where do the big boys (and girls) play? The game has gotten so small that if you’re truly not an athlete, it’s tough getting started, unless you’re playing at Skirmish, EMR Paintball or one of the other fields that do it right. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but the game is losing a lot of players that just can’t do it. Is that what we want? Do we want a game that can only be played by fit, young (often with little money to spend) athletes? Or do we want a versatile game that can be played in the woods for all types to play and enjoy?

To Be Clear

So there’s no confusion I want to make this clear. I love tournament paintball. I played tournament ball on the national circuit for seven years. But I also love playing in the woods. I made the transition to airball fields easily because I had already been playing for ten-plus years when the game became small, fast and pretty. But many people today just don’t have a chance to learn the game playing ten, 3-minute games on a typical Saturday at Joe Blow’s paintball field. A Joe Blow paintball field would be an entrepreneur renting a half-acre lot and putting an arena field on it. And there are many more Joe Blow paintball fields in the U.S. than there are Skirmish, Challenge Park, EMR and Hollywood Sports type fields.

Doing It Right

There’s something for each of us to do in this.

Field Owners

Fields that are doing the game right are thriving. Fields like the ones mentioned above—the ones that have woods fields, castles, villages, cities, etc., are hardly feeling the economic downturn. I know this because I have asked them directly. I have also asked the major distributors where they are shipping most of their paint and one hundred percent of them have said it’s to the well-rounded fields that offer variety. Don’t play victim. If your business if failing look at the ones that are thriving. If your business is failing, look in the mirror. What can you do with your property to make the game more well-rounded?

Store Owners

Like the field owners, you need to think in terms of variety. Don’t be afraid to sell Empire and Dye jerseys as well as Spec Ops and Full Clip scenario, rec-ball and mil-sim gear. Open the game up to your customers and show them all sides of the game. Educate your players/customers so they see paintball in a broader fashion and send them to fields that understand what it takes to keep players in the game.


Not support field/store owners. Putting out for sponsored teams hoping for trickle-down (another article) but a better use of marketing would be to actually support Joe Blow who is selling your product. Can you feature some known scenario players in your ads at least once in a while? Pushing the tournament-only playing, high dollar gear using, skinny athletes in all of your ads isn’t working anymore. You keep throwing good money after bad. If it’s not working maybe you could show a little creativity. Someone recently said to me (cleaned up version), “If you’re driving a Bently and you’re still not getting the chicks, maybe you should save some money and buy and old pick up.” I think you know what I mean…


You are our ambassadors. Teach new players how to play the game instead of having them thrown to the wolves (good chance you’ve been the wolf, right?). If the field you play at only has arena fields, ask why. Offer to help build woodsball fields if you need to. In the end it will be in your best interest to do that anyway. Be selective about where and how you play. Support the fields that are helping the game grow and help the rest understand what they can do to better the game.

Tuesday I will have Part Two of this series entitled, “The Rate of Fire Disaster.” Please come back. Thanks for reading—John Amodea