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What is Paintball?

By K. Waterman
Updated May 23, 2024
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Paintball is a combination combat play and survival hunting game. However, instead of hunting animals with guns, people shoot at each other with guns that shoot balls of paint — hence the name.

The first paintball pistol was invented in 1970 as a tool for marking cattle and trees for excavation. The beginnings of the games played today occurred in the early 1980s. It quickly caught on as a legitimate sport when Sports Illustrated published a story about a paintball tournament. By 1993, it was receiving the attention of all the sports media with the first telecast tournament appearing on ESPN.

Avid paintball participants play on specially laid out fields. These contain specific boundaries, barriers behind which players can hide, and zones that are neutral. There are also indoor arenas for playing that are complete with viewing areas and lighting.

The equipment used in paintball include the gun and a face mask or goggles as minimum protection. There are also hunting-like outfits that help protect and camouflage players. Advanced participants usually have special loaders and harnesses for their guns, which make it easier to run, load and shoot.

Referees and judges are often used in paintball competitions. Players must strictly observe the calls and orders of these officials. The officials primary role is to determine if a paintball hit is legitimate, which means that it is large enough and was not made within the 25-foot shooting boundary. Players must also remain within the proper field or court boundaries. To ensure the safety of the players, tournaments often match players by experience and skill level.

Paintball has become such a popular sport that most equipment for the beginner to intermediate level can be purchased at most sporting goods stores. The more advanced players can shop at one of hundreds of specialty shops or online outlets.

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Discussion Comments
By Malka — On Aug 03, 2011

@minthybear19 - See, now you make paintball sound fun. The only exposure to paintball games that I have ever had was when they had this paintball team versus team competition in my hometown. I watched the coverage on my television and one time I went and watched the game in person. It was a kind of morbid curiosity, though, because the way they played was really...well, mean.

The two teams were seriously hardcore about their competitions. They acted like they were in a military strike team! The leader of the group had absolute authority, and the others were expected to do exactly what he said immediately and without question.

It did seem to help them on the field, but when one guy didn't move fast enough and the captain of his own side shot him I felt kind of mad on his behalf. This was a game, not life or death. They seem to have forgotten the whole "fun" part of playing.

By minthybear19 — On Aug 02, 2011

@amsden2000 - Oh wow! I have to suggest that to my boyfriend and his buddies! They love sniping at cute things. We'll just grab a bunch of stuffed animals from the thrift store.

You build your base from scratch every single time? Wow. You must have to clean up a lot of old bases to make room. You're lucky to have so much space to play in.

We've had to play indoor paintball several times because it rained and my boyfriend didn't want to miss his weekends paintball games. It's really hard to not hit breakables and clean up is horrible.

By amsden2000 — On Aug 02, 2011

@w00dchuck41 - Blow up bunkers sound neat. My dad owns a huge wooded area so he lets up use it for our paintball games. We don't use blow up bunkers (just because we didn't think of it) -- we just take pocket knives and have an hour to build a base with twine and our knives.

Our games are really long. We take sleeping bags and camp out in our bases. My girlfriend thought up a hilarious thing to have as goal markers though.

We bought ten stuffed animals for each team and they are labeled with names. We have to protect the stuffed animals and take out the opposing team's animals before they take out ours. The stuffed animals are hidden around our base and in the area around it.

It sounds a little ridiculous, but it keeps things fun. We're getting so good now, we can usually keep the game going on for the whole weekend.

By minthybear19 — On Aug 02, 2011

@w00dchuck41 - My boyfriend is crazy about paintball! It's all he wants to do on the weekends.

They don't have any bunkers though -- they just put a target on their backs. Then they all split up and have several minutes to hide before they start hunting.

I go along sometimes and it's fun, but I always get hit. My boyfriend is ex-military and he's really good at hiding from me. I'm usually the first to drop and he's usually the last.

I definitely like it better than sitting into front of a video game. At least this way you get exercise.

By w00dchuck41 — On Aug 01, 2011

@Catapult - Paintball is really fun. Me and my friends have been playing it for years now. Yeah, you get a little bruised up, but it's worth it. I make blow up paintball bunkers for our games.

Just take a cloth laundry hamper -- the tube kind are the best -- and put blown up garbage bags inside. I blow them up and use a rubber band to seal them.

Each of our two teams have a fort made out of bags to hide behind. I use green laundry hampers so that they are also camouflaged.

Just make sure that you're wearing the right paintball gear. You need goggles, a vest and of course -- extra ammo!

By vogueknit17 — On Nov 08, 2010

@Catapult, I have also had friends who played paintball, and it can get pretty intense. It can also get to be very strategic. I once knew two guys whose method of play was to send one out as a target to get hit by everyone else while the other acted as a sort of "paintball sniper", sneaking around and getting everyone else while they were distracted.

By Catapult — On Nov 08, 2010

I have always sort of wanted to play paintball, as I've had many friends who enjoyed it. However, I've heard that it can get pretty competitive and intense among players who have done it for a long time, and that it can really hurt when paintballs hit you.

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