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


Robbie said...

Wow, that was intense! There's a lot there to chew on, look forward to the rest. Thanks John.

JCKid said...

Thanks John for your insight/overview

CadeX said...

John – I like the blog and enjoy your writing, but according the SGMA’s own press release paintball is showing positive growth trends. I was confused by the statement that paintball has half as many player now compared to 2004.

Date: 10/2/08

SGMA Says Team Sports Play Peaks at 13 -- Niche Sports Are Showing Strongest Growth

WASHINGTON, D.C. – October 2, 2008 – While traditional team sports like basketball, baseball, and outdoor soccer are attracting the most team sports participants in the U.S., niche team sports like lacrosse, paintball, and cheerleading are exhibiting the strongest growth patterns – according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association’s (SGMA) annual participation study on team sports -- U. S. Trends in Team Sports (2008). According to SGMA, activities like lacrosse (up 104.2%), paintball (up 51.5%), and cheerleading (up 24.5%) have been showing significant growth since 2000.,-But...

KenF said...

Can I join your choir?

John Amodea said...


Thanks for the input. Here's some of the data I have:
9.6 million participants in 2004
5.4 million participants in 2007

Be careful about the up 51% stat. They have paintball WAY down for 2006, but the report is very questionable. Either way, the 9.6 million to 5.4 million appear accurate.

the Stuntman said...

John, you nailed it 100%.
Ive been in the game since '86 and have seen first-hand many of trends you talk about.

I bow down before your wisdom...

Anonymous said...

John great article, I will be watching this series closely, I even encouraged all the Michigan Ballers that read my blog to check out this series, thanks for putting the work in. I appreciate you targeting everyone that is involved in paintball to do THEIR part.

Too long has the paintball industry tried to burn every penny out of everyone possible, its time to come together for the good of the sport's future, I just hope its not to late!

C.E.H. said...


I came across a link to your site via PBNation and I must say I couldn't have felt more in tune with what you had to say. I started playing renegade paintball at the age of 15. Of course in 1988 I couldn't play legally anyway with most fields requiring you to be 16 with signed and notarized waiver. Here I am at 36, well into my 21st year of play, and I can't help but feel the crunch of the industry shift. I have been at every level of the game from player, to local field ref, field manager, field owner, store owner, manufacturer, national tournament player, and PSP and NPPL certified head judge.

So what am I doing lately? Well, I have put back on my camos and started playing with a pump again. My team, which has been a highly successful and well sponsored D2 team continues to pursue the dream of X-Ball and PSP glory. However I have had to get in touch with my inner child...that place where my love for paintball began. For me I am transcended back to 1988 and playing with friends in the woods, playing with a pump I certainly couldn't afford then. I am simply having a blast.

This comes after you and I have at least exchanged pleasantries when you were with Tommy Cole and with the guys from Wolfpack and PCRI (why can't life be like that again).

I wanted to write an article entitled "where have all the tournaments gone?." On come level we must take ownership of the fact that the reason tournament paintball has taken a serious downturn is our own mismanagement of the sport. Frankly, it isn't fun anymore to go to an event, where i have to deal with the complaining and political plays from the parties in charge. Even now as my personal tournament play comes to a slow but eventual close, I find myself happier about the sport as a whole. I enjoy playing again. I remember why I play. I play because this is a sport where you are measured by your ability to think quickly on your feet and where you can be the hero for the day, everyday. You play because an afternoon at the paintball field with friends is the best place to be. You can swap war stories and poke fun at the welts you each have received during the day, or recall how you almost died ruining back the flag while adrenalin carries you ever closer to victory.

We are the stewards of the sport Bob Gurnsey and his friends gave to us. We have not taken good care of it. We have made it something more than it was ever meant to be. We have tainted the sport with our own greed and desire for false successes. What is an NPPL Title anyways? We make these professional players our role models and for what? What truly have they done to give back to this sport? The image continues to drive the tournament paintball scene further and further into obscurity.

All across this country kids will be getting their first paintball marker this holiday season. More of them will be getting that BT, Tippmann, or Spyder that have wanted because their next door neighbor has one. They will return to play with their friends in the woods behind their neighbor's house. Paintball will be simple again. A game of tag and capture the flag. A game played among friends on a warm Sunday afternoon.

Thanks John for listening.

Your brother in arms - C.E.H. paintball class of '88

Ted said...

