If playing competitive 10-man mechanical paintball is like riding a bike, then I’m Joe Biden…
I’m kidding. I’m not that bad.
Zen had the privilege of guesting with the Saints professional paintball program at this past weekend’s Pittsburgh Open Classic held at Urban Assault Paintball in McDonald, PA. And let me tell you, every paintball player should experience a 10-man event like this in their career. I highly recommend it, especially for competitive X-ball types.
Besides being there with your boys, you get to see and catch up with old friends you don’t see as often and, of course, make new ones. All while participating in a competitive adrenaline-pumping retro style of paintball. While those things and the nostalgia were rather intoxicating, I couldn’t help but recognize something else.
I started my paintball career in the woods and have played throughout paintball’s progression from woods to pallet fields, to hyper-ball, to air-ball (I have played scenario games as well and those are a good time too). But as a player and a coach only participating in “speedball” and/or X-ball the last 22 years, my original skill-sets that were needed for those classic styles of play, I found to have significantly diminished. And I became hyper aware of this before the end of day 1.
I am fond of saying Paintball is paintball and I still stand by that… albeit with a caveat or two. I’m not willing to eat crow just yet. Whereas, yes, the basic principles of field walking, planning, and engagement are similar, there are so many more aspects to this style that make it… well…. larger? No, that’s not the word… complex? Yes, that’s it. Complex.
Obviously, the scale is greater; 10 men instead of 5, and one 10 minute (or under ICPL rules 12 minutes) game to get it right as opposed to multiple points within 15 minutes. And, of course, there are 4 completely different types of fields to walk as opposed to 1.
I must admit, I was incredibly excited about being a player for this event. The Saints are led by my friends and incredibly experienced players Kevin Fillers, Adam Smith, and Shawn Terry. My job was to play paintball. JUST PLAY! To do what was asked of me and do it the best I could. But boy, was I in for an eye opener.
Let’s start with field walking. Now, I am no stranger to field walking, much less walking multiple fields, or even strange fields in the woods. But it became painfully apparent it is a perishable skill set. As I stated earlier, scope and scale were significantly different and requires almost 4th dimensional thinking, specifically on one field.
*Zen Note – for those of you wondering what 4th dimensional thinking is, I am no expert but to sum up my understanding of it and the application of its use in this scenario, it is the ability to see “the invisible”. To disengage your mind from your 5 senses and use your mind to feel and sense the unseen. To give the unseen substance.
The event venue consisted of a Hyperball field, a Mounds field, a “Hybrid” field, and a Woods field.
The Hyperball field was pretty straight forward, even with 10 guys out there. This type of paintball, in my mind, translates perfectly well. It was obvious from the get go that owning the centers, especially the “D” side early, was paramount to winning. Our first two matches were on this field. I was supposed to play the 2nd match but after the boys dominated our first match, I wanted to keep that mojo going. I sat myself so the team could continue that “momentum” (I put that in parenthesis as I recently read an interesting take that momentum in paintball is bunk. The take was insightful but flawed. But I digress). By the way, this hyperball field had an awesome layout. I regretted doing this later only because we didn’t get to play that field again.
The infamous “Mounds” field… This one was my nemesis. It did not like me, and I did not like it. Which is funny because almost EVERYONE I talked to; this was their favorite field. I played the top corner area near the net/road which appeared to have the highest early attrition rate on the field. Walking this field, understanding threat location and probability, developing codes for it, was very interesting. The guys came up with a zone/area approach which was brilliant and significantly helped my understanding of in-game data. Trying to apply my normal process to the field walk, whereas it can work, took some finagling. Luckily, I had some rather experienced guys there to guide me through it all. This is the one field where the 4th dimensional thinking would have come in handy. Beware the single ball that falls from the above vegetation to land on your hopper below…in front of a ref. I shot 1 guy on this field… and was one of the first three deaths on the field both times we played it. Needless to say I was…. disappointed in myself.
The Hybrid field I felt I contributed the most to as I could actually see things now (both during the field walk and in game). Solid Communication on this field was imperative. Of course, solid communication is imperative in all paintball, but it was really stressed on this one specific to getting data from one end of the field to the other. I also had my best game on this field which is funny because I kept wishing I had got to play the hyper ball field… On this field, beware of players losing their minds at the end of the game (inside joke). Shot a few on this one and even lived to the end on one or two.
Finally, we had the woods field. I thought this is where I would really shine. And then I realized just how large and odd shaped this particular field was. Cross field communication would be damn near impossible. You would have to play 2 or 3 “mini games” on this field and hope things went well for your partners in their skirmish area of the field. This field really stressed situational awareness of what was in front of you and what was potentially working its way around elsewhere to wreck you. A stream of paint would materialize out of nowhere! Old man had some good and some bad on this one. Helped break one game open which was fun.
Quick summary, the Hyperball field was pretty straight forward – roll your gun, work into important spots, take ground, deny them ground, slow steady squeeze. The mounds was about taking ground early, showing one thing while actually doing another. Stealth could win or blunt force trauma could win. One game was won in about 2 minutes… dude just ran straight through the middle, shot 2-3 guys, grabbed the flag and ran back. His own team didn’t even know what had happened! Hybrid field was dependent on which side you got. One side (the right) was better set up to take ground early on the top side vs the other. Both had equal centers and bottom ends from what I could tell but the key here was blowing out an access point and then flooding it. The woods field was the one field that you could argue there was an advantage to be had from the coin toss (this decided who got to pick which side they wanted to play). Best way to describe it would be there was a “top” side where you had the “high” ground and could take key areas quickly off the break.
I also found the aspect of scoring at these events fascinating as well. The way you played a match may be determined by what was happening in your bracket from a points perspective as well as WHERE you were playing your opponent or where one of your opponents would be playing one of THEIR matches. Very cool stuff.
The moral of the story is this type of play really pushes a speedball/X-ball player’s capabilities. It takes you out of your comfort zone. It makes you use ALL your skill sets and strains them to the max. It pushes the senses. I came away from the event thinking I (or even the Canes) need to do more of this recreationally on some off weekends as I think it can really round out your strategic game. We should always try something new to keep things fresh anyway. Who knows… you may find a new respect and love for it.
Beginning of day 2 things had clicked with me and I was able to tap into those old skill sets. Of course, I had a lot of supportive help along the way from my teammates. And that’s what this is really about. Building the sport up and bringing new players into the fold. Having a good time.
I would like to send a big shout and thank you to my teammates:
- Kevin Fillers
- Shawn Terry
- Adam Smith
- Justin Bailey
- Ben Foster
- Ryan Gibbons
- Josh Baske
- Sam Silberg
- Jason Perse
- Adam Perkins
I hope I get the opportunity to share the field with you guys again. You guys made the old man feel welcome, showed me a good time, and how cool this style of paintball can be! Thank you!
And thank you to another one of the best pit crews I have had to honor and privilege to be around! Pete and Isaac, you are awesome!
Be water my friends.