The Most Dangerous Game

Exhilaration of the Hunt Draws New Players to the Game of Paintball

Photo Erin Sparks
Photo Erin Sparks
Photo Erin Sparks
Photo Erin Sparks
Photo Erin Sparks

At Action 500 paintball warehouse, players come to participate in one of the world’s fastest growing sports.

Paintball has spread worldwide in 20 years and has quickly gained the reputation of being a fast-paced, adrenalin-fueled game of team strategy.

Hayes Noel, a stock trader, and author Charles Gaines conceived the game in 1976 after a buffalo-hunting trip in Africa. They set out to recreate the adrenalin rush that came with hunting animals.

In 1981, the first game was played using Nel-spot 007 pistols normally used by ranchers for marking livestock. Twelve people participated in the game and the team that won did so by capturing the flag without firing a single shot.

Paintball technology has made huge leaps since then. Hoppers now hold hundreds of spherical gelatin capsules filled with water soluble, biodegradable paint. CO2 propellant tanks last for hours without pressurization and an array of accessories such as grenades, side arms and even landmines have been created to vary the paintball experience.

There are many versions of paintball. Basic safety guidelines remain in place, but the number of scenarios is only limited by the individual’s imagination.

Professional paintball, called Speedball, is played on a flat, grassy field with inflatable obstacles distributed evenly to provide cover.

At Action 500, their warehouse is filled with faux buildings, towers, bombed-out cars, a school bus, trenches, bunkers and sandbags.

“The way the sport is right now, the military-style paintball is extremely popular. We have what we call ‘paramilitary night.’ We run scenarios. You have a mission; you have to stay within the mission parameters and accomplish your mission,” said Christopher Doonan, manager of Action 500.

For a normal day, people come in and are organized into either the blue or red team. Each referee has a different spin on how the game is played.

“There is nothing written in stone. If you want to attack the fort, you can attack the fort,” said Doonan.

To participate, but more importantly to win in team-play paintball, communication and strategy are required. For this reason, paintball excursions have become popular as team-building activities for corporate groups.

“Like any sport, if you control the majority of the terrain, you can win. Find the hole and you can defeat any strategy,” said Doonan.

Statistically, paintball has one of the lowest rates of injury of any sport at 20 injuries per 100,000 players annually. These injuries are incidental to outdoor physical activity.

“It stings. Some people bruise, some people get welts. It’s part of the game. If you go to play paintball and you expect not to get shot, then you’re probably not going to have a good time,” said Doonan. “It really doesn’t hurt that much.

It’s more the fear of getting shot than the actual pain of getting shot.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 23, published February 15, 2011.