John--I am a field owner in Georgia and I wanted to thank you for this article it was right on the money. People think running a field is simple throw up some netting and a few air bunkers are your good to go. Not so easy. Fields like our are trying to grow the game, not make a quick dollar. I know you have the same goal of growing the game. I think you for that.

CadeX said...

I do agree with a couple of the points made in your last article, but to say paintball is ‘dying’... So, I went back and looked at the SGMA data. Just so everyone knows where the numbers you quoted are coming from:

SGMA started tracking paintball participation in 1998 via forms sent through the mail to about 15,000 respondents. Sorted by age, gender, income, race, region and other factors, these responses were used to project an estimate of the national population's sports participation levels.

5,923,000 participants in 1998
6,364,000 participants in 1999
7,121,000 participants in 2000
7,678,000 participants in 2001
8,679,000 participants in 2002
9,835,000 participants in 2003
9,600,000 participants in 2004
10,357,000 participants in 2005

In 2007 the survey went digital and got much larger. 60,169 online interviews were performed using a sampling of respondents taken out of a list of more than a million people selected to represent the US population. The new survey format concluded that there were a total of 4.960 million paintball players in the US in 2006, about half of that estimated by the smaller survey taken in 2006.

4,960,000 participants in 2006
5,476,000 participants in 2007

If your claim that paintball is dying is based on the comparison of 2004 to 2007 data then your approach is flawed, due to the fact that the data was collected via two completely different research methodologies. In essence you are comparing Apples to Oranges.

The best way to view this data would be via a year over year growth or decline percentage.

1998 - 5,923,000
1999 - 6,364,000 - 6.9% Increase
2000 - 7,121,000 - 10.6% Increase
2001 - 7,678,000 - 7.3% Increase
2002 - 8,679,000 - 11.5% Increase
2003 - 9,835,000 - 11.8% Increase
2004 - 9,600,000 - 2.4% Decrease
2005 - 10,357,000 - 7.3% Increase
7.6% - Average Increase

2006 - 4,960,000
2007 - 5,476,000
9.4% - Average Increase

(Does one year make an average, no, but) You can see that participation was on a steady incline during the old methodology of data collection, and has continued that trend using the new methodology. Will this trend continue during the current recession – Who Knows, I would imagine the $$$ mommy and daddy were shelling out for a case of paint will dry up pretty fast, but I guess we will have to wait and see.

Cade Coleman

John Amodea said...

Cade, that's the same info I have and just don't think we're reading into it the same way. Regardless, this dialogue is what I was hoping to see happening.

Let me ask you a few questions:

1. If you were to ask one of the main paintball insurance companies how many people are playing now compared to 2004 they would tell the numbers are WAY down. How is that explained?

2. Why do you suppose paint and marker sales are down?

3. Why do you think National Paintball Supply (Empire, Invert, etc.), Tippmann, PMI, JT, Worr Game Products, Airgun Designs, Brass Eagle, NPPL, XPSL, and so many other companies have sold out (or gone out of business) to the corporate world, most times barely walking away with any cash?

4.If you asked 100 field owners if they were making it financially what do you think they'd say (I have done that)?

5. Do you really think the game is growing?

Anyway, thanks for participating..... John

Yeahright said...

I work for a major paintball distributor/manufacturer and I dont care how you play with the numbers, things are dead slow and have been for 2+ years. We sell directly to stores and fields and I rep one area of the country that is a major territory. Every day all I hear from store owners is how bad things are. Jon you hit the nail on the head multiple times with this. Looking foward to the reast of what you have to say.

CadeX said...

Don’t get me wrong John, I’m not trying to paint a rose colored image of the industry, I just don’t think the sky is falling. Do I think paintball sales are down? Sure I do; but I think that’s a result of a larger economic cycle. I would imagine there is less participation in many recreational sporting activities due to an overall tightening of household budgets.

1) I didn’t even know insurance companies keep track of player data, but I would be interested in how that data is collected.

2) Again, economic cycle. $80 cases of paint and $1200 markers are hard to justify when the word recession is being used daily. (cycle is the key word – it will come back)

3) I would say either: poor management, legal issues or consolidation. For every company named there seems to be a competitor that is still in business.

4) I would agree with your point of self review by fields to cater to multiple formats.

5) I think we would be hard pressed to find any industry that is growing right now, but the game is not dying it is just continuing to evolve.

Paintball seems to be in its early teen drama years where every bump in the road is “the end of the world as we know it…”

Thanks for letting me participate, Cade

John Amodea said...

