The Future of Paintball?
When I started playing paintball the choice of markers was vast for players. You could use a Splatmaster or a PPG. No foolin' there were two choices. Both of these markers took a 10 ball tube of paint, that if you were lucky, you could get on sale for two for $5.00. To put that amount in perspective, $2.50 per tube in 1980's is equivalent to $1000 per box in 2017 dollars.
I know what you are thinking, “Oh great! Another old guys telling us how good we have it.” Well yes, and no. We as players have never had so many options when it comes to the game we love. I mention 'back in the day' because I have seen paintball come from nothing to become a massive global industry and recognized sport.
A few committed (or should have been committed some would say) players spread the word about paintball. Over the years paintball had grown from a few nuts in the woods to millions of players all over the world. The one thing we all have in common is we all love the sport.
Unfortunately things have changed in the past few years as noted by veteran player and CXBL All Star, Kevin Curry. “10 years ago there were 10 speedball fields in Atlantic Canada, today there are 4, with only three being used regularly.”
Curry continued “With regards to one genre of our sport, how did over a fifty percent decline in our available field options happen? The answer is simple: player decline” While Curry is referring specifically to speedball. His observations and insights are symptomatic of the sport as a whole.
The sport has declined in recent years. What will it take to reverse the decline? To answer that question we should try to figure out what it was that made to sport grow.
Players United Like Never Before
Internet forums like PB Nation, M Cater Brown and others brought players together from around the world. Players used forums to exchange ideas, sell old gear and argue about what type of paintball is best. Even though there was arguing and flame wars, we all came together to talk about paintball.
Special Ops Paintball was one company that went one step further. They offered customizable markers, a system for international player rankings, prize giveaways, even their own magazine. Spec Ops saw the power in bringing players together, and it worked.
The online forums turned a group of people playing a game on the fringes of extreme sports together to create a global community that made every player feel like they were part of something bigger then themselves.
The Mega Games and Professional Leagues
Not long ago big games like Hell's Survivors, Castle Conquest, Invasion of Normandy, Tippmann Challenge, and many more, would be attended by thousands of players, from across the continent. During mega games the parking area at Skirmish USA was a sea of tents and campers. Seeing thousands of players all eager to get on the field and play was a truly inspiring site.
On top of the mega games, international tournament paintball leagues like the PSP, NPPL, CXBL, NXL, and Millennium Series provided a venue for talented local players to become true paintball professionals. Local players can become international celebrity’s thanks to the media coverage of the leagues making more players want to come out and play.
Once again the power of sport came from the gathering of players. Unfortunately the pro leagues and mega games have been affected by the economy and have been scaled back. Players have to travel further to play in smaller events.
The world is a mess economically; people are losing their jobs and homes all over the country. Even countries around the world are going bankrupt. When money is tight recreational activities, like paintball, are always one of the first things that get cut.
There have always been things that need our money more than a recreational activity. There always will be. If you are careful and plan ahead you can always a way to get to the field and shoot some paint pellets.
If you love the game you will always find a way to play. If you don't have the money to shoot two cases at practice then grab a pump gun and shoot one bag. Ask the field owner if you can ref for half the day in exchange for paint.
One thing that has affected the game is the emergence of airsoft. Paintball has lost some woodsball player participation due to the low cost of airsoft BBs. Withheaper ammunition but still maintaining the thrill and camaraderie of paintball makes airsoft a great choice for some people.
I have played airsoft, and it is a lot of fun. I can't explain what it is, but for me there is something missing in airsoft as compared to paintball. It is a great sport but, not quite the same as paintball.
What's It Going to Take?
What will it take for the sport to survive? For any sport to survive it takes a core group of dedicated players to promote the sport whenever possible and keep new players coming back.
New players are intimidated by fancy guns and flashy gear. It is up to every one of us to make new players feel welcome and comfortable at the field. If we keep the new players coming back, they will bring their friends out; the game will survive and flourish.
Kevin Curry summed up the solution perfectly. “Individuals will once again have to take the bull by the horns. Start organizing games/practices, shepherding players to locations willing to provide facilities and also protecting younger players”
After reading through all of this I think the title may be incorrect. The appropriate statement that must be known by every person who loves the sport is, 'If paintball is dying, it's your fault!”
The life and death of the sport we love is up to every one of us. We all have a part to play, and we need to come together again to make our sport flourish.