Aristotle used to say that good habits formed at youth make all the difference. And he couldn’t be more accurate. This is especially true when referring to this episodes’ subject of Gun Fu.
I first met this player in Dallas TX at the 2015 PSP Dallas Open. We didn’t talk much as we were too busy trying to take each other’s head off on the main field for 1st place in Division 1/Semi Pro paintball. It was a mud fest. However, Seattle Uprising had gone completely undefeated that very first event of the season and they weren’t going to be denied. They tied it up with 7 seconds on the clock, took us into overtime and won the point. They would go on to the first NXL finals match in D1/Semi pro at the Great Lakes Open undefeated as well but lose a hotly contested match to Distortion 2-1. That was their only hick up as they took first at Virginia Beach (losing only one match to AC Dallas) as well as World Cup (undefeated). Quite a year to play Division 1 paintball and only lose two matches the entire season!
The next time I would meet Alex Gray of Seattle Uprising, was at a WCPPL event held in Las Vegas in 2016, except this time, we would be teammates. My friend Shane Pestana had invited me out to play with a team he was helping out that season. Alex was asked to help too. You come to realize that Alex is quite the competitor and what was surprising to me was how similar we thought about attacking the field. Alex has that youthful energy but there is wisdom in his search for knowledge. I dig that.
His history is quite fascinating actually. You may not know this, but the young man is a New Yorker. His interest in paintball started after seeing paintball on ESPN.
“I think it was 2006? I saw an NPPL tournament on ESPN and then I started watching the indoor Smart Parts League on ESPN. Once I realized this was an actual sport, I wanted to know more about it. My uncle and I started looking for paintball places in Long Island. We landed at Cousins Paintball in New York and the rest is history.”
Oh, not so fast young man. Much more history to discuss. Like many of us in Paintball, we didn’t start there but came from many other sports.
“Sports are a big part of my life. I played football and lacrosse. I was a receiver on offense and corner back on defense. In lacrosse I was a midfielder.”
And also like many of us, there were many different aspects that drew him to our sport.
“The actual sport aspect of the game – scoreboards, jerseys, intensity, and people having a good time. That really caught my attention. Playing indoor, it was new and exciting… shooting paint at each other. I stayed with this sport for many reasons, the people being the main one.”
But it was that first tournament experience that made all the difference. And listening to Alex tell the tale, you know it was the catalyst that fuel injected that drive of his.
“My first tournament was a 3 man young guns. Me and two dudes who I thought could play ended up playing as walk-ons. We only won one game that day. I was hiding most of the day and not engaging. But that one game we won…we won because I consciously made a decision to move and bunkered a guy at the 50 and I will never forget it. It opened my mind. You have to launch if you want something to happen. That moment changed everything for me.”
The spark had now been lit. Alex would continue to grind with different teams from around the New York area never really doing better than 2-2 at events. He wanted to go pro. So, in 2014, he was a senior in high school and made the decision to go for it. He was flying out to Oceanside California and trying out/practicing with the Los Angeles Ironmen. That’s where the opportunity arose that would take him in a slightly different geographical journey.
“When I would fly out to play, I would stay with Nate Schroeder (a Seattle Washington Native and former Ironman) and I became closer with him. There was talk about how some of the Ironmen were going to go play the upcoming CXBL (Canadian Xball league). The first event was June 28th and I graduated the day before the tournament. I skipped my graduation party to be there. Now that I think about it, I missed a lot of social events to pursue what was, in my mind, a big deal. So, I get to the tournament thinking Marcello and Alex Goldman and those guys would all be there. But they weren’t, though some were. Brandon Cornell, Toke Hamill, Danny Ibarra… and then there is this redheaded guy, Graham Arnold. And I’m like, who is this redhead guy talking to me? He didn’t really stand out but afterwards he asked me if I would want to join Uprising in D1. I had just been cut from Avalanche D1 team because I wasn’t able to make a lot of the practices because of high school lacrosse practice. I had always looked past them (Uprising) but decided to play the West Coast Open with them. That’s when I realized how awesome Graham was. I mean, he really is one of the best players in the pro division. We did well, went 4-0 prelims… This was a first for me because in divisional paintball, my teams always went 2-2 (saw better success with Wolfpack). But I just remember, man, Uprising had calculated game plans, we were shooting people on break… we got 5th that event and then 2nd at World Cup. That’s when I realized that paintball was going to be a profession for me. If we had beat TMG (we got a major), we might have been pro in 2015. Our first tournament win came against Birmingham Prime in D1 finals at Dallas. (Yeah, I know… thanks a lot. While you’re at it, why don’t you give me a paper cut and pour lemon juice on it lol)”
One thing I love about Alex is his sincerity. He really loves this sport and he counts himself blessed by the relationships he has in it. When you talk to him, you know he genuinely wishes to share. He is a great ambassador. When he and I discussed his playing style, he gets to the point. I asked if he felt he was a specialist, for instance on the snake side. He said he hates playing snake. I followed up and asked him what he felt his strength was on the field to which he went right back to that fateful day of that first tournament.
“Getting down the field. I prefer getting to the 50 and it doesn’t matter which 50 it is.”
So what helps you make those reads?
“Those other sports I played. Being a cornerback and slot receiver helped me recognize how to use speed and quickness to get something done. Being able to combine that with the mental aspect of paintball… reading the field… seeing the move.”
But with every strength a player has, there is always something they wish they could shore up. And Alex is brutally honest about it.
“The mental aspect of the game is a work in progress for me; knowing what to do in low body situations, not piecing it together fast enough, not just being the front player. The chess match…”
I responded by saying, “Processing speed right? The flow of the game and recognizing where it is headed and what best to do based off the given data.”
That, to me, is what will continue to make Alex an even better player than he is today. He recognizes that, even if you are playing at the highest level, you can never settle. You can always improve. A young man after my old heart.
So what advice would he give an up and comer? What advice would he share if he could only give one piece of it?
“I remember talking with Matty Marshall… he told me that the only chance you have is to be so good at what you do that people are forced to notice. Once you start to live life on that spectrum, it doesn’t matter what people think. It’s an all in approach. You have to put in the work. You have to put everything into it and you will notice it around you, you will start to see the changes, whether in yourself or those around you taking notice.
Good stuff right there.
But being the sharing type, Alex doesn’t stop there.
“Play against people who are better than you every opportunity you get. There is no quick or better way to get better. When you get the @#^* kicked out of you, you either have to quit or get on their level. I lost that fear little by little. Getting bunkered 10 times in a row at age 12, once you become accustomed, you lose fear. Fear holds so many people back. The psychological effect of fear stops most people because we ponder the outcome. When you star reacting without fear, that’s when the magic happens. That’s when you see those game breaking moves. It’s a long time coming though. Your experiences in practice lead to this.”
So, as with every Gun Fu article, I asked Alex’s favorite drill. Without hesitation, as in I almost didn’t finish the question, he said, “One on ones!”
And he shared his reasoning too:
“You are forced to think the most. Everything gets worked, your snap shot is tried, your athleticism is tried, your brain, the fear of being exposed, people watching you play is faced…it’s just an all-around work out.”
I like the way this guy thinks. And you should too. If you would like to hear more from Alex, you can! He has his very own podcast that you can check our regularly. Its called the AG21 Show. Don’t wait for a Zen article with him, listen to him directly (but keep reading Zen). Check it out here
I have enjoyed getting to know Alex the last two years and I expect great things from him and the rest of Uprising. I want to be the first to congratulate him on his upcoming graduation in May from San Diego St. And I want to thank him for his time.
Be water my friends!