Again, good stuff Cade. We don't see eye to eye on the "evolution" idea but that's fine. FYI, I do agree with some of your other points, many of which will be address in the rest of the series. Also, paintball insurance companies collect waivers of liability from the fields they cover, so they have very quantifiable data from there.

CadeX said...

Looking forward to next series, and your thoughts. Keep up the good work, love the blog.

mick said...

Spot on, John. Looking forward to more.

Anonymous said...

Great article. I can only comment on how to help as a player, as that is my only experience thusfar. I think it is important to add...

"You are our ambassadors." on and off the field.

Not only do we need to help those who are new on the fields with game safety, strategy, marker questions, and so on, but also to assist new players positively when they post online.

All too often, I have seen players jump on new players on forums which can be another major turnoff. We need to call out those who are keeping new players from posting their questions and trying to learn more about the game we love.

Without new players, companies will not want to innovate and continue to bring new products to help improve the game, but otherwise stagnate or even leave the business entirely, because they won't be able to pay the bills and support their families.

Crotchety Old Fan said...

It's a good summary John, but, at least in my own defense, I'd like the opportunity to add a little information (stuff that I'm sure you can confirm because you were there):

My strategy for 'paintball on TV' was never about making it the 'only' paintball. I very clearly saw it as a way to: 1. bring in outside dollars - dollars that the industry would never see flowing in without some type of mass-market appeal 2. a way to 'force' some of the non-complying elements of the industry to step up to the bar of professionalism - be it indoor bathroom facilities, professional refs, standardized rules or whatever 3. a way to promote the sport that would support all levels of play. If you recall, at the time all of this was beginning to happen, many of us envisioned PSA's for the game that would air during professional events that promoted woodsball, family play, etc. The vision was not - everyone will be forced to play at this level, but one much more akin to other professional sports: most folks who like to watch baseball don't ever have ANY expectation of playing at that level - but they do go out and play softball. THAT was the kind of strategy that I and a few others were pushing for.
And you'll also recall that I (and others) were doing things meant to try and bring that about: I fought strenuously for several seasons to keep the markers restricted to gravity feed as a natural and easily-enforced method of capping rate of fire. But market forces prevailed.
I'll also mention that, at least in my opinion, one of the reasons paintball-on-tv failed was because of an insistence on the promoter's part that the game as it was currently played be taped. The game 'as a game' is still deeply flawed and this creates inherent problems with translating it for an uneducated audience. Besides, the further removed the 'professional' format is from the way everyone else plays, the better it is for that 'pro ball is the showcase' concept.

Turning now to other issues: the industry itself is its own enemy. The industry has failed to put ANY kind of nationally-based promotional scheme together and does virtually nothing to support local fields. Letting a field owner buy branded mug warmers, lanyards and barrel condoms at a discount does NOT qualify as support. Dollars spent on promoting the field locally does.

The ONLY thing that has been proven to increase market participation is attendance and promotion of good, professionally run local field operations. If the industry really wants to do something positive for growth, it should establish a set of practices and guidelines for fields and then offer incentives to operations that step up to supporting those practices.

John Amodea said...

Hey Crotchety,

Remember this is only part one of five. I'm getting there :-)

Anonymous said...

I think your laying too much blame on the format, or aesthetics of the game.

Yes, that has changed over recent years, at the same time the player base has dwindled.
But it doesnt mean the latter is a result of the former.

Here in the UK our local sites are all woodland, yet our paintball scene has been contracting for 10+ years.

Its clear to me, at least here that the problem is not where the newbie can hide his lack of skills.
Its potentially far more rewarding if the newbies are obviously lacking in skill, so they can be identified and helped out.

But I do agree that the industry were naive to think that they could get it on TV and make it work. And they sacraficed too much in an attempt to acheive that.

John Amodea said...

"I think your laying too much blame on the format, or aesthetics of the game."

there will be much more laying blame in other areas in parts two through five.

Mike said...

Great article. I look forward to the rest of the series.

I started playing at 31 years old in 2004 on a speedball field and fell in love with the excitement and intensity. I have played X-Ball and 7-man and like and appreciate both. But, I have no interest in playing in the woods. I've tried it, and just don't care for it. Even over-weight and old :)

I have seen many speedball-only fields shut down and do whatever I can to help new players, support the local shops, and ref/volunteer on the scenario fields, but if it gets to where all that can survive is scenario ball then I'll likely just be done with it unfortunately.

