The battlefield was dry and hot, dirt clouds swarmed up to bite the ankles of every man and woman as we charged. “Welcome to the Jungle” was booming from several giant speakers, but the only sound I heard came from my adrenaline-fueled heart. The war between Red and Blue had begun—and, no, I’m not referring to gangs, but paintball teams.
When I was first introduced to paintball, I thought it to be a violent and vulgar sport. I wouldn’t argue against that point; it does involve the use of guns, and I’d be lying if I told you there wasn’t a fair amount of cussing on the field. However, after joining a team and playing for two years, I can safely say that there is much more to the sport than rapid fire and energy drinks.
“We are not terrorists in training, we are not violent people, and we take our sport seriously.” Captain of bushball team Hellfire, and speedball team Onslaught, and valued member of Vancouver Island’s Paintball elite, Josh Vincent, takes a strong stance when it comes to competitive paintball. “Paintball builds leaders, promotes teamwork, is rigorous exercise, and is fun for the whole family. Paintball is great. Period.”
While Vincent is passionate about the sport, he also notes how important safety is, especially when new players are involved. The guns may look real and it can be fun to look the part of a soldier, Vincent explains that treating the guns like toys can spell disaster for anyone on and off the field. Safety precautions, such as barrel condoms, plugs, and strict mask policies help ensure safe play for everyone on site.
Safety is a key issue in paintball, not just because it ensures everyone goes home with both of their eyeballs, but also because “paintball is always under the scrutiny of the public eye.” Playing competitively looks very different than simply playing off a field, and the safety issues surrounding each can be handled extremely differently. Taking a gun out into the middle of the woods—no field, no regulations, etc.—can be extremely hazardous not only to the players, but any member of the public who happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
However, don’t let safety discourage you if you are a new player. So long as you are wearing your mask on the field, are playing at a licensed establishment, and with people you trust, paintball is a very safe endeavor. It’s easy to get caught up in paintball fever once you begin playing, and to want to run out and buy gear may seem like a good idea at the time; however, Vincent cautions new players to rent gear from the field a few times first, to figure out which brands and styles work best for them.
Paintball guns vary from bushball to speedball and there are even more within those categories. Bushball markers tend to look more realistic, are heavier, and can be modified to the extreme. Speedball guns, on the other hand, tend to be lighter, shorter, and come in any colour of the rainbow. Vincent recommends Tippmann markers for players interested in bushball because they are “sturdy, reliable, accurate, and can be modified to the user’s look and feel.” For speedball, Vincent suggests Eclipse markers, as they are “light, accurate, fast, reliable, and efficient on air consumption.” Vincent strongly urges that new players choose a good mask for their first purchase, as it’s more beneficial to be able to see your target and aim with an inferior gun, than to deal with chronic mask fog up and shoot randomly with a superior gun.
The reason guns are so different for each subsection of the sport is because the difference between bushball and speedball is vast. Bushball games can last anywhere from one minute to several hours. They tend to be played in the bush, and sometimes involve actual battle enactments. Speedball can be played inside or outside, involves inflatable “bumpers,” and can last from about thirty seconds to five minutes (if it’s a particularly lengthy game). Each sport requires tactics, and each member has a specific position. There are back players (who lay down the paint so others can move up), mid-players (who run up and cover the front players), and front-players (generally the quickest players, their aim is to get as far as they can and capture the flag, or take out their enemies at close range).
While playing competitively, teams may have the opportunity to be sponsored. “It means that a company has seen it fit to trust you and your team with representing them, something any business person does not take lightly.” Vincent explains the trust and mutual respect that must be in place for a team and business or brand to engage in sponsorship. Sponsors aid the team in a variety of ways, depending on the company, such as giving discounts, fundraisers, etc. The team, in return, may advertise with logos, banners, help with events (i.e. refereeing tournaments at a sponsor field), and may display trophies in their sponsor business.
As a new player, it may seem daunting to begin playing. If you’re without a team, sponsorship, etc. financial worries may deter you from playing, but don’t fret yet. “Paintball is only as expensive as you let it become.” Vincent explains that “most fields charge a fee of 10 to 20 dollars. The amount of paint you purchase is entirely up to you.” New players should generally stick to inexpensive and local fields, purchase a minimum amount of paint, and practice their tactics. Sure it can be fun to “lay down the paint,” but bonus balling can add up, and becoming comfortable with a marker and practicing the sport is worth more than extra paint in the long run.
It is also important to take note of the groups we have on Vancouver Island that help support new and continuing players; for example, Island United (IU). “IU is a series of low cost paintball events that range from Victoria to Comox. The goal of these events is to bring our Island paintballers together, it is meant to increase the interest of paintball to the masses, and to grow our sport.” IU offers a forum to discuss a host of topics such as inquiries about fields, items for sale, and provides a welcoming space for new players. “Every skill level is welcome at these games, from brand new players, to grizzled old veterans.”
Don’t let the cold weather stop you! Games in the snow have provided unique opportunities for training tasks such as “Fox and the Hound.” One player, dressed in all white, will hide, and four to five players hunt him down as he tries to make it past enemy lines and take down as many as he can stealthily. Also, “Zombie” games have become popular—one player is the “zombie” and can only be taken down by a headshot (wearing a mask of course), and if another player is shot by the “zombie,” they join the undead team.
Paintball can be a competitive sport, a role-playing game, a chance to practice athletic prowess, and a wonderful way to make lifelong friends. Vancouver Island is lucky to have a strong bushball and speedball community that is worth trying out. After 16 years of playing, Vincent is still keeping the game fresh and newcomers might just find the same passion ignited in them.