Note: While there are currently other write-ups on this subject, none take in the scope of history or the game to my liking, hence the re-write. Please excuse this behavior, I just love this sport for all it is, has been, and will be as well as all it has given me. I wish to do it service with this write-up. Thank you.
Paintball : A game or sport in which players on opposing teams use paintball markers in an attempt to tag their opponents with a .68 caliber paint-filled gelatin capsule. Other objectives are defined by the particular scenario which the players are engaged in.
General History :
Paintball started as a bet between two friends, Hayes Noel and Charles Gaines, addressing the idea that skills learned in one area of experience could be transferred to another. Noel felt that his experiences as a day trader at the New York Stock Exchange, with the constant pressure, confusion, and action, had given him skills that would transfer to survival in a wilderness setting. Gaines, however, felt that skills learned in a particular environment pertained only to that environment and thusly could not transfer their usefulness to other situations and settings. So, to settle the argument, and thusly the bet, Noel and Gaines started coming up with tests and scenarios to prove, or disprove the hypotheses which they set forth at the beginning. Eventually, a mutual friend of the two, George Butler, directed them to an advertisement for the Nelspot 007 paint marking pistol. Thusly the idea for the first armed contest and the first paintball experience was born. As Hayes Noel said it in an interview with Adam W. Cohen, “It wasn’t long afterwards that we bought two of these things and had ourselves a little duel. After it was over, we just knew that we had stumbled upon something great” (Davidson et al. 5).
Gaines won that first duel, but the impression that it made on the duo was lasting and, with the help of their friend Bob Gurnsey, they started planning how to expand the game into the survival trial that they envisioned. Noel has admitted that Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” had quite a bit to do with the game format that they eventually chose. “…with that story kicking around subconsciously somewhere in there, we developed a sense that we needed a hunting game to test our theories” (Davidson et al. 5). It was thus that the three friends created a capture the flag game to be played by 12 people over an area of 80 acres. The basic guidelines of the game dictated that there were four flag stations spread out across the playing field with 12 flags of a particular color at each station. The objective of the individual player was to obtain one flag from each station and then return to the head referee’s station without being shot out of the game. Once this task was completed by one person, the game ended. To further the learning experience (and to secure bragging rights), “everybody had a different color paint, so you could tell who shot you buy the color. And if you any paint on you at all, even splatter from a hit on a tree, you were out” (Davidson et al. 6). The mixture of players was odd at best, though the reasons for the choices were clear. The trio decided to invite 9 others to play. The occupations ranged from hunting guides to Vietnam War long-range reconnaissance patrol leaders and even doctors, lawyers, and movie producers. What would turn out to be a boon for the three, however, was the invitation they extended to the outdoor writer at the time for Sports Illustrated who was to write about the experience. The winner of the first ever paintball game was a lumber man and hunter from New Hampshire who had spent most of his life in and around the woods. Incidentally, the winner, Richard White, never fired a shot the entire game. While the game that was played in those New Hampshire woods didn’t provide enough data for a conclusion on either of the two originator’s hypotheses, it did prove to both of them that they had created something new and exciting that needed to be shared with the rest of the world (Davidson et al. 6-8). Shortly after the first game played, Noel, Gaines, and Gurnsey started working on how to make the game into a business. Eventually, after contacting Nelson Manufacturing and R.P. Scherer, the manufacturers of the markers and paintballs respectively, and ensuring they would have the needed supplies, the trio created The National Survival Game Inc., the first paintball field in operation.
It didn’t take long for the game to catch on, or for business to start picking up. Despite the media inviting Noel to shows such as Donahue and Nightline, making every attempt to pigeonhole the new game (then known as NSG or simply The Survival Game) as militaristic, fanatical, and violent, people continually called in asking about where to play, or how to start their own franchise of NSG. National Survival Game Inc. enjoyed the perks of the monopoly they had on the business for about the first 3 years of business, 1981 to 1983. RPS and Nelson both saw rapid increases in sales through the NSG franchise license, so much so that NSG was able to secure a contract from Nelson to manufacture an inexpensive, easy to use, and easily maintained specifically for the business (Davidson et al. 9-10). Thus, the Splatmaster was created. While most paintball enthusiasts will tell you that the Nelspot 007 was the first paintball marker, however, the Splatmaster was the first paintball marker made for the game. As I stated before, NSG enjoyed it’s monopoly on the game between 1981 and 1983, as is inevitable in all business ventures, someone decided to cut out the middle man and other companies using the Nelson markers started cropping up around the nation from Florida to California and Maine. Steve Davidson, author of “The Complete Guide to Paintball” was there to witness the sport as it changed from the NSG fledgling to a multi-corporation business.
National Survival Game (NSG had a turnkey type of an operation: “We will supply you with the paint, with the guns, with the goggles, the rules of play, the insurance, and show you how to set a game up.”