I look forward to the rest of the articles. Thanks.

Chris said...

So, I agree with a lot of your history, but not necessarily your conclusions. It's a bit too simplistic.

Certainly changes within the industry have had an effect. But don't forget this industry is part of a bigger economy.

You looked at two events and determined that one caused the other. Failed TV/Presentation/Promotional aspect of paintball and the decline in the industry.

Just because one came after the other does not mean one caused the other.

Surely you would not suggest that the failed efforts to "sell" paintball to the TV world resulted in the world wide economic downturn, the results of which we are now seeing everywhere?

Well, the world's economy didn't just fall apart. It has been happening for the past few years. And perhaps paintball is a part of that world economy :)

After typing all of that, my point is: we need to be carefully of falsifying attributing success or failure to certain factors. I'm not saying we continue to chase the TV dream. But to abandon many of the things that we sought for our industry as we tried to appeal to TV, simply because we think these are the reasons for the downturn in the industry would be fool hardy.

Paintball is not an island.

KenF said...

Two points I think are important.

In the mid 90’s we opened up the game so that teenagers could play. We had several years where we were gaining new players between 11-15 years old AND new players between 18-25 years old. The average player plays for one period of their life. This was a sort of demographic double dipping which could not last for more than 6 years. As these young players aged, they became a significant part of the 18-25 year old demographic, but they did not add to the player counts; they had already played paintball and moved on. The equipment sales during the boom times were inflated by the fact that there was no used equipment on the market which was relatively current. This status quo maintained as long as markers became outdated every 12 months.

John Amodea said...

Chris, remember, this is part one of five.... it's one conclusion in five.

Chad Hietala said...

Completely agree with you.

One of the biggest reasons I retired was that the game all started to blend together. Sure the field layouts changed but it was getting to the point that it wasn't fun anymore.

I have found a very much liking in the SPPL which is similar to how 10-man used to be back in the woods. From a players perspective I find it to be more fun because it brings back the original lost elements of the game.

I was fortunate to be part of the paintballs return to TV being in the first and third PB2X winning both IAO and NEO, and then once again on ESPN in 2006. Despite all that I can honestly say it did not give the sport anymore exposure. My friends and family would watch it up to the point that I was on than they would switch it off. Getting a TV deal will not help this sport because it is too young, to complicated and lacks a defined direction.

Anonymous said...

my response posted early today, it's on mcb as well

10-shot kid

John Amodea said...

10 Shot, thanks for taking the time to write, even if we don't really agree much. Questions, forgetting the SGMA data for a moment, do you really think the player base is as big now (or close) as it was say, 3-5 years ago? Do you think the number of struggling manufacturers, store and fields is just a symptom of the economy? Lastly, do you think the game is just fine the way it is played at more "arena" only fields? Just curious??

Anyway feel free to have an opinion... but at least read the next four articles before you think you know what's coming... cool?

Anonymous said...

John, thank you for putting into words what I've been feeling for years. I look forward to the rest of the series. I'm fortunate to be playing at a field that is doing it right. Saturdays and Sundays are usually crowded there, I hope it stays that way.
Thanks again!

Justin,(team captain) Rebels scenario team

Keith Daniels, Dothan Survival Games, Inc said...

Hey John.....

I hope this finds you doing well. You may not remember me but you stopped by my field/store several years back...1999?. The name of my field is Dothan Survival Games. You were touring the east coast and Southeast region fields for an article you were doing. With so many I'm sure you don't remember us...but we had the tall pines leading in with the large pond by the store in Alabama.

I just finished reading your article on the decline of our sport. You are on the money...perfectly!! My field/store has been in business for 17 yrs now and we have kept busy with our selection of fields.
In times when others in the area are on the brink of collapse, we are doing well. We have NEVER lost touch with the original intent of the game which is to have FUN !!

Over the years I have lost good refs because they didn't want to support my field on rec-ball Saturdays but preferred instead to play tournament ball and to hell with the rec-ballers. We have a strong customer base because we look after the players who come to our field. After all, having a business that is fun AND makes you money is almost a dream come true isn't it?

Your words ring true in my mind and I've been preaching that same train of thought for the last 17 yrs.

Only now I have someone with your background saying the same thing. I'm printing your post and taking it to the field tomorrow. You vindicated me with your industry insight. Please drop in and see us if you are ever in the area again.

j said...

