The Trouble with Paintball
Paintball, as I’ve mentioned a few times, is incredibly fun. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon/weekend and can really get the adrenaline going. It also has several problem which are leading to it’s decline, or at the very least, stagnation as a “sport”.
The first major issue paintball has is it’s marketing. Years ago it was billed as an ultimate extreme sport. People actually shoot at each other. You can’t get much more intense than that. Somewhere along the way they decided that not enough younger players were interested, so they tried to market paintball for kids, church groups and younger players in general. It worked, to a degree, and the “rental” and recreational fields took off. Unfortunately, there’s not any visible translation between playing on a Saturday afternoon with a church group and playing it “on a team, as a sport”. There’s no one at the field “recruiting”, no one offering information on leagues, no one talking to parents about how much fun it is. There’s little to no cross over. They effectively killed the “sport” and made it recreational only, which leads us to the second problem…
If something is “recreational” and you “rent” equipment, you’re going to treat it in your mind like any other activity where you do the same. Bowling come to mind as the best example of this. A long standing sport with very very low “professional” appeal. The number of professional bowlers, especially young ones, compared to something like baseball or football participation is minute. That’s why you’ve seen a tremendous drop in the appeal of bowling alleys except for the occasional 8 year old’s birthday party. Bowling has done everything is can to appeal to younger audiences (black light bowling, crazy music, pizza parties, etc) all while dying a slow death as an industry. That’s because when you “rent” something, you don’t care about it. You don’t care about your bowling shoes, you don’t care about the bowling balls, you don’t care about the sport. You’re there for 1-2hrs, you have a slice of pizza, you go home. How many of you have a nice pair of bowling shoes? How many of you have a really nice bowling ball? Exactly. When something is “recreational”, it means, in your head, something that I will stop caring about when I leave. By setting up paintball as a “birthday party activity”, you just made the entire group of young kids not care about it. Or, even if they do care about it, the entry barrier is too high for them to maintain interest on their own. A football you buy once and can play with it forever. A case of paintballs might as well be a case of Skittles. Once they’re gone, they’re gone, and the fun is over.
That leads us to the last problem. Money. Paintball is not a cheap sport. I really enjoy it, but that’s why I only play once a month, in the months that it’s enjoyable (ie: not 106°F) to do so. Renting equipment is $40 a day. That’s affordable. Buying a “good” entry level gun, hopper, air tank, mask, outfit, that will probably run you a couple hundred bucks, if not more. That doesn’t include paint. Paint is $60-80 a box. A box has 2000 balls in it. 2000 lasts me about half a day. I need $120 in paint to play a full day. That’s expensive if you’re a kid. So, you get a lot of rich kids playing paintball on the weekends. They didn’t work for their gear, they’re not paying the bill, and they don’t give a crap about it as a “sport” and they don’t care about any rules. They show up with a $1000 gun, 3 cases of paint and zero trigger control. I can’t count how many times I’ve been “bonus balled” (being hit after you’ve indicated you’re out) by someone under the age of 16. The ref isn’t paying attention, the kids have the guns set on full auto, no one cares. Huge problem. The younger kids that might have been interested in playing it more often are now completely sworn off it. No one likes coming home with a body covered in welts. And I’m not saying that because it hurts or because I personally don’t like getting hit, I’ve been hit on bare skin, it’s not that bad. I’m saying this because my 14 year old cousin doesn’t want to go again after he played with us a couple months ago because some asshole lit him up on full-auto.
So, what I’m trying to say is is that paintball has a serious problem. It’s either “recreational” or it’s a sport. If you want it to be recreational, and that’s fine, but then everyone on the field has to have the same equipment, or at least the same limits on their equipment. No one should be firing 30 balls a second. You wouldn’t let a MLB player hit with an aluminum bat, you shouldn’t let someone with an Ego 11 play with kids with rental equipment. Same difference. Or, make entry into the sport less imposing. The price of paint is retardedly high, that needs to change right off the bat, but the price of mid-level gear should also drop. They should set up “little league” style leagues, have coaches, PRACTICE, etc. The cost of an entire kit should be less than the cost of a baseball helmet, glove and bat and cases of paint should be donated or given away for next to nothing to coaches and leagues. That’s the only way to make it a very real “sport” again.
It’s that or it will continue to be played only by rich assholes and their kids and it will completely kill the game. Completely.
This has been a PSA from your friendly neighborhood grumpy old person.