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What is paintball?

anything other than the game itself, on avoiding the opponents' paintballs and your strategy for winning.

In order to enjoy paintball and do well at it, you do not have to be a top athlete, and in the game each player can pay particular attention to those things that they are good at. One player will quickly learn how to shoot accurately, another to move quickly and without being noticed. A third player might be good at coming up with the game tactics for their own team, and the fourth is a natural leader.

The game can be played in a variety of environments: in the woods, in the city, in fields, etc. Only your imagination (and the landowner's permission and/or the law) is a constraint. Playing the game is never boring, from intense and rapid games in built-up city game fields to the rather more slow-paced rhythm of games played on large outdoor fields.

Paintball also offers a chance for teams to compete against each other in the Finnish Paintball League, divisions and individual tournaments. Competitive paintball differs quite a lot from the relaxed and playful hobby version of the game, but there are similarities.

Paintball is an excellent weekend activity for a group of friends that can be combined, for example, with a trip to a summer cottage, or as a planned activity for stag and hen dos, or it can even be used by businesses for workplace health promotion days.

Origins of paintball

Paintball is one of the newest sports; the first game wasn't played until 1981. Compared to, for example, football or ice hockey, with their histories that can be traced back through the centuries, paintball is still in its infancy.

The idea for the game originated on a spring evening in either 1976 or 1977 on Jupiter Island in Florida. What is exceptional here is that we can put a name to the inventors of paintball, something that cannot be said about too many other sports. Present at that time were Charles Gaines, Hayes Noel and Bob Gurnsey. Of course, at the time there was no talk of paintball or Survival Game; rather the topic was how to combine, for example, the sense of tension and fear induced by adrenalin and the enhanced senses brought about by big game hunting or some other dangerous situation in a non-hazardous environment.

The argument was in fact to do with Gurnsey's claim that someone brought up in a rural environment would survive better in, for example, an ambush situation than someone brought up in the city. Noel wasn't convinced by the argument that skills are the result of the environment. He claimed that the ability to survive is the same, whether it is learned in the woods or on the floors of the stock market on Wall Street. The debate came to an end without being resolved, but in no way did it die out, rather being continued over the years, in the most diverse places, seeking ways to solve it.

Then, the solution was found: the "Nel-Spot 007 Color Marking Gun," i.e. a paintball gun, which was, at that time, sold for such things as marking felled trees in difficult terrain, as well as to facilitate the counting of game and livestock. This then led to the marking of people to determine who is best able to survive. After finally finding the means, the inventors began to organize the first game, which took place in June 1981 in New Hampshire. The first game consisted of twelve people, with each player playing against all other players. The winner of the game was the player who first succeeded in getting the flags from four flag triangles on the game field and taking them to one of the two bases on the sidelines. Since, at that time, no one had any idea of how the game would go, the time limit was set at a whopping 24 hours. Each of the players set out from different parts of the sideline, so that they couldn't see each other at the start.

On the night before the game there was an opportunity to place bets on which of the various players would win. Although no one had any real idea how the game would pan out, it was suspected that hunters and Vietnam veterans would be the likely winners.

Who would have ever thought? The statement made by the veterans after the game was, "This is nothing like Vietnam." It was a hunter that survived to be the winner, but no one saw him during the game and he didn't fire one shot. Perhaps this then provided the answer as to whether a country boy was in a better position than a city dweller. Other kinds of stories also emerged, such as when, in the middle of the game, a doctor from the city decided to forget about capturing flags and hung on merely to stalk other players. He managed to eliminate five other players before the end of the game – a significant number with only twelve players. The nickname "Dr Death" went to the right man.

The first game also saw the first surrender, when a player with nerves of steel used his head when he ran out of gas to bluff another player into surrendering and then marked the player by breaking a paintball on their clothes. There were all kinds of improvisations; for example, the use of a pine cone as if it was a grenade in a desperate situation.

Before the game, each participant handed over their game plan in a sealed envelope. In retrospect, it was found that no one had followed their plan. This is equally applicable to forest games nowadays.


The Nel-Spot pistols used in the first game are only reminiscent of the paintball guns currently used in terms of having  a barrel and handle. They did not have a pump handle for easy loading, but rather the loading motion was performed by pulling a stopper on the side of the pistol body. Even for a quick player, this took 2-3 seconds, so when they first came up with the idea of attaching a pump, the increase in the rate of fire was considerable. There have also been significant changes in another important piece of equipment: paintballs. The first balls that were used were not water-soluble because, for example, when they were used to mark trees they had to be specifically resistant to moisture, so in the early days turpentine was required to remove the color. The cleaning-up operation after the game was one more good reason, in the early days, to avoid being hit.

The Splatmaster that was to became famous was not the first paintball gun, but it was the first gun that fired paintballs to be produced specifically for the game. Production of the Splatmaster was begun in order to make it cheaper to take up the sport, and this objective was achieved by using cheap plastic polymers for the body.

In the early days of the game, in terms of protective equipment, the goggles were nothing special, but more than likely some kind of protection available off the shelf. JT Racing, known for its motocross accessories, subsequently began producing protective goggles specifically intended for paintball, after which more companies from the sector have come into the market.

So what happened?

After the first game, the launch of the sport wasn't in any way rapid. The second game that was played some time later was, however, a team game and for the first time a female player took part. After this, there were problems in marketing the new sport, mainly because people didn't want to invest relatively large sums into something completely unknown. This problem was solved when the idea of renting equipment was devised, and from then on, the growth was dizzying. Within a few years, approximately 400 game fields had been set up in the USA, helping the sport to spread rapidly.

As the sport grew, National Survival Games, founded by Bob Guernsey, began to organize a rental business on a franchise basis, as well as national championships, but at that time tournaments were quite different from what they are today. In the most common format, a team was made up of 15 players and the maximum playing time was at most two hours (this has been reduced considerably since then). Because of the length of games, tournaments only included a couple of games per team per day, and the games were also significantly more slow-paced than nowadays due to the large size of the game fields.

National Survival Games later collapsed due to lawsuits, but the sport has spread like wildfire over the past two and a half decades. According to latest estimates, in the USA paintball is played each year by about 10 million people and on the competition side we have already seen the first fully professional teams playing. When they started, Gaines, Noel and Gurnsey had no idea as to the kind of sport they had set in motion.


You may also be interested in the following:
- Frequently asked questions and their answers
- How do I start playing paintball?
- Warranty and support