Im a kinda new player, well lets put it this way, I first played when i was 14 and loved it. it was 2days straight and then once again the folowing month. that was 15yrs ago.

Now that I have my own income I started back up again and MY GOD things changed. Alot of things change and mostly not all good.

I completely agrree with everything you've said and hope the sport turns itself around.

Though it'll take awhile I resently saw a "woodsball/scenario" tourny that had the game settings at 10mins and 7 players and while it was capt the flag you got more pts per kill then capt the flag itself. I simplely thought to myself isnt that airball but in camo?

Ricky G said...

John another homerun. You nailed it again....

Alan said...

I belive you are spot on, and have been writing similar things in my blog.
I love this sport!I have been playing for 20 years.I have been a rec player a tourny player a manufacturer and a field/store owner.There was nothing I would have rather done then to be involved in this industry, but over the last few years, things have changed.. Don't get me wrong I still love the game but there is too much pollitics, too many things that keep the sport from being 100% fun. and no matter how hard I tried I could not keep my family fed on paintball alone.
so now I have kind of hit a paintball reset in my life I am at a point where the best thing I can do is try to promote paintball as a player, get as many people interested as possible and try to help out the new people coming up understand that paintball can still be a game of honor.
I stoped going to one local field because of the outright fist fights over people geting shot up.
I have seen TONS of new people run off because the XBALL format holds nothing for people just getting started in the game (and in my location every field has adopted ramping)

I have been asking players for years if it is worth throwing away the game we fell in love with just to have our faces on Tv, to be honest even if paintball became a huge hit tomorrow, who would reap the benifits? I would hazard a guess that unless you were dave youngblood or a gardner brother, nothing much would be changing.4

we need to slow down and enjoy paintball for what it is, and that just what I have been doing over the last year, so get out there find a local field that is newbie friendly and force your friends and co-workers to give it a try

Tommy said...

Nailed it again John. Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

No surprise to me.

Thomas Fletcher said...

Most folks want to have fun and don't want to pay out wads of cash to be assaulted. Go figure. This isn't really knew to tournament paintball either. Many a woodsball field closed shop in the early years because they catered to a few regular players who would drive off new players and didn't work on growing their base.

Leading into the next segment, it is strange but giving the customer what they want (ever higher BPS)has increased the cost of competing without increasing the fun.

APBS said...

I really like how you put things. As a new field owner i have 2 woods courses and 2 supair fields. Most of the tournament players do not play at my field so it's mostly new players. I usually run them a game on the NPPL Supair field, then run them a game in the woods...about 70% of them want to return to the supair field to play because they claim they like being able to see what they can shoot at while the others enjoy the woods because the game is longer. Those that like the tourney fields also enjoy how quick we can "run-it-back" saying it's quicker to restart. It's definitely a toss-up as to which format people really want. I know it stinks to get shot out in the woods after the first minute when you have a 30-minute battle going on and you can't rejoin the fun.

Chris Remuzzi said...

1st off John excellent article..even if people don't agree putting these opinions out there starts the discourse.
Im responding to Chris' comment about looking for causality between the economic downturn and the downturn in paintball. What he fails to mention is the fact that the US went through tough times in 1999 and post 9/11 as well. Despite this paintball continued to grow at an excellent rate during these times. If anything the trickle down effect of technology(ie eyes on guns under $200, regulators, etc) should have been a recent boost to the industry despite tough economic times. The facts that numbers are down despite the industrys best efforts, means the paintball market has entered maturity and the phenomenal growth of the late 90's will likely never be repeated.
I ask Chris for his reasons why there has been this huge downturn?? He fails to bring up his ideas on causality while critiquing this article. We need everyones opinion and maybe we will find the truth..

Chris said...

Here I think is another important fact in the woods vs. arena ball.

The players did not have it forced on them. They voted for it with their dollars/support/attendance/etc. But we -all- know players/people/customers/owners don't really know what they want. They just know what they think they want.

I personally would prefer to go back to the part woods, part airball setup.

It really changed up the dynamic of what it was to walk a field and actually play the game. Not just make a move and quickly shoot an angle -- which I am not belittling because it's fun as hell.

But it's also a blast to crawl all the way up the center of the field and shoot a guy in the face or back before he knows your there. Or to blow down a tape line and get behind another team and shoot 4 of them in the back before they even knew what happened.

John, I think a good focus to consider in your approach can be outlined by the academic/cultural critic, now deceased, Neil Postman. Are you familiar?

