Paintball, as we know and love it today, was not always a fun sport. In Fact, it wasn’t even a sport. The History of Paintball dates all the way back to the 1960s. Originally invented by the Nelson Paint Company, the first Paintball was made using gelatin horse pills and filling them with oil-based paint.
Crosman, an airgun manufacturer, was contracted by Nelson Paints in 1972 to build a modified airgun that shoots paintballs. It was named Crosman 707, but the product failed to gain any commercial success.
After failing to sell his marker the first time, Nelson was successful with Daisy, a renowned manufacturer of BB guns. With them, he created the famous Nel-Spot 007, which would be later used to play the first paintball game.
Why are Paintball Guns called Markers?
Originally, Paintball guns were designed to be used by the Forest Department loggers to mark trees that needed to be cut down and ranchers to mark their cattle without dismounting their vehicle or horse.
Since the purpose of the gun was to ‘mark’ trees and cattle, they were called paintball markers. To this day, many famous paintball brands like Tippmann, Empire, and Dye still refer to their paintball guns as markers.
The First Game Of Paintball
A group of friends named Hayes, Charles, and Bob have been discussing the idea of survival in the woods for years. Though they considered many recreational activities, none of them clicked with them enough. It wasn’t until 1981 that one of them found the Nel-spot 007 in a farming catalog and immediately thought of a new game.
After making sure that the guns were safe to fire at humans, Bob Gurnsey drafted the rules for this new game. A total of 12 individuals played the first paintball match on a 125 acres field on June 7, 1981, in New Hampshire. They named this new game “The National Survival Game.”
Players were equipped with a Nel-Spot 007 Pistol, basic goggles, and a map of the field. The field included four flag stations. The flag stations each contained 12 colored flags, one for each player. The goal was to collect your flags from all flag stations before anyone else. This format was similar to what we call today “Capture the Flag.”
Early Paintball: A new sport is born
Soon after the first game was played, Bob published an article about the new sports in the October Edition of Sports Illustrated. Thanks to the article, a large number of people were impressed by the new game. Bob saw a business opportunity and started selling paintball starter-packs named the “Survival Game” package. The package comes with paintballs, a paintball gun, eye protection, and a rulebook.
Moreover, He opened the first-ever paintball field in 1982. The same year, Bob also signed an exclusive distribution agreement with Nelson Paints.
With a new partner to fund the startup, paintball fields begin opening rapidly throughout the United States.
In 1983, the first-ever NSG Championship was held in which teams throughout the states participated. The tournament was won by the team named “Unknown Rebels” from Ontario, Canada.
As the years passed, the game evolved, and the rules changed too. In the beginning, the game was based on the capture of the flag format in which one team would have to defend their flag while the other team tried to capture it.
Later with the addition of better guns and gears, several new formats were introduced like Elimination, Woodsball, and King of the Hill.
Worldwide Popularity of Paintball
During the mid-80s, Paintball saw a huge boom in popularity throughout the globe. Paintball had reached Europe, where the first European Paintball field was opened in the UK. Followed by this, several paintball fields started opening in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.
Later that year, due to an increase in demand for paintball products, many Paintball brands like the Tippmann stepped into business to meet the demands of the new market. New paintball products were released, which included the first-ever mass-produced paintball gun and water-based paint.
The International Paintball Players Association (IPPA) was founded to safeguard the health and safety of players as well as to ensure the steady growth of Paintball.
The Golden Era of Paintball
The 90s are often referred to as the Golden Era of Paintball. It was estimated that there were about 80,000+ avid paintballers in the US alone. With the introduction of semi-automatic markers and gravity-fed hoppers, Paintball had become more intense and fast-paced.
Paintball fields along with their own dedicated gear stores were opening in every town. New teams started to emerge, and every week a new tournament was being held somewhere with some major brands as their sponsor.
Paintball manufacturers were growing in business, and many new brands like Spyder, Planet Eclipse, and Dye also stepped into the already grown market to take advantage of huge demand.
In the mid-90s, Paintball was at the peak of its fame. It was considered a healthy recreational activity for teenagers as well as adults. Format like Speedball was introduced to make the game more fast-paced, while Military Simulation was added to make the game more realistic and survival-oriented.
Paintball had its first mainstream media coverage when ESPN broadcasted the Paintball World Cup live in 1995. Thousands of paintball fans tuned in to watch their favorite team live.
The Fall of Paintball
After the Mid 2000s, Paintball started to decline. The paintball fields and shops were closing down everywhere as there was little to no business.
There were several reasons which resulted in the decline of this legendary sport. The world at that time was going through a lot of economic changes, and technology was in its bloom.
Paintball required its players to spend a hefty amount of money on new gear such as guns, masks, hoppers, tanks, and pods. Moreover, new paintballs were used for each game, and they also cost a lot of money. All these factors resulted in Paintball being called a luxury hobby.
The Patent wars between Big Paintball manufacturers caused a lot of small manufacturers to close their businesses.
Despite adapting to new innovations, the factor which contributed the most to the decline of Paintball was technology. With the spread of new forms of entertainment, most people didn’t prefer going out on a field to play Paintball.
Over the last few years, Paintball has become the safest it has ever been. The chances of a serious injury are very low thanks to the use of safe and reliable guns and masks.
Moreover, paintball brands are working to minimize their production cost in order to make quality products within everyone’s reach.
The addition of pop culture into Paintball which resulted in formats like the zombie apocalypse has made Paintball trendy once again.
Paintball-themed birthday parties are very common these days. It is estimated that last year paintballers spent 160+ million dollars on paintball gears which again is self-evident of the paintball revival.