Paintball is the ultimate game of war. It has the power to thrill, to turn longtime friends into sworn enemies, and to reveal a person’s courage in the face of defeat. Oh, and it also lets you splatter everything with paint.
Though paintball guns are loaded with nothing more than harmless paint pellets, it’s understandable how a beginner could feel intimidated on the battlefield. To the uninitiated, a paintball game can look like an intricate chess match, filled with nuances and unusual rules.
To clear things up a bit, we spoke to Paintball USA co-owner April Schwartz, who regularly helps beginners navigate their way around the field. She gave us helpful tips on what to wear, how to avoid getting shot, and what to do when your opponent comes back from the dead.
1. Getting Shot Doesn’t Hurt—If You’re Prepared.
“You want to cover up as much exposed skin as possible,” Schwartz explains. “Put layers of clothing between your skin and the paintball to [blunt] the impact.” Hoodies, sweats, or even just a couple of layered T-shirts make an impact feel like “a bouncy type of hit, as opposed to something that stings.”
2. The Dress Code is Simple: Wear Camo.
According to Schwartz, “the reason you see most paintball players in earth tones, camouflage, and olive green” is simple: you want to blend in with your surroundings. “Natural tones limit your visibility on the field,” making it harder for the opposing team to spot you while you plan a sneak attack.
3. Expect to Get Covered in Paint, Even If You Avoid Getting Shot.
“At the end of the day,” Schwartz explains, “there are lots of accumulated paintballs just lying around that haven’t hit a bunker or a person.” This means that, wherever you walk, you’re likely to step on some of those paintballs. “Your shoes get rather messy … so you’ll want to wear older clothes and older shoes.”
4. The Right Kind of Shoes Can Be Your Best Friend.
“Standard sneakers are slick, [so] you’ll want to wear something that has ridges in the bottom.” Schwartz specifically recommends sports cleats, which have a bit more traction. “You want to have some grip on your shoes, because a lot of times the dirt has some rocks in it and [it’s easy to] slip and fall.”
5. Beginners Should Stick to a Defensive Strategy.
Schwartz’s best advice for new players? “Hang behind the bunkers and don’t rush out.” In general, it’s more likely that the players taking the offensive will be the first ones to get shot.
6. You Can Target Any Part of Your Opponent.
And now, the answer everyone has been waiting for: “Yes, you’re allowed to shoot someone in the head.” These are called “headshots,” Schwartz explains, but there are some guidelines to watch out for. Most paintball fields have ground rules for how many times you can shoot an enemy, and how far away you need to be. At Paintball USA, for instance, “you can’t go closer than 10 feet and just stand there and unload your gun on someone.” Phew.
7. Don’t Bring a Year’s Supply of Paintballs into Battle.
“It’s easy to run out of paintballs if you’re not choosing your targets,” Schwartz explains. “However, you can’t really carry that many paintballs. [They] tend to weigh you down.” If you’re planning ahead, assume that you’ll “probably use up to 200 paintballs in a 30-minute game.”
8. Dead Doesn’t Always Mean Out of the Game.
“When you get shot, you’re considered out. You have to put your gun up and say ‘Dead man’ [before] the referee acknowledges you and you walk off the field.” Fortunately, death isn’t always the final judgment in paintball. “Some fields have a reincarnation rule for beginners,” Schwartz explains. “If you get shot early on, you can clean off the paint and come back.”
9. The Best Paintballers Practice Guerrilla-Style Warfare.
“Don’t just run through the middle of the field,” Schwartz advises. Instead, “ease your way between the bunkers.” Schwartz is fond of comparing paintball to a chess game, in which progress to victory is slow and methodical.
10. If at All Possible, Don’t Get Shot.
This is perhaps the most obvious bit of advice, but it’s also extremely important. “The more players you have alive at the end of the game, the more likely your team is going to win.”
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