You had to buy everything from them. Until some far-thinking individuals said, “I ought to be able to find something similar elsewhere for less.” People approached Nelson directly, and they had no hard core exclusivity agreement with NSG. Before you knew it, Skirmish USA, Paul Fogal’s company entered the scene (18).
With the introduction of new, independent fields to the scene, as well as other paint and marker manufacturers such as Pursuit Marketing Incorporated (PMI) and Benjamin Sheridan NSG started to lose ground, especially with their dedication to the large area, low conflict genre of games. The winds of change were blowing, and would continue to do so for some time. Shortly before the demise of NSG, tournament play was created. The tournaments of the infant years of paintball were much different than the tournaments people attend today. The first tournaments were NSG sponsored events where only those players who had won their local NSG tournament could compete. This left very little room for the rest of the paintball community and the independent fields of the time. There was no National Professional Paintball League as there is today, nor were there any other national tournament leagues; it was either NSG or local. After the first few years of NSG-only tournament play, Paul Fogel of Skirmish held the first Air Pistol Open tournament. This meant that you no longer had to win a NSG tournament to play. For that matter, you didn’t have to win anything to play. Any team from any part of the nation who could put up the money could come and play. Around the same time of the Air Pistol Open, several technological advances were introduced to the now rapidly growing industry. PMI introduced the first water soluble paintball, players started putting pump systems on their markers (not unlike the systems used in pump shotguns to ease the firing process, and constant air, perhaps the most important innovation in paintball to date, was brought to the mainstream.
Constant air (CA) changed the game dramatically. Prior to 1984 when the system was created, players were forced to use twelve-gram CO2 powerlets as the air system in their paintball markers. The problem with using 12-grams is that you are forced to re-load not only the ammunition, but the air source as well. In the early days, players would listen for the hiss of the escaping CO2 from an opponent’s position so that they could safely rush the bunker and tag the opposition while they were changing their powerlet. Incidentally, players today listen, much in the same way, to an opponent’s shots to tell when the player is either low on air, or out of ammunition. Constant air allowed players to install an adaptor on their markers to accept much larger CO2 canisters giving them the ability to fire many more rounds before needing to change their air source. Constant air was immediately banned from tournament play since it was deemed to reduce the skill level of play and the need for a strategic mind. It also unbalanced the playing field. While over ninety-percent of all markers manufactured today come from the factory with CA adaptors, the early markers had to be modified to accept the CO2 filled tanks. The costly process of conversion combined with the cost of the tanks and the scarce availability at its time of conception meant that not everyone could afford, or even obtain the constant air system. This caused tournaments to stay in the dark ages of paintball for some time while the recreational side continued to advance.
The recreational side of the industry saw many more advances in the following years. Around 1984 or 1985, people finally began to realize that they could make a living, and even profit, by producing paintball equipment. As was said in an interview between Adam Cohen and Steve Davidson:
Steve: It was a huge year for paintball technology. Absolutely 1984. The back check valve came along with the CA.
Another big thing was a barrel extender. You take a piece of aluminum, stick it on the end of you barrel, and you have a longer barrel. Now what that did for anybody? To this day, we still don’t know. But somebody brought out the first barrel extender and they sold like hot cakes. So somebody else said, “well, I’m going to come out with a field strip screw set for the gun,” and people were beginning to realize that they could make serious money selling paintball equipment.
Adam: Cleaning kits and harnesses emerge circa 1984?
Steve: Everything, all kinds of stuff.
Adam: Flack jackets and shin guards?
Steve: You name it and it probably had its origins right around in that period of time (Davidson et al. 20-21).
Indeed, most innovations (with the exception of electro-pneumatic markers) had their genesis in the mid to late 80’s. Another important innovation in paintball was the ability to increase the ammunition capacity of markers. In the beginning, paintball markers only held 8-10 shots inside the marker itself. Add to the limited ammo capacity the necessity of rocking the marker back to load the next round (due to the lack of spring fed magazines in the sport at that time) and you had yet another challenge of the sport that could be overcome. Perhaps the first magazine extension was the 15 round ammo-stick that was created early in the game. This stick was attached to the marker by either welding a piece of pipe to the magazine to increase its capacity, or by way of a forty-five degree “elbow” over which you could slip a removable ammo-stick. Most people preferred the removable system, not only due to the ability to switch between the stick and the built in magazine, but also due to the fact that the elbow allowed gravity to pull the next round down the tube into the chamber. This removed the rocking step to firing pump and bolt-action markers. Budd Orr eventually expanded on the idea of the ammo-stick with his ammo box. The box was exactly that, a box which held forty-five rounds of ammo and was fitted to the marker via a slip-over sleeve that attached to the marker’s 45 degree elbow. The increased ammo capacity was necessary since most recreational players adapted their markers to the CA system. The combination of the ammo box and CA allowed the players to fire much more frequently. The combination also served to the benefit of field owners since more paint being fired equals more paint being bought.