Check out this conference he spoke at:

Watch videos 1-7. He helps outline some life changing ways to look at just about everything in this world.

Starting with questions we should ask and answer, such as...

What is the problem to which this technology is a solution?
Whose problem is it actually?
If there is a legitimate problem here that is solved by the technology, what other problems will be created by my using this technology?

Anyway, if you've got the time, spend an hour watching the videos. Let me know if you found it worthwhile. I did.

Reiner said...

Interesting read. I agree with most everything. Being a fieldowner, I especailly related to that section. Fieldowners do need to look in the mirror if their fields are failing. Our field is doing fine. We've never left the woods and airball bunkers cannot be found at our field. We also have methods in place to control the volumes of paintballs shot (more important than FPS and BPS). It leads to a much more friendly and fun atmosphere and our customers love it.

Compare the growth rate of paintball to price of paintballs sometime. After paintball prices fell to a certain price level, growth rates started dropping. Cheap paintballs means lots of paintballs being shot. Lots of paintballs being shot means less fun for many players, especially new players (extremely important to sustain growth). Allow paintballs to fall below a certian level where the average player is shooting a case per day, you cannot help but start seeing declines in growth. This is where the industry has been for the last few years. Fieldowners should be looking at themselves for the blame of falling attendance.

That's my view anyway.

Kid Shelleen said...

Well John you got it right. Unfortunately it's a little too late and hind sight is 20/20. The funny thing to me is that you were one of the most vocal proponents of "getting out of the woods". I remember your editorials in PB2X where you talked about distancing ourselves from the war image. You went on at length about the future of paintball being fit athletes, brightly lit fields and flashy gear. Renegade ball was a four-letter word. PB2X led the charge towards the ESPN future of big sponsors and big money. So it seems ironic to me now that you are here lamenting the loss of the very thing you helped destroy.
I remember sending you an e-mail years ago asking why your magazine featured pictures of a prominent Texas team cheating. Your response was that I should ask them because you weren't responsible for their actions. My return question was, why as the editor would you feature tournament cheats? Your reply “that’s the game” oh and by the way they won the tourney. The industry in general turned a blind eye to the cheating and the general loss of sportsmanship. PB2X had articles and editorials defending cheating as a skill. When the ROF issue reared it’s ugly head and player safety and enjoyment became a concern PB2X basically stated ‘this is the future get used to it’.
Well now the chickens have come home to roost. All the industry folks who pushed for super fast guns and slick fields are feeling the pain. The truth is that no one wants to play with the agg kid who wipes everything but a spray can. There were agg players back in the day too. The difference then was that no one thought they were cool and we asked them to leave after a couple of games. Paintball will never die but it will go back to it’s roots. A hot summer day, creeping through the woods, stories about your conquests over beer and burgers when it’s all done.

Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust.

John Amodea said...


No doubt I was a proponent of changing the game's image from the "war" image to a more sport look. At this point no one really knows for sure if the war/woods image would have been good or bad for the game in the long run. But I'll address that a little later...

That said, your memory of me defending cheating is WAY wrong.

Jerimi said...

The poster above can look at the numbers he mentions above and say it's like comparing apple to oranges but that is far from what I have seen in the Western states.

If you play any form of competitive paintball wether it be local, regional, national and have visited your local fields and stores you would know your comments about paintball not being in a decline is like far from the truth. That thought is actually like "comparing apples to oranges" versus the real times today in paintball.

John I am really glad I found your blog on this series. I think personally you have hit this one on the head and hopefully everyone as a whole can wake up and revitalize our sport. I as a player have been doing what you mentioned thus far for the past two years since I re-engaged into this sport. I started back in the Splatmaster days and was introduced into this sport by a friends Dad and now as a father I have been doing the same.

sven said...

I have been playing since the mid 90's and started in the woods and stayed there. I have been trying sup air and speed tournaments but didn't like the hunt for the best gear thing. New comers showed up fully equipped with the latest gear and pumped the field with so many balls that we consumed during a year in one day. I really liked the good buddy feeling between the teams thou. No hard feelings, some grouch during play, yes but beside elite player gave new comers tips and encourage them to do better.

Somewhere paintball on the field went cold and just another sport, so I stayed in wood and we having lots of players and still attracting new ones to. Many of them plays sup air to but still comes regular to us and crawl in the mud. I agree totally that is has to be a mix of all kinds of style of play and no prejudice between them.

From Sweden