The pull of paintball: A look at the high-intensity alternative sport

Zach Wardenburg

In a world of fast food, high-speed Internet and instant messaging, one would expect sports to follow suit.

Across the country, high-intensity “alternative” sports have captured the attention of millions of athletes, and among those adrenaline-charged sports is paintball.

Paintball has been hugely popular in the major metro areas and along both coasts, and in recent years, it has surpassed snowboarding as the nation’s fastest-growing sport.

Paintball is more than just heading out to the woods and running around.

If you haven’t tried it, then you owe it to yourself to find a local field, put on a mask, grab a marker and let it rip.

What is it?

Paintball can best be described as a combination of laser tag, hide-and-seek and capture the flag. It is fast-paced and not for the faint of heart.

CO2 tanks shoot high-speed paint-filled balls from markers, and you need shatterproof masks to protect against the sting of the paintballs as they explode upon impact. 

Yard furniture and trees that were perfect hiding spots for hide-and-seek and capture the flag have morphed into inflatable bunkers that resemble a battleground.

Electronic sounds have been traded for washable paint that splatters in a kaleidoscope of orange, blue and pink.

The kids who once played in the back yard have become adventure-hungry athletes of all shapes and sizes.

The games are simple in design and purpose. Players from each team attempt to eliminate opposing players by splattering them with markers.

Battle plans are devised by the “warriors” who take the field to battle it out, hoping to force the opposing team into surrender.

The battlefield

Paintball can be played on woodsball, scenario and speedball fields.

As the name suggests, woodsball games are played in the woods, offering players the elements of hide-and-seek and sniping.

Scenario fields generally encompass wooded areas but usually include props, forts and in some elaborate settings, cities, lending a sense of realism to the play that allows paintballers to “escape” into their roles.

The most intense game is speedball. It’s played in a small, compact arena with inflatable bunkers for cover. Speedball games are fast-paced, adrenaline rushes not meant for timid players. It’s hard, all-out war in speedball.

Paintball’s popularity

The popularity of the paintball has gained the sport international exposure and attention.

Major networks and sports channels, including ESPN, have broadcast professional tournaments, and the annual Paintball World Cup draws teams from around the world to compete.

According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturer's Association, more than 5.4 million Americans played paintball in 2007.