Perhaps one of the most important progressions of the mid to late eighties was the development of better protection for the player. At the very beginning of the sport’s incarnation, players used little-to-no protective gear what-so-ever. Even after the risk of loosing an eye to a misplaced shot was realized, the protective measures taken were woefully inadequate. Shop goggles were used as the only barrier between a paintball traveling between 150 and 200 miles per hour, and a player’s eyesight. The goggles were not rated to take the impact of an object traveling at those speeds, not to mention the complete lack of facial and aural protection. By the late 1980’s full face masks with American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) approved lenses were developed by JT USA, a motocross safety equipment company established in 1976. JT’s masks and other protective gear and clothing became so popular with players that the company eventually dropped out of the motocross market and devoted their whole research, development, and production to paintball. A mask is the most important piece of equipment on a paintball field, and I as well as all other professionals and players urge anyone participating in the sport to never remove their mask while on a field, whether play is in session or not. This dedication to the safety of all players has made paintball the safest sport played with numbers from the United States Medical Association to prove it. The lenses in masks have not changed much since their inception. Most, with the exception of those made by Kingman/Raven, contain lenses constructed of one or more layers of polycarbonate as well as flexible and comfortable protection for the ears, face, mouth, and most of the neck. The main changes have been the addition of thermal lenses which keep condensation and fogging of the lens to a minimum, as well as the discontinued production of half masks and goggle-only systems.
The final development that is considered pivotal in the early days of paintball was the creation of the first semi-automatic paintball marker. There are two schools of thought as to who truly contributed this firing system which eliminates the need for a pump, or manual re-loading mechanism on the marker. Most experts agree that Glen Palmer of Palmer’s Pursuit Shop in Sacramento, Ca. created the first semi-automatic paintball marker when he built “Camille.” However, another school of thought attributes the first semi-automatic marker to Tippmann Pneumatics Inc. Where as Camille was purely a show gun (until it was stolen out of Glen Palmer’s truck some years after its inception) TPI had created a marker that was both fully automatic and semi (operating on a selector switch) and that was capable of being made on an assembly line. The name of the Tippmann marker was the SMG.60 “Bulldog”. The SMG.60 worked via an open bolt blow back system. This system uses some amount of the air used to propel the ball out of the barrel to force the bolt and hammer assembly rearward and over the sear until the sear was released by the trigger being pulled which would send the hammer and bolt forward to strike the valve, propel the ball down the barrel, and send the assembly back again. Tippmann was the first to perfect this system for use in paintball which is why they are often said to be the first producers of semi-automatic paintball markers as well. As a side note, the SMG.60 was the first production semi-automatic, fully-automatic, spring fed, and banned paintball marker in the history of the game. Many fields today will still refuse its use on the field.
With so many technological advances and independent companies continually being created, NSG slowly but surely faded from the picture until all that remained was the name “survival” at one of the original NSG franchises, Survival NY. Since the demise of NSG, there have been no paintball field franchises of equaling size. While NSG went the way of the dodo, many other organizations and businesses have grown to gargantuan proportions. National Paintball out of Mantua, NJ is perhaps the largest paintball wholesaler in the world. Paintball continued to grow through the late 1980’s and early 90’s. Since then, paintball fields have sprung up in all fifty states of the union, and nearly every first and second-world country in the world. The paintball markers have evolved from the simple gravity-fed, bolt action components of the early days into fully functioning marvels of pneumatic and mechanical engineering. The game has also grown into a sport over the years, that sport has spawned a two-billion-dollar-a-year industry that makes everything from paintballs to pneumatic rams, circuit boards, infrared sensors, and clothing for on and off the field. The game and scenario styles have also evolved from the simple “capture the flag and don’t get shot” equation to whole “armies” of players facing each other in Big Games, Scenario Games and Speedball tournaments. There are also player organizations on every level from the local novice circuits to the National Collegiate Paintball Association (the NCCA of paintball), to the National Professional Paintball League (NPPL) and Pan Am professional circuits. Below you will find some common paintball terminology as well as sources and current (2002) websites for further information. I would also highly recommend “The Complete Guide to Paintball” as a resource for any other information you wish to know about the sport. And finally, don’t judge the game or the sport before you have played it, please go out and play this (in my opinion) wonderful sport and enjoy the rush you get when you play it!
Paintball related NodesNelspot 007
Air Gun Designs
Palmer’s Pursuit Shop
Indian Creek Designs
Pursuit Marketing Incorporated
Paint CompaniesR.P. Scherer
Safety SuppliesJT USA
www.warpig.com (World and Regional Paintball Information Guide)
Paintball Sports International (magazine)
www.college-paintball.com (NCPA website)
Push (paintball documentary available by order at most video retail stores)
Davidson, Steve, et al. The Complete Guide To Paintball. Heatherleigh P, 1999.